By “persecution,” I am talking about someone beating you up for faith, throwing you in jail, torturing you, burning down your church, passing laws against the public worship of Jesus, passing laws against owning a Bible, or even coming out to kill you (https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/)
So, at what time in world history have Christians suffered the greatest persecution? It is not the Roman era, when emperors outlawed Christianity, locked Christians in the Coliseum with lions, crucified them, and beheaded them. It is not the Middle ages, when pastors like Jan Hus and John Wycliffe were burned alive at the stake because they stood on Scripture instead of conforming to manmade teachings in the Catholic church. It is not during the 1400s, when Muslim nations spread throughout the Middle East, pushing Christians out of their homeland, even killing Christians as “infidels.” Nor was persecution at its greatest during the Great Migrations of the 1800s, when hundreds of thousands of Europeans crossed the Atlantic to enter the New World— desiring not only economic wealth, but also religious freedom. The greatest time of Christian persecution is now.
It is estimated that 100,000 to 150,000 Christians are murdered each year because they confess Jesus as Savior. Each month about 214 Christian churches are targeted and destroyed by non-Christian enemies. Each month about 772 acts of violence are committed against Christians. In fact, more Christians have been killed in the past 100 years than the previous 2,000 years combined. Surprised? (https://listosaur.com/miscellaneous/10-shocking-facts-about-christian-persecution-today/)
From the moment angry Cain murdered his God-fearing brother Abel, believers have faced opposition because they cling to Jesus as Savior (Genesis 4:3-8). It means, the pressure to abandon your grip on God’s clear teachings will always be there. On some days, in some occasions, you may even feel those against you are more powerful than the One who is for you. Yet, remember this: You are Triumphant in Christ! Even when you suffer, Jesus is still in control.
Does it feel like that? That you are triumphant--now? Probably not. Usually it’s the opposite, right? You see almost on a daily basis this growing hostility to Christian teachings. Scientists declare: “We know beyond any doubt that God does not exist!” but in the same breath say: “But aliens might exist, we just haven’t found them yet.” You see more people staying outside of worship than coming to worship. Television shows, movies, and late night hosts use the name “Jesus” as more of a term of excitement instead of honor. Society appears to respect your God very little and wants you to be aware of that.
For Daniel, the nation in which he lives— Babylon— not only respects God very little, but even passes laws against worship. (read also Daniel, chapters 3-5) The law was simple: For the next thirty days, pray to the king of Babylon alone or be thrown into the lions’ den (Daniel 6:7). Yes, the law is unfair. Yes, the law singles out those who believe in the one true God of Israel. Yes, the law singles out a man like Daniel, someone rising through the ranks of the Babylonian government. And yes, the law is set as a trap. Daniel’s enemies knew he would break this command. If they catch Daniel, then he dies. If he dies, then they rise in power.
And Daniel? Well, when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. Daniel did not have to publicly demonstrate his faith. After all, the decree stands in effect for only thirty days! Daniel (1) could have not prayed. He (2) could have prayed at the king’s feet, but really addressed his prayer to God. He (3) could have shut his windows, turned off his lights, locked his doors, and prayed in secret.
Yet, he does not do any of that. He walks up the stairs to his room, flings open the window shutters, bends down on his knees, extends his arms, lifts his hands up, bows his head, and prays! To change his prayer habits would have been the same as giving in to the demands of the decree. He would allow a law to change the way he worships.
[But] these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help.
So they went to the king and spoke to him about his royal decree: “Did you not publish a decree that during the next thirty days anyone who prays to any god or man except to you, O king, would be thrown into the lions’ den?”
They’re right; the king did command every single person in the kingdom to pray to him and to him alone. And the king cannot take back his order. So the king had no other choice, but to give the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions’ den. A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the rings of his nobles, so that Daniel’s situation might not be changed. Do you know how Daniel could have stayed out of the lion’s den? Cover up your faith. Don’t mention what you believe. Change what you believe to fit what the majority considers appropriate.
I’m not too sure what is more surprising. Either the fact that 100,000 Christians are still murdered each year for their faith or that about 45% of Christians in America— a land in which you are free to worship wherever you please— actually worship every Sunday morning. That’s less than half of all Christians (not citizens, but Christians) in America make use of their freedom to worship publicly, without fear of any imprisonment, violence, or death. And yes, I know, some are out of town or must work Sundays or are homebound. Still, only 43% of Christians read their Bibles at least once every week (something that can be done at any time, in any place). Thirty percent attend Bible class. Even less have family devotions at home (http://www.pewforum.org/2015/11/03/u-s-public-becoming-less-religious/)
What about you? You get to worship without the threat of imprisonment. You get to pray without worrying that someone will throw you into a lion’s den. You get to own a Bible without fearing that someone will kill you. So, do you pray before dinner? Do you say “thank you” to God for the food set before you? Do you pray before taking a test, asking God to bless your memory, or do you fear what your friend might say if he catches you with eyes closed, mouthing words? Do you openly admit to your doctor that you will listen to both (1) the doctor and (2) take your condition to God in prayer? When same-sex marriage was passed, do you mope around like Jesus lost, or did you pray that God use you to share his Word? Abortion still remains legal. Do you only see victory by protesting, or do you also pray for the unborn and your leaders to change such a horrible law? You may be aware of the personal beliefs of your children, or your parents, spouse, friends, and co-workers. Are you praying that God use you to share your light of faith? Or, have you given up all hope that they will see the Light of life in Jesus?
My dear friends, the devil strives to throw opposition in your face as proof that you are on the losing side. That if your children reject Jesus, there is no more hope for them. That if your doctor scoffs at your beliefs, then you are the weird one. That if laws are passed, nothing can possibly change those orders. That if (1) you are a Christian and (2) life has not become perfect, then it never will. It will only get worse.
You are Triumphant in Christ even when you suffer. Even when you are called names, mocked, ridiculed, hurt, or killed, You are Triumphant in Christ! How? Because Christ also suffered. A law did not command Jesus to pray to a king. Rather, powerful men rejected that Jesus is the King of heaven and earth. They did not throw him into the lions’ den. They nailed him to the cross.
You and I should have suffered and died instead because of the occasions we hide trust in God. And yet it is Jesus who dies instead. Dying because you (and I) have hidden our belief in God. Suffering because you (and I) have denied knowing him. Paying our price so that you (and I) can stand forgiven!
Yes, Jesus suffers and dies—but then rises again! Bursts out of the ground. Stands on the earth. Rises off of the planet. And sits over the entire universe in power! You are Triumphant in Christ even when you suffer because your Christ reigns triumphant now!
Daniel knew his God stood in control over kings, governments, and nations. Yet, I’m not sure if Daniel expected to live through the night. Yet, it did not matter because Daniel was already Triumphant in Christ. If lived, he would still worship his saving God. If he died, he would still worship his saving God. Whether he lived or died, his trust for deliverance from eternal death would still rest in God.
[And] at the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den. [… H]e called to Daniel in an anguished voice, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?”
Daniel answered, “O king, live forever! My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, O king.”
The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. The wicked mob had plans, but God overruled their plan. He was not ready for Daniel to enter heaven. Instead, he sent his angel to keep Daniel safe. Even though humanity makes their plans, Jesus is still in control.
He still sends his angels to protect you. The Bible teaches that angels are created by God to serve you (Hebrews 1:14). Yes, angels serve you! (Psalm 91:11-12)
A missionary once shared his story of pastoring a group of Christians in a hostile, Muslim-backed region of Pakistan. This community of believers had built a church, even though their area was well-known for burning down churches. One day the missionary was tipped off by a local that a small mob was heading their way to destroy their church. The missionary and congregation could have fled, but decided to remain behind in the church. There, they prayed all night. They sang hymns. They read Scripture readings. Then the sun rose. The church still stood. More than that, they were still alive.
A few days later, a local met up with the missionary. He had overheard that the mob marched towards the church, but when they arrived, they saw heavily-armed soldiers guarding the perimeter. They fled, thinking they had fallen into an ambush. Yet, the missionary did not station armed guards on the perimeter. Instead, God had sent his angels.
So, does that mean no one will ever insult you, that no one will ever threaten you because of your faith? No. Nowhere does God promise to defend you with angels until the ripe old age of 100 years old. The Bible shares numerous accounts of men like Stephen, Zechariah, and Isaiah—men who are killed for not changing God’s message at the demands of kings. Only one of Jesus’ twelve disciples died of natural causes; the others died for their faith.
What God does promise is: (1) to hear your cries for help, (2) to send his angels to protect you, and (3) to declare you forever innocent. Daniel rejoices that he is found innocent before God. Not only did he obey God rather than man, but Daniel trusted in the coming Savior who would wipe away his guilt. The same Savior who also declares you “not guilty.” Sin will never devour your soul. Jesus’ death has shut the devilish lion’s mouth forever. And Jesus reigns to bring your through this earthly night, and he will deliver you into heaven’s eternal morning.
On this Reformation Day, dust off this prized jewel of Scripture. Make use of it in your home, your family, and worship life. God has seen fit to defend his Word over thousands of years so that you too may hear, come to faith, remain in faith, and enter eternal life. He raised up a servant like Martin Luther who stared death in the face because he would not take back his Bible-based convictions. Someone like that stood on Scripture to make sure that 500 years later you could still hear the only Way to heaven.
That’s the purpose of Scripture: to point you to Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He is the reason you hold firm in the face of opposition. You are Triumphant in Christ! Even when you suffer, Jesus is still in control.