I’ve never really been a fan of those get-to-know you games at youth group. They do serve a purpose. And I’ve learned things about people that I wouldn’t have otherwise. But the get-to-know you game I don’t really get is ‘Two truths and a lie’. Does that game actually encourage you to sin? Anyway, in the spirit of get to know you games, I’ll share two truths and a lie, you can try and pick the lie.
Which one do you think’s the lie? It’s the third one.
Well, this morning, we’re going to get to know the God of Daniel 3 by thinking about two truths about God taught in the passage, and a common lie about God—a lie that part of us thinks is true, but it is not.
King Nebuchadnezzar ruled over Babylon in modern day Iran and Iraq around 600-500 BC. He was the most powerful man in the world back then. And in Daniel chapter 3, he is dictating who his people can and can’t worship. Daniel 3:5-6:
As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever doesn’t fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace. (NIV)
Forget freedom of religion: this is prescription of religion. King Nebuchadnezzar tells you who to worship. He says that all people and all nations will bow down and worship his towering golden statue. Do like I tell you or else you’ll be thrown into a blazing furnace. You’ll do it when I tell you: When you hear the horn, the flute, the zither, the triangle, the bassoon, the egg shaker! That’s really how ridiculous this whole scene is.
Now as you heard our wonderful band playing this morning, playing delightfully on piano, shredding on guitar, rocking out on drums, how come none of you fell to the ground and started bowing down to a golden image?
Well firstly, because that golden image has since been levelled and it’s long gone. And secondly, Nebuchadnezzar is long gone too. He’s just another dead king who has no claim on your life. At the end of the day, this golden statue was simply some thing set up by some one an eight-storey high golden toothpick. The passage emphasises the idea of “set up”: 9 times it’s repeated in Daniel chapter 3. It might be bad English style to use the same word or phrase again and again, but the Bible is more interested in helping us see where are the really important bits by repeating them. So the phrase “set up” is found on the lips of Daniel in verse 1:
King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. (NIV)
It’s on the lips of the herald telling the crowd in verse 5:
You must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up (NIV)
It’s found on the lips of the astrologers who dob in Daniel’s three mates in in verse 12:
They [Daniel’s three friends] neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up. (NIV)
Of course, Nebuchadnezzar himself says it too in verse 14:
Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? (NIV)
And finally, Daniel’s three mates go head on with Nebuchadnezzar, look him in the eye, and say to his face that he is not the king and then say in verse 18:
We want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
So why the repetition? It is because back in Daniel 2:20-21, we read, “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. (NIV)
Daniel is emphasizing that God is the real deal! Nebuchadnezzar can set up all the little images he wants, but he’s got nothing on the God who has put him on that throne in the first place. Before Daniel chapter 3 is about three men thrown into the fire and surviving, it is a battle of the gods. In the blue corner we have Nebuchadnezzar, and in the red corner, Yahweh, the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. As the chapter unfolds, it becomes clear that this battle is not even a contest! The first clue that it is no real contest is because one minute Nebuchadnezzar’s satraps, prefects, and governors are bowing down to the golden toothpick, and the next minute in verse 27 they’re crowding around to see the work of the real God. The second clue is Nebuchadnezzar himself. At the start of the chapter we’ve got an earthly king asserting his power, and at the end of the chapter, in verse 28 he’s done a complete 180:
Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants (NIV)
In fact, this same king not only recognises the power of a greater king, but in verse 29, Nebuchadnezzar makes a new law that if you badmouth God, you get the death sentence. And our God is the same God who calls the shots in Daniel chapter 3.
Let me share my proud dad moment. Yesterday, over breakfast, my son was telling me how one of his mates at school challenged him about God. His mate said, “God is fake. God is dead.” To which my son said, “No he’s not. I know he’s not fake because he created you, and he’s alive because Jesus rose up from the dead”
But let me share with you something that I’m not so proud of. I’d like to think that on my best days I’m all-in on this God who’s running the show, and who appoints kings just as easily as he removes them. I’d like to think in my best moments that I’m exactly like these three Jewish servants. But if truth be told there are plenty of times when I’m more like Nebuchadnezzar. I forget just how real God is, in my thoughts and actions, and simply pretend he’s not there.
I’m the one who wants my spouse to appreciate what I do. I want the boss to notice all the extra hours I’ve put in. I want my kids to do what I want them to do: tidy their room, finish their homework, or eat their breakfast.
Nebuchadnezzar sets up this golden toothpick so that people will notice him. He wants to leave his mark. Nebuchadnezzar has come and gone, just like every other fake God. It’s time to stop trying to find purpose in pretend gods, for there is only one true and living God.
The God who is there is slow to anger, abounding in love, upright, merciful, compassionate, gracious, faithful, and forgiving. He is the God to whom all people from all nations will be called to give an account. He is the one to whom every knee shall bow—willingly or unwillingly—and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.
So friends, let’s be ready for that day. Bow the knee today, willingly while you can.
Nebuchadnezzar said in 3:15 to the three Jewish men who refused to bow down to his statue, “What God will be able to rescue you from my hand?” Just because Nebuchadnezzar has the matchstick in his hands, he is not invincible. He’s got tiny view of God. He doubt’s God’s ability. It’s as if God hears Nebuchadnezzar’s challenge. God says, “Not even a furnace that’s heated seven times hotter than usual is going to stop me!”
Fire, even at normal heat, is hot. Things burn. Property gets destroyed. People die. And it’s the same here in Daniel 3. This was not pretend fire. Even the soldiers died just for doing their job. But God intervenes. He shows that he can save like no one else. For God is through the fourth figure in the fire, somehow present with his people protecting them. God can so protect his people that in 3:27, we read that fire did not harm their bodies. Not a single hair on their head is singed. They’re robes weren’t scorched. Not even the smell of fire was on them.
In our family, we love toasting marshmallows in the fire pit. But we don’t love it when our clothes smell like smoke afterwards. But these three men got amongst the flames but you couldn’t even tell. Daniel 3 teaches loud and clear that we have a God who rescues! God is committed to personally saving his people. He’s a God who will see us through
We see this in Jesus in his birth. God permanently sides with humanity and enters our broken world. On the cross, God wears our blame, absorbing every last drop of the judgement we deserve. In his resurrection, Jesus defeated death, sin, and Satan. Jesus has won.
As many of you know, we’ve been on a journey with our terminally-sick daughter Evie. Most of this sermon was written at her bedside at Mount Druitt Hospital. This was God’s way of reinforcing this point to me, and hopefully for you too. Because all the ambulances, doctors, nurses, medical equipment, tests, and scans in the world don’t save lives into eternity. They only prolong life in this world.
We’ve been reading a Psalm for each day of Evie’s life. So, let me share what we read on Wednesday, from Psalm 68.19-20:
Praise be to the Lord, to God our Saviour, who daily bears our burdens. Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign LORD comes escape from death. (NIV)
Our God is a God who saves. He can, does, and will save.
God is definitely not like Peter Chamberlin. Peter Chamberlin invented the forceps—the salad spoons that help doctors pull a baby out during labour. But Peter Chamberlin and his family sat on that life-saving device. They kept it a secret for themselves for nearly a hundred years. Think about how many women’s and children’s lives they could have saved, including one of my own kids who was delivered with forceps.
One fiery furnace later, God brings Nebuchadnezzar to finally realize that “no other god can save in this way”. (Dan 3:29) Friends, if you’ve not yet been saved by this wonderful God, that’s what he’s offering you today. But if you’re someone who has been saved, you can take great comfort in the fact that God not only wants to save you, but he also wants you to know you are saved! And the wonderful thing is that this same God is continuing to rescue people today. We live in a time of reaping, of seeing people move from death to life! That’s what inspires us to remain optimistic, to look for opportunities to share Jesus. We pray for boldness that we would take the opportunity when it arises. It all stems from who God is.
Truth number 1: God is real. So we only will bow down to him alone.
Truth number 2: God saves. So let’s be optimistic in seeing the name of Jesus go forward.
Now for the lie, something that part of us wished God said, but didn’t. It is that we think that God is committed to our comfort above all else. We think that God is here to meet our needs, that he fits around us. We think that if we follow God, everything in this life will work out perfectly. We expect that we get whatever you ask for in prayer. We expect that will see no sickness, no suffering, no opposition.
Daniel 3 shows that life was anything but comfortable for these three God-fearing men. When they heard the command, “Bow or burn”, they could have said, “Let’s just do it. Then we’ve got plenty more years” or “Let’s be respectful. We’ve lost everything to these guys”. Or when Nebuchadnezzar gave them a second chance, they could have thought, “Let’s just do a quick bow, and then later on we’ll say to God that we didn’t really mean it”. The choice was ‘bow’ or ‘burn’, and there was no third option, to ‘blend’ in. So they say in verses 16-17:
King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. (NIV)
Now that’s guts! They say to Nebuchadnezzar, “You are not the king: God is. We’d rather burn than bow. I don’t think I’d have the guts to say that. But these men stand on their convictions They do so because of the two truths we’ve already seen in Daniel 3: God is real and God saves. But then they go one step further, in verse 18:
But even if our God does not [save us from the flames], we want you to know, [Nebuchadnezzar] that we will not worship the image of gold you have set up. (NIV)
Friends, this is a picture of loyalty. Shardrach, Meschach, and Abednego refuse to compromise. They do not buy the lie that God is committed to their comfort. They don’t think that God owes them. They don’t think, “C’mon God, we’ve done our bit. Now do your bit”. We do. But they don’t!
These men are a model. They point to Jesus who was both sinless and impeccably faithful. Philippians 2 tells us that Jesus was obedient to death, even death on a cross. So we who live this side of Jesus’ death have every reason to hang in there, because we’re on the winning team. It is worth sticking your neck out for Jesus. But we won’t be shocked when it comes to pain or persecution.
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12-13)
Whatever opposition or trials we face, don’t be surprised, because they’re to be expected for God’s people. These things are designed to make us better, not bitter. In fact, you can even rejoice in your suffering, because you’re exactly like you’re Saviour. Just as his suffering led to glory, so too will yours.
The closest I got to the situation we read about in Daniel 3 is a practice in Chinese culture, ancestor worship or veneration. So as a 9 or 10 year old, we would go to my grandparents’ cemetery in Rookwood, and lay out food, burn paper money, and pay our respects by bowing and burning incense. In offering those things, we were sustaining our dead ancestors and we had influence over other gods, who in turn will give you good fortune.
For my parents, this was purely a cultural thing. My brother asked my dad why we were doing this, and dad’s answer was that they’d grown up doing it and so we should too. But I don’t do this today—even though my parents still do—because there is only one God who is alive, well and ruling the universe. He is the one God who is real, who saves, and who rather than being committed to my comfort is instead committed to his own glory.