Courageous Faith: Faithful in the Face of Death

Faithful in the Face of Death sermon notes

Faithful in the Face of Death

Passage: Daniel 3

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Pastor Paul L. Davis

Key Goals: (Know) Understand the exclusivity of God. (Feel) Feel the power to remain faithful. (Do) Stand firm in faith.


Introduction: In May of 1940, 365,000 Allied soldiers were trapped on the coast of Dunkirk, France. German Panzer divisions were on their way, and they had the capacity to wipe out the Allied force. When it seemed certain that the forces at Dunkirk were about to be massacred, a British naval officer cabled just three words back to London: But if not. These words were instantly recognized by the cable officer as a reference to the book of Daniel. The message in those three little words was: the situation is desperate. The Allied forces were trapped. It would take a miracle to save them, but if not they would remain faithful and not give in. One simple three-word phrase communicated all that. The British leapt into action and assembled 850 boats—some large ships, some small fishing boats. The plan was to rescue 45,000 of the men before the Germans crushed the entire force. For some unknown reason, Hitler ordered his divisions to hold. The German generals were furious, but as they backed off, what’s known as the Miracle of Dunkirk took place. What was to be a one-day rescue of 45,000 turned into a nine-day rescue of more than 365,000 soldiers. “But if not.” My prayer this morning is that when we leave here, we will clearly understand that phrase.


When I was a child, I picked up an understanding of faith that caused me to seriously question God when I was a senior in high school. What I had picked up was this thought: if I trust God with a sufficient quality and quantity of faith, everything will work out well for me. The kicker is, I think I accidentally learned this in Sunday School. Let me tell you the story of Daniel chapter 3 the way I had always heard it.


My understanding: King Nebuchadnezzar created a large image (90’x9’) and he required everyone in the kingdom to bow down to it when music began to play. When the music played, several evil jealous satraps (whatever they were…governors or something) told Nebuchadnezzar that three Jewish guys refused to bow. (Now where Daniel went in this story, I was never told.) So, the king called Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in front of him and demanded that they bow down to the idol or they would be thrown into the “fiery furnace.” But because of the young men’s incredible faith (giant faith…it was even mentioned in Hebrews 11), they refused to bow and instead were thrown into a furnace heated seven times hotter than normal. Then to the surprise of the king, the three Jewish guys not only survived the fire (the soldiers that threw them in didn’t), but the Son of God walked around in the fire with them. They came out of the furnace unscathed and they did not even smell of smoke.


That’s the story. I was hearing this story for the first time in junior high, but to me the message was very clear: put your faith in God and he will save you. Right? Now, I was a pretty sophisticated junior higher, so I put together that you probably had to have a lot of faith, and it had to be the “super high quality” type of faith. But that was perfectly fine because, as a junior higher, I had both in spades. But when I hit 16, 17, 18…I discovered the hard reality that many people with tremendous faith suffer terribly. Here is where I landed as a 17-year-old: while faith worked in the Bible, it did not always work in real life.


Let’s take a closer look at the story and see if I missed anything about faith. First of all, this section is a continuation of the story from chapter 2, where Nebuchadnezzar was introduced to the “God of heaven” by Daniel. Daniel’s incredible God-given ability to reveal and interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream astounded him, and Nebuchadnezzar’s response was to praise God. We did not find a “believing” Nebuchadnezzar, but he had certainly added the God of Heaven to his “list” of gods (See Dan 2:47). Last week I mentioned that God had a surprisingly unique relationship with Nebuchadnezzar. He was not the “hated pagan king” (the bad guy of the story as he is so often portrayed). In fact, the action and drama surrounding Daniel and the three children of Israel seems to revolve around God graciously revealing himself to the king. Turn to Daniel 3:2–7[1].

Then King Nebuchadnezzar sent to gather the satraps (local governor), the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces to come to the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. (Notice how the governmental offices are mentioned.) 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. (They are all listed again. The idea is that EVERYONE is worshipping!) 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.


This passage paints a picture of the whole world bowing down to the image—all peoples, all nations, all languages. All the magistrates, governors, treasurers, justices, everyone everywhere obeyed, except three men. The story moves from the Plain of Dura where the image was, to the throne room of Nebuchadnezzar where certain Babylonians informed the king of the three men who refused to worship.

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.”


These accusers insinuated that government officials who refused to worship the idol were dangerous, disobedient, and unqualified to serve. They were unwilling to follow the “party leadership,” therefore they must be removed. These men had a dangerous faith that was objective and exclusive. What do I mean by that? The faith that the three children of Israel had was not just “believing,” their faith had an “Object” and that was YHWH God. They were not into the “power of positive thinking.” They trusted in and obeyed the powerful, sovereign God of the universe as revealed in the Ten Commandments and the law of Moses—the number one command being, You shall have no other gods before me (Ex. 20:3).


For our guests: Can I just encourage you? You do not have to bow to idols to be good leaders and civil servants. Idols today may not look like 90 ft images, but the idols of money, power, and party politics often stand just as tall.


Nebuchadnezzar was furious. He called in Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. 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?”


That last phrase is why I think this story is really more about God revealing himself to Nebuchadnezzar than it is about the faith of these three Jewish men. “Who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” What a perfect set up! It is like God is playing a sovereign game of tee-ball with Nebuchadnezzar and the ball is teed up for a home run!


Verse 16 is the most powerful verse in the entire section. 16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “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.”


There is so much here to talk about, but let me draw out three key components of these three men’s faith.


1. Their faith was exclusive. These men knew the God of the Bible and, unlike the Babylonians who were willing to worship new gods as they were set up, these three men knew that the God of heaven had clearly established how he was to be worshipped: exclusively. Exodus 20:3–6 says,

You shall have no other gods before me. 4 You shall not make for yourself a carved 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. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.


2. Their faith assumed God’s wisdom and sovereignty. Notice that these men’s faith did not assume God was going to make “everything better.” They worded their statement carefully. “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace.” They did not say he would, just that he was able. Their faith was that God in his wisdom and sovereignty would do what was right as they did what was right. Many believers have been in similar situations and died for their faith. Based on how this is worded, I think it is clear these men were ready to die. They were not “positive thinkers;” they had a deep faith based on God’s very nature as he had revealed himself throughout biblical history, through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and Elijah. The bravery behind these men’s actions flowed from their knowledge that God was in control and that he always does what is right.


3. Their faith anticipated God’s provision to be sufficient, loving, and good. Verse 18 is amazing. “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.” Those who want to stay alive don’t talk to kings this way. But they had not put their lives in the hands of the king; they had placed their lives in the hands of their God, because he is sufficient and his hands are loving and good. I want to remind us what Nebuchadnezzar should be picking up on. He knows that there is a God in Heaven. God graciously revealed himself. Now God is graciously revealing to Nebuchadnezzar that he is the ONLY God in heaven.  But no king likes defiance.

19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with fury, and the expression of his face (the word is “image,” the same word used for the idol) 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 [them], and to cast them 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.


God does not save the men from the furnace; they are thrown in. Verse 24 is where it gets miraculous.

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.”


The fourth person was Immanuel, God with us (Is. 7:14). Our God is the God who blesses faith with his presence. God met with Abraham, Isaac, and Moses by faith. Today we are told that salvation and God’s presence in our lives comes by “grace through faith” in Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:8-9). Nebuchadnezzar was amazed at the presence of God.


 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!”  Notice the phrase he uses to describe God. In the last chapter, he was the “God of heaven,” now he is “the Most High God.”


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. The miracle is amazing, but not as amazing to me as what Nebuchadnezzar says next.

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.”


There is no other God who is able to rescue at all. Trust and follow him—exclusively—assuming that his ways are best and anticipating that, as you live for him, God’s provision for you will be sufficient, loving, and good.


© Calvary Baptist Church of Holland

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[1] Scripture quotations are from the ESV Bible.