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."
Nebuchadnezzar is filled with rage and orders the furnace to be heated up to seven times its customary heat. He orders some of the strongest men in his army to bind the Jewish princes and throw them into the fiery furnace. The fire was so hot that as these soldiers lifted the three young men to throw them into the fire, the soldiers themselves were killed immediately. And, down went Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the fiery furnace to their deaths, or so it was thought.
As soon as the three were thrown into the fire, Nebuchadnezzar noticed that it looked like there were four men walking around unbound in the furnace. He asked his guards just to make sure that there were only three men bound, and they told him that was the case. He looked again and noticed that one of those four figures in the furnace had the appearance of a god, and he noticed that none of the men were even being harmed by the flames.
So Nebuchadnezzar called to the princes and told them to come out. All the king’s royal court had gathered around by this point and they saw with their own eyes Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego come out of the furnace and not so much as a hair on their heads was singed, even their clothes were fine. Nebuchadnezzar realized very quickly that he was not the higher authority after all. He made a decree that anybody who said anything derogatory about the God of Jews would be torn limb from limb and their house destroyed. He was in utter disbelief that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s God could work like that. In the end, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego received another promotion.