The Lions’ Den Revisited

By Paul Koch


Awhile back I wrote about how a pastor’s role on Sunday morning is somewhat akin to the famous story of Daniel in the lions’ den. That image has stuck with me and I have grown to believe that it may be a useful metaphor for describing the focus and goal of preaching.

I decided to dig it up again in hopes of getting your input on how beneficial such an image really is to the craft of preaching.

If you have time, reread the famous story found in Daniel 6. Recall that Daniel’s enemies came up with the idea of having King Darius make a decree that anyone who prayed to any god or man other than the king for thirty days would be thrown into the lions’ den.  Now, not all decrees were the same; this was a decree set down in writing which, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, could not be repealed.  So long story short, Darius made the decree. Daniel was caught praying to the true God and he was seized.  Now Darius tried as hard as he could to get Daniel out of this but the law is the law; it is binding. Notice, even the king was trapped in the strength of the Law! As it turned out, there was no way around it; justice must be handed out.  So into the lions’ den went Daniel.


Now usually when we hear this text, especially if we are to examine how it might relate to preachers, we want to view it as some encouragement to stay the course.  We are reminded to obey God rather than the government or some sort of temporal peer-pressure and God will not abandon us in our time of need. We can be like Luther and declare, “Here I stand!” Like Daniel you do not need to fear even if you are cast to the lions, for your God is with you.  But the problem here isn’t really the government or, for that matter, social pressures. King Darius wanted to free Daniel but he was trapped by something more powerful than him; something even the king couldn’t ignore.

He was trapped by an unyielding decree.  The problem was the Law, itself.

Here we can see that the lions’ den and Sunday morning worship are not that far apart.  Yet for those gathered in church, it is not some fabricated law of the Medes and Persians that is the problem; no, this time it is the pure and just Law of God himself.  This Law demands the death of a sinner; it declares us to be guilty, and for the guilty there is only one answer: death.  And so we rightly confess that every attempt at works righteousness, every form of Pelagianism, every crass and subtle antinomianism, it all is silenced and held guilty by an unyielding Law which gives no shadow of change. Into the lions’ den we go.

statue of lady liberty holding the scales of justice

Now where Darius and Daniel (and us) could do nothing about the Law, our God can.  In the text, God allowed the law to remain intact and instead sent and angel to shut the lions’ mouths.  The lions were ready and Daniel deserved to die according to the Law, but God interceded and Daniel lived. And so God has interceded for us, not by sending an angel, but his Son. In a much grander fashion he shuts the mouth of the Law itself on the cross of Calvary.  “For our sakes he made him who knew no sin to be sin” (2 Cor. 5:21).  Our Lord and Savior took all the sins of the world and bore them in his flesh; he became your sin so that when the just and holy Law of God looked upon him, it had to do the only thing it could; it had to kill the sin.

And so your sin has been judged in your Lord but he has risen again, nevermore to die.  And you, as his children, have died and risen with him the waters of your Baptism.  Therefore we can shout out with St. Paul himself and declare, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). In Christ we confess that we will walk out of the lions’ den alive: not because the Law has no teeth or because we are so faithful, but because in Christ the Law is silenced.


In this way, a preacher is one who is called to enter again and again into the lions’ den. On one side paces the terrifying lion of the Law ready to devour, once and for all, the transgressor.  And on the other side sits the child of God; broken, fearful and guilty. While a life lesson on making better choices might be inspiring, or a theological explanation of justification by faith alone might give courage; neither will spare that child. At some point the preacher needs to shut the lion’s mouth by proclaiming this child’s freedom, in Christ alone.

In this way, the story of Daniel and the lions’ den can serve as a reminder for what a sermon is supposed to do and what proclamation achieves. In the end we all walk out of the lions’ den, not because we were stronger or more clever than them, but because someone held their mouths shut.