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Cool Faith in a Hot Furnace (chapter 3)
Thriving in Babylon
Cool Faith in a Hot Furnace
Daniel 3
If Daniel had stopped writing with the closing verses of chapter 2, we would be led to believe that it was a classic "and they all lived happily ever after" kind of story. 
As you remember, the story begins with the young men of Israel being carried away into Babylonian captivity. The story narrows in on the lives of Daniel and three of his friends who become known as Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego.  They are immersed into Babylonian culture and education and eventually end up in respected offices and careers in the Babylonian government. 
In fact, when we end chapter 2 we find them being promoted, in large part, due to Daniel's God-given ability to translate the dream of King Nebuchadnezzar.  As the chapter closes, he is sitting in the gate of the king and his friends govern over the affairs of the province of Babylon. 
But the story doesn't end there. In fact, generally speaking those "every one lived happily ever after" stories are most often reserved for the fairy tales, and the story of Daniel and his friends is certainly no fairy tale! It is the true story of real people who had challenges and struggles in their lives, and in particular because of their faith in God.  And yet, we find them "Thriving in Babylon".      
Chapter 3 contains one of the most familiar and famous stories in all of the Bible.  It is the story of three young men who were thrown into a fiery furnace because, they were standing up for what was right and standing against what was wrong. And chances are high that even those who can't remember their names have no trouble remembering their story. 
There was an old pastor whose mind was beginning to fail him and he was going to preach on this story, but just couldn't seem to remember the names of these three boys. So he wrote them on a card, which he inserted on the inside pocket of his coat.
At just the right time in his message he paused and said, ''Of course, I'm sure all of you remember the names of these three Hebrew boys.'' Pulling his coat open he said, ''Hart, Shaffner and Marx.'' Regardless of whether you remember their names or not, even though this story took place 2,500 years ago, it is as up-to-date as today's headlines.
I mentioned a moment ago that this is a true story of real people.  I say that because we always need to keep in mind when we read stories in the Bible we are not just simply reading what God did in the past, but we are reading what God does.  We are not just reading what God said, we are reading what God is saying. No doubt, we are reading how God wanted His people to live then and what God did then, but we are also reading how God wants His people to live now and what God does now.
And I find here a great lesson for all those who desire to follow Jesus and stay true to His word.  Just as these Hebrew children lived and thrived in their Babylon centuries ago, they show us and teach us how to thrive in our own personal Babylon. And what they lived provides some basic lessons we need to learn if we will stand for what is right and see God's blessing and deliverance in our lives. 
We find the situation revealed in the first fifteen verses.
verses 1-15
Get the picture?  He lifted up this golden image of a pagan god and at the appointed time he wanted everyone to bow down and worship it. Now remember, this follows on the heels of Daniel's interpretation of his dream in which he is identified as "a king of kings who was given a kingdom of power, strength and glory by God Himself."
He ruled the world! He is the head of gold!  And this head of gold was an awesome thing to behold!  And apparently all this talk of being the head went to Nebuchadnezzar's head! 
So he decides to build this golden image of himself to be worshipped!  His thinking must have been, "If I'm so important, if I'm a king of kings, if I'm the golden head, then I deserve to be worshipped!"  And when it's finished, this thing is 90 feet tall and 9 feet wide and overlaid with gold! 
And the degree goes out for everyone in the kingdom to give their allegiance to him anytime they hear the band playing! There were to no exemptions and no exceptions and if you don't do it, you will be executed. 
And as we see in verse 7, everyone from the "who's who to the who's not" all bowed down and did what they were told. . . except for a little group of Jews who refused. 
And when Nebuchadnezzar is told that Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, three Jews that he has promoted and recognized and honored, refuse to do what he says, he throws a delivers an ultimatum. 
In essence, he says, I'm going to give you one chance to change your mind, and if you don't, then you're toast, burnt toast, I might add. 
So how do they respond?  Will they bow or will they burn? In their answer and what happens because of it, we find some tremendous insight into what is required if we will thrive in Babylon. 
Lesson #1 is to
1. Take Courage From God
Now get the picture:  Nebuchadnezzar has set up a
new religion and a new god to be worshipped and everybody is either going to join the church or be barbecued like a crispy critter. And he is even arrogant enough to defy any other god to do anything about it! 
Now keep in mind, this man has just given offering and burned incense to the God of Daniel because his God is the God of gods, the Lord of Kings and the revealer of secrets."  And now, he is daring that God or any other god to deliver his followers from the fiery furnace! 
And it is about that time that this demonic command is met by the divine courage of these three followers of Jehovah.
verses 16-18
These young Hebrew men stood up when everybody else bowed down.  That's what caused them to be reported in the first place.  they did it openly and unashamedly and without fear. 
Think about that for a moment. Anybody and everybody who was somebody fell in line and did what they were told everybody except these three men. 
It would have been so easy to rationalize their actions and compromise their convictions. We do it all the time! "'Well, I don't believe I ought to let my beliefs interfere with my politics."
They could have said, ''Everybody else is doing it. When in Babylon do what the Babylonians do.'' Or, does this sound familiar? ''I don't believe I ought impose my morality on someone else.'' ''I'll bow down on the outside. I just won't bow down on the inside.'' It is now legal so I guess it must be right.''
These three men do us a big favor. They show us what real faith is all about.
Real faith means drawing faith from God that allows us to obey God regardless of the feelings within us, the circumstances around us, or the consequences before us.
One of the greatest lessons you will ever learn is to have the courage to stand for what is right even when we stand alone. And the only place you will find that courage is in God. Always remember this - when you stand for what is right you never stand alone. God always stands with you.
Lesson #2:
2. Keep Confidence In God
Now remember, Nebuchadnezzar is the final authority in the land.  As king, he can do anything he wants to do without answering to anyone or explaining his actions. Nobody talks aback to the king. Nobody questions his authority. Nobody bucks his orders. And certainly nobody who got to where they were because of him. 
So his temperature is higher and his temper is hotter than the fire in the furnace.  And yet, these young men don't bat an eye. When the king threatens them, they didn't ask for a conference or time to pray about it. 
They looked this diabolical king in the eye and said, "Our commitment to God is not up for debate and we can't be bought. We may burn, but we won't bend, bow or budge."
By the way, King. . .
verses 17-18
You say no god is able to deliver us, but we know One Who is able.  But even if He doesn't, whatever happened, they were not going to walk into it groaning, complaining, or saying, ''Whoa is me.'' They were going to go out singing, ''How Great Is Our God!'' They were going to face fire with faith and not fear and the reason they had such a great faith was because they knew they were placing it in a great God who is able. There is something that we should never forget. We serve a God who is able.
Scientifically, our God is able to take nothing and turn it into everything. Our God is able to take grief and turn it into glory. Physically, our God is able to take illness and turn it into wellness. Spiritually, our God is able to take a rebellious heart and turn it into a redeemed heart. Eternally, our God is able to take the sunset of death and turn it into the sunrise of resurrection. Our God is able.
And notice those three words at the beginning of verse 18: ''But if not.'' They had already made up their mind and heart. They had already decided what was right and what was wrong. Too many people spend too much time trying to make up their mind what they are going to do when they are faced with a situation to give in and give up. You had better make up your mind every day before you walk out the door of your home whether you are going to live for God or not; whether you are going to obey God or not for what is right or not. I learned a long time ago, if you will just make one big decision it will keep you from having to worry about a lot of little ones.
They had already decided they were going to choose the fire. They were going to take the heat.
They knew that God could deliver them from the fiery furnace, but they didn't know that He would deliver them. Whether He would either deliver them from it or through it. They were going to stand with God and for God whether they lived or died. Real faith is not the confidence that God will work things out the way you want. It is the confidence that God is God and He does all things well.  It is the confidence that He will work things out the way He wants to bring glory to Himself.
The truth is when you stand for God you may die. If you love God you may not get healed. If you love God and obey God you may lose your job. Faith is not believing that you will live and not die. Faith is not believing you will be healed and not die. Faith is believing it is better to die than to live if that is God's will for your life. A ''but if not'' faith understands that we can't always be sure of what is going to happen, but we can always be sure of Who is controlling what is going to happen.
This is our confidence and we believe that disappointment does not mean God has disappeared. Death does not mean that God has failed. Difficulty does not mean that God is weak and out of control.
If you face the fire and you have to take the heat, remember that His eye is on the thermometer, His hand is always on the thermostat, and we can take the heat when it comes.
Finally, we see in here three men that
3. Honor Commitment To God
verses 19-22
There was no small print in the contract of their commitment. If God delivered them from the furnace they would live for Him. If God delivered them through the furnace they would live with Him. Whether they lived or whether they died, they had made a commitment to God and they were going to honor it.
Nebuchadnezzar had made an equally strong commitment to his god. They had their chance and they blew it. If it was the heat they were willing to take then he was willing to give.
He heats the furnace up 7 times more than it was usually heated. He was determined they were going to go from rare to super well done in a flash of an eye.
The smoke would be a reminder to everyone else, ''You had better step in line and you had better stay in line.''
Notice what happened:
verses 23-25
That is nothing less than the appearance of Jesus Christ Himself in what theologians call a theophany,  an Old Testament appearance of the eternal Son of God.
And in the presence of Jesus, Nebuchadnezzar waves the white flag of surrender
verse 26
Now don't rush by that verse too quickly. Verse 24 tells us three men went into the fire. Verse 25 tells us there were four men in the fire. Verse 26 tells us that three men came out of the fire.
Where does that leave the fourth man? He is still in the fire. When you take the heat for God, He will take the heat with you. Jesus didn't come to this world to get us out of trouble. He came to get into trouble with us.
You never need to fear the furnace. If these boys had kept their mouths shut, minded their own business, gotten in line and done what they were told, they wouldn't have been thrown into that furnace. If they had not be thrown into that furnace, they would have never experienced the presence of God, enjoyed the power of God, or been enveloped by the protection of God.
When you are tempted to take the coward's way out, to forsake your convictions, and to compromise you integrity, you just take God out of the picture. You don't give God a chance to show what a mighty God he is.
In fact, they came out of the fire with no harm, injury or evidence of what had happened. 
verse 27
It left no room for doubt or question.  There was no other answer except God's intervention and He alone received the honor and praise. 
Now watch what happens:  These three honored God through their commitment and in turn God honored their commitment. 
verses 27-30
And as we'll see in the next chapter, this event has a significant impact on the life of the King, and through a second dream, Daniel will once again take center stage in the book. 
Before we leave this chapter, let me leave you with a closing thought about the fiery furnace. Thriving in Babylon may require you to go thorugh some difficult times also, but these Hebrew children stand up to declare if we will take courage from God and keep our confidence in God and honor our commitment to God, He will go through the fire with us and bring us deliver us safely from it. 
Wagner Dodge was a professional firefighter known as a ''smokejumper.'' Smokejumpers fly right into the center of forest fires and parachute in hoping to stop the flames. Dodge and his crew jumped into a plane to fight a fire at Mann Gulch in Central Montana. As they parachuted in, it looked like a pretty normal operation. They headed single file down the gorge toward the Missouri River to take on the fire. He left his men in the middle of the gorge to scout what was ahead.
As he got within 100 feet of the fire there were three things that would change his life forever. The fire was much worse than what he had seen overhead and it was causing the fire to move a lot faster than he realized.
Second, the winds were blowing the fire above the gulch where he left his men all the way up to the ridge cutting off their escape route. As he ran back to his men and ordered them to retreat, he realized that this gulch was in what is known as a transitional zone.
As you can imagine that is not good. A forest fire rarely moves at more than 4 or 5 miles an hour which smokejumpers can always outrun, but Mann Gulch was part of a transitional zone - this is an area where mountain forests transition to level plains and prairie grass. In this case, it was shoulder high grass, bone dry, and ready to explode when hit with the flame. Every firefighter knows - you can't outrun a prairie grass fire. He knew within a minute or two he and his men would be completely engulfed in the fire.
Sap, in a few scattered trees was superheating and exploding like bullets going off everywhere. Smoke was as thick as fog and ashes and embers were falling like snow. There was no escape. Dodge and his 15 men were trapped. It looked like the only options available were stand and burn up, turn and burn up, run and burn up. They had about 60 seconds to live and Dodge thought, ''We're out of options.''
But it turns out they weren't. Dodge suddenly took out a match, lit in and threw it into the should-high grass in front of him. His men thought he had lost his mind, because in an instant, the grass was ablaze in a widening circle. As the ring of this new fire spread, it cleared a small area of everything flammable. It wasn't much of a safety zone, but it was all they had.
He jumped over that blazing ring, moved to the very center of it, wrapped a wet cloth around his face, got down on the ground and waited. The surging firewall came all the way around the circle and leapt over the top, because it found nothing to burn where he was. His hair wasn't even singed. It simply burned a hole in that raging fire.
The tragedy of that experience was that 13 of his men saw what he had done, but decided they would be better off making a run for it and none of them made it. Only the men who realized that the fire cannot go where the fire had already been were saved. In other words, strangely enough, only the men who were willing to take the heat lived.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus walked into a fiery furnace in the shape of a cross. He took the heat of God's wrath against our sin so we could be forgiven and redeemed, not from the fire of death, but have the light of eternal life. If for no other reason, every chance we get we ought to take any heat for Him, because He took the greatest heat for us.
Let's pray.
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