Meeting God in the Furnace

  • Meeting God in the Furnace
  • Daniel 3
  • Lyndol Loyd
  • January 25, 2021
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Daniel: Living a Life of Integrity                                                                                 Meeting God in the Furnace – Daniel 3

Good morning Church! Today we are continuing in our message series based on the Old Testament book of Daniel. So far, we have looked at how Daniel’s life was completely upended when mad King Nebuchadnezzar invaded Jerusalem. Daniel was taken into captivity and forced to live in exile in Babylon. But, rather than living as a passive victim of his circumstances, Daniel shows resiliency in the face of major adversity.

FURNACE AVOIDANCE                                                                                                           As Daniel 3 begins, King Nebuchadnezzar has made a 90 foot gold statue and has ordered everyone to come bow down and worship it – and for those who don’t to be immediately thrown into a blazing furnace.

We find that a moment of decision has come in the lives of three young men who were Daniel’s closest friends – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They found themselves in a situation where they knew the end of their lives was very near, but they could have avoided it.

All they had to do was cooperate and play along with the king’s request. These were young men of great promise. They had risen to positions of eminence in the world’s most powerful nation. They could look forward to great families, deeply fulfilling lives, doing noble things for their people and for their God. Their hearts were full of hopes and dreams. They had a lot to live for.

For these three men death was eminently escapable. All they had to do was say the word, bend the knee and their nightmare would be over. They would live and be restored to positions of power, honor, and status.

Instead, they were headed toward unimaginable PAIN and DEATH. They could have avoided the furnace, but they chose to face it instead.

Daniel 3:8-18 reads, But some of the astrologers went to the king and informed on the Jews. They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “Long live the king! 10 You issued a decree requiring all the people to bow down and worship the gold statue when they hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes, and other musical instruments. 11 That decree also states that those who refuse to obey must be thrown into a blazing furnace. 12 But there are some Jews—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—whom you have put in charge of the province of Babylon. They pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They refuse to serve your gods and do not worship the gold statue you have set up.”

13 Then Nebuchadnezzar flew into a rage and ordered that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought before him. When they were brought in, 14 Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you refuse to serve my gods or to worship the gold statue I have set up? 15 I will give you one more chance to bow down and worship the statue I have made when you hear the sound of the musical instruments. But if you refuse, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. And then what god will be able to rescue you from my power?”

16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. 18 But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”

 

All Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had to do was fall down and worship the image… bend the knee. But they would not do it. They knew that God could deliver them, but even if He did not, they were not going to bow down. Life or death hung in the balance and they chose the furnace over compromise. That kind of devotion to God is RARE in any generation.

Christians living in a world as comfortable as what many of us inhabit can be tempted to believe that God would never want us to struggle or face a furnace. In fact, our primary goal in life can become what might be called “furnace avoidance.”

We can find ourselves praying, “God deliver me from pain, discomfort, suffering, and inconvenience. Make my life smooth. Make my journey easy. Make my years on this earth comfortable. Remove all the obstacles in my path.”

Today, plenty of preachers and teachers, many of them on TV, try to convince their listeners that furnace avoidance is actually God’s promise to the faithful. According to them, if we follow Jesus and walk in faith, we will never struggle, be sick, lack financial resources, or experience any pain in this life.

A loving God would never ask his children to experience hardship they say; instead, it’s His job to bless us, make us rich and protect us from even the smallest flame of the furnace.

The problem is that these people are wrong. God does not promise protection from any and all furnace experiences. What He does guarantee is that He will be with us no matter what we face. Sometimes God wants us to look to Him in our weakness, accept His strength, and walk with Him hand-in-hand through the flames.

The Bible is full of examples of tenacious faithfulness to God. The Apostle Paul faced all kinds of suffering just because he followed Jesus. He understood that this was part of the journey and was willing to embrace weakness and find the strength of God’s presence rather than practice “furnace avoidance.”

For example, some people in your workplace may be far from God, exhibit behaviors that are quite painful for you. It might feel natural to pray, “God get me out of here,” to seek a transfer or a new job. But maybe God’s plan is to keep you right where you are, at least today, so that He can use you. If this is God’s will, know that you are not alone. This could be the best place in the world.

Maybe your furnace involves a messy relationship, a financial hardship, or a big sacrifice God wants you to make. In our day and age the common idol or golden statues we bow down to are things like comfort, ease, security and success. It might be time for you to accept the power and presence of God as you hang in there instead of running away.

Let’s pick back up with our story. Daniel 3:19-25 reads, 19 Nebuchadnezzar was so furious with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face became distorted with rage. He commanded that the furnace be heated seven times hotter than usual. 20 Then he ordered some of the strongest men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. 21 So they tied them up and threw them into the furnace, fully dressed in their pants, turbans, robes, and other garments. 22 And because the king, in his anger, had demanded such a hot fire in the furnace, the flames killed the soldiers as they threw the three men in. 23 So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, securely tied, fell into the roaring flames.

24 But suddenly, Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in amazement and exclaimed to his advisers, “Didn’t we tie up three men and throw them into the furnace?”

“Yes, Your Majesty, we certainly did,” they replied.

25 “Look!” Nebuchadnezzar shouted. “I see four men, unbound, walking around in the fire unharmed! And the fourth looks like a god!”

 

MEETING GOD IN THE FURNACE                                                                    Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego became members of a very exclusive club. The membership requirements were simple: walk through the furnace and stay alive. But there was a fourth member of the furnace club. This member appeared after the other three were thrown in and ended up being their Deliverer.

It’s an amazing picture: these three young men walking around the roaring inferno, chatting with a fourth figure in the flames. A small group meeting right there in the furnace!

Who was the fourth man who appeared form nowhere, looked like a son of the gods, and cheated death? Well, the text doesn’t say, but I think it was Jesus. It sounds like the kind of thing He would do.

I wonder what they said to each other?

I wonder if the fourth man in the furnace told them how proud the Father was of their loyalty and love.

I wonder if He told them that because of this one act of faithfulness, their names would be remembered for thousands of years; that for centuries men and women who faced suffering, persecution, trial and even death would be immeasurably strengthened by hearing their story.

I wonder what they said to the fourth man? I’ll bet they poured out adoration, gratitude, and wonder like never before.

It’s a funny thing; they came to this place with a fearless resolve to withhold worship from a false god. They ended up worshiping the one true God. The furnace looked like the end of their lives, but it turned out to be the greatest thing they would ever experience. It is where they met God.

IMAGINE: Stop for a moment and try to imagine the experience of these three young men during those final moments before they were thrown into the flames. They had resisted temptation, not bowed down, been faithful to the very end. And now they were going to die for their commitment to God.

Now picture them in the fire waiting for the searing pain and numbness, for the smoke inhalation that will suffocate them. But none of it comes. They don’t feel any different.

It begins to dawn on them that they’re not even warm or tied up anymore. They’re walking around in the furnace, a stroll through the flames. Then they do a head count. Shadrach…one! Meshach…two! Abednego…three! All present and accounted for. Hey… who is the fourth guy?

At the same time, the king also sees an extra man in the fire. It is a divine encounter, one they never could have experienced had they not been willing to go into the furnace.

 

LESSONS FROM THE FURNACE                                                                                           Though going into the furnace seemed to be the last thing Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego wanted to do, it turned out to be the defining event of their lives. Ironically, that which looked like a certain death sentence turned out to be the safest place of all.

Why? Because God was there. The truth is, sometimes God delivers people from the furnace, but sometimes He delivers people in the furnace.

Full devotion to Jesus can lead to places that look scary, dangerous and painful. In the end it turns out that Jesus meets us in these places. Matthew 16:24-25 reads, 24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. 25 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.”

When we walk with Jesus, we carry a cross, walk through furnaces, lay down our lives – and he is with us every step of the way.

 

THE REST OF THE STORY – DANIEL 3:26-30                                                          26 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 here!”

So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stepped out of the fire. 27 Then the high officers, officials, 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!

28 Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He sent his angel to rescue his servants who trusted in him. They defied the king’s command and were willing to die rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. 29 Therefore, I make this decree: If any people, whatever their race or nation or language, speak a word against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they will be torn limb from limb, and their houses will be turned into heaps of rubble. There is no other god who can rescue like this!”

30 Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to even higher positions in the province of Babylon.

God spends a lot of time in furnaces; He has felt the heat. In the ultimate furnace, He went to the cross and bore the weight of human sin for us.

As an act of sacrificial love, I want to ask each of you this morning to consider doing something dangerous. I want to ask you to stop asking for less heat and flames in your life. Don’t ask for easier, richer, more pleasant or more secure life.

Instead, tell Jesus you want to go with Him wherever He goes. Commit to walking with Him as He leads… even if it means stepping into the furnace.

 

TESTIMONY                                                                                                     This morning I want to close by sharing with you the testimony of Melissa Thompson as she reflects on her life in light of the Old Testament story of Daniel. Melissa is part of our congregation and she knows a little something about what it is to have God meet you in the furnace.