HANDS THAT SAVE Trinity
Daniel Chapter 3 7.10.18
Two Sundays ago we began to follow Daniel and his friends, 16 year-old youths who have been carted off to Babylon to be re-educated to become members of the giant Babylonian culture.
Daniel drew a line in the sand, at the start. His refusal to be completely like the Babylonians was in some ways a fairly arbitrary line to draw. It was his way of saying “Babylon will not own me. My loyalty is to the Living God.” Foregoing the complete approval by others was not a high price to have to pay for loyalty to the Living God.
How about Daniel’s 3 friends? These three men aren’t making choices about trivial things. Today, as we follow them, they must make a choice between life and death.
King Nebuchadnezzar had a troubling dream of a statue with a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, middle and thighs of bronze, legs and feet of iron and clay … and of a supernaturally cut lump of rock which had rolled in and smashed the statue to pieces and where the rock had become a great kingdom in its place.
Daniel had told Nebuchadnezzar that he was the head of gold and he had been happy enough with that. If other kings or kingdoms that follow him get smashed up, no worries, as long as he was the best of them.
King Nebuchadnezzar has had time to think about all that, and considered that it was not good enough. He did not believe that he was going to get smashed, so he makes his own image, out there in the Iraqi desert, to symbolise his kingdom – and this one is not going to get destroyed.
It is five times higher than this building, so that it can be seen for miles and it is more impressive than the one in the dream – no silver torso or iron legs; the whole thing is gold from top to toe.
This is Nebuchadnezzar’s way of saying that he is the most important one around and he means to stay as such. No-one is going to overcome him. He means to be here when all other kingdoms have gone.
If you really are the ‘top dog’ (most important), everyone needs to know it. You can’t be great and glorious if some people somewhere are going to ‘thumb their nose’ (ignore) at you.
So the edict is made. Verses 4-6 “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.”
When these three Jewish men refuse to submit, that is just the chance a bunch of other of their peers are waiting for. They are ‘put out’ because these men have some of the top jobs which should have come to them, and “they aren’t even true Babylonians”. They fall over each other in their rush to tell the king that when the royal orchestra played, his newly appointed upstarts were still on their feet.
He’s a good king, so they get a second chance. But the warning is hotter, as the fire is going to be. Verse 15 “But if you do not worship, you shall immediately (that’s new) be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”
The furnace is a kiln, probably in the shape of a railway tunnel, where bricks were baked for Babylon. When these 3 rebels spurn their second chance, the fire in this kiln is made 7 times hotter than would normally be the case, so hot under the collar is Nebuchadnezzar.
It’s so fierce that the soldiers who have tied and marched Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into the furnace are themselves burnt to a crisp as soon as they get near the entry to the kiln.
Won’t that be enough to change these uncompromising minds? Who wants to die like that?
Earlier this year there were Gay Pride marches in the Scottish cities of Perth and Dundee. The marches were blessed by a Church of Scotland clergyman and a Church of England clergyman. Their actions were described in the press as “brave and courageous”.
They weren’t being brave. They were saying what the mob wanted them to say. Bravery would have meant that they took a stand apart from the mob, and refused to baptise the paganism of men.
These three men in Babylon back there were brave. Even though it would mean their death, they were prepared to break with the mob.
Now there is more than bravery here, as we shall see in a moment, but there is bravery. The kind of godly bravery that you and I are going to need more of in the future than we have needed in the past.
What makes this kind of bravery so possible?
For starters, though the idol looked impressive, it wasn’t really. It had a start, and was not always there. It didn’t just appear one day, miraculously, or bring itself into being? Nine times in this chapter Daniel says it was “set up”.
Someone put it there. Somebody made it. It doesn’t have any life in it. It was a “set up job” and so it doesn’t have any absolute claim over anyone.
Where does our material stuff come from? Someone made it. Why is there more prestige in this job than that one? It is because somebody said there is. Why do these University results matter more than those? Or this house than that? Or this person than those people? It is because that is how someone has set it up to be so.
Maybe it shines in the dark. Maybe it’s big. Maybe everyone else is bowing down to it. There’s nothing eternal about any of that. An idol is something that promises life, but an idol has no life in itself, and it cannot give life. It is not absolute, and makes nothing true or untrue simply because it’s there. It’s all a set up.
Secondly, I think they saw human power for what it is. I don’t think it’s an accident that when Daniel writes up this story, and we hear other people speaking to the king they begin as they do in verse 9 “O King, live forever. You O king …” These 3 men begin, in verse 16 “O Nebuchadnezzar”. They were not being disrespectful. It was OK to start that way, but they know he is just a man, and not God.
A wise friend told me once that when you are face to face with an archbishop, or a state governor, or a boss, or someone else with power and authority, and you’re about to get into trouble for something, just visualise them in their swimmers, rather than in all their trappings. It will help you not be too intimidated. That has really helped, more than once.
I think they saw Nebuchadnezzar in his swimmers. And they saw the idol as something someone had invented.
Thirdly, and most importantly of all, they saw the Living God for who he really is.
The king asks these three men “who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” (v15) They answer “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. (You are not our God.) If this (the furnace) be so, our God is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king that we will not serve your gods or worship the image that you have set up.” (Vv16-18)
Look carefully at those words. What do they know about the true and Living God?
Ø They know that God is able to rescue them – there are no limits to his power, regardless of what the king thinks.
Ø They know he is so committed to his children and that he will deliver them – whether through the fire into heaven … or out of the fire.
Ø They know that the law of God is crystal clear – no other gods, and no bowing down to any god of any kind!
Here is biblical faith at its very best. No garbage about ‘binding the flames’ or ‘binding Satan’ as though they have power to douse the fire. No negotiating their way around what is a clear word from God about having no other gods and not bowing down to any idols.
They don’t know what God’s secret will for them is – will they be in the fire or won’t they … and if they are, will they survive or won’t they? However, they certainly know what his revealed will is and they are going to live by that. Obedience matters more than deliverance.
Should I say that again? It’s so important. Obedience matters more than deliverance.
Real faith doesn’t need to know why God is doing what he is doing. What if we yearn for a job, success, marriage, children, home and friends? Is he able to do these things? Of course he is. All that and more. Faith says “but if not”, if he does not, that’s not going to stop me doing what he asks of me.
I’m on the home stretch. I want to speak right now to those of us who are facing a decision right now that is a big one. This job or not? Continue this relationship or not? Challenge this or that? This financial commitment or not? Continue in this action or habit or not? This generosity or not?
I also want to speak to those of us in those ‘setting-the-direction-of-your-life years’ – you’re somewhere between 15 and 35, where directions now are going to impact the next 50 years.
So big decisions or critical years. I want to appeal to you: don’t sell your soul. Commit to having backbone that knows and lives out the certainty that “Jesus alone is Lord”
Two weeks ago, Beijing chose 7 bishops for the Roman Catholic Church in China – all men who had previously been denied legitimacy by Rome. In the name of better relations with China, the pope caved in and flip-flopped like a jellyfish.
Either the Party is Lord, or Jesus is Lord, but they both cannot be. Our culture’s idols of money, power and sex are real, or they are set up. They cannot be both. Either the words of Jesus matter most, or the views of our culture matter most, but it cannot be both.
These young men could have rationalised bowing down so easily … what good can a dead Christian do? … since we all know that an idol is nothing, it won’t matter if we run with the crowd … if we still honour Jesus in our hearts, it won’t matter what we do with our bodies.
Once they have committed to following the revealed will of God, the rationalisations are out the window. Once they know that God alone is Lord, their only real choice is as clear as the noonday sun.
As you make your decisions, and as you set the course of your life, you can stand with Jesus as Lord, or you can run with the crowd, but in 2018 you’re not going to be able to do both. If you think that’s not the choice, you’re already misguided.
What if you end up in the furnace? What was it like in the fire? A fourth man was with them. Nebuchadnezzar describes him “like a son of the gods” (v25).
Jesus? Maybe. An angel from heaven? Maybe. At the very least the Living God’s appointed man, with them, inside the furnace. So that they walk out without even smelling of smoke.
In February 2015 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians were marched along a Libyan beach in orange jump suits. To live, they have only to say that Jesus is not Lord. To a man they refused. They were delivered by being kept faithful … and then delivered to Jesus as one by one they were beheaded.
Our culture is increasingly telling us to get with what is called the ‘right side of history’, and that if we keep on challenging the idols out there, and don’t pull our heads in, they’ll get cut off.
What are you going to choose if your choice means less money than the others? Or less sex? Or less power? What if it means ending up in the furnace?
It’s clear if Jesus is Lord, and if the fourth man is with you in that, no matter what the outcome.
It may look powerful and impressive out there, but it isn’t. It’s all a set up, and will all come down soon enough. The big men out there may look powerful, but in their swimmers they’re not that impressive, after all.
If you do it, might you be forgotten? The ultimate loser? Isolated and alone? When the Fourth Man is with you, there’s not a chance. Loved, kept and protected, whatever the outcome? Absolutely!