Summary: BIG IDEA: In times of testing, God’s people fight fire with faith.
“Trial By Fire”
INTRODUCTION: One time on a school field trip I visited Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. As the tour boat approached Fort Sumter, our teacher asked if the guides would be dressed in blue or in gray. Sumter had been a Union fort in Confederate territory when the Civil War began. It had changed hands several times. We were greeted at the gate by a "soldier" wearing a blue coat and gray pants! This uniform wouldn’t have worked very well back in 1861. It would have gotten its wearer shot by both sides! (Like wearing a Duke cap with a Carolina sweatshirt—some things you just can’t compromise on.)
To compromise one’s beliefs as a Christ follower is a constant pressure in our culture. Often it is a subtle pressure that occurs in conversation or while watching TV or in front of your computer. How can we stand up under that pressure? It’s a pressure that God’s people have always faced, none more dramatically so than three young Hebrews in Babylon named Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Here’s the situation they found themselves in [READ 1-12].
>>How can we stand up instead of bowing down under pressure? Options are few:
I. OPTION ONE: If you can’t beat the heat, join it. (1-12)
(That is, compromise your faith to fit in with your culture.)
A. Nebuchadnezzar likely considered bowing down to his statue the equivalent of taking a pledge of allegiance. He can see no reason but insubordination for refusal to worship as requested and therefore he does not hesitate to prescribe a brutal punishment in the furnace.
1. V.7 reads literally, “as soon as they were hearing they were falling down.” The response was total and immediate. The king had achieved the unity he sought.
2. The repetition of the list of officials and musical instruments achieves a satirical effect that may not have been unintentional. Here are all the great ones of the empire falling flat on their faces before a lifeless obelisk at the sound of a musical medley, controlled by the baton of King Nebuchadnezzar.
3. Where’s Daniel? We aren’t told.
a. Elsewhere doing the king’s business?
b. So highly favored he’s above accusation?
c. His absence supports the authenticity of this account. If this were fiction, why would the hero of the book drop out here?
B. Now Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had all kinds of reasons at their disposal for why it could have been in their best interests to compromise.
1. They could have said, “Look, if we get ourselves killed, who is going to look out for the welfare of the Jewish people? We’re no good to anyone if we’re dead! Even if it means bowing down to this idol, we need to survive.”
2. They could have said, “When in Babylon, do as the Babylonians do. We’re just trying to fit in so that we can stay relevant in our culture. God will excuse us.”
3. They could have said, “We’ll bow down, but we won’t actually worship the idol. We’ll just make it LOOK like we’re worshipping the idol, but we’ll really worship Yahweh in our hearts.”
4. They could have said, “We’ll worship the idol just this one time, then we’ll ask for forgiveness. No harm done!”
5. They could have said, “The king gave us these really sweet jobs, so I guess we owe him. We’ll bow down to his idol.”
C. All these rationalizations sound sensible …. at first. But God’s word disallows them all.
1. Exodus 20:4-5 [READ]
2. If there is one thing that is crystal clear in Scripture, it is the idea that God’s people bow down to God and God alone. There can be no compromise on this.
D. ILLUSTRATION: In the first season of the popular TV show "24," Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) is a federal agent charged with protecting a presidential candidate from an assassination plot. He was given that responsibility because in the uncertain world of espionage he possesses that rare character trait of integrity. In the show’s first episode, Jack’s integrity is already put to the test. Because he turned in other federal agents for bribery, some of his own comrades have turned against him. In particular, Jack’s immediate boss has come down hard on him and tried to persuade Jack not to be so honest in his job. Jack has an explosive confrontation with his boss and will not budge on this point. Just after the confrontation, Jack bristles with intensity as he explains his actions to his closest partner. “You can look the other way once, and it’s no big deal, except it makes it easier for you to compromise the next time. And pretty soon, that’s all you’re doing—compromising—because that’s how you think things are done. You know those guys I blew the whistle on? You think they were the bad guys? They weren’t the bad guys. They were just like you and me, except they compromised once.”