Summary: A message on how believers can live victorious Christian lives in a hostile a culture.
The Rev’d Quintin Morrow
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
Fort Worth, Texas
The Text Summary: God’s people are to know, proclaim, and live His commandments, despite threats and pressures by the culture to do otherwise, all the while trusting the Lord to save them.
The Text Outline:
I. The King’s Evil Decree (vv. 1-7).
A. The project (v. 1): Nebuchadnezzar builds a gold statue 90 feet tall and 9 feet wide.
B. The politicians (vv. 2-3): Nebuchadnezzar summons all his political leaders to attend the statue’s dedication.
C. The proclamation (vv. 4-5): When the music sounded, everyone present was to bow down and worship the statue.
D. The penalty (vv. 6-7): Those refusing to bow down were to be cast into a fiery furnace.
II. The Three Men’s Faithful Response (vv. 8-23).
A. They wouldn’t bow (vv. 8-12).
B. They wouldn’t bend (vv. 13-18).
C. They were bound and cast into the fire (vv. 19-23).
III. The Lord’s Miraculous Deliverance (vv. 24-25).
A. The three men were joined by a fourth.
B. The three men wouldn’t burn.
One of the more frequent themes of our Lord’s parables and teaching during His earthly ministry was the tremendous cost of following Him as a disciple. Jesus was not esoteric or obscure about this; He said plainly and often that one must consider carefully the sacrifice demanded of those following Him because, as He said in John chapter 15,
If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, “The servant is not greater than his lord.” If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you.
Now there are greater and lesser degrees of persecution that result from following Jesus as a Christian, depending upon where God has placed you. In many Muslim countries being a believer in Christ makes one liable for prison, torture, or even death. In a socialist society being a disciple may mean the confiscation of goods, a work camp, re-education, or an inability to get decent housing, a well-paying job, or entrance to a university. In the Untied States there is no state-sponsored persecution for followers of Christ, but if one is living the life of a radical, daily, sold-out disciple, there will be a price to pay: marginalization at the office, the misunderstanding of family members, even perhaps the abandonment of old, dear friends.
Being persuaded then of the reality of the difficulties and opposition we will encounter as disciples of Jesus Christ, how are we to respond? And how are we to live as soldier-saints behind cultural enemy lines, with integrity, pleasing our Lord? Simply, we are to live with conviction, courage, fortitude, and faith.
The model for how we are to live as Christians in this world is portrayed beautifully for us in the incident relayed in Daniel chapter 3: The confrontation between the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar and the three Jewish exiles Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
Context, as always, is essential for our proper understanding and application of the passage. After years of covenantal unfaithfulness on the part of the people of Judah—specifically idolatry and sexual immorality—God’s forbearance was finally exhausted. After decades of refusal to heed the warnings of the Lord’s prophets and repent, God raised up the pagan Babylonians as an instrument of correction to chastise His people Judah. In 586 B.C. the Babylonian juggernaut rolled through town. Jerusalem was conquered, the temple of Solomon leveled, the treasures of the temple and the royal palace were pillaged, and with the brightest and best of the Jewish young men, were carted off for 70 years of captivity in Babylon.
Four Jewish men were among those exiles. Daniel, renamed by Nebuchadnezzar Belteshazzar, and his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, renamed by the king Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego respectively. Suddenly, these four faithful Jewish men found themselves in a hostile, pagan land. The language was foreign to them; the culture, the dress, the entertainment, and especially the religion of Babylon, were all foreign to them. These four had two choices: They could either abandon their faith in and obedience to the one, true God and adopt the culture of Babylon and blend in with everyone else, or they could resist inculturation and remain faithful to the God of their fathers—regardless of the cost. And there would be a cost if they chose the latter.
In Daniel chapter 2 Nebuchadnezzar has a dream of a great statue, but none of the court magicians, soothsayers, or astrologers could interpret the dream for the king. Only Daniel, given special wisdom by God, is able to interpret the king’s dream. The statue, Daniel tells the king, represents all the empires of human history. The golden head of the statue, however, represented Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon, the greatest emperor and empire the world had ever seen. Nebuchadnezzar responds to this revelation by rewarding Daniel, and making a similar image of gold 90 feet high and 9 feet wide, and demanded that everyone within the sphere of his influence would bow down and worship the image when he struck up the band. It isn’t hard to see that a showdown was inevitable.