Faithful Living in an Unsympathetic World – Part 3 – Sermon – Rev. Alex Moir – 15 August 2021

WELCOME

Good morning First Baptist. We welcome you to worship this morning. Be sure to remember your brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the week as you pray for them, and as the Holy Spirit brings their faces to your mind. Be sure to also connect with them in the ways that are possible. And if you have any questions or would like to talk to someone, please don’t hesitate to contact the church through the church telephone and leave a message. (519-733-4144)

Call to Worship

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing … but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 

— 1 Corinthians 1:18

Prayer

We are drawn to this worship experience today, gracious Father … not because of expectations from another or out of habit but due to the peace and welfare we have known from our association with Your Son.  We believe that, in Your wisdom, You devised this ingenious salvation plan to bring us back into Your presence.  How grateful we are for each day’s provision on our behalf … in the strong name of Him who gave His all.  Amen …

Song

Today's Message: Faithful Living in an Unsympathetic World – Part 3

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Scripture Reading: Daniel 3:13-18

13 Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, 14 and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? 15 Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”

16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 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. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

Our passage this morning begins innocently enough … an ancient ruler issues invitations to a statue dedication.  Probably a great many of us have been involved in this sort of thing.  I remember as a teenager the pride we all felt as we gathered on a hot July day in 1967 for the dedication of a centennial project in my hometown, a new library building.  My grandfather had been the chairman of the library board at the time, so it had a special meaning for our family.  As a church planter I have been involved in three building dedications through the years and each one has been special.  Of course, when you are dedicating an “image” like we see here in the ancient Babylonian empire it’s different than a structure or edifice.  The focus of the celebration was connected to an identity, to draw attention to the power and influence of the king.  And as we know in our time, the wisdom of installing such a statue can come under scrutiny years later.

However, we soon find out that this is not your “everyday” dedication.  The organizing of this gathering wasn’t done simply to acknowledge some hard work and dedication at the conclusion of a building project.  As those in attendance stood before this impressive image a herald loudly proclaimed:

“This is what you are commanded to do, O peoples
nations and men of every language.
As soon as you hear the sound
of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music,
you must fall down and worship the image of gold
that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.
Whoever does not fall down and worship
will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”

(v. 4-6)

These are shocking and harsh words, but there is a logical reason for this proclamation.  As we have mentioned before, as in any other “empire” situation, the Babylonians had over-extended themselves.  In order for them to properly manage what had become theirs, good behaviour from their own citizens and the peoples they had captured would be a must.  Add to this the security threats present from the nations around them (i.e. Egyptians, Lydians/Turks, Medes, Persians/Iranians) and you have a complicated situation presided over by a king who has already displayed some degree of instability.

You wouldn’t think he’d have much problem with compliance, understanding the chosen deterrent.  Execution by burning is perhaps the most painful ways to die and most Babylonians had no doubt witnessed such spectacles during their lifetime.  But even with this degree of suggested cruelty, cracks in the veneer of unity were beginning to develop … and some court officials had noticed and took their concerns to the king:

“But there are some Jews
whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego
who pay no attention to you, O king.
They neither serve your gods … nor worship the image of gold you have set up.”  (v. 12)

No doubt, if you’ve been paying attention over these past few weeks (or have some knowledge of the Bible) the names of these three young lads are familiar.  Their Hebrew names were Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah and they were the ones we witnessed last week as those who assisted Daniel in prayer during another crisis within the empire.  In some ways you might wonder why these intelligent young men might make an issue over this latest edict.  After all, they had secured great jobs in their new setting … and with what had happened back home, the conquest of Jerusalem and the exile of so many fellow Jewish citizens, hopes to return to their old way of life were growing more and more dim.  In some ways this is how we might relate to this exilic episode, even though it occurred many centuries ago.  Many in their circle of friends would have been urging a compromise of their values in order to survive.  We may feel the same pressure in our “go along, get along” culture, as Prof. Tom Long describes it.  As we watch our video footage, hear the commentary from various media sources and read the articles it seems there are very few who believe in the true health and welfare of humankind that comes through proper worship.  Many around us suggest we better get in step if we hope to remain a part of our society in any meaningful way.

It doesn’t seem like it took too much time for King Nebuchadnezzar to arrange for “a little chat” with the three Hebrew lads.  We have no reason to doubt that the king held them in high regard … all of them, including their friend Daniel, had distinguished themselves in the service of the empire.  But their behaviour has enraged him, and he summons them to the palace for a meeting they would have been happy to avoid.  Nebuchadnezzar’s comments develop along the lines of thought we all would expect.  He asks if what he has heard is true and then repeats the edict which has been published far and wide across the empire.  Then he re-issues the edict … and then goes a bit too far:

“Now when you hear the sound of … all kinds of music,
if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good.
But if you do not worship it,
you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace.
Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” 

(v. 15)

These young men had agreed to serve within the empire … they really didn’t have much choice.  But when the service crossed the line into “worship” their essence of life “path” diverged from that of the King of Babylon.  Nebuchadnezzar had lapsed into a line of thought that assumed that the trappings of his success had wider implications.  In his role of conqueror, he could assume that these young men, as well as others in his empire, would give him their service and time … but the ultimate loyalty of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego lay elsewhere.  To be honest they insisted that their true service was to their God … and that he was indeed “able” to save them from any catastrophe, even a fiery one.  But then come the words that have rung through the ages … and resonate in our hearts even today:

“But even if he does not (save us), we want you to know, O king,
that we will not serve your gods
or worship the image of gold you have set up.” 

(v. 18)

No higher or more mature statement of theological truth has ever been issued … and it happened nearly 600 years before Jesus was born!  Yes, our God can rescue us, they declared.  But even if he didn’t, they were prepared to remain loyal to him.  Our faith in the “Father of Lights” is not dependent on whether or not He rescues us from our current predicament … we love Him because “He is.”  The apostle Peter confirms the faith of the three lads with these words:

“All this only confirms for us the message of the prophets,
to which you will do well to attend,
because it is like a lamp shining in a murky place,
until the day breaks and the morning star rises
to illuminate your minds.”

— 2 Peter 1:19

You may know the rest of the story.  Indeed, the king’s rage rises to a point where he has his three servants thrown into the blazing furnace, so hot that the lives of those standing close by were lost … but not those of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.  Peering into the furnace, the king himself testifies to what transpires:

“Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?
Look!  I see four men walking around in the fire,
unbound and unharmed,
and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” 

(v. 24-25)

Should we be surprised by this?  Our faith has always been a faith in the presence of God in our lives.  It was Jesus Himself who promised an “advocate”, One who would walk alongside us, no matter what we might encounter in life (see John 14).  And it was the Father Himself who sent the Son …

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us”

— John 1:14

Reflect

My prayer for you this day is that whatever fiery trial you might encounter, you sense a wonderful measure of the Spirit’s presence with you.

Prayer

We begin our prayer this day in abundant praise, gracious Father, for the example of faith these three Hebrew lads have given to us.  With clear-eyed realism as to what may have become of them, they clung to their faith in You and Your purposes for life.  Their example reminds us of one of our Baptist prayers … “whether we live or die we know that we are in your compassionate care.”  We are grateful for Your faithfulness, no matter the circumstances of life.      

We admit to You, our providing God, that there are occasions where we get caught in the push and shove of “empire” activities … and sometimes despair at such developments.  Remind us, even in these times, that Your presence transcends the precious moments of prayer and worship even into the very places where the effect of the empire is most present.  Give us such a sense of hope that we may conduct ourselves with the confidence displayed by three young men named Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego … whose Hebrew names had been taken from them but whose faith in the Father of lights remained deep in their hearts.

Finally, our Father we pray for a generous measure of Your Spirit to inhabit every corner of our troubled world.  We are reminded that we are endowed with that same “Spirit presence” when we cast our lot with Your Son … so whatever place we find ourselves in the empire, Your Spirit accompanies us.  Help us to remember that we are ambassadors of peace and Your purpose.  It is in the name of Jesus and by His wonderful grace that we pray … amen.    

Song

Benediction

“And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious how or what you are to answer or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” 

— Luke 12:11-12