A Commitment That Can Stand The Heat
I wish to thank you for the incredible honor you give me in allowing me to follow in the footsteps of the great Dave Peterson and for allowing me the great joy of being able to serve Christ in this church which stands as a bulwark of our faith. Thank you for this honor.
I wish to read for you now from the book of Daniel, the third chapter. This is the Word of God:
“Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, ‘Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, harp, pipes, and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?’ Now Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied to the king, ‘Oh, 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 save us from it. And He will rescue us from your hand, oh king. But even if He does not, we want you to know, oh king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of god you have set up.’ Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual, and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. And so these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans, and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. The king’s command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. And these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace. Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feel in amazement and asked his advisors, ‘Wasn’t it three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?’ They replied, ‘Certainly, oh King.’ 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.'”
Pray with me, please. Give me Jesus, Lord, give me, Jesus. You can have all the rest. Just give me Jesus. Amen.
Here is a story as new as it is old, and as old as it is new. It’s the story of a ruthless tyrant who ruled by terror over a country that we call today Iraq. It’s a story about how he lived in regal splendor in sumptuous palaces built along the banks of the Euphrates River in a city we call today Baghdad. It’s a story of how he had built enormous statues of himself and ordered his people to pay homage to them. It’s the story of how he put to death countless numbers of his own citizens. It’s the story of how, motivated by sheer hatred, he sought first to sublimate then to subjugate then to decimate, and ultimately, to devastate the Jewish people. Now while it may seem that that story is yanked from today’s headlines, the fact of the matter is, it’s actually as old as the Old Testament Book of Daniel. You see, strikingly similar though the stories may appear, it is not the story of Saddam Hussein and the city of Baghdad and the country of Iraq. But rather, it is the story of King Nebuchadnezzar and the city of Babylon and the Babylonian Empire.
Today, I wish to take a look at this great story, but I wish to do it through the eyes of three dynamic young men, young men who possessed both funny names and a fiery faith. I refer, of course, to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Here is what happened.
King Nebuchadnezzar, the powerful and yet insatiably power-hungry king of Babylon, began to look about for new lands to conquer to add to his already sprawling empire. His eyes fell upon the land of Israel, the land where God’s people dwelled. And so Nebuchadnezzar, with a vast and ruthlessly efficient army, swooped down upon the city of Jerusalem, burned the city to the ground, looted the priceless treasures of the Temple, slaughtered many people. And many other people he captured and carted off into slavery in Babylon. Among those captured were these three young men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
Well, as often happens, the more King Nebuchadnezzar’s power grew, the more his pride grew also. He came to see himself rather like the modern day artist—and believe you me, I use the term artist loosely—our modern day artist Kanye West, who in his recent album declared, “I am a god.” Dear Heavens. Ah, but Nebuchadnezzar was afflicted with that same insufferable arrogance. He came to see himself as a god. He demanded that people proclaim his greatness constantly, and if they didn’t, it triggered in him paroxysms of irrational anger and senseless violence. Once, for example, he ordered the construction of an enormous golden image, more than likely, a representation of himself. He had it constructed out on the plain of Dura, the flat land located between the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers. The image stood 90 feet tall, 9 feet wide. It could be seen for miles and miles around. The king then declared that there would be a day of dedication, and all of the people were to gather on the plain of Dura. The king then decreed that when the royal band began to play, the people were to simply bow down and worship the golden image of the king. Anyone failing to do that would be tossed immediately into a burning fiery furnace.
Well, in that crowd, obviously, were many of these captured people from Israel, and they recognized that the king’s edict would constitute a flagrant violation of their faith. And yet, their fear of the king trumped their faith in God. They decided it would actually be better to bow down and eat a little dust than to be barbecued in a burning, fiery furnace. And so when the first strains of marshal music began to sound, the people began to get down on their knees and bow in worship of the golden image of the king. Everybody, that is, except three, except Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They stood straight, tall, true to their God. That was too much for the raging king. And as if that were not bad enough, they then replied to the king, and I want you to listen to what they had to say. These words, in my view, may well be the greatest affirmation of faith in all of the Bible. “Oh, 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 save us from it. And He will rescue us from your hand, oh king. But even if He does not, we want you to know, oh king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of god you have set up.” Oh, that was too much for Nebuchadnezzar. He ordered the furnace to be heated to seven times its normal heat. It was so hot that the soldiers who threw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the fire were themselves incinerated by the intense heat. But Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were not harmed. They were walking around in the flames, and not only that, but now, a fourth figure appeared in the fire. The Bible says the fourth figure appeared like a Son of God. Oh, what a great story. Those three young men dared to trust and believe in their God no matter what. They had a commitment that could stand the heat. Notice they had that committed because they refused to sell out. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego would not conform. They would not compromise. Just because everybody else was doing it did not mean that they would do it. When the king said, “Bow down or be thrown into the fire,” they said, “Not on your life, and not even on ours.” If their faith was going to require a cost, they were more than willing to pay it. They were so sold out to God that they would sell out to anything or anyone else.
Need I remind you, my new Memorial Drive friends, that we are living in a world which now demands flat conformity. Cooperate or be ignored. Conform or be marginalized. Go along in order to get along. Dare to be different and it will cost you dearly. The reality is in our world today, and God help us, even in our country today, the cost of being a Christian is rising day by day. And that’s why I believe that we are being called, you and I, called to stand for Jesus Christ, to stand like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, to stand in the strength of our Christian convictions. Now let me say as honestly as I know how, this great Church has a long and storied history of faithfulness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and I celebrate that. But the reality is, what we are facing in the times ahead is unlike anything this Church has faced in its glorious past. And that is why it is my earnest hope and prayer that you and I and the memorial Drive Presbyterian Church will never water down the truth of the Bible in order to accommodate to a culture. It is my hope and prayer that you and I and MDPC will never yield to the lures and the temptations of the society of which we are a part. It is my hope and prayer that you and I will stand for Jesus Christ unashamedly, apologetically, unreservedly, unconditionally. It is my hope and prayer that you and I will be souls sold out to Jesus Christ in our lives, that we will never, ever sell out to anything or anyone else. That’s the secret of having a commitment that can stand the heat. Don’t sell out, no matter what.
And then these three young men had a commitment that could stand the heat because they refused to bail out. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had long since come to the belief that God is in charge of the world. All they had to do was to look back into the history of their own people to see God so clearly at work, to see God is His infinite power taking sometimes even that which was evil and pagan and using it to purify His people or to provoke change in the world. That’s why they could say to King Nebuchadnezzar, “Our God is able to save us.” And as if that were not courageous enough, they then went on to say, “But even if He does not”—Six words. Six words I want you never to forget: “Even if He does not, still we will never forsake Him.” They refused to bail out on their God. The reality is God is in charge of this world, absolutely. The Psalmist had it right,” The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and all those who dwell therein.” Yes, God is in control.
Understand please, and mark this down, will you? Mark this down. God’s Lordship is based on God’s ownership. God’s Lordship is based in God’s ownership. God does not have to place His signature down in the corner of a glorious sunset. It’s His; He owns it. He is the Lord. God does not have to attach His trademark to the label of the rolling green meadow. It’s His; He owns it. He is the Lord. God does not have to carve His initials on the side of a mountain peak. It’s His; He owns it. He is the Lord. God does not have to burn His brand into the cattle of a thousand hills. They are His; He owns them. He is the Lord. God does not have to take out a copyright on the songs He gives the birds to sing. They are His; He owns them. He is the Lord. Oh, yes! God’s Lordship is based on God’s ownership. And that’s why, even in this time when sometimes it seems evil is gaining the upper hand, we can cry out with fearless courage, “God still rules. God still reigns. God still governs, God still controls.”
The hymn writer tagged it perfectly, “Though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the Ruler yet.” Oh, yes, thank Heavens! This is still or Father’s world, and we dare not forget that. And that’s precisely why I want us today to memorize the words of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. I want us to tuck them away in our hearts to use in life’s most threatening moments. And in order to help us do that, I’m going to ask you to say the words right out loud with me. I’ll repeat them, a phrase at a time. You, then, respond, and then we’ll take it all together, a phrase at a time.
“Our God is able to save us.”
“Our God is able to save us.”
“But even if He does not,”
“But even if he does not,”
“Still, we shall never forsake Him.”
“Still, we shall never forsake Him.”
Now, all together, all at once. “Our God is able to save us. But even if he does not, still, we shall never forsake Him.” To have that kind of faith is a commitment that can lead you through life, through death, or even beyond. Don’t sell out. Don’t bail out, no matter what.
One thing more. Those three young men had a commitment that could stand the heat because they refused to give out. Think about it. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego walked out of the fiery furnace without so much as a singed eyebrow. Why? Because God met them in the fire. The story makes that plain. A fourth figure was walking in the flames. I regard this great Old Testament prophecy as a prophetic Word about a New Testament gospel. Catch this, please. Here is what sets Christianity apart from every other faith system in the world. Our God is not some deus ex machina who creates the world and tosses it out in space and then ignores it. Our God is not some spectator spirit sitting on the sidelines idly by, watching while we are consumed in a life which is like a fearsome fiery furnace. No, no, a thousand times, no! Our God, our God quite literally—literally comes down to us in Jesus Christ to walk with us, to work with us, to love us, to care for us, and to save us from a burning, fiery death.
Let me try to make the point like this. My first pastorate was in Kilgore, Texas. One September weekend some years ago, India and Vernon Mitchell, two of our closest friends during those Kilgore years, were involved in a tragic automobile accident. Vernon and their 14-year-old son Mark were killed. India and their 9-year-old daughter were critically injured. Trisha and I flew to Texas for what would be one of the most difficult tasks we’d ever faced. I buried my friend and his son side by side in the Kilgore cemetery, and I think I left a little piece of my heart there. All the while, Trisha was sitting in the hospital between the beds in the intensive care unit, between mother and daughter. Later, I joined them at the hospital. India was—how do I say it?—she was physically broken. But I tell you, you could see the fire of faith in her eyes. She said the men in the fiery furnace had helped. You see, a couple of weeks before that, I’d actually preached a sermon on this story in Daniel, and on Thursday, a copy of that sermon had arrived in the mail at the Mitchell home. And that night around the dinner table for their family devotions, they read that sermon and talked about it. The next night, Friday, came tragedy and death. India Mitchell, in excruciating pain and in heart-shattering, shattering grief, turned to Trisha and me and said, “Our God is able to save us, but even if He does not, I know that Vernon and Mark have already found joy of Heaven. Someday, we will know it too.”
That’s it. Hallelujah! That’s it. That is the victory we all can know. And to know it, we must forge the kind of faith Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego possessed, a faith will can never be shaken and destroyed by anything in this life or in this world, a faith which is able to say, “Our God is able to save us, but even if He does not, still we shall never ever forsake Him.”
Dear friends, if we have that kind of faith, then I promise you that in the midst of our lives, which sometimes can be like flaming, fiery furnaces, in the midst of our lives, I promise you, Jesus Christ will be there. Jesus Christ will be there. Jesus Christ will be there for you, and you, and you, and you, and me.
Soli Deo Gloria.
To God alone be the Glory.
Amen and amen.