Meeting God In The Fire

Imagine if you found yourself having to choose between your own life and death: to live, all you have to do is follow the crowd and deny your faith in Christ. To refuse to do so is to face certain death. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were faced with this choice, and it led them into a fiery furnace. Yet they didn’t burn, they didn’t die.

Instead they experienced a powerful God who changed them and the people around them. Is that kind of devotion to God really possible for ordinary people like you and me today? Join us this Sunday to find out.

I want to start this message with a question: If you knew you were going to die and you could write a note to your friends and family, what message would you leave behind? Think about that for a moment. Not many people experience a moment in their life when they know they’re going to die. What would you say? There was a Wall Street Journal article on this. The article said it’s almost an instinctive thing that in that moment when people know they’re going to die, they want to send a message. They want someone to know their story. Passengers on a plane spiraling down to their death will use the last moments of their life to write letters to loved ones. Prisoners of the Nazis in a Warsaw ghetto, having seen everyone else shot or starved to death, take their last breaths to write notes and store them in crevices in a wall in the hope that someone besides the Nazis will read them and know their story. In that final moment, all the scaffolding of life gets stripped away. All the stupid toys that we spend our lives chasing — success, reputation, security, wealth, comfort, ease — they mean nothing. And a person is left with what they really believe, what they’ve really built their life on. If that moment were to come for you — and one day it will; we spend our whole lives pretending it will never come, but whether it’s recognized or not that final moment will come. If it were here for you right now, what would you write? What message do you want to leave behind? Well in Daniel 3 this moment came in the lives of three young men. These are young men of great promise. They have risen to positions of eminence in the world’s most powerful nation. They could look forward to great families, deeply fulfilling lives, doing noble things for their people and for their God. Their hearts were full of hopes and dreams. I’ll tell you what has been so striking to me about their story. Usually, when this moment comes, when someone realizes death is inescapable — there’s nothing they can do — often the last message is an expression of regret at having to leave life. But here, for these three men — Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego — death was eminently escapable. All they had to do was say the word and bend the knee, and their nightmare would be over. They would live and be restored to positions of power and honor and status. They were headed towards unimaginable pain and death, and one word would mean life for them. But they would not say it. They would not say that word; they would not bend that knee. Life or death — and they chose death. And I have to tell you, that kind of devotion to God really is possible for ordinary people. This is what they said: 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. 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.” Daniel 3:17-18 [And that looks like their final words. Now we pick it up in verse 19:] Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. Daniel 3:19 Literally, that could be translated — “and the expression of his face changed.” When they were first brought to him for not bowing down, he was mad, but he had a velvet glove approach with them. In verse 15 he tries to woo them to the other side. “Now, when you hear the music,” he says, “if you’re ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. You can have everything back.” But in the face of their uncompromising devotion, their staggering commitment to face death rather than disobey God, Nebuchadnezzar loses control. His attitude toward them changed. He ordered the furnace to be heated seven times hotter than usual. Let me say a word about this: Seven is often used in the ancient world as a metaphorical way of saying, “a lot.” Nebuchadnezzar is saying, “I want you to crank that furnace up as hot as you can make it!” Think for a moment about what these men are facing. Are you afraid of fire? Or are you a pyros who just woke up — “What’s he talking about? Did he say something about fire?” If you’re not afraid of fire, you probably haven’t been burned by it. If you’ve experience minor burns from a match or a hot stove you have a heathy fear of fire. You know it can hurt you. Now, in addition to the physical pain that can be involved in this situation in Daniel 3, you need to know that to deliberately burn someone, to burn someone to death, is historically one of most inhumane forms of execution. It involves treating a human being like an object, like a stick of wood to be disposed of, so there won’t even be a corpse left to mourn — which, in the ancient world, was a big deal. Historically, it’s been reserved for witches or heretics, people that society wants to dispose of. This is one of the cruelest, most painful, and most inhumane treatments in the whole cruel history of the human race. And that’s what these three men are waiting for. They’re waiting to be thrown into the flames. This is the fate that they face voluntarily, knowing that at any moment a single word could save their lives. Look at verse 21: So these young men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans, and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. The king’s command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace. Daniel 3:21-23 These men are so firmly bound that they have to be carried and thrown into the furnace. And the furnace is so hot that even the men who carried them up there are killed by it. Now, these details are important to the writer. The writer wants us to understand that Nebuchadnezzar’s rage is so intense, he’s killed some of his own men, and it doesn’t even register with him. This is not a story about people being thrown into a little fire. There is no hope humanly speaking. Immobilized bodies are being tossed into a raging inferno. That’s the setting. And I want to stop for a moment and ask you to try as best you can to imagine the experience of these three young men facing what looks like their final moment. They’ve been faithful to the very end. Since they first heard about this command to bow down before a statue of gold, they’ve seen the end coming. And every avenue, every door, every exit has been closed. They’re faithful to the very end. And they’re carried now to the furnace. These are real people, filled with courage, and maybe some fear, maybe some defiance, and definitely some faith. They feel the heat. They’ve seen the men who carried them to the furnace collapse and die from the flames. And then they’re in the fire. And they wait for the searing pain, for the numbness, for the smoke inhalation that will suffocate their lungs. But it doesn’t come. They don’t feel any different. And it begins to dawn on them that they’re not even warm! There are no burns, no smoke. They’re not even tied up any more. They’re walking around in the fire. And that’s not even the best part. The best part is what happens that turns this from a miracle to a divine encounter. Look at verse 24: Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement [One translation has the word “trepidation” because this includes an element of fear.] Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?” They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.” He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” Daniel 3:24-25 There is a fourth member of this furnace club, and he’s unharmed. Apparently, he’s the one who delivered the other three. And he convenes a little meeting right there in the furnace. Who was this fourth man who appears from nowhere and can cheat death and looks in appearance like a son of the gods? Well, the text doesn’t say, but I think maybe it was Jesus. It sounds like the kind of thing he would do. And they’re walking around in the furnace together. Apparently they spent a little time together. They had the world’s greatest small group meeting right there in the furnace — one leader, three group members. They were going to have an open chair, but it burned up. I wonder what they said to each other. I wonder if the fourth man in the furnace told them how proud the Father was of their loyalty and their devotion and their love. I wonder if he told them that because of this one act of faithfulness of theirs, their names — those rather grotesque names that the Babylonians had given them so they would forget the names that had God in them — that their names, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego would be remembered for thousands of years. Their names would be remembered two and a half millennia later, on the other side of the world, by a totally different culture and language. We remember their names. I wonder if he told them that for centuries all around the world, men and women who faced suffering or persecution or trial or even death would be immeasurably strengthened by hearing the story of what these three men have done. And I wonder what they said to the fourth man. I’ll bet they poured out adoration, and gratitude and wonder and worship like they never had before. It’s a funny thing, they came to this place planning on having to withhold worship from a false god, and they end up worshiping like they never had in their lives. Worship is like that. And the furnace, which looked like it meant the end of their lives, turns out to be the greatest thing they’ve ever experienced. It’s the “can’t miss” event of their lives. Because the furnace turns out to be the place where they meet God. Here’s the whole point of this story. They were hoping to be delivered from the furnace, but God decided to deliver them in the furnace Sometimes God delivers us from the furnace, but sometimes God delivers us IN the furnace. Jesus said to them what he says to people still, “I’ll meet you in the furnace.” The place where complete surrender and commitment leads you that looks scary and dangerous and painful, even like the end, turns out to be where Jesus is. It turns out, amazingly enough, to be the safest place of all. It turns out to be the adventure of a lifetime. And Jesus says to people still, “I’ll meet you in the furnace. Follow me. It’s going to look dark. It’s going to look dangerous. It’s going to scare you. Just keep following me. I’ll meet you in the furnace.” He says it still. He may be saying it to you today. Alright we’ll come back to the text in just a moment. Let’s continue in the text. Verse 26: Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace [It doesn’t say it, but I’ll bet he approached it from a considerable distance!] Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, [Wouldn’t you love to see that walk?] and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them. Daniel 3:26-27 The writer says that their robes weren’t even scorched. Back in verse 21 the writer goes into some detail about the clothes they wore: the robes, trousers, turbans, and other clothes. Now, why does he do this — because he has an eye for fashion? No, he wants us to understand the extent of this miracle. Not only are the men saved, and their hair isn’t singed, God even protects their clothes. In fact, the clothing named in verse 21 is quite obscure. You may notice if you look at different translations that they’re handled differently by different translators. I think the term translated “robe” may be a covering for the upper body that had an inscription in Aramaic: “The king threw me in the fiery furnace and all I got was this lousy T-shirt!” All they came away from the fire with were just the clothes on their back. Alright, verse 28: Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command Who’s the king? Nebuchadnezzar. He’s the king. This man killed his own soldiers and his carelessness didn’t even register with him, and now he congratulates Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego for having the audacity to defy his authority. Something’s going on in this man’s life. They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.” Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the province of Babylon. Daniel 3:28-30 He doesn’t just restore them. He lifts them up to new positions, to more opportunities to serve, to influence. And I wonder what the rest of their lives were like. We don’t know. This is the last view we have of them. It’s the last time they’re ever mentioned in Scripture. I wonder as they went through life if they ever thought how easily they might have missed this adventure, how easily they could have missed it. If they had given into fear — one word, one bent knee — they would have missed the adventure of their lives. They would have missed their greatest encounter with the fourth man in the furnace. I wonder if when they were real old men — many, many years later on the anniversary of this date, did they get together to remember? And did they wear their old robes — which their wives, of course, would try to get them to throw away because they had holes in them or were out of fashion, but they wouldn’t do it? And did they remember the time that they were young men, full of courage and faith, and they defied a king and walked around in the flames and spent a few moments with the living God? I bet they did. I bet they never forgot that moment. Because I’ll tell you something, if you ever spend time in the furnace, if you ever trust God enough to go the place that looks so frightening, and so dangerous, and so scary, if you ever trust him so fully that you refuse to say the word, bend the knee to any other god, and you go to the place that looks like the end, and you meet him there, I think it marks you. I think you carry that moment to your grave. Going into the furnace, which looked like the last thing they wanted to do, turned out to be the greatest event of their lives. And ironically enough, the furnace, which looked like death, turns out to be the safest place of all. Why? Because God was there. Because sometimes God delivers people from the furnace, but sometimes God delivers people IN the furnace. And I think those times are the greatest times in your life. I mention this because I think there’s a great danger — maybe the greatest danger — for Christ-followers living in a world as comfortable as this world is. The danger is that the primary goal of my life becomes furnace avoidance. My prayer is, “God, deliver me from pain. Deliver me from discomfort, and suffering, and inconvenience. Make my life smooth. Make my life easy. Make my life comfortable. Make it pleasant. Remove obstacles from it.” This is what the apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth in 2 Corinthians 12. There was given to me a thorn in the flesh. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. Three times God said no. [But then God says to Paul:] My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 end> God says to Paul, “I’ll meet you in the furnace.” And if you know anything about Paul, you know he pretty much spent his life in the furnace. That’s where God was. Remember that, will you? — “My strength is made perfect in weakness. Meet you in the furnace.” I had the oddest image as I was thinking about this message. I had this picture of God having a calendar. I know he doesn’t have a calendar because he’s all-knowing and everywhere at all times, so he never has to remember to go anywhere because he’s always already there. But I had this picture of God having a calendar, and on whatever date it was that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had their deal with Nebuchadnezzar, whatever the time was — say it was like l0:00. I had this picture that God had it written down on his calendar, “Meet Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the furnace.” Then I thought, “What if they hadn’t shown up?” I mean, their whole life — as an adventure — depended on that one decision, their willingness to face the furnace. And I wondered, as I thought about you — where on his calendar does God have your name written down somewhere, “Meet you in the furnace”? And will you make it? Or might you bend your knee to the wrong god? So I want to ask you to consider doing something quite dangerous today. No one can force you, or manipulate you, or coerce you. This must come from you. I want to ask you to consider this. Will you stop asking for less heat, if that’s what you’ve been asking for? Will you stop asking for an easier, or richer, or more pleasant, or more secure life. There’s something better. It’s amazing to me how often the human heart, the spirits and emotions of the human heart, made in the very image of God, gets attached to and wrapped up, bound up, and enslaved by such trivial and stupid things. Someone cuts you off on the freeway. People get all bent out of shape. * Did my boss give me an angry look and hurt my feelings? * Did I not get the recognition I must have at work, or at school, or from the opposite sex? * Did I get an unexpected expense, which means I can’t have something I’ve got to possess? * Did someone interrupt my important time? * Is my career not going high enough? * Did someone create an obstacle in my life? I think as we study the book of Daniel, God is calling us to a deeper measure of commitment. So I want to ask you to consider to pray a dangerous prayer. And it’s this, “God, give me an opportunity to show my commitment to you. I don’t ask primarily, God, for comfort or riches or ease or security. God, give me an opportunity to show my commitment to you.” And if you’re not sure, if you feel that the honest truth is your devotion level isn’t where it should be, just talk to him about that. Just be real honest about it. And ask for the presence of the fourth man in the furnace. Maybe it’s at work. Maybe you have people in your workplace who are far from God and have habits or behaviors that are really quite painful for you. And maybe you’re asking God to deliver you from the work situation you’re in. You know Nebuchadnezzar was not exactly up for the Employer of the Year Award. And God used Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego’s willingness to go into the furnace to change his heart. Often people want to get transferred to a nicer job with nicer people, and maybe that would be a good thing, I don’t know, maybe it would. But maybe God’s plan is to have you right where you are, at least today, so that he can use you. Maybe he wants to grow you up in your judgment and your discernment, in your ability to know when to speak and when to be silent, and in your ability to love someone when it would be easier to resent them or dislike them or judge them or write them off. Maybe. Maybe you need to stop praying for deliverance from the furnace and ask for the presence of the God who meets people there. Maybe there’s a Nebuchadnezzar that God wants to reach through you. And you ought to quit praying to God to get away from him, and ask God to meet you in that furnace. Maybe God has been whispering to you to get involved in some form of service, maybe with the poor, or maybe it’s some form of service at Blue Oaks. Maybe it involves using a spiritual gift that you think you may have, and you’re afraid to do it. You’ve been avoiding what feels like the furnace. Well, God is in the furnace. Tell him you’ll meet him there. Maybe the furnace involves a relationship or financial hardship or giving or sacrifice. I don’t know. I just know that the golden statue in our world tends to involve gods with names like “comfort” and “ease” and “security” and “success.” And somewhere along the line too many people in too many churches have gotten the idea that following Christ had something to do with an easier life. So I’ll put it to you in the form of a question — How many heroes in our faith had easy lives? How many? How many of those people written down in that great eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews, the Hall of Faith, had easy lives? Where did Jesus say to this followers, “God has a wonderful plan for your life, and primarily that involves a great house, an attractive spouse, terrific job, wonderful car, and an endless succession of easy days”? Where does Jesus say that? What Jesus basically said to people was, “Follow me, and you’re going to have a great big God, and outrageous joy — and you’re going to be in trouble all the time.” And they followed him. They followed him by the hundreds, and by the thousands, and by the tens of thousands. They followed the same path that he walked on. They followed him through servanthood, they followed him through sacrificial generosity, they followed him through community, they followed him through suffering, they followed him through persecution, they followed him to death. Throughout history hundreds and thousands of ordinary men and women, most of whom are long since forgotten, names and faces that will never be remembered in this world, said that they were willing to go to the furnace. They loved God that much. They said, “I will give everything for you; I’ll die.” When they did, when their final moment came, which it will for you, they knew not to fear. God did not forget them or overlook them or abandon them. God said to them what he said to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, what he said to Stephen, who was the very first follower of Christ to be martyred, what he said to Paul and Peter, who were persecuted and beaten and jailed and probably martyred as well. He said what he said to Martin Luther and Dietrich Bonhoffer, what he said to Mother Teresa on the streets of Calcutta, what he says to his followers still in China, and Palestine and Compton — and maybe, just maybe, to someone today right where you are, “I’ll meet you in the furnace.” “I’ll meet you in the furnace if you dare.” If you dare. You see, this is our day. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had their day. Daniel had his day. Stephen had his day. Peter and Paul had their day. Mother Theresa had her day. This is our day. Our final moment is going to come. I don’t know what furnace you’re facing. I don’t know what this means for you. I just know who will meet you there. And he says, “Fear not. Though you pass through the flames, they will not burn you. They will not destroy you.” He says, “I will meet you in the furnace.” Maybe you need to say to God, “Alright, God, I’m scared, but I’ll meet you there.” Tell him right now, if you can do it with a sincere heart, “I’ll meet you in the furnace.” Alright, let me pray for you. Sermon Summary Daniel three is about three young men of great promise. They have risen to positions of eminence in the world’s most powerful nation. They could look forward to great families, deeply fulfilling lives, doing noble things for their people and for their God. Their hearts were full of hopes and dreams. And then Nebuchadnezzar pronounced their death sentence. And still for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego death was eminently escapable. All they had to do was say the word and bend the knee, and their nightmare would be over. They would live and be restored to positions of power and honor and status. They were headed towards unimaginable pain and death, and one word would mean life for them. But they would not say it. Facing life or death and they chose death. This week we’ll talk about how that kind of devotion to God really is possible for ordinary people like you and me today. Scripture References Daniel 3:17-30 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 James 5:14-15