Daniel 3-7 (6.18.22)
In Daniel chapter 3, we encounter one of my favorite Old Testament stories. There are so many layers and lessons here that it truly blesses me again and again. Let’s dive into the testimony of three guys named Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
Daniel 3:14 (NIV) says, “Nebuchadnezzar said to them, ‘Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up?’”
King Nebuchadnezzar had built a 90-foot statue of gold and placed it in the city center with orchestras surrounding it. His command on the people was when they heard the music, they had to stop what they were doing and bow down to it. If they didn’t do this, they were thrown into the blazing furnace to die. The statue is never given a name or specific description, but what we do know is the Babylonian culture worshiped many gods. King Neb himself refers to this, as he lays out consequences for those who “do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up.”
The Hebrew word in the NIV translation “or” is also used as the word “by.” It makes sense here. In other words, Neb is saying there are consequences if the people don’t serve his (many) gods by worshiping the image of gold he has set up. The statue is meant to represent many gods. It represents the diversity and plurality of the city. What he is really saying here is, “I am not asking you to just worship my gods instead of your God. I am just asking you to worship our gods in addition to your god.” In other words, “If you are going to make it in our land, in this pluralistic city of Babylon, you must embrace the diversity and capitulate to it by joining us in our pluralistic worship.”
What we have to see is this pressure is on us as well in our modern culture. We, too, are pressed by the culture to not just tolerate other ideas and beliefs or lifestyles; we are charged by the culture to embrace the many roads people might choose. This is a direct attack on God’s command to not have any other gods before Him. It is a direct attack on the exclusivity of Christ, who claims that He is the only way, truth, and life.
In our passage today, we see that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had none of it. Now, we assume that because they stood so strong against the cultural pressure that they must have been like the Amish--set out and removed from the city life. But they weren’t. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego all lived in the center of the city and worked for the very leaders that conquered them. Daniel was one of the highest advisors to Neb there (much like Joseph was to Pharaoh as the one interpreting his dreams). They were doing what Jeremiah 29 said the people should do, which was to work for the city, invest in the city, and love the city, so they could minister to the city. But when they were asked to privatize their faith and to compromise their worship of the one, true God, they said, “NO, and we don’t care what the consequences are.”
Read Daniel 3:16-18 again.
Their response in the face of pending painful death is awesome. They believe that God can save them. They believe that God will save them. But if in His sovereign plan He does not, they still will not bow down to that false image. This is an awesome example of true devotion and faith. Despite the level of threat, and despite the ability and authority of the ruler they are conversing with to carry out their penalty for disobeying, they hold fast full of faith and devotion to God alone.
Now, what is so key in this that we must see here today is they are saying, “We do not trust in our God, worship our God, live for our God, suffer for our God because of what we get out of it, but simply for who He is.” We love God for Himself! Not just for what He can give us!
This unveils for us one of the biggest controversies we have in modern Christianity today. People who claim faith and devotion to God alone, and people who claim to worship God alone, but in the end, when life doesn’t go the way they want it to, they are furious with God. Why? Because deep down, God was just the means to an end--a greater affection of the heart. In the end, they want to be God and determine what they need or the way it should be according to themselves. Do you see the deception in that? The hypocrisy?
Do you know what you are truly devoted to? What you truly trust in to live and enjoy life? The core of our sin is to long for anything other than God, or worse, to use Him to get to the thing we really want. When the fire comes or when life the way you like it hits a screeching halt is when you truly find out if you are devoted to God or if you see God as needing to be devoted to you.
True worship is for a God who is worth it in and of Himself and not for what He has done for us. If God, Himself, determines we must go into the blazing furnace, then so be it. Why? How? Because I have God. Because God is my end! To live is Christ! To die is gain. Because I get to enjoy and feast with Christ all the more.
Do you see why these three said, “If God doesn’t save us from the fire, we still will not bow down”? No matter what happens next, they have already won! Why? Because they are spiritually fireproof. They are not clinging to something that they might lose. They are not trying to earn something they still need. They have God. They are satisfied in God! These guys said, “You can have it all, but you can’t separate us from God. So, turn the heat up. Let’s do this!”
What happens next? King Neb is furious with these three. He is steaming. So, what does he do? He has his men turn up the heat seven times its normal temperature and has them bound fully clothed and tossed in. The fire is so hot that the men who put them in it die from the heat!
Next, King Neb sees two shocking things. First, he sees Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego walking around in the blazing furnace. Next, he sees not three, but four men in the fire. The fourth he says “looks like a son of the gods.”
What can we glean from here? In the Bible, furnaces are a metaphor for trials, suffering, and trouble. Exile doesn’t mean comfort. It doesn’t mean home. When you are in captivity or stuck in a strange and foreign land, you are not comfortable at home.
A few things to take away here:
First, while in this life, you will suffer, struggle, and experience great trials! It is inevitable. Job 5:7 (NIV) says, “… man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.” 1 Peter 4:12 says, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”
As Americans, we really struggle with fully accepting this. No other country in the world thinks like we do when it comes to this. Americans deep down believe if you do life right, you will not and should not suffer. We think, “I have lived a good life. Why should I suffer?” The simple answer to that is Jesus lived a perfect life, and He suffered greatly during His life and in His death. We need to hold to the truth the apostle Paul gives us, “… the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
Second, if you truly trust in God and hold nothing as more valuable than Him, then when the fire of this life comes, you will not burn up; instead, it will be to you what fire is to gold. It will refine you at your very core, changing you from the inside out. The fire will produce in you a character--the Fruit of the Spirit that you and I cannot produce ourselves.
But, if you hold onto something as more valuable to you than God, the fire will consume you. Why? Because it has something to cling to and consume. But in God, you cannot be consumed by the fiery trials. You will instead be refined.
1 Peter 1:7 … the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
This allows us to embrace our exile position in this time and in this land. It allows us to not only endure suffering when it comes, but to joyfully embrace it. Why? Because we see how in God’s grip, suffering refines us for His perfect purposes. God says, “If you trust in me, I will walk with you in the furnace of your trials and suffering.”
Isaiah 43:1-3 “… Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
… when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior …”
“I will be with you.” Jesus said it to us before ascending to heaven: “I will always be with you.” How is He with us? The same way He was with the three men in the furnace. Once again, we see in this encounter the appearance of the angel of the Lord. Did you catch it? Neb said it himself in verse 28. Verse 28 (NIV) says, “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 ...’”
In the Bible, there are angels of God who come with words from Him, and in the Old Testament there is also the angel of the Lord. Distinct from the rest, the angel of the Lord in the Old Testament can be appreciated only if we understand him as a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ Himself.
Why is this good news to you and me today? How does this help us walk through the fires and trials and struggles of our lives here and now? You will feel Jesus Christ walking with you through the furnaces you face in this life--to the degree you know that Jesus was willingly thrown into the ultimate furnace for you.
Jonathan Edwards, years ago, wrote a sermon where he talked about this as he walked through the New Testament passage regarding Jesus in His last hours praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Do you remember Jesus was sweating drops of blood? Edwards says, “The thing that Christ’s mind was so full of at that time was a near view of the furnace of wrath, into which he was to be cast; it was the dread which his human nature had of that dreadful cup of wrath, which was vastly more terrible than Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace.”
The gospel of Jesus Christ that changes everything if you repent and trust your entire life to Him is this: Because of our sin--because time and time again we bow down to the idols of this world and make our lives about us and not about God--you and I deserve to be cast away from God and to lose the pure joy and satisfaction that it is to know Him. Here is the truth: It is pure joy and satisfaction to know Him, and it is pure agony and suffering to be apart from Him. It’s a fiery furnace. The good news that everything is built on, the One whose name every story whispers, is His name--Jesus. God in flesh came and was thrown into the blazing hot furnace of God’s perfect wrath that we deserve. He does this for those whom God awakens to this good news. Maybe He is doing this right now in your soul. For those who hear of this gift of immeasurable proportions that Jesus died to take on our deserved wrath, this is the good news that sets us free. This is the good news we stand on to walk confidently through this life and its furnaces.
This is the One who walks with us and sustains us unto victory into eternal life no matter how this life goes.
Now at the very end of this passage, Neb says it right. Verse 29 (NIV) says, “… no other god can save in this way.” If you cling to any self-righteousness, any other god, any other power and try to walk through the furnace, it will not be able to save or sustain you. You will be forever consumed with agony. Jesus Christ suffered for me, not that I might not suffer, but so when I suffer, I might become like Him who is victorious over suffering unto eternal life with Yahweh! “… no other god can save in this way.” Amen.
By His grace and for His glory,
Soldiers for Jesus MC