A FEW GOOD MEN SERMON SERIES
GREAT WALLS OF FIRE – SHADRACH, MESHACH AND ABEDNEGO
HOW TO STAY CALM UNDER FIRE
MAY 29, 1994
When I was ten years of age, my parents had a home built and the builder did a magnificent job. He built the two story structure on about an acre lot with gorgeous Carolina pine trees and across the street from a 25-acre lake. We were 15 miles from downtown, Columbia, South Carolina. It was the ultimate place to live. However, a couple of weeks before we were supposed to move in, tragedy struck. Someone set fire to the house and it burned to the ground. One of the things etched into my memory is a picture of my father and I walking through the charred remains of this structure. It was gone. The chimney looked like the Washington Monument. The builder had to dig up the foundation and start the entire process over again. The whole thing. And a year later we move in and we are finally there, in our brand new house.
After we had lived there for two days, Mom and Dad called this family conference and, because of the tragedy that had occurred, they said “Ed and Ben, we want to prepare you for what to do in case of a fire.” So we went through the Young family fire drill. They said, “Ed, Ben, you have the second story, if you ever smell smoke you need to know we purchased a fire ladder, a chain-link ladder. Now don’t you worry about us. You put the chain-link ladder on the windowsill, don’t worry about us, and you shimmy down that ladder like Batman and Robin, (that really got us into it) then you walk across the roof, jump down into the yard and meet us by the basketball goal”. And we rehearsed this time and time again and I knew this fire drill and could do it in my sleep. I still know this fire drill.
And just take a look at our society because we love to prepare others for fire. It starts at a very young age. We give our toddlers fire trucks. Our kindergarten classes tour fire stations. In elementary school we have fire drills and we purchase fire extinguishers and smoke alarms. You go to a hotel. On the back of every door there is a sign which reads “What To Do In Case Of A Fire.”
Today we are going to discuss and look at this topic, fire. Fire. We are not going to talk about fires that destroy forests or homes or buildings, but fires that we face. I am talking about the personal fires, the day to day fires, maybe the fire of divorce, the fire of depression, the fire of sickness, the fire of death, the fire of a financial setback. What do you do when these great walls of fire seem to surround you and they seem like they are caving in? What do you do about it? I want us to look at three Biblical firemen today, and these firemen have some weird names; Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. And with names like that they should be strong, shouldn’t they? Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego fought a fire and through their lives they are going to give us five fireproof formulas on how to face the fire. Five fireproof formulas on how to face our daily fires.
Take out your scripture outlines. You will notice that the print is in red, fire red, and all of the scriptures are taken from Daniel 3 which is the fire passage. So take out your scripture outlines. If you don’t have one, raise your hand, someone will get you one, it is very important to follow along as we go through the scripture.
Let me set the stage and give you the background for this text, Daniel 3. In 605 BC, King Nebuchadnezzar took the reins of Babylon. And Nebuchadnezzar was an ego-maniac. The first thing he does since he wants to show his power, is to rushe to Palestine. He surrounds Palestine, and he picks the brightest, the most intelligent young men and women. He brings them back to Babylon, educates them in the Babylonian culture, and he puts them in top positions in his administration. Three of those young men were Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. King Nebuchadnezzar gave these young men, these young Jewish boys, administrative responsibility over the province of Babylon. And that sets the stage for some real action.
Look at the first verse, verse one. The Bible says, “King Nebuchadnezzar made a golden statue ninety feet high and nine feet wide.” This guy began to read his press clippings, didn’t he? “Hey, I am great, I am an unbelievable king, I am brilliant, I’m strong.” So he erects this 90-foot tall, golden statue, nine feet wide and he tells one of his yes men to announce to the entire kingdom, “Everyone must bow down and worship this statue of the handsome, articulate, dynamic King Nebuchadnezzar.” And the Bible says, when the band plays, everyone must fall flat on their face, and say, oh Nebuchadnezzar, we worship you. That was the situation. And sure enough, the band begins to play, and take a wild guess what happens. Everyone falls flat on their face and they worship this statue. And the scriptures reveal to us the penalty for not worshiping the statute was to be tossed into the fiery furnace. A little subtle pressure, wouldn’t you say?
But something happened. Something happened that happens to you and that happens to me. Some verbal flamethrowers sneak onto the scene. I am talking about verbal arsonists. You know what I am talking about. The Bible tells us in Daniel 3:8, “But some officials went to the king and accused some of the Jews of refusing to worship.” Verse 12. Here is what they said. “Ah, there are some Jews out there, just to mention some names, King N, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, you know the people you put in leadership, King, and they have defiled you, refusing to serve your god or to worship this beautiful, handsome statue that you have set up.” Verbal arsonists, always working behind your back. I often wonder as I read this section, why didn’t they come face to face with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego? They couldn’t, because that would take too much courage. So they kind of creep around and they set a little fire by talking to King Nebuchadnezzar and saying Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, will not bow down – a little gossip, a little tattle-taling. If you are in a position of leadership, get ready for the verbal arsonists, the verbal flamethrowers, because they are present in every arena of society. They are present. People dropping this comment, people saying that. That is why the Bible says in James 3:6 the tongue is a fire, not like a fire, the tongue is a fire.
What was the response of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego when they heard this talk? Well, King Nebuchadnezzar, he freaked. “I cannot believe it, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, these people I have trusted, these people I have trained, bring them to me.” That is what he says. Verse 13. “Then Nebuchadnezzar, in a terrible rage, ordered Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to be brought in before him.” And what was their response? Did Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego say, “Hey, give me the names, King Nebuchadnezzar, of the people who slandered me. I am going to file a suit against them, I’ll get back at them.” They didn’t say that. They were quiet. They listened to him. And finally in verses 14 and 15, King Nebuchadnezzar says, “Is it true that you are refusing to serve my gods or to worship the golden statue I set up…if you refuse, you will be thrown into the flaming furnace within the hour.” They demonstrate for us the first fire fighting formula. You have to rise above your verbal flamethrowers. If I am going to really fight these fires as they come into my life, as they come into your life, I am going to have rise above the verbal flamethrowers. Why, you ask, why did Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego have the reaction that they had? How did they rise above this? It was because they had the proper priorities. They were confident in who they were. And when your top priority is God, second family, and third is your business, you are confident. And you can stand and you can rise above the verbal flamethrowers.
I play a video game sometimes and the object of this game is to rescue the damsel in distress. But to get to the damsel in distress you have to get past this evil, wicked dragon that does this – (illustration of flame breathing) – a flame-throwing dragon. It took me about four months but I figured out how to do it. The way to get past this fire-breathing dragon is to push the up button and (dingggg) put the little man up high on the video screen, then the flames pass underneath him. Can you do that? The answer is yes. If you have the proper priorities you can rise above it. Because every time I have tried to return fire with fire, I have been disappointed. You jump down to the other person’s level. And it is human nature when we are struck when someone throws some fire on us, we want to return the fire like that. But if your priorities are straight, you will be confident, serene and secure in who you are and you can be like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
Let’s move now to the second fire fighting formula, the second fireproof formula. Develop a disposition of confidence. I just said the confidence word. Develop a disposition of confidence. Here is Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego waiting to be thrown into the fiery furnace, becaise they are not going to bow down to the statue. But they were confident. Where did that come from? Verses 16 and 17. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied, now check this response out, they replied, “We are not worried about what will happen to us. If we are thrown into the furnace, our God (circle the word our) our God is able to deliver us; and He will deliver us out of your hand.” What was the secret of this confidence? Hey, we are not worried about this. The Bible says, we are not to worry about what will happen to us. They had this confidence because of the little word “our”. Circle that. They did not say, it’s a god, or this god but our God, my God. They had an authentic personal relationship with God. And because they served a confident God, and they reflected the nature and character of God. They reflected the nature and character of confidence, not cockiness. I am talking about confidence, that they were standing on solid ground, exactly like the song we just sang. They had that confidence, that thing you can’t really buy, that thing you can’t really gain. And we try to spend so much money and large blocks of time and we think we can buy confidence or gain confidence through some glassy-eyed guru. Some people search for it in the Shinto shrine, or a new age crystal. The only confidence, true confidence, comes from the living Lord.
This past week our staff took a retreat about an hour and one-half outside of Dallas. We stayed on a farm for prayer and planning. And one afternoon we took a tour of an ostrich ranch, that’s right, an authentic, real deal ostrich ranch. A nice gentleman who runs the ranch took us on this tour. His name is John. And John walks us down this walkway where all of these giant birds, standing seven to eight feet tall, weighing 300 to 400 pounds, were hissing at us, walking right up to us and kind of stomping their feet. They can kill a man with one kick. The are the second fastest animal behind a cheetah, I didn’t realize that. And we watched these ostrich, and they are fascinating birds. But this man who told us that an ostrich can kill you like that, I watched him jump in a pen with a male and a female ostrich, 800 pounds of ostrich, and he was confident. He kind of patted the birds, he knew exactly where to move. And then he just climbed out of the pen. I said, “John, how did you do that? You were telling me all these horror stories about how ostrich kill people left and right, how did you do it?” He said, “Ed, it’s simple. I have a plan beforehand. I have a plan before I go into the pen.” Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, they were confident because they had a plan before this moment, before they hit the fiery furnace, before they faced Nebuchadnezzar. They didn’t say, “Oh boy, I better plan now, let me see what will I do, it’s getting difficult.” They didn’t. They were ready. Do you have, though, a disposition of confidence? Can you say that? Look back at your outline. They were not worried about what would happen to them. And they said, “If we are thrown into the flaming furnace, our God is able to deliver us and He will deliver us out of your hands.” Confidence when you face the fire.
That brings us to the third, the third fireproof formula. Don’t allow your circumstances to cause you to compromise. Don’t allow your circumstances to cause you to compromise. Verse 18 tells us this. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego continue to say in unison, “But, if He doesn’t, please understand, sir, that even then we will never under any circumstances serve your gods or worship the golden statue you have erected.” They were not going to do it. They were not going to let the circumstances cause them to compromise. What a word to you and me. A lot of times we get into certain circumstances and we compromise who we are. We have a vocabulary at the office and a vocabulary in church, we have things we do with our college friends and things we do with our church friends.
Last summer, Lisa and I took a couple of days and met my parents near a beach. And on this beach there are a lot of lizards called chameleons. You know those things? And I love to catch chameleons, because Lisa and my mom are scared of them. Chameleons are amazing reptiles because they change color to whatever matches their particular foundation. For instance, if they are on asphalt they turn black, if they are on a green leaf, if that is the foundation behind them, they turn green, or yellow, or whatever. They kind of blend in. And I know of too many Christians, too many chameleon Christians here, you are this way at church, and you are that way somewhere else. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego said I am not going to let the circumstances dictate who I am. I am going to stay true, I am going to follow God and that settles it.
And that brings us to the fourth fire fighting formula. Grasp God’s hand as you are walking through the fire. Grasp God’s hand as you are walking through the fire. That is the fourth fireproof principle, the fourth fireproof formula. And before we read this text, verses 24 and 25, jump back to the verses 19 and 20. Because Nebuchadnezzar, the Bible says, was filled with fury and his face became dark when they wouldn’t bow down. And this word dark literally means his attitude changed toward them. And he became angry. He commanded that the furnace be heated up seven times hotter than usual. When ungodly people persecute Christians they will turn up the heat, won’t they? And then he says for some of the strongest men in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the fire. Literally he said, you are fired. And you have them bound with ropes and the strongest men in the army come right by the fiery furnace and toss them in. Now the Bible says the furnace was so hot the flames leaped out and killed the soldiers. Here is another principle for us, before we get into the fourth formula. The ungodly, if they don’t understand what it means to have a personal relationship with the Lord, when they get near the fire, they will get burned up and destroyed whereas those who follow the Lord will not get destroyed by the fire.
They got close and while Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did not perish, the ungodly guards were gone.
Now let’s jump to the fourth formula. Grasp God’s hand as you are walking through the fire. Verses 24 and 25. “Suddenly, as he was watching,” circle that word watching. And why was he watching? Hey, the world watches you and the world watches me, especially when we go through the fire, don’t they? Why do they watch you and why do they watch me go through the fire? Because they want to see, does Christianity work, because they desperately want something to work in their fires. Because many of them are like the soldiers, they see the flames coming at them, they know it’s about over. But when they see a Christian and see this young man, this young lady, surviving in the fire, they say “That is something I want.” We are on the stage when we are going through a fire. So Nebuchadnezzar was watching, he couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. “Suddenly as he was watching, Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in amazement and exclaimed to his advisors, didn’t we throw three men into the furnace? Well, look, I see four men.” And can’t you picture Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego walking around in the fire with their Raybans on saying, “It’s cool in the furnace, baby.” But Nebuchadnezzar says there is a fourth man there. And most commentators believe, and I believe, this is an appearance of the pre-incarnate Christ. This was Jesus walking around with them in the fire. When we rely on the Lord, when we grasp his hand, when people look at this fire we are going through, they will see a fourth man in your life and my life and look what that can communicate to the world. Look how God can use that in a mighty powerful way. “I see four men, unbound.” Remember they were bound, now they are unbound, the fire burned off everything except Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. God allows fires in our lives in order to burn off the excess, sometimes to burn off things that bind you and me, to free us up for His purposes. Isn’t that great news? But it is not great news when you are in the fire. It’s tough when you are in the fire. But God will use it to say, I want to burn some ropes off Ed, I want to burn some ropes off Jill, I want to burn some ropes off David. And when we are in the fire we will watch the ropes slowly disintegrate. And “they were walking around in the fire and they weren’t even hurt by the flames. And the fourth one looks like a god.”
EJ is two years old. He is my son. And EJ, especially when he is trying to negotiate a steep flight of stairs as I am walking by his side, will grasp my hand. He knows I am there and he knows I will hold his hand and I’ll help him up a steep flight of stairs. Folks, if we know Jesus Christ, He is never going to leave you, He is never going to leave me, His hand is right there and all we have to do is reach out and grasp it and because we grasp His hand we can walk through and around the fire.
Then Nebuchadnezzar shouts, Come out, come out. And they stepped out of the fire. You know the Ed Young translation goes something like this, and I am kind of reading between the lines here. I think that maybe King Nebuchadnezzar, as he looked in and saw these four men walking around, he saw they were alive, he saw the Raybans, he saw them whistling, he saw them holding hands with the Lord, he said, “Boys bring me my piano,” and maybe he sang this song. “Bah, bah, bah, bong, you shake my crown and you rack my nerves, you make this ungodly king freak out; Oh Shadrach, Oh Meshach, Oh Abednego, Oh goodness gracious, great walls of fire, I can’t believe this what is happening, your God is the true God, what’s the deal, He’s for real.” He could have said that. (Laughter) What do you think? (Applause) If he lived in the 90’s, he could have said that.
You know what though. When I think about fire, when I think about a difficult circumstance, I think about an account I read years ago, about what a silversmith does. Every time you go through a difficult situation, I want you to think about a silversmith because a silversmith pours the silver into a vat and he turns the heat up. As he turns the heat up, the impurities rise to the top and he scrapes the impurities off and he knows the silver is ready when he sees his reflection in the silver. And that is precisely what the Lord does in all of our lives. Here’s Ed Young. I am going to turn the heat up on Ed because when the heat is turned up, the impurities will rise to the top and I will scrape them off and throw them away, those ropes, that old stuff, that rebellion, that attitude, that thought life, and I know that Ed is ready to really be My man when I can see My reflection in the silver. So maybe God right now has His hand on the control, on the knob, and He is turning it up seven times hotter in your life. And you think, God, I can’t take it any more. Just remember, the impurities are rising, He will scrape them off, He is waiting to see His image, and He wants to use you in a mighty, mighty way.
And that brings us now to verse 27. “Then the princes, governors, captains and counselors crowded around them and saw that the fire hadn’t touched them -not a hair on their heads were singed; their coats were unscorched, and they didn’t even smell like smoke!” Whoa! Is that strong, or what? The Bible promises me, if I walk and I grasp God’s hand when I go through the fire, I won’t even smell like smoke.
And that brings us to the fifth and final fireproof formula. Realize that God has a promotion for you. Realize that God has a promotion in store for you. That is the fifth fireproof formula. Verse 30. “Then the king gave promotions.” And this word promotion is not some prosperity-type thing. Don’t think, well I’m in the fire and God’s going to give me promotion, He’s going to take me from the fire, heal everyone in my life, I’ll never get sick again, and He’ll make me a multi-millionaire. Ed MacMahon will come to my doorstep and say, “You’ve won, ha, ha, ha.” It won’t happen that way because God’s promotion will happen in His timing, in His economy. And the ultimate promotion will take place when we get to heaven. But the promotion is coming. Then the king gave promotions to the three men with weird names so they prospered greatly there in the province of Babylon. They prospered greatly. God can promote you in a number of ways; spiritually, physically, emotionally, but the Bible promises us He will, if we apply these five fireproof formulas in our lives. You know what? This guy has learned more in the fire than I have on a float sipping Snapple in a swimming pool. I really have. I have learned more in the fire than I do in the easy times. And that is just the way God designed it. God is not some masochistic God. He is not some God with a giant baseball bat trying to trip you up, trying to trip me up. But He does tell us, part of My will is for you to go through the fire.
Are you ready to face, though, those great walls of fire?