TEXT: Daniel 3 (ESV)
SPEAKER: Josh Hanson
It’s good to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And one thing I want you to know — and it doesn’t matter if it’s your first time with us or if you’re worshipping at our North Main campus — I want you to know that God loves you and I love you too.
And welcome back to all of our college students. I got to hang out with some of you this past week at your kick off dinner. College students — free food every Thursday night at our North Main campus. Hint. Hint.
Speaking of hints. In the end of the gospel of Luke, there’s an interesting story about Jesus. After He’d been killed on the cross, Jesus appears to two men who thought He was dead — He somehow hid who He was from them — so they had no idea who they were talking to. And these guys had high hopes for Jesus, but His crucifixion had crushed whatever hopes they had about Him. And when Jesus shows up on the road, He gives them — and us — a hint as to how we’re to read and understand the Bible.
“And he (Jesus) said to them, "What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?" And they stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?" 19 And he said to them, "What things?" And they said to him, "Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see." 25 And he (Jesus) said to them, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" 27 And (verse 27 is key because this is why we’ve been doing this series — this is how we know that the whole Bible is telling one story — watch what Jesus does here...and...) beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:17-27 ESV)
You should circle the phrase “all the Scriptures” in verse 27 of your Bible. That’s why it’s OK to find Jesus in all of the Bible — including the Old Testament. Because Jesus tells us that the whole Bible is about Him — even the Old Testament prophets — the books we’ve been looking at in this series.
And I just mentioned circling a word in your Bible. I’ve been encouraging you to bring a Bible with you during this series because most of us — if we read the Bible throughout the week — we read from a physical Bible. And if that’s the case — which research suggests it is — we should bring our Bibles with us when we gather together.
I mean if you sign up for golf lessons, you’ll get more out of the lessons if you bring your golf clubs, right? You could pay for the golf lessons, sit and listen to someone lecture on how to golf — you could even watch the instructor swing his clubs — but if you never bring your clubs with you — well — the lessons aren’t going to be all that helpful. But if you bring your clubs and learn how to use them during the lessons — you’ll become a better golfer. And the same is true if we bring our Bibles to church with us — I think you’ll find that what happens here at Gateway will start to connect with your life throughout the week in a way that won’t happen if you show up without your Bible.
So if you have your Bible please turn with me to Daniel chapter 3 — Daniel chapter 3.
And, if you’re a guest with us, something we like to do at Gateway is let you ask questions. So if you have a question during the sermon, you can text your question in to the number printed on the bulletin or you can submit it on the Gateway app.
And like we’ve done each week in this series, let’s start with a highlight reel of the book of Daniel before we jump in to chapter 3. The book is written by a guy named Daniel. He lived in exile during the same time period as some of the other prophets we’ve looked at — like Jeremiah and Ezekiel. And his ministry overlaps the reigns of the Babylonian king — Nebuchadnezzar — and the Persian king — Cyrus — which dates the book between 605-536 B.C.
At this point in history, Babylon is the world power. You may remember — from previous weeks — that the Babylonians defeated the Assyrians and are now conquering other nations. And one of their strategies, was to deport — to exile — the professional class out of the lands they had conquered. They’d deport the artists, scholars, military leaders, and government officials to Babylon — they’d integrate them into the Babylonian culture — assimilate them into their society — and here’s why.
When you do this, you take the culture makers out of the nation you’ve conquered and indoctrinate them with your culture. Then after a generation or two they accept your values and culture as the norm. The people you’ve conquered lose their distinctions — lose their beliefs and values and religious systems — and adopt your culture. It’s quite the strategy — don’t just conquer with military force — conquer through assimilation — and within a generation or two — you have an entire people who’ve abandoned their values and have adopted yours. And — dare I say — this is a strategy that’s worked well here in the US as we Christians have been assimilated by our nation’s culture and values and — in many ways — have lost what should make us distinct.
And as I said, Daniel was brought to live in Babylon. And it’s helpful to think of the book as made up of two parts. The first part — chapters 1-6 — tell the stories of Daniel and his friends. These stories give us a glimpse as to what it means to live faithfully while in exile. Daniel and his friends end up working for the king. And there’s a story of the king having a dream and God gives Daniel an understanding of the dream and how to interpret it. And the king responds to the whole situation in a way that you’d think he had converted to worshipping Daniel’s God. Listen to these words that come from the king’s mouth. “Truly, your (Daniel — your) God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery."” (Daniel 2:47b ESV)
Sounds like the king believes in Daniel’s God, right? But as we’ll see today, people can say they believe all kinds of things about God without really believing in Him after all.
The second part of Daniel — chapters 7-12 — is full of different prophecies and visions about the future. And many Christians love to get caught up in creating timelines and creating maps that show which modern day countries are being referred to in these prophecies — but here’s the point of the second half of Daniel: God’s in control — that’s the central theme of the book — the sovereignty of God — God is in control of all things — including the world powers that are at war with His people.
Now — if we’re honest — we judge this idea of God being in control. Especially when things aren’t going our way — we can all — even the most faithful of us — begin to think — “God, You paying attention to what’s going on down here?”
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Christian or not — we make judgment calls about things all the time — especially about things going on in the world. Making judgments about things is pretty normal.
We make judgments about what to wear — or what not to wear — salmon colored pants are on my “not to wear list” — by the way.
We make judgments about how to raise our children. How to invest in our future. What to eat. Whether or not to exercise. How to spend our money. And so on.
But something all of us need to recognize is that none of our judgments are perfect — except my decision to not wear salmon colored pants. None of us are perfect and neither are our judgments. All of us — if we’re honest — can look back on our lives and see some judgments we made that were bad calls.
Maybe it was a judgment we made about someone on a first impression or whether or not to eat those oysters that smelled a little funny — we’ve all made bad judgment calls before.
And in our story — in Daniel chapter 3 — we’re going to see someone make a terrible judgment call. And it’s one that many people make today.
Let’s begin in Daniel 3 — verse 1. And — to give you a heads up — Daniel actually isn’t in our story. I know some of you were excited — because — after the last few weeks you were like “OK. Daniel. I know this book. He’s the guy that’s thrown in the lion’s den.” And that’s not the story we’re looking at today. Sorry to disappoint.
But Daniel isn’t in our story and we’re not really sure what he’s doing while this is all going on. So the guy whose book we’re reading is missing in action for this story. Alright — let’s start in verse 1.
“King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits and its breadth six cubits (So that’s 90 feet tall by 9 feet wide for all of you struggling to convert cubits to feet in your head.). He set it up on the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon. 2 Then King Nebuchadnezzar sent to gather the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces (that’s everybody who’s anybody) to come to the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. 3 Then the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces gathered for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. And they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. 4 And the herald proclaimed aloud, "You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, 5 that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. 6 And whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace." 7 Therefore, as soon as all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, all the peoples, nations, and languages fell down and worshiped the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
8 Therefore at that time certain Chaldeans (Chaldeans are fortune tellers — they...) came forward and maliciously accused the Jews. (So these guys are jealous of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. And...) 9 They declared to King Nebuchadnezzar, "O king, live forever! 10 You, O king, have made a decree, that every man who hears the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, shall fall down and worship the golden image. 11 And whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into a burning fiery furnace. 12 There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These men, O king, pay no attention to you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up."
So get this. Abandoning God to worship false gods resulted in punishment — they were exiled. Now — in exile — not abandoning God to worship false gods results in punishment. Do the wrong thing — get punished. Do the right thing — get punished.
13 Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought. (Now you need to know that Nebuchadnezzar has been gracious to these guys. Along with Daniel — he’s appointed them to leadership positions in his kingdom — so he’s been good to them and he’s thinking — “this is how you pay me back?” They’re not just disrespecting him — they’re embarrassing him.) So they brought these men before the king. 14 Nebuchadnezzar answered and said to them, "Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? 15 Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good. (“I’m giving you a second chance.”) But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?"
Now Nebuchadnezzar just made a judgment call about God. It’s one that’s made all the time. It’s a judgment call about the god you worship. The word worship comes up nine times in this story, which happens to be the same number of times the fiery furnace is mentioned. And that’s the conflict — the tension — who will they worship? God or Nebuchadnezzar? But there’s another key word — the word “deliver.” “Who is the god who will deliver — or rescue — you,” the king asks. Another judgment call made by the king — “surely your God can’t rescue you from my hand.” What kind of judgment calls do you make about God?
I recently talked with a guy who’s made a judgment call about God. His god is a god who is only love. And his problem with the God of the Bible — is that though He’s love — He’s also wrathful. And what this guy couldn’t understand is how a God — who is love — could send people to Hell because they don’t believe and follow Jesus. For him, a loving God can’t send people to Hell.
So I said to him, “The issue isn’t that the Christian God is less loving — it’s that He’s more loving than you’re giving Him credit for.” I said, “If someone tries to harm my daughter, it would be unloving for me to watch her be harmed and do nothing. My love for her would cause me to do something. And if that’s true for me, how much more so is that true of God’s love for Jesus? The reason why people are punished in Hell for all eternity isn’t because God is unloving — it’s because of the infinite love He has for Jesus. God loves Jesus infinitely more than He loves any of us. So if someone rejects Jesus, the most loving thing God can do is send them to Hell. Otherwise His love for Jesus is all a sham. And if His love for Jesus is a sham, so is He love for us.” The guy said he needed to think about that some more.
But it’s not just non-Christians who make judgment calls about God — we Christians do this too. Like, “Well of course God isn’t with me now, think of all of the horrible things I’ve done this past week.” Or “if only I would’ve spent more time reading my Bible this week — then God would’ve gotten that cute girl to notice me.” Or “maybe that’s why I’m suffering — I should’ve served at the soup kitchen instead of going to the movies on Friday night.” We — Christians — make judgment calls about God just like non-Christians. But let’s see how Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego respond — what’s their judgment call about God?
16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. (“Our minds are made up.”) 17 If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to (do what? Our God is able to...) deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will (what? God will...) deliver us out of your hand, O king. (What faith, right? What boldness. What confidence. If only we had faith like them, right? Well...let’s keep reading.) 18 But if not (wait — what — if not? What happened to “God is able to deliver us and God will deliver us?” Here’s what’s happening.
They’re not doubting God’s ability to deliver them — they’re just not certain what God will do. Just because we obey God doesn’t mean we won’t get burned. Up to this point in history, God’s never delivered anyone from fire — He’s done all kinds of miracles — but nothing like this. So they don’t know what God will do. And the point isn’t their commitment to God — they weren’t trying to make a point about having bold faith — they’re making a point about the God they worship. And here’s their point — this is why they were willing to face the furnace: God’s worth it. God is worth it. Is the god you worship worth being thrown into the furnace for? If not, maybe you need to reconsider who you’re worshipping.
“But if not,” they say...), be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up."
19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with fury (he’s fiery hot now), and the expression of his face was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He ordered the furnace heated seven times more than it was usually heated (“They’re gonna know just how mad I am.”). 20 And he ordered some of the mighty men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace. 21 Then these men were bound in their cloaks, their tunics, their hats, and their other garments, and they were thrown into the burning fiery furnace. 22 Because the king's order was urgent and the furnace overheated, the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. 23 And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell bound into the burning fiery furnace.
What? They stood faithfully for God — they refused to worship the statue — and this is what they get — they get thrown into the fire? Do you want to know a secret about the Christian faith? Only people who really know who God is — who’ve made accurate judgmental calls about God based on His Word — only people who really know who God is are willing to get thrown into the fire for what they believe in.
Could be something you’re dealing with at work — where your boss has asked you to do something dishonest. It can be tempting to bow down and worship the golden statue of job security.
Or when you’re out with your friends and they pass around an inappropriate picture — it can be hard not to look because you want to be “one of the guys.” It can be tempting to bow down and worship the golden statue of peer pressure.
Could be when your boyfriend wants to take things physically farther than you’re comfortable with — it can be hard to not go there because — if you don’t — maybe he’ll leave. It can be tempting to bow down and worship the golden statue of feeling loved by someone.
An all to real truth about the Christian faith is that obeying God doesn’t mean things will always turn out the way you want them to. Sometimes obedience gets you thrown into the fire. As someone has said, “Biblical faith has the assurance to say, ‘I know my God is able to deliver me.’ It has the confidence to say, ‘I believe that my God will deliver me.’ But it also has the submission to say, ‘But even if he doesn’t — I will still trust him.’”
24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste (So he’s sitting in a spot where he can watch the men burn and he sees something that shocks him). He declared to his counselors, "Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?" (Another problem for all of you math lovers — this one’s simple though. How many guys were thrown into the furnace? Three, right?) They answered and said to the king, "True, O king." 25 He answered and said, "But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods." (The language used here means some sort of spiritual being. The fourth person — who’s delivering Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from being burned in the fire — is divine.)
26 Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the burning fiery furnace; he declared, "Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here!" Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire. 27 And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king's counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men. The hair of their heads was not singed, their cloaks were not harmed, and no smell of fire had come upon them. 28 Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king's command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. 29 Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way." 30 Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon.” (Daniel 3:1-30 ESV)
Now before we get to excited for the king, do you remember the story from Daniel chapter 2? How the king had a dream and Daniel interpreted it for him and then the king responded with what sounded like belief in God — that all came before this story — where he’s forcing people to worship him or be thrown into the fire. Given how he’s been acting, I think it’s safe to say that Nebuchadnezzar didn’t really believe in God at the end of chapter 2.
And in verse 28, we see something that looks like belief again — but look in verse 28. Does the king say “Blessed be my God?” No. He says, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.”
And if you keep reading in the book of Daniel, you’ll see that though the king’s had an experience with God — he doesn’t believe — not in a way that’s caused him to make a right judgment call about God. Even though he’s seen this miracle — Nebuchadnezzar has made his judgement about God — and he’s still not ready to believe.
FINDING JESUS IN DANIEL
Now about that fourth person in the fire — He’s our thread that helps us find Jesus. Throughout the Bible, we find mysterious figures who show up in various stories. Sometimes they’re described as men, other times as an angel, and other times it’s even wilder — like bushes that are on fire yet don’t burn up. And these are called Theophanies. So what’s a theophany? A theophany is a “manifestation of God” — they signify the presence and glory of God.
In Genesis 18, Abraham is approached by some mysterious men-like beings. They warn him about the judgment coming on Sodom and Gomorrah. But what I want you to notice — the next time you read Genesis chapter 18 — is how the text says again and again that God is speaking to Abraham as he talks to these mysterious men.
I’ve hinted at the story of Moses and the burning bush — which you’re probably familiar with from the book of Exodus. Later in Exodus, God appears as a cloud during the day and as fire at night. The cloud and fire are the presence of God. When Moses is given the Ten Commandments, God descends on the mountain in the form of smoke, and fire, and earthquakes.
A man named Joshua finds himself face to face with the “commander of the Lord’s army.” Joshua asks, “Are you on our side or on the side of the enemy?” And the commander replies, “No.” Which is a way of saying, “Wrong question, Josh. The right question is...are you on My side?” And do you know what Joshua does? He worships this mysterious commander. Now in the Bible — when people start to worship an angel — the angel always tells them to stop — but not this time — so this isn’t just some regular old angel. Who alone is worthy of worship? God is.
And there are other stories of these mysterious figures — doing divine-like things — being worshipped — all things we’d associate with God — including this fourth figure in the furnace who delivers — who saves Daniel’s friends — the one who Nebuchadnezzar says is, “like a son of the gods” is — in reality — the Son of God. For Jesus is the One who rescues — He’s the deliverer. In fact, His name — Jesus — means “God saves.”
But Jesus has another name. Immanuel, which means “God with us.” You see, these Old Testament theophanies all point us to Jesus — God in the flesh — because they remind us that Jesus is our God — our Savior — who is with us.
And we make judgment calls about His presence with us all of the time, don’t we? “If only He’d show up physically — like He did in the furnace — then I’d really believe” — maybe you’ve thought something like that before. But an important part of our faith is to understand that — though theophanies are real experiences — they’re more like solar eclipses than a sun rise. Solar eclipses happen — they’re just not the norm. But a sun rise — well that’s the norm.
So we understand God’s every day presence in our lives in other ways. The Holy Spirit is God’s presence in our lives. Jesus promised that He would send us the Holy Spirit to be our Teacher, Helper, and Guide. And in the book of Acts we see Jesus fulfill His promise — the Holy Spirit is God with us.
The Bible is often overlooked for the gift of God’s presence that it is. The Bible is not God, but it is His Word. And Peter tells us something quite profound about the Bible. He says, “I was there on the mountain when the voice of God said, ‘This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.’” Then Peter goes on to say that we have access to something even more powerful than being on that mountain with him when he heard the voice of God. Do you know what it is? Peter says it’s the Bible — the Scriptures — for in them we have God’s Word to us.
Finally, the church is a way to experience the presence of God. We’re called the temple of God’s Spirit and the body of Christ — to be with God’s people is to be in God’s presence.
These are all ways we can experience God’s presence in our lives. Even when we find ourselves in a fiery furnace situation. Jesus won’t always protect us from the fiery furnaces of life — but He’ll always walk through them with us. And — as the Bible tells us — at “just the right time” — God sent His Son to save His people — to deliver us — not just from a fiery furnace — but from a fiery Hell.
The Bible tells one story. I hope that as you read it, you’ll be excited to discover how what you’re reading points you to Jesus. For He is the point of the whole Bible. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, thank you for Your presence in our lives. We ask You to help us make better judgmental calls about who You are. We know this means that we must be in Your Word — for in it — You have revealed to us who You are.
Jesus, for anyone going through a fiery furnace experience — I ask that You would assure them of Your presence. Often — when life is hard — we judge You to be absent, uncaring, maybe even non-existent. Please forgive us for not trusting in Your promise to never leave us.
And Holy Spirit, remind us of the many opportunities we have to experience Your presence with us. Through God’s Word to us — the Bible. Through the church — the body of Christ. And through Your daily guidance in our lives. Help us to trust in Your presence with us. We pray all these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.