Tony Evans - Encountering God's Promotion
Today I want to look at encountering God's promotion. A promotion is when you are lifted from one level to another level. Many of you know what it is to be promoted in your job or to be promoted in your experience or to be promoted from the JV to the Varsity team; to go through things that lift you to a higher level. In our story today from Daniel chapter 3 a promotion is going to take place. Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego, they are going to experience a promotion, but it will not come without a trial. They're going to encounter God in a bad situation.
And now, some of the things I am going to say from this passage will not feel right and will not be comfortable, but that's okay because the more uncomfortable it is, the better possibility for a divine encounter. Let's start with the backdrop of the story. Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego find themselves working in a secular culture. They're in Babylon. Babylon is an evil, pagan, and idolatrous country. Because of Israel's sin, God told Babylon to invade Israel, and they brought out many of the young people back into Babylon to live and to work.
Daniel, along with the three Hebrew boys, are part of the group that was brought from Israel to Babylon, and now they have to live their life and do their work in a non-Christian environment. Many of you tomorrow will go to work in a pagan environment, where the people you work for and the people you work with do not share your Christian worldview. They do not believe what you believe. They do not act like you act. They do not walk like you walk. They do not talk like you talk. But that's the world you live in because you have to provide for yourself, for your family, and you will find yourself in an unrighteous environment.
That was the three Hebrew boys. They found themselves working for the federal government because they were administrators in the regime of Nebuchadnezzar, who was the governing head of Babylon. So they were government employees working for a pagan government. They were sent to a Babylonian school it says in chapter 1. It says that they were indoctrinated with Babylonian thinking. It says they were even given a Babylonian name after the name of a Babylonian god. So the culture was trying to de-Israelize them and pro-Babylonize them, trying to take their mindset from the rearing of their faith to the raising of the culture.
And so you and I, like the three Hebrew boys, are caught in a cultural tension, how we were raised and what we're taught to believe, and where we have to live and earn our money. Where we have to live and function, or the people we have to be around because that's the nature of the job in which we're situated. How do you be Christian when the environment you're in doesn't support your Christianity? When the environment that you're in is trying to lure you away from your faith, as colleges do with you and me and our children, and as the society does with people of God. So that's the situation. That's the circumstance that they find themselves in.
Well, something happens in the beginning of the chapter, chapter 3, Nebuchadnezzar, the head of Babylon, develops a theo ego. "Theo" is "God". "Ego" is "your mindset". He developed a God mentality. He deified himself. He goes on to say in the first nine verses, you'll see seven times discussion about this image he built to himself. He builds a statue to honor him 90 feet tall and 9 feet wide. He not only builds a statue, he comes up with a law. The law says that everybody is supposed to bow to the statue of Nebuchadnezzar. He calls all of his leaders together, and he says, "I want you to all to bow". And then he gives a warning in verse 6: "Whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire".
Okay, watch this. Now, the issue revolves around one thing: who you gonna worship? It says, "He built a statue". And he says, "You are to worship before the statue". At the heart of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is this issue of idolatry. Let me, for those who may not remember the definition of an "idol," an "idol" is "any noun, person, place, thing, or thought that becomes your source". So any person, place, thing, or thought that becomes your source has now become your God. Anything that competes with the God of the Bible as the thing you ultimately look to as your source is your God rather, no matter whether you call it your God or not. You and I live in a culture that not only wants our work, they want our worship because they often ask us to compromise biblical values in order to be accepted or in order to be promoted.
So, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego found themselves in a dilemma, and their career was on the line. While all of this is taking place, racism reared its ugly head. A racial dilemma takes place because verse 8 says: "For this reason at that time certain Chaldeans came forth and brought charges against the Jews". So some Babylonians brought charges against the Jews. They didn't like the Jews. They didn't want the Jews workin' at the company. And the reason they didn't like the Jews is, one, they were Jewish, and, two, they brought their faith to work. See, they knew they were followers of God.
So let me ask you a question. If you were accused of being a Christian on your job would there be enough evidence to convict you or would you be found innocent of all charges cause your faith is very vague? You know it but nobody else does. They were clearly followers of God and they were Jewish. They could not condemn them because of their work, so they had to condemn them because of their faith. So these three Hebrew boys find themselves on a dilemma because now the Babylonians who work with them, their coworkers, come and say and play politics. You know how politics is in the office. They come and play politics. They said, "Oh, oh, Nebuchadnezzar, you got these Jewish guys here, and they won't bow. Oh, they come to work. They do their job, but you told 'em to bow to the company, and they're not bowin' to the company. They're not submitting to the authority of the company".
So, Nebuchadnezzar, when he finds out this minority group would not bow, he said, "Bring 'em here". Verse 13: "Bring Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego here". And in verses 14 and 15, he says, "I'mma give y'all another chance". And then he asks the question: "If you don't bow", verse 15, "if you do not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire, and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands"? Now, that's the question. The question is, "I am so powerful, this company is so strong, this government is so much in control that if I fire you, you will be fired. And you don't know anybody who can overrule my decision 'cause I'm the man".
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego responded to the king. Okay, see, I don't know if you caught that. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego responded to the king. So they either all talked at the same time, or one talked for all three 'cause it says all three responded. That's why you need to hook up with some other Christians in your company so that you not standing there alone, okay? So they responded to the king, "Respectfully, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. Let us answer you. If so be, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us". You are to look at your occupation as service to the Lord through the vehicle of that company. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.
So they say, "We may work for you, but we serve the Lord. The God who we serve is able. The God who we serve", 'cause that's what got 'em in trouble in the first place, their coworkers knew that they served the Lord in their job description. But most Christians, many Christians divorce their everyday work from their service of God, and these three boys didn't. "But because we serve him, the God who we serve is able to deliver us".
But let's hear the rest of the story. "Even if he does not". Because there are two things you need to know about God. He's powerful so he's able, but he's sovereign so he can choose. In other words, you never let God's omnipotence, his power, cancel out his sovereignty. God must have the option in any situation to choose what the right thing is to do at that moment, and sometimes he does not. And you need a theology that covers when he doesn't 'cause if you don't have a theology that covers when he doesn't, then you gonna be mad at him when he doesn't 'cause somebody told you from the pulpit, "He's able".
So you gotta keep both in tension, and about both you must say the same thing. Because they say, "Even if he does not, let it be known to you, O King, we respect you. We're gonna work for you. We are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up". 'Cause it says in verse 19: "Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with wrath", filled with wrath, "and his facial expression was altered," okay? It's written all over your face. You don't have to say a word. You know, it just, he's contorted. He's contorted. "Who do you think you talkin' to? I don't care that you said it respectfully. Do you know who I am"?
Guess what he does? He is so hot, no pun intended, he is so hot, he gave orders in verse 18 to heat the furnace seven times more than it was already heated. We talkin' about crispy here. Oh, let's look at this. Seven is the number of completion. This is like your boss sayin' to you, "Look, if you don't do this, not only will I fire you, I will see that you never work in this kind of business ever again 'cause I'mma tell everybody else who you are and what you do, and I'mma get the word out. I'm the man, and you talkin' about you not gonna bow 'cause you got some other spiritual commitment".
So the men who brought them to the furnace, the furnace was so hot, it burned them up. The Bible says, "The men who brought 'em got burnt up". That's how hot it was. "They tied 'em up", in verse 23, "and threw 'em into the midst of the furnace still tied up. So they tied up the hands, tied up their feet, and threw 'em in. God didn't deliver them from the furnace. He let 'em get fired. But somethin' happens. Verse 24: "Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astounded and he stood up in haste. He said to his high officials, 'Was it not three men we cast down into the midst of a fire?'" "Come on, now, help me with my math. Wasn't it one, two, three, Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego"?
They replied to the king, "Well, certainly, King, we put three guys in there". He said, "Well, come here, come here, come here. Look through this glass". "Look", verse 25, "I see four men loosed and walking around in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a Son of the gods". You could preach right here. He says, "We put in three, right"? "Yeah, we put in three". "Well, how come? And we tied 'em up, right"? "Yeah, we tied 'em up". "Okay, well, why am I seeing four? So if we put in three, why four? And how they walkin' around when we tied 'em up, and no crispy, nobody burnt, nobody"?
Okay, watch this. Sometimes when God wants to give you an encounter with him, sometimes he takes you out of it. Sometimes he delivers you from it. Sometimes you don't have to worry about it. But sometimes he wants to take you through it or join you in it, not deliver you from it. Sometimes he wants you to see what it's like when you're in the fire and not bein' burned by the fire. You're in the bad situation at work, and he's workin' right beside you. He says, "I see four, and the fourth one I see looks like somebody straight from heaven".
Sometimes heaven wants to join you in a bad situation without taking you out of it. He just gonna join you in it. But whether he takes you from it or joins you in it, you have an encounter with the living God 'cause you supposed to be all shook up, all tied up, all screamin' and hollerin' and worried and depressed. And here you are, walkin' around the fire. Here you are, struttin' around the fire. Here you are, movin' around the fire. They messin with you at work, and you still walkin'. They criticizin' you at work, and you still praisin'. They're makin' it hard for you, and you still gettin' it on. Why? 'Cause you know you're not by yourself. But sometimes he wants you to see what it's like when you're in the fire with the Lord. "Why? Why God? Why you gonna do this"?
Look, I need to walk with you. I need to walk with you. Walk with me. I want you to turn to 1 Peter. I want to walk you through a series of Scriptures. I want to walk through a series. You need to know these Scriptures in 1 Peter. Let me show this is not just Old Testament, this is New Testament. He says in 1 Peter a number of Scriptures that will change your bad situation at work, change your bad situation at the company where you have this kind of understanding of a bad suffering season in your life. He says in 1 Peter chapter 2, verse 20, he says, For what credit is there if when you sin you are harshly treated? You endure it with patience, but if when you do what is right and suffer, for if you patiently endure this finds favor with God.
So if you doing right and taking your stand, you're making God happy and you're finding favor with God even though you're suffering. Look at chapter 3, verse 14. He says, But even if your should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed and do not fear their intimidation. I don't care who they are or what their title is, don't be scared of their intimidation and do not be troubled just cause they talking smack and talking noise if you're suffering for righteousness. Verse 17: For it is better if God should will it so that you suffer for doing what is right rather than doing what is wrong.
Finally, he says in chapter 5, verse 10: After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace who called you by his eternal glory in Christ, will himself perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish you to him be the dominion. He gonna call the final shot. He gonna say where this job situation works out whether there or somebody else because remember, your job, your government is only your resource, it is not your source. Some of you remember my story when I was in seminary workin' at Trailways. I was loadin' and unloadin' buses. They came to me because they had a scam. The scam was when people went out for lunch, then somebody else would punch 'em in after an hour, even though they may stay out three or four hours and hadn't been punched in. And so you rotated, and somebody did that for you, you did that for somebody else.
They came and said to me, "Well, here's the deal. This is how you do it. This is your day to punch somebody else in after an hour even though they'll be gone three hours, and then somebody will do that for you". In other words, rob the company of time and money and what's goin' on. So, I told 'em, I said, "I can't do that because, as a Christian, that's stealing, and that's not something I can do". And they said, "Oh, no, you don't understand. Everybody does it. It's the way we roll up in here. So, you gotta expect, you can't be an exception. Everybody does it. Let's get over this Christian stuff, and this is how we do it in the company". I said, "I'm so sorry, respectfully, you know, I can't do that". Well, they said, "Well, since you can't do that, you gonna be unloadin' a lot of these buses by yourself".
When the buses came in, I wound up havin' to unload a lot of 'em by myself 'cause they wouldn't help me because I didn't conform to what they were askin' me to do that was clearly unbiblical with the company. This went on for weeks and weeks and weeks. I'm discouraged, I'm depressed, I'm frustrated because this has been thrown on me, and I had that same attitude that we all have sometimes. "God, why you lettin' this happen to me when I'm tryin' to be fair to you"?
A number of months later, I got a call. The call in was to come to the owner's office, or the manager's office for Trailways. I went in the manager's office. He said to me, "We've been havin' a night supervisor come around at night to see what was going on with the night shift. We are very aware of this scheme that they doin' of punchin' people in when they really haven't come back. We're also aware that you were not a participant. So what we would like to do is make you manager of the whole shift". Now, I didn't know somebody was watching. I didn't know there was a fourth person in the fire. I didn't know that something else was going on. But you have to understand that when God decides to promote you, it doesn't matter what men say to you. So it's time for us to take a stand.
A man was on an island one day and he got shipwrecked on this island and nobody was there. He was out there by himself and he's wondering well how was he going to survive on this island. He put some sticks together to make a little hut to keep him away from the inclement weather and he got in that hut but through series of events the hut caught on fire. So the hut is on fire, he's on this isolated island. A few days later a boat comes to deliver him from the island. He said, Well, how did you know I was on the island? Oh, they said, It was simple. We saw the smoke signals you were sending up to let us know you were here.
Sometimes God let's you catch fire but it's really a smoke signal saying to God, God, here's where I am and even though I'm in a fire, I know you know where I'm located. So I want you to go back to work tomorrow and serve the Lord Christ. I want you to go back to work tomorrow and be a Christian on your job, serving with excellence, serving the Lord, but knowing the Lord knows where you're sittin'. He knows how long he wants you there. He knows when it's time to move, and he knows the bills that you have to pay, and says, "He is your source," and everything else is your resource. You can lift your head up high, and even if the rest of the folk don't like you on the job, you just find you a Meshach, a Shadrach, and an Abednego, and you take your stand for God because God ultimately owns the company.
Divine encounters often happens in the midst of struggle, and that's when God wants to give us an encounter to change us. For example, Jacob was a trickster. He lived his life through conniving and tricking people, and it caught up with him, just like our character flaws catch up with us. But even then, in our mess, God performs miracles. He creates a struggle, a struggle that binds us and ties us up and won't let us go. And God is right in the midst of the struggle because the angel of God came and wrestled with Jacob all night long until he got his name changed.
The changing of names in the Bible is a shifting of character. He went from this trickster to a person whom God helped. But something had to get dislocated first, and God dislocated his hip because he had to walk with a limp as a perpetual reminder that he wrestled with God. And God will wrestle with us until he changes us. And sometimes he leaves some things behind that remind us not to go back to the old character that was damaging before. But that's good news in a painful situation.
If you're struggling right now because something needs to change in your life or mine, God is loving you and me enough to take us through the struggle, and he will keep the struggle there until we get the message that character flaws need to be changed because he wants to conform us to the image of Jesus Christ.
So, rather than getting mad at the struggle or the limp, I want you to praise God that he loved you enough to put you in the struggle in order to change your character. Because once he changed Jacob's character, he became useful, he became productive, and he is found in the New Testament as a hero and not as a failure. So, your yesterday character flaws don't have to be your tomorrow's definition because once God gives you an encounter, a struggle that changes you, then he can use you for his glory, the advancement of his kingdom, and the improvement of the lives and in the lives of others.