Sermon: “A Fiery Trial” (Daniel 3:1-30)
Listen to the Sermon:
3 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. Daniel 3:1-30, ESV
If you are anything like me, when you read this well-known account of faithfulness to the Lord and to his word, even when the prospect of death is on the table. I think of martyrdom throughout church history where the people of God where faced with similar prospects; that is abandon your confession or die. It’s been said before that the New Testament church was formed and blossomed in the crucible of persecution. Example after example in church history reveals the common trend the persecution has been a normative and steady experience of the church throughout the ages.
The apostle Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:12,
2 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted 2 Timothy 3:12, ESV
Church history bears this out in many ways. In the early church we can think of examples such as Polycarp of Smyrna, the apostle John’s disciple, or Ignatius of Antioch. Both of whom were executed in horrible ways for holding fast to their confession in Christ
Later in church history we have examples like Jan Hus, a reformer before the protestant reformation, who was burned alive at the stake for Biblical fidelity at a time when that was nearly impossible to come by.
Even today, I receive emails almost every week from Voice of the Martyrs which highlights a story of some person or some people who have recently been martyred in some part of the world for holding fast to their confession. In fact there is a popular statistic that is there have been more Christian martyrs in the 20th century than all the other centuries combined.
In short, persecution of God’s people has been the normative experience for the church in exile throughout its history. Yet if we are honest with ourselves, when we consider the millions of examples of martyrdom throughout church history, around the world today, and even the prospect of martyrdom that faces Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in our text; how many of us have wondered with fear and trepidation whether we would remain faithful if we were ever placed in such a situation?
I think all of us hope and pray that if we are ever faced with such a horrible situation that we would stand firm in our confession in the Spirit. Yet we also know our own hearts. In particular we know how often we succumb to idolatry in the ordinary stuff of life.
See we know it to be true that our hearts are idol factories. We know how often, in our own lives, we gravitate toward other loves. We know how imperfect our worship often is, even in the absence of this intense kind of persecution faced by so many others throughout church history and even in the world today. Maybe some of us have wondered how we could stand against idolatry on threat of death in the extraordinary when we can’t even escape the pool of idolatry in our own hearts in the ordinary.
Today’s big idea is this, When idols persuasively pull, the Lord is powerfully present.
Whether we are ever faced with the situation of bowing down to an idol and abandoning our confession with threat of death, or if we are faced with the more subtle and sinister pull of idolatry that arises out of our own hearts. We need to be anchored in the same promises and the same gospel that the saints throughout church history have had to be anchored in. That is the Lord dwells with his people
As we work through this text, we will see this big idea, when idols persuasively pull the Lord powerfully present, developed in three points.
1. The Persuasive Pull of Idolatry
2. The Fixation of Faith
3. The Powerful Presence of God
The Persuasive Pull of Idolatry
Now if you remember last week in Daniel chapter two, we read that King Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged that the Lord is God of Gods, Lord of Kings and the Revealer of Mysteries. The king was quite impressed in that chapter with what Daniel’s God was able to do.
Then when we open up with chapter three, we discover almost immediately that Nebuchadnezzar doesn’t really get it. He may still believe in some sense that Daniel’s God is a great and powerful God and a revealer of mysteries, but Nebuchadnezzar can’t get past his own glory.
When chapter three opens we see that Nebuchadnezzar sets up this image of gold that was some ninety feet tall and nine feet wide. Proportionally it’s a bit awkward, but it’s gilded height must have been impressive to any onlooker on the Plains of Duran.
We don’t know exactly what this image looked like. It may have been an image that looked like Nebuchadnezzar or one of the gods of Babylon. We are not quite sure, and the text doesn’t tell us one way or another. Whatever this imaged looked like, it’s an image that is functionally designed to represent Nebuchadnezzar ‘s rule and reign. In other words, it’s a symbol to represent his own greatness and to draw attention to his own glory.
Think about what Nebuchadnezzar is doing here, especially in light of chapter two. Remember in Daniel chapter two Nebuchadnezzar saw a vision of another image. When Daniel came around and he interpreted that other image for the king, Nebuchadnezzar discovered that in that image he was only the head of gold. In the rest of that image represented kings and kingdoms that would follow in succession after the sun had set in Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar’s reign.
Moreover, in chapter two we heard twice the declaration that ultimately, it’s the Lord who sets up kings and kingdoms. God in his sovereignty and providence is the one responsible for setting up kings and kingdoms and bringing down kings and kingdoms; not Nebuchadnezzar , nor anyone else. It’s the Lord who will one day set up his own kingdom, an eternal and everlasting kingdom that will supplant all kings and kingdoms for all eternity.
Now here in Daniel three, Nebuchadnezzar makes an image entirely of gold. You see the head is not enough for Nebuchadnezzar. Throughout this passage, that same verb that we encountered in chapter two, the verb to set up, that was used to explain God’s role in orchestrating the rise and fall of kings and kingdoms is now used with Nebuchadnezzar as the subject.
Nebuchadnezzar, we are told in the first seven verses a total of six times, that he set up this image. So, in other words, there’s good reason to believe here that Nebuchadnezzar in chapter three is trying to set up a sort of counter image to the one he saw in his dream in chapter two. Perhaps with the intent, if it would even be possible, at overturning the decree of God and ensuring that his own glory and security of his kingdom would continue down through the ages.
In short, Nebuchadnezzar is trying to make a name for himself here. Of course, an action like that isn’t unprecedented in the scriptures. In fact, several commentators note that this passage in Daniel contains a number of echoes that draw us back to the Tower of Babel event in Genesis chapter eleven.
Now in that event, a people were unified in making a name for themselves. To make and name and build security for themselves. So, they began by building this tower for that purpose until God frustrated their efforts and plans at their attempt of robbing him at his glory.
What is interesting is that Daniel already told us in chapter one is that the exiles of Israel are in the land of Shinar. That’s where the Tower of Babel event took place. Here in Christ three the narrator tells us a few times that the kind of people arrayed at the dedication of King Nebuchadnezzar’s great image are peoples and languages and nations. So, in other words, it seems as if King Nebuchadnezzar here is bringing together in Babylon a representative group who were scattered at Babel, in order to redo in a sense what was done at Babel.
They are not here to give glory to God; they are here to glorify Nebuchadnezzar and the image he sets up. But when we read through this account of the dedication, what we see is that this whole display is absolutely foolish. In fact, commentators note the monotonous repetition of lists of people who attended the dedication.
Perhaps as I read through the text you heard me repeating the lists of people that were attending this dedication and the lists of musical instruments that were played at the dedication. These are literary ways of mocking this entire scene. There is something sadly comical about this whole display that makes us shake our heads and laugh at the absurdity of it all. Yet as foolish as this act of idolatry is, this is eerily similar to what we do in our hearts all the time.
You see friends, whenever we take something that is good and we invest it with god like meaning and sovereignty and we begin to think whatever it is, that thing is going to give us security, it’s going to give us the glory and the flourishing that we long for, we are participating in something very similar to what King Nebuchadnezzar is doing in our text.
I doubt any of us are sitting at home carving wooden figurines and bowing down to them, but how many of us have idolized a particular vision of the family or a vision of our careers or a certain utopia of a relationship? We somehow fool ourselves into thinking that those idols can settle the restlessness of our hearts.
In the end, when we do that, we rob God of his glory, just like the people at Babel do. We become enslaved by objects of our own creation. Like Nebuchadnezzar in our text, we actually grow more restless in the process.
Think for a moment why all of these various people in our text would come to the Plains of Dora and bow down to this idol in the first place? Why would they even want to participate in something like this?
There are a few reasons. We learn that the esthetics surrounding this dedication ceremony are rather attractive. It’s a dedication accompanied by some fanfare. There’s all kind of music to entertain. It’s a dedication where they are encountering this image of gold. Everyone else from all of these nationalities and languages are participating. It’s normal, everyone else is doing it.
Then as a little extra motivation, the herald declares that anyone who doesn’t immediately fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into a burning furnace. This whole event may sound primitive to our modern ears, but when we really think about it these are some of the same motivating factors that lead us to embrace the idols that we embrace.
Idolatry in our own lives often feels really normal, especially when we look out in the world and we see people getting along pursuing the idols they are pursuing, the idols that our hearts are inclined to pursue. It only feels right and natural that we would do the same.
Moreover, the idols that we pursue are often accompanied by numerous aesthetic trappings that make them look really appealing. We come to believe in our heart that they can actually deliver what they promise. Finally, we all get to a point where we are persuaded that to not have the thing that we long for would feel like a sentence of death.
You see friends, as primitive and as foreign as this scene may seem to us today, our hearts may functionally be more at home with Nebuchadnezzar and the other worshippers than we may initially suppose.
The idolatry takes many different forms, but just as here, so to in our own lives it persuasively tugs and pulls our heats away from our confession of Jesus Christ.
In this account this persuasive pull of idolatry that seems to enchant everyone in the Kingdom of Babylon, but it doesn’t captivate everyone. We learn that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego don’t participate in it. Not everyone bows to this image of gold.
Although that becomes a problem very quickly to Nebuchadnezzar. We learned in the next passage, verses eight through eighteen, that the reason Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego they didn’t bow down is because they are fixed on someone else. They are fixed on someone much more enchanting than any image of gold. This brings us to our next point.
The Fixation of Faith
So now beginning in verse eight here, certain Chaldeans come forward and they tell the king that there are certain Jews, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and they have refused to bow down to this image of gold. Nebuchadnezzar, as we can expect, gets pretty upset by that. In fact, he’s furious, which is characteristic of what we’ve seen so far in Daniel. He’s furious in light of the fact that there is a possibility that there are some in his kingdom who do not unanimously agree with his command to worship.
So, he approaches Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and give them one last chance to recant, fall down and worship this image. He issues a warning to them that in verse fourteen shows that the lesson in chapter two did not sink into his heart. He declares that if you do not worship, you will be immediately be cast into a fiery furnace and he asks who is this God who will deliver you out of my hand?
Apparently, he hasn’t learned his lesson from chapter two. He hasn’t learned that God alone in his providence is the one who sets up kingdoms and brings down kingdoms. Because Nebuchadnezzar considers himself to be such a god and believes anything he decrees will come to pass.
How did Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego respond to this ultimatum? They respond in the same way that we see Daniel respond in the previous two chapters. They confidently rest upon the providence of God whatever the outcome.
They are fixed in faith on who God declares himself to be in his word. Namely they serve a God who directs all this to their god-ordained ends for his glory and the good of his people. They declare with quiet and yet bold confidence to the king that there is only one God we will worship. It’s not you King Nebuchadnezzar .
Whether it’s in the providence of God to deliver them or not, they are determined not to break the first and second commandment. They entrust their fate to God’s good hands, whatever the result. And in that way Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and embody the response that Job offered in Job chapter two.
After Job experienced great loss, his wife said to him, why don’t you just curse God and die for all that you’ve been called to endure? But Job response in Job 2:10,
10 But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. Job 2:10, ESV
In other words, at the end of Daniel chapter two we learned that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were elevated over the affairs of the province of Babylon. In the providence of God, they were elevated to a high office in a foreign kingdom as exiles and foreigners. It was going well for their reputation, presumably also for their wallets. Just as they accepted that honor, the honor of being elevated to high office, so too they would willingly suffer the dishonor of death if maintaining their honorable position meant abandoning their confession.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego we learn from our text are fixed by faith on the faithfulness of God to do just as he promised. Perhaps they know the promise from Isaiah 43. When they walk through the fire, God will be with them. They’re fixed on the glory of God and convinced that his glory is better than any momentary or fleeting glory that Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon can offer.
They know that by giving into Nebuchadnezzar’s demands here may satiate the flames for a moment, but it might ultimately cost them their souls. So even if God wouldn’t deliver them from martyrdom in this instance, they were fixed by faith on God’s covenant faithfulness to his people.
As admirable as their faithfulness towards God was in the face of an alluring temptation of idolatry, it was still only a picture of the greater faithfulness that would come 600 years later in the person and work of Jesus Christ. At the beginning of each of the so-called synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus is faced with a temptation of idolatry from Satan himself.
He’s invited in Matthew chapter four that if only he would fall down and worship, Satan would give to him all of the kingdoms of the Earth. Of course, Jesus swats that lie away like a bug, because he knows the promise from Psalm two, that it’s the Lord who gives the Son the nations.
He’s fixed on the glory of God and that describes his person throughout his life and ministry. In John 4:4 Jesus declares that his food is to do the will of him who sent him and to accomplish his work. Although he was tempted in every way, the author Hebrews tells us that Jesus was without sin, he was fixed on the will of his father.
This is why when we encounter the persuasive pull of idolatry in our own lives, whatever the form might take, a pull that we so often listen to, w\e are called in the words of Hebrews not to look just the example of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, nor to look primarily at the example of those saints who have been martyred throughout church history. The author of Hebrews calls us to look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. Who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God?
We are called, friends, to be fixed by faith on someone so much more enchanting that any image or idol set up in our own lives. Our only hope for faithfulness with the kind of fortitude that exhibited here by Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the face of idolatry, is to be fixed as they were by faith in the greater and perfect faithfulness of Jesus Christ.
My reading and studying this week, particular for this point, I was drawn once again back to the Heidelberg Catechism. Particularly the Heidelberg Catechism question and answer one which asks,
Q. What is your only comfort
in life and death?
A. That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.
Friends our only comfort whether in life or in death, whatever temptations and trials that you’ve been called to walk through in this life under the sun, is that we have a God who is faithful. A God who preserves us and a God who by his Spirit is pleased to make his dwelling with his church. This is the comfort that we are called to fix the eyes of our heart pain in all phases of life. This leads to our third and final point.
The Powerful Presence of God
Here we are looking through in verses nineteen through the end. Now Nebuchadnezzar’s fury is burning hotter than the furnace. So, he orders that this furnace be heated seven times hotter than it usually was heated. He orders that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be cast into the furnace, bound and without any more delay.
Noticed that throughout this entire ordeal from the time that Nebuchadnezzar makes his demand, until when it’s carried out, all Nebuchadnezzar cares about is that these men bow down or that they die. He is so furious that his glory was relativized by Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that he doesn’t care if other people died in the process. He doesn’t care if the fire rages out of control, he doesn’t care if his servants are our chaff that gets burned up too. Anything else is expendable.
Just as a quick aside friends, isn’t that how idolatry works in your own life? Whatever things we inordinately desire, what things we functionally believe are going to save us, we are often willing to go to crazy lengths to ensure that we get what we want. In our sin we believe that everything else in comparison is expendable. That’s the case here with Nebuchadnezzar .
Then in our text something extraordinary happens. When Nebuchadnezzar casts Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the fire, he sees that these three men that he had bound are now unbound. They haven’t been consumed by the flames, instead they’re walking in the midst of the fire. Then this fourth individual shows up and the tells us he had the appearance of a son of the gods.
As you can imagine this fourth individual has generated quite a bit of discussion over the years. So, who is this heavenly or celestial figure that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego encounter in the flames? Some have argued this is the pre-incarnate Christ, showing up some 600 years before his incarnation.
There’s another figure that we’ll encounter later in Daniel when we get to Daniel chapter seven and some of the craziness begins, who’s referred to as one like a son of man. Who the New Testament repeatedly associates with Christ? Some argue this figure in Daniel chapter three is the same figure is Daniel chapter seven and therefore this is the preincarnate Christ.
That’s possible, but others have argued that this is simple an angel. Then when Nebuchadnezzar says that God sent his angel and he’s actually right when he says that this is an angel sent by God. Just as God sends his angelic emissaries elsewhere. I believe this is Calvin’s position, among others, and it’s a possibility too.
Whichever one of these positions that we adopt on the mysterious fourth individual in the furnace, either way I don’t think the basic message of this passage is obscured. That is, we learn, God is present with his people in whatever they face, and he is the only God who can save.
We may not ultimately know the identity of this fourth person in the flames but what we do know is that when God’s people are told to work to walk through the fire, whatever that fire is, it will not ultimately consume those who are united in faith to Christ Jesus our Lord.
In 1 Peter the apostle Peter maybe actually alluded back to this event in Daniel. Even if he is not, what he has to say is still instructive at this point. Listen to what Peter says 1 Peter 4:12 he says to his audience,
12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
1 Peter 4:12-14, ESV
Friends in whatever the persecutions that we are called to endure in this life, we have the promise here that God’s spirit, the spirit of glory and of God rests upon us in Christ. You see God never promises to save us from persecution. He never promises that we won’t encounter disturbing troubles in our lives by virtue of our confession. He never promises that his people won’t experience martyrdom.
In fact, the consistent witness of scriptures leans in the opposite direction. Whatever we are called to walk through, we take hold, and are called to take hold of the promise given to the church. A promise, as Hebrews puts it, from God that I will never leave you nor forsake you, and so we can confidently say the Lord is my helper I will not fear. What can man do to me?
Friends, God’s covenant promise is that he will be with his people. That he will walk with his beloved in whatever they’re called to endure. He is with his church and this image that is given to us in Revelation is that he walks among his lamp stands, his churches. He knows his people and he will be with his people and Jesus promises us at the end of Matthew’s gospel that he is with us until the end of the age.
We have a God then who is faithful to towards us. We have a God who decides in his grace and mercy to make his dwelling among us and to nourish us with things, unlike our idols, that have real power to shape us into the kind of people that we have been created and called to be. We have a God who is faithful.
Now returning to our text, as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego immerge for the flames unharmed and this mysterious fourth figure fades in the background, we hear another confession of Nebuchadnezzar. It is similar to the kind of confession that he gave at the end of chapter two. Here’s a confession he gives,
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.” Daniel 3:28-20, ESV
Now first glance that might sound like a genuine confession of faith from Nebuchadnezzar. It might sound as if Nebuchadnezzar finally gets, it it’s finally clicked for him, but he probably doesn’t. He’s probably still not there and he probably doesn’t understand the implications of his own confession. But whatever we make of Nebuchadnezzar’s heart at this point, we learned that he is to eat his words from verse fifteen and acknowledge that in fact there is one God who could save. In the face of God’s salvation and the reality that God is surely present with his people in whatever they have to face, he has to acknowledge who God is.
Friends as we live our lives staying fixed on the faithfulness of our Lord Jesus Christ and turning in the process repeatedly from whatever idols rear their heads in our lives, may our lives in exile with God lead both those who are near and far off to acknowledge the power and wisdom of God as well. As we prepare to conclude and wrap up, let me offer just a few brief applications for us to consider.
1. Understand your own idolatry. Again, as western Christians our struggle with idolatry isn’t so much religious in the sense that I don’t think any of us are participating in synchronistic worship in the Hindu temple during the week, but if you are please come talk to me. If we’re honest with ourselves there are plenty of things in our lives that we find ourselves week-to-week loving them much more than we love the God we profess to love above all else.
Our idols are so often exposed when we don’t get what we are after. Nebuchadnezzar doesn’t get the unanimous worship that he was after and as a result he becomes enraged. So, what idols have gripped your own mind and heart, ask yourself that question? Ask the Lord who is faithful towards his people to expose those idols and to root those idols out of your mind and out of your heart.
2. Expect persecution. I understand how that sounds especially because most of us, perhaps nearly all of us, have never experienced the kind of persecution that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are facing in this text. We live in a time and in a place where we have incredible freedoms. Yet any time the gospel is preached and holiness according to the word of God is salt, there will be opposition.
It happens both inside the church and outside the church. John tells us in 1 John 3:13,
13 Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. 1 John 3:13, ESV
Remember, we are exiles and sojourners; and our citizenship is in heaven. That doesn’t mean that we will always be hated in the absolute sense, it doesn’t mean that we may never experience blessings for that we may never attain positions of influence in the world.
Just like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were doing our text, so we might be quite successful in our vocations, but there will always be something peculiar about us that the world and unregenerate hearts will never fully be able to understand. Sometimes that will manifest itself in the full-blown martyrdom threat that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego face, but certainly not always. Nonetheless don’t expect as exiles and sojourners in the world to ever feel a sense of complete belonging to it because we belong to another kingdom. We belong to another king; we belong to a better king. A king who makes his dwelling with his people.
3. Rest in the presence of God. The promise we have from God, again, is not that trouble will always far off and unavoidable; but the promise is that we have someone who walks with us in whatever it is that we are called to endure. We belong to someone who is faithful to be with us. We belong to someone who is faithful to nourish us. We belong to someone who is faithful who even if the flames consumed us, he will lead us home.