given on Sunday, January 29, 2017
Scripture connection: Daniel 3 (NLT)
3 King Nebuchadnezzar made a gold statue ninety feet tall and nine feet wide[a] and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. 2 Then he sent messages to the high officers, officials, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates, and all the provincial officials to come to the dedication of the statue he had set up. 3 So all these officials[b] came and stood before the statue King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
4 Then a herald shouted out, “People of all races and nations and languages, listen to the king’s command! 5 When you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes, and other musical instruments,[c] bow to the ground to worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s gold statue. 6 Anyone who refuses to obey will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”
7 So at the sound of the musical instruments,[d] all the people, whatever their race or nation or language, bowed to the ground and worshiped the gold statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
8 But some of the astrologers[e] went to the king and informed on the Jews. 9 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.[f] 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.”
The Blazing Furnace
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[g]!”
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.
Reflection: Life Lessons from a Furnace
Let’s begin with the kids chat . . .
- Tell the story of Mom naming the cats
- Curious about the story from the Bible
- The names: Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego
- The situation: Life lessons
- Faith & Friends: Held on to their belief in God and as friends they were able to withstand the pressure around them
[Share video of Louis Armstrong singing “Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego”]
Now for the reflection . . .
Last week the names of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego surfaced in my brain and I could not figure out why. Granted I have been thinking about what stories from the Bible I could read and share during these weeks between Christmas and Lent, but why in the world would I wake up and have those names running through my memory.
How often do we wake up with a memory of a dream or some thought that makes no sense to us? Last week I was still working on the sermon about Jesus and the Wilderness, so I have no explanation why I would wake up thinking about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. I could not even remember where in the Old Testament the story was recorded so had to do some googling to find it.
Daniel. That is the where I found the story, so I began reading. This was a time that the Babylonians defeated the Israelites; Daniel and his three friends were taken captive. They became slaves of King Nebuchadnezzar and forced to live in Babylon.
Remember that in ancient times, when one country defeated another, the people were faced with death or slavery. Being taken captive was the best option. Daniel was one of the captives who taken as a slave and became a favorite of King Nebuchadnezzar especially when he could tell the King about his dreams and their meanings.
Daniel and his three friends chose to continue practicing their faith even in captivity. Now living as a slave in an entirely new country/culture, one is expected to follow the rules of the king. They did not. In fact, they challenged the king’s demands. The first story in Daniel tells us that they were given food that was not part of their traditional diet. They refused to eat it.
The sect that Daniel and his three friends believed in eating vegetables, fruits and grains. Even though they were deemed to be worthy enough to be fed the king’s foods, they did not want to go against the traditions of their faith. The two-week challenge proved that they could be healthier than the others who did eat the king’s diet.
Remaining faithful to a lifestyle that keeps God at the center is a life lesson for us today. We may not be slaves to a king, but our culture has a way of challenging us to move away from God. We become separated from God by all the different influences that fill our day through the media, especially.
We are all tested daily to remain faithful to God. We have friends who support us and share our values, but we also have friends or neighbors who want us to try something new or do something we are not sure we should. We all are subject to the commercials and ads that seem to be ever present on the TV, on the internet, in the magazines and on the radio. There does not seem to be any defense from them.
When King Nebuchadnezzar built the golden idol and demanded that all pay homage to him, bowing down and worshiping him, Daniel’s friends refused. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego relied on God rather than give in to a demand that would separate them from God. Instead of allowing them to refuse, the king had to carry out his threat to throw them into the furnace.
All too often we find it easier to give in to the demands of the job, of friends, or even of family when we know we should not. The life lesson here is that if you are asked to do something that separates you from God and the faithful lifestyle he expect from you, do not do it.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego surely could not imagine coming out of the furnace alive, but they were so confident that God would protect them, that death would be better than living a life separated from God. The strength of faith certainly must have been helped by the strength of friendship among themselves, too.
This is another life lesson. Choose to surround yourself with those who share the same value system that you do. These three friends, and Daniel, too, remained loyal to God together. They also remained loyal to each other. With so many people interacting with you whether in the neighborhood, at school, at work, or even in the store aisles, our choice to maintain a Christian lifestyle helps us to connect to others with the same foundation.
As we look back over our personal life stories, we can reflect on the most challenging times and consider whether or not we have remained God-centered or not. I certainly can see times in my own life when giving in to another’s pressure separated me from God. Those were times when I was the unhappiest. I knew things were not right, but I failed to stay God-centered.
My fire may not have been a fiery furnace, but I got burned. During the challenges in my life that I remained God-centered, I have found happiness despite the circumstances. Living with God allows us to manage challenges and to find true happiness even in the middle of a storm—or a fiery furnace.
King Nebuchadnezzar witnessed the three friends in the furnace, but he saw a fourth figure. When the three stepped out of the furnace untouched by the fire, the fourth figure disappeared. The king knew what he saw and believed it was an angel of the God they worshiped.
God is with us at all times. He is in a relationship with us as long as we remain in a relationship with him. It is our decision to stay in the relationship. Even if we do not literally see an angel standing beside us, others see God in our lives. We are responsible for maintaining our relationship with God.
God is the fourth figure in the furnace. We must have the confidence that our faith will sustain us through the challenges in this earthly life we are living. All of us seeking to remain in relationship with God can be assured he is with us at all times, whether in a furnace or right here beside us right now.
As the days get longer and the winter darkness fades away, we can still curl up and read the stories of the Old and New Testament to learn life lessons. Each time we read the stories, we find life lessons. The Good Book helps us learn how a relationship with God equips us to handle the negative as well as the positive experiences we have.
Dear God, our protector and our friend,
Thank you for the story of Daniel and his three friends,
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
We read the story of their captivity in a foreign land
And discover that life’s challenges hold us captive, too.
We learn that Daniel and his three friends
Remained faithful to you despite their enslavement.
Guide us through the words of the Good Book
As we work to strengthen our relationship with you.
And just as in the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego
Help us to find those who help us remain faithful, too.
May we, then, discover how our relationship with you
Frees us from the captivity of life’s challenges.
Keep us surrounded by others, too, who know your love
And will be with us should we be thrown into a fiery furnace. –Amen.
As we prepare to leave today, we can hear the story of the Fourth Man that King Nebuchadnezzar witnessed in the fiery furnace. Johnny Cash weathered many personal challenges, yet he has provided his listeners a testimony of how a relationship with God transforms one’s life: