The Fourth Man in the Fire
1-29-17 Daniel 3:13-27 Lesson 10
Good morning everybody. If we could take our Bibles and open them to the Daniel chapter 3 and verse 13. Happy end of January to everybody. Am I the only one that still signs my check with 2016? I haven’t even got to used 2017 yet and one month is already gone. The title of our message this morning is The Fourth man in the Fire and maybe you’re here today and you’re needing something from the Lord in terms of faithfulness, a study of His faithfulness, a reminder of His faithfulness. Well, this is where Daniel 3 informs us about this. We started a couple of weeks ago a study through the book of Daniel; Daniel being a very special character in the sense that Daniel was raised up by God in Babylon to really explain prophetically a period of time that the nation of Israel had just entered into, a time period that we’ve defined as the times of the Gentiles when the nation has no king reigning on David’s throne and she is being trampled down by various Gentile powers.
This is something that Israel had never known before; the Shekinah glory of God is in the process, if it hasn’t already it’s about to completely depart from the temple that Solomon built; Nebuchadnezzar is about to come and destroy the temple, the nation is 350 miles to the east living in a foreign land, and no prophet had really given a lot of details about this time period unless God began to work in the lives of this very young man, still a teenager as we open up the early chapters of Daniel, this young man Daniel.
And then how do you live on enemy territory or how do you live for God when you’re outside of your surroundings and you’re out of your comfort zone, and you’re living amongst people that do not accept your worldview? In fact, the worldview that people have that are over you is different than yours. How do you live for God then? Well, Daniel and his three friends are not just describing this time period prophetically, but are describing it ethically because they function as role models, which is a study that I think we need to understand because we find ourselves as God’s people living in the devil’s world in much the same boat, don’t we.
The book of Daniel, as you know, has two parts; chapters 1-7 is the historical section; the prophetic is coming, not today, but chapters 8-12. We’re in that historical section, we’ve made our way out of chapter 1 where the setting has been laid for us, the foundation. It’s a description of where Israel was and what had happened to them.
And then we moved into chapters 2-7 which, as we mentioned before it’s organized in what is called a chiasm where chapter 2, the information or the themes are restated in chapter 7. And you move internally and what you read in chapter 3 you say wait a minute, that’s also in chapter 6. And then moving into the middle of the chiasm, chapters 4 and 5 largely have the same themes. I’ll make reference to this more as we go through it but it’s just a handy device, a literary pattern. This is the section written not in Hebrew; most of your Old Testament is written in Hebrew, this is one of those rare sections that’s written in Aramaic. So God, I believe, in this section is sending a message, not to His own people only but to the surrounding Gentile nations that you think you’re in charge but you really aren’t in charge. It’s just an illusion; you know, control is just an illusion isn’t it? We think we’re in control, in reality we’re not in control of hardly anything. And this is why we have to walk in humble dependence upon our God.
Chapter 2 is the giant statue that Daniel interpreted and then chapter 3, the scenario shifts from Daniel to the three friends that entered with him into Babylonian captivity; their Babylonian names as you probably know are Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. We have seen the setting, verses 1-7; we saw that last week. Nebuchadnezzar, and there’s different reasons as to why he did this (which we talked about last time) but the bottom line is he set up a giant image. It probably spanned about eight stories in height, and it was nine feet wide, made out of pure gold.
And he demanded, verses 4-6, that everyone in the kingdom, the prophets of Babylon, bow down to this image. This, of course, creates a bit problem for people that don’t share Nebuchadnezzar’s world view. It creates a big problem for Daniel and his three friends because as devout Jews there’s two commandments in the Decalogue, aren’t there? The first two, no graven images and no other gods before Me. And yet we studied last time that the purpose of government is something that God Himself ordained. Would you rather have a corrupt government or no government? I’ll take the corrupt government, because if there’s no government there’s virtually no restraint left on man’s sin nature, because government bears the sword, and you would quickly have a world that existed prior to the flood where violence swept the face of the earth.
So government is something that we’re to pray for; government is something, an empathy we’re to respect. We’re to pay our taxes. And yet what do you do when your government begins to coerce you against your own biblical conviction? This is the scenario that Daniel and his three friends are finding themselves in and frankly this is a scenario in which most of the Christian world today is suffering under. In the United States of America we’ve enjoyed, for the past 200 years, sort of a bubble of abnormality. The freedoms that we enjoy, even the freedom today to peaceably assemble and worship as we wish, where we don’t have to worry about government agents kicking down the door, that is something that’s a rare gift in the history of mankind. Most of the world’s Christian population doesn’t enjoy this.
And so Daniel (because they’re outside of their homeland) and his three friends are having to think about, perhaps for the very first time, what do you do when government, a God-ordained institution, begins to coerce you against what the Bible clearly says? You know, some of you might be in a work environment where your boss is having you do things or say things or record things or write things that you know in your heart of hearts is not right and yet the Bible tells you to honor those that are in positions of authority over you. What do you do then?
And what we discover is now that Daniel and his three friends are in this place called Babylon, where their worldview is not shared, the Bible starts to open and address the issue of civil disobedience. As we look at this chiasm, it’s a theme in chapter 3 and it’s a theme in chapter 6. Chapter 3 involves Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego in this fiery furnace, as we’ll see. Chapter 6, which we will get to at some point, is the well-know story of Daniel in the lion’s den, but it’s the same theme, the same very difficult subject of civil disobedience. People say well I’m glad we’re in America, we don’t have to worry about stuff like this.
I shared this newspaper clipping with you last time. Jack Phillips is a baker who declined to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple because his Christian belief is that marriage exists only between a man and woman. Now a Colorado judge has ordered him to bake cakes for same-sex marriages, and if Phillips refuses, he could go to jail.” If I were to read newspaper clipping after newspaper clipping resounding this same theme we would be here, probably until tomorrow. These are literal and real stories that are breaking out all over the country. So what do we do? The Bible says submit to those that are in authority over you but what do you do when the authority structure itself becomes what I would call tyrannical, it begins to coerce you against your convictions, a scenario that most of the Christian world has lived in for the last 2000 years, going all the way back to apostolic times.
Many people labor under the misconception that the biblical position is you submit to government no matter what. That is not the biblical position. Peter, when confronted with this very issue, as he was dealing with the Sanhedrin, in Acts 5:27-29 specifically says we must obey God rather than who? Rather than man. [Acts 5:27-29, “When they had brought them, they stood them before the Council. The high priest questioned them,  saying, ‘We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.’  But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men.’”] There starts to develop, and you see it very clearly here in Daniel 3, Daniel 6, Acts 5, and many other passages I could quote, this issue, this reality of civil disobedience under certain parameters it becomes acceptable to disobey the government.
So the setting quickly moves into what’s called an accusation. We studied the accusation last time, chapter 3, verses 8-12. Largely what’s motivating the accusation, I believe, is jealousy. These three youths, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, had become popular, or should I say prominent in Babylon. Chapter 3, verse 12 seems to indicate that. [Daniel 3:8-12, “For this reason at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and brought charges against the Jews.  They responded and said to Nebuchadnezzar the king: ‘O king, live forever!  You, O king, have made a decree that every man who hears the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, and bagpipe and all kinds of music, is to fall down and worship the golden image.  But whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire.  There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the administration of the province of Babylon, namely Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. These men, O king, have disregarded you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up.”]
And whenever you begin to rise through the ranks what you have to start looking for is people that want to shoot you down. And this is always a frustrating thing because as God prospers you, you start to think I’m in the will of God, what could go wrong, and all of a suddenly you find you’ve got a bunch of critics that you didn’t count on. And the reason for that is God’s work in your life is exposing the lack of God’s work in their lives. And so sometimes your own Christian brothers and sisters, sometimes your own family can start to become perturbed by the fact that you are progressing and growing into that vessel that God has for us.
Criticism is not necessarily the sign that you’re on the wrong path; it could be very much a sign that you’re on the right path. And this is what Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego are experiencing. And they simply cannot compromise on this issue; they can’t bow down to a statue because of Jewish monotheism. There is but one God. To violate that would be to violate the first two commandments in the Decalogue, going back to Exodus 20 and verses 1-6.
[Exodus 20:1-6, “Then God spoke all these words, saying,  ‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.  “You shall have no other gods before Me.  You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.  You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me,  but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”]
Now we have today people who have almost devoted their whole lives to tearing down the Bible. They try to find every possible error in the Bible, every possible inconsistency. It reminds me of W.C. Fields, who was getting ready to die, and he was not known for his godliness and so everybody was shocked at the end of his life that he was reading the Bible. And people asked him, well, what are you doing with that? And his response was I’m looking for loopholes. In other words, this Bible sits in judgment on me and I’m trying to figure out a way to dismiss its authority. People are like that with the Bible. They’re not like this with William Shakespeare; they’re not like this with any other classical writer but they’re always trying to tear down the Bible. In fact, they run entire television broadcast trying to tear down the Bible, largely because the Bible is an authority based book that claims authority over a person’s life. William Shakespeare does not do that.
So the name of the game in the minds of many people is to discredit the Bible. One of the things that they’ll say here is this book is a forgery. Well how do we know that? Well, wasn’t Daniel in the province of Babylon at this time? Yes he was. Well, there’s no record here of Daniel resisting authority as Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego had done so obviously the book of Daniel is just a fiction; it’s a set of fairy tales just like you would ready Jack and the Beanstalk because we all know that if this decree was really issued that Daniel himself would be under pressure, and yet there’s no record of that in chapter 3, only his three friends.
And I hear a criticism like that and I always say is that the best you’ve got? Because to me that has a very simple answer; when you go back to Daniel 2:48-49 it talks about the promotion, not just of Daniel but of Daniel’s three friends, after Daniel successfully interpreted this statue in Daniel 2. It says, you’ll recall, “Then the king promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts, and he made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon.” Then it says later on, verse 49, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego were given authority over the administration of the province of Babylon,” and then at the very end of verse 49 it says Daniel remained in the king’s court. [49, “And Daniel made request of the king, and he appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego over the administration of the province of Babylon, while Daniel was at the king’s court.”]
It’s very clear here that Daniel was elevated into a very high position. Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego were elevated into high positions as well but they had more to do with not the whole province of Babylon but administrative roles. So is it not possible that Daniel, in a different position, could have been out of the country, out of the nation as we would say doing the king’s business? Is it at least possible? Of course it’s possible. Then objection overruled. There isn’t anything in that to discredit Daniel 3 as somehow being a factious writing, forgery and the like.
And again, I bring this to your attention because these are the questions you’re going to face from your children and your grandchildren who are on You Tube, Facebook, watching A and E, The History Channel, Mysteries of the Bible, all of those shows by and large, I know there’s some good shows but by and large you run into this mindset of constantly tearing down the Scripture. And so many times we, as Christians, are not equipped with very simple answers to these things. And so part of my job, I believe, as a pastor-teacher is to equip you for these thing that you’ll face regularly. That’s why I bring up these apologetic issues when they’re relevant.
But the accusation now moves into an actual test and notice if you will verses 13-15 of Daniel 3. “Then Nebuchadnezzar in rage and anger gave orders to bring Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego; then these men were brought before the king.  Nebuchadnezzar responded and said to them, ‘Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, that you do not serve my gods” plural, “or worship the golden image that I have set up?  Now if you are ready, at the moment you hear the sound of the” and here are all of these musical instruments that I have a difficult time pronouncing and it’s frustrating because it keeps repeating them, but the “horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery and bagpipe and all kinds of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, very well. But if you do not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire;” now notice the end of verse 15, “and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?”’
Well, Nebuchadnezzar, you’re about to find out. What you see in this man, Nebuchadnezzar, is a challenging of the authority of God. I believe that this challenging over the authority of God is actually something that he did right at the beginning of the book of Daniel because you’ll recall in Daniel 1:6-7 that the four youths, including Daniel, had very godly names. [Daniel 1:6-7, “Now among them from the sons of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.  Then the commander of the officials assigned new names to them; and to Daniel he assigned the name Belteshazzar, to Hananiah Shadrach, to Mishael Meshach and to Azariah Abed-nego.”] Those names reveal a great deal about their heritage and the type of godly parenting that they received before the captivity even started.
And by the way, that’s the time to fortify your kids, before the captivity starts, before they’re off in college or the work place where their faith is going to be challenged. It’s so important for parents to instill, not just through verbal teaching but through role modeling what Christianity is all about because they’re going off into hostility. The United States of America is different today than the country I grew I up in, and we have to understand that our children, our grandchildren, are facing obstacles and challenges that we never dreamed of as youths. And how important it is to take those few moments that God allows us to have them under our home, under our nest to fortify them in the things of God. I hope you’re doing that. I hope you’re doing it as preventive maintenance because that is your biblical assignment,
Deuteronomy 6:6-7 talks about it. Proverbs 22:6, and many other passages. [Deuteronomy 6:6-7, “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.  “You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.”]
But Nebuchadnezzar comes in, chapter 1, and he renames these youths; he gives them names that don’t respect the God of the Bible but he gives them names that respect the Babylonian pantheon. And naming in the Bible is a big deal as I’ve tried to explain back in chapter 1; it’s a sign of authority. This is why Adam was given permission to name the animals that God brought to him in Eden because Adam was given authority over those animals. And so when Nebuchadnezzar comes in and he renames these individuals, right at the beginning, chapter 1, he just challenged the authority of God.
And as you go to Daniel 3:15 he is challenging the authority of God yet again; what God is there that can help you if you don’t worship my image and you’re cast into this fire. [Daniel 3:15, “Now if you are ready, at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery and bagpipe and all kinds of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, very well. But if you do not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?”]
This man, Nebuchadnezzar, maybe he sounds like a boss you worked for, hopefully no one on staff here at Sugar Land Bible Church thinks that way. It’s interesting to me, and I believe there’s a case to be made for this in Daniel 4, I believe Nebuchadnezzar came to (eventually) a saving knowledge of God. I’ll make that case when we finally get to chapter 4, not today of course. But it is interesting to me that the people that are the most aggressive, most critical, most assertive antagonists against Christian are oftentimes the very people that are closest to conversion. Why are they so antagonistic? Because the Spirit, through conviction… did not Jesus say when the Spirit comes He will convict the world, John 16:7-11, of sin, righteousness and judgment.
[John 16:7-11, “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.  And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment;  concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me;  and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me;  and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.”]
If there’s something that the unsaved mind doesn’t like it’s coming under the conviction of God. And oftentimes those under conviction are the most angry at you, at me. And we have a tendency to look at these people and say they’re so far away from God when in reality the opposite might be true. And I say that because many of you are in circumstances at work or family where people are just angry, you’re not trying to provoke them, they’re just mad at you because of your Bible and your Christian beliefs. The very subject of spiritual things seems to cause a schism, constantly. You should actually take heart in that circumstance because God is at work in these people in ways that we don’t really understand.
A person I worry about is not the angry person but the objective non-responsive type person, where you talk about Jesus as the only way to salvation and if they don’t trust Christ they’re going to hell and they say well, I’m glad you found enlightenment in your guru, and they just calmly brush it off. That’s the person I’m concerned about because there’s no work of God going on, there’s no conviction. But the person that’s upset and overreacting, that’s a person that God is doing something in. You take Saul of Tarsus, Acts 8:1-3, “Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death” (that’s Stephen), “And on that day a great persecution began against the church of Jerusalem and they were scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria except the apostles.” This is the first formal wave of persecution that has come against the infant church launched by Saul of Tarsus. [Acts 8:2, “Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him.] Acts 8:3 says, “But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.”
And you look at a guy like that and you think he’d never get saved; look at his attitude. And yet what happened in chapter 9? What I just read is in chapter 8 of Acts; chapter 9 is his conversion. I believe this, that the Lord, through the conviction of the Holy Spirit, was at work in Saul of Tarsus’ life long before he got saved. And the very testimony of Christianity or the work of the church was something that made him fly into a rage. He seemed so far from Christ and yet in reality he was within a chapter, within a millimeter of conversion.
You’ll notice the response here of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego as this edict is coming down. Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, verse 16-18 says, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego replied to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter.  If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king.” Look at this,  “But even if He does not,” did you catch that, “But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods” plural “or worship the golden image that you have set up.”’ God can deliver us, we’ve made a decision we’re not going to worship that image; God can deliver us, verse 17, but maybe, verse 18, He won’t deliver us, either way we’re not going to violate the first two commandments in the Decalogue.
The book of Hebrews is really an interesting book, particularly chapter 11. It talks there about the great victories of people that walked with God. I mean, God is doing miracles on behalf of people related to the walls of Jericho, and a number of miracles are recorded, and verse 35 of chapter 11 says, “Women received back their dead” and we say right on, “by resurrection;” and then all of a sudden you get right there into the first part of verse 35 of Hebrews 11 and the whole tenor changes, I kind of wish the chapter ended there, but it doesn’t. It goes on and it says, “and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection;’  and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment.” And it goes on and it describes people that were put to death, that were tormented, that were tortured because of their stand for God. And there’s all these victories recorded.
[Hebrews 11:37, “They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated  (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.  And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised,  because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.”]
And I’m so happy verse 35 switches the tone because it teaches us very clearly that yes, God does deliver from a human point of view and can deliver but the bottom line is we continue to walk with God regardless of what He does. The victory belong to Him, whether it’s deliverance or martyrdom it’s up to God. We love the stories of people who stand up for God in their workplace and they’re promoted. What about the people that stand up for God in their workplace and get demoted or get fired and exist months and months and years and years of no employment? We have a tendency to tune that latter part of it out; it doesn’t fit the American definition of success, does it? That’s why I’m so grateful that he says here we’re going to stand for God and God can deliver us but even if He does not we’re still going to stand for God.
What a great role model for how to live for God in troubled times. God can heal the cancer, God can help me survive the layoff, God can solve the conflict in my family which is being caused because of my stand for Christ, but you know what, I’m going to stand for Christ even if He doesn’t. That’s how the Jews are to live during this difficult time called the times of the Gentiles.
And people say well, doesn’t the Bible teach unlimited submission to the government? Let me ask you a question; a wife is supposed to submit to her husband; does that mean that the husband can abuse her any way he wants to, let’s say it’s a physical abuse, is she supposed to just sit there like a doormat and take it because the Bible says “wives submit to your husbands.” No counselor in their right mind would give such advice. And yet many people with the institution of government have this view that no matter what the government does, no matter what the government says you have to always submit because government is a God-ordained institution.
What we’re seeing here is not true; the Bible never teaches unlimited submission, unlimited compliance. Generally submission is a good thing but there reaches a point where the government, or an abusive husband for that matter, goes too far. And this is clearly brought out here in chapter 3 and chapter 6, and this is where the subject of civil disobedience, you have to start thinking about it. You remember last time I gave you what I would consider to be the four principles of civil disobedience? When is it right to tell the government no? I have four general principles that I shared with you.
Number 1, there has to be a clear conflict between the laws of man and the laws of God. It can’t be a matter of not liking someone’s personality, not liking someone’s temperament, not voting for somebody so I don’t have to submit to them, some kind of minor disagreement. There’s got to be something crystal clear here, there has to be a collision. We see that collision very clearly here because Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego are told specifically to do something that God has forbade.
Secondly, there must be an exhaustion of all creative legal remedies and what I mean by that is civil disobedience is a last resort and not a first resort. We’re living in this time period of civil disobedience and protests and people getting angry because they don’t like this and don’t like that. And people are sort of rabble rousers, antiauthoritarian, and that’s not the biblical position. We’re not that way as Christians. Paul says as long as it is possible be at peace with all men. We don’t use civil disobedience as a first resort; we use it as a last resort. We use it when there’s no other option. Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego had no other option.
Number three, we have to be willing to pay the consequences. The blood of Jesus keeps you out of hell, praise the Lord for that; it doesn’t remove temporal consequences of sin necessarily. A person who drinks their whole life and wrecks their liver and trusts in Christ for salvation is not guaranteed a new liver (this side of eternity anyway). The next time you’re pulled over by the police officer try this one out: well, gee officer, Romans 8:1 says there’s no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus. It’s not going to get you very far, is it?
And then most importantly, number four, as the act of civil disobedience is taking place respect must be maintained for the authority structure. So let’s run it through the grid here. How are Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego doing? Number 1, is there a clear conflict between man’s law and God’s law? Clearly, you see that in verse 14. [Daniel 3:14, “Nebuchadnezzar responded and said to them, ‘Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up?”’]
Number 2, has there been an exhaustion of all creative legal remedies? I think that’s been satisfied. There’s no other option for them here.
Number 3, are they willing to pay the consequences? I think they are because in verse 18 it says “even if He does not” come through and deliver us. [Daniel 3:18, “But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”]
And finally number 4, notice this, this is often missed by commentators, as civil disobedience is taking place there is still respect for the God-given institution of government. You’ll notice in verse 16 they refer to the king respectively as “O Nebuchadnezzar….” [16, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar….”] You drop down to verse 18 there’s a reverential respect for his title, “O King.” [18, “…and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king.”]
You know it’s interesting when you study the crucifixion of Jesus, right to the very final hours where Jesus was before Pilate, you find Jesus doing the same thing; He’s not resulting to sarcasm, derogatory statements, demeaning the person in authority. There’s always this high level of respect even when the authority figures go too far.
This is one of the concerns I have with so-called alternative media, rightwing media, leftwing media, social media, Facebook, pictures; I’ve been guilty of this probably just as bad as anybody but the fact of the matter is when we disagree sometimes our disagreement borders on disrespect. Sometimes we result to ridicule, sarcasm, in advocating what is a legitimate disagreement and that ought not to be the Christian’s approach to this. Civil disobedience becomes an option, being rude, being obnoxious, being crude, being divisive unnecessarily, being derogatory, being sarcastic, that’s not something that God has ever ordained or sanctioned.
In fact, what did Paul say when he was talking about the institution of human government in Romans 13:7, “Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear;” and notice the end of verse 7 of Romans 13, “if honor to whom honor.” Every God-ordained government in the world deserves basic respect regardless on what they do because they are an institution that God has set up. Can the government go too far? Of course it can but there should always be in the attitude of the Christian a desire to respect, to pray for, to uphold, to subsidize something that God established, as we saw last time, going all the way back to the Noahic Covenant, Genesis chapter 9. Important things for us to think about in our time period.
We continue on and we see the deliverance. Notice, if you will, verses 19-23, “Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with wrath, and his facial expression was altered toward Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. He answered by giving orders to heat the furnace seven times more than it was usually heated.  He commanded certain valiant warriors who were in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego in order to cast them into the furnace of blazing fire.  Then these men were tied up in their trousers, their coats, their caps and their other clothes, and were cast into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire.  For this reason, because the king’s command was urgent and the furnace had been made extremely hot, the flame of the fire slew those men who carried up Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego.  But these three men, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, fell into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire still tied up.”
This business here of throwing people into fire is consistent with what we read elsewhere in the Bible concerning Nebuchadnezzar. In Jeremiah 29:22-23, written around the same general time period, a little earlier, it talks about two prophets whom the king of Babylon, that would be Nebuchadnezzar, roasted in the fire. [Jeremiah 29:22-23, “‘Because of them a curse will be used by all the exiles from Judah who are in Babylon, saying, ‘May the LORD make you like Zedekiah and like Ahab, whom the king of Babylon roasted in the fire,  because they have acted foolishly in Israel, and have committed adultery with their neighbors’ wives and have spoken words in My name falsely, which I did not command them; and I am He who knows and am a witness,” declares the LORD.’”] Apparently this is how Nebuchadnezzar did things.
John Walvoord in his Daniel commentary writes this, “His pride, having been severely punctured, so he gave the foolish order to overheat the furnace, as if this would increase the torment. Actually a slower fire would have been far more torture. Even Nebuchadnezzar, in his irrational anger wanted the furnace to be as hot as his rage. The fact that Nebuchadnezzar ordered them to be tied up by the strongest men in his army also reveals the irrationality of the king’s fury as if there would have been a breaking of the ropes and escape if ordinary soldiers had tied them up. The king did not even take the time to have the condemned men stripped of their clothes, which actually would have been normal in the ancient world.”
Isn’t it interesting that anger and being in a state of anger causes us to act in strange and irrational ways? That is something that my father always instilled in me, is anger itself is sort of a form of temporary insanity. I know that I say things and I do things that I wish I had never said when I’m in a state of anger. And sadly today on social media you can say something in anger and then it’s enshrined for everybody to see (in a database somewhere) where you can’t escape your own words.
That’s why the Scripture talks over and over again about controlling our anger. Proverbs 16:32 says, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.” Greater than somebody that conquers a city is someone that can control themselves in terms of their emotional impulses. I guess the fancy word for this today is impulse control. How many people have done things in anger that they wish they could take back? How many words have been said in anger that they wish they could take back? I remember in my basketball days there was a basketball player; he missed a routine layup and he was so angry that he went to the side of the court and he banged his head against the wall and sadly he spent the rest of his life paralyzed from the neck down because of one moment of anger. I would argue that Moses, I don’t blame him actually because I can see how upset he got with these people but he had a moment of anger I believe and he was forbade from entering Canaan.
Ephesians 4:26 says, “do not let the sun go down on your anger,” I read that the first time and I said okay, I’m going to move to Alaska then. But the fact of the matter is we’re not to dwell, we’re not to stew, we’re not to entertain thoughts of revenge; we’re to turn people over to the Lord, forgiving them as God has forgiven who? Forgiven us.
If you’re struggling with anger the best solution for it is the grace of God. We treat others, not with justice, but with grace. Well why should we do that? How has God treated us? Not with justice but with what? Grace. You start living that way you’ll watch the level of anger and resentment in your life, because all of us have been hurt unfairly, it’s part of living in a fallen world, you’ll watch the level of anger disappear. I think your best counseling advice comes right from the Scripture. And God doesn’t want us in the state of anger because of the irrational actions that we engage in, this temporary insanity that comes over us.
And then we get to the heart of it all, verses 24-25. This is the protection of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, something that was not guaranteed but look at what God does. “Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astounded and stood up in haste; he said to his high officials, ‘Was it not three men we cast bound into the midst of the fire?’ They replied to the king, ‘Certainly, O king.’  He said, ‘Look! I see four men loosed and walking about in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!’”
As I mentioned earlier the title of this message is The Fourth Man in the Fire. Who is that fourth man? Well, many would argue that this is what is called a Theophany, sometimes it’s called a Christophany, which is a preincarnate appearance of Jesus Christ. There are times in the Bible where the Lord Himself appears before the incarnation. Jesus, the Second Member of the Trinity appears. That’s why the Gospel of John talks about Abraham, John 8, saw my day and was glad. [John 8:56, “‘Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.”] How do I know that there are examples where, what’s called “the angel of the Lord” is Jesus? Well, I know that because in the case of John 5:13-15 where an angel of the Lord appears and people begin to worship the angel the angel receives the worship.
[John 5:13-15, “But the man who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had slipped away while there was a crowd in that place.  Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you.”  The man went away, and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.”]
An actual angel of God will never receive worship. Revelation 19:10, John says, “Then I fell at his feet to worship him. But he” that’s the angel, “said to me, ‘Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.’” The angel says knock it off. The same thing happens to John, he didn’t learn his lesson apparently, he worshiped the angel again, Revelation 22:8-9.
[Revelation 22:8-9, “I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed me these things.  But he said to me, ‘Do not do that. I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brethren the prophets and of those who heed the words of this book. Worship God.”’]
Why will a true angel never receive worship? Because, Matthew 4:10, “‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM” what? “ONLY.’” An angel that’s an actual angel, and we know that there are myriads of angels, never receives worship; always deflects it. And yet you have this peculiar occurrence in Joshua 5 where an angel of the Lord appears as the children of Israel are entering the Promised Land and the Israelites, Joshua, worshiped this angel and the angel never deflects it.
[Joshua 5:13-15, “Now it came about when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand, and Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us or for our adversaries?”  He said, “No; rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the LORD.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said to him, “What has my lord to say to his servant?”  The captain of the LORD’S host said to Joshua, “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.”]
I think what’s happening in Joshua 5 is a theophany, a Christophany, a preincarnate appearance of Jesus Christ. I don’t deny that this happens in the Bible. In fact if you want a very good book on it I recommend the book by Dr. Ron Rhodes, entitled Jesus Before the Manger. He’ll show you every time that Jesus shows up in the Old Testament, prior to the incarnation. And that makes for some great preaching, doesn’t it? This is the Jesus, this is the fourth man in the fire. I don’t mean to rain on anybody’s parade though, I don’t think this is Jesus. Let me give you some reasons why I don’t think this is Jesus. If you look at Daniel 3:25 it says, Nebuchadnezzar says, “the fourth is like a son of the gods!” It doesn’t call him the son of God. [“He said, ‘Look! I see four men loosed and walking about in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!’”]
Remember the chiasm, everything in Daniel 3 is repeated in Daniel 6. Who rescues Daniel in the lion’s den in Daniel 6:22? It says, “My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths….” [Daniel 6:22, “My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths and they have not harmed me, inasmuch as I was found innocent before Him; and also toward you, O king, I have committed no crime.’”]
If you drop down to Daniel 3:28, “Nebuchadnezzar responded and said, ‘Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, who has sent His angel and delivered His servants [who put their trust in Him, violating the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies so as not to serve or worship any god except their own God.]” In fact, the book of Daniel talks about this angel, doesn’t it, because in Daniel 12:1 we learn that there is a special angel named Michael who exists to stand guard over the sons of your people. [Daniel 12:1, “Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued.”]
This is an angel that’s a sign to Israel. How is it that the Jewish nation and the Jewish people have survived all of these centuries and millennia in various places in spite of great persecution? I think Michael has a lot to do with it.
There are angels protecting you in your life. Did you know that? Hebrews 1:14, of angels says this: “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?” Their job is to help you, to assist you. You say well, I don’t like that sermon, I like it better with Jesus. Okay, fine, you can believe it’s Jesus and I’ll believe it’s Michael the archangel and we’ll still be friends at the end of the day. I don’t know if this is something we need to go out and start a new church over. But whether you think it’s Jesus or whether you think it’s Michael the archangel here’s something we can agree on. You ready for this? God is faithful! I can’t prove this but I have a tendency to think that this was the prophecy that was being sung or rehearsed by Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego as they were hurled into this furnace. It’s from an earlier prophet, pre-exilic prophet named Isaiah. Isaiah 43:2 says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you.”
I know this much, I don’t know everything there is to know about God but I know this much, that God is faithful. God is faithful to me when I’m unfaithful to Him. Proverbs 18:24 says, “A man of too many friends comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Psalm 27:10, David writes, “For my father and my mother have forsaken me, But the LORD will take me up.” Matthew 28:20, Jesus says I am with you most of the time… it doesn’t say that, does it. “…I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Hebrews 13:5 says, “…for He Himself has said, ‘I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU.’”
I think this, that when Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego went into that fire they cognitively knew of the faithfulness of God. I bet you if they were to be given a test by their Sunday School teacher they would get the answer right that God is faithful. And when they came out the other side of that fire they no longer had an intellectual understanding of the faithfulness of God, now it was experiential. And this is why I believe God sends us through problems, sends us into circumstances where you have no one to count on but God, and God shows up! You don’t any longer have a Sunday School doctrinal understanding of the faithfulness of God; now it’s something you’ve actually experienced. It’s a different way of looking at trials, isn’t it? Do you praise the Lord for your trials, because now God can show up in your life. We don’t actually do that.
There have been so many circumstances where the Lord has, shall I say, bailed me out. I could just go on and on describing these things. I remember when I was at Dallas Seminary taking my comprehensive tests; (this is an actual story that happened), they give you this written test and then they give you this oral test and it’s always an intimidating time for a doctoral student because you don’t know who your professors are going to be on the oral test, you don’t even know what questions they’re going to ask. And so they’re in this room with you for about two hours asking you questions. And then you leave the room and then you’re invited back into the room and they say you passed or you didn’t pass.
And there’s such a breadth of information that you have to have your fingers on to answer these questions, and the night before the test I’m saying to my wife, I don’t know, tomorrow will be interesting. I was diligent, I had studied, but there was that anxiety. And this was not an audible voice at all, it was just a conviction that I should study the book of Numbers… the book of Numbers? What’s that all about again. I went back, I didn’t re-read the whole book, I just refreshed myself with the outline. I spent maybe 5, 10, 15, 20 minutes going back over the book of Numbers, some things that I had forgotten. So I get up the next day, I go into the test and in the room comes Dr. Allen, who wrote a commentary on the book of Numbers. And this is what he said; he was my first questioner; he walks in and he says you know, I was driving into work today and it came to my mind that I haven’t asked any students questions all week long on the book of Numbers, so if it’s all right with you (and I had no choice in the matter, I just said “Yes Sir”) I’m going to spend my whole half hour with you on the book of Numbers. Fortunately I was able to answer not all but most of his questions. And he got very specific in his questions.
That’s a God thing. I don’t have any corner on God. The same God’s that with me is the same God that’s with you and these are the things that will start to show up in your life when we become sensitive to the fact that God has put me into this circumstance so His faithfulness can be demonstrated. God does not want us to just have a head filled with knowledge about the faithfulness of God; He wants it to be experiential. He wants it to be part of our walk, He wants it to be part of our life, so when you have an opportunity to testify about the faithfulness of God you’re not just rolling off data from your mind. What power is there in a testimony like that? Just throwing verses at people? But when the verse becomes incarnational and you’ve experienced the faithfulness of God that’s something people will listen to. That’s something that will get their attention.
I would submit that that process is probably happening in your life right now and yet you’re upset at God because what am I doing in this valley again? You haven’t learned your lesson. You can’t control the trials that come into your life, by and large. You don’t have a lot of control over that. Here’s what you do have control over—your reaction to those trials, your openness to the leading of the Spirit in the midst of those trials. In the valley rather than getting angry at God we should say well, there must be a teaching moment here for me. That’s why the book of James tells us to do something counter intuitive; he says, “Consider it” what? “all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.”
We go down to verses 26-27 and we’ll most likely stop here. The Hebrew youths are summoned out of the fire. It says, “Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the furnace of blazing fire; he responded and said, ‘Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, come out, you servants of the Most High God, and come here!’ Then Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego came out of the midst of the fire.” Verse 27, “The satraps, the prefects, the governors and the king’s high officials gathered around and saw in regard to these men that the fire had no effect on the bodies of these men nor was the hair of their head singed, nor were their trousers damaged, nor had the smell of fire even come upon them.”
Nebuchadnezzar violated protocol, I believe, by thrusting them into this fire clothed. That’s not the way it normally worked in the Ancient Near East. And yet Nebuchadnezzar doing something out of anger, out of irrational rage, became a testimony to God because the clothes that they were in… no smoke, no fire, not even the smell of it. See how in control God is, where He can take the anger of a pagan king that does irrational things out of anger and turn those things around for His glory. What you’re seeing here is complete and total deliverance. What you are seeing here is an answer to the question stated by Nebuchadnezzar back in verse 13, “What God is there who can deliver you out of my hand?” Well, you just found out, didn’t you.
One other thing on trials, have you ever stopped to think about the fact that the trial you’re in is not just for you? Maybe it’s for an onlooker. This is something that powerfully… powerfully penetrated the heart of Nebuchadnezzar and I believe ultimately led to his conversion because this was not just a Sunday School lesson on the faithfulness of God; this was actually seeing the faithfulness of God in action.
And let me tell you something; this statement, we use it a lot, I think it’s true—you are perhaps the only Bible someone ever reads. When you go through a problem you’ve got the attention of unsaved co-workers, you’ve got the attention of unsaved family members, you’ve got the attention of people that have heard you talk about Jesus, now they’re going to see it, is this Jesus thing real or not? And they are looking at your reaction, not on the mountain top but in the valley. And they watch you go through a fire and they watch you go through it with serenity and calmness relying upon the resources of God. Let me tell you, that’s a pulpit. That is a megaphone to people. And we don’t look at it this way, we have a tendency to look at our problems as things just for us and God might be doing something evangelistic through your trials because now the rubber hits the road—does Christianity work or not! Is this just a bunch of religious talk or is there teeth to this? And when God shows up in your life the unsaved world is seeing something far more powerful than they could ever witness any other way; they’re seeing a tangible, actual representation of the faithfulness of God. And if that won’t draw them to the cross I don’t know what will.
I hear people say man, I wish I had a pulpit, I wish I had a platform—you’ve got a bigger pulpit and a bigger platform than you are even aware of. It’s called God and His faithfulness as He walks through us, trials of life, the fourth man in the fire. I trust this week as you walk with God you’ll draw upon His strength and His resources, Him who said “I shall never leave you nor forsake you.”
Shall we pray. Father, we’re grateful for this ancient sixth century book and how it speaks directly to our lives. Make us people, not of just doctrinal understanding of Christianity but incarnational experience and help us to shed this light by Your grace to other people. We’ll be careful to give you all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus name, and God’s people said… Amen.