By Simon ManchesterSunday 14 Jul 2013Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 0 minutes
St Thomas’ Anglican Church
Daniel – Humble Worship
Our gracious God,we pray this morning that you would help us to understand you better,and your ways,and your character,and your will,and we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Someone sent me a nice note this week to thank me for some talks that I had given at a youth conference in January in the book of Romans. I’d actually given talks in 1 Timothy,but it was lovely to get the note anyway and to know that I had made another big impact on somebody. God has a thousand ways to keep us humble,doesn’t He? Now I am telling you that because we are in the book of Daniel on these Sunday mornings and that’s our subject for these weeks. Some wit will shake my hand this morning and say,’Isn’t Genesis wonderful!’ But we are in the book of Daniel! I want to set the focus for a couple of minutes before we come to two simple points.
Very interesting to study the book of Daniel because we tend naturally to elevate the heroes of the book – Daniel,and the famous Shadrach,Meshach and Abednego. We love heroes,we love to see people do their part really well. The interesting thing is that Daniel keeps praising God and Shadrach,Meshach and Abednego honour God as well. In other words,they see God as their hero. And the writer,who I presume is Daniel,of this book,wants to elevate God. And by the time you have read the first few chapters you may miss this. You may miss this,but you have actually discovered as you read the first few chapters,that God is the sovereign king. He sent the people into Babylon. He allowed this Nebuchadnezzar,superpower leader,to take the people. Everything that happens,has happened because of the sovereign hand of God. And we begin to realise that God’s weapon for everything is His word. If He says it,it will happen. And we also begin to realise that there is every detail under His care,and every detail under His control. And we also realise as we read these early chapters of Daniel,that the people who are in the kingdom are in attention. They have God as their king and yet there is a sense in which they are an alien and an exile. So you can’t help but read these chapters and keep discovering things about God,as you read them. Chapter 1 tells us He is faithful. He said to His people,’if you are disobedient you will go into exile,but I will be with you.’ Chapter 2 we discovered He is wise,he is so wise He can put a nightmare into a tyrant,and then He can bring somebody along to interpret what was in that tyrant’s nightmare. And then we discover in this chapter,chapter 3 of course,that He is powerful. He can take three men who have been thrown into a furnace and bring them through and out. We know the story,don’t we? So God is faithful,God is wise,God is powerful,’Behold,Daniel says,’the greatness of God.’ And this is a great comfort to us because who would not want to belong to God faithful,when we are unfaithful,and powerful when we are weak,and wise when we are foolish? Who would not want to belong to that God? Ah,but then we turn around and say,’We are not worthy. You know that person across the red carpet there,he’s worthy,she’s worthy you know,to have a God like this,but I am not worthy.’ And then we forget you see that God is saving Daniel,Shadrach,Meshach and Abednego,who are part of a disobedient people who are completely dependant on His Mercy and His grace. They are exiles. Jesus Christ did not come into the world to save heroes. He did not come into the world to save consistent people. He came into the world to save sinners,that’s why we praise Him,without at the same time falling into complete sort of carelessness as a response. We are slow learners I think in this area and Nebuchadnezzar is extremely slow,he seems to take forever to learn,but we are also slow. I am slow,and we need to learn that this book is pointing to God Himself.
Well as we come today to chapter 3,Shadrach,Meshach and Abednego are thrown into the fiery furnace for not bowing down to the statue of Nebuchadnezzar. We know the story so well it is almost difficult to study it together. I want to suggest however,that perhaps the key to this book is to see that God’s kingdom is expressed unusually. And so the two points this morning are that God’s kingdom is seen in a servant,and then secondly God’s kingdom is seen in salvation. They are surprising ways in which kingship,or power,is shown in this world. God’s kingship is seen in a servant,the power of a servant,and then the proof of salvation.
The power of a servant is our first point verses 1-7. We see in verse 1 Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold,it was 3 metres wide,if you can picture that,3 meters wide,whatever that is,and 30 metres high. Why did Nebuchadnezzar do this,probably because of Daniel chapter 2 verse 31,which if you look back is where Daniel says,”You looked O king,and you in your nightmare,in your dream you saw a large statue. An enormous dazzling statue,awesome in appearance.” Daniel went on of course to teach Nebuchadnezzar that this statue had just a gold head,and a silver chest,and a bronze belly and iron legs and feet of iron and clay and the whole thing would come toppling down. ‘Kingdoms are going to fall,’ said Daniel,’only God’s kingdom will rise and fill the earth.’ I think Nebuchadnezzar’s response is ‘I will have none of that! There’s going to be none of this I bow down to someone else stuff,’ says Nebuchadnezzar,’we’re not going to have any of this head of gold and then kingdom of silver,no,no,no,’ says Nebuchadnezzar,’everybody is going to bow to me. Everybody is going to bow to me,and this statue is going to be gold from head to foot. It is going to be us forever.’ That’s basically what he is thinking. It is a very strange design because it does seem to be based on a human figure and yet it is grotesquely disproportional. So if you are doing a statue and it is reasonably close to somebody it is about a 5″1′ proportion maybe a 6″1′,but this is a 10″1′. So it is almost like,if you can picture the schoolboy ruler,it is a very odd shape and he seems to completely ignore the lesson of Daniel chapter 2,which is where God as I say taught him that he would not rule as God,as God rules,and he will not rule forever because kingdoms are going to fall,even his own will fall. Nebuchadnezzar seems to be determined that he will rule everywhere and forever,and that’s why the gold head to foot,and that’s why he asks in chapter 3 verse 4 that all people’s,nations,and languages,would bow down.
Another question to ask at this point is why Nebuchadnezzar is unchanged given the fact that he has just been through an incredible miracle. He has had a nightmare that has rocked him to his foundations,he has found nobody who could even tell him the nightmare until Daniel comes along,and then miraculously,by the power of God,is able to tell him what the nightmare was and then Daniel interprets it for him and Nebuchadnezzar has been face to face with a miracle. A frightening,powerful miracle,and he seems to be completely unteachable,and the reason of course is that he is spiritually blind,and hard. Never forget that a person is not persuaded by a miracle. You must remember when somebody says to you ‘If I see God I will believe.’ There are many people in the New Testament who saw God and did not believe,but quite the opposite. Never fall for the person who says,’if you show me a miracle I will believe.’ There are many who saw miracles and fought the miracles. Jesus raised Lazarus from the grave and immediately some people decided they would kill Lazarus and Jesus. It is not a question of miracles and proofs and that sort of thing when a person is hostile,and Nebuchadnezzar is hostile.
One of the sad things we experience too is when friends,loved ones get very good evidence,maybe even a scare,sometimes they have been told the gospel and then God lovingly knocks the wind out of their sails and they still go on don’t they with the clearest evidence and no belief. John Owen who was a puritan in the sixteenth century,see if you can follow this little paragraph of his,he comments on why this is so,and he says,”as a traveller in his way meeting with a violent storm of thunder and rain,immediately turns out of his way to some house or tree for his shelter,but does not stop his journey. As soon as the storm is over he returns to his way and progress again. So it is with man in bondage to sin in a course of pursuing their lusts the Lord meets them in a storm of thunder and lightening which terrifies and hinders them and turns them for a season out of their course. They’ll run to prayer or amendment of life. But is their course stopped,are there principles altered? Not at all. So soon as the storm is over and they lose the sense and the terror that was on them,they return again to the course of their sin.” Now how sadly we’ve seen that. And nobody you see repents until God brings repentance and there is no repentance for Nebuchadnezzar in chapter 2. I think there is in chapter 4 next week,but there is no repentance in chapter 2 and not much in chapter 3 as well.
So why is this? Well because Daniel chapter 3 is basically laughing at Nebuchadnezzar. The statue is a foolish statue. The list of dignitaries all parading around are silly. The musical instruments are a joke,and we are told the musical instruments four times,it is hard not to laugh if somebody reads the whole chapter. And the reason that this is all being pointed out as foolish is because opposition to God is foolish. It doesn’t matter how sophisticated it sounds,it doesn’t’ matter how sophisticated it looks,or grand,it is foolish. The fool,says the bible,says in his heart there is no god. I remember someone very rudely saying the fool says in his heart there is no god,and that person went on to say,and I have never met anyone who said there is no god who wasn’t a fool. And I remembered that little sentence and over the years I just find it to true again,and again,and again. The person who says there is no God there’s something stupid. Jesus said to the man,you remember,who left God out of his thinking,”You fool.” Sitting next to a man last night at a wedding reception,he showed me his hands,he said everything has been made by these hands,he said this is it. And I said what happens when you come to the end? And he said there is nothing there,and if there is,he said,I’ll negotiate. Now that’s a fool,just a fool. I wish I had laughed,but I’m just of course too polite for that.
Well here is the interesting bit,how is God going to teach Nebuchadnezzar,who is such a bad student,and doesn’t listen to anything? Well he could have knocked the statue over,that would be easy for God,it is just you know flying across in an aeroplane that can hardly see the statue it is a tiny little toothpick down there. God could knock the statue over,he could cause the statue to fall on Nebuchadnezzar,that would be a shock. He could cause a rock to come flying through the air and hit the statue and just send it over,as the rock in the dream in chapter 2 predicted,but He doesn’t do that. This is the thing about the kingdom,God decides to teach Nebuchadnezzar about the kingdom through a servant,in fact through 3 servants,Shadrach,Meshach and Abednego. Here are 3 boys,they are in a foreign land,they have got no powers,they are completely at the mercy of Nebuchadnezzar and they look Nebuchadnezzar in the eye,knowing that God is the king and they say to Nebuchadnezzar,’You are not the king to be worshiped. You are not the king that we will worship.’ And this decision of these 3 men is more unsettling for Nebuchadnezzar than anything else,because he cannot do anything about 3 men who know that there is a God who is over Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar,you see,is going to be brought down by these 3 men. These 3 men by standing firm are going to see Nebuchadnezzar in the end bow down and recognise that God is the king.
Now what these 3 men do in pointing with their testimony to the king is what Jesus did when He came and pointed to himself. Shadrach,Meshach and Abednego basically say,’the king is God’,and Nebuchadnezzar comes and says,’the king is me.’ ‘Are you the king?’,they say to Jesus,’Yes I am. And you will see me,’ says Jesus,’on the clouds of heaven.’ It’s quite remarkable. Now of course this servant ministry of Shadrach,Meshach and Abednego is not what the world would put forward as being powerful,but it is powerful. And when Jesus comes as the servant and says,’I have not come to judge today but I have come to save today. I have not come to be served,I have come to serve.’ It is the opposite of secular thinking when it comes to power isn’t it? But it is extremely powerful,and when Shadrach,Meshach,and Abednego say we are prepared to go to the fires because God is king,it looks like a suicidal move but it is not a suicidal move it absolutely transforms everything. And when Jesus says,’I am the king and I am going to the cross’,it looks suicidal but Jesus of course transforms the world. The kingdom is seen in the power of a servant,that’s the first thing.
The second – The kingdom is seen in the proof of salvation,through the fire,through the fire verses 8-30. The 3 men,Shadrach,Meshach and Abednego they don’t seem to be conducting a public protest but they are reported,they are found out,they are snitched on by some men of Nebuchadnezzar’s,verse 12,who turn up and say,”there are men Shadrach,Meshach and Abednego who pay no attention to you O king,nor serve your gods or worship the image of gold that you have set up.” The motive behind this seems to be also in verse 12,the men are Jews and that they are in power,so there is a jealously. Nebuchadnezzar is furious as you would expect,he is threatened,he is insecure,he’s hostile,he gives the 3 men opportunity to explain themselves,he gives them a choice which is that they can bow or burn,he is pretty fair about that. He says to them,’when you hear the horn,the flute,the zither,the lyre,the harp,the pipes,the triangle,the bassoon,the violin,the piano,the cymbals,the big bass drum,then you’ve got a choice,you can bow or burn.’ Now what might Shadrach,Meshach and Abednego have said at that point,they might have said,’let’s do it,let’s do it,a quick bow and then we have got years more usefulness in this kingdom.’ They might have said,’better to serve than to lose everything after all this is the king of Babylon let’s be respectful.’ And it would have been so easy for them wouldn’t it to have said,’look let’s do a 10 minute bow,everything will then be forgotten,we can go on and we can do other things.’ But they don’t. They make the famous reply verse 16,17 & 18 “Shadrach,Meshach,and Abednego replied to the king,” these are words that deserve to be written in gold,”O Nebuchadnezzar,we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace the God we serve is able to save us from it,and He will rescue us from your hand,O king,but even if He does not we want you to know,O king,that we will not serve your gods,or worship the image of gold you have set up. Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious.”
I want to suggest to you why these 3 men say this and I don’t think it is just because they are brave. I am convinced that they say this because they believe the truth about God which is what we have been reading in Daniel chapter 1 and chapter 2. They actually believe that God is faithful whatever happens. They believe that God is wise whatever happens. They believe that God is powerful whatever happens. They do not believe that circumstances suddenly disqualify God from being faithful,wise and powerful. They do not think,’we deserve to be spared. We’ve been good up until now,we deserve to be spared.’ They say basically to themselves,and to Nebuchadnezzar,’We trust Him.’ Now we need to think about this for a minute because there is deep down in us I think a works bases Christianity which thinks that if we keep up the Christian life,you know if we do the quiet times,if we do go to church,and if we do go on the rosters,that God is obligated in some way to be good to us and to preserve us from all harm. We say don’t we,even if we don’t express it,’I’ve done my bit now God must do His bit.’ I want to suggest to you that this is a dreadful way to think because if all goes well we actually have a funny idea that we are sustaining it. And if things go badly we have an even worse idea that God has failed us. The fact of the matter is God is faithful,wise and powerful whatever His people go through. The gospel is not a deserving gospel. Praise God that it is not a deserving gospel. Imagine if the gospel was a deserving gospel,we would lurch all the time from boasting to despair,from boasting to despair,but it is not a deserving gospel,the gospel is an undeserving gospel. Praise God for that. It means that despite our sin and what ever we go through,whatever we deserve,and whatever we don’t deserve God stays faithful,wise and powerful. That is really very,very wonderful. So He is not committed to my comfort,even though I keep thinking He is committed to my comfort. I mean I am a clergyman,surely I deserve more,but God is not committed to my comfort,He is committed to my salvation. He is not committed to my approval,He is committed to my redemption. There is in the church today a gospel of approval,that God exists to approve you. No,God exists to redeem you. God is a redeeming God and Shadrach,Meshach and Abednego do not have you see this slot machine frame work which is that they have put in the coins of religion and now what must come out are the bottles of miracles. They don’t think like that,they’re framework is worshipful. He is faithful,He is wise,He is powerful – it is a biblical framework they operate,and therefore they say,’I can trust Him.’ And that’s why they say the words of verse 16-18,God can do it but if He doesn’t we won’t serve because we serve Him. And God give us the grace to be courageous like that as well.
Spurgeon says in his sermon on this,”if an act of sin would increase my usefulness ten fold,I have no right to do it,and if an act of righteousness would appear likely to destroy all my apparent usefulness,I am to do it. It is yours and mine to do His will although the heavens fall,and to follow the command of God whatever the consequences may be. That is strong meat you say,well be strong men and eat it.” That’s good old Spurgeon stuff! God you see has promised to us that He would be faithful through fires. He will be faithful through fires of sickness,and loss,and sadness,and accusation,and injustice. He will be faithful to you. He will be faithful to you,he will be wise with what happens,and He will be powerful,it will not escape Him. And it is crucial for us to see that suffering can safely fit inside the framework of God’s kingdom. I’ll say that again,suffering can safely fit inside the framework of God’s kingdom. It does not suddenly fall out of the framework. It doesn’t suddenly undermine the framework,it fits into the very framework. It does not put a big question mark on our security. It does not put a big question mark on whether God loves us. It does not put a big question mark as if we have suddenly committed an unpardonable sin. It fits in the framework of God’s great kingdom. So please do not teach yourself that you deserve to escape from trial or tests,but teach yourself that God promises to be your God forever because He knows what He is doing and if we were left without test or trial we would not be anything the people that He plans for us.
Shadrach,Meshach,and Abednego grasp this,they go into the ferocious furnace,they make no promise that they must escape,but God gives them the escape. Why does God give them the escape? It is not fair is it,they get to escape. And there they are walking in the fire and they are unbound and they are unharmed and somebody else,verse 25,is with them someone who looks like the son of the gods,maybe an angel,maybe God’s son,certainly God’s presence with them. And they emerged from the fire and they are unharmed,there is not a singed hair,there is not a smell of fire on them. Why does this happen? Well it happens because God is informing us that He can do it. It is not a violation of natural law this miracle,this is God interfering with His own world. And as CS Lewis said,you put 4 coins in a draw and the next day there are only 2 coins you don’t have to assume that natural laws have been violated,you just assume that someone in your home has violated the laws of the home. God you see has interfered exactly as He wants to,to teach us that He is able to. And we are also told about this rescue from the fire because God wants Nebuchadnezzar and all of Babylon to know that He is the king. But we are also told this because it is the gospel in a nutshell,this is rescue from death. This is salvation. It is a mini escape for Shadrach,Meshach,and Abednego,it is an escape form a physical fire,very wonderful but it is an escape form a physical fire. But when we come to the New Testament,we read of course about an escape from a maxi fire,a fire which is called the judgement of God,much,much more serious than a physical fire. And the believer is able to escape from the maxi fire of the judgement of God because Jesus Christ did not escape from the maxi fire of the judgement of God. You remember he said I have a fire to endure,I can’t wait until it is over. And there on the cross the fire of God was poured down on Jesus. Remember at Mount Carmel the fire was put down on the sacrifices and burned up all the sacrifices. And there on Calvary the fire of God is poured down on the sacrifice,and the sacrifice burns up or licks up all the fire,consumes it in order that a person who puts his faith in Jesus will never experience the fire of God’s judgement. No condemnation because of our rescuer.
Now the crucial thing to see in this chapter therefore is that the kingdom is revealed unusually. It is revealed through a servant,Shadrach,Meshach,and Abednego. Perfectly of course revealed in the servant the Lord Jesus. We also see that the kingdom is revealed in a salvation. A small salvation in Daniel 3 a mighty salvation through the cross of Christ. It is a terrible thing to fight this kingdom because although it may appear to be unusually ordinary,it is unusually extraordinary. It is a dreadful thing to fight the kingdom of God. It is a wonderful thing to enter the kingdom of God by bowing down before the king Jesus and taking hold of His forgiveness. The hymn writer says,”When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie,His grace all sufficient shall be your supply,for He will be with you in trouble to bless,and sanctify to you your every distress. The soul that on Jesus still leans for repose,he will not,He cannot desert to His foes. That soul,though all hell should endeavour to shake,He will never leave,He will never forsake.”