I’ve been picking my brain over a title for this message for quite some time, but I couldn’t think of anything better than the names of our heroes themselves. Hananiah, which means “Yah is gracious”; Mishael, which means “Who is what God is”; and Azariah, which means “Yah has helped.” Better known by their Babylonian names Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Daniel (God is my judge) after whom the book is named was known in the Babylonian empire as Belteshazzar. The prophet Daniel recorded three powerful miracles he and his three friends experienced while they lived in exile in Babylonia.
In Daniel chapter 1 we learn he and his three friends resorted to not eating food offered to idols and God honored their commitment miraculously. In Daniel chapter 3 we learn God rescuing them from certain death in a fiery furnace. In Daniel chapter 6 we learn God protected Daniel in a den full of hungry Lions. Tonight, I want to draw your attention to the second miracle mentioned in the book of Daniel. I believe this miracle is the most powerful miracle recorded in the Bible and it’s second only to the resurrection of Jesus. It has some powerful observations that are worth sharing tonight.
1. The desires of the world conflict with the will of God
In the event, you didn’t notice a link between the events of Daniel chapter 2 and chapter 3, or you assumed the events recorded in the 3rd chapter involving Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and the Fiery Furnace are coincidental they are not. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel chapter 2 and the image he made in Daniel chapter 3 are connected. It appears that Nebuchadnezzar created the entire statue out of gold on purpose to imply that his dominion and authority would last forever, which is in direct opposition to God’s revealed plan.
He planned to use this image as a test of allegiance. He was such a tyrant led by his pride he went to the trouble of issuing a royal decree that demanded his officials to worship the image in the presence of an impressive orchestra. The decree was backed up by a powerful threat. Whoever does not fall, and worship shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. Nebuchadnezzar regarded the refusal to worship the image as treason, not only as a religious offense. The three friends of Daniel however didn’t give two hoots about the so-called royal decree or the threat! Just like Daniel in Daniel 6:10.
2. Politics and Religion are a grand recipe for Deception
In threatening to cast whoever doesn’t fall and worship his statue into a fiery furnace Nebuchadnezzar was also blending spiritual allegiance with national allegiance to strengthen his grip on political power. This was a grand recipe for deception because Nebuchadnezzar is more of a secularist or a humanist than a theist. He believed in one true god and that god was none but Nebuchadnezzar himself. In this, Nebuchadnezzar was just like many modern-day politicians who often seem willing to use religion to strengthen their grip on political power.
The strategy worked well because not only did all the officials except Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego fall and worshipped the statue, but the Chaldeans didn’t hesitate to report those who defiled the royal decree to the king. This act of Nebuchadnezzar blending spiritual allegiance with national allegiance probably earned him the allegiance of those who secretly shunned him in their hearts. (Many other kings in the Bible also blended spiritual alliance with the national alliance. 1 Kings 11:1-13; 16:29-33; 2 Kings 21:3-9; 20:21-23).
3. The stubborn faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego
Falling before the statue in worship at the sound of the orchestra was Nebuchadnezzar’s idea of a test of allegiance. As for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego however this was also a test of allegiance to the almighty God. The three friends attended the ceremony but did not fall before the said statue in worship. While everybody else was on their knees with their faces turned down and eating dust the three Jewish men remained standing because their allegiance to almighty God exceeded their allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar the tyrant king.
It’s one thing to mock the bull from the other side of the fence but it’s completely another thing to take it by the horns! It’s exactly what Daniel’s friends did. It’s one thing to defy a royal decree while the king isn’t watching but it’s completely another thing to defy a royal decree to the king’s face! Here’s what I love the most. They refused to worship the image of gold whether or not God rescued them. I call that attitude a stubborn faith! (Job 13:15).
4. Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and God were a Majority
The story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is the story of three Jewish men against an ungodly empire. They were alone in a pagan country. There was nobody to encourage them in their faith. They were surrounded by backstabbers who sought their destruction (The Chaldeans who reported these Jews to Nebuchadnezzar had a clear political agenda against these them because they had been elevated to high office alongside Daniel in the previous chapter.)
They were outnumbered severely. It’s what Nebuchadnezzar and his henchmen would have thought. Nebuchadnezzar even challenged them saying, “… Who is the god who can rescue you from my power…?” The three Jewish men however knew something nobody else in that place did. They and their God formed the majority! With God on their side, they knew Nebuchadnezzar could only do unto them what God would permit him.
There are four powerful life applications we can draw from this fascinating account of how Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stood their ground and God rescued them. Let’s consider them one by one in closing.
The desires of the world conflict with the will of God: remember, Nebuchadnezzar didn’t order the Jews to be cast into the fiery furnace because they were Jews that worshipped Jehovah God. They were given the death sentence because they disobeyed a direct order. Today we can see history repeating itself. For example, consider this statement by Autumn Scardina the trans woman that sued Masterpiece Cakes for refusing to bake her a birthday cake that was also a symbol of her gender transformation.
She could have ordered a cake from elsewhere, but she insisted on the pound of flesh! She did not sue Jack Philips, the owner of the Masterpiece Cakeshop for being a Christian. She sued him for violating the so-called anti-discrimination law. A law that contradicts the word of God, (How dare you call yourself a Christian?). This woman shows allegiance to God is treachery to the world. Had Philips baked the cake everybody would have been happy. He refused and she painted a target on his back.
This is the face of persecution that often goes unnoticed because we believe persecution means being forced to deny Christ. Not always. The Roman emperor persecuted the Christians for refusing to offer incense to his statue. Not for worshipping Jesus. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were cast into the fiery furnace for not worshipping the image of gold. Not for worshipping Jehovah. Had they compromised and worshipped the statue the third chapter in the book of Daniel would have been different!
Compromise approaches us subtly like a prowling Lion (1 Peter 5:8), which is what makes it so dangerous. Compromise doesn’t require complete submission to worldly ways or ideals; rather, it makes accommodations for them. Compromise never asks us to abandon Jesus and embrace an idol, which is something that we would find repugnant. Compromise says that we can have the idol and keep Jesus, as well. There must be a place on the shelf for one more idol, right? Besides what harm is there when Jesus is still here? So, watch out that you shall not compromise your walk with Christ.
Politics and Religion are a grand recipe for Deception: Had Karl Marx lived today he would have not said, “Religion is the opium of the people”. He would have said, “Religion is every politician’s trump card.” Just like Nebuchadnezzar politicians today are happy to blend spiritual allegiance and national allegiance to gain more votes. I have seen Pastors even endorsing such political candidates from the pulpit. I would like to quote Richard Dawkins at this point in my message.
We as Christians and voters are guilty of not exercising spiritual discernment, (1 John 4:1). The moment a political candidate quotes the Bible in his speech and explains it so eloquently or publicly proclaims allegiance to God we conclude he is God’s chosen candidate. How many times we must have voted ungodly men to office without even knowing it because we lose ground below us the moment a politician drags God’s name into his campaign? God’s name is not to be used in vain. Please be alarmed whenever you see a politician blending spiritual allegiance with national allegiance!
The stubborn faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: we are living in peculiar times today. On one hand, our religious freedom is protected by human rights and the constitution. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says that everyone in the United States has the right to practice his or her own religion, or no religion at all. On the other hand, the same constitution wants to shape the way we exercise our religious freedom. Consider this statement by Kerry B. Harvey, concerning Kimberly Jean Davis who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The world will attempt to squeeze us into its mold using legalistic means just like Nebuchadnezzar used a royal decree to force Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to worship the golden statue. We can’t withstand such threats unless we develop a stubborn faith. Davis later said that she received death threats many times over the phone and by email. Society will attempt to squeeze us into its mold through intimidation just like Nebuchadnezzar threatened to cast Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into a fiery furnace unless they worship the golden statue. We cannot withstand such threats unless we develop a stubborn faith.
Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and God were a Majority: The late Pastor Colton Wickramaratne, the founder of People’s Church, in Colombo, Sri Lanka often used to tell from the pulpit, “God and you are a majority!” The ground reality is that the entire world is against us, but Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were aware the heavenly reality is different. That is God and they are the majority. They were aware Nebuchadnezzar can’t touch a hair on them unless God grants explicit permission.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego lived in a time and a land where they were a minority that worshipped Jehovah while the majority were pagans who worshipped idols. The era and the world we live in today aren’t that different from the era and the world they were a part of. We are living in a world and an era that is far worse than that world. It’s natural to lose courage when the enemy is a majority, and us a minority but did you know that God and you are a majority?
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did. It’s this knowledge that gave them the courage to refuse to worship the golden statue to Nebuchadnezzar’s face. They knew the worse Nebuchadnezzar do to them was toss them to the fiery furnace. He cannot touch them beyond death, but God could. We will survive in this life if we comply with the world and its demands but lose eternal life. If we lose this temporary life for the glory of God, we will live in his presence forever, (Matthew 16:25). Is it any wonder that Paul the apostle said, “Who can be against us if God is for us?” (Romans 8:31).
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are long gone but their faithfulness, courage, and boldness continue to echo in history. Their voices speak to us from the past. We learn from them that God is faithful to stand by his people when they are faithful to stand by him even when they are outnumbered and under tremendous pressure. These three men never saw their homeland or their families again. They were aliens in a hostile and foreign land. Still, they chose to glorify their God.
Today they are challenging us to live in such a way that history will speak of us even after we are long gone. That the choices we made in our time will echo in the time of our children and our grandchildren. Just like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego we are aliens in a foreign land. This world is not our home. We are but passing by. We have to deal with tremendous pressure and hostilities while we are here. Still, we must choose to glorify God. There’s a price to be paid but it is worth the prize awaiting us back home. Let me finish with a true story.
A photograph, taken at the time of the launch of the German Army Vessel, “Horst Wessel” on 13th June 1936 shows, hundreds of men and women holding up their arms in salute and allegiance to the Nazi Party and its leader, Adolph Hitler, except for one man standing with his arms crossed. The man was August Landmesser and better known as “The man who refused to give a Nazi Salute“. Although impressive, August’s brevity landed him and his entire family in trouble.
He was arrested on the grounds of treason several times, before being sent to the battlefront where he died. His wife, a Jewish woman was sent to a death camp in which she also died. His two daughters were sent to foster homes. Had he given a Nazi salute anyway if he was aware of what was coming for him and his family? I do not know but he definitely reminds me of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who refused to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statue.
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