Notes on Sermon Preached at PCF on 21 January 2012
Reference: Daniel 3
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Continuing in the book of Daniel, we are now some years into the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel is firmly established as Prime Minister in Babylon, his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, are in place as senior civil servants, and life and prospects are looking good for the four friends from Judah who had been taken captive by the despot king.
As for the king, one may have hoped that his encounters with Daniel and his friends, and their God, would have touched his heart. However…that is far from being the case…
1. The Idol
The King sets up a statue on a plane in Babylon – possible the site of the Tower of Babel. The similarity with the statue seen in the King’s dream in Chapter 2 makes it likely that the idol is setup in direct challenge to God’s verdict that after Nebuchadnezzar’s reign other kingdoms will arise. The King is saying, in effect, that he accepts God’s description of himself as the head of gold, but that his kingdom will last indefinitely. By ordering people to worship it, he is in effect telling his people to worship him. This is typical of dictatorship, where religion is often used as a tool of self- worship. We have to distance ourselves from the view that “all religion is good”. There are two forms of religion – true religion and false religion. The only religion that God endorses is true religion. Jesus said “I am the way the truth and life” .
Nebuchadnezzar seeks to consolidate his power by inviting all the leaders of all his provinces to the dedication of this monstrosity. By forcing them into an act of outward worship – and threatening them with public and agonising death if they refuse – he is in effect exalting his own position as absolute ruler.
And – unsurprisingly – the leadership of all the King’s provinces bow down and worship. There is an exception though. The God of Israel demands exclusive worship. You cannot worship God and Nebuchadnezzar any more than you can worship God and money. So God’s representatives are faced with a terrible dilemma.
2. The Accusation
Wherever God’s people serve Him there will be those who oppose them. “Everyone who wants to lead a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”. And here in Babylon there are enemies of God’s people who are more than happy to point out that the King’s orders have not been carried out. The king is faced with a dilemma. He is well disposed to the three men, but he has clearly pronounced the fate for those who disobey him. His status as King is at stake. So he gives the three men one last chance.
3. The Moment of truth
The three friends are faced with a momentous decision. Do they obey their God and save their lives, or do they disobey their God and save themselves? This is a replica of the situation faced by many persecuted Christians around the world today. And whilst we may never face exactly this position ourselves, we all daily have mini ”moments of truth” where the choice is to do what God wants – at cost to ourselves – or to compromise. What would you do in this situation?
The temptation to compromise must have been immense. They could have argued that they had made their point, that they only needed to appear to worship the idol. They could have reasoned that God had placed them there and that they could only serve him by compromising. But there is not a hint of compromise in their answer. There answer is one of the most inspiring statements of commitment found in the word of God:
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 7 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
What an example to Christians everywhere! They are saying, in effect, that whatever the cost, whatever the pain, obedience to God is the only acceptable option for them. Is that our attitude?
4. The Fiery Furnace
The three men are thrown into the furnace and the end seems inevitable. Then something amazing happens. God intervenes in the situation in a most dramatic and remarkable way. God will always honour his people when they obey him, whether it is by a remarkable deliverance as here or whether it is by rewarding them in eternity. You cannot lose by obeying God!
Bu there are further lessons here for God’s people. We cannot escape the fiery furnace! If we are in a furnace experience, it is not in spite of God’s care for us – it may well be because of it! Job, Paul and many others all experienced the fire of the furnace. What can we learn from it?
Firstly, we have to note that God is with us in the furnace. The fourth man, many believe is the Lord Jesus himself. God will never leave us or forsake us, and he is more evident in the furnace than at any other time.
Secondly, it is in the furnace that our bonds are burnt away. The three men become free in the furnace. God uses the fire to refine us and to set us free.
Thirdly, we do eventually come out! When God has done what he wants to do, we will come out of the furnace without a spot on us! Truly God’s care for his people is amazing
“But now, this is what the LORD says—
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
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.” (Isaiah 43 v 1-2)
5. The Outcome
The result is extraordinary: official and public recognition of the God of Israel and promotion for the three friends. The results brought about by obedience are staggering.
As for Nebuchadnezzar, he has had yet another attempt to acknowledge the God of Israel. And on the surface of it he has done so. But, as we will see in chapter four, his heart is not yet changed.
But that’s another story.