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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:The Most High God delivers his trusting servants
Text:Daniel 3:26-30 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Living in a sinful world

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 5

Psalm 40:5 (after the law)

Psalm 115:1-4

Psalm 115:5-6

Hymn 3:1,2

Scripture reading: Daniel 3

Text: Daniel 3:26-30

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ Jesus,

You can imagine yourself in Ed Welch’s shoes.  Listen to him tell the story:

“I was up for an award, and I was scared to death I would get it!  The auditorium was bulging with over two thousand high school juniors and seniors.  From the back, where I liked to sit, it seemed a good mile or two up to the platform.  All I could think of was what my classmates would think of me while I walked to the front.  Would I walk funny?  Would I trip going up the stairs?  Would one person – I prayed it wouldn’t be a girl I liked – think I was a jerk?  What about those who were nominated or who thought they were deserving?  What would they think of me if I won instead of them?  What would I ever say for a brief acceptance speech?

God, please don’t let me get this! I prayed.” 

Ed Welch didn’t get the award.  Rick Wilson did. 

“Rick Wilson!  I couldn’t believe it!  Of all people.  No one even thought he was a candidate! 

You can imagine my reaction.  Relief?  No way.  I felt like a total failure.  Now what would people think of me?  They knew I was up for the award, and someone else was chosen.  What a loser I was….I was ashamed to go back to class.”

Many of us have been there.  The fear of others is a universal fact.  And when we boil it down to what it really is, this is the one of the most pervasive forms of idolatry.  When we fear other people or to use the title of Ed Welch’s book, “when people are big and God is small,” we have made other people into idols. 

Idolatry was the main reason why the people of God had been exiled to Babylon in the days of Daniel, in the early 500s before Christ.  There were other reasons, but the main reason was that the Jews constantly went back to worshipping Baal, Ashteroth and others.  Yes, they often claimed to worship Yahweh as well, but then they mixed the worship of the true God with the worship of false gods.  So we read in passages like Hosea 2:13, “’I will punish her for the days she burned incense to the Baals; she decked herself with rings and jewelry, and went after her lovers, but me she forgot,’ declares the LORD.”  This punishment was carried out through the exile.  It was the reason why our text takes place in the foreign land of Babylon.   

With our text of this morning, God comes with a message of hope and salvation for idolaters in all ages.  He comes with a message of hope and deliverance for us today.  I preach to you God’s Word as we see how:

The Most High God delivers his trusting servants.

We’ll see that he delivers them:

  1. From idolatry
  2. Through fire
  3. For service

At the beginning of chapter 3, we read about the enormous gold image that Nebuchadnezzar erected on the plain of Dura.  We’re not told whether this image was meant to represent one of Babylon’s gods.  For instance, the image doesn’t receive a name.  It appears this image was meant to represent the power of Babylon or perhaps the might of Nebuchadnezzar himself. 

Whatever the case may have been, the command to fall down and worship this image was clear enough.  All peoples were to fall flat on their faces before it and offer the kind of worship that was customary in those days.  Perhaps that involved some kind of gesture or perhaps there were some words that needed to be said.  And so when the signal was given, Scripture tells us that “all the peoples, nations and men of every language fell down and worshiped the image of gold that Nebuchadnezzar had set up.”

However, there were three exceptions:  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.  Although they had been made high-ranking officials, they refused to follow the orders of the king.  That caught the attention of some of the Babylonians and they reported the three men to Nebuchadnezzar.  Not only were they not going to bow down before the gold image, the Babylonians also reported that they did not serve any of the king’s gods.  These men were revolutionaries! 

Let’s just pause here for a moment and note already what God has done.  The Jews had been sent into captivity because of their idolatry.  God’s purpose was to use this to chastise and discipline his people so that they would never again turn to idols.  He sent them into exile so they would develop an unshakable aversion to idolatry.  God had said, “You shall have no other gods before me.”  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego heard God and believed him and followed his Word.  God was indeed delivering his people from idolatry in the midst of the idolaters in Babylon.  They had to have everything they’d taken for granted in Israel taken away from them before they were cured of their addiction to false gods.  As an aside, the plan worked.  After the Babylonian exile, we never read about the people of Israel worshipping false gods ever again.  Yes, they still engaged in self-willed worship, but they never again bowed the knee to Baal or offered their children to Molech.    

So as part of God’s people in captivity, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were done with idols.  But this created a rage in King Nebuchadnezzar.  In verse 13 we read that he was in a furious rage and then in verse 19 again we read that he was “filled with fury.”  His anger was out of control with these insolent Jews.  He told them they’d better listen or they’d be thrown in the fiery furnace.  He challenged them in verse 15, “And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” 

That was the wrong question for the king to ask.  The fiery furnace is nothing compared to what God has in store for those who arrogantly dismiss his commandments.  The three men knew Nebuchadnezzar’s question came from a worldview where man is to be feared more than the true God.

The answer of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego reflected their proper understanding of the situation.  They said, “we have no need to answer you in this matter.”  God is able to save us from this fire, and even if he chooses not to, we will still not follow you.  The words here remind us of what we read in Acts 4:19, where Peter and John were brought before the Sanhedrin.  They said, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.”  In Acts 5:29, again before the Sanhedrin, they said basically the same thing, “We must obey God rather than men!”  What this illustrates is a basic biblical principle that no authority on earth is above God in heaven.  No earthly authority -- whether government, parents, office bearers, teachers, or whoever else – no earthly authority whatsoever can command us to do anything which is against God’s Word.  God is the supreme authority who trumps any other authority which rises up against him.  It was true in the days of Daniel and his friends, it was true in the time of the apostles, and it remains true today.  Holding to that principle, God’s people in all ages and places have been delivered from at least this one form of idolatry. 

The ability to hold to that principle comes out of faith.  The three men trusted God and his promises.  They fearlessly confessed that faith before a Gentile king who had the power to destroy them.  In Hebrews 11, there is a reference to this event in verse 34, where the author of Hebrews mentions those who “who quenched the fury of the flames.”  These three men were led to do what they did through faith in God and what he had promised in Jesus Christ.  We have received what was promised them.  We are richer and we have seen God’s goodness in brighter colours.  The deliverance of these three men prophetically points ahead to the great salvation all Christians have in Christ – to our, to your salvation.  Should not your commitment to God and his Son be even stronger?  Listen to the challenging words of Christ in Matt. 10:37, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”  It’s one thing to be faced with a choice between following Nebuchadnezzar and following God.  What about being faced to choose between the closest relationships you have and Christ?  Pray to God that you would never have to make such a choice!  Loved ones, pray that if you are ever faced with such a choice that you would still take Christ as most precious and dear, even over your parents or your children!  Pray that you would be able to say with the Psalmist, “Whom have I in heaven but you?  And earth has nothing I desire besides you.” (Ps. 73:25).  Pray for the faith to stand.        

That kind of principled position is not easy to hold.  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego faced a terrible death by burning because they would not compromise.  To make matters worse, the king ordered that the furnace be heated to seven times hotter than usual.  He gave orders that the three Jews be tied up – they were not going to escape!  Then some of the strongest soldiers in the Babylonian army gave up their lives to put these three in the fire.  The three fell into the fire of the furnace. 

Who would have expected what happened next?  Nebuchadnezzar leapt to his feet in amazement.  As he looked into the furnace, he now saw not three men in the fire, but four!  Not only that, but all of them were walking around in the same fire that a few moments ago had killed some of the strongest soldiers of the Babylonian army.  And then the fourth man looked different, like a “son of the gods,” or a divine being of some sort.

The king went to the door of the furnace and called out for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to come out.  And they did.  Note there for a moment that the three men obeyed the king.  The king still had authority over them.  When he commanded them to do something that wasn’t against God’s Word, they would obey.  But notice that there is somewhat of a tension (for lack of a better way to put it) even in Nebuchadnezzar’s own words.  He calls them “servants of the Most High God.”  He doesn’t say, “my servants,” or “my high officials.”  At this point, he recognizes that they are both his servants and God’s servants, but God’s authority trumps his own.                     

Coming out of the fire, they’re examined by the king’s officials.  Not only did they survive the fire, there was absolutely no evidence that they’d even been in the blazing furnace!  No singed hair, no scorched robes, and no smell! 

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had been miraculously delivered by God.  Now we might be tempted to say they had been rescued from the fire.  When Nebuchadnezzar says in verse 28 that God rescued his servants, he undoubtedly has that in mind.  But there is a greater salvation or deliverance in view here and that’s the rescue from idolatry.  The three men were delivered from idolatry through the fire. 

God leading them and protecting them through the fire resulted in their being released from the obligation to bow down before the gold image of the king.  They would not worship the image before the fire, but after the fire they did not have to worship the image.  In this sense, we can speak about the fire being their release from the king’s obligation to be idolaters.

This is a pattern we find repeated in Scripture and most clearly seen in the life and ministry of Christ.  Though he didn’t have to pass through a literal fire, the Lord Jesus did enter into God-forsaken suffering.  Through his hellish suffering and death, salvation was brought for all his chosen ones.  Christ’s sufferings and death mean that we are totally free from the curse of sin, from its guilt and punishment – when we believe in him, all our sins are forgiven, we are released from the debt that we owe to God, including for all the times we have been idolaters.  But his redemptive work also means that we are more and more being made free from the power of sin.  Because he passed through the fire of God’s wrath for us, we are being freed from slavery to sin.  Just as the fire meant release from Nebuchadnezzar’s obligation to idolatry, so also the redemption of Christ means release from our slavery to sin.  Romans 6:18 puts it this way, “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”  After what Christ experienced in our place, we do not have to be idolaters.  By the power of his Holy Spirit, we can say no to idolatry.  Because of Christ and his redemption, we must not be fatalistic about our sins.  Not because of us, but because of him, we can and we must say no not only to idolatry, but all sin.

Because we are united to Christ, because we are in Christ, oftentimes our sanctification involves trials and “sharing his sufferings.” (Phil.3:10).  Many times it is only by going through the fire of difficulties that God delivers us from our idolatries and other sins.  Though it’s never easy to go through it, God uses these things to shape us and to more and more work out the salvation of Christ in our lives, freeing us from the power of sin.  And we look forward to the day when our salvation will be complete and we will be entirely free from sin and its effects!  There’ll be no more trials, no more difficulties.  We will be glorified.  And how we’ll praise God when that day comes!

On the day of their deliverance from idolatry and the fire, it wasn’t Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who praised God (at least it’s not recorded in Scripture), but Nebuchadnezzar.  Now it’s very easy at this point to get drawn into closely examining what the king said and trying to determine whether or not he was really sincere or even considering whether he was regenerate or born again.  Then Nebuchadnezzar becomes a figure warning us about having a confession on our lips that doesn’t match what’s in our hearts or in our lives, an illustration of what Christ said in Matt. 7:21, “Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven…”  Many commentators do that.  Though there may be truth in that, this is not what is really emphasized in this passage.  Yes, it’s true that Nebuchadnezzar doesn’t give any evidence of abandoning his gold image or any of his other idols.  He doesn’t acknowledge Yahweh to be the only true God.  We have silence on those things and where there is silence we should be careful.  Not only that, but this is not all the book of Daniel tells us about Nebuchadnezzar.  He has a remarkable experience in chapter 4 which leads him closer to the truth.  The fact is we simply don’t know whether Nebuchadnezzar became a child of God.  Nor is that the point of the passage.  God has given us this passage of Daniel so that we would see him, the mighty delivering God, and not Nebuchadnezzar.  God is the subject of Daniel 3, not the king, not even the three men as such (although what God is doing with those three men is central).

So, it was God who put these words of praise in Nebuchadnezzar’s mouth.  God gets praised for sending his angel to rescue the three men.  God allowed Nebuchadnezzar to see that these men had done something positive and praiseworthy in refusing to obey the king’s command.  God brought the king to make a decree whereby it was now illegal in the Babylonian empire for anyone to say anything dishonouring about the true God.  God turned the tables, you see!  Previously it was some of the Babylonians who were watching to see if they could accuse the Jews of disobedience.  Now the Jews scattered throughout the Babylonian empire could bring before the courts those who might blaspheme the true God.  And if any would do such a thing, they were to be punished with death and their houses were to be laid in ruins or, that could also be translated more graphically:  “their houses should be made into public toilets.”  Why?  Because, the king said in verse 29, “there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way.”  Nebuchadnezzar had never seen a god deliver people from a fiery furnace!  Indeed, what a great and mighty God we have!  He can and does save.  He deserves to be honoured by us and by all people! 

He saved from idolatry, through fire, and for service.  In the last verse of the chapter, we read that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were promoted by the king in the province of Babylon.  Previously they’d already been set over the affairs of that province, but now it appears they’re given even more authority and responsibility.  Their lives were saved by God for a purpose:  that they might continue to serve in the Babylonian empire. 

Here again we witness a familiar pattern from Scripture.  Right after the Exodus from Egypt, God spoke to his people at Mount Sinai.  He told them that they had been delivered for service to him, “You shall be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”  We find the same pattern continued in the New Testament.  After laying out the glorious teachings regarding our salvation in Christ, Paul says in Romans 12:1, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.”  Over and over we see it in the Bible, God delivers his people and sets them free so that they would serve him.  And that’s true for us too, isn’t it?  Through Christ, God has rescued us from the curse and power of sin so that we would serve.  Perhaps we might not serve in government, like the three men in our text, but we can and must serve in a variety of other ways, serving God in our daily work, our families, church life, and so on.  Service can rightly be described as a mark of a Christian – it certainly is a fruit of faith, worked in our lives by the Holy Spirit!  So, having been redeemed by Christ, where and how are you serving? 

By way of further application, let me say something about one of the most powerful forms of service to which we’re called as Christians:  prayer.  There are many different causes that we can pray for, many different people, from government officials, to missionaries, pastors, elders and deacons, to family members, teachers, and so on.  Prayer is a powerful act of service that everybody in our congregation can and must be engaged in.  Let’s never forget those well-known words of James 5:16, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”       

I began this sermon by telling you about Ed Welch and his struggles with the fear of man.  Eventually, as he grew older and matured, he came to recognize this for the idolatry it was.  He says he is making progress in overcoming this idolatry.  How can he say that?  Only because his God is the Most High God who delivers his servants who trust in him and in his Son Jesus Christ.   When each of us look in faith to Christ, believing his Word, eagerly wanting to follow him and serve him, he will deliver us from idolatry and from every other sin as well.  AMEN. 


Heavenly Father,

Your Word truly reveals you in your greatness.  This morning we have seen you revealed as the Most High God who delivers his servants.  We thank you for this revelation and the comfort and encouragement it brings to our lives.  Please give us more grace with your Holy Spirit so that we trust you more each and every day.  Deliver us from idolatry.  Though we might hesitate to say it, use whatever trials you would to shape us and make us grow.  Help us to see those trials in a positive way.  And Father, please also equip us with your Spirit for service to you.  We pray that our lives, ourselves, would be offered as living sacrifices out of thankfulness for the deliverance you’ve brought us in Jesus Christ. 

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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