Summary: Christian culture and worldly culture often clash. How do faithful disciples of Jesus Christ respond when cultures come into conflict?
Our text today reflects two cultures that are in great conflict, and even though they were people from different cultures, the conflict arose over the subject of religion. If you’ve been around church at all, you’ve probably heard the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and the fiery furnace. Because we only read portions this morning, let me give you the Reader’s Digest version of their story.
Daniel is one of those books of the Bible that is part history book and part prophecy. King Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem in 587 B.C., and took anybody who was anybody away into exile in Babylon, modern day Iraq. Among those were three Jewish princes named Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, along with their friend, Daniel. All these royal young people were trained up for the royal court in Babylon. They learned the Persian language and literature, they lived in the royal palace, they were fed royal food…well, sort of.
Nebuchadnezzar gave them Babylonian names: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These young men refused to eat from the royal table. There was a cultural conflict. They would only eat vegetables and drink water. To do otherwise, would be a violation of their conscience, and the faith they had placed in God. After three years’ time, Nebuchadnezzar examined his recruits and found that Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were the most fit in his entire court. They literally got fat off of vegetables and water. He rewarded them by placing Daniel in charge of his royal court and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were appointed administrators in Babylon.
Later, Nebuchadnezzar has a golden statue erected and he orders all his royal courts to come to the dedication. Everyone is told to bow down and worship this golden statue as soon as they hear the music or they will be thrown into a fiery furnace. A group of Chaldeans (yet another culture in the mix) take notice of the Jews and they see that as everyone else is bowing down to this statue that the Jews Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego do not.
The Chaldeans tell the king that the Jewish princes are not bowing down to worship this golden statue, and the king becomes livid. He calls for them and reminds them of the situation they are in. He gives them a choice that their lives depend on. They can bow down and worship the statue when the trumpets sound, or they can be thrown into a fiery furnace. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego when faced with this terrible situation of denying God or denying themselves their very lives, decide that they have a higher authority than Nebuchadnezzar to answer to and refuse again to worship the golden statue.
They tell him, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. 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. 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."