[ * Title is from a refrain in The Great Litany, BCP]
A few years ago I was hiking along a beautiful mountain trail with a friend. The view was spectacular because the mountain dropped off steeply to our left—I would guess it was about a 75-80 degree pitch. We came upon a large tree that had fallen over the path from up the mountain to the right, and there was no way to get past it other than to climb over the fallen trunk.
I swung my left leg over the big tree, facing up the hill, with my back (and 30 lb. pack) to the steep pitch. When I placed my foot down, the log I stepped on rolled. I lost my balance and somersaulted backwards, heels over head, down the cliff.
I flipped one time and then, inexplicably, stopped. I was grabbing onto some weeds, my head about level with the path. I burst out laughing, and then looked up at my friend who was white as a sheet. In that instant, he had been sure I was plummeting to my death. He reached out a shaky hand and pulled me back up to the path.
Why did I stop? The only explanation that I can give is that God stopped me. It simply wasn’t my time to go, so he delivered me from otherwise certain death.
I tell that story because as we begin the strange and apocalyptic book of Daniel today, we see two dramatic stories of the Lord’s deliverance; as we read them, we want to remember that this same Lord still delivers!
In the first, the Lord tells Daniel both the content and the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. While descriptions of how Daniel’s interpretation is fulfilled are predictably varied (I have a sneaking suspicion that it is fulfilled with the establishment of Christ’s kingdom), what stands out is the contrast between the arrogance of Nebuchadnezzar and the faithful humility of Daniel.
Nebuchadnezzar eschews all reason by demanding that his satraps and wise men interpret his dream without telling them what the dream was, threatening death to all. In contrast, Daniel turns to the only one to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid.
When God gives Daniel the vision, there is no chest thumping; rather, Daniel prays a humble prayer of thanks and praise. God gives Daniel what he needs to save the lives of many from an otherwise certain death.
In Chapter 3 we have the familiar story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace. Their faith is remarkable, for even when threatened with death, they will not bow to anyone but the Lord their God:
O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods” (Dan. 3:16-18).
When the furious king looks into the blazing furnace, he sees not three, but four men walking around, untouched and unharmed by the inferno. God delivers these faithful men from certain death, and begins the process of engendering faith in the arrogant king.
Even if you affirm the truth of these ancient supernatural deliverances, you may be skeptical that such things happen today. The truth is, however, that if you are a Christian, you also have experienced a dramatic supernatural deliverance. If you believe that Jesus’ death and resurrection have atoned for your sins, then you already have escaped an otherwise certain death by the hand of God.
I know of several stories like mine where physical harm was miraculously avoided or illness was miraculously overcome. There is no guarantee that such miracles will happen, but when they do, they certainly serve as evidence that God is still active in the lives of his people. However, all acts of deliverance point us to the ultimate deliverance found in the Cross of Jesus Christ.