Daniel 3

During my days of pastoring at the First Baptist Church in Dallas I had many wonderful visits with a very unique man who was in the midst of a life-threatening illness, which eventually ended in his death. He loved his Lord and he lifted me up each time I was with him. His name was Jack Evans and he was a former mayor of the City of Dallas. Jack coined a saying that hangs on wall plaques in the offices of many business leaders of our city. His often-used quote says, “You have what you tolerate.”

When we think about that statement, “you have what you tolerate,” we see that it is true in every area of our lives. Parents who tolerate their children talking back to them will eventually reap what they sow. I was fortunate to have had a mom and dad who did not tolerate disrespect and my wife and I did not tolerate it from our children either. Yes, you have what you tolerate. This statement is true if you’re teaching in a classroom of students. I had professors who did not tolerate work that was less than our best. “You have what you tolerate” is true if you’re coaching an athletic team. Coaches who tolerate sloppy practices have sloppy plays when it is game time. It is also true in church work. Those churches that tolerate mediocrity and are simply reactive instead of proactive lack productivity in the long haul. Yes, Jack Evans had it right – “You have what you tolerate!”

We are living in a world culture where the church has tolerated things for so long that these words have come home to roost. We have today what we tolerated yesterday. Tolerance seems to be the law of our land, and today it has a different meaning than it did a few years ago. Tolerance used to mean that in America we recognized and respected others’ beliefs without sharing them. Today tolerance means that everyone’s values, everyone’s belief systems, everyone’s lifestyles, are acceptable. Tolerance today says that all truth claims are equal. The one thing that many people fear today is simply being called intolerant. We have been so formed into the mold of our culture that we in the church now have what we tolerate.

Josh McDowell has spent a lifetime taking the Gospel to college campuses. Recently, Josh mentioned that he has always known heckling but a few years ago it took on a different form. Yesterday college students exclaimed, “Prove it; I don’t believe that, prove the claims of Christ.” Today, however, they exclaim, “What right have you to say that? You’re intolerant, you’re a bigot!” John 3:16 has been replaced today with Matthew 7:1, Judge not that you be not judged. Tolerance is more important than truth in many circles.

Tolerance is the only absolute of today’s culture. From every avenue we are being taught to be tolerant of alternative lifestyles. We often hear men and women quote our Lord today by saying, “Neither do I condemn you.” (John 8:11). If you remember, the context is with the woman taken in adultery, in the very act of sexual sin. However, few people today want to say all that Jesus said and quote the last part of the verse, “Go and sin no more.” Here we find the present tense and the imperative mood. This is not a suggestion. Our Lord Jesus said go and stop sinning! Yes, He did not condemn her but He also said go and stop your sinning. The Lord Jesus took the woman where she was but she didn’t stay there. It is true the woman was a harlot but not after she met our Lord. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:11, “And such were some of you.” He goes on to say, “But you were washed.” He identifies homosexuals and adulterers and thieves in the church at Corinth but he reveals that they did not stay that way. Do you think those drunkards stayed in the choir at Corinth? No, even though they were drunkards in the past they began to sin no more. The church did not tolerate that alternative lifestyle. Do you think that thieves continued to take up the offering? Can you hear someone saying, “Watch your purse, Bob is taking the offering today!” No, the church did not tolerate alternative lifestyles. What about the homosexual or the adulterer? Do you know what happened? Their lives were changed. They were transformed by the power of God.

We live in a world that teaches our kids tolerance at almost every hand. It is telling them in a myriad of ways that everyone’s values, everyone’s belief systems, everyone’s lifestyles, and everyone’s truth claims are equal. In fact, we’re instilling in the minds of our young adults that there are no moral absolutes, no absolute truth. We’re seeing this growing more and more even in the church. Some churches sponsor prayer meetings with Christians and Jews and Muslims and other religions all praying to the “same God.” All faiths are equal in the eyes of many. We may call it harmony but it is spelled “T-O-L-E-R-A-N-C-E.” How tolerant do you think our Jewish friends are when they feel efforts of evangelism are directed at them and are a means to destroy their own belief system? They’re not very tolerant. How tolerant do you think our Muslim friends would be in a culture that spoke about Mohammed like the American culture is speaking about the Lord Jesus today? Recently the government sponsored an art show in New York City with a crucifix in a bottle of urine. Yes, we have today what we tolerated yesterday. And we will have tomorrow what we tolerate today.

We are living in an anti-Christian culture that continues to tolerate social ills that are contrary to the Word of God. We’ve been doing this for years. Why? Jack Evans said it best, “You have what you tolerate!”

From time to time there have been those who have stood up in the face of tolerance of their day. There’s no more thrilling narrative in all of literature than the story of the deliverance of the three Hebrew young men from the burning fiery furnace. Is there anyone reading these words who finds themselves in a tight spot? Does anyone feel that there simply is no way out of your circumstances or situation? Then this chapter is for you. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s victory is a comfort and a challenge to us today in the midst of a tolerant world. It is the story of faith triumphing over fear. It is the story of courage triumphing over cowardice. It is the story of conviction triumphing over compromise. It is the story of three young men who did not bow to the god of tolerance. Perhaps some of you, like them, have done what is right. You took your own stand. And still you found yourself in your own fiery furnace. The third chapter of Daniel has to do with what happens to us when we are obedient to the Word of God, when we do what is right, and still end up in a fiery furnace of life.

In this chapter we learn many things. God never promises to keep us out of the fiery furnace. He did not keep Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego out. However, He got in with them. And, He will get in with you. And you, like them, can come out stronger. Our God is the same God who loosed their bonds and walked with them in the midst of the flames.

In a world screaming for tolerance our lives will be tested. The decisions you make this week will be governed by one of two things, either inner principle or outer pressure. That is, either by the Word of God or by the world’s system. If you allow God’s word to dictate your inner principle then you will react to life’s fiery furnaces with faith and the result will be deliverance. If you allow the world to dictate your outer pressures then you will react with fear and the result will be bondage. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego lived by inner principle. They got it from the Word of God. Others lived by outer pressure and they had what they tolerated.

As we seek to learn how to stand in a culture that’s increasingly pagan and anti-God, Daniel has been saying don’t give in, don’t give up, don’t give out. Now, his three friends have something to say to us.

I. Learning to live with pressure (Daniel 3:1-12)

Our faith will be tested. King Nebuchadnezzar let his dream in Daniel 2 go to his head. He ended up building a great image of himself out on the plain of Dura. It was made of gold and stood 90 feet high. Placed out on the plain, it could be seen for miles as its golden image, nine stories tall, stood glistening in the sun. It must have been an awesome sight. Nebuchadnezzar called people from all around to the dedication service of his golden image. Daniel’s account reveals that thousands of people gathered on the plain of Dura. The dedication program was planned out to the “nth degree.” As the orchestra began to play, all of the people were to bow down and worship the image of Nebuchadnezzar. Those who would not do so would meet a horrible fate. They would be thrown into Babylon’s burning, fiery furnace. It was at this very point that the faith of these three young Hebrew men – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – met their greatest test. Should they go along with the crowd, just this one time? After all, they could get lost in this great multitude of people and bow down along with them and hardly anyone would notice. Or should they stand out like a sore thumb, remain faithful to their convictions, and not bow down to the golden image? The test of faith eventually finds its way to all of us in some way.

In our current culture our own faith is being tested on every front. This has always been true for people who have followed after Christ. For John, the test of faith came on the rocky island of Patmos. For Paul, it was what he referred to as a thorn in the flesh. A fiery furnace for some of us might be some difficult circumstance or situation. It might be the loss of a job, a child on drugs, or any number of other challenges that might come our way in our contemporary culture. Our faith will be tested. There’s a sense in which we live out there on the plain of Dura ourselves every week. Our world is calling for tolerance all around us. It is calling us to join the others in bowing down to other gods. In the face of a culture that is advocating tolerance we must learn to live with outside pressures. They are not going to go away.

The Daniel 3:1-12 paint a very intriguing picture. They are woven throughout with what we would call today “peer pressure.” All the nations of the region were subject to Babylon. Everyone had sent delegates to this great event. The city was decorated to perfection. This was the biggest day in the history of Babylon. There, standing almost nine stories tall and shining in the morning sun, was the great image of Nebuchadnezzar. The word came. The orchestra began to play. Everyone across the plain of Dura began to bow down to worship the image. After all, if they refused they would be thrown into the burning, fiery furnace.

It is interesting to note who was there. The Bible refers to the satraps, the administrators, the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces . . . (Daniel 3:2) In other words, all the big shots had gathered. Like a bunch of rubber stamps with no character and no integrity, they all bowed down to the image, surrendering to the peer pressure at hand. After all, they must have thought, “We have to keep our jobs.” There are a lot of young people in our contemporary culture out on the plain of Dura today. They have bought into the philosophy that tells them they will not be popular unless they go along with the crowd, unless they bow down with the others. After all, they’re convinced that everyone else is doing it so why not go ahead and bow down. There are a lot of men and women in the business world today trying to get ahead out there on the plain of Dura. Peer pressure is prevalent in our contemporary culture.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego could have rationalized and reasoned like a lot of men and women do today. They could have said, “Nebuchadnezzar has treated us pretty well all these years. He has appointed us to positions of honor. He has empowered us with a good education and a good job. If we don’t bow down we’ll look pretty unappreciative. After all, we’re here in Babylon now and when in Babylon we should do as the Babylonians do. Anyway, the end justifies the means. It’s all situational anyway.” But if you read the text you will notice that there’s not a hint of this type of attitude anywhere in their minds. These three young men never entertained one of those thoughts. They had already decided which way they were going to turn before they reached this intersection in life.

There was a tremendous amount of pressure on these young Hebrews to conform. “Go ahead,” others told them, “get out there on the plain with them. There are thousands of others out there.” And then it happened. The band began to play and everyone bowed down. Everyone out there on the plain of Dura bowed down . . . except three young men. They stood out like three sore thumbs that day on the plain of Dura. When the music starts and we feel our own peer pressure, we will do one of two things. If we’re controlled by the Word we will respond with conviction. If we’re controlled by the world we will respond with compromise. On the plain of Dura this week we will find ourselves in one of these two groups. Look at all those people out there on the plain of Dura. They did not know how to live with pressure. Peer pressure said to bow down so they all compromised. But three young men stood up! How could they? Their lives were governed by inner principle and not outer pressure. They had learned how to live with pressure. Too many of us are not engaging our culture today because we have not learned this lesson. We have bought in to the peer pressure of the pluralism of our day and we have what we tolerate.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego could have said, “I’m bowing down on the outside but I’m standing up on the inside.” Had some of us in the church today been out there on the plain of Dura that day we might have been prone to say, “We can’t fight the system. We might as well go along. After all, God knows how we really feel. We do not want to offend Nebuchadnezzar because we would like to win him to our faith. We will be of no use to God if we’re dead in a fiery furnace so let’s go ahead and bow down just this one time for now.” This happens on the plain of Dura every day with men and women who are called by the name of Christ. Compromise has taken the place of conviction in the vocabularies of many followers of Christ. In fact, the very word “conviction” seems to be a lost word in the Christian vocabulary.

Some of us will never engage our culture as long as we continue to bow to peer pressure. This may be the greatest test of faith today. Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image was nothing more than an attempt to substitute man-worship for God-worship. It is easy to go along with the crowd. It is difficult to be in the minority. We have a lot of opinions in the church today, but do not seem to have as many convictions. Opinion is based on what we think. Conviction is based upon what God says!

Idols are not confined to the plain of Dura. We bow down before all kinds of idols in our contemporary culture. Some of us make idols of possessions or people or our own popularity, or any number of projects. Pleasure is the god of many. A lot of us know what the Scripture says but we still bow down when peer pressure comes our way. Why? Could it be because what others think is more important to us than what God says? Let me repeat that in a more personal way. Is what others think more important to you than what God says? Why should we think that in our day Christians can live free from these outer pressures to bow down? The real tragedy is that many are so spiritually desensitized they’re not even aware of the pressures any more. Many simply just bow down on their own plain of Dura without any thought about it whatsoever.

Perhaps the hymn writer asked the question best. “Must I be carried to the skies on flow’ry beds of ease, while others fought to win the prize, and sailed thro’ bloody seas? Sure I must fight if I would reign; Increase my courage, Lord! I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain, supported by Thy Word.” The truth is we need each other. There’s a real dynamic at play here. If your name is Shadrach you need a Meshach and Abednego to stand with you. These three friends found strength not only in their God but also with each other. As we attempt to address and engage our contemporary culture there’s a dynamic involved in standing with one another.

When the Lord Jesus Christ is ruling our life we respond out on the plain of Dura with conviction. In the face of a world that’s advocating tolerance at all cost we must learn to live with pressure. Our faith will be tested. Out there tomorrow on our own plain where tolerance is the byword and everyone is bowing down, we, too, will hear the music begin to play. Remember, you have what you tolerate! In the face of a culture advocating tolerance at all cost we must learn to live with pressure. What God says is so much more important than what we might think or others might say.

II. Learning to live with principle (Daniel 3:13-16)

Much of our pluralistic American culture points to those of us who are evangelical Christians as being the single greatest intolerant force in America. In a myriad of subtle ways this continues to be branded into the American psyche. However, in reality it is our culture and its world system that is intolerant to Christians who believe that the Word of God is infallible, trustworthy, and true. This is nothing new. It has always been this way. Tolerance is the theme in America today. Americans are taught to tolerate everyone except those of us who believe in absolute truth. These advocates of tolerance have a favorite verse. It is Matthew 7:1; Judge not, that you be not judged. Unfortunately, they take it out of context for if we read Matthew 7:2 we see that our Lord is speaking about self-righteousness, setting ourselves up to judge others who have a speck in their eye when we have a beam in our own eye and are blinded to our own sin.

If learning to live with pressure has to do with peer pressure, then learning to live with principle has to do with fear pressure. After hearing that these three Hebrew young men would not bow to his golden image, Nebuchadnezzar in a rage of fury called Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into his presence. He cannot believe what he has heard. The audacity of these three young men not bowing before his image! So that there might be no misunderstanding he gives them another opportunity. They can bow or they can burn. This is no longer peer pressure. Now fear pressure comes into play.

When fear pressure comes our way we will do one of two things. If we’re controlled by the Word we will respond with courage. However, if we are controlled by the world and its friendship then we will respond with cowardice. Listen to the response of these three faithful men; . . .our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up. (Daniel 3:17-18) They responded with courage because their lives were governed by the Word of God and they drew the line at the Word of God. Remember, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were not their real names. Their real names were Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. But, they tolerated their name change because there was no clear biblical admonition regarding it. They did the same with the language and the same with the literature. But like their friend Daniel, they drew the line when it came to the Word of God. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego knew that Exodus 20:3-4 carried with it the admonition from God Himself that you shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image – any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. This command was explicit to these Hebrew young men. They also had Deuteronomy 8:2 burning in their heart. Moses had said, “And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.” They knew God was testing them. Our faith will be tested. If the devil cannot get us to bow to peer pressure he will seek to get us to bend to fear pressure.

Fear pressure is where we find the real pressure to conform. There is the fear of losing our job if we do not bow. There’s the fear of being different. Some times we’re so convinced that everyone else is bowing. There is so much pressure to go along with our contemporary culture. How many young men and women have lost their virginity because of fear pressure? They were simply afraid to be different, afraid they may not be popular. They were convinced that everyone was bowing down. In the face of outer pressure these three young men were governed by inner principle and they stood tall! This is character. Character is functioning with inner principle and not yielding to outer pressure. They let Nebuchadnezzar know that right was right and wrong was wrong and some things are nonnegotiable. It is a tragic thing that many who would never think of bowing to peer pressure on the plain of Dura bend to fear pressure when getting before the king.

Nebuchadnezzar looked them in the eye and asked, is it true? (Daniel 3:14) That is a good question. It is a question all of us ought to be asking ourselves. Is it true? This is really the question the world seems to be asking today. The world sees so many of us in church on Sundays and then bowing down on the plain of Dura on Monday. The world, like Nebuchadnezzar, wants to know, “Is it true?” Or, is it just something we say we believe but when we get out on the plain of Dura we’re really no different from all the rest. Is it true?

These verses bring us face to face with the issue of civil disobedience. What is a Christian to do when the king makes a decree with which we do not agree? What about the issue of civil disobedience? Can we learn anything from Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego at this point? After all, did not our Lord himself say that we were to be subject to the authorities that are over us? And, here are these three men refusing to do what the government told them to do. When is it okay to disobey the civil authority? Where do we draw the line? Romans 13:1 says, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities.” The Bible tells us that it is “appointed by God.” Peter tells us “therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors.” (1 Peter 2:13-14) However, there are times in Scripture that we have to disobey civil law in order to obey God’s law. The first chapter of Exodus is one such experience. The Hebrew midwives disobeyed the civil law of destroying all the male Hebrew children by delivering and protecting them. We also see it in Daniel 3 with Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image on the plain of Dura. In the New Testament we find it in the fourth and fifth chapters of Acts. We hear the early apostles saying, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” Note that in all these cases a common thread is apparent. There is a direct specific conflict between man’s law and God’s law. And, note also, that believers are willing to pay the price for their consequences of civil disobedience. We have a biblical responsibility to submit and support governmental authority. All authority comes from God. The Bible reminds us that governmental authorities are “God’s ministers.” Observance of the law is a positive public testimony of our faith. It is the right thing to do. The only biblical exceptions are those that are outlined above.

In the face of the world that’s advocating tolerance at all cost we must learn to live with inner principle. There will be those this week that will try to get us to bow on the plain of Dura and we must learn to live within our principle. We must draw the line with the Word of God. Like Daniel, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we must let the word so dwell in us that we live with conviction and not with compromise. In the face of a world that advocates tolerance at all cost we must learn to live not only with pressure but also with principle.

III. Learning to live with perspective (Daniel 3:17-18)

Tolerance was as much the byword in ancient Babylon as it is in modern America. Everyone had bowed down to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image except the three Hebrew young men. When faced with Nebuchadnezzar’s challenge to provide an answer for their behavior they replied, “if that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods nor will we worship the golden image which you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18) Theirs’ was an immediate reply. They did not even have to think about it.

Listen to their response. “Our God.” Do you sense the camaraderie here? They were going through this together. They were standing together not only out there on the plain of Dura but also before the king and eventually in the fiery furnace. The truth is, we need each other as we seek victory and raise our children in a pagan culture. We, too, need to learn to live with perspective. He is “our God.”

They went on to say, “Whom we serve.” Some of us may be able to say “our God” but can we complete the phrase with “whom we serve?” We sometimes wonder why we succumb so easily to peer pressure or fear pressure. It is our God whom we serve that is able to deliver us. As a pastor for many years I watched men and women who professed Christ but did not do much in serving Him. When the crisis hour came they so often faced it with cowardice because they bowed down on the plain of Dura. On the other hand, I’ve watched those who serve the Lord Jesus Christ faithfully come to the crisis of the testing of their faith and they did so with courage, because in service to Him their lives were geared by the Word of God. Learning to live with perspective is not simply something we say but something we do.

These young men also remind us that our God whom we serve is able to deliver us. This is not superficial speculation but solid conviction based on the Word of God. Here were three young men who knew the Word of God and staked their lives on it by faith and believed that their God was able. This is really the issue isn’t it? God is able. It is when we settle this in our mind and learn to live with this type of perspective that we really have no problem out there on our own plain of Dura.

Whatever our need, He is able. Do we need grace? “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you.” (2 Corinthians 9:8) Do we need to overcome temptation? “For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.” (Hebrews 2:18) Do we need salvation? “Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him . . .” (Hebrews 7:25) Do we need security? Paul said “. . .I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.” (2 Timothy 1:12) Do we need strength? “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy . . .” (Jude 1:24) If we’re not sure that our God is able then we may not be able to say “our God” at all, much less whom we serve.

The real secret to their perspective is found in Daniel 3:18. “But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” Their faith was not based on God’s performance. Their faith was based upon the Lord alone. A lot of men and women have faith as long as they have blessings or feelings or some other trinket. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s faith was in the living God. It was not in what they could get from Him. Sometimes we must say this in the face of our final enemy, death. Yes, He is able to deliver us “but if not” we still will not bow down. Sometimes we have to say this in the face of sickness. He is able to deliver us but if not . . . Sometimes we have to say this in the face of business failure. He is able to deliver us . . .but if not . . . We have to say it in times of frustration or times of defeat. He is able to deliver us . . .but if not . . . Sometimes when we pray and seemingly receive no answer we say it again. He is able to deliver us . . .but if not . . . The issue is never God’s ability. He is able! The issue is wrapped in His sovereign will.

Some people have the idea that if they are delivered from a fiery furnace of life that everyone should join in the celebration, “but if not” we should quietly hide so as not to damage God’s reputation nor show any of our own lack of faith. What kind of God is this? This is the very reason some television healers screen their people before they let them on the stage. A recent cable news program interviewed a mother of a paraplegic boy who came to just such a “miracle service” hours early. She and her son were taken to another room and never even got into the auditorium. Such incidents are not only tragedies, but are travesties to the Gospel.

We’re reminded that the same God that gave to Job also was the same God that took from Job. The same God who delivered Simon Peter from prison allowed James to be martyred by the sword in the same chapter in Acts. The same God that allowed John the Baptist’s head to be chopped off is the same God that delivered others in other circumstances and situations. The perspective, “but if not,” is closely akin to what Job said, “even though he slay me yet I will trust him.” (Job 13:15) It’s also close to Esther’s classic pronouncement, “If I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16)

When these three young men say, “but if not,” they are demonstrating a level of mature faith. Look at them. Unlike some today who demand of God and tell Him what he has to do, they were not instructing God. They were abandoning themselves to Him much like our Lord did in Gethsemane Garden. I’ve always wondered where some people get off dictating to God what He has or has not to do, demanding Him to do this or demanding Him to do that. Our God is sovereign which simply means He always does what he pleases and is always pleased with what He does. These folks who do not live with the “but if not” perspective of life and continue to demand and claim things from God are seldom found in the hospitals holding the hand of some sweet lady with cancer who is full of faith herself. Our Lord Jesus took his healing ministry into the marketplace. He went to people where they were at such places as the Pool of Bethesda. He did not go to Jerusalem, rent the amphitheater, and announce a big meeting for those who could physically get there and then go through a screening process to see who would be allowed on stage. Yes, he is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace . . .but if not . . .we still will not bow down.

Whether God delivers us from the furnace or not does not change our conviction that “He is able.” If one claims to have lost their faith because of a situation where God did not come through like they thought He should, then it is proof that their faith was only in performance. We all know of people who have quit the race because they said our God whom we serve is able, but they never learned to complete the sentence . . .but if not . . .

It is interesting to me that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not even ask God to deliver them. They simply threw themselves upon Him and His sovereign will for their lives and come what may they were going to praise His wonderful name. There are a lot of people today who want to stand tall in the day of faith’s victory but few who really know how to stand tall in the day of faith’s tests and trials. Everyone wants to walk across the stage and receive their diploma but not everyone wants to pay the price of hard study and term papers and multiple tests.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego would not bow to peer pressure and they would not bend to fear pressure. Their battle was won right here at this very place. It wasn’t won in the fiery furnace, it was won when they came to live not only with pressure and principle but also with perspective. We should never wait until we get into a fiery furnace to try and decide what to do. These three young men did not burn because they did not bow nor bend. Some of us burn in the fiery furnace because, before we ever get there, we bow to peer pressure or bend to fear pressure. Why? Because we make too many of our decisions based on outer pressure instead of inner principle. And thus, we find our lives filled with compromise and cowardice instead of conviction and courage as we face our contemporary culture.

In the face of a world that advocates tolerance at all cost we must learn to live with pressure. We must learn to live with principle. And, above all, we need to learn to live with perspective. Our God whom we serve is able . . . but if not!

IV. Learning to live with protection (Daniel 3:19-30)

Now we find our three young friends bound . . . and cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. (Daniel 3:21) They could not get out now if they tried. They were bound in the midst of the fiery furnace. There was nowhere to go. Have we ever felt like that in our own culture that surrounds us? Some of us need to learn to live with His protection. A careful reading of the text will reveal that the fiery furnace is there for two very good reasons: our good and His glory.

Note that one of the byproducts of the three Hebrew young men being in the fiery furnace was that it turned out for their own good. All they had in the fiery furnace was the promise of God. They were standing on Isaiah 43:2, “When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.” I believe had the hymn been written they would have been singing, “When thro’ fiery trials thy pathway shall lie, My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply; the flame shall not hurt thee; I only design thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.” God could have delivered them from the fiery furnace but He had a better plan. And, His plan ultimately worked for their good and His own glory. Thus, He could have kept them from the fiery furnace. After all, He delivered all of Israel when He parted the Red Sea. He delivered them from starvation in the wilderness by providing manna every day from heaven. Yes, He is able to deliver us. However, God knew that deliverance “from” the fiery furnace was not nearly as significant as deliverance “in” the fiery furnace. It might be that some of us have missed God’s purpose and plan for us because we got mad at Him when He didn’t deliver us from our own fiery furnace. He hasn’t forgotten us. Perhaps it is for our own good that His plan is to deliver you “in” your own fiery furnace.

Why should we think that we are immune to the trials of life? The Lord Jesus said our Father in heaven sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matthew 5:45) Ask Paul if he was immune to the trials of life. He was stoned at Lystra and left for dead. He spoke of a thorn in the flesh that continued to bother him. Ask Simon Peter if he was immune to the trials of life. He met his martyr’s death by being crucified upside down. Ask the roll call of the faithful that are listed for us in the Hebrews 11 if they were immune to the trials of life. These were all people who learned to live with God’s protection and made up their minds about the but if nots of life.

None of us are immune to the fiery furnace experiences of life. They often find their way to us for a variety of reasons. Some trials are for punishment. David found this out. He was told the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me . . . (2 Samuel 12:10) Some trials are for prevention. Paul said, “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me . . .” (2 Corinthians 12:7) Some trials are for proof. Job said, “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You.” (Job 42:5) Some trials are for partnership. John, the Revelator, referred to himself as our brother and companion in the tribulation when he was on the isle of Patmos. (Revelation 1:9) Other trials are for profit. The writer of Hebrews relates that “they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.” (Hebrews 12:10)

Look at Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace. What happens when we do not bow nor bend? We do not burn! When Nebuchadnezzar looked into the furnace he exclaimed, “Look! . . . I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” (Daniel 3:25) Let’s take a brief math lesson. How many went into the fiery furnace? Three. How many did Nebuchadnezzar see when he looked into the furnace? Four. How many came out? Three. Thus, we find that our Lord is still there. And if any of us are in the fiery furnace today and we look around, we’ll find Him. Here lies an important lesson for each of us. When we walk through the fire it is helpful to have some faithful friends with us as well as the Lord himself. We do not have to go it alone.

Yes, the fiery furnace experiences of life could work out for our own good. The Bible says that their bonds were loosed. (Daniel 3:25) The only thing the fire burned away was that which bound them up. So often the flames of our own trials and testing sets us freer than we’ve ever been before. I’ve seen this happen. I’ve known men that were bound up with ropes of pride who went through a fiery furnace and came out free. The fiery furnace is for our good. Just look at Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego!

Not only did they find freedom there in the fiery furnace but they also found fellowship. Nebuchadnezzar says there were four men walking around the furnace and the fourth was like the son of God. The Lord himself left His throne of glory and came down to walk through the fire with these three Hebrew young men who had taken a stand for Him. And, He will do the same for you. Don’t quit in the time of testing. If you’ll look around you’ll find that you’re not alone. God never promised to keep us out of the fiery furnace but He did say He would get in with us and when we come out on the other side it would be for our own good. Time and time again I’ve seen the Lord become so real to so many who’ve had fiery furnace experiences of life who have emerged with their bonds loosed never to be the same again.

These three young men believed in the promises of God. Their trust was in Him and they were a testimony to the king. The result was that Nebuchadnezzar said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who sent His angel and delivered his servants who trusted in Him.” (Daniel 3:28) Yes, in the face of a world that advocates tolerance on all sides and at all costs, they learned to live with pressure, principle, perspective, and protection.

Why does God allow the fiery furnace experiences of life? What is the purpose of this permissive will? Perhaps it is to fit us for higher service. Perhaps it is to separate the true believers from the pretenders. It’s a lot easier to say, “I will not bow” until we’re looking into the fiery furnace. God is watching. “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him.” (2 Chronicles 16:9) Yes, often the fiery furnace is for our own good.

The good news is that the fiery furnace experiences of life are not only for our own good but they ultimately serve for God’s glory. Nebuchadnezzar said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who sent His angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him . . .there is no other God who can deliver like this.” (Daniel 3:28-29) This is the very point that Simon Peter drove home in the New Testament when he says, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6-7)

King Nebuchadnezzar said, “There is no other god who can deliver like this.” Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon. This is what the Gospel can do. The king who commanded the worshippers to bow down and worship his own image now bows himself before the King of all kings. He promoted these three young men. Yes, When a man’s ways please the Lord . . . He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him. (Proverbs 16:7) Men and women who honor God will not go unrewarded. Fiery furnaces of life are for our good and for God’s glory. Yes, “when thro’ fiery trials thy pathway shall lie, My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply; the flame shall not hurt thee; I only design thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.”

Jack Evans, former mayor of Dallas, had it right years ago. “You have what you tolerate!” We’re living now in a world where tolerance has become the law of the land. We’re told on every front that we should be tolerant in the sense that there is no absolute truth. “All religions are equal” is the constant cry. In the face of a world that advocates tolerance at all cost we must learn to live with pressure. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did and so can we. We must learn to live with principle. These three young men had it and so can we. We must learn to live with perspective. They lived with the “but if not” attitude. So can we. We must learn to live with protection. The fiery furnace is for our good and His glory.

What do we learn out there on the plain of Dura and in the fiery furnace? We learn that God is in control. We learn that His finger is on the thermostat. And guess what? He still would have been in control had He allowed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to perish in the flames. There are thousands of martyrs that have met that fate throughout church history. Yes, our God is able to deliver us . . . but if not . . . we still will not bow down.

We all go out there on the plain of Dura every week. Most of the people with whom we come in contact will be advocating tolerance. Most of them will go ahead and bow down – it’s just a lot easier. Just like a bunch of rubber stamps with no character and no integrity, many people who are called by the name of Christ will do the same. Perhaps it will be because of peer pressure or perhaps because of fear pressure.

What will it be for you? Will your life be governed by inner principle . . . or outer pressure? You will have what you tolerate. There are two voices calling out to us today. One is the voice of tolerance and the other is the voice of truth. At a recent funeral I heard someone say, “All of us are going to the same place – some of us are simply taking different roads with different styles and different ways.” That is the voice of tolerance. The voice of truth reveals the words of Christ, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) The real question is which are you going to believe? Yes, you have what you tolerate!


O.S. Hawkins is president and chief executive officer of the SBC Annuity Board. He is a Contributing Editor to Preaching.

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