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Faith in the Furnace

Date: Sep. 10, 2017

Author: Michael Mark

Daniel 3:1-30

Key Verse: Daniel 3:17-18

Faith is foundational to our Christian lives.  Hebrews defines faith as “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Heb 11:1)”  How strong is your faith?  Do you have confidence in what you hope for?  Do you have assurance about what you do not see?  We have also learned that without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb 11:6).  The only way we can please God is with faith.  So how strong is your faith?  Do you desire to strengthen your faith?  Just as fire can refine gold, so our trials and difficulties are opportunities to refine our faith (1 Pet 1:7).  As refined gold becomes more valuable, so refined faith grows in value.  Today we will see an example of true faith in Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego – Daniel’s 3 friends, and by contrast we can learn what faith is not, through the actions of King Nebuchadnezzar.  I pray that through this you may discover ways in which you may strengthen your faith.

King Nebuchadnezzar made a startling confession as we learned last week.  He said to Daniel, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries (Dan 2:47).”  It sounded like he believes in God, and that the God of Daniel is the highest God of heaven and earth.  The problem is, he believed that there are other gods too.  The Bible teaches us that there is only one God.  There are more than 40 verses in the Bible that say this directly.  It says in Deut 4:39, “Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below.  There is no other.”  Nebuchadnezzar’s actions show that he did not really know or believe in the one true God.  Look at v.1, “King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.”  Nebuchadnezzar created a statue of one of his own gods.  Most likely this statue was of the god Bel, who was the primary god of Babylon at that time.  The statue was 9 feet wide and 90 feet tall.  This might seem disproportionate, but the 90 feet might also include a pedestal.  Solid gold itself is very heavy, so the statue may have been made of wood with gold plates hammered over it.  The king had summoned all of the ruling officials from all the provinces of his empire for the dedication of this statue.  There might not have been enough room for the all the empire’s citizens to fit in the plains of Dura, but here came all the representatives of the Babylonian government: the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all other provincial officials.  They were not merely invited, they were summoned by the king.  They were here on official government business.

When they had assembled before the image, the herald loudly proclaimed, “Nations and people of every language, this is what you are commanded to do: As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.  Whoever does not fall down and worship will be immediately thrown into a blazing furnace.”  Woah.  Imagine going to a meeting at city hall, and the mayor says “Ok people, if you don’t obey, I’m going to throw you into a blazing furnace.”  King Nebuchadnezzar was establishing his power over his empire.  Babylon was an empire built by conquering other nations, and perhaps now that the battles were over, Nebuchadnezzar could assert his authority by requiring all the peoples of every nation and language to worship his god.  Because the empire was made up of many conquered peoples, who had their own gods, opposition was expected.  With the threat of death, Nebuchadnezzar could force those who disagree to fall in line, or identify any who oppose and get rid of them.  This was not a quick and painless death either.  It was death in a blazing furnace – it would be a really hot, slow, painful and torturous death.

Look at what the people did in v.7.  When they heard the music, all the governors, people of every nation and language fell down and worshiped the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar set up.  There was almost no resistance to the king’s command.  Notice too what the king asked for.  He just asked that when the music came, that the people fall down and worship.  He did not ask for a verbal confession.  He did not ask them to change their lives.  He asked for a superficial acknowledgement.  He was only looking for external worship.  The worship of God is not that easy.  God requires that our worship is both internal and external.  In fact the worship of God begins internally, in the mind, and in the heart, and then is expressed externally, in actions.  The worship of God comes from knowing the word of God, which Nebuchadnezzar did not know very well.

There was some resistance to King Nebuchadnezzar’s commands.  Verse 8 shows us some astrologers who denounced the Jews.  They went to the king and specifically accused Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego of disobeying the king’s orders.  These astrologers accused them out of envy.  They must have known for a long time that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego would never worship an idol, because of their faithful lifestyle.  The three were appointed administrators over the province of Babylon, and the astrologers may have been resentful that foreigners were given such high positions.  They might have wanted to accuse them for a long time, but now, with the image that was set up, it was the perfect opportunity to get them in trouble.

From v.13, when Nebuchadnezzar heard the accusation, he was furious with rage.  He summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.  These men were brought before the king, and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? [When you hear the music], if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good.  But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace.  Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”  Did you get the last part of v.15?  He says, “what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”  Here, his true colors show.  The worship of the golden image was just a pretense, it was just a show.  The assembling of the governors was not about worship, it was about Nebuchadnezzar’s pride and power.  “What god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”  Nebuchadnezzar is claiming superiority over all gods, even the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.  He is saying no god can stop him.  This isn’t just what kings think.  In our day, even regular people have this attitude.  They don’t think God can control them.  They mock and blaspheme God.  Because of sin, people deny God, or want to take his place.  This is what happens in an upside-down world.  When we lift ourselves up over God, we can become proud, and other people’s lives become meaningless.  Nebuchadnezzar was ready to just throw people into the fire if they would not listen to him.

When Nebuchadnezzar asked, “What god will be able to rescue you from my hand,” the three replied, “Um, your Creator will save us.”  Just kidding, although that’s basically what they said.  At the threat of death, look at Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego’s response in v.16-17, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.  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 hand.”  There was this clear confidence and hope in God.  They did not need to defend themselves; no matter how the king challenged them, they would never bow down to another god.  And notice that they said, “the God we serve.”  Their identity was clear – they were servants of God.  And they believed that God was able to deliver them from anything.  To deliver means to liberate, rescue, or save.  They had no doubt whatsoever that God was able to save them.  They had seen how God honored their decision not to defile themselves with the king’s food in Ch. 1, and gave them knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning (Dan 1:17).  They had seen how God answered their urgent prayers and revealed to them not only what King Nebuchadnezzar had dreamed, but also the interpretation of it.

Knowing who God is and what he has done can strengthen our faith.  Jesus Christ is God who came to live among us.  He came to save us from sin, and to deliver us from death.  Remember what God has done for you.  He left his heavenly glory, and came to earth as a poor man.  He was despised and rejected, though he had done nothing wrong.  He was hated, though he had no sin.  He came to suffer on the cross and die for us.  He shed his blood for us, so that he could make atonement for all of our sins, and by this he was able to deliver us from the clutches of death.  He has redeemed us, and set us free from sin and death.  Who could save us?  God alone.  Who could deliver us?  God alone.  Jesus gave us his life, so that we could have eternal life and be with him in his kingdom forever.  We are saved by God with an extremely precious gift – the blood of his Son.  So Paul could write in Rom 8:31, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Because Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego knew God, they could be even more bold.  Look at v.18, “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.”  I love that “we want you to know, Your Majesty!”  “Just so you know, your highness.”  “Mark my words, O king.”  “But even if he does not.”  This is true faith.  They believed that God is able to save, but they leave that up to God.  This is not a false faith.  It is not a presumptuous faith.  They did not command God to do something, instead this was a humble submission to the will of God.  They trusted God, even if it meant death.  They trusted that their life was safe in God’s hands.  Even if their body was killed, their soul would be kept safe.  They reasoned, that if God should will that they die, it was because it was the better way.  God could use even death, for his good purposes.  And ultimately, for those who have this faith, they will receive their life back, and a reward.  God is infinitely wise.  God is infinitely just.  Do you believe this, and can you trust your life on it?

Now look at the response of Nebuchadnezzar.  He has become a madman.  Look at v.18-19, “Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed.”  In other Bible translations it says his face changed.  You could literally see his face change from calm to very angry.  “He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual (this just means as hot as possible) and commanded some of the strongest soldiers to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace.”  Nebuchadnezzar wanted to make sure these men would not escape, so he got the strongest men to do the job, but God would turn this around and make it a testimony to his power.  They were bound in their clothes – this detail will become important later.  The flames were so hot that even the strongest men in the king’s army were wiped out and killed.  How could Daniel’s 3 nerdy friends expect to survive?  When the flames took the soldiers, the three men, still tied, fell into the furnace.  This must mean there was an opening at the top of the furnace, as well as the bottom. 

Notice that up to this point, God did not save them.  He allowed them to go into the fire, but see what happens next in v.24-25, “Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, ‘Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?’ They replied, ‘Certainly, your Majesty.’  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.’”  God had saved them in the fire.  It was a miracle.  He even unbound them, so they were walking around freely in there.  What’s even more amazing is that there is a fourth person in there.  Some commentaries say that this is Jesus Christ, before he was born as a man, but other commentaries say it could just be an angel God had sent to be with them.  When the king said “son of the gods,” he still understood multiple gods.  So the fourth person resembled an angel in appearance, and may have been an angel.  In any case, from this we can learn that God is always with us, even in our trials.

King Nebuchadnezzar called them out, and they all walked out of the fire.  All the government officials were witnesses to this event.  The fire had not harmed their bodies, and not even a single hair was singed, and their clothes were not scorched.  This important detail about the clothes showed the power of God to save completely those who trust in him.  There was not even the smell of smoke.  If you have ever been in a campfire, you may know how smoke gets on to clothes.  In the end, Nebuchadnezzar praised God, and promoted the three.  He issued a decree saying anyone who says anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego shall be cut into pieces and their houses turned into piles of rubble.  This kind of sounds good, but misses the mark a little bit.  Though he praised God, he did not embrace Him.  He was the God of … Also his decree does not command people to worship or turn to God.  It just punishes them for saying anything bad.  The punishment itself is not in the spirit of God.  God does not want you to worship him at the end of a sword, he wants you to worship him because of his love and compassion for you.  Nebuchadnezzar did say something profound however, he acknowledged that no other god can save in this way.  Indeed, no other god can save except the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who is the God of Daniel, who is the God of Israel.

Though Nebuchadnezzar gave glory to God, he did not have true faith in him.  True faith does not bring pride.  True faith only worships one God.  True faith is not just a few isolated acts of praise, it is not a roller coaster of on again, off again faith – but true faith is a life of persevering faith. (S,M,A not bowing – a small act but amazing, consistent faith).  True faith brings humility, self discipline and love for God.  And sometimes it is tested in the furnace, to be refined and strengthened.  In times of peace, study the word of God, pray, and do acts of kindness for one another.  Offer your life to God.  Meditate, that is, think about Jesus Christ daily, what he gave up for you, how he saved you, and how he will come again one day and take you into his kingdom.  Consider how he endured a furnace hotter than Nebuchadnezzar’s so that you will never have to endure God’s wrath for your sins.  Embrace the small difficulties in life with courage, and take your cares, worries and burdens in prayer to God.  Not everything may go your way, but trust in God.  Let your faith be refined daily so that when the severe trials come, you will be ready, even to lay your life down.  Trust in Jesus, who can and will keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless when he comes again.  God is faithful (1 Cor 1:8-9).

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