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Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego

Bible Stories Which Teach Us How to Live in This World

Aug 8, 2021

by: Jack Lash Series: Bible Stories Which Teach Us How to Live in This World | Category: Faith | Scripture: Daniel 3:1–3:30

I. Introduction
A. Summer series
B. The exile: after living in the promised land for the better part of a millennium, Israel was forced into exile in Babylon for 70 years.
1. During the exile in Babylon, the people of Israel were under a foreign &often hostile government.
2. And the book of Daniel is filled with stories in which God’s people are dealing with rulers who are antagonistic toward their faith in God.
3. This is why it’s so instructive about how we should live in the world, because learning to live in this world means learning to live as believers in a society hostile to Christ.
C. Daniel 3:1–30 King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits and its breadth six cubits. He set it up on the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon. 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. 3 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. And they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. 4 And the herald proclaimed aloud, “You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, 5 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. 6 And whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace.” 7 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 that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. 8 Therefore at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and maliciously accused the Jews. 9 They declared to King Nebuchadnezzar, “O king, live forever! 10 You, O king, have made a decree, that every man who hears the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, shall fall down and worship the golden image. 11 And whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into a burning fiery furnace. 12 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.” 13 Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought. So they brought these men before the king. 14 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? 15 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 immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” 16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 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.” 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. 20 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. 21 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. 22 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. 23 And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell bound into the burning fiery furnace. 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?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.” 25 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.” 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. 27 And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men. The hair of their heads was not singed, their cloaks were not harmed, and no smell of fire had come upon them. 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. 29 Therefore I make a decree: 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.” 30 Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon.
II. So what can we learn from this story about how to live in this world?
A. We learn that sometimes we’re going to expected to and even required to do things which contradict our faith in Christ. And we’re going to be punished if we don’t cooperate.
B. Now our situation may seem considerably different than being told to bow down to a giant golden idol, but really it’s not.
1. There are certain doctrines which our society insists we believe and support – or be punished.
2. And since worldly success is of utmost importance to most people: keeping one’s job, being safe, being financially secure, keeping one’s reputation as a cooperative worker, avoiding the stigma of being considered extreme, the society’s punishments have a lot of sway over people – even God’s people.
3. In Japan, there is a national religion, a specifically Japanese mixture of Buddhism and Shintoism.
a. And it’s expected of every person to support and participate in religious activities. It’s considered unpatriotic to refuse. For instance, if there’s an office party, every worker is expected to attend and participate, even though part of what occurs there involves religious ceremony.
b. And so Christians are expected to go along with this, and if you don’t, you are considered less than committed to your company and even your country. And they’re sidelined/ostracized.
4. Now, it’s not quite as blatant as this in our society, but just like in every society, in our society there are things you’re supposed to believe, there are things you’re supposed to go along with, there are things you’re supposed to support; there are clear anti-Biblical notions and idols which you are expected to bow to.
5. We live in a world which punishes those who act contrary to the society’s dogmas.
C. Also, the kind of fiery furnace has changed from what it was in 6th century BC Babylon.
1. But what hasn’t changed is that people still get thrown into fiery furnaces when they don’t buy into the idolatry of the society around them, when they won’t worship its idols or cooperate with its priorities or support its opinions. This is so important for us to understand.
2. If you are going to be faithful to Christ, you have to expect to be judged unfaithful by the world around you. And you have to be willing to suffer their penalties.
D. Fortunately, Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego teach us how to respond when the society around us throws us into a fiery furnace because we won’t go along with their anti-Biblical notions.
1. The Bible certainly has stories of disobeying government rules when necessary. And the Bible also has stories of people cooperating with the government when it gives unrighteous decrees.
2. But this story gives us both. The three men refused to bow down & worship the golden statue as they were ordered to do. But they cooperated and obeyed in every way they could.
3. There were times when smashing other people’s idols was a part of God’s call to His people.
a. But this was not the right way to behave while in exile in Babylon.
b. The three men didn’t protest the golden statue. They didn’t seek to topple it or blow it up.
c. They didn’t organize an overthrow of the government.
4. Nor did they turn themselves in or draw attention to their noncompliance.
5. They cooperated as long as they were not required to sin. And then when they were required to sin, they graciously and respectfully refused. Nebuchadnezzar was beside himself with anger, but Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego remained very calm.
6. These men knew that the God of Israel was the only true God. They knew that He was God in Babylon just as He was God in Judah.
a. But now in Babylon, they somehow understood that things were different.
b. It wasn’t their job to overthrow the idol-worshiping and idol-promoting regime.
7. They were to be light and salt and trust that the Lord was with them and that He had them right where He wanted them.
8. This reminds us of the example Christ left us of how to face suffering, so that we might follow in His steps: “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” – 1Peter 2:21-24
9. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. – Is.53:7
E. How were Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego able to do this? It wasn’t a matter of moral fortitude.
1. You see, Nebuchadnezzar thought he was big enough to scare the three into submission. What he didn’t realize is that the three men knew Someone who was so much bigger that it made Nebuchadnezzar look like a little moth. How empty the king’s threats seemed to them who knew the Creator of heaven and earth!
2. And not only did they know that God was far bigger than Nebuchadnezzar and his fiery furnace, they knew that God actually was sovereign over Nebuchadnezzar!
3. That’s the thing we must remember: God has even our enemies in His hands.
a. They cannot harm us – unless He allows them to harm us. And if He does allow them to harm us, it is only for our good and is therefore not true harm after all.
4. Our prosperity and our demise are in the hands of the Lord, not in the hands of the world, or our enemies, or even Satan himself. Nor is it in our hands.
F. Because of this, the men were not willing to assume that the king’s threat would come to fruition. They knew that God was able to protect them, and even to prosper them – even though it appeared that their demise was inevitable.
1. We must be willing to suffer what looks like and feels like harm, of course, as these men were.
2. But fiery furnaces, scary though they seem, are not as bad as they appear. No furnace we go into because we are being true to God is as hot as we expect it to be or will do us any harm in the end.
3. In fact, we learn in this story that fiery furnaces are the places we meet the Son of God; places where Jesus shows Himself to us.
4. As Alexander Maclaren said, “People who sacrifice themselves for the Lord, though they may or may not be delivered from the external danger, find abundant blessing in the sacrifice.”
5. You remember that Peter was delivered from prison hours before his planned execution, while James was killed with a sword. But God was blessing both of them, and delivering both of them.
6. What happens in terms of the circumstances is obviously in God’s hands, but in the big picture of things, that is a small matter.
7. 2Corinthians 4:17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,
8. Ultimately fire cannot burn us – though it can burn our bonds; it can burn up the dross, it can be used to burn up the things which distract us and entangle our feet.
G. The wonderful thing is that no trials which we face in obedience to the Lord will we face alone. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; when you walk through the fire, you’ll not be burned.” (Is.43:2)
1. And Nebuchadnezzar was shocked to see that the three men were not alone in the fire. There was a fourth man there with them, one who looked like a son of God.
2. When we capitulate to the pressures of people around us, or when we finds ways to drown out the pain of their rejection, we miss out on seeing Jesus.
3. The most precious thing in life is meeting Jesus, being with Jesus, enjoying fellowship with Jesus. But the place where that happens is usually the fiery furnace of pain, rejection, failure, loss.
4. But it’s worth it. Those who meet Jesus in the context of their pain, they understand. They know it’s worth it. They don’t regret their pain.
H. Not only is there blessing for the one who trusts God in the face of troubles and persecutions, but there is a blessing through their trust. In other words, there can be a powerful effect upon others.
1. You can even see this with Nebuchadnezzar.
a. In Daniel 1 he was impressed by Daniel and his three friends
b. In Daniel 2, Daniel interpreted the king’s dream and Nebuchadnezzar paid homage to Daniel, and said, “Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery.” Then the king gave Daniel high honors and many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon. – Dan.2:46–49
c. Here in Daniel 3, the trust of Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego also impacted Nebuchadnezzar, especially when God miraculously protected the men from the flames and when a fourth person joined them in the furnace, a person who had the appearance of a son of God.
d. And then in Daniel 4, after the fiery furnace, the Lord humbles Nebuchadnezzar for seven years and then restores him, and Nebuchadnezzar says, “I bless the Most High, and praise and honor him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.” – Daniel 4:34-37
e. So, instead of Daniel and his three friends conforming to Nebuchadnezzar, in the end Nebuchadnezzar conforms to them.
f. Here’s a man who had no compassion. He only cared about conformity to his own agenda. He didn’t care about other people’s beliefs or consciences or feelings.
g. He thought his ambitions were the definition of good and demanded that everyone else fall in line. He created an idol and then got angry when others wouldn’t worship it.
h. The world is filled with people like this.
i. But Nebuchadnezzar was changed by seeing people who weren’t intimidated by him.
2. And this is the idea. The world is not going to come to Christ if Christ’s people are capitulating to the world’s intimidation and bowing to the world’s idolatries.
a. But when God’s people trust in their sovereign God & honor Him in what they do, then they have reason to hope that nonbelievers will be drawn to the faith by God’s grace evident in their lives.
3. But we must be careful here. We mustn’t confuse our own will with the will of God.
a. 1Pet.4:15-16 reminds us that there is no virtue in being persecuted for our own foolishness.
b. This is why Jesus added conditions to the end of the eighth beatitude. He didn’t just say: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you.” He added two conditions: “falsely, on my account.” – Matthew 5:11
(1) There is no blessing in being reviled or spoken evil of if the things they are saying are true, if the persecution is because of you instead of Christ.
4. But when we are faithful to God and His word, it can have a powerful effect.
a. What can the world do against a person who is faithful to God even in the face of dire circumstances? What can the world do against a person who doesn’t live for this life, who lives in the world but not FOR the world? What can the world do against a person who says, “It doesn’t matter if you kill me, I will worship only the Lord my God.”
b. All of their threats, all of their intimidations fall on deaf ears. And people say, “There’s something different about this person! He’s either crazy or he knows something I don’t know.”
c. Of course, some will still be unmoved. They’ll think we’re crazy. But some will be intrigued, by God’s grace they’ll wonder where our hope comes from. And we’ll have the chance to tell them.