Live courageously - Daniel 3
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
When I was a child growing up, I used to love playing a game on the computer called Lemmings. So hundreds of these little lemmings would fall onto the screen, one after another and they would just start walking. The problem was that there were a number of obstacles and dangers to navigate. So I had to command these lemmings to build stairs, climb up walls, dig holes and even sometimes fly! I’m not sure actually whether it is too dissimilar to today’s games like Minecraft, where you instruct people to build houses, mine for resources and even gat your character to fly! My reason for talking about Lemmings is that these little animals would follow my every command, if I told them to dig, they would, if one built a staircase, all of them would climb up it and if I dug a hole to the bottom of the screen, all of them would walk into it, despite the perils that they would face below.
The Powerful King/Symbol (v1-13)
This is a very similar situation to the land of Babylon, they were ruled by the King Nebuchadnezzar and everything he said, people would have to do and really, they would have no issue doing it. So the account starts off with the king building this massive golden statue that he would command everyone to worship. The people here in the Ancient East are polytheists, meaning they worship multiple gods, so adding another deity to their list was not really a difficult thing. Apart from the size and what it was made out of, we don’t know much more about this statue. Maybe the image represented was Nebuchadnezzar himself, after all in his dream that we heard about in the last chapter, he had a head of gold. The truth is whether it did look like him or not, it was a symbol of the king’s craving for power and to see all the people doing what he commanded. Not least as he calls a long list of dignitaries to the special dedication of this statue where the decree goes out that all should bow down and worship at the sound of the all these instruments and verse 7 says that all the people did. This is certainly a change from the end of chapter 2 where Nebuchadnezzar proclaims Daniel’s God to be the god of gods, the Lord of kings and the revealer of mysteries. The truth is a few years have passed and the king has seemingly forgotten the power of Daniel’s God or maybe he never really became an exclusive worshiper of the true God. This truly shows that condition of the human heart is geared toward sinfulness. Will I live in God’s rule and worship him or will I rule my own life? That self rule and sinfulness shows it’s self in this chapter through; pride, jealousy and anger but also grips our lives. We must live for God as he is the only one who can rescue us from sinfulness that will ultimately lead to death.
However, there were a few good men who submitted to God’s rule and would not bow down and worship this idol. They were the Jews; Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. We are told that after watching them, some astrologers went to the king and informed him that these Jews were not bowing down and worshiping the statue. These are the same astrologers who did not know what the king’s dream was in the last chapter, also the same ones who we can assume are still living because a Jew, Daniel, did know the dream and could interpret it through God giving him the wisdom.
Daniel 2:24 says “Then Daniel went to Arioch, whom the king had appointed to execute the wise men of Babylon, and said to him, “Do not execute the wise men of Babylon. Take me to the king, and I will interpret his dream for him.”
Wow, what courage and trust in God from Daniel, but as we see the story play out, it is God’s kindness that shines through on these astronomers as he reveals the dream and the interpretation to Daniel and in turn saves the lives of these astronomers. They have been rescued from certain death and yet they do not recognise that kindness and they are still craving their own power and position. They hated the rise to power of the Jews and that they were appointed over them as administrators over the land, so what a great opportunity to bring them down a peg or two by telling the king that they were disobeying him. The self ruling king was obviously furious. We see the sinful human heart bursting our here... Nebuchadnezzar was proud when he should be humbled before our almighty God, the astronomers were jealous when they should have been grateful for the wonderful kindness of our God and then Nebuchadnezzar was furious because he did not recognise the God of peace! We are so like this, the condition of our heart is so sinful, we are proud, we can be jealous, we get angry. Christians are not perfect people but we should be recognising our sin as God reveals it in our lives and it should point us to bring it to him and ask for forgiveness and help to live more like our humble and kind God who brings us peace.
The Powerful Furnace (v14-23)
As I mentioned, Nebuchadnezzar is furious with the friends and he commands them to be brought to him and he questions them on this issue and asks the question when talking about the furnace, what god will be able to rescue you from my hand? Without any kind of fear, they answer in verse 17 and 18... “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. ”
The 3 friends knew the power of God despite the imminent threat that was posed to their lives, they said our God is able to deliver us. They were looking to their God in this danger, they trusted in what he would do and they were willing to lose their lives to live courageously for him. Knowing who God is means we can fear him and nothing else. Are we willing to live courageously for our God or are we just going to be like Lemmings following the crowd.
I read a story a few years ago about the Chinese underground church which meets in secret in people’s homes and if discovered the authorities often jail and kill the Christians in attendance. Well a church was meeting as normal one week and there was a banging at the door which suddenly burst open. The lone police office walked in and the attendees knew they were caught. The officer approaches them slowly and says, if you are willing to renounce your faith in Jesus Christ, you can leave right now. A number of people hurriedly left. The man then lowered his hand to his sidearm and gave the option again, if you are willing to renounce your faith in Jesus Christ, you can leave right now, another couple of people left. The handful of remaining members stood in front of the officer with tears in their eyes, knowing that they could not deny their God who had been so faithful to them, they were prepared to die for the God who died for them. The officer then moved his hand from his sidearm and spoke saying, I am so sorry, but I needed to be sure that you were true followers of Christ as I am too a Christian and being a police officer, my life is even more at risk by coming to worship with you today. The believers joyfully and very relieved hugged the man and continued their meeting.
A pretty extreme example but those remaining handful of Christians were willing to live courageously, just like Shadrak, Meeshack and Abendego, because Knowing who God is means we can fear him and nothing else. I think we as a people can be faithful Christians but in one of those situations, would we live courageously? Would we prepared to give up our life for the God who died for us?
These 3 friends would not bow the knee to any other god or king even with the threat of death, but how are they able to do this? Well, they knew that our God is faithful, they have had many years experience of that in Israel and now in Babylon. So what about us Christian, are we ready to proclaim the name of Christ when in the face of persecution, or mockery, how about shame? Are we ready to speak about Jesus Christ to our family members knowing they might think less of us. If not, let me ask you this question, Who is on the throne of your life? You see as we treasure Christ and fix our eyes on him, our allegiance will be firmly with him, he is our king and we can be courageous as we know that he has always been faithful to us. We have a hope and a future which is greater than our fear, than our anxiety, than the persecution that we may face as we live courageously for Christ.
Well the power craved Nebuchadnezzar is even more furious at this response and his attitude towards them changed or quite literally, his face changed. The one who in his own pride created an image with the purpose of uniform loyalty finds his own image provoked beyond control. So he orders the furnace to be super heated, reflecting his rage, and he orders his soldiers to throw them in.
Surprisingly the loyalty of the soldiers in following their king’s commands actually caused their own death as they were burned up by the heat of the furnace. Like in the game Lemmings, when I commanded them to dig a hole into the abyss, every single one of the lemmings would follow my command and walk along in blissful ignorance of the danger. The truth here is that loyalty to any other throne than that of Jesus, ultimately results in death.
The Powerful God (v24-27)
So what of the 3 friends, well we see God’s power miraculously at work here as they are not burned up. Nebuchadnezzar himself says, “I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the forth looks like a son of the gods.”
The 3 men were brought out and and no fire had touched them or their clothes. What an astounding visual displace of the power and protection of God to his people and certainly shows Nebuchadnezzar that God is ultimately in charge. In Deuteronomy 32:39, God declares that “no one can deliver out of my hand”. We don’t know who the forth person in the furnace was, some have speculated it is an angel, some even that it is Jesus himself but it doesn’t matter really, the fact is that the rescue was of God and he saved the men from the powerful furnace and ultimately the powerful king. He did it to show his ultimate powerful authority, to show that he is reigning on the throne and no other god or king can compare. Brothers and sisters, as God’s children, we are safe and secure in his hands, nothing can happen to us in this life that he does not allow and we can be fully confident, that he will bring us home to live with him in heaven for all eternity, when he calls time on short stay in this world.
Pete said in his reflection a couple of weeks back that in all of these stories, our eyes can be upon Daniel, or indeed these 3 friends, of course we should see them as a good example but we should move our eyes from men and fix our eyes on Jesus. The God who loves us more than we could ever fully understand. He suffered wicked torment and persecution in this world so that through trusting in him, we can be forgiven of the vile sin that we are guilty of. Jesus Christ faced the furnace of God’s wrath and took the punishment that we deserve for committing sin against the pure, righteous and holy God who made us and sustains us day by day. If you have trusted in Jesus, he has rescued you from a punishment far greater than a blazing furnace, we have been saved from an eternity in hell, a place of torment, a place where there will be an absence anything good and the only experience of God will be of his wrath. Daniel and these 3 friends are good men but they all point to Jesus, look at what he has done, look to the kindness that he offers you today. If you have not asked for forgiveness for your sin and put your trust in Jesus Christ, placing him on the throne of your life then I urge you to see the kindness and forgiveness that he offers you today, God’s way and rule is the best way, no matter what.
The Powerful Response (v28-30)
Nebuchadnezzar’s response is clear for all to see here as he calls the men servants of the Most High God, he is humbled and in awe of the miracle that has been done, he won’t have seen miracles by the other god that were worshiped in Babylon. So he moves from furious anger to praise, declaring this...
“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. Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.”
We don’t know if Nebuchadnezzar has become an exclusive worshiper of the true God here or not but he gives some honour and praise to God for what he has done. As we have seen and will continue to see through these first few chapters of Daniel, there is a trend of softening and hardening of the king’s heart until we get to the point where Nebuchadnezzar will finally be humbled before God.
So how should we respond to this story, it should warm our hearts Christian, as I have said our God who protected Shardrach, Meeshach and Abednego from the flames of the furnace in their great trust of him, is the same God who has provided us a great escape from the punishment for our sin. So the faith and courage of these 3 friends and the response of Nebuchadnezzar should help us to fix our eyes on the only God who is able, our Father God who loves us, cares for us and is working for our good in our every single situation.
Let me finish with a story of two preachers, one called Hugh Latimer and the other called Nicholas Ridley. They faithfully preached the Bible and proclaimed Christ Crucified. For this reason they were put to death by being burned at the stake, a similar situation to our 3 friends for being faithful to the one true God. As Latimer and Ridley were tied to the stake and before they were set alight they were asked to deny their teaching and Christ. They did not and Latimer said to Ridley... “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England as shall never be put out.”
They were burned, God did not choose to save them but he could have, he was able to but their deaths did light a candle in England and the reformation of the church to preach the gospel and faith in Jesus Christ alone, spread throughout the whole of England. A contrasting ending for these two men compared to our 3 friends in the book of Daniel, or is it? You see, where self-rule leads to death, God’s rule leads to life forever.”
Eventually we will all leave this world and we will all go at different times but for me, I want to go out with Jesus Christ on the throne of my life and I want to go out standing for him and living courageously proclaiming that his is the one true God.
Let me pray
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