When my sister Barbranne was in her early 20’s she left the Church and Jesus behind and went off to live the “wild life.” At age 55 she decided she’d hurt herself in that decision and started going back to church. One of the first things she did was to buy a Children’s Bible because she wanted to reacquaint herself with some of the basic stories she’d learned as a youth.
This morning, instead of reading the text from Scripture (as we usually do) I want to read you the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from a Children’s Bible. You should be able to follow along in your Bible because this Children’s story follows very closely with the verses out of your Bible.
(I had taken the story from http://www.dltk-bible.com/cv/three_faithful_men-cv.htm and printed and pasted the words into a Children’s Bible we had in the church library. I did minor alterations to the story including changing their reference to the 4th man in the fire - which they identified as an angel - to say "like the Son of God." I sat on a stool and began reading the story to the audience as I would if I were reading it to little children).
ILLUS: A representative of the gas company phoned the owner of an expensive new home to make an appointment for the service man to come in and light the gas pilots and adjust the furnace.
The owner of the home said he's better meet the workman, or he'd never get the furnace going.
The gas company rep insisted that his people were well trained and would have no trouble.
The owner said, “You don't understand. When your man tries to adjust the furnace he'll go out of his mind. The thermostat in the entry hall is a dummy for my wife to play with.
Only I know where the real one is hidden.
(Reader’s Digest, December 1973)
The owner of the house knew where the thermostat was
Warren Wiersbe once noted that “when God permits his children to go through the furnace, He keeps his eye on the clock and His hand on the thermostat.” That was another of saying that is that God knows where the real thermostat is hidden.
The story we’ve read this morning is one of the best known in Scripture. Every child who’s ever been to Sunday school knows the story by heart and it is included in every Children’s Bible story book I’ve ever seen. And - of course – being a preacher I KNOW all about that story… except for the part I’m going to tell you about this morning. There’s something in this story I didn’t catch before. But before we get to that, there’s few thing I think we need to deal with.
1st this is a real story. It’s not made up. It really happened. Now how do I know that? Well, (for one thing) I trust God. And I trust God to take care of His book and He wouldn’t allow us to be misled by some made-up story. If it’s in the book… it happened. God would NOT let us buy into lies
Now, just as an example, we read about this HUGE statue. It’s about 90 feet tall – that’s about 8 stories. And it’s a golden image. Really? That’s kinda hard to believe!!! That’s an awful lot of gold, and something that big would certainly just topple over and fall on its face.
We’re not given much detail, but many scholars believe that this was not a free standing statue. It’s reasonable to believe it may have been carved into a cliff and that it might not even been entirely made of gold. The text simply says it was an image of gold. It could have been made of another metal or rock and covered with sheets of hammered gold.
ILLUS: Also, there was an ancient historian named Diodorus Siculus who made mention of a statue of gold in, the temple of Belus which Xerxes demolished. It was 40 feet high, and contained a 1000 talents of gold (67,000 pounds or 33.5 tons).
(From John Gill’s Expositor)
It’s what people did back then. Using gold in this fashion was a common activity and because they were honoring their gods in this fashion they felt it was an appropriate way of expressing devotion.
So our story is based on actual behavior of societies of the day. But this is not only just a true story but it’s a story with a twist. This statue was an idol erected to glorify a pagan god. Idols in Babylon to honor their gods were probably a dime a dozen. But this idol is different.
1st - It was huge!
And 2nd - this was Nebuchadnezzar’s idol.
Notice how PERSONALLY the King gets involved in this. He goes to all the trouble of having a HUGE idol built where everybody can see it. Then he sets aside a special day when everybody is to come and bow down to that idol. And then he makes a major musical production to announce when everyone should bow down. This last was a lot like our modern 3 hour Music Award programs where the musicians stand around and pat each other on the back to tell you how good they are. But in this instance, instead of the musicians getting the glory, this musical extravaganza was all about glorifying an idol.
Apparently Nebuchadnezzar isn’t sure that his command will be obeyed. He’s not sure everybody is going to bow down to his idol, so he makes absolutely sure that everybody knows that if they DON’T bow down to this idol… there’s a price to be paid. It’ll cost them something to refuse his paganism.
You see, this isn’t just about an idol. This is about a King and his desire to force his VALUE SYSTEM on his people. He’s IMPOSING his pagan lifestyle on an entire people. And he’s doing it because he can. He’s rich and powerful and he can definitely hurt you if you oppose him.
It’s kind of like the powerful people of our day who say –
You WILL accept homosexuality.
You WILL accept gay marriage.
You WILL accept transvestites.
You WILL accept all kinds of immorality.
Because if you don’t… there will be a price to be paid. You’ll do it or it’ll cost you your job/business/income. The rich and powerful in our society tell us that if we don’t bow down to their altar… they WILL DESTROY YOU.
And so everybody bows down. It’s not worth the hassle and they don’t want to pay that kind of price for saying “NO”. Everybody bows down. Everybody, that is, except 3 good old boys from Judah – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
Now there’s people that might look at this story and say “Why on earth would these boys risk everything just for the sake of a silly old idol? I mean, why don’t they just bow down to the thing for pity’s sake?”
And (you know) there are people actually think like that.
ILLUS: Years ago, at the 1st church I served, it was fairly obvious I wasn’t going to last very long. I’d taken a stand against an adulterous deacon and the church leadership wanted to hush it up. About that same time I went out to visit with a friend of mine that ran the local golf course. He wasn’t a church going kind of guy but we liked each other. And so we’re visiting in his living room and he says “Jeff why are doing this? You could lose your job. Just look the other way. It’s not that big a deal.” And then he said “If you lived in San Francisco you wouldn’t preach against homosexuality would you?”
(Pause) Well. Yeah I would!
But before you judge my friend too harshly you need to remember that he wasn’t a Christian and he was trying to protect me. He didn’t want me to lose my job, so he essentially advised me against standing up against immorality. He believed I should just bow down, give in and give up.
In the same way Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego could have stayed cool and just bowed down… but they didn’t! (PAUSE) Why not?
Well, a couple reasons come to mind: 1st – this was a “God moment” – this was a time when I believe God was setting them up. He was putting these boys in a position where they had to make a choice. And God does that a lot in Scripture.
• Abraham (for example) had been given the son God had promised him… but then he was asked make a choice– God asked him to sacrifice his only son Isaac.
• David was just a young shepherd boy whose father had sent with food for his brothers who’d been fighting the Philistines. I believe God arranged for David to be there at just the time Goliath insulted Israel and their God. At that moment, David had to make a choice, and the choice he made was he heard the threats of Goliath.
• And then there’s the story of Esther - a queen married to an evil and brutal king. She learned her people were in danger and her uncle Mordecai came to her to ask her to intercede with her husband to protect her people. But she wasn’t eager to do that. Her husband was known to kill people on a whim and if she approached him without his permission she might end up dead.
It is then that Mordecai tells her: “Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Esther 4:13-14
In other words – God may have placed you in this situation to stand up for righteousness. But if you don’t make your stand… you may not save yourself anyway. “You and your father’s house will perish”
That brings us back to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They faced with a harsh decision, a time when God had set them up to stand up for righteousness. And the odd thing is – if they’d chosen to surrender, if they’d have bowed down and compromised their principles - they’d have died anyway. They’d simply have died in a different way at a different time.
Now, how do I know that? Daniel 3:8, 9 & 12 tells us “… at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and maliciously accused the Jews. They declared to King Nebuchadnezzar, “O king, live forever! ... ‘There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These men, O king, pay no attention to you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.’”
These “Chaldeans” hated Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and they have made it their goal to destroy them! Maybe they’re jealous of their success. Maybe they’re just bigoted against Jews. But there’s no question they hate Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego … and if they can’t destroy them over this issue they’ll find some other way to take them out.
Faced with that hatred I suspect these three boys decided that if they were going to be burned anyway, they may as well be burned for the right reason.
Now, how does this all apply to you and me? Well it comes down to how we answer the question Nebuchadnezzar asked Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego – “WHO is the GOD who will deliver you out of my hands?” Daniel 3:15
You know – I never saw that question in this story before. The question was the center of the entire story and how Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego answer that question is the focus of the entire story.
“Who is the God who will deliver you?”
And how did they answer the question? “OUR GOD whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king” Daniel 3:17
Do you believe that? Do you believe that your God is mighty to save? Do you believe that your God is able to deliver you? The reason why so many church goers struggle in their faith is because … they don’t. They don’t believe in a God who will have their back. They don’t believe in a God who cares. They don’t believe in a God who is able TO DO ANYTHING, so when trials and struggles come along they can’t stand up. All they can do is kneel in submission.
ILLUS: I was talking with a friend of mine some time back and he was telling me about a football team his kids had been on. He said he watched as the kids took the field and he knew they were going to lose. Why? Because he could tell by the way the boys looked – how they conducted themselves and held themselves. It was obvious they’d lost that game long before they put on their helmets. They were going to lose because they BELIEVED they couldn’t win… so why try?
If you don’t believe God can do things in your life… you can’t win. You’ve already lost. And Satan has already won.
But if you take the field believing that YOUR GOD can DO STUFF, and you’ve spent time in prayer asking for His help, there’s no force on the earth that can bring you to your knees. You may not “WIN” … but you won’t have lost.
That’s what Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were saying. “We may not win… but we WILL NOT lose. Our God IS able to deliver us. And then they said: “BUT IF NOT (if God decides that He isn’t going to save us today) be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” Daniel 3:18
Even if God decides not to rescue us from your fiery furnace…we will not bow down. We will NOT surrender. We will NOT dishonor our God no matter what the price.
ILLUS: Last month there was a major motion picture dedicated to the battle of Dunkirk. On September 1, 1939, Nazi Germany began what we call WWII and swept across Europe in what Hitler called his “Lightening War”. When it was all said and done Hitler had driven the allies back to the sea. Nearly 500,000 British and French troops were trapped at the small city of Dunkirk on the English Channel called Dunkirk.
Germany had them at their mercy. Hitler’s armored divisions were only 15 miles away and the Luftwaffe bombed and strafed the hapless armies below.
Several of the leaders in Britain discussed trying to bribe or cut a deal with Hitler. Sir Edmund Ironside, chief of the Imperial General Staff, confided to a colleague that “This is the end of the British Empire.” Harold Nicolson, a member of the British government, wrote his wife that they might be compelled to commit suicide.
It was at that desperate moment that the churches of Britain called for a national day of prayer. Numerous political leaders, newspaper editors and King George VI issued a call for a national day of prayer on Sunday, May 26th. And people were flocked to the churches in droves and long lines were formed outside of places of worship. As the British people anxiously await word of their fate, a three word message was transmitted from the besieged army: "BUT IF NOT…"
The British public instantly recognized the message: "It's a reference to the biblical story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego standing before King Nebuchadnezzar's fiery furnace "Our God is able to save us… but if not, we will remain faithful to Him anyway."
At 7 o’clock May 26th, the order was issued to attempt a desperate evacuation of Dunkirk. Every tiny vessel and private craft was sent across the often treacherous waters of the English Channel.
But something “strange” happened over those 9 days of rescue. Hitler ordered his troops to halt in order to give the Luftwaffe the chance to seal their victory. But German air-power was hampered by the extremely unfavorable weather in the skies. Additionally a fog settled in that hid the troops as they boarded the boats. And the normally treacherous channel waters became unnaturally calm. At the end of 9 days - of the ½ million men trapped at Dunkirk - 336,000 were saved.
Why? Because Our God is mighty to save. Our God is able to deliver us. And when God steps up to defend you, there’s no power on the face of the earth that can withstand Him.
("Family News" from "Focus on the Family" May 2000; Charles Colson BreakPoint October 2001; and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunkirk_evacuation)
CLOSE: There’s one more part of this story in Daniel that we need to remember. In my mind’s eye I can visualize Nebuchadnezzar sitting in his throne smugly watching as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are thrown in the fiery furnace. I can see him smile as he believes he has won. But then he glances through an opening in the furnace and … he begins to rise from his seat. A look of shock crosses his face as he asks if they’d only thrown 3 men into the fire. Someone says “yes, only 3.” But as he looks into the furnace and he sees FOUR MEN. Where’d the 4th guy come from?
And do you remember what the one servant says when asked about that? “He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” Daniel 3:25 KJV
Was that Jesus? I think so myself, but the Bible doesn’t really say. But this much God does tell us, when we’re faced with our own fiery trial, God will be there beside us.
God makes this promise repeatedly throughout the Bible “It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed." Deuteronomy 31:8
This is a promise you can rely on. But the promise is only yours if you are His child. If you’ve sensed the need for a God who will stand there beside you God’s offer is simple to accept: Believe in Jesus, repent of your sins, confess Jesus as your Lord and Master and allow yourself to be buried with Christ in the waters of Christian baptism.