For several Sundays in a row, we’ve been coming to class and studying the prophet Ezekiel. Then one day Chris shows up and says, “Let’s turn to the book of Daniel.” What was Chris thinking? Were we done with Ezekiel? I don’t think so. When we start studying these prophets, there is always so much more to learn. I find the lesson I learn from God’s word can vary – if I read Ezekiel all at once, I hear one message, and if I read only Ezekiel 18, I get another message, and if I read just Ezekiel 18:5, I get still another revelation.
Then Chris shows up and starts teaching Daniel. Ok, fine, we’ll study Daniel. Daniel is actually a contemporary of Ezekiel, they lived approximately at the same time. Ezekiel mentions Daniel twice during his mission. But while Ezekiel is living in Babylonian captivity, Daniel’s captivity is in the palace in service to the king. He’s probably in his early teens, learning the Babylonian ways so he can serve the king, and eating his vegetables.
II. God is in Control (Daniel 2)
Then in Daniel Chapter two, we come to the first of 2 famous stories we’re going to read about today. Nebuchadnezzar, the king of the Babylonians, must be feeling pretty good about himself, having sacked the land of Judah and carried away his captives. But Nebuchadnezzar is not in control, and he could not have been successful unless God had willed it. One of Ezekiel’s prophecies was that, because of the Jewish people’s disobedience, God would cause the land of Judah to be sacked by the Babylonians as punishment. It wasn’t Nebuchadnezzar in control, it was God. 600 years later in Romans 13:1, Paul writes,
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.
Nebuchadnezzar probably didn’t credit God for this, he was a Babylonian pagan king. He probably believed in his own might and power. But then he starts having these troubling dreams, and we will see that God placed these dreams there. Daniel 2:1-6,
In the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his mind was troubled and he could not sleep. So the king summoned the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers to tell him what he had dreamed. When they came in and stood before the king, he said to them, “I have had a dream that troubles me and I want to know what it means.”
Then the astrologers answered the king, “May the king live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will interpret it.”
The king replied to the astrologers, “This is what I have firmly decided: If you do not tell me what my dream was and interpret it, I will have you cut into pieces and your houses turned into piles of rubble. But if you tell me the dream and explain it, you will receive from me gifts and rewards and great honor. So tell me the dream and interpret it for me.”
So the astrologers weren’t merely being asked to interpret a dream, they were being asked to describe the dream. Some say the king couldn’t remember his dream, but I don’t think that’s likely. He remembered enough about the dream that it bothered him the next day and kept him from a good night’s sleep. I think he remembered his dream, but distrusted his fortunetellers. Nebuchadnezzar knew that his fortunetellers would just tell him what he wanted to hear.
How could these magicians succeed? It’s not possible to read people’s minds, except for me. I have this ability to read people’s minds. I know what you’re thinking right now. You’re thinking, “Nah, he can’t read minds.”
To make a long story short, the magicians fail terribly at the king’s assignment. They neither know what the dream is, nor what the dream means. The king orders them all put to death.
When Daniel hears this, he believes that Daniel and his 3 friends will be killed also along with the phony magicians. Daniel goes to the king and asks the king for some more time, and he and his friend plead to God for mercy, and that night the mystery was revealed to Daniel. The next morning, Daniel returns to the king and explains the dream as symbolic about the future of Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar’s place in history, how they will reign and then fall. The story rings true to the king, and let’s look at the king’s reaction in verse 46,
Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him. The king said to Daniel, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.”
Then the king placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men. Moreover, at Daniel’s request the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego administrators over the province of Babylon, while Daniel himself remained at the royal court.
Wow, Daniel went from death to life in only 3 days. What strikes me about this is that Nebuchadnezzar knows the interpretation is true and that it can only come from an almighty God. He knows God is God, the God of gods and the Lord of kings and the revealer of mysteries. Daniel’s answer saves the lives of the magicians and the astrologers, and Daniel and his friends get some nice promotions. Probably bigger helpings of vegetables, too.
III. Some Build Idols Anyway (Daniel 3:1)
But then the very next verse, turn to Chapter 3, the king is building a giant gold idol. Reminds me of Aaron after Moses led then through the parting of the Red Sea. Moses goes up on the mountain to get the Ten Commandments, and Aaron goes, “Oh no, what do we do? We need a Golden Calf to pray to.”
Anyway, back to Nebuchadnezzar, everybody in the kingdom is ordered to fall down and worship this big gold idol. And the astrologers – the very same astrologers whose lives were saved by Daniel for interpreting the king’s dreams – turn out to be a bunch of tattletales. Vengeful tattletales (not the same as Veggie Tales), Vengeful tattletales for they know the punishment for refusing to worship the golden idol is death. In verse 8, the astrologers and magicians go to the king and point out that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are in positions of power but refuse to worship the king’s idol. Isn’t that mocking the king and his god? The three friends of Daniel neither serve the king’s gods nor bow down to worship the idol of gold.
And the king is furious. This is the same king that knows the omniscience of Daniel’s God who could do things the pagan gods couldn’t, and is still mad that these Jewish boys won’t worship his little gold god. He tells Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to bow down and worship or he’s going to cook them in the royal furnace. In verse 15, the king taunts them, “then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”
There may come a time in our lives where we must make a choice what god we will serve. Will we serve the god of pride, like Nebuchadnezzar? Will we serve a god of idols we have built? Or will we serve Jehovah God, creator of the heavens and of earth? Will we boldly serve our king, or will we turn away in fear?
1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” Shadrach, Meshak and Abednego have no fear, and in Daniel 3:16,
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 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’s friends know that God is able to save them, but don’t know if God will. And it doesn’t matter to them, they will risk everything, their very lives, go to their deaths praising our God of Wonders. It is 2600 years later in Babylonia, and the same choice is still given to Christians living there today. Worship the Muslim god, or die. And tens of thousands of Christians have been martyred, choosing our God of eternal life.
Nebuchadnezzar is furious with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The bible says that the furnace is heated seven times hotter than normal, and the king’s strongest soldiers throw Daniel’s three friends into it. The furnace is so hot that it killed the soldiers that had bound the three friends.
IV. Jesus is Emmanuel, God With Us (Daniel 3:24)
And the God of the Heavens intervened in verse 24:
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.”
There are 3 men thrown into the furnace but 4 men walking around. “A son of the gods,” Nebuchadnezzar says. Amazing insight for a pagan king. Biblical scholars agree that this is the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ who stepped into a situation at the very moment He was needed most. Let’s count the number of men again. Three men are thrown in, four men are walking around, and three men are removed.
Sometimes we don’t feel Jesus in our lives. We wonder where He is, why prayers don’t seem to be answered, why His comfort isn’t obvious to us. Where is Jesus? The thing is, He is always with us, and when the threat of being thrown into the fire actually turns into being *in* the fire, Jesus is right there with us. He promises that He will always be there for us.
V. Risk Everything for God
Many times it’s hard to trust in God. We want to rescue ourselves, to trust in our own ability. But God’s ways are above our ways. Sometimes God’s ways are painful as he prunes us. I myself hit a crossroads in the last month, thinking that it was time to make a difficult decision. But God spoke this lesson to me last weekend, and then gave me the lesson again to learn and teach. He works in mysterious way, and I no longer believe in coincidences, so when I see so-called “coincidences” piling up, I look for God’s hand.
First was Gary Thomas’s lesson last week. The part that spoke to me was when he said some people say, “Why does my behavior matter?” I’m already saved, so nothing I say or do will be held against me. Gary quoted Ephesians 4:22-24,
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Then he quoted Matthew 28:19-20,
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Then Chris taught from Daniel 1, drawing a line and deciding which side of the line to stand on. And I’m hearing echoes of lessons I’ve both heard and taught, asking me if I’m going to follow Christ only when times are good, or will I follow Christ no matter what?
When times are easy and good, we can drift away from Christ. We may recognize His blessings, but the easy life lets us drift away. It’s when times are challenging that we learn to rely on Christ. I think every Christian will come to a point in their life, maybe more than once, where they have to decide to do the right thing no matter how hard it is.
Then as I sat down to start this lesson, already hearing Gary and Chris, I get a photo from KSBJ with Hebrews 10:36,
All of these messages stress to me the importance of following the will of God and putting aside fears and desires that pull and push us in any direction except to God.
I will choose to be obedient, and risk everything for God. And my sinful self doesn’t like it one bit. I like comfort and joy, not pruning. But when I choose right, I choose peace. And when I choose right and peace, I choose joy. Instead of choosing joy first which can lead to bad decisions and bad consequences, I choose righteousness first, which then leads back to the joy I was seeking. Amazing. My sinful self says these toys are all mine and I don’t have to share. My sinful self says do this or that because it’ll make you happy. My sinful self offers excuses to me because I know that Jesus will forgive me. But the Holy Spirit working within me is always encouraging me to do the right thing. To love God with all my heart, to love my neighbor as myself. I get a choice whether to obey.
Will I be thrown in a fire? Goodness, I hope not. And if I was thrown in a fire, would I be able to walk around unscathed, unburned? Probably not. But I know Jesus will be there for me, all he asks is that I do the right thing.
We get these choices constantly. We can choose to sleep late on Sunday mornings instead of going to church. We can choose to go to brunch on Sunday mornings or a walk in the park. But we can choose to share the word of God with pagans, to serve at something – anything – like bringing snacks to class or taking the roster or arranging for the class to serve at a star of hope kitchen or to teach. In each case we give up something to do something. We make a choice to do what is right in the eyes of the Lord, or what is right in our own eyes.
And whatever it is we treasure, because God loves us, God will find a way to remove it from us if it doesn’t bring him glory or if it gets in the way of our spiritual growth. He may ask us to give up a job, give up our home, our security. Giving up a home you grew up in, giving up a parent that you depended on, giving up a friend who is a bad influence on us, giving up a job. Giving up our very life. Matthew 10:9, Jesus says, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Daniel’s friends were willing to give up their lives, to risk everything to do the right thing. I’m scared to do that that. I like to think I’m brave, but God finds something I was leaning on and asks me, are you willing to give this up for me? Has God ever asked you to sacrifice something for His sake?
If you’re reading your bible, listening to KSBJ, spending time in prayer, or in any way talking to God, he’s talking back. And He wants to be #1 in your life. Ahead of your job and money, ahead of rooting for the Texans, ahead of cooking or biking or a nice car. Ahead of your friends. Ahead of your spouse. In the case of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they were turning their backs on a comfy life in the palace with friends. They were turning their backs on serving a king who already knew God was almighty, but was still building idols.
And in that regard, we’re not too unlike Nebuchadnezzar. We know who God is. Many of us have seen miracles that could only have come from an almighty God. We know God is almighty, yet we’re still building pagan alters of our own, are we not? We worship the things created instead of the Creator. Ahead of everybody and everything else we love, God wants us to recognize Him and worship him first. He’s burning up the chaff to prepare us for an eternity with him, and sometimes we have to go through fire for Him. And sometimes we find we were holding on to something so tight and didn’t even realize it. We have to give those up, be willing to risk everything for God. After all, what could possibly be more important than a loving relationship with the God who created us?
There’s good news after all this pruning, this burning up of our idols. Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first His kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” In order to gain everything, we must be willing to lose everything. Abednego survived the fire, and we will too. Jesus will be there with us, now and forever. A life eternal with our creator in love and joy and life where there are no more tears.
In the meantime, risk everything for God. To God be the glory.