Dependence Day: Living Through the Fire
July 4, 1999 Daniel 3
Introduction: Rachel Scott, VOM, July 1999, page six.
World magazine reported in April the story of Michelle Shocks, a 25-year-old woman kicked off a bus in Seattle reportedly for telling a seatmate about her church and talking about God. She was forced to walk home, more than a mile, in driving rain. She was five months pregnant at the time.
Our answer to when persecution will begin here is that we don’t know, but as Christians we have a duty to learn from those who find their security in fulfilling the Great Commission mandate, not in the “rights” of man. We need to remember that our true freedom is in Christ, and is experienced most clearly when we live in complete surrender to Him.
There is no better reminder of this fact than the tragedy in Littleton. While Cassie Bernall’s story is perhaps the most dramatic one of faith amidst the crisis, there were other Christians among the dead and wounded. One was Rachel Scott, also among the bodies left lifeless that day at Columbine High.
Scott’s journal reveals not a superwoman but a young lady seeking a deeper spiritual walk, and struggling with the sacrifices she had to make to deepen that walk. She knew the price of being a follower, according to the journal excerpts released after her death by her pastor, Bruce Porter.
“I lost all my friends at school’ Rachel wrote on April 20, 1998, exactly a year before she would go to heaven. “Now that I’ve begun to ‘walk my talk,’ they make fun of me. I don’t even know what I have done. I don’t really have to say anything, and they turn me away?’ “I have no more personal friends at school,” she continued. “But you know what? I am not going to apologize for speaking the name of Jesus. “I am not going to justify my faith to them, and I am not going to hide the light that God has put into me. If I have to sacrifice everything, I will. I will take it. If my friends have to become my enemies for me to be with my best friend Jesus, then that’s fine with me. I always knew being a Christian is having enemies, but I never thought that my ‘friends’ were going to be those enemies?’
Some would say that Rachel Scott found true freedom that day at Columbine High School when she exited earth and entered heaven. But I tell you she had found that freedom long before, when she counted the cost of discipleship, then forged ahead. “If I have to give up everything, I will?’
The secret of true freedom is to abide in the will of God. Not doing so leads to bondage. Henrietta Mears once told her young students, “A bird is free in the air. Place a bird in the water and he has lost his liberty. A fish is free in the water, but leave him on the sand and he perishes. He is out of his realm. So, young people, the Christian is free when he does the will of God and is obedient to God’s command. The will of God is as natural a realm for God’s child as the water is for the fish, or the air for the bird.”
How small that cost of discipleship must have seemed when Rachel Scott entered eternity and was welcomed by angels, saints, and even the Son of God himself. Other school shootings have occurred. Weapons of the world, whether used in a hand or by a legal system against Christians, can appear to be intimidating. We must remember the words of a German Christian, who wrote, ‘The only true intimidation that exists is that felt by an atheist standing before God’.
Lord, help us as Christians in America to find our freedom not in the Constitution or in laws but in surrendering ourselves to You. Help us to stand firm and say, as Rachel did, “if I have to give up everything, I will?’
In 1776, Thomas Paine, American Revolution patriot and writer, wrote about the price of freedom: “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; ‘tis dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed, if so celestial an article as Freedom should not be highly rated.” Of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence, 5 were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died, 12 had their homes ransacked and burned, 2 lost their sons in the Revolutionary War, another had two sons captured, 9 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the war. There was and is a tremendous price to pay for freedom.
Daniel’s three friends also were willing to pay that price. They were willing to depend upon the will of God. We celebrate our Independence Day today. It commemorates a showdown with oppressive forces. But we must not let our independence fool us into thinking that we are independent of God. We gained our independence because we were dependent on God. We forget to celebrate that aspect of our independence as a nation. It is the will of God that we depend upon him. As we forsake our God-given element of dependence we will lose our freedom and come into bondage. We will be like a bird in the water or a fish in the sand. We will be a nation out of the will of God.
In the Navy, we often have a Dependents’ Day on board the ships for the families of sailors to come see and experience the job that their loved ones perform – the job of national defense that so often takes them away for long periods. Let us make this a Dependence Day as we learn from Daniel’s three friends about the job of personal and national defense that God does for us every day of the year. We are his dependents and our dependence is upon him. It is his will that we depend upon him. And he is always faithful to his children.
I. Nebuchadnezzar’s Image of Gold (vv. 1-7)
King Nebuchadnezzar in chapter two had just been told he was a head above all other kings, even those to come. It is interesting that he knowingly now constructs the statue he dreamed about. In chapter two, he gave glory to God. But that was just the beginning. He believed God was very powerful to reveal dreams, but he really only added God to the pantheon of pagan gods he already believed in. God wants to be exclusive in our devotion. This is hard for even people today to accept. God says the only way to him is through Christ. Any god found any other way is not God. We shall see in Nebuchadnezzar’s life the process of God’s testimony to a defiant heart – hearts like ours.
Why is it that when confronted with truth we also see opportunity to sin? The problem is the sin nature that takes every opportunity. And every sin we perform adversely effects someone else – that is why it is sin. We tend to believe the lie that our sin is just with us ourselves – that if it doesn’t hurt anyone else, it is OK. But sin always hurts someone else.
II. The Accusation Against the Three Friends (vv. 8-12)
Nebuchadnezzar’s sin of “self worship” is about to effect some of God’s people. If you want to be noticed, just be different than those around you. We are called to do this. Notice the list of important officials that the king summoned to worship the statue? Daniel’s three friends will be shown to be different than all of them. Now the wise men whom Daniel redeemed turn on the friends of him who showed them grace. The wicked of the world do this with Christ everyday – and we are identified with him. We are in opposition to the world. Nebuchadnezzar probably wants to use this statue as a religious excuse to pull together the divergent parts of his kingdom. Actually, we have seen so far that he is relatively insecure. He wants to know how things will turn out for him and his reign in the future (2:29) and now he needs this image to help secure what he found out. Those without God will always be insecure. But this very real insecurity can never be satisfied by false religion.
Now Daniel and his three friends have been through a lot. Displaced, desexed, and threatened with decapitation, the three now face defamation and destruction by fire because they refuse to diminish their devotion to God. How much have you been through? Has it been for the right reasons – for God’s reasons, or for selfish reasons? Have you passed through the fire? Are you faced with it now? Serving God takes more than the initial faith of salvation. It takes present and future faith as well.
Do you know what faith is? It is total dependence upon God. Success without compromise and facing the future without fear combine now in a mighty showdown on Dependence Day. We pride ourselves on our national independence. We celebrate it with fireworks every July 4th, like today. Of course this is political independence, but we can certainly draw the analogy with our relationship to God. Nebuchadnezzar wanted independence. But we are about to see a victory of dependence on God through those who are his servants. Dependence on God always prevails. We need to rediscover this as individuals and as a nation.
III. The Confrontation with Nebuchadnezzar (vv. 13-18)
Do you see the contest that Nebuchadnezzar has set up in v. 15? He has proclaimed all kinds of fanfare for himself with musical instruments and the works. You say it is for his statue instead of himself? Why then is his boast that no god will be able to rescue them from his hand (v. 15)? There is a little god inside each one of us that rises to such occasions of self glory. The ultimate idol is the idol of “self”, and it leads to death – both cultural and individual. The three plead no self-defense – only God. Will you serve God in this way no matter what he makes of you – what his purposes are? Will you stand against the culture? James Dobson recently wrote about his conviction to take a renewed stand against Christendom raising the white flag of surrender to the culture. In his June, 1999, letter he responds to a book entitled, Blinded by Might: Can the Religious Right Save America?, written by Cal Thomas and Pastor Ed Dobson (no relation) that promotes an increasingly isolationist stand. Along with his letter he asks for response to a survey among his readers to know their present level of support for Focus on the Family continuing its level of involvement to promote morality within the culture rather than acquiescing to it. We must not be deceived by any present or future debate that would intimidate us into not speaking the truth that we know – even though no one listens.
The king sets up a special moment of decision for the three friends with a re-enactment of the music that is supposed to prompt their prostration. But their firm refusal throws the king into frustration. Where is Daniel in all of this? He is probably in the king’s court, not in the same view as his three friends he didn’t forget by assuring their appointed place in the kingdom after he interpreted the king’s dream. Or perhaps he is away on some appointed task. But the three friends do nothing that would disappoint his confidence in them. They refuse to cave in to the culture.
IV. The Miraculous Deliverance (vv. 19-27)
If the king was angry before, he is now furious in v. 19. If his threat before was death, it is now death times seven. The superheated furnace represents his own superheated anger at this personal affront to his own insecurity. But dead is dead and his threat is meaningless to those who have already died to themselves. How badly can the godly be threatened when their dependence is on God? Just who is really in charge anyway?
Did the three have cause to believe God would save them? After all, God didn’t keep them from captivity. They expected to die – even more they expected to serve God whatever the cost. What fiery furnace do you face today? Are you willing to let go, even of life itself to serve God, obey God, no matter what? This furnace is probably the same furnace used to make the image. This tool of the devil will now become transformed as the tool of God. God can pre-empt anything he desires. He has the right of eminent domain. Now see that the servants of those who condemn us are themselves condemned. The soldiers who throw them in burst into flame like tinder. Those who mess with God’s kids get burnt. The soldiers’ loyalty to a godless king brings them death. This is where loyalty to anything besides God leads us. Bodies, even though they are 70% water, do burn. Green wood burns hotter than dry wood if put on a fire that is hot enough. And anything that does not belong to God is highly flammable.
But the three don’t burn. We see a picture here of the indestructible resurrection body resident within all true believers by the grace of God. We are in the furnace of affliction for all to see. By faith in Christ you die to self and live to God. We have the freedom and independence to be dependent upon God. God could have doused the flames, but he did not. He saved them in the fire, not from the fire. That which doesn’t kill us strengthens us. There is a lesson there. He saved them in the presence of a fourth man. Many believe it is Christ there as the 4th man – God with us. No matter how hot the fire, he is there with you if you are dependent upon him. When Christ appears, we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is.
Now all this is in full view of Nebuchadnezzar and he realizes he is up against something here that is not normal. Here now on round three, God scores another knockout punch to this hard-headed king. God who knows every hair on our head allow not even one to be singed on the three men. God is able to save completely those who depend upon him – even Nebuchadnezzar if he will do it.
V. Nebuchadnezzar Worships God (vv. 28-30)
What was the purpose of the furnace? To show that the things of God are indestructible and the things not of God will perish. Whoever you are and whatever you do must be for God – or else. Let us, like these three friends, defy the world’s command to forsake God and be willing to give up our lives completely for God. Let us be totally dependent on God and independent of the world. We celebrate our independence but maybe we should be celebrating our dependence – because God is dependable, and we are very much dependent upon him. Whether we like it or not, we are his dependents.
Is God hard, allowing his servants to be tested like this? Look at the outcome. The defiant are humbled, God is proclaimed and worshiped, and the faithful are promoted. Isn’t that what we all really want? Dependence is not so bad after all. We celebrate Independence Day with fireworks. But God celebrates Dependence Day with works of fire. And this message was written in the emergency room.
The Prophetic Aspect (Weirsbe NT Outlines)
In the Bible, “Babylon” is more than a city or an empire; it represents a system. It is God’s name for Satan’s system in this world. Babylon started in Gen. 10:10; it was the work of Nimrod, that “mighty rebel against the Lord.” Babylon stands for our rebellion against the Lord and our substitutes for what the Lord gives us. In Gen. 11 we see Babel in its rebellion against God, a human attempt at worldwide unity politically and religiously. This is what Nebuchadnezzar wanted to accomplish with his great image; he wanted to unify his kingdom under one government and one religion. But this whole scheme was man-centered; there was no place for God at all. And it centered around gold. This whole Babylonian system is Satan’s counterfeit, opposing God’s truth, and seeking to capture the hearts, minds, and bodies of people. Actually, the name “bab-el” means “the gate of God.” It pretends to be the way to heaven. In truth, it is the way to hell.
We see the final development of this false system in Revelation 17-18, the material, cultural, and religious systems of the world all united in one world federation. God will permit this “one world” system to grow, and then He will destroy it once for all. It is important that you know the difference between God’s truth and Satan’s lies, between true Christianity and Satan’s “religions.” True believers are not to be a part of this worldly system (Rev. 18:4-5). Like the three Hebrew men, we must take our stand against Babylon and bear witness to the truth of God’s Word.
We have here a picture of events in the last days. Note, first of all, that Daniel was not present when these things took place. Undoubtedly he was away on official business for the king, and the king took advantage of his absence to erect his wicked idol. This illustrates the rapture of the church: when the church is out of the world, then Satan will be able to carry out his diabolical plans for enslaving the minds and bodies of men.
Second Thessalonians 2 and Rev. 13 both make it clear that Satan will have a “heyday” after the Christians are raptured and taken to heaven. For one thing, he will raise up a world ruler, the Antichrist, who (like Nebuchadnezzar) will conquer the nations and establish a totalitarian government. The church will be gone, but there will be 144,000 Jewish believers sealed by the Lord and protected from Satan’s devices (Rev. 7:1-8; 14:1-5). The Antichrist will set up his own image and force the world to worship it (see Rev. 13), but the faithful Jews will not bow down. Like the Hebrews in Babylon, the 144,000 will serve God and God will protect them. It is interesting to note that the image of King Nebuchadnezzar is identified with the number six (sixty cubits high, six cubits wide, Dan. 3:1), and the image of Antichrist is identified with his number, 666 (Rev. 13:18). It is this image that Jesus called “the abomination of desolation” in Matt. 24:15-22.
So, Dan. 3 is a prophetic forecast of Israel during the tribulation period, after the church has been raptured. Nebuchadnezzar represents the Antichrist; his image represents the image of Antichrist that he will erect; and the three Hebrews represent the believing Jews, the 144,000 who will be protected during the Tribulation. It is likely that these Jews will read Daniel 3 and understand it and know that their God will go into the furnace of tribulation with them and bring them out again for His glory.
Every day we can see our present world moving toward unification. There are hundreds of organizations and agreements that bind nations together these days. There will one day be a “United States of Europe,” and the leader of that organization will become the last world dictator, the Antichrist. The stage is set. “The coming of the Lord draws nigh.” Before Jesus returns, we Christians may have to go through the “furnace of fire,” but we need not fear, for He is with us. And far better to go through a furnace of fire than to live in a lake of fire for all eternity.
The Friends of Israel recently reported in a June 22, 1999, letter that ads detailing the prophecies of Daniel have been placed in major newspapers throughout Israel and have brought a tremendous response. Thus far, 8,500 positive inquiries have been received. This is believed to be motivated by a growing spiritual hunger among many Israelis who are looking for real answers to their spiritual needs amid the political turmoil and strife they live with every day.
Perhaps there is a growing realization that we all are dependents in dependence upon Almighty God after all. The Almighty God has revealed himself as an Almighty Savior – the 4th man in the fire. If we do not depend upon him as our Savior, then he will be our Judge for having failed to depend upon him – the ultimate, unforgivable sin. (Matthew 12:31 And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.)