Sunday 25 November 2018
Preacher: Rev E Stegen
Text: Daniel 3:6
“Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”
An illustration: Before putting the pencil into a box and sending it into the world, the pencil maker gave the pencil five important life guidelines:
- Your ability to do things will depend on you allowing someone to hold you.
- Sharpening will make you a better pencil.
- You will be able to correct any mistake you make.
- The most important part of you is inside.
- Leave your mark on every surface.
In the third chapter of Daniel there are three young men who were prepared to be held in the Master’s hand and stand for the truth. As followers of Jesus Christ there is much to be learned from them. Place yourself in their situation and see how you would respond.
King Nebuchadnezzar was the most powerful king of ancient Babylon. His kingdom was the greatest the world had seen. He defeated the Egyptians and Syrians at Carchemish in 605 BC. He subdued Palestine and Syria and controlled all trade routes stretching across Mesopotamia but the devil got hold of Nebuchadnezzar through his ego. He built a golden statue 27m tall and 2.7m wide. All the leaders and rulers of Babylon were summoned to the dedication of the image he had set up for himself. He demanded that these people bow down and worship the image.
This demand placed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in a frightening position. They knew God’s laws about idolatry and that it was unacceptable to Him to worship the image. All the nobles and leaders, though, displayed little character for “…all the people, the nations, and the languages, fell down and worshipped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.” (verse7) except these three Jewish men who refused to be disloyal to their God. In verse 8, “…certain Chaldeans came near and accused the Jews.” Although many other young men, sons of royalty, had been captured to work in the courts of Babylon, only four are presented as uncompromising – Daniel and his three friends.
The Chaldeans had been the pillars of the Babylonian hierarchy but when these three men were promoted to high positions in Babylon, it incensed the Chaldeans and incited envy. They accused the Jews to the king saying, “…these men, O king, have not regarded thee: they serve not thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.” (verse 12)
Jealousy and envy was the case in the life of Saul. He had been a great king but because of the sin of envy, Saul’s life degenerated into utter uselessness. Saul heard people singing, ‘Saul has slain his thousands and David his ten thousands.’ This was only a song but it awakened the wicked passion of envy. Song of Solomon says jealousy is as cruel as the grave. It literally corrodes the soul. It destroys the beauty of the soul like a grave destroys the beauty of the body. Are there people among us who have the spirit of the Chaldeans? If you are full of egoism and pride you cannot stand a person who does not conform. One person is enough to make you furious – let alone three.
King Nebuchadnezzar was in an absolute fury, demanding that the men be brought to him. He asked them whether it was true that “… do not ye serve my gods, nor worship the golden image which I have set up?” (verse 14) He repeated his command to them and threatened them with the punishment of the fiery furnace. Then he added a very stupid statement – “…and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?” (verse 15) He seems to have had a short memory. He had forgotten that God was able to reveal dreams and visions – the folly and stupidity of this kind of pride. He had forgotten that Daniel’s God was greater than all the gods of Babylon.
Their reply to the king is wonderful: They basically said, “We don’t have anything to say.” They were not arrogant – there was nothing to say. They simply said – We have nothing to say to you by way of denial and we have nothing to say by way of explanation – We are standing and that’s the way we will remain.
Then there is this wonderful statement in verse 17 & 18: “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.” They had nothing more to say. What a great statement! What faith! What courage! Their testimony on the edge of the fiery furnace, was unflinching and unwavering. They knew the blindness of the king. They knew an explanation was useless so they committed themselves to God. As in Job 13:15 “…though He slay me yet I will trust in Him.” What happened to their bodies was not an issue but their souls had to remain true to God.
This is for us – an uncompromising life that will not bow to any idol no matter what the cost. The idol of fashion, wealth, popularity, fame, comfort, respectability in the world – none of these can make us bow. There is no compromise for one who stands like this.
King Nebuchadnezzar was full of fury and his facial expression was altered towards Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. He gave orders to heat the furnace seven times hotter. He commanded valiant warriors to bind the men and cast them into the fiery furnace. Now it became clear to these men that God was not going to save them from the fire but if you cannot be saved from the fire you hope to be saved in the fire and that is what happened. They knew they were unable to escape their experience but they trusted God to suffer through their experience to His glory. Maybe they remembered the comforting words in Isaiah 43:2: “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.”
It did not go so well with the soldiers who were burned to death. On the outside, the soldiers were burned to death but on the inside the young men were having a great time. The king was astounded and asked his counsellors whether they had not put three men in the fire? “But now I see four men, not bound but loose, walking around in the fire and the form of the fourth is like the son of the gods.” They were not lying down but walking around. They were not burning up but completely unhurt. The fourth one looks like the son of the gods. They were not trying to get out, but were enjoying each other’s company.
Elijah had similarly been honoured by having God’s angels serving him food at a time when he was terribly discouraged. (1 Kings 19) How wonderful that we do not go through any experience where God is not there in divine fellowship. The hotter the fire, the sweeter the fellowship.
The king summoned the men out of the furnace. They underwent a full investigation. Not a hair was singed and their garments were not burned. They did not have the smell of fire on them. Nebuchadnezzar said “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God.” (verse 28)
This sounds like Romans 12:1 “Present your bodies a living sacrifice and be not conformed to this world. Their experience is an illustration of Romans 12:1,2 – they yielded their bodies. Blessed be the God who can get this kind of allegiance from His people.
You and I will probably never face a fiery furnace but you are going to face trials by fire. They will come from several sources: satan, the world, what God allows, but in all the end result must be that we will be refined, remain courageous and be uncompromising.
An illustration: Geoffrey Studdert-Kennedy was an English minister who served as a military chaplain during the First World War. He had to leave his family and a very young son. From the battlefront trenches of the Somme in France he wrote to his wife for her to read to their little one. Here’s what it said: The first prayer I want my son to learn to say for me is not, ‘God, keep Daddy safe.’ The first prayer I want my son to learn is, ‘God, make Daddy brave, and if he has hard things to do, make him strong to do them.’ Life and death don’t matter, my son. Right and wrong do. Daddy dead is Daddy still. But Daddy dishonoured before God is something too awful for words. I suppose you’d like to put in a bit about safety, too, and Mother would. Well, put it in afterwards, always afterwards, for it doesn’t matter nearly as much.”
There are few things as wonderful as when God’s people stand. Even if they face death, the fire or being cast into a furnace of blazing fire – it is wonderful if they have the courage to stand – when they do not fear the furnace or death but they stand for the truth. May God grant that all of you will stand no matter what the cost.
Whatever comes your way or whatever happens, that you will be able to stand and that you shall not be moved. That you will say by God’s grace, I cannot move. I will stand.
May God grant you the grace through the power of the Holy Spirit that you will stand no matter what you see before you. These three men were not moved by the blazing fire, seven times hotter. In it all they conquered. May we be of the same kind. May God through the Holy Spirit work in your life that you will be counted among these young people.
God bless you.