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October 1, 2017

Sermon Daniel 3:19-25 . . . “People to meet in heaven:  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego”

“People to meet in heaven:  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego”

Daniel 3:19-25

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

In his book, Killing Christians:  Living the Faith Where It’s Not Safe to Believe, author Tom Doyle writes, “Forty Egyptian churches burned to the ground.  House church leaders sentenced to Iran’s infamous Evin prison.  Eighty Christians murdered in North Korea for merely owning a Bible.  Believers nailed to crosses in Syria.  And that’s the news from just one month in 2014.  After that, it got really bad.”

Then he goes on to tell how bad it got.  He writes, “In summer 2014, a shocked world witnessed the phenomenal rise of ISIS…Within weeks, a path of destruction swept through Syria and Iraq, leaving unimaginable carnage in its wake.”

And he wrote:  “But ISIS is not alone in its quest against Biblical faith.  Christianity is under fire across the globe.  Jesus lovers are hated in dozens of countries and often pay a gruesome price for following Him.”

Also, author Perry Chiaramonte writes that, in 2016 alone, nearly 90,000 Christians were killed for their faith, and as many as six hundred million others were kept from practicing their faith through intimidation, forced conversions, bodily harm, and death.  And he said that, “Of the 64 million Christians in India, approximately 39 million experience direct persecution.”  Even more, in Mexico, in a country that’s eighty percent Catholic, Christians have been banished, their homes destroyed, and priests have been killed for their faith.

“Yet,” Doyle adds, “this is one of our finest hours.”

The book of Daniel chapter 3 tells another story, a real story, about persecution, of men who were willing to die for their faith.

If you would, please turn with me in your Bible to page 938, as I read the words of our text.  To get a little background, I’ll start at Daniel chapter 3, verse 1, where it says “Nebuchadnezzar’s Golden Image.”

“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.”

We’ll stop there for just a moment.

So who was King Nebuchadnezzar?

King Nebuchadnezzar reigned some six hundred years before Christ, and was the greatest king Babylon ever knew.  When he first ascended the throne, he prayed to the gods and said:  “O merciful Marduk, may the house that I have built endure forever, may I be satiated with its splendor…and receive therein tribute of the kings of all regions, from all mankind.”

And in time, that’s just what happened.  Just as soon as he defeated the Egyptians and the Assyrians, he took control of all the trade routes across Mesopotamia from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea.  And from the immense wealth gained from taxes and tolls, he built the massive Ishtar gate as well as the hanging gardens of Babylon, (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world).  And with his vast slave labor, he built walls that stretched fifty-six miles long, encircling an area of two hundred square miles.  The wall was so thick, chariots could race side by side.  Even more, the bricks were painted a brilliant blue and inscribed with the words:  “I am Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon.”

But the achievement for which he was proudest of all was when he conquered the kingdom of Judah, completely destroying the temple and all of Jerusalem.

He was an ambitious king, a powerful king, and a brutal king.  His arm was made of steel.  His fist was made of iron.

And as he captured the men, women and children of Judah, he kept some of the best and brightest for himself.  As the Bible records in Daniel chapter 1, “…youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding, learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.”

And somewhere in that mix of young women and men, there were three who stood out beyond all the rest—men named Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.  But you don’t know them by their Hebrew names.  You know them by their Babylonian names—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

As Daniel wrote:  “In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom.”

But as it often goes, the day came when King Nebuchadnezzar got a little too proud of himself.  That’s why it says in chapter 3, verse 1, he “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.”

And if that wasn’t enough, he took it one step further.  Look at 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.”

And just as soon as all his judges, treasurers and governors showed up, what happened?  Look at 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.’”

And sure enough, as it says in verse 7, just as soon as the king’s great band began to play, everyone fell down and worshipped—every satrap, every prefect, every treasurer and every governor, bowed their knee and fell face-down on the ground, all except for three.  Standing in the midst of that huge expanse of people numbering in the hundreds and thousands were Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

So why did they refuse to bow?

If you think about it, they had every reason to bow.  After all, what good would it do to resist?  King Nebuchadnezzar had made it perfectly clear:  “Whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace.”

Besides, not only were their jobs and their homes at stake, their lives and their families were at stake too.  Everyone else was already face-down on the ground.  What would it have mattered if they too had, for just a moment, bowed their knee?  Couldn’t they do a lot more good living, rather than dying?

But they would not bow, they could not bow, for God in His Word had said:  “You shall have no other gods before Me.”  And He said:  “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.  You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.”

And that’s a first lesson we should learn from this text.  How many times are we tempted to compromise, to give God second-best, to go along with the crowd?  If only we too could stand, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

After all, that’s what Jesus said:  “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.”  And He said:  “And anyone who does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.”

With God, second-best will never do.

What happened next?  Well, it didn’t take long, and old King Nebuchadnezzar found out.  Look at 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?’”

Then drop down to verse 16:  “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter.’”

In other words, “You’re right, O king, it is just as you have said.  We have no defense, no answer, no way out.  But even though you have changed our names, you cannot change our hearts.  For it is God alone that we serve.”

Then listen as they spoke some of the most courageous words anyone has every spoken, what may well be the greatest affirmation of faith anywhere in all of Scripture.  Look at verse 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.  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.”

Sound familiar?  It should, for that’s what Paul once wrote to the Romans:  “If we live, we live to the Lord; if we die, we die to the Lord.  So whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord.” 

Then what?  Look at 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 to everyone’s shock, surprise and utter disbelief, what happened?  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?’  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.’”

Geoffrey Studdert-Kennedy was an English pastor and poet who lived in the early 1900s.  He served as a chaplain in World War I, and died in 1929 at the age of forty-five.

And as a chaplain, he went to war, leaving his family behind.  And while he was serving in the trenches of France, he wrote a letter to his young wife and son back home.

This is what he said;  “The first prayer I want my son to learn to say for me is not, ‘God, keep Daddy safe.’  The first prayer I want my son to learn is, ‘God, make Daddy brave, and if he has hard things to do, make him strong to do them.’”  And he wrote:  “Life and death don’t matter, my son.  Right and wrong do.  Daddy dead is Daddy still.  But Daddy dishonored before God is something too awful for words.”

And that today is our prayer.  God, make us brave.  And if there are hard things to do, make us strong to do them.

Before we leave this text, there is just one question—where was Jesus in Daniel chapter 3?  After all, they desperately needed Him to help them.

Believe it or not, He was there.  On that golden morning in 600 B.C., He strode across the ramparts of heaven, walked down that starry staircase, then stepped into the fiery furnace, and said, “Peace!  Be still!”  And when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out of that blazing, fiery furnace, their hair and clothes weren’t singed.  They didn’t even smell like smoke.

When trouble comes, when flames lick at our feet, when life tumbles in around us, it’s then that we discover that Jesus has been with us at all times.  And there, even in the furnace, we experience His power and presence.

As old King Nebuchadnezzar himself once said, “There is no God like Him.  His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and His dominion endures forever.”


Dear Father, we thank You for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and how You once saved them through the fire.  Help us to stand for You in our place and time, that others may come to know You as Savior and Lord.  Hear us for Jesus’ sake.  Amen

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