By Simon ManchesterSunday 17 Oct 2021Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 1 minute
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Good morning, All Saints, lovely to be with you on this Sunday morning. Normally I prefer a short Bible reading, but I’m going to read the whole of Daniel chapter three. It’s 30 verses, and I wonder if you’d like to follow along with me. And I warn you that this passage is slightly amusing, and it’s meant to be amusing. Daniel chapter three.
Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, made an image of gold whose height was 60 cubits, and its width six cubits. He set it up in the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon, and King Nebuchadnezzar sent word to gather together the satraps, administrators, governors, counsellors, treasures, the judges, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces to come to the dedication of the image, which King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. And so the satraps, administrators, governors, counsellors, treasurers, judges, magistrates, and all the officials of the province gathered together for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up, and they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
Then a herald cried aloud, “To you it is commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery in symphony with all kinds of music, you shall fall down and worship the gold image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. And whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cost immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.” So at that time, when all the people heard the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre in symphony with all kinds of music, all the peoples, nations, languages fell down and worshiped the golden image, which King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
Therefore at that time, certain Babylonians came forward and accused the Jews. They spoke and said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “Oh King, live forever. You, oh King, have made a decree that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery in symphony with all kinds of music shall fall down and worship the golden image, and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. There are certain Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon. They are named Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These men, oh King, have not paid due regard to you. They do not serve your gods or worship the gold image, which you have set up.”
Then Nebuchadnezzar, in rage and fury, gave the command to bring Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So they brought these men before the King. Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my God or worship the gold image which I have set up? Now, if you’re ready at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery in symphony with all kinds of music, and you fall down and worship the image, which I’ve made, good. But if you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. And who is the God who will deliver you from my hands?”
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God, whom we serve, is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us from your hand, oh king. But if not, let it be known to you, oh king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.”
Then Nebuchadnezzar was full of fury, and the expression on his face changed towards Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He spoke and commanded that they heat the furnace seven times more than it was usually heated. And he commanded certain mighty men of valour who were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and cast them into the burning fiery furnace. Then these men were bound in their coats, their trousers, turbans, and other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. And therefore because the King’s command was urgent, and the furnace exceedingly hot, the flame of the fire actually killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished. He rose in haste and spoke, saying to his counsel is, “Did we not cast three men into the midst of the fire?”
And they answered and said to the King, “True, oh king.” “Look,” he answered. “I see four men loosed walking in the midst of the fire and they are not hurt. And the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” Then Nebuchadnezzar went near the mouth of the burning fiery furnace and spoke, saying, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; servants of the most high God, come out and come here.” Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came from the midst of the fire, and the satraps, administrators, governors, and the King’s counsellors gathered together. And they saw that these men on whose bodies the fire had no power. The hair of their head was not singed, nor where their garments affected, and the smell of fire was not on them.
Nebuchadnezzar spoke saying, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who sent His angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the King’s word and yielded their bodies that they should not serve nor worship any God except their own God. And therefore, I make a decree that any people, nation, or language, which speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made an ash heap, because there is no other God who can deliver like this.” And the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon.
Well, let’s bow our heads and pray. Loving Father, as we consider this chapter together, we pray that You would open our eyes, our ears, and our hearts, that You would sow the seed of your word into our hearts and bring forth fruit to your prize. And we ask it in Jesus name. Amen.
Well, friends, as you know, we’re walking through the book of Daniel. You remember that God’s people had been carried into exile in Babylon for their unfaithfulness, they were like refugees. And we’re looking at the book of Daniel for six Sundays, and today we come to chapter three, the famous chapter of the three men thrown into the fiery furnace. Now we see here that the governor, the government of Babylon, oversteps its authority because they ask God’s people to worship something that is not God. This is an interesting issue for us at the moment, because the government in Australia is ordering a lockdown, and some Christians have said that this law goes too far. They say, “God calls us to meet together. The government has told us that we can’t meet together.”
Now, friends, this is not really the government going too far, because the government is simply issuing a temporary health warning for our good. So we’re not needing to disobey this. This is an area where we must honour the government. If they asked us to stop believing or to stop praying, then we might’ve caused protest. Now there have been public protests against the lockdown. Should we support them? I think the answer is no. But if the government was to ask us to start false worship or stop true worship, I think we would be entitled to protest. As the apostles in acts chapter five said, “We must obey God and not men.” So Daniel three is a permanently relevant text, and it deals with the famous separation of church and state. This phrase was originally coined to protect the church from the state, but today, most people use the phrase to protect the state from listening to the church.
I hope every Christian understands that as soon as you recognize that Jesus Christ is the King, the King of Kings, and that every knee will one day bow to Him, that the church and the state need each other. The state is to govern with justice and mercy, and the church is to bring eternal truth to bear on everybody. The church should support the state in good leadership, and the state should support the church in good ministry. They have separate jobs to do, but they should listen very carefully and respectfully to each other. The church should not attempt to control the state, and the state should not attempt to control the church. Both are institutions given by God, both will answer to God.
Every now and again, of course, in history, the church has overstepped its mark and tried to control the states. Think for example of some of the Popes in church history. But very often the state oversteps its mark in trying to control the church, and you can think of many examples of this in the 20th and 25th century. Daniel three is a classic blueprint of what to do when the government oversteps its mark. It’s all about three servants of God, refusing to worship an idol, and they’re punished by the government, and they are rescued by God. However, I want to ask you, what is the significance of this chapter? If you had to go to your neighbour and tell them Daniel three, I want to tell you the significance of Daniel three. What is the story? What is the event really all about? The answer is it’s not just a story to be told. It is a historical event, but you don’t need a preacher to just tell you what happens. You can read that for yourself.
Nor is this chapter just a morality tale as if we’re meant to see three brave men, and then we’re told, “Go and be like them.” That’s just moralism. That’s not Christianity. The big theme of Daniel is that kingdoms set themselves up against God, and they’re doomed to perish, whether it’s a kingdom of one person, or a kingdom of a billion. There is a Kingdom of God, it’s a supreme kingdom, it’s a permanent Kingdom, and you’ll be pleased to know it’s a welcoming Kingdom. And I want to point out to you what I think Daniel three, the writer of Daniel three is primarily teaching us, and that is the difference between the worst of the kingdoms of men and the great Kingdom of God.
So first of all, a spotlight from Daniel three on the kingdoms of men. When I talk about the kingdoms of man, I mean the little world which people make for themselves, where God is being ignored or rejected, and man is being set up as king. Here are the marks of this false kingdom of man. One, the kingdom of men attempting to lock God out are marked by irrational self-interest and self-promotion.
You see in chapter three verses one to three that Nebuchadnezzar built a gold statue, we might say a gold obelisk, 27 meters tall. And he obviously built this because he’d been told in chapter two that there was a statue of kingdoms of which he was the gold head, and another would come to be the silver chest, and another would come to be the bronze belly, and another would come to be the iron legs, and he basically said to himself, “It’s not going to happen. I’m just going to be a permanent kingdom of gold.” And so he’s completely deluded.
The mark of the megalomaniac is these irrational fixation on being powerful and permanent. It can take place even in the mind of the ordinary person who says, “I’m in charge of my life and I’ll do exactly what I want for as long as I want.” It’s irrational. And the writer of Daniel three one says to see that Nebuchadnezzar is like this. He’s on a quest for power which cannot possibly last, and cannot work. In the short-term, of course, it may seem to work, but we have to ask ourselves the question, where is Babylon today? Where is Persia today? Where is Greece today? Where is Rome today? They are not super powers anymore. Time is against them. Reality is against them. The Kingdom of God is against them. So that’s the first thing. The kingdom of man is marked by irrational self-interest.
Second, the kingdom of man that is attempting to rival or remove God is marked by great hostility to any challenges, a great interest in self and a great disinterest in other people. See, in chapter three, verses four to eight, that Nebuchadnezzar gathers all the officials. And in verse four, he even orders all the world to bow down to his image. And then to do that, as soon as these crazy music begins, four times, we’re given the list of all the musical instruments, and it’s a kind of a joke, because it is a joke. “And if there is no bowing down,” says Nebuchadnezzar, “then a dreadful, dreadful death will follow.” And so you’ll notice that the mark of this godless kingdom is that there is great opposition or hostility to any who don’t cooperate, and there’s no concern for anybody but self.
We can think of dictators who are like this, Chairman Mao, Idi Amin, Joseph Stalin. But you’ll find that even an individual, the nicest individual in this city, who is rejecting Christ as their King can get very angry if the claims of Christ are brought to bear too clearly upon them. They appear to apathetic, but if the claims of Christ come too close, they become antagonistic. They think, and I know this from my past, that they are the centre of their universe, but they certainly don’t want to have a Christ centred universe and therefore have to cooperate with him, and so there is great hostility to any suggestion that they must change. Now, the writer of Daniel three one wants us to see that the type of kingdom that Nebuchadnezzar represents is intolerant of any challenge, and is not concerned for others as much as self.
Thirdly, the kingdom of man that is hostile to God is marked by ultimate helplessness in the face of the truth. When Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are reported on to Nebuchadnezzar for not bearing down and he becomes furious, he gives them the choice to bow or burn, and he comes face to face with the God who he cannot control. The three servants, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego famously say to him, “God is able to deliver us. He is more powerful than you, but if He doesn’t deliver us immediately, we’re still not going to serve you, because the God who we believe in is more important, more significant, more real, and more worthy.” And they utter these famous words in verses 17 to 18, “God is able to and will deliver, but if we’re not delivered, we will not serve you. Why? Because we trust Him.”
And Nebuchadnezzar goes crazy with rage. He orders the furnace to be heated up seven times, and the men are thrown in. And as Nebuchadnezzar looks at the man in the furnace, he comes face to face with someone else. He comes face to face with the Son of God. It could, of course, have been an angel. It could have been Christ Himself. But he sees the men who he thought he was destroying safely in company with the Son of God. And so he calls out the three men, and he discovers that they are completely untouched by the fire, not even smelling of fire, and he is helpless. And he’s been brought to see that he’s helpless.
The final mark of the kingdom of men is that nothing changes them but God. You may think in chapter three, verse 28, when suddenly Nebuchadnezzar praises the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that he himself has become a believer, but he’s not become a believer. He’s completely unchanged. How do I know this? Well, back in chapter two, when he had the dream, he simply said, after the miracle, that God is the God of gods. He hadn’t even become a monotheist. Here in chapter three, after the miracle of the fire, he simply says that God is the God of Shadrach Meshach, and Abednego. It’s not even as though he’s now the God of Nebuchadnezzar.
And we’ll see in Daniel chapter four next week, that he’s still a very proud man who has to be brought low. In other words, Nebuchadnezzar is blind. He cannot see that God is King. He cannot see that there is no other God. Just as person is still blind if they think that Jesus is good, but not essential. They’re blind. Or a person who thinks that Jesus is a saviour for some, but He’s not necessary for other people. They’re blind.
John Owen, the Puritan of the 16th, 17th century famously said that most people are like men caught in a storm. They’re frightened for a minute, when certain things happen, they even send up their cry for help. But as soon as the storm disappears, they just march on their way as if nothing has happened. It’s only God who can change the heart and the mind of a person. It’s only God who can cause the kingdom to move into the heart.
Well, there’s a spotlight on the kingdom of men in Daniel, chapter three, it’s an irrational kingdom. It’s a hostile kingdom. It’s helpless, and it’s blind. Now very briefly, how does Daniel spotlight the Kingdom of God in this chapter? First of all, spotlight on the Kingdom of God, God is Supreme. He is beyond every other kingdom. Just as parents will look out the window, and they’ll see their little boy playing in his tent, his cowboy tent, or building a fort, or building a tree house. And the parent will smile because that fort, tent, tree house is not really a fort. So God laughs at the kingdoms of men that set themselves up against Him.
We’ve already been told in Daniel chapter one that God gave His people to Nebuchadnezzar. We’ve been told in chapter two that God gave information to Daniel. God, you see, is the one who’s completely supreme. And now in chapter three, we see that Nebuchadnezzar, who’s desperate to be powerful, and throws everything at the opposition, is completely out of his depth, just as every world leader must learn eventually that the Kingdom of God is the fixed and forever kingdom. And every person, every little person, must learn that there is a King of Kings called Jesus Christ. So God’s kingdom is supreme.
Second mark of the kingdom of God is that God is worthy of trust and obedience. Nebuchadnezzar had to force people to obey him. These three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they want to obey God, even if it means death. Something has happened to these men, they’ve discovered that these God is worthy of their trust and their obedience. God has made them aware. One writer says that these men, how did they possibly come to be so brave? They were so young. They were so untaught. They were so weak. They were so few. They were so conscious of a terrible death. And then the writer says this, “We must admire the God who made them so fortified in heart and mind.” They have grasped, you see, that the living God, even though they’re slaves in Babylon, is the God who runs Babylon. The God who’s totally in charge, who’s good, and wise, and powerful, and who will vindicate them, and who completely outweighs the gold and the fire.
The third mark of the Kingdom of God is that God is protective, interested in other people, not just in himself. In verses 24 to 25, the Son of Man is with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego right in the fire, and he protects them. He’s not like Nebuchadnezzar, who just throws his enemies in, but God is the God who steps in and saves His enemies. We must remember that this rescue is a picture of what God can do and ultimately will do. We must also remember that many people who have trusted Christ have been burned at the stake for their faith, and have been martyred for standing for Jesus, and many of them still today, perhaps these very day, will pay the price of their life for their Christian faith. Now, the promise of God is not to rescue everyone from every fire, but it’s to carry people through every fire. Many of Christ’s people have suffered.
None of Christ’s people have been abandoned. Because the king who is Jesus Christ is not like Nebuchadnezzar thinking of himself, but He is the one who endured the worst fire of all, the fire of judgment, in order to make sure that people who believe are perfectly safe. As one of my friends has said, “We are not abandoned because Christ of the cross was abandoned.”
The final mark of the Kingdom of God is that it is, of course, wonderfully victorious. The description in verse 27 of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, not harmed by the fire, not singed, not scorched, not touched by the fire, is a reminder of a complete victory, which God is easily able to complete. And of course, it’s a window or a signpost to the victory of Jesus over the grave. It means that those who belong to Jesus Christ and are simply His because of His sacrifice for them will find that there was no hint of sin, no hint of danger attached to them, today, or tomorrow, or forever.
Paul says in Colossians one, “Christ’s death for you means that you are today and forever without blemish, spotless, free from accusation.” So friends, I wonder if you can see the Daniel three is presenting this contrast or clash of the kingdoms, the kingdom of man at its worst, and the kingdom of God. The kingdom of men is self-interested, hostile to enemies, helpless, and blind. The kingdom of Christ is supreme, worthy, sacrificial, loving, and victorious. No wonder the hymn writer in one of our hymns says, “When through fiery trials, thy pathway shall lie. His grace all sufficient shall be thy supply. The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.”
Let’s bow our heads and pray. Thank you, our gracious God that there was a Kingdom that rules all the kingdoms of the world. We pray that you would enable the message of Christ, the King, to be heard and heeded, received and loved, and that You would bring many to their senses to see the wonderful King of Kings, our Savior, and our Lord, Jesus Christ. We ask it in his name. Amen.