FAITH FOR THE FIERY TRIAL
For many years in our country, Christians have been blessed by a great tolerance for our faith. Such a tolerance has not always been the case, however. In the early days of this nation, there was intolerance toward and persecution of the true Christian faith. For instance, Baptists were the victim of persecution in the early days of this country. They were persecuted for their belief in believerís baptism, their wish to worship God in what they believed was the Biblical pattern and in their own churches, and for their insistence upon the separation of church and state. (Their belief was the true meaning of separation of church and state. They believed that the government should not set up a state church or dictate what church people should worship in. This is quite different from what people think separation of church and state means today. Usually people today believe that separation of church and state means that there should be not church influence in government affairs.) Between 1642 and 1649 particularly, the Baptistsí refusal to baptize infants caused them to be haled before the Salem Court. Thomas Painter was whipped in 1644. Henry Dunster, the first president of Harvard College, was compelled to resign his office in 1654, after twelve years of service because he accepted Baptist doctrines and refused to remain silent on the subject of baptism. Obadiah Holmes was imprisoned and whipped in Boston for having preached against infant baptism to some Baptists at Lynn, Massachusetts in 1651.
Christian history has recorded a great intolerance toward and persecution against genuine Christianity. The evidence today is that we are heading into another time of intolerance and persecution of true Christians. The world is full of folks who hate Christians and who are determined to get them to worship the gods of this world. Just as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego faced a decision to deny God and bow down to an idol or face the fiery furnace, you and I face a similar decision. The circumstances may be different but the choice is much the same. Nebuchadnezzar threatened these three men by saying, "If ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace" (Dan. 3:15). Just so, the world gives Christians today a choice. That choice is go along to get along or face persecution. (The thing that hurts most about this rejection and opposition is that it often comes from the church crowd.)
The fiery trials will come! Godís Word warns us that it will be so. Isaiah 24:15 states: "Wherefore glorify the LORD in the fires, even the name of the LORD God of Israel in the isles of the sea." Hebrews 11:34 speaks of those who "quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens." Jesus Himself said, "In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). And in I Peter 4:12-13 we are exhorted, "Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you. But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christís sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad with exceeding joy." The prophecy is that the fiery trial will come, but the promise is that we can overcome the trial. Even though our faith may lead us into the fires of affliction and tribulation, it will lead us safely to the other side. These three Hebrew men learned this truth, and the record of their experience has blessed Christians for centuries.
Let us examine this Biblical account of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, three men whose faith was sufficient for the fiery trial. In examining their experience, we will develop a faith for the fiery trials that will come into our own lives. Notice with me the dilemma that they faced (3:14-15), the decision that was dictated by their faith (3:16-18), and the deliverance that came in the fire (3:19-28).
I. THE DILEMMA THAT THEY FACED (DANIEL 3:14-15)
The dilemma that these men faced was the decision to bow down to the Kingís idol or not to bow down to it. The text tells us that Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, set up a golden image on the plain of Dura. It probably was in the likeness of the one that he dreamed about as recorded in Daniel 2. The image was 90 ft. high and 9 ft. wide. Everyone in the kingdom was commanded to be present at the dedication of this image, with a costly penalty imposed on anyone who refused to bow down and worship it. At the appointed time, at the arranged signal, everyone bowed down except Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. And, of course, there were those "loyal" subjects who quickly reported the situation to the King.
The King became furious at these three rebels who dared to defy his orders. He sent for them and gave them another chance to bow down, warning them that to refuse to do so would result in their being cast into a fiery furnace. He arrogantly ended with his warning with the words, "And who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?" (3:15)
Let us analyze their dilemma for our own instruction. Notice that it was devilish in its origin, deceptive in its operation, and deadly in its objective.
A. It Was Devilish In Its Origin
Nebuchadnezzar was the human agent who devised the plot to get them to bow down to the image. There was another malevolent spiritual being behind this arrogant King, who was the originator of this plot.
Certain Chaldeans (v.8) told the King about the three men who would not bow down to his image.
The term translated "accused" literally means "to eat the pieces of."
It is a Hebrew idiom that means "to maliciously accuse with the intent to harm someone."
These accusations may well have been motivated by jealousy of the Jewsí standing with Nebuchadnezzar.
These accusers saw their opportunity to bring all the Jews into disrepute.
Behind Nebuchadnezzar and the accusers, and energizing them was the devil.
His purpose was to force Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to bow down and compromise their faith in God.
Down through the years Satan has tried to destroy the faith of true believers by putting them in situations where they would either compromise their faith or be destroyed.
We Christians need to be able to look behind the dilemmas that we face and see the devices of the devil so that we can submit to God and resist him. James 4:8 instructs us to "Submit yourselves, therefore, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you."
B. It Was Deceptive In Its Operation
To bow down to the image may have seemed like a small thing.
They did not even have to be sincere in their worship.
After all, they knew that the image was not a real god.
They could have solved their dilemma by bowing down in a non-sincere manner, or at least it would have seemed so to some people.
To bow down to this image, however, in reality would have been a denial of the one true God and a violation of the first two commandments. Exodus 20:3-4, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow thyself down unto them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God.
C. It Was Deadly In Its Objective
The three Hebrew men knew that it would be devastating for them to bow down to the image.
Their bowing down would have hindered their own fellowship with the LORD. Sin breaks our fellowship with God.
It would have harmed the faith of many people who would have seen them bow down. Therefore they would not bend, they would not bow, and we will see that they would not burn.
They ignored the anger of the king and the threat of the fiery furnace in order to preserve their fellowship with the LORD and their testimonies to their fellows.
We must consider what our actions will do to others before we commit them. For example, several years ago one of the ladies of our church who was married to a man who belonged to a cult gave in to his pressure to join him in the cult. Her reasoning was, "I know what I believe anyway. They are not going to change me." She did not realize, however, that she would lose her testimony to her daughters and her husband. What she did was spiritually disastrous to all of them, to her self as well.
1 Compromise involving Scriptural truth is deadly in its objective. The devil loves to see Christian people compromise where the Bible is concerned.
II. THE DECISION DICTATED BY THEIR FAITH (DANIEL 3:16-18)
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego made their decision based on their faith in the living God. Their faith was dictated by their faith in God and not the circumstances of their dilemma. They chose to defy the king rather than to deny their God.
A. Their Decision came from Consecration not Contemplation.
The commitment these men had made to God excluded any consideration of bowing down to the image. They would not bow, or worship. No doubt, they understood the Scriptural principle, though it had not yet been spoken, that "No man can serve two masters" (Matt. 6:24).
When Shadrach, Mesach, and Abednego said, "We are not careful to answer thee in this matter," (3:16b) they meant, "There is no need for us to say anything else for we have made up our minds."
Their decision not to bow had already been made. They would not change their minds.
Their consecration to God had occurred prior to the problem they now faced. A careful reading of Daniel 1 will reveal that these three men, along with Daniel, had purposed not to defile themselves by becoming involved in heathen practices.
Some people get into trouble by reserving the right to decide whether or not to follow the Lord, at the time that they face the problem.
These three men had already decided to follow the LORD, whatever the price involved.
They had already committed themselves wholeheartedly to the LORD. They had decided that they would worship and serve Him.
Thus Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not have to contemplate the issue because they had consecrated themselves to the LORD. They were His and not their own.
B. The Decision came out of Confidence not Conjecture.
Nebuchadnezzarís declaration that God could not deliver them out of his hands did not bother Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the least.
They knew that the LORD could deliver them if He chose to do so (3:17).
They did not have to guess or even deliberate as to whether He could deliver them.
These men knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God could deliver them if He chose to do so.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were not sure that God would choose to deliver them from the fire. They knew, however that He would deliver them from the hand of the King (3:17b).
Still their faith dictated to them that rather than deny their God they should go into the fiery furnace.
C. Their Decision evidenced Courage not Cowardice.
Two matters stand out concerning their faith.
These men were fully aware of the fact that Godís will for them might be different from what they would find pleasant, and they were willing to have it so, without complaining.
They did not make their obedience contingent upon Godís doing what was pleasant to them.
These three men were ready to obey God, whether He chose to deliver them from the furnace or not.
In other words, they found the object of their affection in God Himself, not in what God did for them. What an example for Christians today.
III. THE DELIVERANCE WHICH CAME IN THE FIRE (DANIEL 3:19-28)
God did not deliver them from the fire. Rather, He delivered them in the fire. Because they did not bend in their allegiance to God, or bow down in worship to the idol, they did not burn in the fire. We will consider the deliverance in the fire in terms of what the fire did for them.
A. The Fire Loosed them from the Prison of their Bonds (3:19-23).
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego went into the fiery furnace bound as securely as they could be bound. When they got in the fire, they were set free from their bonds.
We often fear the fiery trial because of the suffering and pain involved. We fail to realize what the trial can do for us.
This passage emphasizes not their suffering but their freedom in the fire.
Illustration. I sat in a Bible conference some years ago and something that one of the preachers said started me to thinking. He really did not mention this passage of Scripture but it came to mind anyway. I recently had gone through some fiery trials in my life and ministry. The thought came to mind, I know that it was God speaking to me, "Son, you have gone through some fire recently. You have complained and fought to get out of it. I never intended you any harm. I just wanted to burn the shackles off of you and set you free."
B. The Fire Put them in the Presence of Jesus (3:25).
This passage causes one to think of some of the promises in Godís Word.
In Isaiah 43:1-2, God made this promise to Israel: "But, now, thus saith the LORD who created thee, O Jacob, and he who formed thee, O Israel, Fear not; for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee; when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee." I believe that this promise can apply to Godís people today. When we put our trust in Him, He will be with us to see us through every trial.
In Hebrews 13:5 we are reminded that God said, "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." This verse is a reference to Deuteronomy 31:6 where Moses told the people to "Be strong and of good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them; for the LORD thy God, he it is who doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee."
King Nebuchadnezzar thought to punish Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego by putting them into the fiery furnace, but he only put them in the presence of Jesus. He said to his counselors, "Did not we cast three men bound into the furnace?" When they answered "Yes," the King cried out, "But I see four men loose and the fourth one is like the Son of God." The LORD was in the fire with them. What does that mean for Christians today?
When we walk through the fire for Jesus, He will walk in the fire with you.
The fire will loose you from your bonds and put you in the presence of Jesus.
C. The Fire Brought Praise to their God (3:28-30).
King Nebuchadnezzar blessed or praised the one true God as a result of what happened in the fire.
He knew that these men had been true to God and that God had delivered them out of the Kingís hands.
As a result the King made a decree that promoted God all over the kingdom.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego brought praise to their God. May God help us to do likewise when we face the fiery trials in life.
Not only was Godís name blessed, there was a decree was issued forbidding anyone to say anything against Him.
Your faith may lead you into fiery trials of affliction and persecution. If it does, Jesus will be there with you to see you through it. If He does not deliver you from the fire, He will deliver you in the fire. The fiery trial, when faced in faith, will loose you from the prison of your bonds, put you in the presence of Jesus, and bring praise to your God. God never forsakes His faithful followers. There is a faith for the fiery trial. God help us to have that kind of faith.