************ Sermon on Daniel 3:17-18 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 18, 2006
"Faith Under Fire"
Nebuchadnezzar has a dream. He dreams of a statue with a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay. He dreams of a stone that destroys the statue. Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar the meaning of the statue:
You, O king, ... are that head of gold ... After you, another kingdom will rise, inferior to yours. Next, a third kingdom, one of bronze, will rule over the whole earth. Finally, there will be a fourth kingdom ... The God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed ... It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever (Dan 2).Nebuchadnezzar hears this and all he can think about is that he is the head of gold. He thinks about this and builds an enormous golden statue on the plain of Dura and commands everyone in his kingdom to worship the image.
When the music sounds and the trumpets blare everyone who is anyone in the kingdom falls down and worships; everyone, that is, but Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The king screams at them, and gives them an ultimatum: bow down or burn in Babylon's furnace! The three men still refuse, so they are thrown into the fire.
I Two Kinds of Faith
A As James Schaap tells us in his book "Intermission," there are two ways to read this famous story.
Reading one: There stand three men, shoulders back, heads up in front of a crowd, smiling and laughing, full of confidence that nothing will harm them. They know God will save them. The men who throw them into the furnace are burned like paper because the fire is so intensely hot, but the three men stand there, untouched by the flames, their robes hanging gently at their sides.
That's one way to read the story. It's not a good way. I call this a materialistic kind of faith, a success and riches kind of Christianity. Many preachers preach this sort of faith, a gospel of wealth and happiness! "Believe in Jesus," they say, "and you will be prosperous, your marriage will be fulfilling, your children will be healthy and smart, and nothing bad will ever come your way." This is the kind of faith Satan accused Job of having:
(Job 1:9-11) "Does Job fear God for nothing?" Satan replied. (10) "Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. (11) But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face."
This kind of faith reminds me of David Wilkinson's book, "The Prayer of Jabez." In the preface to this work he writes, "I want to teach you how to pray a daring prayer that God always answers. It is brief - only one sentence with four parts ... but I believe it contains the key to a life of extraordinary favor with God ... In fact, thousands of believers who are applying its truths are seeing miracles happen on a regular basis." Like Jabez (1 Chron 4), Wilkinson urges us to pray for God's blessing and God's hand; specifically, Jabez asks God "to enlarge my border" and to "keep me from harm" (1 Chron 4:10). In his commentary on this Wilkinson says when we pray this prayer the result is prosperity, miracles, and financial blessings.
This kind of faith is meaningless and counts for nothing. When bad things happen, as they surely will, we either have to conclude we don't have this faith, or that this faith is not worth having. We know that as long as we live in a sin-filled and imperfect world bad things do happen to us.
B Reading two: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are confident all right, but they're confident of something more important than being saved from the fire: they are confident of eternal salvation. They say to the king,
(Dan 3:17-18) "If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. (18) But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."
Notice the difference. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego know that their God is more than able to save them from the blazing furnace if He wants to, but they don't know if God will save them. It is very well possible that they stood there before the furnace, fighting back tears, each one hugging their wife and children for what may very well be the last time, giving final instructions and blessings, trying to impart words of wisdom and cheer. Think of the whole story this way – they really didn't know what would happen to them. They knew that a walk into the kingdom's hottest furnace was not just another stroll through the park. They didn't know what God would do.
This second reading is the better way to look at this famous story. Why? Because in this second reading, we see that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego have a real kind of faith; they have a faith that doesn't pretend to know all of God's ways, a faith that doesn't pretend that nothing bad ever happens to God's children.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego don't know God's ways, they don't know if their lives will be spared, so they do not walk into the furnace with the confidence of a basketball star walking to the free-throw line; rather, they have to be thrown into the fire. Yet, they remain completely faithful to God. They say to Nebuchadnezzar,
(Dan 3:18) But even if (God) does not (save us), we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.
Daniel's three friends have the best kind of faith. They don't know what their God is going to do, they don't know if their body will be burned in the flames, yet they continue to have the faith to serve and worship the one only true God.
C It is obvious that Daniel's three friends know God and have a living relationship with Him. Because of this they dare to stand up for Jesus even when every other knee and head bows down. Because of this they believe their almighty God is more than able to save them from the flames even if He does not. Because of this they put their confidence not in Nebuchadnezzar or their public offices or themselves but in God. Because of this they seek first the kingdom and its righteousness.
D In the story in front of us, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are saved from the flames. But we may not jump to the conclusion that no harm will ever come to us, or that God will spare us all hardship. We know, as I already mentioned, that God does permit terrible things to happen in the lives of His children; bad things like: the death of a precious child, a fire, a bankruptcy, a debilitating disease, a divorce, a baby born with a disability, a family fight. The Bible tells us that we must prepare ourselves for the very opposite of a safe and secure existence! Christ warns us that we will be hated, just as He was hated (Lk 21:17).
We need to realize that throughout history there is always a furnace prepared for the church – the furnace in which bricks were made in Egypt, the fiery furnace on the plain of Dura, the stake at which countless martyrs have been burned throughout history, the concentration camps used by both the Nazis and the communists and other dictatorships to silence the voices of God's children.
As we face the bad that God permits in our lives, as we face hardships and trials, we are being challenged to have the kind of faith that Daniel's three friends have. We are to have a faith that continues to do right even if it costs us our lives.
During China's Boxer Rebellion of 1900, insurgents captured a mission station, blocked all the gates but one, and in front of that one gate placed a cross flat on the ground. Then the word was passed to those inside that any who trampled the cross underfoot would be permitted their freedom and life, but that any refusing would be shot. Terribly frightened, the first seven students trampled the cross under their feet and were allowed to go free. But the eighth student, a young girl, refused to commit the sacrilegious act. Kneeling beside the cross in prayer for strength, she arose and moved carefully around the cross, and went out to face the firing squad. Strengthened by her example, every one of the remaining ninety-two students followed her to the firing squad.
A After Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into the blazing furnace an astonished Nebuchadnezzar discovered that it's not easy to wipe out the church of the Lord.
(Dan 3:25) He said, "Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods."What a miracle! The ropes which were tying them hand and foot, were burned off. And the fire, which is hot enough to kill the soldiers who throw the three friends into it, does not touch Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: their bodies are not harmed, their hair is not singed, their robes are not scorched, and there is no smell of fire on them (vs 27).
Why it is that the three friends are not burned up in the blazing furnace? Who is that fourth man walking with them in the fire? The answers to the two questions are related because it is immediately obvious that it is the presence of the fourth man which keeps the three friends from being consumed by the flames.
The fourth man is the Son of God making a pre-incarnate appearance. And, it is His presence which saves and protects the three friends of Daniel. As Isaiah the prophet says,
(Isaiah 43:2) When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
What we see here is but a dim reflection, a vague foreshadowing, of Christ's victory at Golgotha over the fires of hell. The flames of God's judgment did not consume Jesus just as the flames do not consume the four men in Babylon's furnace.
In this story we see that death is swallowed up in victory in and because of Christ. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had every right to expect a fiery death. Yet, the fire did not harm their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them. Therefore we may ask, as did Paul,
(1 Cor 15:55) "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?"In Christ death has already been swallowed up in victory.
B King Nebuchadnezzar cannot believe what he sees. He leaps to his feet in amazement.
(Dan 3:25) He said, "Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods."In the presence of the fourth man, the Son of God, we see the faithfulness of God to His promises. God promises to be with His people when they pass through the waters of affliction and the fires of persecution. As the Apostle Paul puts it,
(Rom 8:38-39) For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, (39) neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.Try as they may like, neither Satan nor Nebuchadnezzar can separate Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the love and presence of the Lord. He indeed is with them, even as He promises.
God is with us in our trials too. This past week I reread a poem I am sure most of us have seen at one time or another. It is entitled "Footprints."
One night a man had a dream.
He dreamed he was walking along the beach with the Lord.
Across the sky flashed scenes from his life. For each scene,
he noticed two sets of footprints in the sand:
one belonging to him, and the other to the lord.
When the last scene of his life flashed before him,
he looked back at the footprints in the sand.
He noticed that many times along the path of his life
there was only one set of footprints.
He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest
and saddest times in his life.
This really bothered him and he questioned the Lord
about it. "Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you,
you'd walk with me all the way. But I have noticed
that during the most troublesome times of my life,
there is only one set of footprints. I don't understand why,
when I needed you most, you would leave me."
The Lord replied, "My precious, precious child, I love you
and I would never leave you. During your times of trial
and suffering, when you saw only one set of footprints,
it was then that I carried you."
This, congregation, is the glory of the church. We know how to rejoice and be glad in times of oppression and hardship because we know that the Lord is with us, that He never leaves us nor forsakes us. The Lord's presence with us is our comfort, our hope, our joy, and our song.
Knowing the Lord is with us, we, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego can be faithful even under fire.
One final thing we notice in our passage: the king's hallelujah, his song of praise to God:
(Dan 3:28) Then Nebuchadnezzar said, "Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king's command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.
Who would ever have suspected that the pagan festival on the plain of Dura would lead to such a conclusion? It looked like the story was going to end with the fiery death of the three men. But God was in control from the very beginning. It was His intent to glorify His name even on the plain of Dura.
The Lord used the faith and faithfulness of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to bring Him praise from a heathen King. A heathen worship service is suddenly transformed into a song of praise to God because of their faith and faithfulness: "Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego ..."
Faith and faithfulness changes everything. What great things are possible if only God's people remain faithful!
Can I challenge you, congregation, to have the faith and faithfulness – even under fire – of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? Have their faith and faithfulness. Rest assured that the Lord is always with you. And your faith and faithfulness too can only result in praise to God: "Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego ..."
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