Passage: Daniel 3:13-30
Speaker: Patrick King
We’re in the series right now called encountering God. Or we’re looking at stories from the Old Testament where God shows up audibly, invisibly, they’re called theophanies. And in each of these theophanies, they’re actually a pointer to Jesus. Because Jesus is the ultimate Theophany. God Himself comes in flesh and blood.
Today we look at the book of Daniel, we got three friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the narcissistic King Nebuchadnezzar, and another in the fire. In the verse, I think that hangs over this whole passage, and perhaps is the, you know, the the question that needs to be answered, and Nebuchadnezzar kind of thrust it in the face of these men. It’s verse 15. What God, what God will be able to rescue you from my hand, I am Nebuchadnezzar, I am the king of mighty Babylon. Who or what God can rescue you from my power, from my fire from my flames.
And that’s the question that we need to wrestle with in this passage. And it’s a question that lingers, whether it’s in the time of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, or today, in the church around the world. So I want to think about three ideas. I want to walk through their fire, these three men, and then I want to think about raging fires of today. Then I want to talk about our fires that we might experience. So first, let’s walk through this passage and unpack it a little bit when we need for the risk of Abby reading all of Daniel, I didn’t give you more. But what happened before this section.
So Babylon is a global empire, a power, crushing people, crushing cities, including Jerusalem, and they take over Jerusalem, and they take the Israelites and they bring them into exile back to their home city. And they take the professional class, they take the artists and the scholars, the military officers in the government officials. Why did they do that? Because their strategy was if we could bring the best and the brightest back to our homeland, and we can educate them like Babylonians into our culture, then maybe in one or two generations, they will be assimilated.
And Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are part of this group that was exiled from their homeland and brought to Babylon. So that a Babylonian education they worked in the government, they were very much a part of the city. You could say that these three men were doing Jeremiah 29 – they were seeking the peace and prosperity of the city, still worshiping God but trying to do their jobs their best and be a faithful presence in the midst of this pagan empire in this pagan city. And then an inflection point happened.
They were told, in essence, privatize your faith, and bow to the public God’s. So Nebuchadnezzar, he built a gold statue, 90 feet high, nine feet wide. We’re not exactly sure what the statue was, it could be a statue of Nebuchadnezzar, it could have been a statue of his God, maybe it was both and in some ways, the ambiguity of the statue allows the worshiper to believe whatever they want about the statue. It’s the ultimate postmodern statue. But whatever it was, Nebuchadnezzar says you privatize your faith, and you bow to the statue. So he had gathered the brightest and the best and all the leaders and gathered a big band and he said, bow to this statue. Conformity was the norm, to be disobedient in this situation was unthinkable.
In essence, he’s saying sure you can worship what Gods you want at home. But in public, you join the crowd, and you bow to this image. And these friends under the radar, quietly, refuse. They don’t bow, they go home and they worship God and it in the verses before, that Abby read, in verse eight, it says some astrologers or some kind of mystic leaders kind of peers of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, were jealous of these men in the way that they were rising up the ranks that these foreigners were getting promoted. And so they rat out these three guys and tell King Nebuchadnezzar that they’re not worshiping the statue. And we pick up in verse 13, where Nebuchadnezzar is furious and he summons demand and he says to them in verse 14, is it true that you not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up if you do not worship it, you’ll be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. And here’s the question that hangs over the soul. passage what God, what? Whatever Gods you have in small Gods you have what God will be able to rescue you from me. I am Nebuchadnezzar.
It’s the narcissistic leader demanding loyalty. And how do the three respond to the given? Oh, those memorable lines from 17 and 18. They say to the king, and an act of defiance, if we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it. God can save us from the fire. This is the one who has no beginning and no end. He is the infinite one, he is the creator, what is a fire to him?
And yet they say, We don’t control God. And God doesn’t follow our agenda. So they say in verse 18, but even if he does not, we want you to know we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up. In essence, your threat, it means nothing to us. Our God can save us. But if he doesn’t, we’re not bowing. Their trust in God was absolute at this moment. And it wasn’t trusting in God plus their agenda and what they wanted from God, it was God alone, and they were leaning on God. And if God saves in this moment, praise him if he doesn’t save them, in that moment, he will save them in the life to come and praise Him but we’re not bowing to you, Nebuchadnezzar.
And then Nebuchadnezzar, he rages. He’s furious, he says, And he heats the furnace up seven times hotter, which is probably hyperbole, meaning it’s just as hot as it could go, because a number seven is perfection. So this fire is blazing. And he has the strongest soldiers tie up the men. And the fire is so hot, that those soldiers who tie up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego actually fall into the furnace and die. And it’s this tragic irony that Nebuchadnezzar is challenging these men saying what God can save you, but Nebuchadnezzar can’t even save his own men as they fall into the fire. And then it’s the moment, it’s the tension filled moment. It’s almost their silence. Nebuchadnezzar expects this to be over. And then verse 24, the king leaps to his feet and says, Look, I see four men walking around in the fire, and unharmed, the fourth looks like a son of the gods. And he calls the men to Himself and He says, Come here, and there’s no sign of fire, nothing is burned up, they don’t even smell like smoke. You know, it’s Christmas in August. Emmanuel, God with us, God present in the fire. This is the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ, in the fire with these men.
Now Milan is going to put a picture on the screen of a painting from a catacombs in Italy around the third century. See this story Christians clung to this story in the midst of their own persecution and their own suffering. And I think the rallying cry of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and verses 17 and 18, that God can save us. Maybe these brothers and sisters who paid this, God can save us from the mouth of a lion in their arena. But even if he doesn’t, we’re not bowing. We’re not bowing to Caesar, Jesus is Lord in this story, was an encouragement to Christians throughout time. What God will be able to rescue from my hand, the one and only true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So that’s their fire. And I want to think now about this idea of coming in today. And raging fires in our world.
You know, these three friends, they experienced persecution, but persecution has not stopped for those who follow God. And experts kind of separate two kinds of types of persecution, there’s hard persecution. It’s that physical that could lead to death. That’s what these three men experienced, or we’re calling raging fires. There’s that type of persecution and there’s a soft persecution that might be more common that we would experience in the west right now. That might look like stereotyping or vilifying or marginalizing, but whatever it is, it’s persecution predominantly for two things: for believing in this collusive truth, that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life for salvation, by grace through faith, salvation is found and no one else except Jesus. And then second, obedience and following Jesus, the cost of discipleship, the life that he calls us to His teachings on sexuality having a holistically pro life perspective. Being someone who has mercy and compassion for their neighbor, it’s the exclusive truth that salvation is in Jesus alone and then a willingness to follow him. And persecution comes from those two things.
And friends, there are fires raging around the world. In May of 2019, the BBC News certainly is not a Christian organization, but a worldly news source said this in a report. Christian persecution is at near genocide levels.
In 2019, and open doors.org said there are 340 million Christians today who are experiencing hard persecution, physical, violent persecution, one in eight believers in Jesus can uniquely identify with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The number of Christians killed in the last year has increased 60%. Late last year, there was an Australian minister who wrote an article called COVID-19 and the persecuted church and worked through just different examples of what the persecuted church was experiencing in the midst of COVID.
Now, China, the Chinese church was told by their government, you can’t sing Christian songs. You need to sing nationalistic songs because it’s the 100th anniversary of the Communist takeover of that country. And so you’re only singing to praise the Empire and the government, and they had to sing and quiet behind closed doors to Jesus. Iranian Christians, they can’t use just public sources of media to spread messages about their worship services. They have to use encrypted apps for fear that they will be found out and arrested.
In Bangladesh, there’s over a million garment workers because of the global fallout of COVID-19 in the economy that lost their work. But in that country, Christians weren’t allowed to access aid and government support. So the ration food and borrow money at high interest rates, or some Indian government officials in some states when COVID was raging would make Christian nurses serve the most contagious because they believe that the Christians were dispensable.
This past week, I spent some time in Denver with some leaders from our church denomination and I talked with one leader particularly his name is Gabriel de Gaya and he leads the missions arm of our denomination. He previously worked with the Jesus film. And with everything that was happening in Afghanistan, he was telling me that they have a missionary teams with the Jesus project that was working with indigenous tribes, and that God in the Jesus film and the equipment and discipling materials, and these indigenous tribes like dozens and dozens of hardened Taliban soldiers to faith in Christ.
Well, this week, Gabriel reached out to that missionary friend to ask how those soldiers were doing and how those indigenous Christians were doing in Afghanistan. And they said they almost all have been killed. Their modern day martyrs for the faith and the ones who aren’t killed, are missing and they don’t know where they are. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, that God we serve, he is able to deliver us. But even if he does not, we want you to know we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.
See friends, thankfully we don’t experience that sort of hard persecution in San Diego. But what do we do with facts like that in stories like that, what as I’ve thought about holding that story this week and reading accounts of what’s happening in Afghanistan and thinking of brothers and sisters in Christ, who have gone to conduct glory were targeted because of their faith. What do we do with that? Suggest two things, as we think about the global persecuted church. And the first is we need to learn. We need to learn that it is so easy to shy away from stories like that. And to just live into our existential reality and not kind of turn the blinders off.
But we need to learn about that. That if we really believe that, that we are brothers and sisters in Christ with folks around the world, we need to know what their experience is like and what there is they’re going through. We need to read and we need to learn and we need to be aware. We need to know it’s a privilege to just turn it off.
Don’t turn it off.
And then second, we need to lean in. We need to lean in through prayer. You know when we sing in church, maybe in your mind you think of your Chinese brothers and sisters in Christ who can’t sing us free, and you pray for them. Or maybe when you watch something spiritually meaningful online, you think of your Iranian brothers and sisters in Christ, who have to have encrypted apps so they can send messages. When you go shopping, maybe you think of your bengalese brothers and sisters in Christ, who have lost their jobs, and they can’t access aid and support because they are Christians. Or when you identify as a Christian, maybe you think of your Afghan brothers and sisters in Christ, who were targeted and killed because they are Christians.
We pray, and also, we’d be present. You know, that’s why we brought this opportunity to help with hope for San Diego as Afghan refugees who have come to our city are in need of help. You can go to open doors, or you can go to Voice of the Martyrs. Now he’s asking one Christian leader this week, like how can a church in San Diego be helpful? I know prayer is important. And we don’t want to move past that. What he told me so often is that and let’s just think of these Taliban soldiers who became followers of Jesus. They have been killed, their family is still present and in need. And oftentimes, I’ve lost the one who supported the family and through organizations like open doors, that, or, Voice of the Martyrs you can help those families.
But the big thing is this isn’t, it is so easy. In the West, it is so easy in a city like San Diego, just get wrapped up in our world and forget about what’s happening to Christians and brothers and sisters in Somalia and Afghanistan, in China and around the world. You know, the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. It does feel over the top a little bit but Christians are are going through fires still raging fires. And I think it’s our call to be present, to be present and to be praying and to be learning.
Their fires, that’s raging fires, but we have fires too, they might look different. They’re still fires.
You know, Jesus said to His followers in John 15:20, ‘A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.’ See, to be a Christian is to sign up for persecution in some way or some form. I don’t mean to be dramatic, but we follow someone who was crucified. I mean, we have a cross behind us. Yes, in the new heavens, in the New Earth, the Christian life leads to your best life now. But oftentimes in this life, it is hard.
If they persecute me, they will persecute you also.
And I don’t need to tell you that, that America has moved away from Christian dominance, and has moved to a post Christian society and is often oppositional to Christianity, and that’s okay. We don’t need to, like freak out about that. But we also don’t want to be ignorant when pushback comes to us. Because Jesus said, If you follow me, there will be hardship.
The Catholic Church, they did a study and they talked about five stages of persecution. I think perhaps in our context, we can maybe identify with the first three, this form of soft persecution, they’re stereotyping all Christians, they’re superstitious, hypocritical, self righteous, repressed, sexist, you’re stereotyped. Or maybe you’re vilified. Christians are against human dignity and their opposition to science, and they’re homophobic and they’re intolerant. And so it’s not just stereotyped, you’re vilified, or it’s, it’s marginalized, even. Christians are harmful faith must be kept in private, excluded from education, and when the workplaces and social media and politics and I think, I think we swim sometimes in those three places. And we need to pray for wisdom and discernment, how to be winsome in the midst of that how to be salt and light, in the midst of that not let that overwhelm us not live in a place of fear.
Because we know Christ is victorious and the grave is empty, and Christ is risen. And yet we can swim in those waters. It goes to criminalizing if you’re a Christian, maybe you have to bake a cake or do a wedding against your religious conscience. And if you don’t, we’ll punish you or compel you and then as we talked about brothers and sisters around the world really experiencing physical persecution.
In light of that, I want to raise two questions for us as we live in San Diego and as we’re kind of processing this, the questions are this: Where do you get your worth from? And are you okay with weakness? Where do you get your worth from? And are you okay with weakness? This question of worth the comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres. I read where she imagines that she goes throughout the day with this, this fictitious approval patch on her arm. Underneath her clothes, no one can see it. It’s this fictitious approval patch. And she imagined it like a nicotine patch. But the nicotine patches give a little dose of nicotine to get you through the day. And Ellen DeGeneres says that she needs this approval patch, just to give her doses of approval during the day because she feels so insecure. And I wonder if we’re not that different. We want validation that we want approval that we want to be accepted. We want to be liked. We want to be in the in crowd. It will get that approval from somewhere from vocation or cultural norms or political affiliation or the success of children or what have you. But we have that fictitious approval patch.
Here’s the thing, what happens? Because of your faith in Jesus, or because of the cost of following Jesus and what he calls for your life? What happens if you don’t get approval from that? What happens actually, if the opposite if you get marginalized because of that? You get stereotyped because of that, you get vilified because of that or, or worse as brothers and sisters around the world experience – what do you do then? Because you have to wrestle with the question: Is Jesus enough? Is what he says about you and His love towards you that you are his adopted son and daughter? Is that enough for you? Because if that isn’t enough, then you’re not gonna be able to withstand what might come at you. But if Jesus is enough that we can pray these words that these Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did, God can save me. But even if he doesn’t, I don’t need your approval. I need the approval of Christ.
It’s like Peter said to Jesus, and may this be our prayer as well. ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’ Why would we go anywhere else for approval? You have the words of eternal life, where do you get your worth from.
And then second is this. Don’t be afraid of weakness. Don’t be afraid of weakness. It’s such an un-American idea because we want to present ourselves as strong and accomplished and put together and have it all figured out. But friends, if you experience stereotyping or vilifying or marginalizing, or worse, you’re kind of feel weak, it’s not going to feel good, and it’s going to feel like a burden. And in that moment, we are in a long line of brothers and sisters in Christ who have felt that before.
I mean, it is the story of the church. It is the story of the New Testament. The apostle Paul, he heard these words from Jesus, in Second Corinthians 12:9, My grace is sufficient for you. For my power is made perfect, where? My power is made perfect in weakness. That is actually in the place of need in the place of weakness in the place where we feel beaten down. And the place where we don’t feel like we’re getting the approval that we want from those around us in the culture around us, in that place of weakness, God makes us strong.
That when we feel weak, don’t go to the place of being a victim and don’t go to violence. Don’t go to fight and don’t go to flight. In the most counterintuitive ways, Jesus says when you feel persecution, and push back, rejoice, rejoice.
This is what John Stott wrote. He’s a late Anglican Pastor, I think is very helpful. He says persecution is simply the clash between two irreconcilable value systems. And how did Jesus expect His disciples to react under persecution? And Matthew 5:12 he said, Rejoice and be glad. And we’re not to retaliate like an unbeliever nor soak like a child or lick our wound in self pity like a dog nor just grin and bear it like a stoic, still less pretend we enjoy it like a mash assist. What then? We are to rejoice as a Christian should, and even leap for joy.
This past week, I also had a chance to spend some time with Andrew Brunson. If you remember Andrew, we prayed for him for a while. Andrew was an American missionary in Turkey for over 25 years. And he was arrested for being a missionary and what he thought he was going to be expelled from the country, but ended up becoming this political pawn. And he was in prison for two years. Two years, sentenced to three life terms plus 35 years. And in those two years, he experienced a weakness he told me, he was malnourished, there was a physical weakness, but there is also a spiritual weakness. Felt like he stopped hearing the voice of God and felt like God had abandoned him, maybe. He said there’s a weakness there. And then he said around the second year, he was meditating on this idea of rejoicing. When you’re experiencing persecution, he told me every morning, he started dancing, five minutes a day, every morning, he would dance as a sign of defiance to his circumstances. Even when his emotions didn’t feel it. Even when his heart felt cold, he would dance as an act to say, God, I want to rejoice before you. I am identifying with you in this situation, you call me to rejoice in this and so I am going to dance. I’m going to move my body as a sign of defiance.
You know why we really rejoice though? We really rejoice because the ultimate furnace we don’t experience. That’s really why Andrew was rejoicing. He was rejoicing in the gospel, the good news, you see – what is the gospel? Well, it starts with the bad news. First, it’s the bad news that we have not loved God with our heart, soul, mind and strength. And we have been cold to our neighbor. And this sin and this kind of perverted way to love, this self directed love. God can’t be with that. It removes us from the presence of God. God has to separate from us, and that is a hell. And that is the ultimate furnace, far greater than anything Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego experienced. To be God forsaken. And the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ is that God himself came and he stepped into the ultimate furnace. And he took on that abandonment. He took on that God forsake goodness. He went into the furnace. And we by grace through faith, know that we don’t have to experience the ultimate furnace. We know that we will never be forsaken by God and Christ, we will never be abandoned, no matter what King Nebuchadnezzar comes around, or what government or what this or what that we will not be forsaken, because there is another in the fire – Jesus Himself. So when we experience stereotyping or vilifying or marginalizing, or criminalizing or persecution, we know it is not because of our sins. That we rejoice, that we dance because Christ has come. And He has gone into the ultimate fire and because of Christ, here’s the thing, friends, you are empowered. To not fear death, to not fear persecution, that even if you feel weak, that will not crush you. Because of what Christ has done for you. You don’t have to fear death and you are freed up to live for Christ. Because what more validation do you need in life than the Creator of the heavens in the universe says, “You are my child and I love you”? Let that validation feed you.
No matter whether you’re praised or you’re marginalized, you’re accepted or you’re rejected.
May the beauty and grace of Jesus Christ, fuel us and empower us that whenever we face moments, and whatever statues come in our lives, that we like Shadrach, Meshach and Abendego can say, if we are thrown into the blazing furnace, literal, figurative, whatever, the God we serve, he is able to deliver us. He’s able, but even if he doesn’t, we want you to know we will not serve your gods or worship the image you have set up.
And we come to this table every week. As a picture. As a reminder: That ultimate furnace that Jesus went into for us. And when we take and we eat, it is an act of celebration. It is a victory declaration, and we rejoice. It wasn’t the night that Jesus was betrayed, he took bread and he gave thanks and he broke it. And he gave it to his disciples and said, This is My body which is for you. Eat this in remembrance of me. And after the supper, he took the cup. It was the cup of the new covenant and his bloodshed for the forgiveness of sins, drink this and remembrance of me. And whenever we eat from the bread and drink from the cup, we proclaim Jesus’s death. We proclaim that Jesus willingly was forsaken so that you and I don’t have to be. Jesus was willingly abandoned, that you and I never will. That Jesus went into the ultimate furnace for us to be free.
Father, we thank you for the bread. We thank you for the cup. It’s tangible, physical reminders. Lord, may they encourage us this morning, may they put courage in us this morning. Lord, none of us wants to experience weakness, or none of us wants to experience disapproval and rejection, and yet, you tell us in this life that we will. Thanks be to God that because of what this table represents, we will never be rejected by you, God. That we are redeemed by you, we are loved by you, we are adopted by you, we are your children. So as we take and we eat, would you encourage us with this? We pray this in the strong name of Christ, Amen.