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Robert Jeffress - Tested By Fire


Robert Jeffress - Tested By Fire
TOPICS: Courageous Living In A Pagan World, Daniel, Trials

Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. Many people define faith in simplistic terms. Faith, they say is an optimistic feeling that everything will work out in the end. If you think positive thoughts, good things will come true, right? Well, according to scripture, true faith requires much more risk and uncertainty. Today, I'm going to tell you a true story about a man whose faith endured the ultimate test. My message is titled "Tested by Fire" on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.

The great German pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was martyred for one reason. The Nazis killed this pastor because he got involved in politics. Unlike the majority of pastors, Christian pastors, in Nazi Germany who remained silent under the reign of terror of Adolf Hitler, Dietrich Bonhoeffer could not remain silent. He stood up in his society. He spoke out against the evil of the government and as a result, he lost his life. Dietrich Bonhoeffer before he died made the statement. He said, "Only he who believes is obedient. And only he who is obedient, truly believes". There's an inseparable link between belief and obedience. You can't separate the two. Wherever there's belief, there is genuine obedience. And we see that truth clearly illustrated in the story we're going to look at tonight.

If you have your Bibles, I want you to turn to Daniel 3. God gave Daniel the ability remember to interpret the dream of the evil king, Nebuchadnezzar. And when Daniel recounted the dream and explained it to Nebuchadnezzar, remember Nebuchadnezzar's response? He fell down, he worshiped the God of Daniel, the Yahweh, the true God. And not only that, he elevated Daniel and his friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to places of prominence, of rulership in the Babylonian country. That was his first response: to worship God. But then in tonight's story, which takes place shortly after chapter two, we see Nebuchadnezzar having a more humanistic response to this vision, a vision that said, basically, Nebuchadnezzar, your days are numbered is king of Babylon. Babylon is going to cease, you're going to cease to exist, there is another kingdom coming after you.

And notice Nebuchadnezzar's reaction to the truth that his kingdom would one day come to an end. We find it in verse one of chapter three. "Now Nebuchadnezzar, the king made an image of gold, the height of which was 60 cubits," a cubit is about a foot and a half. So it was the statue 90 feet high, its width was six cubits, or nine feet, and he set it up on the Plain of Dura in the providence of Babylon. As Nebuchadnezzar thought about this dream, thought about the end of his kingdom, he said, you know what? I'm going to do whatever I can to prevent the end of my kingdom. I'm going to take matters into my own hands. I'm going to see if I cannot somehow thwart the sovereign will of God.

And Nebuchadnezzar's motivation in this was not religious or spiritual. He didn't want people to worship him as God. Instead, he wanted their political loyalty. He wanted people to bow down, kind of like saluting the flag, and pledge their allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar. That way, Nebuchadnezzar thought he could make sure that there was no rebellion against him that would cause him to lose the kingdom. Now, it said that this statue, 90 feet high, nine feet wide, was set up on the Plain of Dura, notice that in verse one. The Plain of Dura. Archaeologists have determined that this Plain of Dura was six miles south of ancient Babylon. We were talking about archeological evidence for the veracity of the Bible this morning. Some years ago, French archeologist, Julius Oppert, found on the Plain of Dura, a base, a large brick construction that was 45 square feet and 20 feet high that very well could have been the base of this great statue that was made of Nebuchadnezzar.

Now, again, the reason for this statue was not spiritual but political. Look at verse two: then Nebuchadnezzar, the king, sent word to assemble the officials of Babylon, that is to satraps, they were kind of like city council members who governed over different provinces of Babylon, the prefects, the governors the counselors, he brought them all up for the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. And look at verses four and six. Then the herald loudly proclaimed. To you, the command is given o people, nations and then of every language, that at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, the flute, the lye, the trigon, the psaltery, the bagpipe, and all kinds of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king has set up. But whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into the midst of a blazing furnace.

Now, verse seven, we find that the music is sounded, all of the instruments play. When the music starts, that's the cue for everyone to fall down and worship the image. And sure enough, verse seven says, "All fell down and worshiped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up". All except three. We'll find out those three in just a moment. But just imagine the scene, you have hundreds of 1000s of people perhaps on the Plain of Dura, you had this mighty image that is set up. The instructions have been given. The music plays, everybody immediately bows down, only three people remain standing. Can't you hear the people who are bowed down looking up and say, down, down, down. But they wouldn't bow down before this image that had been set up.

So notice the accusation that's made against these three in verse eight. "For this reason at that time certain Chaldeans," that is part of the kings court, these people who lived in southern Babylon, came forward and brought charges against the Jews, these three Jews who refused to bow down. Look at verses 10 to 12, what the charges were. They reminded in verses 10 and 11 Nebuchadnezzar of what he had ordered and then look at verse 12, here's the charge. This is what they said to Nebuchadnezzar. "There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the administration of the province of Babylon, namely Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These, o king, have disregarded you, they do not serve your Gods and they do not worship the golden image that you have set up". And so look at verse 13, "Then Nebuchadnezzar in rage and anger, gave orders to bring Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Then these three were brought before the king".

Now, here's the natural question: where in the world was Daniel during this time? Have you ever wondered that? Where was Daniel? After all, he's the one who had these guys promoted. He's the one who led them to obey God and not Nebuchadnezzar. Where was Daniel? This week, as I was preparing the message, I read all kinds of explanations about where Daniel was. Some people say, "Well, Daniel was now such a high ranking official, that for political reasons, he went ahead and bowed down before the image of Nebuchadnezzar. To him, it was no big deal, it was political and not spiritual". Now, that doesn't make any sense, especially given Daniel 1 and how he wouldn't even eat the king's food.

Another explanation is, "Well, maybe Daniel was ill on this particular day". Now, if I were choosing the day to call in sick to the office, it certainly would have been at. But I'm not sure that's a likely explanation. Some people say, "Well, maybe the king had dispatched him on a foreign trip as an emissary for the king to a foreign land". That's a possibility. We don't know, that's the bottom line, where Daniel was. But some have suggested that it was not fair for Daniel to escape this test when his three friends were being tested in such a severe manner. And that's really not logical to say this isn't fair because the fact is, Daniel was about to be tested. He had already been tested in chapter one and the lion's den was waiting around the corner for him in chapter six.

But there's a very important point in principle for all of us here. All of us who are God's people are going to be tested. But we're not all tested in the same way. God's tests for us are not the same test. In 1 Peter 1:6, Peter said, "In this you greatly rejoice even though for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials". That word various, poikilos, it's a word we get poikadot from. We are distressed by varied various test. You're not going to escape testing in your life. If you're not in the middle of a test right now, either you've already come through one, you're in the middle of the one or you're getting ready to enter a test. But God's plan for all of his children is to be tested, not to destroy our faith, but to strengthen our faith.

Now, notice verse 14, Nebuchadnezzar responded and said to them, to Shadrach, Meshach an Abednego, "Was it true that you do not serve my Gods or worship the golden image that I have set up"? He said, maybe y'all misunderstood, so let's try this again. I know you're new to our country, maybe you didn't understand exactly what was being said in Aramaic, so let's try this again. Now, here's the command. When you hear the music play, you just fall down and everything will be okay. However, he says in verse 15, but if you do not worship, you will be immediately cast in the midst of a furnace of blazing fire, and what God is there who can deliver you out of my hands? You see, Nebuchadnezzar had already discovered there's a God who could reveal secrets. But he had not yet discovered that the same God is one who is able to deliver the Israelites out of Nebuchadnezzar's hands.

Now, think about these Hebrew youth. And remember teenagers, they were about your age, they were probably about 17 or 18 at this time that they were going through this test. Think about how they could have rationalized not obeying God's commands. They could have come up with all kinds of excuses not to bow down before the golden image. But they knew what God had said in Exodus 20. God was very clear, thou shall have no other Gods before me, thou shall not make unto thee any graven image, thou shalt not bow down to them nor serve them. Now, they could have come up with all kinds of rationalizations about why to bow down. They could have said to themselves, "Well, you know what? I'ma bow on my knees but I'm not going to bow in my heart. In my heart, I'll still worship the only true God". Or they could have said, "Well, you know what? It doesn't make any sense for us to die in the fiery furnace. Well, if we die, we're not be able to witness to Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians any longer and surely, God wouldn't want that to happen".

They could have come up with all kinds of excuses for reasons not to obey God's command and bow down before the golden image. But notice what they said instead. Verses 16 to 18, these are some of my favorite verses in all the Bible. Look at what they said to Nebuchadnezzar. They said in verse 16, "O, Nebuchadnezzar, we don't even need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire, and he will deliver us out of your hand, o king". But underline verse 18. "But even if he does not, let it be known to you, o king, that we are not going to serve your Gods or worship the golden image that you have set up".

Now, that's what you call faith. They said, king, we believe our God is able to deliver us and if he wants to, he'll deliver us out of your hands. But even if he chooses not to deliver us, we're still going to obey him. Ladies and gentlemen, that is faith. Obedience to God in spite of the circumstances. It's not always God's will to deliver us out of trials. It wasn't God's will to deliver Jesus out of suffering, or Peter, or Paul, or most of the apostles, God's will for them was death but they still obeyed God. This is the perfect demonstration of what true faith is: obeying God regardless of what he does. Now look at verse 19, the execution of the sentence. "Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with wrath and his facial expression was altered toward Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego".

His face was just contorted, he was so angry and he answered by giving orders to heat the furnace seven times more than it was usually heated. Their make here means Nebuchadnezzar was as angry as he could have been under the circumstances and his anger, like anger always does, caused him to do something very irrational. You know, when you're angry, you are literally out of your mind. And that's where Nebuchadnezzar was, because he does a very irrational thing. He says, I want that furnace heated up seven times the normal heat. Now think about it. If he was really angry as he was with these three men, he wouldn't want that temperature raised. He'd want it stay at the normal temperature so that they would suffer as long as possible in that furnace instead of being consumed immediately by it being seven times hotter than it usually was. But Nebuchadnezzar wasn't rational. One commentator said, "Nebuchadnezzar's furnace was hot but he himself got hotter. And when a man gets full of fury, he gets full of folly". Great words.

Look at verse 21. "Then these three men were tied up in their trousers, their coats, their caps, and their other clothes and they were cast in the midst of the furnace of blazing fire. For this reason, because of the king's command was urgent and the furnace had been made extremely hot, the flame of the fire slew those men who carried up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. But these three men Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, fell into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire still tied up".

Now look at God's miraculous delivery in verse 24. "Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astounded and he stood up". Now apparently, they had placed a chair for Nebuchadnezzar to sit in once the furnace door had been shut, and he was able to look in to see these three men. And when he looked into that blazing fire, he was so astounded by what he saw, he immediately stood up. And he said to his high officials, "Was it not three men we bound into the midst of the fire"? They replied to him, "Certainly o king". Verse 25, he said, "Look, I see men loosed four of them walking about in the midst of the fire without harm and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods".

Three things amaze Nebuchadnezzar. First of all, these men who had been tied up were suddenly now free. Secondly, they were walking around without being consumed by the fire but most importantly, there were no longer three men in there, there was a fourth man in there. And that fourth person they saw look like a Son of God. Who was that fourth person in there? I believe it was the angel of the Lord. Anytime in the Old Testament you read about the angel of the Lord, that is a reference to the Lord Jesus Christ. The incarnate, pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ. That fourth person looked like a God to them.

Verse 26, "Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the furnace and he responded and said, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, come out, you servants of the Most High God and come here. And then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out in the midst of the fire". He wanted them out of the furnace. He called them servants of the Most High God. And look at verse 27, "All of the officials gathered around and saw in regard to these men that the fire had no effect on their bodies. Not even a hair of their head had been singed, nor were their trousers damaged, nor had the smell of fire even come upon them". They didn't even reek of smoke after being in that furnace.

In verse 28, look at Nebuchadnezzar's response, he said, "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who has sent his angel and delivered his servants who put their trust in him violating the king's command, and he yielded up their body so that not to serve or worship any God except their own God". Now, as we'll see in a moment, this was not, and we'll see this more next time, this will not a conversion experience for Nebuchadnezzar, that would come in chapter four. Nevertheless, there was still a command here that was given in verse 29. Nebuchadnezzar says, "Therefore, I make a decree that any people nation or tongue that speaks anything offensive about the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, shall be torn limb from limb and their houses reduced to rubbish heap inasmuch as there is no other God who is able to deliver in this way".

And notice, Nebuchadnezzar did not denounce all other gods. He simply recognize that the God of these three Hebrew youth was a legitimate God. And in fact, he was a superior God than any other god he knew of because this was a God that was able to deliver these Hebrews out of Nebuchadnezzar his hands. Now, as impressive as a comment that is, God is not impressed by it. See, God is not content to be named among other gods. God is not impressed when we say oh, I believe in the God of heaven, the God of the Bible, but I believe in other gods as well. I'm saying this often right now, as I go around our country, what we call polarity in our country, the worship of many gods, what we celebrate is tolerance and polarity, God has another name for it, it's idolatry.

The first amendment of our constitution has not replaced the first commandment of God. God said, "You shall have no other gods before me". God commands us exclusive worship, he has no tolerance for any false gods or any false idols. By the way, a false idol, a false God, doesn't have to be a wooden statue. As I heard my friend David Jeremiah say today, we have American idols as well. Those American idols some time are money. We bow down before money, we worship money. Sometimes it's pleasure, entertainment, sometimes it's sports, sometimes it's scholastic achievements but God is a jealous God. He said, you worship me exclusively. That's the kind of worship our God demands.

Now, why is this story important? It's important for three significant reasons. First of all, this story sets the stage for Nebuchadnezzar's conversion in the most dramatic way we're going to see next time. But secondly, this story foreshadows God's protection of Israel. Just as God protected Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from the fiery furnace, so God would supernaturally protect Israel during the 70 years of captivity in Babylon. And God will continue to protect his people until the end of time.

I was in New York this past week. I was there Wednesday for the most holy day of the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur, and I was with some Jews, it was interesting to see how they worshiped on Yom Kippur. But at that very same day of Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, on that very day there in New York was Iranian president Ahmadinejad. And there he was in the UN breathing threats against Israel. Monday of that week in New York, he said, "Israel will be eliminated from the face of the earth".

Now I'm going to make to you a prophecy that I promise will come true. This is an absolute 100% prophecy that will come true. President Ahmadinejad will be eliminated before Israel is eliminated, you can rest assured because Israel is God's nation and Israel has the promise of God's protection. God protected them for 70 years during that Babylonian captivity and he will protect them until the end of time. But the third truth that you see in the passage is this: this passage reminds us of the importance of unconditional faith and obedience. Remember, true faith is not believing God is going to do what we want him to do. True faith is the resolve to obey God in spite of the circumstances. It's the faith that job expressed when he said, though he slay me, yet will I trust in him. Only he who is obedient believes and only he who believes is truly obedience.
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