Ready for the Furnace? The Courage to Worship God When No One Else Does.

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. 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?” Daniel 3:15 (NLT)

Are we ready for the furnace? Do we have the courage of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who chose the furnace over worshipping the king’s statue? Do we have the courage to worship God, and God alone, while we live in a society that does not worship God?

1 King Nebuchadnezzar made a gold statue ninety feet tall and nine feet wide 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 came and stood before the statue King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Daniel 3:1-3 (NLT)

Imagine the scene; all the important people form across the Babylonian empire are gathered to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s statue. The statue was impressive, but so was the king himself, the gathering of officials being proof that he had such power over such a large empire. However, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were not as impressed with the king and his statue as everyone else:

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.” Daniel 3:12 (NLT) 

Given the ultimatum to worship like everyone else, or be thrown into the furnace, they chose the furnace:

. . . 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.” Daniel 3:18 (NLT)

Why did they have such courage? How could their courage be so impressive, when the king, the king’s statue, the king’s power, and the king’s empire, were all so impressive? Why choose the furnace? Likewise, why were early Christians so courageous when Rome, and the power of Rome, seemed so impressive? Why did they choose the lions? Why be courageous in our worship of God today, when so much else seems so impressive? Why not cave?

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego worshipped God courageously because they knew that God alone is worthy of worship. No matter how impressive Nebuchadnezzar, or his statue, or his power, or his empire might be, God is more impressive! By the end of the story the statue is forgotten.

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! Daniel 3:27 (NLT)

The story begins with all eyes on the statue, it ends with all eyes on God!

Are we ready to take a courageous stand when it comes to worship? People have worshiped seemingly impressive gods in every culture. Richard Foster, in his book “Celebrating the Disciplined Life,” speaks of three things which might tempt us to cave in our dedication to God; the worship of money, sexy and power. I’m sure we can each add to this list the things that draw our eyes, that demand our worship. However, at the end of the day, by the end of the story, we will go from all eyes on such things, to all eyes on Jesus. No matter how impressive the people or things are that we worship today, they will be forgotten in the end. God will be front and centre.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego know that God alone is worthy of their worship, no matter what happens to them.

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.” Daniel 3:16-18 (NLT emphasis added)

God is God, He is worthy of worship. God is God, and is worthy of worship whether He rescues us today or not. As we consider God’s people in exile in Babylon, the Babylonians might seem to be more powerful, for now. As we consider the early Christians, the Romans might seem to be more powerful than God, for now. As we consider our own lives, cancer, or some other disease, or ageing, or the consequences of a car accident, might seem more powerful than God, for now. However, God is God, even if there is no rescue from the furnace, or the lions, or disease, or violence, or whatever, for now. But the story is not over.

Do we know that God is worthy of our worship, even if there is no rescue? You might get sick. Many people may pray for you. You might die anyway. Is God not powerful enough to answer the prayers and rescue us? There is a bigger rescue operation underway, in Christ. By the end of the story, we will realize that God, who demonstrates his power and his love in Christ, is more impressive than anything that comes against us. All will realize Who is worthy of worship at the resurrection.

We often experience God best when we are not rescued, when we are not kept from the difficulties we pray we never experience. Consider Shadrach, Meshach, & Abednego in the furnace:

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!” Daniel 3:24-25 (NLT)

There is discussion as to whether Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or an angel, was the fourth person Nebuchadnezzar saw walking around in the furnace. However we understand it, we are meant to know they were experiencing the presence of God. “The experience of God’s being with his people . . . comes only in the furnace, not in the being preserved from it” (Kennedy). We will experience God best in the furnace experiences of life, even when that is the experience of death. In being thrown to the mouths of the lions, many Christians have been thrown into the arms of God.

One last thing; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego went back to serving the very people who tried to kill them. They continued to participate in a godless society, serving godless people. Their attitude was: “I will serve you, but not your gods.” As we seek to worship God alone, can we commit to serving those who have no such desire? Do we have the audacity to hold up God alone as worthy of worship, even when threatened with a furnace? Do we have the compassion that drives us to serve others, even those that might threaten us with a furnace? If so, we will be following in the footsteps of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, not to mention Jesus.

(This “Shrunk Sermon” is from a series on The Book of Daniel which begins here)

Why Worship This God and Not Another, Or None?

The new Governor General of our nation, Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, recently found herself in a bit of hot water with religious groups. In a speech she expressed concern that that anyone would believe in something other than what you can learn from science. To quote:

“And we are still debating and still questioning whether life was a divine intervention or whether it was coming out of a natural process let alone, oh my goodness, a random process.”

While people of faith, including myself, may have felt slighted by this, we do well to consider that our Governor General really is expressing a sentiment of many Canadians. Our most recent worship service began with the following words:

O come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! Psalms 95:1-2 (NRSV)

Many Canadians would respond to this call to worship with “why would we bother to do that? Has not science taught us that God is not necessary?”

The people in the Psalmist’s day would have asked a similar question coming out of the typical worldview of their day: “Why sing to this Lord, and not another? Why not worship the gods of the Babylonians or the Egyptians? After all, those nations seem to be more powerful, so maybe their gods are more powerful! Why not the gods of the Canaanites? The worship in their fertility cult temples sounds like more fun than ours!”

The Psalmist goes on to answer this question, which in turn also helps us answer ours. Why worship this God?

For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
4 In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
5 The sea is his, for he made it,
and the dry land, which his hands have formed.
6 O come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! Psalms 95:3-6

Worship the Lord, because He is the one true God, the Creator of everything including us. God as revealed in the Bible is quite a different kind of god from all the other gods believed in during those times. Of all the mythologies of those days, no other religion expressed the theology of creation in quite the same way as the Hebrew Scriptures. The theology of God as revealed in the Bible has stood the test of time in a way no other theologies have. Belief in God is still very much with us. Zeus and the rest, not so much. Why? The Judeo-Christian concept of God stands up to philosophical enquiry, historical study, and scientific scrutiny. In fact such investigations even point to Him!

You might ask, “how can science point to God as creator when there is a fight between science and faith?” Let us consider an example (inspired by John Lennox). Consider my favourite motorcycle, a 1939 Triumph Speed Twin. Now consider a motorcycle enthusiast who owns one, and loves to take it apart and put it back together again to see how it all works. Scientists are like the motorcycle enthusiast who studies the motorcycle. Now consider a history buff who collects books about the Triumph Motorcycle Company.  The history buff learns that a man named Edward Turner was the chief designer of the Speed Twin. Theologians are like the history buff who studies Edward Turner, the man behind the motorcycle. Now when scientists say things like “having studied the world and the universe, we are able to explain how things work without reference to God, therefore God does not exist”, it is a bit like the motorcycle enthusiast saying “having studied the motorcycle, I did not find Edward Turner in the crankcase spinning the crankshaft to make the motorcycle go, in fact I can explain how the motorcycle moves without reference to Edward Turner, therefore Edward Turner does not exist”. Scientists say a lot of good things, but they say too much when they say that kind of thing.

Theologians can say too much too of course. Though a history buff will learn about the Speed Twin from history books and biographies on Edward Turner, they will not learn the same kinds of things as someone with the blueprints. Both the scientists and the theologians need to be careful they don’t say too much.

Consider further, that the existence of the Speed Twin as an engineering marvel, and as a work of art, points to a designer. That much is obvious. There are scientists who infer the existence of a Creator God from the engineering excellence and the artistry evident in the universe. This is the theory of Intelligent Design which you can read more about here.

While the existence of design in the universe points to a Designer, why should someone today worship God as understood through Jesus and not some other? The Psalmist helps us answer this question also.  Why worship this God?

For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand. Psalm 95:7a

Worship this God because He is the God who has had a relationship with us all along. God’s people in the Psalmist’s day could look back at the records chronicling God’s relationship with them and recognize that God has been walking with them all along. The gods of the other nations were not. God was their shepherd, sometimes protecting, sometimes correcting, but never far away. Likewise, we can look back and see God’s hand in history.

If you are a Christian, suppose for a moment that you are not. You are hardly going to believe that the Bible is the Word of God, or that miracles of the Bible happened. However, even if we do not believe that the Bible is the Word of God, we should at least recognize that it is a collection of historical records. It is a collection of 66 books, written over 1500 years, by the hand of over 40 different authors from quite different backgrounds. Whether you believe what the authors have to say or not, at the very least you can believe that these are historical records of what they believed to be true. As we study this collection, questions arise. For example, why the incredible unity of thought about God? Why the incredible storyline that runs from beginning to end including creation, fall, promises plus shepherding, redemption, and restoration? Why did a group of Jews claim that Jesus experienced resurrection, and why were they willing to die for that claim? Why has Xnty stood the test of time where other religions have faded away? How has Christianity become the biggest religion in the world, and why does it spread even quicker under persecution? The simplest answer is often the best, and in this case answers every question: Jesus is Risen Lord, God is our maker and has a long history of relationship with humanity.

The Psalmist calls upon the people of his day to worship God and not another, to listen to God’s voice: “O that today you would listen to his voice!” Psalm 95:7b. Why listen to His voice and not another, or none? Because God is the Creator, and humanity has a long, and recorded history with Him. Are we listening?

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3 He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high . . . Hebrews 1:1-3

All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV