When Our Faith Faces the Furnace

One of the most recognized O.T. Bible stories – The three Hebrew boys in the Fiery Furnace

Most Flannel graphed – verb use of the word flannel graph- an ancient felt and cloth media device, designed to be mobile, to bring to life the stories of the Bible.

Interchangeable figures and items, O.T. to N.T. at least where I grew up.

The burning bush could be used in the story of Moses as well as the fire that came down to consume the water and sacrifice in Elijah’s battel on Mt. Carmel

Peter walking on the water, became Paul on the road to Damascus

I think there were like only three poses for the figures, and about 4 or 5 figures

Some of us didn’t realize until we were 18 that those figures were being repurposed like that. It was when we were old enough to read, we realized “there’s a lot more biblical characters than that.”

Before we read our text this morning, we need to set the stage to understand what has previously taken place before we airdrop in on these young men’s moment, keep in mind this was a personal moment made public.

The book of Daniel deals largely with the Sovereignty of God. That God is in charge, even over the gentile kings, even when His people are in a foreign land, exiled. He rules and is Sovereign over all men, the past, the present and the future.

Isaiah 46:9-10 

Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’

What that means is, God is in control over everything

Background for text

Three young Hebrew boys, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego find themselves in a foreign land

*(their names were changed to incorporate affiliation with the pagan gods, we see this even in Abram to Abraham and Jacob to Israel. That whatever they did would reflect upon the deity that their name represented).

Taken there in the first of three military campaigns conducted by Nebuchadnezzar over a 19-year period. This was part of God’s judgement on his people (the southern tribes, as the 10 Northern tribes have already been exiled years before)

  • So they didn’t go willing, they didn’t go there as willing missionaries, or on vacation
  • were put into a 3-year training program to serve in the king’s court
  • They were to be trained in the literature and language of the Chaldeans: This was in attempt to keep them looking Jewish on the outside, but on the inside a Chaldean

 

As they begin their “indoctrination” program They are confronted with their second “furnace” experience if you will, the first being their being taken captive, torn from their families, perhaps their parents killed, or left behind in Jerusalem. 

Ordered to eat meat and drink wine from the Kings table:

Not merely because some of the food would have violated the Jewish dietary laws, but that the food and wine was most likely dedicated to the pagan gods –

Being the age they were, they would have had a very strong grasp of the law so they would have known these things. Added to that, they were from wealthy families that would have been able to provide for such an education.

Daniel 1:8- Provides a key insight to what lies ahead of them and how they will respond.

But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king's food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself.

Two very interesting words in this verse

The first one: “resolved” in the Hebrew uses the words yaSheem- he put, he placed, and  Al lavo, on, upon, his heart: meaning: he purposed in his heart, he was resolute in his decision.

Then the English “not defile” in the Hebrew has the meaning, never defile himself, not just at the moment, not just for a period, but never- His purpose was to honor God

This included not just Daniel, but Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego as well.

Then in chapter 2- their 3rd furnace experience*(Daniel 2:4 begins the Aramaic text portion up to Daniel 7:28, chapter 1 and chpts. 8-12 are in Hebrew) we see that Daniel calls on them to pray with him over the matter of the king’s dream- pray like your life depended on it!

They are then appointed, by God’s design, delivered if you will, to serve at a very high political level, outside of the king’s court, no longer mere advisers, but now over the affairs of the province of Babylon.

As we get into chapter three we see that Nebuchadnezzar has a large image made and required worship of it by all his subjects.  This is where we have now found ourselves in the text.

READ TEXT:

This morning I’m sure that there are folks who are going through the furnace as I speak, but it’s not working out quite like it did for these three fellows. The loss of a loved one, a job, being persecuted, sickness, perhaps even terminal illness.  Whether it directly or indirectly affects you, you may very well have asked:  Why? - Did God allow thisWhen? – Will this be over.  What? Is the purpose of this. 

Then there are those who have not yet experienced the touch of the furnace’s flame, but let me assure you, you will at some level.  (That’s comforting!!)

As A Christian you very well may go through multiple fiery furnaces- Why are you telling us this?

Because we are to expect it! It’s not a fine print sort of thing, where you have become a follower of Christ and then when these things happen and you say “Wow, I guess I didn’t read the fine print, I need to get out of this.”

The expectation of trials, suffering, hardship, pain and even death is in bold print, screaming at us from the pages of God’s word.

Jesus said in Luke 9:23

23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let himtdeny

himself and utake up his cross vdaily and follow me.

Peter said in 1 Peter 4:12-13:

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

So with that being the case, either you are in the furnace or the furnace is eagerly awaiting your arrival.

Then what can we glean from this Old Testament story in God’s word, an event that happen that long ago in regard to our present circumstances?   The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 15:4

“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

1. They Knew God: They had God’s word in their heart- that’s how we get to know him

Because they knew God: They had a clear understanding of who God is. Sovereign in control, Holy, His loving kindness they had read about it, they had experienced it before.

Knowing who God is, allows us to trust him, and worship Him, even in the furnace, because we know that he knows better than us.

Job: “Yea though he slay me, yet will I trust in Him.”

Because they had God’s word in their hearts they were able to purpose in their hearts – they possessed a strength to have the resolve to NEVER defile themselves 

Not in their strength, but through the grace that God gives the ones who know him, whom he knows. When we attempt to do it in our own strength we fail.

Peter is a good example, in the garden and around the fire pit he was in the flesh, he was really wanting to, trying to be resolved but it wasn’t until at Pentecost that he was filled and acting in the spirit that he was able fully to trust and have confidence in Christ.

Others knew this about them as well. If I truly know God through His word and I have purposed in my heart that I will bring Him honor and glory, other people will see that. You don’t have to put on a show, it just shows up. God shows up!

Vs 8: It’s important to notice that they were not solely falsely accused,

They were “maliciously” accused

The word comes from the word malice: a desire to inflict injury, harm, or suffering on another; A deep seated meanness

This accusation was presented to the king as:  these guys don’t
1.)“pay attention to you” have no regard for your authority - never

  • Do not, (will never) serve or worship your gods. They won’t do it today nor in the future
  • Nor will they (never) worship the golden image

Daniel 3:12: “They’re never going to worship YOUR gods or the image YOU have set up.

Worship: To really worship someone or something, True Worship: the worshiper must come to the realization of their position before what they worship. Not their physical position, not their material position but their spiritual position.

The woman at the well, she understood that Jesus knew everything bad thing about her and her need for a redeemer of her soul, not a redeemer of her checkbook, her health, or her prosperity here on earth, but for that eternal hope.

“Come see a man who told me all that I ever did” Her heart, her sin was laid bare and she knew that she was undone before a Holy God without any hope for eternity unless Christ would graciously grant it,

“Lord I’m, it’s (the situation) in your hands.” that’s where you have true worship, true resolve, even in the furnace 

2.) They became steadfast, unmovable in their faith because of what was in their hearts: Committed to see this thing through to the end, no matter the result.

Daniel 3: 16-18:

Their decision was based on an “internal” principal, rather than “external pressure”

In Job 2: 9-10 we read whereas Job’s wife was experiencing with him the extreme loss of everything, their children, wealth, his good name, she says

Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.”

“Curse God and die”.  Just let all your anger out on God, he is the one who has caused this. Evidently he doesn’t care about you, if he did you wouldn’t be going through what you’re going through now! There is probably not even a God.

Perhaps you’ve heard this> “I just can’t believe any more in a God that would allow (you fill in the blank) to happen”

What was Job’s response? Job 10:2

10 But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

One of the most heroic statements in the bible, I believe is found here in Daniel 3:18

“But if not”, Even if He doesn’t, we will not (never) serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

We know God is able to bring us out of this unscathed, but if He so chooses to let us suffer in the flames of this furnace, we will not turn our backs on God.

They asked for no miracle, neither did they expect one, they trusted that God had a plan and that He was in control. This doesn’t mean however that you shouldn’t pray for deliverance.

James said “The prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” PRAY- Like your life depended on it! Just like Daniel and those three Hebrew boys did in Daniel Chapter 2. It may be God’s will that you are to pray about it for your deliverance.  BUT, even if he doesn’t……

We don’t know if their legs turned to jelly or if their mouths became suddenly dry, cotton mouth, for fear of the unknown, scared of what it would be

But what we do know is that they knew that one way or the other, either through the flames to the other side of the furnace, or through the flames to heaven, God would deliver them from Nebuchadnezzar’s hand.

The Apostle Paul, in his second letter to Timothy spoke about his being appointed as a preacher and apostle of the gospel, wrote this

“which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.” 2 Timothy 2:12

Their faith in God, was True Faith.

Does our Faith resemble a contract

Lord, I’ll serve you faithfully as long as
I don’t lose my job
I have no painful losses
No unexpected tragedies, or if there is you get me through unscathed
My life is full of good health, wealth, and prosperity

“The essense, the core, of True Saving Faith is the preparedness to serve God without a contract.”

Then finally

3.) They submitted to the fact that their Suffering was meant for God’s glory

They perhaps didn’t understand how God could use this horrible thing that was happening to them

But because they Knew God, they were able to purpose in their hearts, be resolved that no matter what happened to them, they would focus on God in the furnace, not themselves.

From Daniel 3: 8- 23, the names of the three Hebrews are mentioned 8 times, specifically as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego

Now I want us to see this, the narrative shifts from Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to God.

In Daniel 3:24-25, Just two verses; Their names become of no importance in the narrative, they are just men. The focus is now Totally shifted.

Nebuchadnezzar was ASTONISHED, he was moved, like he had not been moved before, not because of the words that the three Hebrews were speaking, but moved by what he observed.

He was looking now, not listening and what did he see that moved him?

Read text: vs. 24-25

Some say that it was an angel that Nebuchadnezzar saw in the furnace with the three Hebrews some say that it was Christ himself.

Some translations read “like a son of the gods” and some read “like the son of God”

What we have to remember is that Nebuchadnezzar really had no concept or idea of “the son of God”, as we know it- like many who are watching us in the furnace.

But what we can be sure about is that what he saw, pointed him to God.

We see back vs 26, this king who boasted “Who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?

Is moved to the point that he himself goes near to the door of the furnace

The king that had the three Hebrews brought to him is now running to them
He now sees them as servants of the Most High God

Notice the definite article “the” not A god, but THE MOST HIGH GOD

As A king he had seen loyalty, quite frankly as the King he demanded loyalty. He was a warrior, he had certainly been moved and inspired by men of great valor who died a hero’s death for king and country on the field of battle but he had never been moved like this.

Never had he seen such trust and faith.

But Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were not seen as the heroes, it was God who blessed and honored.

Here at the end of vs 26 through the end of the chapter:

They came out of the fire, they didn’t even smell like smoke, their clothes were not burned and their hair probably looked like they had just washed and dried it.

Everyone around was amazed by this but Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were not celebrated for what had happened, but all the glory went to God because of the Faith and Trust that the three displayed during their fiery ordeal.

Vs 28 “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has set his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the kings command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God.” 

We are reminded on a daily basis that there is suffering in our world. Being a Christian does not exempt us from suffering, from facing a fiery furnace

In this world we will suffer: One because we live in a fallen world, a sin cursed world.

Second; As Christians we will suffer because we are called to it, as Christ suffered 

1Peter 2:20-21:

For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 

Since we know that we will face a furnace of some sorts we should

1.) make sure we know him

2.) fill our hearts with God’s word so that we can stand resolute in the fire

3.) Then we can react in those furnaces in a way that shows Christ to others

 

Jon Huss the reformer of Bohemia, who came 100 years before Martin Luther, was burned alive at the stake on July 6, 1415.

He was deemed a heretic and was executed because he believed that God’s word, scripture, was the authority not the pope or the church, he believed like John Wycliffe, that men should be able to read God’s word on their own, that the church had erred from scripture and had become corrupt in its teachings and needed to be reformed, for this he was burned alive.

It was said that in his cell, the night before his execution, he tested his resolve by placing his forearm against the flame of a candle. As his forearm touched the flame, he immediately pulled it back in pain, cried out to God, “If I cannot take the flame of the candle, how will I be able to take the flame of the stake?”

Witnesses at his death recounted that “the wood was stacked up to his neck, and the torn pages of copies of Wycliffes books were used to kindle the fire.” Before the flame was lit, he was asked one more time to recant, he refused saying, “only if I can be shown through the scriptures that I am wrong, then I would humbly recant.”

he was enabled to die singing "Christ, thou Son of the living God, have mercy upon me." God's grace was sufficient and he went through the flames in a manner that glorified His Father

AS Jesus was preparing for his last days on earth, he met with his disciples to let them know what to expect after his death. What the world would think of him and them and the sorrow and pain they would suffer. But he told them that that sorrow would one day turn to joy, an eternal joy, an everlasting joy.

John 16: 33

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. 

Are we living our lives to avoid the furnace or are we living our lives prepared for the furnace?