Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: Faith under Fire
Good morning! If you have a Bible, I invite you to turn to Hebrews 11. And if you don’t have a Bible, there should be a Bible under the row of chairs in front of you. If you can grab a Bible, I’m just going to begin by reading Hebrews 11:32-38:
“32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”
For the past couple of months, we have been going through this sermon series on the Heroes of the Faith, focusing on the faith of these Old Testament individuals, mentioned in Hebrews 11, that made them the heroes they were.
Each week, we have looked at something that these individuals teach us about this one faith. We started right at the beginning of Genesis, and we’ve worked our way through the Bible, showing how all of Scripture is connected and how all of this culminates in the Person of Jesus Christ.
Next Sunday, we are going to look at the Others with Faith, those who don’t get the attention like some of these other individuals, but who are nonetheless examples of faith.
And then, the Sunday after that, our family will be away on a week of holidays, so we’ll have a break from our series before we come back together for our Good Friday service here at the Chapel at 7:00 pm on April 19, and then we will bring our series on the Heroes of the Faith to a close on Easter Sunday, as we look at Jesus, the Founder and Perfecter of our faith.
So, that is what the next few weeks are going to look like here at the Chapel. I know that I am looking forward to what God is going to do. And I encourage you to bring your family and friends out to our Easter services, if you are able.
But this morning, we are going to look at Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who teach us about a faith under fire.
I was watching the news this week, and they were talking about the proposed legislation in Quebec to ban public workers from wearing religious symbols. You’ve maybe heard or read about this. The law would essentially ban all religious symbols from the hijab to the turban to the cross.
But what struck me is that it is apparently being called the secularism law, and how the province of Quebec is stating itself to be free from religious rule and neutral on matters of belief.
And I found that interesting, because one of the fundamental freedoms we have as Canadians, according to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, is the “freedom of conscience and religion.” And it would seem as though this law would infringe on that fundamental freedom.
And this just serves to remind us that we have the freedom to gather together in a building to worship God, today, but we don’t know what tomorrow brings. We don’t know what the result of the provincial election will be. We don’t know what freedom of religion we will have, tomorrow.
Our faith is under fire; our faith is under attack. We live in a society and culture that is moving away from God—that doesn’t even want something like religious symbols to be worn. And it begs the question: What are we to do? What are we to do when our religious freedom is infringed upon? Because this affects all of us.
And what I want us to see, this morning, is that the faith of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego teaches us that it is possible to be faithful to God when the world around us is not.
I want us to look at three pictures in the book of Daniel, that is going to serve as our roadmap for our time together, this morning. And I want us to see how these three pictures show us how we can live faithfully to God in the midst of a society and culture that does not recognize God.
So, turn in your Bibles to Daniel 1. Last week, we looked at the prophet Elijah, and how God used Elijah to confront the false gods and the idolatry of his day. But we come to a point in biblical history when God’s chosen people have been taken into exile by the Babylonians.
Look at Daniel 1, beginning in verse 1: “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. 3 Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, 4 youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king's palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. 5 The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. 6 Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. 7 And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.”
“8 But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king's food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. 9 And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs, 10 and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, ‘I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and your drink; for why should he see that you were in worse condition than the youths who are of your own age? So you would endanger my head with the king.’ 11 Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, 12 ‘Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king's food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.’ 14 So he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days. 15 At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king's food. 16 So the steward took away their food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables. 17 As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.”
1. The first picture that I want us to see is the picture of exile.
The people of Israel have just been carried off from their land and into Babylon. And the text says that Daniel and his three friends are some of the ones who are chosen to be in the king’s service. But they refuse to eat the king’s food and drink the king’s wine, and instead, they resolve to eat only vegetables and water.
And on the surface, it doesn’t look like it’s worth the fight. I mean, the chief of the eunuchs fears that he will lose his life over this, because the young Hebrew men are refusing to do what the king commanded them to do.
But I want us to see the implications of this: By Daniel and his friends avoiding the diet of the king’s table, they were reminding themselves that they were the people of God in a foreign land. They were not finally dependent upon king Nebuchadnezzar for their food and their lives, which is what he was seeking to create, but rather, they were claiming that they were dependent upon God.
This seems like a small thing, but what they’re doing here is they are holding on to their distinctive identity as Jewish exiles. They are not what the Babylonian culture wants them to be; they are distinctly God’s chosen people.
How easily can we identify with this? We haven’t necessarily been physically exiled to another country, but as Christians don’t we know what it means to live in a place that is not our home? Don’t we know what it means to live in a society and culture that is trying to obliterate our identity as followers of Jesus?
Philippians 3:20 says that “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Hebrews 13:14 says, “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.”
Whether it’s the fact that we’ve seen the Bible and prayer taken out of our schools, or whether we experience prejudice because we’re a Christian, or whether we aren’t able to wear a cross around our neck, there’s something about exile that just resonates with us.
Daniel and his three friends remind us that we live in a society and culture that does not honour Christ. And it’s tempting to become apathetic with the culture and to simply wait for it to collapse. But that’s not what we see in our text.
We see that Daniel and his three friends are faithful in the small things. They don’t compromise their lives in order to fit in with the culture because it’s what everyone else is doing. They influence the culture for the glory of God.
Look at verses 12-13. Daniel says, “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king's food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.”
And we see that God gives them favour, as these young men are deemed better in appearance after ten days of observation than the others who ate the king’s food and drank the king’s wine. And this causes the diet to change for all the young men.
John Piper writes that this is a time for influence, “but not with huffing and puffing as if to reclaim our lost laws. Rather with tears, persuasion, and perseverance, knowing that the folly of racism, the exploitation of the poor, the de-Godding of education, the horror of abortion, and the collapse of heterosexual marriage are the tragic death-tremors of joy, not the victory of the left or the right.”
The picture of exile reminds us to be faithful to God, even when the culture around us is not. When the society and culture doesn’t honour Christ as it should, we should weep, as we await the redemption that is to come when Christ returns.
But this takes faith. It takes faith to remain dependent upon God, even though you don’t know what that will mean for you in the end. Daniel and his three friends had no certainty that their resolve would work out in their favour. But they continued to trust in God. What are we doing to influence our society and culture for the glory of God? How are we being agents of change in the world?
2. This leads to the second picture of the fiery furnace.
Look at Daniel 3. King Nebuchadnezzar has a golden image made, and he gathers everyone together for the dedication of this image. And the command goes out, that, when the people hear the music playing, they are to bow down and worship the golden image that king Nebuchadnezzar had set up, and that anyone who does not do so will immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace.
So, the music plays, and everyone bows down and worships this golden image. But a few guys come to the king, and they tell the king, in verse 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.”
And it says that king Nebuchadnezzar was furious. So, he has Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego brought to him, and he asks them, in verse 14, “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. 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?”
And I just love the young men’s response, in verse 16: “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
I want to make sure that we understand what is being said here, because this is pretty intense. King Nebuchadnezzar is going to throw them into the fiery furnace if they do not bow down and worship his golden image. And their response to him is that it doesn’t matter what he does to them, God is able to deliver them from his hand, and even if He does not, they still will not bow.
Isn’t that an incredible statement? They are unwavering in the ability of God to deliver them from the hand of the king. That is no question for them. But greater yet is that they trust in the sovereignty of God that He is in control and that what He allows to come upon them is ultimately for their good.
They aren’t bowing either way. They are faithful to God, even if God allows them to suffer. Do we have that same resolve? In the face of adversity, are we committed to being faithful to God, regardless of what happens?
There’s a story of Communist soldiers who discovered an illegal Bible study. As the pastor was reading from the Bible, men with guns suddenly broke into the home, terrorizing the believers who had gathered there to worship.
The Communists shouted insults and threatened to kill the Christians. The leading officer pointed his gun at the pastor’s head. “Hand me your Bible,” he demanded. Reluctantly, the pastor handed over his Bible—his prized possession. With a sneer on his face, the guard threw the Bible on the floor at his feet.
He glared at the small congregation. “We will let you go, “ he growled, “but first, you must spit on this book of lies. Anyone who refuses will be shot.” The believers had no choice but to obey the officer’s order. A soldier pointed his gun at one of the men. “You first.”
The man slowly got up and knelt down by the Bible. Reluctantly, he spit on it, praying, “Father, please forgive me.” He stood up and walked to the door. The soldiers stood back and allowed him to leave. “Okay, you!” the soldier said, nudging a woman forward. In tears, she could barely do what the soldier demanded. She spit only a little, but it is enough. She too was allowed to leave.
Quietly, a sixteen-year-old girl came forward. Overcome with love for her Lord, she knelt down and picked up the Bible. She wiped off the spit with her dress. “What have they done to your Word? Please forgive them,” she prayed.
The Communist soldier then put his pistol to her head and pulled the trigger.
“But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
Verse 19: “Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with fury, 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. 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.”
24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, ‘Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?’ 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.’” 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.”
We tend to question God’s goodness when bad things happen, but if the picture of the fiery furnace teaches us anything, it’s that God is still good, even if divine rescue never comes. God is still worthy of our worship, even if salvation doesn’t come in the way we expected it.
We are going to look at this more in-depth next Sunday, but what we see throughout Christian history are individuals who are so overcome by God’s glory, that they are willing to give up their lives for the sake of Christ.
In many places around the world, there are followers of Jesus, every day, giving their lives for the gospel of Jesus Christ. I don’t think we are quite there yet, here in North America, but I believe it’s coming. Are we ready for it?
3. The third and final picture we see is the lion’s den.
Turn to Daniel 6. Darius is king, now, and he has a good relationship with Daniel. But the other officials don’t like how highly favoured Daniel is, so they devise a plan to get rid of Daniel.
They come to king Darius with an idea for a new law, saying, “that whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions.” And the king signs off on the law.
And what does Daniel do, in verse 10, in the face of such persecution? It says that “when Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.”
Nothing has changed for Daniel. He continued to pray to his God, even though it was now illegal to do so, according to the law that the king had signed. He prayed openly. He prayed often. He gave thanks to God in his prayers. I can only imagine that he was praying for his country, that he was praying for his king, that he was praying for the nation of Israel to be restored.
What does Daniel do when faced with the despair of his society and culture? He prays to his God.
The officials find Daniel doing this. So, they bring it to the king’s attention that Daniel has broken the king’s law. And much to king Darius’ distress, he commands that Daniel be thrown into the lion’s den.
In the morning, everyone rushes to the lion’s den to see what has become of Daniel, and king Darius cries out, in verse 20, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?” And Daniel responds. “O king, live forever! My God sent his angel and shut the lions' mouths, and they have not harmed me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no harm.”
And the text goes on to say that the men who had maliciously accused Daniel were brought and cast into the den of lions, and that Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.
Here is the reality: There may be times in our day-to-day life when our Christian values conflict with the non-Christian society and culture in which we live. We might be asked to do something that goes against what God has said in His Word. I think of you farmers and teachers and labourers and homemakers. We are likely to be faced with this conflict.
The question is: How will we respond? Will we remain faithful to God even though we don’t know how it will end, or will we compromise because it’s what everyone else is doing? Will we spit on the Bible, or will we wipe off the spit?
When I was working at a shipping warehouse in Red Deer, every day, we would send out crates and packages of oilfield and gas products with this one trucking company. And I remember, one day, we got everything on the truck, and I was looking at the Bill of Lading and it wasn’t adding up.
And when I asked my co-worker, he said to not worry about it, because we were only off by one pallet, and it wouldn’t make that much of a difference. But when I double checked what we put on the truck, I realized that we were off by one pallet on the Bill of Lading, so I fixed it.
It turns out that my co-worker found out what I had done, and he lost it on me, because he felt that I had embarrassed him. And I stood there for five minutes, as he laid into me, every harsh thing that he could say. All because I valued integrity and honesty. If we are followers of Jesus, this is what we are up against.
And if we’re honest with ourselves, we won't perfectly live this out, every time. We won’t always come to a situation and have the right response, or do the right thing. We will mess up, because of the effects of sin in the world.
But here’s the good news of the gospel: There is One who lived the perfect life in perfect obedience to God. Not once did He sin. And He would go to the cross, and He would suffer and die, and He would take all of our sin upon Himself, and He would satisfy the wrath of God against sin, and He would do all of this on our behalf, because we never could do it.
His name is Jesus, and our faith in Jesus is what saves us. When the society and culture is faithless, and when we are losing faith because of what we see around us, it’s our faith in Jesus that will carry us through.
If you are here this morning, and you are feeling like you are in the lion’s den, or in the fiery furnace, or in exile, have you put your faith in Jesus? Do you trust that God has the ability to deliver you? Do you trust in the sovereignty of God, that He is in control and that what you are going through is producing some good in you?
And are we praying? Are we praying when times get tough? Are we praying for our country? Are we praying for the upcoming provincial election? Are we praying for what is happening in Quebec with the ban on religious symbols? Are we praying for the Muslims in New Zealand who have come under attack, that they would put their faith in Christ? Are we praying for the Christians who have come under attack in Nigeria, that their faith would increase?
Our faith is going to come under fire. If we want to affect the society and culture in which we live for the glory of God, it begins with faith in God, trusting in His goodness, even if it means our lives.
May God continue to increase our faith, as we trust Him with the increasing faithlessness of our society and culture. Let’s pray…