Daniel Chapter 3
“A long way from home”
We have had a break for a few weeks from Daniel, but this morning we return to Daniel chapter 3, and to our theme “A long way from home.”
You remember that the book of Daniel describes the experience of some of God’s people living in exile in Babylon. They had to work out what it meant to live faithfully in a land a long way from home.
I suggested that increasingly as Christians, our situation is like theirs. We live a long way from home. They were surrounded by people who didn’t know their God, didn’t worship as they did didn’t understand their values and beliefs, and didn’t hold the same things as being of value , and so do we.
This morning as we turn to Daniel 3, we will see for the third time God’s people coming under pressure. Will they remain faithful?
In chapter 1 we saw them take a stand on a fairly minor issue. It was about sharing in the luxury of the kings table and eating food, but Daniel felt that this would defile them. (Dan 1:8) SO they respectfully ask to be excused and God honours them
In chapter 2 the pressure is turned up quite a bit. Nebuchadnezzar has a dream and demands that the wise men of Babylon not only interpret it, but tell him what it was. When they can’t N demands that all the wise men, including Daniel and his friends are to be dismembered. So D and his friends S,M & A plead for mercy from the God of heaven. And God reveals the dream to Daniel and he goes and tells N, and D and S,M & A are promoted and placed in positions of responsibility.
Now in Chapter 3, we are going to see God’s people living a long way from home have to confront the spiritual idolatry insisted on by N. As we see this we will ask ourselves how we can honour God in a society where there are different spiritual values and idolatrous belief systems.
When you are a long way from home:
1) You will find huge pressure to conform to the spiritual values and world views of society.
Read Dan 3:1-7
N erects a giant golden statue, as high as a swimming pool is long, he gets a full worship band, and commands everyone to bow down and worship. The consequence of disobedience is death by furnace.
You know before we go on, I want to just make an observation about N. He underlines for us the important reality that there is a difference between a spiritual experience of the true God and conversion.
Did N have a Spiritual experience in Chapter 2? Yes. He has a prophetic dream, that is prophetically interpreted by Daniel and spoke of the coming of the king of kings.
Was N’s spiritual experience legitimate? Again the answer was yes. Daniel says that it was God who had shown N what will take place in the future. (2:45b)
So was God behind N’s experience? Yes!
But was he converted? Absolutely not. There was no lasting change in his attitude to God, No worship of the true God, no mark of God’s work in his life, and now we find him indulging in idolatry and you have to wonder if the dream had anything to do with it. Has he warped and distorted what God showed him? He saw an enormous dazzling statue with a head of pure gold, now he builds an enormous statue and it’s all gold.
And so God’s people face the pressure to conform with N’s state sponsored idolatry.
What was wrong? They were only being asked to bow to a statue. I can imagine someone saying “It doesn’t mean anything, it’s not real after all and it’s what’s in my heart that counts.”
We have a God who hates idolatry, because in it his people sell themselves short and deface his glory. They settle too easily for a short term hit and miss out on a lasting weight of glory.
You know I wonder again if actually God’s grace is shown to Gods people in the clear cut nature of the dilemma. The reality was that every Jew would have known that N could not be obeyed, and radical disobedience was the only option.
I fear that for us, very often it is not so clear cut and the devil’s persecutions are more subtle, and we can buy in without realising sometimes that we have done so.
That said what are the spiritual pressures for us? To what idols are we pressured to bow down? Well I’m going to talk about four that bother me, and that I believe are out there and subtly pressure us to bow to them.
- The militant pressure of secularism. On Good Friday, the Guardian published an editorial entitled “Fight the good fight” A good title for Good Friday you might think, but the article was a strongly worded argument for secularism. The good fight was the fight to free society from the influence of religion. That’s what secularism is. Religion is OK in private, but must be kept out of schools and legislation and government and public life and morals. The irony is that those who believe this are far more evangelical in spreading their dogma than many Christians, and that’s why I called it “militant.”
So how are we pressured to bow the knee to secularism? Here I would suggest the great temptation is to bow by going silent.
When we will not open our mouths and speak publicly gospel truth we have bowed to their idol. There is a pressure to serve and not speak, and yet the gospel is public truth and God is over our nation and the nations whatever the Guardian editorial team think.
Here is a challenge for us in this. In Mat 10:32-33 encouraging his disciples in that they will be put under pressure to disown him says Jesus says “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”
- The endemic pressure of universalism. What do I mean by universalism? I mean the idea that all religions are equally valid and true. All religions lead to God. That is not what Christians believe, and indeed if you have struggled with that, you need to think on why we uniquely preach a crucified God if it is possible to earn God’s approval by religious works.
Now I mention this because it is very prevalent, and for example, there is a very real possibility that your children will be taught this in school, and we as parents need to help our children see the foolishness of such claims.
The pressure is to bow the knee and cease to insist on the uniqueness of Jesus and let go of convictions of truth, and friends we must not do so.
Now we have to get this right. I should have respect for my Muslim friend, and I should show him love and defend his religious freedom, but I don’t agree with him and should seek to show him Jesus. (Christians should stand up for religious freedom. It was weird to see the EA and Secular society standing up against the religious hatred bill.)
We may be pilloried for refusing to bow. We may be called arrogant, intolerant and worse.
- The cultural pressure of materialism. Friends, this one and the next one are huge pressures for us, and they are related. What do I mean by materialism? Let me have a stab at a definition and see if it rings any bells. Materialism is a world view, that says that the purpose of life is the pursuit of happiness through the acquisition of stuff. And it is the state religion of most western democracies. The problem with that view is that it is wrong. You were not created by God so that you could acquire stuff, and it will not make you happy, and it foolishly ignores the pressing question of eternity, and one day you will stand before God, and he will not be impressed that you got an Xbox 360 a BMW, a flat screen TV or a holiday home.
And against that way of thinking, 1 Timothy 6:6 says “But godliness with contentment is great gain” but you have got to believe it, and you have to have discovered that there is another treasure of infinitely greater value.
You will find that there are daily pressures to bow and worship at the altar of stuff, and the tragedy is that doing so deadens and dulls the desire of our hearts for God himself.
You need stuff, but if you dull your sense of longing with stuff you will spoil your appetite for God. The pursuit of meaning and joy with a credit card rather than with a Bible and in prayer and worship and God honoring service is a fruitless pursuit that tragically will keep us from finding joy where it really may be found.
- The subtle pressure of narcissism. If materialism is a world view that says that the purpose of life is the pursuit of happiness through the acquisition of stuff, Narcissism is a world view that says the purpose of life is the pursuit of happiness by the pursuit of happiness It’s all about me! This is so prevalent in our society and so tragic because it doesn’t work ultimately. May explain partly why our society is so unhappy.
And this one is so dangerous. This one infects and infests evangelical Christian faith and perverts it and distorts it and so easily worships a God who is most interested in me and my happiness. And it’s so subtle because you can come to think “I’m worshipping God” and yet you are only worshiping him because you believe him to be centred on you.
The treatment is a radically God centred faith founded on a worshipful vision of the glorious God centeredness of God.
We need to search our own hearts and ask ourselves: “Am I in this for me or for God? “
So when the pressure to bow the knee comes how will you remain faithful.
2) You will need to remain faithful to God.
In the first instance when placed under pressure to conform S M & A it seems decide on a quiet path of non conformity with society. They become and odd group that don’t join in with everyone else.
But that strategy doesn’t last for long, as the astrologers (Demonically originated?) decide to tell on them. (v8) and S, M & A are brought before a furious N, and the crunch moment comes. And we want to know how to remain faithful in such situations.
- They recognise a higher authority than N. v16
For them God comes first. “We don’t need to defend ourselves before you in this.” They recognise and believe that there is a higher authority than Nebuchadnezzar. We need to own Christ as our king. Even though N doesn’t v15 The powers that be will not recognise God’s authority, but that is evidence only of their foolishness and doesn’t mean he doesn’t have it.
- They have confidence in the power of God. v17
What a vision of the power of God! Their God is as we sing with the children “a great big God.” He is able to save us from it. Where do you think this confidence comes from? These young men have been though other trials, and they have discovered that God is able. In fact if you think about it the tree trials in the first three chapters of Daniel escalate in their severity. It’s in the trials that you learn that God is to be trusted. We must discover confidence in the greatness of God.
- They are submissive to the will of God. v18
These men say even if he doesn’t rescue us, we will not serve your God or worship your image. You know God doesn’t always rescue his people from fiery furnaces. Sometime he has higher purposes.
Trusting in the will of God and treasuring Jesus over life itself.
Illustration: In oxford there is a memorial to Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley. These men stood for truth together; were imprisoned together; were martyred together bound to the same stake. While bound to the chain with Ridley, Latimer cried out, “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day, by God’s grace, light such a candle in England as I trust shall never be put out.”
N is furious and demands that they be thrown into the furnace and that the furnace be made extra hot.
Conclusion: In faithfulness you will discover that you are not alone.
As these young men are thrown into the fire so in the mercy of God they are protected, and N is shocked to see four figures walking about in the fire.
You kind of think wow that must have been an experience! Walking around in the furnace – with whom? One looks like “a son of the gods” I don’t believe that it is fanciful for us to suppose that the fourth man was the pre incarnate Lord Jesus. (One as a son of the God’s)
The consequence of faithfulness and loyalty is that in the fire they know fellowship with the Lord. Why is it do you suppose that some of the most vibrant churches in the world are some of the most severely persecuted?
Do you remember Jesus’ words to Saul / Paul, the persecutor of the Church on the read to Damascus. “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4) It almost seems that Jesus identifies in a special way with those who pay the price for identifying with him.
So what happens next? S, M & A are promoted and preserved for another day. N is not converted despite another spiritual experience and God’s people are free to worship him.
Will we bow and worship at the images that our culture celebrates and pressures us to celebrate? Or will we refuse to bow and worship anyone or anything other than the one true God? Are we prepared to pay the price for fidelity and faithfulness? If we are then we may discover the preciousness of his presence with us