Trial by Fire
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Daniel 3:1-3:30 (NIV, NIRV, TNIV, KJV)
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All scripture is from the New Living Translation
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1. Read the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego using a preschool story book
That in a nutshell is it. And other than the fact that the pictures are great – one of the reasons I like the way that this book tells the story is that it really captures the point of the whole thing.
So often we tell kids the story of Daniel’s friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and it ends up coming out like they are the point of the story – that you should go out and be like these three guys.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there is some of that in the story – perhaps even a lot of that – but really that’s a secondary point.
This story isn’t really about what Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego accomplished as great men of faith – rather it is about God and the fact that he was able to take care of his people in the midst of a crisis.
As the story book puts it – “The King knew that God had taken care of them...”
God is in control even during crises. Therefore he is worthy of our trust – even during crisis. This is the key point this morning. God is in control even during crises. Therefore he is worthy of our trust – even during crisis.
And really there are two main sections in the story
which bring out the point.
Look at 3:13. "Then Nebuchadnezzar flew into a rage and ordered Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to be brought before him. When they were brought in, Nebuchadnezzar said to them, ’Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you refuse to serve my gods or to worship the gold statue I have set up? I will give you one more chance. If you bow down and worship the statue I have made when you hear the sound of the musical instruments, all will be well. But if you refuse, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. What god will be able to rescue you from my power then?’”
Hmm? Sounds kind of arrogant to me. “What god will be able to rescue you from my power then?”
And it sounds like a challenge, too. You can see where this story is going – and indeed the three know.
Verse 16 – "Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, ’O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty."
The king says "No god can save you from me."
Rach, Shach, and Benny say “Hold your horses, your majesty! Don’t underestimate our God...”
There is a little bit of “My father could beat up your father” bantering here.
“The God whom we serve is able to save us...”
• Are you hearing that King?
• Are you hearing that Jewish people in exile?
• Are you hearing that subsequent generations under Persian and Roman rule?
• Are you hearing that early church as Nero’s lions chase you around the Colosseum?
• Are you hearing that modern church, as the naysayers tell you that God is irrelevant to 21st century life?
"We won’t give in because the God whom we serve can save us."
Verse 18 – (And I was half tempted to stop here and just spend a week on this one verse) "But even if he doesn’t..."
I think this is the best line in the book of Daniel –"but even if he doesn’t...”
Even if God chooses not to intervene "Your Majesty can be sure that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up."
These guys are wiling to hold on even if things don’t turn out well. They know that God is in charge and that in spite of their circumstances – that he is going to work things out according to his big picture plan.
And there are plenty of times when God doesn’t rescue his people in the manner which they would like.
It is estimated that there have been 70 million Christian martyrs over the last 2,000 years. About 37 million of that 70 million were Christians who died at the hands of the Communists in the 20th century.
Over half of all Christians who have ever died because of their beliefs did so in the last 100 years.
Then there were about 12.5 million who died in the 13th and 14th centuries in China at the hands of Mongols Genghis Khan and Tamerlane.
That’s a lot of believers who said “even if...”
One aspect of my calling as a pastor is that I get to work with a lot of people at the points of crisis in their lives.
And I have seen lots of terrible circumstances. Sometimes they are of the individual’s own doing – but just as often these things happen because we live in a fallen and thus imperfect world.
And often things happen to people that irreversibly change their lives – without cause - cancer, economic swings, wars, traffic mishaps... And they are baffled.
"I did the right things -- even wore my seatbelt -- and my life end up a miserable wreck. I don’t see how I can go on. This isn’t the life I chose for myself."
That was the situation in which Rach, Shach, and Benny found themselves.
Remember, they hadn’t chosen to live in Babylon. They were captives. They hadn’t chosen to be high profile people. They were not loud-mouthed trouble makers – out looking to stir things up.
They hadn’t chosen their ordeal. It just got dumped on them.
And if you think about it, of all people, they had the right to despair and be bitter. But that was not the approach they took.
“We know that God can rescue us – but even if he doesn’t – hey, we’ll be faithful anyway! God is in charge and all of this is really about him and not us.”
Now, as it turned out, God did rescue them and in a truly spectacular way.
And he is always capable of doing so. But from his big picture perch he doesn’t always choose to do so. That is just the way it is.
God is in control even during crises. Therefore he is worthy of our trust–even during crises.
There is another paragraph where this point comes out pretty clearly. Look at the paragraph that begins with verse 28.
"Then Nebuchadnezzar said, ’Praise to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He sent his angel to rescue his servants who trusted in him. They defied the king’s command and were willing to die rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore, I make this decree: If any people whatever their race or nation or language, speak a word against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they will be torn limb from limb, and their houses will be crushed into heaps of rubble. There is no other god who can rescue like this!’"
This is a great confession of faith – an acknowledgment that God is in control. And it comes not from the source you’d expect.
Nebuchadnezzar is the one who has been nothing but trouble for the Jews. And here he is confessing faith in the God of Israel.
So there you have it – confessions of God’s sovereignty from both the king and the three Jewish heros.
By the way, Daniel doesn’t appear at all in this story. We are assuming that he is off at his cabin in the mountains during this whole episode.
The major players are Rach, Shach, and Benny – and the
king. And in a sense they represent two types of responses to God’s saving power.
The first is the CONSISTENT response.
And this is the response of the three Jewish men. They were unmovable – in spite of the crowd pressure in a foreign place.
They took the first of the 10 covenant commandments seriously – “Do not worship any other gods beside me.”
And the Shema – the Jewish confession of faith from Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone...”
These three amigos took this stuff so seriously that they were willing to lay their lives on the line for it -- trusting in this one God who could rescue them.
And in doing so they become heros – role models for all followers of the one true God. You see, this was not the first time nor would it the last time when God’s people would be pressured on this point.
As a matter of fact, this is how they got into the Babylonian situation in the first place. The Jews had become too familiar with the shiny glitzy gods of their neighbors. They were not exclusive enough – and finally God sent in the Babylonians to exercise his judgment.
And really this is the same pressure with which we all struggle. Things aren’t a whole lot different. We live in a world with more gods than we can name. And the pressure to bow down or at least to recognize the gods of our neighbors is incredible.
We’ve pretty much given up on keeping any kind of Sabbath – a day devoted to God. Instead we’re bowing down to the big shiny god of busyness.
And our false gods are no longer 90 foot high statues but they have become big screens with animation and movement. We bow to the god of entertainment and don’t even think about it.
John Calvin once said that the “human mind is a factory of idols.”
That is, by nature we are always setting something up in place of God.
The reality of the situation is that we’re struggling with the same issues as those present here in Daniel 3.
The idols today have a slightly different appearance, but we face all of the same pressures as those earlier followers of the Lord. And so these three men willing to go to the furnace for their faith serve as role models of people who trust in the sovereignty of God.
The second types of response to God’s saving power is represented by King Nebuchadnezzar – and that is the INCONSISTENT response.
Now, King Neb is a very interesting character – brilliant ruler – but kind of dense.
In chapter 1 he is impressed by Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – more than anyone else in the leadership training class. These guys were great witnesses.
In chapter 2 Daniel interprets the king’s wild dream – and in 2:46 we have this great confession of faith from the pagan king – "The king said to Daniel, ’Truly, your God is the God of gods, the Lord over kings, a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this secret.’"
You read this and think, wow, the king has been converted to faith in the LORD.
But then, three verses later, this same king is making a 90-foot-tall gold statue and ordering everyone to bow down and worship it – upon threat of death.
Then at the end of chapter 3 – verse 28 – he boldly proclaims – “Praise to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He sent his angel to rescue his servants who trusted in him. They defied the king’s command and were willing to die rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore, I make this decree: If any people, whatever their race or nation or language, speak a word against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they will be torn limb from limb, and their houses will be crushed into heaps of rubble. There is no other god who can rescue like this!”
However, in chapter 4 the king has another troubling dream and he calls on Daniel saying – “All the wisest men of my kingdom have failed me. But you can tell me because the spirit of the holy gods is in you.”
He just doesn’t get it! Even after proclaiming that the God of Daniel and his friends is the most high God of the universe, he is still talking about “gods”.
You see, Nebuchadnezzar was a polytheist. That is, he worshiped many gods. And from his perspective the God of the Hebrews was just one among many – certainly a powerful god – but one among many.
This is why he had no trouble honoring the Hebrew god in one breathe and in the next setting up another god and expecting everyone to bow to it. He saw no contradiction in his pluralistic approach.
You can have any god you want as long as you are not narrow minded and exclusive. And really, unfortunately, in this sense he is functioning like the Jews did for a good portion of their early history.
The book of Daniel is taking a poke at their polytheistic wanderings. "You guys are just like King Neb."
You see, in spite of the fact that they acknowledged the one true God they also had other gods on the side -- mistresses.
They wanted to have their cake and eat it, too.
They wanted to be God’s special people but they also wanted to fit in with the neighbors.
However, the Lord God – the God who revealed himself to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob ... the God who rescued these people from Egypt... the God of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – demanded exclusive allegiance.
This was the big struggle throughout the early history of the Jewish people. And this is where we struggle, too. We really want to honor and the serve the Lord – but the temptation is to divide our allegiances and so he isn’t the hub of the wheel but just one spoke on it.
We want to serve the Lord and be rich, too.
We want to serve the Lord and be powerful, too.
We want to serve the Lord and -- you can fill in the blank.
You see, the question is, how are you going to respond to the God who is in control and is worthy of our trust?
Will your response be a bold stab at consistency – like the three fire walkers? Or will you be more like the king -- impressed by what the Lord does – but really kind of flaky in follow thru and application?
The message of Daniel 3 is clear: God is in control – even during crises. Therefore he is worthy of our trust–even during crises.
And if that crisis involves stepping into a fire – so be it – we know that we won’t be alone – Immanuel – God is with us. We have been and we will be saved.
This is the good news!
And I’m glad that we’re telling this story to our preschoolers because this is something we want them to take with them throughout the rest of their lives.
God is in control – even during crises. Therefore he is worthy of our trust – even during crisis.