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Life in the Furnace

July 22nd 2012 by Joshua Simons

Today is Bible story 4 in our countdown - The three men in the fiery furnace. Here we see an amazing example of standing up for the faith in the midst of a world that is hostile toward Christianity. Read or listen to find out more....

Bible Stories Sermon Series – Three Men and the Fiery Furnace – “Life in the Furnace” – Daniel 3 - July 22, 2012

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, Jesus God, Lord of all, King of kings, The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Amen.

We’ve reached the final four, two of which, interestingly enough, come from the book of Daniel. Today we discuss the #4 favorite Old Testament Bible Story – The Three Men and the Fiery Furnace. What we seek to draw out of this story today is that when society turns up the heat on our faith, we must trust God and stand firm in our confession of the faith, hoping that hearts may be changed.

Our text begins with Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image, but I’m going to begin our story at the height of the Kingdom of Israel so we understand why we’re talking about Jews in Babylon. Israel was at its greatest glory under the reigns of Saul, David, and Solomon. But Solomon went after other gods, bringing the Lord’s judgment upon the kingdom. So in 930 BC, shortly after Solomon’s death, the kingdom was divided in two. The 10 northern tribes became the kingdom of Israel and the southern lands of Judah and Simeon became the kingdom of Judah.

Both kingdoms would see their share of idolatrous rulers, bringing God’s judgment again. In 722 BC, the northern kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrian empire. Later, in 597 BC, the southern kingdom of Judah would see its king, Jehoiachin, and other officials and mighty men deported to Babylon. Then, in 587-586 BC, the city of Jerusalem in the kingdom of Judah was completely destroyed and many more Judeans were taken to Babylon, only the poorest being left behind.

Prior to the first deportation of Judeans in 597, Nebuchadnezzar, at the beginning of his reign in Babylon, had come and taken some of the nobles and talented youth in Judah to Babylon to assimilate them. Four especially skilled and knowledgeable youths in this group were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah – the latter three better known by the names given them by the chief of the eunuchs: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

These four youths excelled in their learning and found favor with the king. They more than likely lived fairly comfortable lives in what is thought to be the greatest city in the world at that time. But Babylon was a polytheistic (meaning “many gods”) city. Its gates and temples were each named after the many deities its people worshiped.

So Nebuchadnezzar made a golden image 60 cubits high, approximately 90 ft., almost half the height of the Liberty Memorial tower. A decree was made that all in Babylon must fall down and worship this image or be thrown in the fiery furnace. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not conform to this idolatry so Nebuchadnezzar had them brought before him. And as the Babylonian king asked them, “And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” the three men responded with an inspiring demonstration of faith and gave great witness to our almighty and loving, one, true, Living God…

Verses 16-18 … Their answer was respectful but firm. They confessed their faith in the one true God and their trust in his deliverance and then let God do the work.

But this response greatly angered Nebuchadnezzar so that he had them thrown into the furnace heated seven times more than normal. So hot it was that the men who bound and took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were killed. Yet the three men survived.

We are astonished and joyful hearing Nebuchadnezzar’s account of what he saw inside the furnace … verses 24-25. Our text concludes with the King blessing the Lord because of what he had witnessed, issuing a decree that no one may speak against the one true God, and promoting Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

Again, today’s lesson … when society turns up the heat on our faith, we must trust God and stand firm in our confession of the faith, hoping that hearts may be changed. Certainly Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s faith was tested with the threat of a burning furnace. But they trusted God’s power of deliverance whether in life or death and confessed their uncompromising faith in the one true God. And through their witness and God’s glorious work, King Nebuchadnezzar’s heart was changed.

But this is OT YAHWEH type of stuff, this doesn’t happen today, no one is threatening us with a burning furnace … hmmmmm …

Some scenarios: You are carpooling with coworkers on the way to a meeting and one sees a “Pro-Life” bumper sticker and says, “These pro-lifers bug me, it’s like if you’re pro-choice, that means pro-death. I don’t believe abortion is good, but I do believe there are certain extreme cases where a woman should have the right to choose an abortion.” How do you respond?

You’re a teenager watching a movie with some friends in your basement. One asks when you’re finally going to “go all the way” with your longtime boyfriend/girlfriend. You reply that you don’t believe in pre-marital sex. They say, “Well, I sorta get that, but I guess I believe that if you really love each other, what’s the difference? I say go for it.” How do you respond? Do you just shrug it off or do you say something?

You are a pastor, close in counsel to the President. He calls you after he has proclaimed his support for gay marriage on national television. He has called to explain how he arrived at his conclusion. You know his position is unbiblical, but this is the President of the United States, and he’s telling why he believes he’s right. How do you respond?

Welcome to life in the furnace.

We are an idolatrous people. As Christians living a new life as forgiven saints under God’s grace we must constantly fight the temptation to follow our own ideals. Romans 12:2. We must also constantly fight the pressures of the world around us putting human reason above God’s Word. Make no mistake, anytime that mankind puts human reason, principles, and philosophies over the Word of God in Scripture, we put ourselves as gods above the Lord, YAHWEH … and that is idolatry, a First Commandment sin.

We first do our best to not commit that sin ourselves, and second we witness to the truth of God’s Word when we see the world guilty of that sin. When society turns up the heat on our faith, we must trust God and stand firm in our confession of the faith, hoping that hearts may be changed. But this is where it gets tricky.

Let us follow the words of Peter in his first epistle, chapter 3 verse 15 …
First, what is the “hope that is in you”?

God’s Law from the First Commandment to the Tenth requires much of us. And anytime anyone goes their own way against God’s commandments, it is sinful. We view the world with frustration as it strays so far from God’s Word, but we also stray. So the hope is our message of true freedom. The world’s view of freedom is doing what you feel and want, but fails to see that that freedom only exists within the bondage of sin. But we can talk of freedom from sin; we can talk of forgiveness won on the cross by Christ Jesus, our Savior. That is the hope we have.

We speak of our own failure to follow God’s law. We tell how we ourselves are convicted, guilty of rebellion like all people. And we can tell that we have heard the Gospel through God’s Word, we have been baptized, we have received the body and blood of Jesus in Holy Communion … we have received his grace, we have received forgiveness. We have been buried with Jesus as sinners and resurrected through faith by the Spirit as saints.

We possess the most important, life-saving message of hope of all time. Think again about the scenarios … they are opportunities to witness, just as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were given. Our sin is silence. We have been conditioned in this country (through Satan’s clever deception) to fear offending others. But when Peter says, “yet do it with gentleness and respect”, he doesn’t mean say nothing or compromise the truth. For to do so is to leave a person comfortable in their own sin. It would be like standing in a boat watching someone drown and say, “Well, they said they were hot, so they are probably more comfortable now.”

No, we speak the uncompromised truth of God’s Word gently, but firmly. We speak his law so as to convict the sinner. We speak the gospel of Christ crucified so as to offer unconditional salvation and true freedom.

This world is a furnace of sin and the devil has deceived people so they think it is a warm free day at the beach. As Paul asked, “Who will tell them?” We have the message of hope; we know the forgiveness by the cross; we can share where to find life, forgiveness, and freedom in this furnace. Amen.

And now may the peace of God, that which passes all human understanding guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.

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