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TEXT: Daniel 3:1-30

SUBJECT: Daniel #4: Jesus in the Fire

Daniel is one of the Bible's most beloved books. I myself have loved it all of my life, and I heartily commend it to your love. But even though many Christians, Jews, and others love the Book of Daniel, most of them don't know what it's about.

Most people think its about heroism, godly men walking into a fiery furnace or a lions' den, and coming out alive. Are these things in the Book? Of course they are, and they serve an important purpose. The man who wrote the Book and the Holy Spirit who moved him to do so, want us to follow the brave and pious examples Daniel and his friends set. They want us--in the words of the hymn to--

Dare to be a Daniel! Dare to stand alone!

Dare to have a purpose firm! Dare to make it known!

This is in the Book, but not what's it about.

People who want to know how and when the world will end latch on to this part of Daniel. Are future events foretold? Yes they are. Do some of them refer to the end-of-time? Sure they do.

But the Book was not inspired, written, or preserved to satisfy curiosity, vain or otherwise.

Daniel's story is told to firm up our confidence in the sovereignty of God. This was needed in Daniel's day, when the People of God were being pressed by the Pagans to forget the Savior of Israel and become like everyone else. And why shouldn't they? The Ark of the Covenant, the Lampstand, and the golden cups were all in Marduk's Temple, where the Lord was (apparently) paying homage to the gods of Babylonia. And, if the Lord Himself bowed to pagan wishes, how could His people stand up to them?

This is what the Book is about: the Lord standing and His People standing up to the idols and winning the victory over them. The victory was slow and subtle, most of the time, as it is now. But once in a while, it was sudden and dramatic.

That's what we have in Chapter 3: God's spectacular victory over the gods of Babylon and their self-professed almighty king, Nebuchadnezzar.

The story is often called, 'a hero story', and I've got no objection to that title--as long as you remember who the hero is! Not Shadrach, Meschach, and Abed-nego, as faithful and brave as they were, but the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is He who triumphed that day, honoring His servants with a share in the spoils that He alone won.

THE GOLDEN IMAGE

The story begins with a huge golden image. It's ninety feet tall and nine feet wide. Babylonia was filled with divine images, of course, but no one had ever seen one like this! I don't know if it was supposed to be more splendid or more intimidating.--maybe both equally.

Nebuchadnezzar had commissioned it, and whatever its artistic value, it was a propaganda piece. Some time before, the King had had a dream (You can read it in Chapter 2). In that dream, a huge statue appeared with a golden head, arms and shoulders of silver, a midsection of brass, legs of iron, and feet, made partly of iron and partly of ceramic clay.

He knew the dream was significant, but he didn't know what it meant, and not even his top advisors could help him. One may could, however, not because he was smarter than the other scholars, but because the Lord told him what the dream was and what it meant. The man was Daniel, one of the exiles from Judah.

The Image stood for four kingdoms that would rise in the world. Nebucchadnezzar's was the first and most magnificent, as fine as pure gold. But, before long, it would be replaced by a series of inferior kingdoms, Medo-Persia, then Greece, then Rome. By the time of the Romans, God would be sick and tired of human power and break it once and for all, with His own Kingdom, Divine Rule would replace human misrule.

That was the meaning of the dream, and for a short time, Nebuchadnezzar was awed by God and His control of the future.

But the feeling wore off before long, and now the King had made the whole Image gold, as though no Empire would rise after his own, including God's. Bad as idolatry is, this was more than run-of-the mill paganism.

It was a daring act of defiance, a man challenging the Lord, 'calling Him out'. It was done, moreover, on the plain of Dura, the very place where Nimrod had once built a tower to reach into Heaven--or tried to, until God made a laughingstock out of his building project.

This is the issue of the chapter: Who's in charge? Is Nebuchadnezzar lord? Or Jesus?

THE COMMAND

An Image this magnificent deserves a public dedication, and everyone in the Royal Service has got to be there, including Sharach, Meschach, and Abed-nego. (Where Daniel is, we don't know).

At a set time, an anthem is going to be played, and the band playing it will be made up of--

Horn, flute, harp, and lyre, and all kinds of music.

At first, naming the instruments seems to be an example of 'adding color to the story', a thing all good writers do. There may be some of that here, but there's more to it as well. The instruments--scholars say--were all from different countries, sort of like a banjo, a sitar, bagpipes, and a conga drum.

This tells us Nebuchadnezzar's other goal. He means to unite the world around himself. This sounds somewhat familiar, too, doesn't it? It was Nimrod's goal reborn, his proud dream re-dreamed.

As far as we know, everyone went along with Nimrod's dream, and Nebuchadnezzar's was almost as popular. Whatever their traditions were, whatever their religions, every member of the King's court bowed before his Image.

THE STAND

Except for Shadrach, Meschach, and Abed-nego.

They defied the king's command, and it's worth seeing how they did it. They did it quietly, without calling attention to themselves. They didn't hold a press conference, they didn't hire lawyers, they didn't organize a protest or call for armed revolution. They simply disobeyed the king's command because it contradicted God's command. As far as they could accommodate the king's wishes, they did, but when they couldn't, they did not.

At times, Nebuchadnezzar was a reasonable man. The Jews had served him well and he didn't want to lose them. He asked them if they had disobeyed the law, and they said they had. When he asked if they would comply from now on, they said they wouldn't.--

O, King, we are not careful to answer you in this matter. The God whom we serve is able to deliver us--but if not, let it be know, O King, that we will not serve your gods or bow down to your image.

The language is bold, but it is not disrespectful or threatening. The king had asked them two questions: (1) will you obey? No. (2) If you don't what God can deliver you out of my hand?

The men answer Our God can do that!

Had He promised to do it? Yes and no. God has promised to be with us in danger, and He sometimes delivers us from it. But not always, not in the short run, I mean. The Hebrews understood this, and knew if God willed it, they would survive the fiery furnace, but if He didn't, they would burn like any other man.

When the king heard this, he went ballistic! The men were bound hand and foot, and the fiery furnace was heated up seven times hotter than normal. The heat was so high that the king's guard died throwing the men in.

THE SHOCK

That done, the king peered into the fire, expecting to see his enemies burned to ashes. But that's not what he saw. Turning to a servant, he asked--

Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?

Yes, that's what he had done: three men, tied up, into the fire. But if that's true, the king went on, why do--

I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God!

The servant knows no more than the king. How can mortal men walk in fire and not be burned? And who's the Mysterious Friend who has joined them in the flames?

The king and his court are stunned by the sight, but coming to himself, Nebuchadnezzar issues another command--

O Shadrach, Meschach, and Abed-nego, servants of the Most High God, come out and come here!

This is a command they can obey with a good conscience, and that's what they do. They step out of the furnace and appear before the king with no burns on their person, no smell on their clothes, not even their hand was singed.

THE PRESENCE

How did the men survive? We don't have to guess: Nebuchadnezzar tells us how, and you should observe, he was not a 'partial witness'. He did not worship the Lord and the last thing he expected--or wanted--was to look bad in public. Nebuchadnezzar had conquered Judah and its best men were his servants. But now, this so-called 'defeated god', had struck back and made a fool of him. In public, and without any way of 'spinning' it to the king's advantage.

To make matters worse for the king, the God of Israel had acted 'in person'. Long ago, He had come down from Heaven to inspect Nimrod's sloppy work, and now He had done it again. He had joined His servants in the fire, proving the king had no power over Him or them.

Nebuchadnezzar sits on the throne, but--

The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdom of our God and of His Christ. And He shall reign forever and ever.

THE PROCLAMATION

This is how the chapter ends, with a proud king humbled, and a supposedly beaten God triumphant. Again. Nebuchadnezzar blesses the Lord God of Shadrach, Meschach, and Abed-nego, and imposes a law on his Empire. If you say one bad word against the God of Israel, you'll be torn to pieces and your house will become a dump, because--

There is no other God who can deliver like this.

As for the servants of the Lord, their stand for God had ended well, not only surviving the fiery furnace, but also winning promotions for them in the king's service.

MONOTONY

I'm tempted to apologize for today's sermon because its message is the same as last week's, and the week's before and the week's before that; moreover and I'll stay with it in the weeks to come, Lord willing.

The message is: Don't be afraid! Live with confidence in God! Be of good cheer: the Lord is in control and He loves you.

But I'm not going to apologize for repeating myself, because this is the practical message of Daniel, and the whole Bible, for that matter. God is for us! He proved it to the Hebrews by joining them in the fiery furnace. What He did so mysteriously and briefly then, He has done again, though this time more permanently and more clearly.

With the Incarnation of Christ, God joined the human race; He became one of us and entered a fiery furnace far hotter than Nebuchadnezzar's. It was God's fiery furnace, heated to infinity as Jesus took our place on the cross and suffered the Flames of Hell...for us.

We get out of the Furnace because He didn't. We are delivered because He wasn't. Not then, He wasn't. But three days and three night later, the Man who entered the flames came out alive, and more than 'alive' as we think of it. He came out with the Life of the Resurrection, the very life of God!

Which everyone who believes in Christ has a share of. Why are we so afraid for our health, our employment, our retirement? Because we forget the promises of God, made long before and kept at the Cross and the Empty Tomb.

The Lord is on my side, I will not fear?

What can man do to me?

Amen. Praise the Lord!

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