When we look at the lives of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the Book of Daniel, we discover God leads them to places of danger, pain, and destruction, places in which courage is the driving force. How many heroes of the Christian faith had easy lives?
Maybe we need to stop praying for deliverance from the furnace and, instead, ask for God to be present as we, with courageous steps, walk into the fire.
There’s a book series called “The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook.” These are manuals based on interviews with experts in a variety of fields. They have sections on things like: How to escape from quicksand. How to jump from a building into a dumpster. How to perform an emergency tracheotomy. In case you ever need to do that, all you need is a razor blade or very sharp knife and a ballpoint pen with the ink removed from it. These books have sold millions of copies. Some of the advice is pretty predictable. One section is — how to deal with a charging bull. The number one rule is “Don’t antagonize the bull.” That seems fairly obvious. But sometimes the advice is quite demanding. There’s a section called “How to survive if your parachute fails to open.” This is what it says: “First, signal to a jumping companion.” They don’t say what to do if you’re not with a jumping companion. “Signal to a jumping companion whose chute is not yet open that you’re having trouble. When your companion (and new best friend) gets to you, hook arms. “You’ll be falling at a terminal velocity of about 130 miles per hour. “Open the chute. “The chute opening shock will be severe, probably enough to dislocate or break both of your arms. “You may hit the ground slowly enough to only break one leg… but your chances of survival are quite high.” That’s how to survive if your parachute fails to open. Now that you have a little sense of what this book is about, I want to try a little test of your survival skills to see how savvy you are. Alright, here we go. Question 1: What do you do if confronted by an angry mountain lion? I’ll give you four options, and you pick which is the best one. run play dead make yourself look bigger by opening your coat sing a gentle, happy song Tell the person next to you what you think the answer is. How many of you said, “Sing a gentle, happy song”? You were wrong. Believe it or not, the correct answer according to the “Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook” is C — make yourself look bigger by opening your coat. Now, the same situation, you’re facing an angry mountain lion. What do you do if confronted by an angry mountain lion when a small child is present? This is covered in the manual. pick the child up shield the child with your body shield your body with the child run You may not be able to outrun the mountain lion, but you can probably outrun the small child. Do you want to know the answer? Some of you are like, “Yeah, this may happen to me.” They say to pick the child up, because it will make you look bigger. Open your coat, open the child’s coat, anything to make you look bigger. Okay so if you learn nothing else, you can walk away from church today saying, “I learned how to survive when confronted by an angry mountain lion.” This is what the author of these books write: “The principle behind these books is a simple one. You just never know. You never really know what curves life will throw at you, what is lurking around the corner. “You never really know when you might be called upon to choose life or death with your actions. But when you are called, you need to know what to do.” That’s why these books were written. Well today, we’re going to look at another kind of worst case scenario, and see how real-life people, ordinary people like you and me responded, because you never know what curves life will throw at you, when you’ll be called to choose life or death. But when you are called — and you will be called — you need to know what to do. And that’s actually why the Bible was written. Look at Daniel 3 starting at verse 1: King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. He then summoned the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials to come to the dedication of the image he had set up. So the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials assembled for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up, and they stood before it. Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do: As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.” Therefore, as soon as they heard the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp and all kinds of music, all the nations and peoples of every language fell down and worshiped the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Let’s stop there for a moment. Now, if you were here last week, you know at the end of Daniel 2, Nebuchadnezzar seemed to be on the verge of becoming a servant of the God of heaven. Remember, Daniel was the only one who could tell Nebuchadnezzar what he had dreamt and what the meaning of it was, and it included the assurance of the coming judgment of God — the rock that would cover the whole earth and bring the statue down. And at the end of it Nebuchadnezzar said, “Surely Daniel, your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings.” But now it turns out that Nebuchadnezzar has a very selective memory of Daniel’s message. He conveniently forgets about Daniel’s message — about God, the living stone, the coming of the kingdom of God, and God’s shattering judgment. But apparently he does remember that he was the head of gold in this statue. And apparently he thinks about how the kingdom is vulnerable because he was told in the dream that it stands on iron and clay — diverse elements that don’t mix and make his kingdom vulnerable. Now, Nebuchadnezzar is trying to create a society of captured peoples from different nations and languages and cultures and so on. He’s dealing with what we talk about in our day as multiculturalism. We sometimes act like we’re the first ones ever to face a situation like that. We’re not. Nebuchadnezzar faced it a long time ago. And he decides that what all these diverse peoples need in Babylon is unity — something to hold them together — so that his kingdom is not vulnerable and split apart by all these factions. And how better to create unity than to form a common religion? So he makes a statue. Now, what god this statue represents is left quite vague. I think it was deliberately left vague; because this is not so much about religion as it is about politics and power. We have a motto on the great seal of the United States “e pluribus unum,” which means “from the many, one.” Nebuchadnezzar is concerned that there are too many gods. There’s not oneness. So he tries to create oneness. And he invests a lot of effort into motivating the people to go along. He creates a remarkably artistic and beautiful statue. We’re told it’s 90 feet high and made of gold. It’s an object of immense value. Then he has music performed by every instrument that he could think of. That’s why there’s a long list that keeps being repeated in the text. This would be very impressive. The people are to make a pilgrimage to the plain of Dura, outside the city of Babylon. And there they’ll see the most impressive gathering of leaders from all the peoples and cultures ever assembled. Again, that’s why the writer has these long lists that are repeated. If all of that is not enough to compel people to bow down, then Nebuchadnezzar decreed that failure to comply meant you would be thrown into a fiery furnace to be burned alive. Now, picture this moment. There’s a vast assembly of countless peoples from all kinds of tribes and tongues. They’ve never seen anything like this. It would be a little like the opening ceremony of the Olympics, except add to it that it’s to be a transcendent, religious experience. Then the music starts, and the people are highly motivated to bow down. Literally, in verse seven the text says: “As soon as they were hearing, they were falling.” It’s like a race to see who hits the ground first. There was a ripple of noise as everyone fell to the ground. But then, three of the highest ranking officials are still standing in the front of the assembly. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are the only three still standing while everyone else is on the ground. In the midst of a submitted nation, in an act that looks like either courageous faith or suicide, they refuse to bend the knee. They refuse to bow their heads. And no one has any doubt about what will happen next. Look at verse 8. At this time some astrologers came forward and denounced the Jews. The word denounced here literally means “to eat the pieces of them.” It could be translated “slandering.” It’s intended by the writer to convey intense hostility. These astrologers, these bureaucrats had been placed under Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and they’re consumed with jealousy; and this is their chance to bring them down. If you’ve been with us for this series, by this point you know Nebuchadnezzar well enough to be able to predict what’s going to happen next. Look at verse 13. Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” I want to pause for a moment just to consider this question. Nebuchadnezzar asks, “What god will be able to deliver you from my hand?” But this falls in the category of a rhetorical question. When a speaker asks a rhetorical question, he or she is not looking for information. They’re just making a point. Parents’ favorite questions are rhetorical questions. Number one favorite question of a parent — “Do you want a spanking?” It’s a rhetorical question. They’re not really looking for information. No child says, “Well, I was going to play Nintendo, but okay, sounds like a good idea to me.” It’s a rhetorical question. So when Nebuchadnezzar asks, “What god can deliver you from my hand?” he’s not looking for information. He’s not looking for a name. He’s just saying, “You better understand, you’re in my hands. There is no way out. You obey me or else.” But much to his surprise, these three men don’t treat it as a rhetorical question at all. Look at verse 16: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King 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 deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. Now I want to pause here for a moment, because this is a statement of remarkable faith. “Our God is able to save us from the furnace. He is able to rescue us from danger. He is able to deliver us even from your hand, Your Majesty. Our God is able.” I don’t know if it’s possible for followers of God to spend too much time reflecting on stories that teach this one truth — the God you and I serve, the God who meets us here in this room today, our God is able. I want to tell you one such story. This is from a book by Ken Davis. He writes: “A pastor friend of mine, Joel Morgan, planned on visiting missionaries in Eastern Europe. He asked friends who traveled in that area what he should pack. There were many helpful suggestions, but everyone agreed you ought to bring extra food. “While staying in rural villages with no electricity or running water, they might be forced to go without meals. It would be wise to have easily packed snacks on hand for survival rations. “One missionary warned Joel to bring more than he’d need. Some of his supplies might be confiscated by customs. “Joel asked himself questions as he wandered through a grocery store: ‘What shall I take that won’t catch the eye of a customs agent? What won’t spoil? What will serve as an energy boost?’ “And he whispered this prayer, ‘Lord, you know the things I’ll need and the things that will make it through customs. I’m just going to walk down these aisles trusting you to prompt me to select the right items.’ “Instantly, his eyes fell on a display of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. He put a king-sized pack of them in his cart. “Farther on down the aisle, he was drawn to an arrangement of tapioca pudding snacks. “From my perspective, when anyone is drawn to tapioca pudding it’s already a miraculous sign. “Finally, he scooped up some small cans of fruit cocktail, some gum and some hard candy. ‘Surely,’ he thought, ‘these items will tide me over if I get hungry.’ “On the fourth day of the trip, Joel arrived in Romania. He would spend several days with a couple who had labored for 14 months there. “The family had been sent to Romania by a national missions organization, but for all practical purposes they’d been forgotten. They faced harsh conditions. Heat and electricity were often turned off for days. “Joel and his team were the first English-speaking people the missionaries had seen in six months. The simple opportunity to talk with someone was cause for celebration, and their two teenage daughters were starved for anything American. “Joel spent some time chatting and praying with the family. “They were about to leave, and he suddenly thought about the survival goodies he’d purchased for himself more than a week before. “He had an idea. It was only October, but why not use those snacks to celebrate an early Christmas? “He retrieved his backpack with all the goodies securely hidden inside, and then he sat down with the family in their living room. Joel took the role of Santa Claus and played it to the hilt. “He asked the two teenage girls if they could have one thing from the U.S. what would it be? In unison, they sang out, ‘Candy.’ “‘What kind?’ Joel asked, confident they’d love anything he offered. The mother chimed in, ‘The girls love Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. But they’re not available in this part of the world.’ “With a lump in his throat, Joel reached into his backpack and pulled out the king-sized package he’d smuggled into the country. “The girls jumped up and down joyfully, laughing as they held their new treasure between them. “Wiping a tear from his eye, Joel asked their mother, ‘What item from back home would brighten your day?’ “It was a risk. What if she wanted, say, a side of beef? But with one miracle already in the bag, what could go wrong? “’I miss fruit,’ the mother replied a bit sheepishly, ‘especially citrus.’ Reaching into Santa’s bag, Joel extracted a can of fruit cocktail, and a tin of canned mandarin oranges. Now everybody was laughing and wiping away tears of joy. “After a time of celebration and amazement, Joel turned to the father. The backpack was nearly empty. He considered removing the few items left and asking the father to make a selection. Two out of three miracles ain’t bad. Why press his luck? “But something deep in Joel’s soul shouted, ‘Go for it!’ Before he could argue with God, he heard himself ask, ‘Gary, what’s your favorite dessert?’ “This wonderful servant of God smiled and said, ‘It’s something no one else in the world likes — tapioca pudding.’ “Joel nearly injured himself pulling the pudding from the pack and racing across the room to show him the tapioca pudding God had prompted him to buy seven days earlier and 4,000 miles away. “What followed was praise and worship in its truest form. Nine people, crowded into a tiny living room in Romania, weeping and singing praises to God. “That day they gained a new appreciation of Philippians 4:19, ‘My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.’” Our God is able. You know, we could spend the rest of today going around this room, one by one, telling stories from our lives that reflect this one truth — The God we serve is able. The God we serve is able to reconcile broken marriages, and he’s done that for marriages in this room. The God we serve is able to liberate people from addiction, and he’s done that for people in this room. The God we serve is able to heal damaged bodies and able to forgive the darkest sin. The God we serve is able to provide for the greatest need, able to guide with supernatural wisdom, able to inspire spiritual gifting beyond human ability in unbelievable ways. The God we serve is able to soften the hardest heart, able to bring the farthest runaway prodigal rebel back home. Everyone in this room, by your physical existence, by your spiritual hunger, by your presence here in this community, you are living testimony to this truth — The God we serve is able. Well, these three men say, “The God we serve is able.” But they don’t stop there. I want to look at another statement of incredible courage — of dedication and commitment — because I think it’s one of the most powerful statements any human being has ever made. Think about what led to this moment in their lives. These are three, young Hebrew men who are captured and exiled in a foreign country. They give their lives to God, and they serve him as best they can with courageous faith. Amazing things happen, and they’re promoted to positions of prominence in Babylon. Then one day, they hear about the king’s edict that all the people must bow down to a god of gold. They meet together as a little community and decide it’s unthinkable that they would ever bend the knee and give their devotion to any god other than the God of heaven. They must have hoped and prayed that it would never come to this. They must have prayed after the story of Daniel and the dream in chapter two that Nebuchadnezzar would be converted and follow through on his statement about Daniel’s God being the one true God. But that prayer wasn’t answered. They must have prayed after this decree was made that Nebuchadnezzar would repent, that he’d come to his senses. But he didn’t. Maybe they prayed that this decree wouldn’t be enforced, but it was. Maybe they prayed that because of Daniel’s influence the Jewish people might be excused from it. But they weren’t. Maybe they prayed that when that day came no one would notice when they failed to bow. Or if people noticed they wouldn’t tell. But people noticed, and people told. Not one of these prayers was answered. Not one. At every point, these three men were bitterly disappointed. At every point, this nightmare, their death, grew a little closer to reality. And now they face their worst case scenario. They realize the door to every avenue of escape has been closed to them. The parachute has not opened, and apparently it’s not going to. So they testify once more to their faith in the one they serve. Verse 16: “King 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 deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. Now look at verse 18, because this is one of the greatest statements of dedication and commitment ever uttered by any human being. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” “Don’t be deceived, Nebuchadnezzar. Our God can rescue us still. The God who drowned Pharaoh’s army and knocked down Jericho’s walls and conquered Goliath with a stone has lost none of his strength. Our God can rescue us still. “But even if he does not… But even if he does not we have already decided our response. “We’ve made up our mind. In the face of our worst case scenario, even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold that you have set up. “We will march to our death singing hymns of praise to the only God we will ever serve or love.” Our God is able. Our God, who drowned Pharaoh’s army and knocked down Jericho’s walls and conquered Goliath with a single stone and raised his son from the dead and is doing this amazing work through Blue Oaks Church in Pleasanton, California; our God who brought you into existence and gave you new life and brought you here, our God is able. Our God is able to answer your deepest prayers, to fulfill your fondest dream. But I’m here today to ask you — What about when he does not? Is my commitment from one day to the next contingent on just getting from God what I want? What about when he does not give me what I want? I think of Job, who refused to dishonor God despite intense suffering day after day with no relief and no explanation, who says these amazing words in Job 13:15: Though he slay me, yet I will trust him. “Who else can I go to? Where else can I turn? What else would I do? To whom else would I belong? Though he slay me, I will trust him.” I think of Esther who, like these three men, decided one day that she would confront a tyrant king for the people of God even though it could mean death. And she says in Esther 4:16: I will go to the king even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish. I think of friends of mine who desperately want to have a child. And for so long they have prayed and hoped. I don’t think I have ever seen anyone more tenaciously cling to this hope: Our God is able. The God we serve is able. They prayed for over seven years for a child; and when it felt like God was not answering their prayer, they decided that he must want them to adopt. So they went through the entire process with a girl who had an unwanted pregnancy. They met with this girl a number of times and journeyed with her through the pregnancy. They were in the delivery room during the birth and received the child as if she were their own. They spent several days with the baby believing this child was an answer to their prayers. Finally God gave them the gift of a baby. Several days later the birth mom changed her mind and they had to give the baby back. And in the midst of this great disappointment, they are completely devoted to God. This is a man and a woman who would give up anything in this world — business, money, home, whatever to have this one prayer answered. And for reasons that none of us understands, it’s not happening. And this couple said, through flowing tears, “If we never have a child, we will not let go of God. We want this more than we have ever wanted anything in our life, but even if the answer is no, we will not let go of God — even if he does not. Though he slay me, yet I will trust him.” A lot of people say, “God, answer this one prayer. Grant this one request. Come through on this one dream, and I will serve you. I’ll spend the rest of my life telling people about you. I’ll do wonderful things for you.” So I’m here to ask you today: Will you devote yourself to him “even if he does not”? Maybe you’re in a relationship, and you’re extremely attracted to this person, but this person is pressuring you to cross sexual boundaries that you shouldn’t, or is involved in behavior that is opposed to your deepest values. You can rationalize staying together, but underneath you’re afraid: “I may never find someone else I’m so attracted to. I may end up alone.” Listen, God is able. God is able to bring someone far better into your life. But today I’m asking you to say, “Even if he does not, even if God does not bring someone else into my life ever. Even if it means facing fear and aloneness, I will not dishonor God anymore. I will not bend the knee to a relationship that I know doesn’t please my heavenly Father. Even if he does not.” Maybe you’re in a marriage that’s a disappointment to you, and you’ve been saying, “God, I know that you’re able.” And he is able. Today I’m asking you to say, “God, even if you do not. Even if my marriage is never what I dreamed it would be.” Maybe this involves finances. So often when it comes to material things, we focus on how God is able. God is able to bring good things to us, and he does. But what about when he says, “Not now, or not this thing, or not this way… or just flat out – No!” What kind of devotion does your financial life reflect? Maybe you haven’t been giving, and you made a commitment to give more in 2022 than you gave in 2021 because you believe what Jesus said is true — “It’s more blessed to give than receive.” But you haven’t given more. I’m asking today if you’ll say, “Even if he does not. I will not worship a god of gold. My life will not be about affluence or financial security.” You know, the truth is most of us in this room live at a level of prosperity and affluence and abundance unlike any other time in human history, throughout all of human society before us. And you know what? We didn’t earn it. God just gives it. I’m asking, will you decide in your heart even if he does not? “Even if I never achieve the level of financial abundance that I feel like I must have. Even if he does not, I will honor him. “I will give with full commitment. I will not bend a knee to a god of gold as this culture teaches me to so relentlessly. I will not. I will honor him with what he has given to me with full commitment.” I’m asking, will you say that today – “even if he does not?” Maybe the truth is, in your spirit you’ve been saying something like this: “If God would just make the people in my family or in my small group or in my workplace spiritual giants who give me affection and admiration and love, then I will give him motivated service and motivated time.” Today I’m asking you to say, “Even if he does not. Even if people in this area of my life continue to be difficult for me, I will serve him with full devotion. I will serve them as if I were serving him because somehow even in serving the least of these, I am serving him. “And he is worth my complete devotion, my completely devoted service.” I’m asking if you’ll say that. Maybe you’ve been saying, “If God gives me experiences and deep emotion with the type of music I love, the kind of style I love, then I’ll be faithful in gathering with brothers and sisters, to give him worship. “But otherwise, I’ll find other things to do.” You know, our God is able. God is able to move hearts to tears and joy in worship. I’m asking you today to say, “Even if he does not. Even if it is an effort for me, I will come and worship my God with complete devotion.” I don’t know what this means for you. I know that personally from one day to the next, far too often the truth is that if my day goes well, if I get good news, if circumstances break right, I’m much more likely to live with joy, to be more likely to serve with a devoted spirit, to be more motivated to tell other people about God, to be more generous with time and with money. If not… if I get even a little close to the furnace, I begin to bend the knee to gods called self-absorption and self-interest and self-pity. Because ultimately the name of that gold statue that we’re all tempted to bow down to… is “me.” Ultimately the name of that unnamed statue in this story that the human race has been bowing to for a long time is just called “me.” And one day, ultimately, you will bow down before that statue or you will bow down before God with full devotion. So today I’m asking you, I’m calling you to a higher level, because we are called to live our lives centered in and devoted to Christ. Because he is our model, the one we love, and the one who went before us. And the day came for him once in the garden when Jesus himself, the Son of God, said, “Father, let this cup pass from me. Do not make me go through this. Spare me this ultimate suffering. You are able. Father, you are able.” But then he said, “Not my will, but your will be done, Father. You’re able to spare me, but even if you do not, I will not turn away. I will drink this cup to the last drop.” And on the cross, the Son of God says of his Father, “Though he slay me, yet I will trust Him.” God is able. God is infinitely good, and he showers us with gifts of joy. But I’m asking you to decide today: “Even if he does not, I will be devoted to Him.” Christian and the team are going to come back up now and while they do you’ll see the words on the screens that say: The God we serve is able, but even if he does not I will be devoted to Christ. And I’m going to ask you to spend some time talking to God. I want to ask you to reflect on this for some time. Is there anywhere in your life where you’ve been holding back complete devotion? Anywhere? Is there anywhere fear or disappointment or hurt or sin has been keeping you from following him with utter abandon, with utter trust? Have you been bending the knee anywhere else? I’d like to ask you now to decide… and to pray, “Even if he does not, I will be devoted to Christ.” Will you bow your heads now, and you decide, and you tell God. And then we’re going to worship this God who is able. Blue Oaks Church Pleasanton, CA