Text: Daniel 3:14-18
I would guess that most all of us have had the experience of God taking us places that we don’t want to go. As easily as we think of the place we’d most love to be in all the world, we can all think of places or situations where we certainly never want to find ourselves. For me it would be pretty much anything that involves large, pressing crowds. That could be a concert, a city, or just a cramped meeting space with only a dozen people. I like my space. I like having the ability and freedom to get out of the way rather than always being in someone else’s way – and them in mine!
There are other places I don’t want to go. I don’t want to go to an office where someone in a white coat comes in to tell me that either I or a family member has cancer or another terminal illness. I don’t want to go to a day where a police officer has to call my house. I never want to attend the funeral of one of my children. I never want to visit the day on the calendar when the money and the food and the gas all run out before the end of the month has come.
Daniel’s three friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, found themselves being forced to go where they did not want to go.
Daniel 3 records one of the most well-known stories in all of the Bible. Nebuchadnezzar, likely inspired by his dream of the towering multi-metaled statue in the previous chapter, decided to build a statue of himself. Only, his statue would be all gold, instead of only having a gold head. Once the 90-foot statue was built on the plain outside of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar commanded all of his leaders to come and pay homage to it – worshipping Nebuchadnezzar as their God.
Daniel’s presence was probably needed at the palace to keep things running there for the king’s return, which would explain why he is not in trouble with his three friends when they all refuse to worship this idol. But this isn’t just some civil disobedience protesting this encroachment of their freedom to worship as they saw fit. There was no such freedom in Babylon. Their refusal to compromise and nod their heads, much less prostrate themselves, before this statue was an act of treason against the King and his kingdom. The act meant certain and immediate death in one of the furnaces used to smelt the gold used to make the statue.
Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah all knew this. They knew that their very lives were at stake. Given their own choice, they would never have taken this road. But this is where they found themselves: an angry king in their face, a furnace heated to 1800 degrees at the ready, and having to choose between either living to see another day by denying everything they knew about a God who had already saved them once or facing certain death.
Fortunately, our "never go there" places are likely never to be so immediate or dire. But we can learn a lot for our own spiritual maturity from the way that these three Jews of Babylon held their ground even when faced with a fiery trial that would literally require an unheard-of miracle to escape.
One, they remained utterly committed to the God they knew. They were not going to be swayed to the right or to the left from the pursuit of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In all things in our life, we must take this approach. We must remain fully committed to the pursuit of God. Our jobs must be a pursuit of God. Our retirement must be a pursuit of God. Our spending must be a pursuit of God. Our worship must be a pursuit of God. Our leisure must be a pursuit of God. We must seek to follow and honor God in all things. Even our deaths must be a pursuit of God.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego knew this. We must know this. We must commit to this. We must believe this with every fiber of our being. God is God. There is no other. Nothing must sway us to pursue other ends. No financial gain. No longer life. No promotion. No health benefit. No perceived chance of "doing more" for God through one small rejection, as might have been a passing thought of these three powerful Jews in Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom. Our commitment must be singular. And its direction must be Godward.
Two, in addition to being utterly committed to God, these three also fully entrusted themselves to the God who knew and revealed history before it unfolded. They clung to nothing for themselves, but left everything to God’s hands. They had already been stripped of family, lands, and home in being brought to Babylon for re-education as their new king’s advisors. They believed that God knew what He was doing, and they left themselves to that.
Oftentimes, life seems like it is spinning out of control. But things are not out of God’s control. We can be surprised and taken aback by life and its circumstances. God is not. We may feel like there is nothing that we can do to salvage the situation. God does not see a situation that needs salvaging, but something that He has carefully planned and brought to this moment for His own purposes and glory. Trust in that. Even a fiery furnace is not outside God’s plans or purview.
Daniel’s friends were committed to God completely. They trusted in God utterly. Three, they remained confident in God’s power, presence, and plan no matter what the outcome of their circumstances might be. For many of us, this is the rub. This is the hard part. It’s easy to trust God when everything goes the way we want it to go. It’s easy to believe in God and have faith when the miraculous healing occurs. It’s easy to commit to God when we believe that He will make us healthy, wealthy, and wise.
But what if not? What if health doesn’t come? What if wealth is never to be ours? What if wisdom passes us by and leaves us in her dirt? What if the cancer eats us away? What if no job ever comes? What if family deserts us? What if all we have left are Job’s boils, rags, dust and ashes? What if there is no returning double in the end? What then? What if all we have is a horrid end in a super-heated fiery furnace? Do we still want to follow God?
For Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, there was no doubt. They replied to the King’s threats, "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." They were ready to accept God and whatever end came to them because of this acceptance. Even if those were to be the last words they ever spoke. They remained committed, fully entrusted, and full of faith in God.
This is a hard, hard lesson. We want God to be the giver of good gifts, which He is, but we want to use our own definition of “good gifts.” We want God to be created for us in Santa Claus’s image. We want God to never take us through the fiery furnace. But sometimes, sometimes, the furnace is the only way forward. God remains good. God remains present. God remains sovereign. Even in the furnace.
Often enough, we have our own statue that we are being urged to worship. It is made up of the comfortable and the familiar. It includes all of the best memories from the past. And it contains the disagreements, anxieties, and frustrations that have developed over the years. It is a statue of the way we have always done things. It is the statue that denies that we might yet have things to learn, ways to grow, new ways to know, appreciate, and worship God.
God would take us another way. We must let go of knowing anything else and fully commit ourselves to God, whatever path that might mean for us. This path to God may mean that everything we thought we knew about church and worship and fellowship is all burned away in a fiery furnace and we come out with gleaming robes we could never have recognized. But we will be clinging to God.
The furnace isn’t an easy choice. Everything in us will scream to cling on to what we know that life might continue the way we have known it. But it will not be a life that is honoring to God. The only way forward is through the fiery furnace, and however God seeks to bring us through. Or not. As the reformers of the church loved to say, "Soli Deo Gloria" to God alone be the glory.
We must be willing to sacrifice everything so that we can remain faithful to God in Babylon where He has us. We might not relish the journey, but we can relish our God, no matter what. God delivered Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. But God never makes such guarantees. I can’t promise that we will come out on the other side of this. But this I know: God is God. God is good. God is faithful. God is sovereign. God is present. Even in a furnace.
In John 6, Jesus fed a crowd of five thousand men with five loaves and two fish. When the crowd came back the next day seeking more, Jesus told them that if they wanted life, they would have to eat His flesh and drink His blood. It was a disgusting, revolting, highly profane and provocative suggestion that a Jew might eat the flesh or drink the blood of someone. Because of this teaching, most of the people who had been following Jesus turned aside from Him. Only a few remained at the end of the chapter.
Jesus takes us down hard roads. Sometimes we have to face the profane and revolting because they are God’s new ways forward. This very day, we gather around a table to eat Christ’s flesh and drink His blood in what we call the Lord’s Supper or Communion. It is a ritual for us. Common, familiar, almost ordinary in its sacred holiness. The way forward to God involved the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. The shedding of his blood and the breaking of his body. And we must eat of it and drink of it to be His.
This we do today. This is why we come to this table, to eat and drink of this holy meal. What was once an unimaginable and unbreakable taboo that would cause irreparable separation from the holy God of creation has become for us a special rite that instead reminds us of Him and draws us closer to Him by reminding us of what He has done for us.
Christ’s sacrifice, His giving up of everything in heaven as Philippians 2 tells us, these remind us that Christianity is no walk in a park. It offers no guarantees for this life. Its rewards are in the heavenly, resurrected kingdom, not in this decaying, broken, and sin-stained world. We must walk through its fire. We may not survive. But we will come through. Let’s commit, trust, and believe.
Will you pray with me?