|IT'S COOL IN THE FURNACE
Series: Strangers In An Estranged Land - Part Three
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
June 28, 2020
Before we come to Daniel 3 - let me ask you a question. These days, what brings fear to your heart?
Did any of you see the movie “Free Solo”? Came out in 2018. It documents Alex Honnold free climbing El Capitan in 2017. Free climbing as in no ropes. No nothing. Just Alex. 3,000 feet. 3 hours and 56 minutes.
Alex came back a year later and set a speed record for climbing El Capitan. Any guesses how long? 1:58:07.
By the way, Alex’s mother - at the age of 66 years - is the oldest woman to climb El Capitan.
Just looking at the pictures that’s palm sweating stuff..
What brings fear to your heart?
Trying to cope with what’s happening around us today demands courage on any number of levels. Physical - spiritual - psychological. The number of corona cases are on the rise. Protesters are now targeting Christian figures and symbols - including Jesus.
When we’re getting nailed with stuff and we know we got nothin’ how do we keep going? Even just dealing with the non-covid basic stuff of life.
And following the example of Daniel and team Daniel - to not just keep going and somehow survive - but to come out on the other side stronger - better - healthier.
Times that require heart level courage are opportunities for heart level commitment to what grows us in character and deepens our relationship with God - what God uses to move us farther along in what He desires to do in us and through us for His glory.
Like Daniel and Team Daniel.
Big picture - we’re looking at how Daniel and those that were with him went through what they went through and how they went through what they went through can help us go through what we’re going through today.
How can we have the kind of courage Daniel and those teenagers had? Having the mental and moral strength to keep going whatever gets thrown up against us. Where does it come from? What does that look like for us?
Let’s jump into chapter 3. We’ll do some unpacking as we go along and then come back and make some application at the end.
Daniel 3 - verse 1: King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits and its breadth six cubits - about 90 feet tall - about 3 times the height of this wall and about 9 feet wide at the base.
He set it up on the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon
Verse 2: Then King Nebuchadnezzar sent to gather the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces to come to the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Then the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces gathered for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
Repetition is the key to… learning. Repetition in Scripture is God helping us to get what God wants us to get. To make sure we’re paying attention even though this account may be really really familiar.
Who set up the image? King Nebuchadnezzar.
Who did Nebuchadnezzar gather? Sand traps, bootstraps - a whole lot of important people.
And they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
Verse 4: And the herald proclaimed aloud, “You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. And whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace.
Therefore, as soon as all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, all the peoples, nations, and languages fell down and worshiped the golden image the King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
Let’s pause and notice three things.
First - who’s in the crowd. Breaking down the list of really important people that Nebuchadnezzar’s gathered from all over the empire. It’s an extensive list. It covers the heads of civil legislation - the judicial branch of government - the military - all levels of government - from the top down to the little peons of state. Anybody who is anything in officialdom is there.
Second - notice why the crowd is brought together. The Babylonian Empire was expanding. These leaders have probably come from areas in the empire that have been newly conquered. Peoples, nations, languages represents a whole lot of diversity. Every people group in the empire is probably represented. So there’s a question of allegiance.
Nebuchadnezzar who set up the statue - Nebuchadnezzar has brought all the leadership - all these peoples here - to make sure they “get it” - who is the sovereign king of it all. He’s brought them to Babylon to secure their unquestioned devotion to him.
We really don’t know exactly what that statue looked like. But, most probably it was the image of the god Nebo - who was Nebuchadnezzar’s patron god - Nebo - or Nebu - as in Nebu-chadnezzar.
Point being: Bowing before golden statue Nebo - giving value and honor and worship to Nebuchadnezzar’s god - would be giving a pledge of allegiance - supreme devotion - to Nebuchadnezzar himself.
Then third - the consequence of not bowing.
When you hear the horn, flute, lyre - which is one of these on the left - and the trigon - in the middle which was probably like harp with three corners - tri meaning three - and the psaltery - which is the instrument on the right - and bagpipe and all kinds of music - meaning a whole lot of other instruments.
We’re not sure what sound all that sounded like. But, it probably would be pretty hard to ignore. Just saying.
When you hear the “orchestra” playing the call to worship - we’re suppose to bow down and worship. Devotion to Nebuchadnezzar - our sovereign ruler. King above all kings.
The choice is made easier by the proximity of the furnace of blazing fire.
See the flames. Feel the heat. Resistance is futile. Failure to voluntarily comply means Bar-B-Quetion.
When the orchestra plays all of the foreheads of that great and distinguished multitude touch the ground at the same time - except three.
Verse 8 - moving on to the accusation made against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
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.
First a question: Where’s Daniel? Any one wondering that?
Chapter 2 ended with Daniel being rewarded - promoted - he’s the top man in the whole province of Babylon - put in charge of all the wise men. Why isn’t Daniel here?
Answer: We don’t know.
Some the scholars have suggested that Daniel may have been off some place else in the empire on some kind of official business doing something that meant he didn’t have to be here.
Some have suggested that Daniel being Nebuchadnezzar’s number one man in the capital might have been standing next to Nebuchadnezzar - right there on the dais - meaning his allegiance wouldn’t have been questioned. He didn’t need to bow like the others.
Where was Daniel? Bottom line: We don’t know. And this isn’t about Daniel anyway.
It’s Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who’s names keep getting repeated over and over. God repeating for us who they are to get us focused on what they did. So we learn.
Second - notice the accusation. The Chaldeans peeked during prayer.
Chapters 1 and 2 were about eating vegetables and Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Time has passed since then. It takes time to set up a 90 foot tall gold statue. It takes time to gather people from all over the Empire.
Meaning that the three teenagers have probably become three young men. Which means that they’ve had time to win friends and make enemies.
They’re Jews. Meaning that ethnically - culturally - religiously - they’re on the outside of Babylonian life.
And because of God’s blessing - these young men that have leap frogged ahead to the head of the line. As they’ve been serving in the government - they’ve been promoted ahead of the other officials who had greater seniority.
So there are racial as well as personal power and pride issues here. There’s resentment. And there’s an opportunity for their enemies.
Point being: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego - whom God holds up as an example for us - who are going to stand for God - are going to stand out and they’re going to be pointed out.
So third - these three young men were under some intense pressure to conform.
Imagine what that would have been like - out there on the plain of Dura.
Death being a very real possibility.
These three men have been living in Babylon for a number of years. Living in Babylonian society. Growing from teenagers into adulthood. Surrounded by Babylonian gods and Babylonian entertainment and Babylonian customs and Babylonian perversion. Godly men living among people who do not know or honor God.
The Promised Land - Jerusalem - that’s history - a fading memory. Babylon is their new normal.
Standing there - they’re surrounded by all the leadership of the empire - the upper echelon of who’s who in Babylon. Surrounded by their colleagues and friends - their peers.
Standing there - they’re being scrutinized by their enemies that they know are just looking for any opportunity to accuse them - to bring them down, And they’re standing before King Nebuchadnezzar himself.
What that would be like? The pressure is huge. To conform. To compromise. To cave. Standing when everyone else bows - means standing alone. Rejecting all of the society and culture they’re living in. Rejecting the people they live with - their values - their approval. Rejecting all that’s becoming familiar to them.
So, out on the plain of Dura, what could it hurt to bow just once to one god among many false gods. To pledge devotion to one king. In the grand scheme of things what difference would it make?
Verse 13: Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought. So they brought these men before the king.
Nebuchadnezzar answered and said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up?
Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good.
But if you do not worship, you shall be immediately cast into the burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”
Nebuchadnezzar is serious angry. More than just his ego, his authority is on the line. If these three young Jewish men get away with this in front of all those leaders Nebuchadnezzar has no authority. They must bow or die.
The three men are brought up onto the dais. Can you imagine standing there with Nebuchadnezzar the great and terrible scowling at you? Who with unquestioned power can flick his finger and you’re toast. Literally.
“Think it over boys. That fire is really really really hot. “No god can deliver you from me.” No false god anyway.
Given the circumstances - meaning not having read ahead and knowing how this ends - this is a very threatening - heart stopping - fear inducing reality check. They don’t know what will happen. “The fire’s hot. You’re mine. Bow or die.”
Verse 16: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter.
Meaning: “This isn’t about us. God is going to give you an answer.”
If this be so - if you do toss us into the furnace - our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of your hands, O king.
But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
Let’s be clear. As much as we might be tempted to think that this exchange with Nebuchadnezzar is about burning fiery furnaces, this exchange with Nebuchadnezzar isn’t about fiery furnaces.
Nebuchadnezzar - verse 15: “No god can deliver you from me.”
What did the three men answer? “Our God is able to deliver us. But, even if He doesn’t answer you by delivering us - we still won’t bow to your god. We’re not going to change our minds. We’re God’s men. We will trust Him - however He answers - whatever He chooses to do with us.”
Voice of the Martyrs designated today as The Day of the Martyr. According to church tradition June 29th is the day the Apostle Paul was martyred.
Thousands of our Christians siblings are being martyred today. Dying - holding to their faith in Jesus - trusting God with their lives.
God can deliver us. Sometimes He doesn’t.
This whole account isn’t about burning fiery furnaces. It isn’t about life or death. Sickness - health - poverty - riches - our circumstances are not the issue.
It’s about our trust - our faith - the devotion of our lives. It’s about who we choose to give authority and power over our lives.
This is about God. Who will be God over our lives. Who we bow to. Who we honor. Who we value above all others. That’s what this exchange is about.
Who we have faith in not what we fear.
Verse 19: Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with fury, and the expression of his face was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He ordered the furnace heated seven times more than it was usually heated. And he ordered some of the mighty men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace. Then these men were bound in their cloaks, their tunics, their hats, and their other garments, and they were thrown into the burning fiery furnace.
Because the king’s order was urgent and the furnace overheated, the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. And these three men - emphasis three: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell bound into the burning fiery furnace.
We’re told again that the furnace was a burning fiery furnace.
In Aramaic - the language this is written in - in Aramaic “burning” means... “burning.” “Fiery” means… “fiery.” “Furnace” means… “furnace.”
Just in case we missed that - Scripture records Nebuchadnezzar’s order to heat the already blazing hot fire 7 times it’s normal burning fiery hotness.
How hot is the fire?
Burning - blazing - radiating heat - impossible to get near - vaporizes the valiant warriors of Babylon - hot.
Point being: These three guys with their cloaks and tunics and hats - oh my - are going to be toast - charcoal - vaporized even before they hit the flames.
Verse 24: Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” - emphasis three.
They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.”
He answered and said, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.”
Who’s the fourth person? Some scholars say its an angel. Some scholars say its Jesus. We don’t know. That isn’t the point.
The point is that these three guys - who are suppose to be vaporized and then roasted - are not alone in that fire. Instead they’re unbound - free. Walking around - not trying to survive in some corner. Not hurt - not harmed by the heat or fire.
Verse 26: Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the burning fiery furnace: he declared, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here!” Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire.
And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not any power over the bodies of those men. The hair of the heads was not singed, their cloaks were not harmed, and no smell of fire had come upon them.
Have you ever try to get the smell of cigarette smoke out of something? Or gone camping and that campfire smell just lingers in your clothing.
We’re told - on purpose - that these three guys got tossed in fully clothed - tunics and cloaks and hats and everything - and when they walked out of the fire there wasn’t even the hint of a smoky smell. There’s no physical evidence that they’ve ever even been near a fire.
And in case we missed it. When Nebuchadnezzar comes near the door - how hot was the fire? Burning fiery hot.
That it was the God - or as Nebuchadnezzar now calls Him - “The Most High God” - greater than any god made out of gold - it was the God that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego chose to trust with their lives - God who chose to deliver them.
God has answered Nebuchadnezzar.
Verse 28: Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent His angel and delivered His servants, who trusted in Him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God.
Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language - emphasis everyone who just had a front row seat watching THE God at work.
Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way. Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon.
Over and over we see this pattern in Daniel because God wants us to get this. Daniel - or here - Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are confronted with a fear inducing problem requiring courage - pressure to conform to a pagan society in a life threatening no win scenario.
When they put their trust in God. God shows up. They’re not alone in the fire. God chooses to deliver them. Ultimately God is glorified and God’s people get blessed.
Pulling all that together for how what we’re being shown here can mean for us as we need courage to live for God in the whatever transitional normal in Merced is these days.
Back to the question we began with. What brings fear to your heart?
We live as believers in an unbelieving society that rejects absolute truth and is increasingly rejecting law and morality. A society that is angry and bitter and hurting and confused and in conflict. A culture that is increasingly antagonistic towards God and God’s people.
A culture that places huge pressure on all of us to conform with serious and increasingly severe consequences if we do not. Being fearful of saying and doing the wrong thing is understandable.
And that’s just out there.
What about in our homes and families and the relationships we value and the choices we’re confronted with. What about how we feel about getting older or just processing life and what life may require of us.
Especially when - deep down - we know we’re inadequate for any of that.
How hot is the fire? Really really hot.
We get this because we live this.
We all come up against the deceptive lures that Satan uses trying to get us thinking that all this is about you and me. We all get hit with Satan’s sucker punches trying to get us thinking that we’re in way over our heads and that we don’t have what it takes. That we’re standing alone on some plain - exposed - feeling the heat. Needing to come up with something - some answer - anything. The pressure is on us.
To get us living in fear not walking by faith.
Second take away - which really is the bottom line: God. Faith in God is always the answer to fear.
What confronts us today isn’t about being politically correct. It’s not about economics or job security. Not about peer pressure - or rejection - or popularity. It’s not about whatever Satan uses to try and confuse us and delude us - to get our focus on ourselves and not God - to intimidate us and drive us towards fear.
God may or may not deliver the three men out of the furnace. That isn’t the point. Regardless, God is still with them. The point is whether or not the men will trust God whatever God’s answer is.
In these days, God has chosen you and I to represent well what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. To show grace and love and mercy towards others - helping them towards Jesus. Out there or wherever God calls us to live by faith in Him.
The courage for that comes from God, not us.
Joshua followed Moses as God’s choice for leader of God’s people next.
How’d you like a job like that?
The pressure must have been enormous. The feelings of being alone and inadequate, crushing. “Joshua, this is all about you. You’re in way over your head. Pull out while you still can.”
Joshua 1:6 - God tells Joshua: “Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them… Be strong and very courageous… Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:6,7,9)
Repetition: “Be strong and courageous. It’s My plan. I chose you. Don’t fear. I will be with you.”
Words that are repeated by God over and over from Genesis to Revelation. God speaking to His people - to us: “I chose you. It’s my plan. No matter what, I’ll be with you. Be Strong. Be courageous. Trust Me. You will be my witnesses. Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Jesus taught about praying for our enemies and on the cross He asked God to forgive those who were crucifying Him. Jesus taught about loving those who persecute you and He died to save us.
To follow His command to go into the world witnessing of Him - obeying His commands and teaching others to obey Him. (Matthew 19:16-30; 28:17-20; Luke 9:23,24,57-62; 17:33; John 6:53,54; 12:26; Philippians 2:1-11)
I’m not there yet. You all know that. But, if in that challenge is what it means to be a follower of Jesus in today’s world - then, God help me - I want to follow Jesus to the extreme of what it means to follow Jesus.
In that is courage. Courage comes as we choose to die to what we fear and to live only for God’s glory.
G. K. Chesterton said this, “Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die.” (1)
Living trusting God - whatever our circumstances - no matter what the pressure or fear factor may be - that may not always lead to an outcome or circumstance that’s in our comfort zone. Sometimes that really does mean isolation and persecution and illness and death.
But as we let go of all that - trusting God whatever His plan - living for His glory not ours - we begin to live in the realization that God really is there and He really does supply all that we need for whatever we’re confronted with.
By God’s grace may we live, not by fear, but by faith in Him. To God alone be the glory.
1. Quoted in John Eldredge, Wild At Heart
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.