Hope in the Place of Opposition

imageWorshipping a false God (3:1-7)

Nietzsche said: "If there is a God, how can I bear not to be that God?" Nebuchadnezzar had experienced religious conviction without spiritual conversion (2:47). Nebuchadnezzar was not a changed man. He had the same old heart, now a little more hardened.

An intriguing feature of the arrangements made for the statue’s unveiling is that they were shrouded in a religious atmosphere. There was a dedication (v 2); the occasion was enhanced by the finest orchestral accompaniment; the entire ceremony had a spirit of worship (v 5). All this, however, simply provided a veneer for the deepest blasphemy: This worship was man-centred, not God-honouring. Nebuchadnezzar, not God, was the object of worship. The lie was substituted for the truth of God; the "creature rather than the Creator" (Rom. 1:25) was to be adored.

Two warnings:

1. Blasphemy can be disguised by the trappings of religion. Could it be that much that passes for religion and worship in our own day, because it is so centred on us, is a form of blasphemy?

2. "All that glitters is not gold." The danger of assuming that the really important thing in worship is the aesthetics. All that matters is how God chooses to be worshiped: "True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship him" (John 4:23).

"We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29).

Two lessons:

1. The accusation brought against the three friends: Their statement is utterly without compassion. Rather than throw oil on troubled waters these men were out to destroy the influence of God’s kingdom under the guise of their own faithfulness to Nebuchadnezzar.

2. The response of faith they made to it: People of faith do not have need to make a "big deal" out of their acts of heroism. They do not need always to be drawing attention to the fact that they are different from others. They simply act according to the Lord’s Word and allow their actions to speak without unnecessary histrionics.

Obeying God Rather than Men (3:8-18)

What was the response of the Hebrew believers? (Heb. 11:34).

1. They had confidence in the power of God:

2. They were completely submissive to God’s will, whatever that might be: (Phil. 1:20 . 2 Cor. 4:2, 12).

No one can make the sacrifices of faith without grasping these principles (John 12:24).

Living Through Fiery Trials (3:19-25)

This was their finest hour. They had grown strong in faith as they had given glory to God (Rom. 4:20).  The parallel miracle was Christ’s resurrection. There the kingdom of darkness seemed to have overcome the kingdom of God, but God raised His Son from the dead in power and glory. His kingdom was protected and His servant vindicated. In the same way, when all seemed to be lost for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, God vindicated them and their message, giving them new life in the face of certain death.

What then was the secret of the faith of these three men in the face of Nebuchadnezzar? They trusted God’s promise never to leave or forsake them. They feared Him with the reverent fear of loving sons. They would rather die than offend the One who had meant everything to them in the past.

1. "All things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose" (Rom. 8:28). In Psalm 148, the psalmist calls on the whole creation and everything in it to praise the Lord. He includes "fire" (v 8). Even fire is part of His purpose, to work everything together for the good of His children and for His own greater glory.

2. God has promised to give us grace in our time of need (Heb 4:16). He will always give it in time. The friends were already committed to the flames before they knew precisely what form that grace would take. Would it be the grace of deliverance or the grace to die well for God’s glory? Only in the moment of trial did it become clear exactly how God would show His faithfulness. So it is with us (Psalm 66:10-12).

There is a certain monotony about Daniel! The plot remains the same! The beast will "persecute the saints of the Most High" (7:25). "Persecute," is literally "to wear out." The dogged persistence of the kingdom of darkness may wear down the resistance of God’s people.  Only by wearing "the whole armour of God" (Eph. 6:10) can we stand in the face of Satan’s onslaughts.

Cell Outline

Avoiding the Furnace: Read Daniel 3:1-18

Christians living in a world as comfortable as ours can be tempted to believe that God would never want us to struggle or face a furnace. In fact, our primary goal in life can become what might be called "furnace avoidance”. We can find ourselves praying, "God, deliver me from pain, discomfort, suffering, and inconvenience. Make my life smooth. Make my journey easy. Make my years on this earth comfortable. Remove all obstacles from my path."

1. What did Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego have to do if they were going to avoid the furnace?

2. What were some of the spiritual implications if they had practiced furnace avoidance at this critical moment of their lives?

3. What are some of today’s theological systems or teachings that try to tell us that furnace avoidance is exactly what we should practice? (Hint: prosperity gospel, healing, separation of faith and social action or justice …. maybe!!).

4. Where might these teachings lead us if we follow them to their logical conclusion?

5. No one likes the furnace times of life. What are some of the normal and natural reasons we tend to avoid discomfort, suffering, and pain?

Meeting God in the Furnace: Read Daniel 3:19-25

“I wonder if the fourth man in the furnace told them how proud the Father was of their loyalty and love. I wonder if he told them that because of this one act of faithfulness, their names would be remembered for thousands of years; that for centuries men and women who faced suffering, persecution, trial, or even death would be immeasurably strengthened by hearing their story. I wonder what they said to the fourth man. I’ll bet they poured out adoration, gratitude, and wonder like never before. It’s a funny thing; they came to this place with a fearless resolve to withhold worship from a false god. They ended up worshiping the one true God. The furnace looked like the end of their lives but it turned out to be the greatest thing they would ever experience. It is where they met God!”

6. How has your faith grown deeper over the years through furnace times?

7. What is a furnace time you are facing right now (or that you see on the horizon)?

8. How can your group members pray for you as you go through this challenging season?

Lessons from the Furnace: Read Daniel 3:24-30

The truth is, sometimes God delivers people from the furnace, but sometimes he delivers people in the furnace. Full devotion to Jesus can lead to places that look scary, dangerous, and painful. In the end, it turns out that Jesus meets us in these places (Matt 16:24-25). When we walk with Jesus, we carry a cross, walk through furnaces, lay down our lives – and he is with us every step of the way.

9. How did the furnace experience of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shape their future and the future of their people?

10. How did the bold faithfulness of these three men impact Nebuchadnezzar and the nation of Babylon?

11. Tell each other about how God used one of your furnace experiences to bear witness to the presence, power, and grace of Jesus.

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