Lessons from the fiery furnace

June 21st, 2017

In my message today I want look at a great and inspiring story from the Old Testament. It is found in Daniel chapter 3 and is often referred to as the Fiery Furnace. In this passage we will see three young men who are challenged by a leader to bow down to a golden statue. They refuse to do it as it would compromise their faith in God.

In this story we learn what it is to be forced to act in a way that would compromise our faith. We also see what it is to refuse and face the consequences whatever they may be. And we see the hand of God at work doing the impossible and turning the whole situation around.

Reading Daniel 3:1-30

1 King Nebuchadnezzar made a gold statue ninety feet tall and nine feet wide and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.  2 Then he sent messages to the high officers, officials, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates, and all the provincial officials to come to the dedication of the statue he had set up.  3 So all these officials came and stood before the statue King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.  4 Then a herald shouted out, “People of all races and nations and languages, listen to the king’s command!  5 When you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes, and other musical instruments, bow to the ground to worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s gold statue.  6 anyone who refuses to obey will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”  7 So at the sound of the musical instruments, all the people, whatever their race or nation or language, bowed to the ground and worshiped the gold statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.  8 But some of the astrologers went to the king and informed on the Jews.  9 They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “Long live the king!  10 You issued a decree requiring all the people to bow down and worship the gold statue when they hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes, and other musical instruments.  11 That decree also states that those who refuse to obey must be thrown into a blazing furnace.  12 But there are some Jews–Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego–whom you have put in charge of the province of Babylon. They pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They refuse to serve your gods and do not worship the gold statue you have set up.”  13 Then Nebuchadnezzar flew into a rage and ordered that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought before him. When they were brought in, 14 Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you refuse to serve my gods or to worship the gold statue I have set up?  15 I will give you one more chance to bow down and worship the statue I have made when you hear the sound of the musical instruments. But if you refuse, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. And then what god will be able to rescue you from my power?”  16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you.  17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty.  18 But even if He doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”  19 Nebuchadnezzar was so furious with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face became distorted with rage. He commanded that the furnace be heated seven times hotter than usual.  20 Then he ordered some of the strongest men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace.  21 So they tied them up and threw them into the furnace, fully dressed in their pants, turbans, robes, and other garments.  22 And because the king, in his anger, had demanded such a hot fire in the furnace, the flames killed the soldiers as they threw the three men in.  23 So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, securely tied, fell into the roaring flames.  24 But suddenly, Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in amazement and exclaimed to his advisers, “Didn’t we tie up three men and throw them into the furnace?” “Yes, Your Majesty, we certainly did,” they replied.  25 “Look!” Nebuchadnezzar shouted. “I see four men, unbound, walking around in the fire unharmed! And the fourth looks like a god!”  26 Then Nebuchadnezzar came as close as he could to the door of the flaming furnace and shouted: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stepped out of the fire.  27 Then the high officers, officials, governors, and advisers crowded around them and saw that the fire had not touched them. Not a hair on their heads was singed, and their clothing was not scorched. They didn’t even smell of smoke!  28 Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He sent His angel to rescue His servants who trusted in Him. They defied the king’s command and were willing to die rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.  29 Therefore, I make this decree: If any people, whatever their race or nation or language, speak a word against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they will be torn limb from limb, and their houses will be turned into heaps of rubble. There is no other god who can rescue like this!”  30 Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to even higher positions in the province of Babylon.

This is an amazing reading. As I said we see the hand of God at work in turning the situation around. In this message, I want to share three things about our friends that we can learn from their faith and commitment. To make it easier I have made three points all starting with the letter D – different, daring and dedicated.

1 – Different

Our friends Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego were very different to the culture around them. They did not go with the flow and bow down to the statue like everyone else around them. They knew that to bow down to a statue was being unfaithful to God. They just knew they couldn’t do it and follow God wholeheartedly. They had to refuse.

As we saw the local Astrologers did not like this and they dobbed them in to the King. They not only dobbed them in, but they told the King what the punishment should be. This was a common tactic in the day to get rid of people who were a threat to you. Convince the king to bring in a rule you know they can’t follow and then tell the King.

But our three friends were different. They refused to bow down. They didn’t go with the flow of society.

Jesus was different – If we look at the life of Jesus we see that He was different too. The Jews expected Him to come in a golden chariot and wipe away the Roman oppression and vindicate their faith and way of life (Malachi 3:1-5, Zechariah 14:1-3). But Jesus did not come in a chariot and wipe away the oppression. He came in a manger as a baby (Luke 2:7) and years later His chosen vehicle was a donkey (John 21:5). He didn’t come to be a mighty king in the earthly sense, He came to be a servant King (Mark 10:45) who loved others and showed us what God is like (John 14:9). He came to die on the cross for our sin (1 Thessalonians 5:10). He came to bring healing and wholeness (Luke 4:18). He was a king from a different Kingdom – a Kingdom not of this world (John 18:36).

Christians should be different – We as Christians are called to be different too. Romans 12:2 call us to not conform to the patterns and behaviours of this world. We are told in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) to love one another, to be salt and light, to love our enemies, to not take revenge, to give to the needy, to be faithful in prayer, to not judge others, to seek first the Kingdom of God and to build on the solid foundation of Jesus. This as we know is counter cultural to the worlds way of thinking, but it is perfectly in line with Kingdom thinking. Just like Jesus and our friends from the furnace, we are called to be different too.

2 – Daring

Our friends in the story we very daring. They stood up to King Nebuchadnezzar. King Neb was not known to be very stable or even tempered. He was exactly the opposite. We read throughout the Scriptures that he went insane for seven years due to his overwhelming pride in himself and his accomplishments. And God had to take him down a peg or 10.

Building statues was common place in the ancient world. Some used them to honour themselves, some used them to honour their gods, while some used them to force people to worship one central thing to bring unity and stability. Bible scholars tell us this is why King Neb built his statue – to control the people.

In verse 16-19 we read that “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you.  17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty.  18 But even if He doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”

This was very daring. It would be like standing up to Saddam Hussain, Robert Mugabe or Adolf Hitler. You would be sure of what was going to happen. And it did in their case, they were thrown into the fiery furnace.

Jesus was daring – Again if we look at the life of Christ we see that Jesus was daring too. He spoke out against the religious leaders of the day when He called them blind guides who led people astray (Matthew 15:14). When He said they only polished the outside of the cup when the inside was dirty, this was about how they lived in public compare to their private lives (Matthew 23:25). He was also very daring when He turned over the tables in the Temple and told the people that God’s house should be a house of prayer, but they had turned it into a den of thieves (Mark 11:17).

Christians should be daring – As Christians we should be daring too. There are times when we must speak up or stand up too. When we see injustice, or people being treated badly, or when we see corruption or when the Lord asks us to share our faith publicly. However, we know that we don’t do this alone. Like Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego we know the Lord is with us.

Acts 1:8 tells us that we will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be My witnesses, telling people about Me everywhere. Philippians 4:13 tells us that we can do all thing through Christ’s strength. 2 Timothy 1:7 reminds us that God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. Romans 8:11 tells us that the Holy Spirit lives inside us. And in Hebrews 13:5 God promises to never leave us or forsake us.

As Christians, we can be daring because we know God is always with us, the power of Christ helps us and we have power to be His witnesses.

3 – Dedicated

Our friends Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego were also very dedicated to their God.

In verses 17-18 we saw the depth of their devotion to God. “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty.  18 But even if He doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”

I love the way that they boldly said that our God is able to save us and rescue us from your hand. But even if he doesn’t, we will not bow down. They knew God might save them in this life from King Neb or He might take them home and save them that way. It was rock solid faith that shows real dedication.

Jesus was dedicated – Throughout the New Testament we see the dedication of Jesus. He was dedicated to His Father in Heaven. He was dedicated to us. We see His dedication from His leaving the glories of heaven to live amongst us (Philippians 2:7). We see His dedication through His travel throughout the countryside for the one person. He crossed the lake for the demon possessed man (Matthew 8:28-34). He walked 150 kilometres for the woman at the well (John 4:3-7). Could you imagine the anguish that Jesus must have felt in the Garden of Gethsemane – knowing what was before Him (Mark 14:32-46). As we saw earlier in communion, even on the cross He cared for His mother and what would happen to her and He even promised salvation to the thief beside Him. Jesus’ heart and mind was always on His Father in heaven and His will, and it was always on us. That is real dedication.

Christians should be dedicated – Church we need to be dedicated to Christ and His Kingdom. We need to put God first place in our lives. We know that we have times in this life where we are tested and tempted to turn away, but we must remain firm to the cause. We must follow Christ’s example by serving others (Mark 10:45), teaching others about Christ and how to follow Him (Matthew 28:19), making sure we continue to grow in our faith and trust in Him (2 Peter 3:18). We need to be faithful attendance at our churches (Hebrews 10:25). We must keep our hearts and minds set on things above (Colossians 3:1-2) and seeking first the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33), because we know God promises to supply all our needs as we do (Matthew 6:25-32).

 Closing

So in closing today I want to encourage you to learn the lessons from the fiery furnace. Let us purpose in our hearts to be like Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego. Let us purpose to be daring and stand up for the cause of Christ and our faith in Him. Let us purpose in our hearts to be different to the world around us and live out the Kingdom principles. And finally, let us purpose in out hearts to be dedicated to the things and God and the mission He has placed before us.

Amen