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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:In the Fiery Furnace
Text:Daniel 3:1-30 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Faith Tested

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

O Word of God Incarnate  

Take Time to Be Holy

God Hath Spoken by His Prophets

How Firm a Foundation

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

In the Fiery Furnace”
Daniel 3:1-30
In the Bible we have many accounts of the almighty power of our Lord. Simply by the word of his mouth he created the universe and all that it is that is in it. He divided the Red Sea and also the waters of the Jordan river so that the Israelites could pass through when he delivered them from Egypt. In many other ways, throughout both Testaments, the Lord reveals his power in unique and awesome ways, including this account recorded for us in Daniel 3. It is one of the best-known “Bible stories” as it describes in dramatic fashion how Daniel's three friends survived in the fiery furnace. It also describes that mysterious fourth person who was with them through every aspect of their trial.
But through this episode in the fiery furnace, we also see God's patience with King Nebuchadnezzar. You recall that in the last chapter Nebuchadnezzar had that unusual dream which Daniel recounted for him and then interpreted. In that dream the king saw a large statue. The head of the statue was made of gold and represented his kingdom. But the rest of the statue represented the kingdoms that would come after the Babylonian king: The chest and arms of silver represented the Medes and Persians. The belly and thighs of bronze represented the Greek Empire. The legs and toes of iron and clay represented the Roman Empire.
And then, in his dream, there was a fifth kingdom represented by a rock that was cut out, but not by human hands. That rock smashed the statue representing the kingdoms of the world into smithereens so that they became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer.” But the rock itself grew into a great mountain that covered the entire earth.  It was a reminder of the supremacy of the eternal kingdom of our Lord over the kingdoms of this fallen world.
When Daniel had explained the dream to Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchadnezzar exclaimed, “Surely, your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery” (2:47). And Nebuchadnezzar promoted Daniel and placed him in charge of all the wise men of Babylon. At Daniel's request, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were also made administrators over the provinces of Babylon.
But now as chapter 3 begins, we get a glimpse into the proud heart of Nebuchadnezzar. He has thought about this dream, and he wanted to change the outcome of it. Daniel had explained that in his dream of a statue, the gold head represented Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom, but then the rest of the statue represented the nations that would come after his. So in his pride Nebuchadnezzar decided to make another statue, ninety feet high, plated in pure gold. And he decreed that everyone had to bow down and worship the image that he had set up. It was as though he was saying in defiance, “My kingdom will stand eternal, and all people will praise my kingdom, represented by this ninety foot statue of gold; all people will bow down and glorify my name and my gods.”
He defied the power of God in his question there at the close of verse 15, where he challenged Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego by asking, “…What god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” But even you young children among us know the outcome of the story. The one true God revealed in Scripture – the Lord God Almighty – is able and more than willing, to rescue his people, including Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the fiery furnace!
And as the Lord does so, we see not only his power to rescue, but also his patience to Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar, at the close of this chapter, also speaks of praise for God, just as he did in chapter 2, but note that he speaks about “praise to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who sent his angel and rescued his servants.” But he doesn't speak of their God being his God. He is not at the point where Ruth the Moabitess was when she declared to Naomi, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” (Ruth 1:16)
Nebuchadnezzar, in the next chapter will again exert his pride, and God will again humble him in a unique and thoroughly humiliating manner after which Nebuchadnezzar will again offer praise to the God Most High. At the close of the next chapter Nebuchadnezzar will declare, “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”
Because of that declaration, and because of God's patience with King Nebuchadnezzar, many commentators, such as Matthew Henry, believe that God's patience led to salvation for Nebuchadnezzar. Other commentators, including John Calvin, believe that Nebuchadnezzar only honored God with his lips and not with his heart.
I'm thankful that we don't need to make that decision. It is up to the Lord as to who is in the glory of heaven and who suffers the eternity of hell. My personal belief – although not dogmatic – is that Nebuchadnezzar is in glory even now. But rather than speculating on that, I rejoice to know that God's patience with Nebuchadnezzar is evident in his patience with each one of us. How patient has God been with you? And how patient has God been with me? How often have we praised God one day, and doubted him the next? How often have we given him lip service, but not the devotion of our heart? How often has the sin of pride, as well as a multitude of other sins, flooded into our lives?
God's patience and kindness were not only extended to a rebellious and proud king. His patience and kindness have also been extended to you and to me. How crucial it is for us to respond, not with the pride that Nebuchadnezzar exhibited, or with the apathy that so many seem to have for the most precious invitation ever given. Instead, we are to respond to the patience and kindness of God with the same type of faith that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego exhibited.
These three friends of Daniel were “maliciously accused”, in the words of the ESV, by some of the astrologers who were advisers to the king. The NIV says, “at this time some astrologers came forward and denounced the Jews.” But the translation of the ESV which describes how certain Chaldeans ... maliciously accused” Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego gets closer to the point of the text. It points out that those who opposed Daniel’s friends, did so with premeditated and malicious intent.
There has always been a malicious attack against people of faith, and there will be until the Lord returns and settles the score through his righteous judgment of the living and the dead. We certainly see the malicious attack against God's people whenever we look at the persecuted church. We also see that malicious attack when we look at our own culture which increasingly attacks true Christianity, attacks Christ, his Word, and those who take seriously their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
As we see increasing hostility against Christianity, we realize that we ourselves may be maliciously attacked. How do we respond in such a situation? What do we learn from Daniel’s friends that will fortify our faith and strengthen us against whatever malicious attacks come against us, and the One whom we proclaim? And what do we learn from Daniel’s three friends as we face a variety of fiery trials in our lives?
Faith in the All-Powerful God
First, we see that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego believed God to be all powerful; they knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that that God is truly omnipotent. We see that in their striking statement of faith in verses 17 and 18. There they respond to the king by saying, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
Their statement of faith reveals their trust in the power of God. We also know that our God is all powerful; he is omnipotent. But we don't always act that way, do we?  Our faith does not always seem to be unshakably placed on the God who can deliver his people from even the fieriest of situations – even from the eternal, blazing fire of hell.
What gave Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego such assurance of God's power? I believe it was because of their thorough knowledge of God's Word. Do you remember Daniel 1:17 where it describes how God gave Daniel and his three friends knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning?
In the context of that verse, we see that they understood Babylonian literature as they were introduced to a new and a very pagan culture. But they also certainly knew the Old Testament Scriptures. They knew that God is all-powerful, not just because of the interpretation of the dream in Chapter 2, where the kingdom of God is portrayed as that mighty rock that smashes the kingdoms of this world to pieces. But they also knew of God's power and might from the Scriptures.  Undoubtedly, they were well versed with the scroll written by Isaiah. And because they believed the Scriptures, they were able to take to heart the opening verses of Isaiah 43, “When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze, - for I am the Lord your God, the Holy one of Israel, your Savior.”
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had the Old Testament Scriptures which assured them that their God was all-powerful. It assured them that their God, who parted the Red Sea, who parted the waters of the Jordan, who fed his people with manna and quail and brought down the walls of Jericho as he led them into the promised land, could also save them from the fiery blaze that they faced.
But we have not only the Old Testament Scriptures, but the New Testament Scriptures as well. They describe the greatest power of God: the power to conquer sin, Satan, and death in all its forms, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ! We should have an even greater assurance of the power of God to deliver us in the face of trial!
However, even with the knowledge that God is able to deliver his people, we also realize that it is not always God’s will to deliver his people from earthly trials. That was also a realization clear to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. And because of that, they were willing to do God’s will regardless of the consequences.
Their statement of faith in verse 18 and 19 is similar to Job’s statement in Job 13:15. There Job declares to his skeptical friends, “Though God slay me, yet will I hope in him.” By contrast, so often we are willing to do God’s will, as long as it fits in with our plans. Not so with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They were willing to do God’s will regardless of the consequences. In that way, they were an Old Testament foreshadow of Jesus, who prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)
A third remarkable aspect of their faith was their refusal to compromise. Because their lives were on the line, it was undoubtedly tempting to compromise. But they didn’t even entertain the thought. Even Luther asked for a night to think over the offer to recant his testimony to the king. But no such thought was offered by Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Verse 18 records their words to Nebuchadnezzar: “But even if he (God) does not (rescue us), we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
They set an important example here, because if you start to compromise in one area, you will begin to compromise in every area. And it would have been very easy for them to compromise. They could have reasoned, “If we refuse to bow down and worship the statue, we will never have an opportunity to exert a godly influence in this kingdom. Our lives would be snuffed out.” Or “If we just stay toward the edge of the crowd and bow halfheartedly, we can spare our lives and when the king is more reasonable, speak up for the glory of God.”
Their refusal to compromise sets an excellent example, because every time you and I compromise our faith – our beliefs – we put ourselves on a slippery slope. If you compromise in one area, for instance if you say, If I go to church on Sunday but then treat the day as any other day of the week, it really won't matter because I’ve gone to church,” you will soon be compromising in other areas too.
Every compromise will lead you further and further from the Lord. He has given us one day of the week to rest from our daily activities and remember his power and greatness, his love and mercy, in a special way. By not compromising that day we strengthen ourselves spiritually for the six other days in the rest of the week.
If you compromise yourself in any area, whether it is a movie you watch, or the music you listen to, or the friends that you hang out with, you will soon compromise yourself in every area. We see that not just in individual lives, but in the corporate lives of churches. As an increasing number of churches compromise their views on Scripture, whether with women in office, the acceptance of homosexuality, or a compromise on the Biblical truth that God is sovereign in election and reprobation – wherever we see a compromise in these areas, we also see that those churches slip further and ever more rapidly away from the truths of God’s Word and into the errors of the world.
As we see more and more churches compromise their theology, and as political correctness grows in churches around us, we need the reminder of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to stand firm, refusing to compromise the great truths of our faith, grounded in Scripture.
Never Forsaken
A third truth that springs out of this episode in the fiery furnace is the wonderful truth that God will never leave us nor forsake us. He will always be with us in the fiery trials of life.
Verse 24 and 25 have led to a great deal of speculation. As Nebuchadnezzar was looking into the blazing furnace he said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” Later, in verse 28, he offered praise to God, whom he said “has sent his angel and rescued his servants!”
The speculation centers on whether this was a special angel whom God sent to be with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fire, or whether it was Christ himself in a pre-incarnate form – a Christophany. The Bible doesn't give us the details. But it does give us the most important point of all, a point of great comfort, namely that our God is always with us and will never leave us nor forsake us.
He himself has given us that promise. Hebrews 12:5 quotes from Deuteronomy 31:6 where the Lord declares, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” We take him at his word knowing that it is impossible for God to lie. That in itself is of great comfort to every believer. No matter what trial you face, God promises never to leave you nor forsake you. That's true for those who face persecution and martyrdom, and it is true for every other fiery trial we face. God promises never to leave or forsake his people.
In the presence of the fourth person, whether it was an angel sent by God, or whether it was Christ himself – which is what I believe – we see an illustration of the truth that our God is always with us. We may not see him visibly, as Nebuchadnezzar saw the fourth person. But we have full assurance that our Lord is always with us in every trial that we face in life, just as he was with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace. He has even commanded his angels to guard us in all our ways, just as he promised in Psalm 91:11.
As we close the chapter, it is worth noting that through our trials we are strengthened and sanctified. Certainly, the faith of these three men was strengthened after they had been through the trial.
And they had been prepared for this trial by their previous brush with death when the edict had originally been declared to put all the wise men to death if none of them could interpret Nebuchadnezzar's dream. At that time Daniel and his three friends had poured out their hearts to the Lord in prayer. They were in a great trial where their lives were on the line, and that trial prepared them for this trial.
And the same is true for the trials that you and I face, whether it is malicious accusations because of our Christianity, or ridicule for our beliefs, or temptations to live after the ways of the world instead of the truths of the word of God. Each trial that we face and overcome strengthens us for the next trial.
That is why James writes, “Consider it pure joy …whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)
God’s Glory in Our Trials
And then, also, through our trials God is glorified. As this chapter closes, we hear the praise of Nebuchadnezzar for the Lord God who spared his people from the flames of fire. It is true that God is not always glorified in this way by pagan leaders. Many times in history, and even today for members of the persecuted church, the evil-doers seem to have the upper hand. Often God’s people are put to death, and the kingdom of darkness with its mocking hostility seems far greater than the kingdom of light.
But even in those trials God will yet be glorified, if not in this life, then in the life to come. In 1 Peter 1:6-7, as Peter speaks about trials, he writes: In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
Daniel’s friends, facing fiery persecution, set an excellent example for us when we face trials of any kind. They trusted God and sought to be faithful to him even when facing the fiery furnace. We also face a fiery furnace. Apart from saving faith in Jesus Christ we face a fire much hotter and far more intense than the fire these three men faced. Jesus warned that the fire of hell is a fire that is never quenched, that hell is a place of eternal torment, a place of weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth.
The only escape from the reality of hell is through saving faith in Christ. He is not only with us through the fiery trials of life, he is also the only one who can rescue us and redeem us so that we are spared the fire of hell, fire which he endured as he bore all the agony of hell – separation from his Father in heaven as he bore our sins on the cross of Calvary.
Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego certainly had saving faith in the Messiah who was yet to be revealed in the flesh. By God’s grace and Spirit’s power may you and I have that same statement of faith firmly engraved in our hearts and boldly spoken by our lips.
And when those troubled times come in your life and mine, may you and I follow the good example of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego as we trust God to be all powerful, taking hold of the promises of his Word, without compromise, seeking to be obedient to God’s will, regardless of the consequences.  Amen.
Sermon Outline:
“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us
 from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king.  But even if He does not,
we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the
image of gold you have set up.”- Daniel 3:17-18
                                     “In the Fiery Furnace”
                                              Daniel 3:1-30
I. The episode in the fiery furnace portrays:
     1) God’s patience with Nebuchadnezzar as Nebuchadnezzar tried to
          change the message of the dream (2:36-38; 3:1-7; 28-30; 4:34-37)
     2) The power of faith by Daniel’s friends who had been maliciously
          accused” (8, ESV), yet:
           a) Believed God to be all powerful (17)
           b) Refused to compromise (18)
           c) Were willing to do God’s will, regardless of the consequences
                (18; Job 13:15; Luke 22:42)
      3) The truth that God will never leave us nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5),
           but will always be with us in the fiery trials of life (24-25; Isaiah
II.  Application: Through our trials we are strengthened and sanctified
      (17-18; James 1:2-4) and God is glorified (28-29; 1 Peter 1:6-7)




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Rev. Ted Gray

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