Today we’re going to look at another test found in the Book of Daniel and that is WHEN THE HEAT IS ON. That’s an expression that dates back to the 1930’s in America during the gangster era and it meant the cops are after you. You’re being chased by the police. Then it came to mean being interrogated or grilled by the police. Now it’s a phrase used all around the world to express the feeling of being under pressure for any reason. It might involve a deadline and the pressure to get something done before that deadline. It might involve the pressure to perform in a difficult situation like the batter who steps up to the plate, it’s the bottom of the ninth inning, his team is trailing by one run and there’s already two outs with a man on third. It’s do or die. The heat is on.
The story we’re going to look at today is literally about when the heat is on. Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are no longer teenagers. It’s been fifteen years since they arrived in Babylon. They’re in their mid-thirties now and still serving as advisors to King Nebuchadnezzar, the king of the Babylonian Empire which is the largest empire in the known world at that time. Nebuchadnezzar is the most powerful man on the planet and the most successful ruler of his time. And what often comes with success is a huge ego. In the third chapter of Daniel we read, “King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and sixty cubits wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. He summoned the satraps, prefects, governors, advisors, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials to come to the dedication of the image he had set up. So the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials assembled for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up, and they stood before it. Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do: As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into the blazing furnace.” (Daniel 3:1-6)
So the king has decided that it’s not enough for him to be the most powerful man in the world, now he wants to be worshiped as a god, and whoever doesn’t drop everything they’re doing and bow down and worship the gold image of himself or be burned alive. I just want to say that even through this story happened 2500 years ago, it is very relevant for us today. Let me mention four similarities to the world we live in.
First, the world still creates larger than life images for us to worship. These images may not be 90 foot statues of gold, but the still world puts images out there and we are expected to worship them. Today we find these images to be worshiped on movie screens or in sports stadiums where athletes are treated like gods. We see them on stages at rock concerts where performers are made to look larger than life and people stop everything their doing to go worship at their feet. We may find these images on the internet where they are made to look larger than life and their image goes viral over night. Our culture idolizes physical beauty and it you’re not particular good looking you don’t matter. Our culture idolizes wealth, success, power, pleasure, popularity and if you don’t have these things, no one looks up to you.
The second similarity is this: we are all tempted to create a false image of ourselves to impress others. We want everybody to like us and look up to us. We don’t want anyone to see our flaws. Deep down, we want to be worshiped. So we create a false image of ourselves for others to see, and our image building quickly becomes idol building. Today you can actually hire image builders to snaz up your image. Who you really are no longer matters; it’s all about what others think you are. Character has been replaced by image. Posting selfies on social media is an attempt to get people to idolize you. It used to be we would pray before we ate. Now people take pictures of their food and post them on social media in an attempt to get people to idolize them. You can always tell the people who have created a false image of themselves by the way they think the universe revolves around them. It’s all about them.
The third similarity is this: if we reject the world’s idols, people may try to burn us. Not physically as in a furnace, but they will try to burn you in other ways. When we refuse to go along with the worship of false images, the world is going to try to burn us. People who have bought into the world’s false images will want to get rid of us before our views catch on. That’s certainly what happened to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They were expected to bow down to the gold image as soon as the orchestra started playing and when they didn’t it made some people really angry. Some astrologers, who had observed them not bowing down to the gold image, went to the king and told on Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
The fourth similarity to our world is this: Doing the right thing always makes some people angry. If you do the right thing, the honest thing, if you show integrity or character or compassion, or some other Christ-like quality, it’s going to make some people around you angry. Remember what they did with Jesus? They hung him on a cross because he wouldn’t bow down and worship the image of God they had constructed. He did what he knew was right and it made some people very angry. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did what they knew was right and refused to bow down to the gold image and it made some people very angry. We’re not sure where Daniel was while all this was taking place. Maybe he was out of the country on important business for the king, but he’s not around. So this is really a story of testing, not for Daniel, but for his three best friends.
There are three kinds of people in the world. There are stuck ups, like Nebuchadnezzar. He had an over inflated view of himself; thought he was a god to be worshiped. There are suck ups, like the astrologers who went to the king and ratted on Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Then there are stand ups; those who stand up for the truth. The stand ups will always make the stuck ups and suck ups angry. Daniel’s three friends did the right thing. They refused to break the first of the top Ten Commandments: “You shall have no other gods before me.” Anything that you put first in your life other than God is to break this commandment. They also refused to break the second of the top ten, “You shall not make for yourself an idol of any form… and you shall not bow down to and worship them, for I am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.,” says the Lord. We see this happening today where the sins of the parents are punishing the children for generations to come. Our national debt has reached 20.4 trillion dollars and rising. We’re not going to be around to pay for that debt. It’s our sin that will be paid for by future generations.
Daniel tells us that the king was furious and summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Upon confirming that they were unwilling to bow down and worship his gods and the gold image of himself, his attitude toward them changed and he ordered the furnace to be heated seven times hotter than usual and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie them up and throw them into the furnace. The heat was on!
WHAT SHOULD WE DO WHEN THE HEAT IS ON? What do these “stand up guys” teach us?
FIRST, when the heat is on, DON’T WORRY ABOUT DEFENDING YOURSELF. The Bible says, “Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we don’t need to defend ourselves in this matter.’” (Daniel 3:16) They didn’t freak out. They quietly trusted God to take care of them. When you’re in the fire, trust God to be your fire fighter. When you’re under fire, let God defend you. Don’t try to defend yourself.
SECOND, REMEMBER THAT GOD HAS THE POWER TO SAVE YOU. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego said, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we worship is ABLE to save us.” (Daniel 3:17a) It doesn’t matter what kind of mess you’re in or crisis you’re in. God is able to save you. It’s one thing to believe he has the power to save you, but you need to do the next thing.
THIRD, TRUST GOD TO SAVE YOU. When you’re in a crisis, when you’re world is falling apart, when you’re tempted to fall apart, trust God to save you. When things aren’t looking good for you, trust God to save you. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego added, “And he will save us from your power, O king.” (Daniel 3:17b) They are about to be thrown into the fiery furnace and they continue to stand up for what they knew was the right thing to do, because they trusted in God’s power to save them. The Lord has promised, “When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you! For I am the Lord, your God.” (Isaiah 43:2-3a) We are to rest in that promise when we are going through the fire.
FOURTH, ANNOUNCE YOUR LOYALTY TO GOD NO MATTER WHAT. No matter what the outcome of that fiery confrontation, announce your loyalty to God as you head into it. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego said to the king, “But even if God doesn’t save us, we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.” (Daniel 3:18) They are announcing their loyalty to God, no matter what. They believe God is able to save them. They trust that God will save them. But if he doesn’t that won’t change their commitment to serve God and only God.
God works in three ways. Sometimes God saves us from the crisis. Sometimes God saves us through the crisis. Sometimes God saves us by the crisis. The Bible says “It may be necessary for you to be sad for a while because of the many trials you suffer. Their purpose is to prove that your faith is genuine. Even gold, which can be destroyed, is tested by fire; so your faith, which is much more precious than gold, must also be tested, so that it may endure. Then you will receive praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1st Peter 1:6-7)
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE TRUST GOD IN THE FURNACE?
FIRST, GOD WALKS THROUGH THE FIRE WITH US. That’s what Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego teach us. The Bible says, “Suddenly Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in amazement and asked his advisers, ‘Didn’t we tie up three men and throw them into the furnace?’ ‘Yes, we did,’ they said. ‘Well look now!’ he shouted. ‘You can see four men now, unbound, walking around freely in the fire, unharmed! And the fourth man looks like a son of the gods!’” (Daniel 3:24-25) I love the Veggie Tales video of this story. The king asks, “What’s going on down there? I see four men walking around.” And his advisor answers, “I don’t know boss, but one of them is really shiny.” That shiny person was none other than the Son of God, walking through the fire with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
SECOND, GOD WILL BURN OFF EVERYTHING TYING US DOWN. They were tied up and thrown into the furnace. But the only thing that burned was the manmade ropes they’d been tied up with. What has you tied up? What is holding you back? What are the limitations you struggle with? God wants to take you through the fire, but the only thing he wants burned up are the things that limit you, the things that keep you from moving forward in your life. Maybe you have doubts that keep you bound up. Maybe you have bad habits that keep you from moving forward. God will put you through the fire and burn off the ropes that hold you back in order to make you more like Christ. The Bible says, “I have refined you but not in the way silver is refined. Rather, I have refined you in the furnace of suffering.” (Isaiah 48:10)
THIRD, GOD WILL GIVE YOU A WAY TO FREEDOM. He always does when we trust him in the fire. He leads you to freedom. The Bible says, “You let captors set foot on our neck; then we went through fire and water and you led us out to freedom.” (Psalm 66:12) When we pass the test of fire, God leads us to greater freedom.
FOURTH, GOD WILL MAKE SURE YOU COME OUT UNHARMED. The Bible says, “Then Nebuchadnezzar came as close as he could to the door of the flaming furnace and shouted, ‘Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come out at once!’ So the three men stepped out of the fire. Then the princes, prefects, governors, and advisers crowded around them and saw that the fire had not touched them. Not a hair on their heads was singed and their clothing was not scorched. They didn’t even smell of smoke!” (Daniel 3:26-27) God can take us through the refining fire and bring us out on the other side unharmed.
FIFTH, when you trust him through the furnace, GOD WILL USE YOUR EXPERIENCE TO BRING OTHERS TO FAITH. Your greatest witness comes from trusting God through the difficult times of your life. It will lead them to believe in God when they see how he works to deliver you. The Bible says, “Then the king said, ‘Praise to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who sent his angel to rescue his servants. They trusted in him. They defied my command and were willing to die rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. “Therefore, I make this decree: If anyone says anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they will be put to death... There is no other God who can save anyone like this!’ Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to even higher positions in the province of Babylon.” (Daniel 3:29-30) God always tests us before he blesses us.
GOD WILL REWARD YOUR FAITH, in this life and in the life to come. The Bible says, “Each of us must be careful how we build [our lives], because Christ is the only solid foundation. Whatever we build on that foundation will be tested by fire… If what we build is left standing, we will be rewarded! But if what we’ve built is burned up by the fire, we will lose our reward. Yet we will be saved, like someone escaping from flames.” (1st Corinthians 3:10b-15) Let me make it very clear: you cannot lose your salvation. The moment you trust Christ for salvation you are saved. Once saved, always saved. But you can miss out on the rewards that will be given in heaven for those who trust God through the furnace of testing here on earth. Please don’t miss out on what can be yours. Trust God through the fire. Trust him when the heat is on.