February 25, 2018
Through the Fire
Pastor Bryan Watson
Good morning. Let’s begin with a word of prayer.
For anybody who is visiting here today, I have been preaching through the Book of Daniel. Before I begin today’s sermon, I want to give you a bit of a recap of what we talked about last month, regarding the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream from Daniel, Chapter 2.
Nebuchadnezzar had a dream about a statue with a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet partly of iron and partly of clay. While he was watching, a stone of divine origin came along and smashed into the feet of the statue, breaking it. The stone became a mountain, and the entire statue became like chaff and was blown away, without leaving behind a trace.
Daniel’s interpretation of the dream was prophetic, and gives us a time-line of world history in that:
The head of gold was Babylon.
The chest and arms of silver was the future empire of Medo-Persia.
The belly and thighs of bronze was the future empire of Greece.
The legs of iron was the future Roman empire.
The feet and toes of iron and clay represent a future Revived Roman Empire, which is yet to happen even in our present day.
The stone represents Jesus Christ, who will establish His kingdom, relegating all the other kingdoms to the dust of history.
These prophecies give us an indication of where we are in world history today.
If you missed this message, I encourage you to go onto the website and listen to it in its entirety, as I went into a lot of detail.
Today, I’m going to continue on with Daniel, Chapter 3. Our scripture passage for today is Daniel 3:28. We’ll read that together later on when we get to that part of the story. I’m not going to read through the entire text of Daniel 3, but instead, we will go through the story together and I will unpack certain parts of it.
V1-7: The Image
Daniel Chapter 2 ended with Nebuchadnezzar praising Daniel’s God as the Most High God. “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings,” Nebuchadnezzar said. Pretty high praise coming from the king of the most powerful empire on earth! The Bible isn’t clear on how much time went by between the end of Chapter 2 and the beginning of Chapter 3, but it must have been more than a few days, because Nebuchadnezzar apparently forgot all those glorious things he said about God. Now, he builds a statue, representing himself, and requires everybody to bow down and worship it. And this isn’t just any statue: it is ninety feet high, and nine feet wide, made of gold. It was probably overlaid with gold, but even so, that is a significant amount of gold. As I said last time, the fact that Babylon was described as the head of gold in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was no accident. They had more gold than Saskatchewan has watermelons on Rider game day!
And Nebuchadnezzar apparently means business. When the music plays, EVERYBODY bows down to the statue under the penalty of being thrown alive into a blazing furnace.
V8-12: The Accusation
Do you remember from last time, when I pointed out how not once, but twice, Daniel makes a point of either pleading for the lives of the pagan wise men, or going out of his way to declare that he isn’t any wiser than they are, but rather that the interpretation of the king’s dream came from God? Well, those pagan wise men were so grateful that they threw Daniel and his friends a party and named them honorary chairmen of the Wise Men of Babylon Club, right?
Well, not exactly. Instead, in a fit of jealousy because these Jews had been promoted over them, they ran straight to Nebuchadnezzar. With the innocent faces of royal tattletales, they reminded the king of his decree, and then leveled their accusation: “There are certain Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego; these men, O king, have not paid due regard to you. They do not serve your gods or worship the gold image which you have set up.”
With friends like that, who needs enemies?
V13-18: The Interrogation
As you would expect, Nebuchadnezzar is none too happy with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. The Bible says that he was furious with rage. Forgetting that he promoted these men because of their powerful God, Nebuchadnezzar sees them as his appointed leaders among the nation. If they could disobey the king and get away with it, who would be next?
Now, if they had been any other common foreigners, they would probably have been burnt to a crisp long before. But, Nebuchadnezzar has just enough respect for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego to give them another chance. He offers the three Jews another opportunity to worship the image, making sure they clearly understand the consequences. In a classic moment of arrogance, he even declares to them, “Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”
You know, I thought we had that all settled in chapter 2. But I guess Nebuchadnezzar has a short memory when it comes to the mighty power of God Most High. Kind of like the Hebrews in the desert a few hundred years earlier. Kind of like you and me today, when we forget about God’s goodness in the face of new circumstances.
Well, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego offer up their defense, and it is classic. It’s sure not like modern defenses that we see in court:
They don’t blame their parents for abusing them by forcing their beliefs on them.
They don’t blame their cultural background for their current decision-making processes.
They don’t claim that they were too young to be tried as adults.
Instead, they place their faith and trust in God. Listen to their defense:
V16: “O Nebuchadnezzar,” (notice they don’t even flatter him with the standard “O King, live forever…”), “we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.”
V19-23: The Sentence
If Nebuchadnezzar was furious with rage before, he is absolutely insane in his anger now. Not only is he going to carry out his sentence upon these Jews, but he is going to absolutely incinerate them. (This won’t be the last time in history that a dictator tries to incinerate Jews in a furnace. Hitler wasn’t all that original.)
So, Nebuchadnezzar orders the furnace to be heated seven times hotter than before.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego are tied up and carried over to the furnace, which burned so hot that when they opened the door, “BOOM”, the soldiers carrying the three Jews were burned to a crisp, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego fell into the fire.
V24-27: The Miraculous Rescue
Unlike Brendon and his own fiery-furnace experience that we heard about last week, not a hair, an eyelash, or a whisker was singed on any of these men. In fact, the only thing that burned was the cords that bound them.
As Nebuchadnezzar gazed in shock into the furnace, he saw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego walking around freely. But he saw something else, as well. “Look!” he said. “I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like the Son of God.”
Who was this mysterious fourth man? The Bible doesn’t say exactly who this is. Some scholars believe it was an archangel, like Michael or Gabriel. Others believe it was the Pre-incarnate Christ. What is certain, however, is that God Himself once again showed His power over Nebuchadnezzar by visibly intervening to save His servants from Nebuchadnezzar’s foolish wrath. Their protection was so complete, that when Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego out of the furnace, they didn’t even smell like they had been near a fire.
V28-30: Nebuchadnezzar’s Response
So, what was Nebuchadnezzar’s response to all this? Well, our God is a patient God, isn’t He? In our verse of the day, verse 28, Nebuchadnezzar says, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any god except their own God!”
Furthermore, Nebuchadnezzar issued another decree:
“Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation, or language which speaks anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made an ash heap; because there is no other God who can deliver like this.”
Hopefully, he remembers it this time.
But Nebuchadnezzar isn’t done yet. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, the Jews who the jealous wise men thought were goners, are promoted again! I wonder if these pagan wise men have learned their lesson yet.
Lessons for Today
So, what does this mean to us today?
Society has tried to stamp out Christianity (and before the birth of Christ, the Worship of the One True God) for thousands of years, and yet, here we are. Explain that.
But we shouldn’t be surprised by this. In fact, we should expect it. Listen to the words of Jesus:
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.
Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.
The words of Paul:
2 Corinthians 4:8-9
8 We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed
Do we see examples of this today?
Last month, Lori and I, along with Pastor Dennis and Donna, and Colynda, attended a performance in Yorkton about Richard Wurmbrand. Wurmbrand, a Christian pastor who was imprisoned in communist Romania for remaining true to his faith, was beaten, tortured, and kept in solitary confinement for years. In all, his imprisonment for his faith is measured in decades, not years. When did this happen? In the first century AD? No. In the 1500’s during the Reformation? No. Richard Wurmbrand was first imprisoned on February 29, 1948, only 70 years ago this week. Wurmbrand died in 2001.
More recently, how about these headlines:
Four young Christians brutally beheaded by ISIS in Iraq for refusing to convert to Islam, says British Vicar of Baghdad forced to flee
ISIS Kills 29 Christians on Church Bus Trip to Popular Monastery
ISIS beheads 21 Christians
Take note of this:
According to Open Doors USA
Every month, 255 Christians are killed
104 Christians are abducted
180 Christian women are raped, sexually harassed, or forced into marriage
66 churches are attacked
160 Christians are detained or imprisoned without trial
But that’s on the other side of the world, you say. Well, how about something a little closer to home:
In Texas, on February 16 of this year, a school district told a church to remove its cross from the sanctuary in order to accommodate a graduation. The school had conducted its graduation ceremony there for the previous 10 years. Thankfully, the church told the school district, “No.”
Also in February of this year, Joy Behar of the popular show, “The View” equated US Vice President Mike Pence’s Christian faith with having a mental illness.
Oh, but that’s American Sensationalism, you say. Well, then how about something even closer to home:
In the last couple of years, there has been an ongoing battle in which several provincial law societies have attempted to deny accreditation to Trinity Western University’s law school. It had nothing to do with the quality of the education, but instead was all about the Christian school’s community covenant, which all students must sign, pledging to be sexually intimate only with a member of the opposite sex to whom they are married.
Folks, it’s a Christian school, and these students know that when enrolling. Yet accreditation is at stake merely because the school requires its students to pledge to living Christian values.
Oh, but that’s so high level, you say. It’s not really going to affect us here, you say. OK, let’s get a little more granular.
This year, the Trudeau government has implemented the Summer Jobs “ideological purity test”. Organizations seeking grants for hiring summer students must sign that they agree to the Liberals’ viewpoint on abortion and trans-gender rights.
Quoting from an opinion article on the CBC news website, “Clearly, the Liberals are letting a particular world-view, and not the law, influence their actions. The danger here is that if a government can pretend a law into existence, it can pretend others out of existence. We've seen this before. Hail to the emperor.”
Folks, this quote is from the CBC website. How bad does it have to be for CBC to allow something like this on their website?
That’s Ottawa, you say. That’s not really going to impact me here in Saskatchewan, you say. Let me ask you: If churches lose their charitable status because we don’t succumb to the government, will we have enough courage to continue to support churches?
Let’s move a little closer to home:
In Saskatchewan, in 2009, Christian marriage commissioner Orville Nichols lost his appeal after a Saskatchewan Human Rights tribunal ruled that he could not opt out of performing same-sex marriages based on his religious beliefs. Orville is a devout Christian, and although he referred the couple to another commissioner who would perform the ceremony, Nichols was still found guilty of discrimination and, I quote “accommodation of Mr. Nichols' religious beliefs was not required.” http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/commissioner-who-refused-to-marry-same-sex-couple-loses-appeal-1.847045
Orville Nichols is a personal friend of mine, and we went to the same church when we lived in Regina.
OK, you say, that’s here in Saskatchewan, but that kind of stuff happens in the big cities, not out here in simple little Langenburg.
Well, Langenburg Central School came perilously close to losing The Lord’s Prayer this past year. Except for the diligence of committed Christians in the community, it would already be gone. And I personally know people, who I went to school with right here, who were literally spit on because of their Christian faith.
Folks, the Bible says “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age,[a] against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. “ Ephesians 6:12
Even here in Langenburg.
Let me direct your attention to a couple of short video clips:
This is a bit of a heavy message today, but I think the real lesson we can take from Daniel Chapter 3 is that as Christians, we need to consider the possibility that we will be persecuted for our faith. And if and when that day comes, we can trust that God will be there to either deliver us from it, or deliver us through it, but deliver us, He will. Jesus told us that these days would be coming, and He says in Matthew 24:13, “But he who endures to the end shall be saved.” That’s a promise we can believe in. Amen. Let’s pray.
We have had guest speakers in February while Pastor Dennis was on vacation. You can listen to the audio of their sermons at: lefchurch.podbean.com