On Halloween, 1517, Martin Luther posted 95 statements that he thought needed to be thought about in the church. He thought the church needed reform. That’s why the day has another name: Reformation Day (which we’ll be celebrating at church this Sunday – You are all invited). You see, as a monk, then priest, then professor, the more Martin Luther studied the Bible, the more he realized that some of the things the church was saying and doing didn’t agree with what God’s Word said. So he raised some questions.
Fast forward to April of 1521. The church had made clear that they didn’t want to have those discussions. They liked the way things were going. They wanted Martin Luther to be quiet and go away. So they posed a question. Yes or no? Will you take back everything you wrote, or would you rather be labeled a heretic and die? It wasn’t an empty threat. That’s the fate that had faced plenty before him.
Either he would step in line with the church and the political powers – or he would die. His answer? In front of those people that seemed to hold his life in their hands, he said “No”. As he explained it: “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of Scriptures…I cannot and will not recant…Here I stand. I can do no other. So help me God.”
He stood up. And he wasn’t the first. The section of Scripture I’m focusing on today is the story of Daniel in the Lion’s Den. There’s another guy who stood up. I want us to figure out how.
You see, he had to decide whether he would pray or die. Read Daniel 6 for all the details on that. What would you have done? When our life is on the line, we can come up with plenty of excuses. We can rationalize away decisions that are not God pleasing for much less than death. Think of the excuses you make for not taking that time in God’s Word and prayer that you know God wants. Think of the peer pressure that has convinced you not to “let your light shine” and act on your faith. Think of the opportunities to do good that you’ve skipped because you were a little tired! We need to figure out how Daniel could stand up when so often we sit back and do what is easier.
You see, Daniel saw it clearly. If he backed down, even if he gave the appearance of backing down, what would he be saying about his God? How could he ever testify to his God’s power again to those people that saw him fear some royal edict more? So Daniel stood up for what is right.
And he did it by kneeling. Just like we don’t know how things in our lives are going to work out if we do what is right… (I know, we try to tell ourselves that we know it wouldn’t work – but we don’t) Daniel didn’t know that he would be rescued from the lions, given a promotion and go down in history as a hero of faith. He just knew the threat of death in front of him. But even more, he knew his God.
So he stood up. And he did that by kneeling. Daniel 6:10 says “Now 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.”
He got down on his knees and prayed, just as he had done before. He had been training for this moment by regular time in God’s Word, and now when he was tested, he could stand. He stood by kneeling. You see, Daniel was a powerful man. He had accomplished many things. He led people powerfully. But when it came to something he couldn’t control — the only way he could stand was by kneeling to the One who is in control.
You see, it also says that he faced Jerusalem. When those believers in exile faced Jerusalem, they were reminding themselves of God’s presence with them and his promises. They were facing the site of God’s holy temple, where daily, hourly – those sacrifices had been made, sacrifices that pointed to the “once for all” sacrifice for our sins they were waiting for. When they faced Jerusalem - that was the equivalent of our praying “in Jesus’ name.” It is a testimony that our power, our strength, even just the right to present our requests to God comes only through the work of Jesus.
Because Jesus is the One who stood up. He stood up in that high priest’s courtyard and was condemned with our charge of blasphemy - for all the times we try to play God and look to our own strength to figure out our problems. He stood to receive the flogging that our sins deserve. He stood up to death itself and, after he died and was buried – on the third day, he stood in victory.
That victory is ours when we stand in him. So our strength to overcome temptation comes from standing by his Word and will. Strength to stand up against every peer pressure and threat, even of death, comes from a realization that Jesus stood up for us.
You want to be able to stand up? Get on your knees. And join us this Sunday for time with God, for your strength to stand up. Then stick around for “Trunk or Treat” after the service.
Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.