Summary: The desperate days do come. But, in those desperate awful days of no relief comes the experience of trusting God … even unto death.
The first time I had a pastor search committee come to consider me for their church, I went to my pastor for advice. I told him I two sermons. One was better than the other. I asked if I should preach the best sermon first or save it for when the church called me to preach for their consideration. He told me to preach my best one first. I might never get another chance to preach to them if the first sermon didn’t move them. The passage we are considering this morning is the same as the sermon I preached for my first church as a possible candidate as pastor. While it may have been second best at the time, it is one that holds a lot of meaning to me down through the years because I have faced several situations in my life where I needed faith desperately and only had Almighty God to hold on to.
So, today, I want us to look at three young men who did not receive a last minute reprieve from the desperate hour by God’s hand. These young men simply had to go through with the fiery trial of a lifetime.
Open your Bible’s to Daniel 3:8-18
No incident in the Bible more clearly illustrates the affirmation of the early apostles’ that "we ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). Down through the ages, this section of Daniel has proved to be a constant encouragement to God’s people.
Two things about it are noteworthy:
(1) the accusation brought against the three friends,
(2) the response of faith they made to it.
Verses 9-12 record the accusation brought by a number of Chaldeans.
The very form of chapter 3 heightens the drama because no mention had been made yet of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The royal decree had been proclaimed (v. 4); the music had begun; the people bowed down. Naturally we are left wondering what response was made by the children of God. The very style of narration underlines a principle that was also evident in chapter 1: the people of faith do not make a "big deal" out of their acts of heroism. They don’t need to always being drawing attention to the fact that they are different from others. They simply act according to the Lord’s word and allow their actions to speak without unnecessary histrionics.
In fact, it was the Chaldeans who drew Nebuchadnezzar’s attention to what happened. The wording of verse 1 suggests that they did so as the result of a well-prepared strategy. They accused the Jews (literally, "ate their pieces," or as we would say today, "got their teeth into them"). Perhaps jealousy was their main motivation. Their words, "There are certain Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon" (v. 12) express a sense of glee that they have an opportunity to destroy the influence of these people and also, perhaps, a sense of vindication (since Nebuchadnezzar had not granted them such favor).
Notice that their statement is utterly without compassion.
Rather than plead for mercy on the grounds that these Jews were servants of the Most High God whose kingdom can never be destroyed ... and doubtless were of all people the most faithful to Nebuchadnezzar in the administration of his affairs ... they accuse them of not paying "due regard" (v. 12) to the king. Rather than throw oil on troubled waters (which the three companions evidently did by their low-key approach), these men were out to destroy the influence of God’s kingdom under the guise of their own faithfulness to Nebuchadnezzar.
The children of this world have a wisdom of their own. The Chaldeans had a firm grasp of human psychology; they knew their man. If they had a price so that Nebuchadnezzar could buy them (they chose to worship his idol rather than lose their lives), they likewise knew he had a price. They bought his anger against the three Jews by their plot to betray their faithfulness to their God. They knew that whatever religious impressions Nebuchadnezzar recently experienced, he was no true convert to the God of Daniel. All they needed to mention was the failure of the Hebrews to pay respect to his wishes (v. 12) and his rage was guaranteed. They knew his arrogance would erupt in a clear expression of the conflict between the kingdom of the world and the kingdom of God: "who is the God who will deliver you from my hands?" (v. 15).
What was the response of the Hebrew believers to this undisguised challenge to the majesty of God? It was a part of their earlier simple obedience to God. It brings light even more clearly the leading characteristics of that faith that quenches the violence of fire (Hebrews 11:34) as it says in Hebrews.