Serving God in the Furnace
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Serving God in the Furnace

Daniel 3:1–30  (ID: 3109)

How do we respond to persecution? In part, our reaction can be determined by our view of God’s sovereignty. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down to idols and faced a fiery furnace as a result. Alistair Begg explores the details of God’s miraculous salvation of His servants and urges us to submit to and serve God with our bodies and lives, especially in the face of difficulty.

Series Containing This Sermon

Faith Under Fire

Daniel 1:1–6:28 Series ID: 12702

Sermon Transcript: Print

Well, I invite you to turn with me to Daniel and to chapter 3—Daniel chapter 4 this evening, if you want to read ahead, but this morning, chapter 3. I’m not going to read the whole chapter, once again, in the interest of time, but I hope that you either have done or that you will do.

Daniel 3:1:

“King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits and its breadth six cubits. He set it up on the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon. Then King Nebuchadnezzar sent to gather the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces to come to the dedication of the image that … Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Then the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces gathered for the dedication of the image that … Nebuchadnezzar had set up. And they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up.”

You can see the writer wants us to know that it was Nebuchadnezzar that set this up. There’s no underlining; repetition is one of the keys for our discovering what the emphasis of the text is. One of the ways in which we determine that is by repetition. So you should always note when repetition occurs in the text, because it’s a mechanism for helping us to say, “This is very, very important, that you understand this.” This is not like a bad English paper where you’re just filling in any old poem you thought of just to… Sorry for the interruption.

And verse 4:

“And the herald proclaimed aloud, ‘You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. And whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace.’ Therefore, as soon as all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, [the] pipe, [the] lyre, [the] trigon, [the] harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, all the peoples, nations, and languages fell down and worshiped the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

“Therefore at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and maliciously accused the Jews.”

And then they point out that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who had so recently been exalted to a position of usefulness, are the very ones who are leading the charge against the whole notion of bowing down to this gigantic statue. As a result of that they are called, as we will see, and the king asks them if this is actually the case, and they reply that yes, it is the case. Verse 18: “But if [we’re] not [delivered, let it be] known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

I think we’ll just leave it there.

Father, thank you that we have the Bible open before us. We pray that you will enable us to understand what it says, to believe what it conveys, to obey your Word, and to trust resolutely in you, the God of all faithfulness. For we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Well, I hope we’re beginning to get the picture here of the impact of this book that is penned by Daniel, perhaps with a little help from his secretaries, as it conveyed the truth of God’s faithfulness to the exiles, some of whom had been caught up in the first wave along with Daniel and his friends, others who were coming later. There were actually three waves, if you check the historical books, that brought these exiles finally into the bondage of Babylon.

And in chapter 1 we saw that God, who is sovereign, had guided Daniel in his faithfulness and in his friends to a position of honor in Babylon,[1] and he, this same God, guides his faithful people in the world. In communicating that, the need that was being addressed was that God’s people would inevitably be wondering whether God was actually in control of everything, whether he was really in control of these foreign powers and deities. And if he was not, the temptation that was there was for them to compromise.

In chapter 2 we realized that the God of heaven is the God who deposes and sets up kings,[2] and he will, in the end, bring all human kingdoms to an end and will establish his own everlasting kingdom.[3]

Now, here in chapter 3, in what is one of the most well-known parts of Daniel, we discover that in the context of what is apparent defeat, that God is able to deliver his people from the furnace—expressly from this immediate incident in this fiery furnace, but the very experience of exile is referred to in Isaiah as God’s people being in the furnace of captivity.[4] And he is making it clear that whether God does act in deliverance or whether he doesn’t, that God’s people must serve him as God, even if their refusal to bow to the foreign gods results in their death.

Now, it’s in light of that that we come to the chapter. And I want to quote the old Puritan who had had a great number of points in his morning service; at one point he had said, “Seventeenthly…” And feeling somewhat sorry for his congregation in the evening, he said to them, “I realize this morning my sermon had a tremendous amount of points. I want to be good to you tonight; my sermon tonight will be pointless.” And this study in chapter 3 is essentially fitting that framework. We’re going to, as best we can, simply follow the narrative, and hopefully you will come up with a very, very good outline of your own which you can give to me afterwards and I will use when I try and preach this again. All right?

The end of chapter 2, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are promoted.[5] They now have a new profile, an increased profile, and as a result of that, they are not able to go under the radar when it comes to the command of the king. There is quite a change in Nebuchadnezzar from the end of chapter 2 to the beginning of chapter 3. Verse 47: “The king … said to Daniel, ‘Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery.’” And as a result of that, he “gave Daniel high honors” and so on, and Daniel, being a good fellow, wanted his friends to be included in the promotion, and that’s how they end up where they are here.

But now we are in chapter 3, and King Nebuchadnezzar, who obviously liked the idea of being told that, in the description that Daniel had given of the dream, that he was the golden head of the operation… And apparently, with the elapsing of time—and there is some significant passage of time between the end of chapter 2 and the beginning of chapter 3. It’s not days, weeks, months; it’s years. And whether Nebuchadnezzar has just simply grown forgetful of what he said, or whether his great protestation of allegiance or interest in God had been ultimately only skin deep, or whether pride had just simply crept up on him as a result of being able to experience what it meant for him to be the head of gold, we are unable to actually say. But what we do know is that he has now determined that it would be a great idea to build this fantastic statue that was going to climb into the sky, and he was going to “set it up on the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon.”

Now, why would it say “in the province of Babylon”? Don’t we know that? Well, again, there’s nothing in there that is inconsequential. And the writer wants us to realize that he’s doing it exactly there in the province of Babylon, in the realm of Shinar. Which is where? Which is where the Tower of Babel was erected, as we reminded ourselves the other morning in Genesis chapter 11. And on the occasion when they erected the Tower of Babel, you remember they said, “Let us make a name for ourselves and build this great tower.”[6] And here, says Nebuchadnezzar, “I think that’s a great idea, and I’m going to make a name for myself. And I’m going to make sure that everybody knows about me and everybody understands just who I am and what I’ve done.”

The God of heaven is the God who deposes and sets up kings, and he will, in the end, bring all human kingdoms to an end and will establish his own everlasting kingdom.

Well, pride reveals itself in all kinds of ways, and dramatically so here as he gathers all of his satraps and prefects and so on. And again, the emphasis is important. What he’s doing is he’s putting together the main body of his officials at the occasion of the dedication so as to show to the surrounding peoples that at the very heart of his organization there is a unified commitment to what he wants—namely, for these people to bow down before this great statue.

And the organization is pretty good, as you would see. They’ve got the various instruments in there: “When the band plays, that will be your signal.” And I noticed that you found the introduction of bagpipes quite interesting. I presume that was your snickering. It’s not uncommon; the English have bowed down before our bagpipes throughout all of the wars. And they may not be the most tuneful of instruments, but they do strike fear into the average Englishman. And I, for one, am quite happy about that.

But of course, the great threat that accompanied the music was that if you don’t, when you hear the music, bow down, then you will be cast into a fiery furnace. This, of course, was not rhetoric, as the people would know. One cross-reference will help you in this. I’ll give it to you. Jeremiah 29, where, in Jeremiah 29, we read of two individuals who fell foul of Nebuchadnezzar in relationship to these things: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, concerning Ahab the son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah the son of Maaseiah, who are prophesying a lie to you in my name.” God says, “[Because they’re lying to you and they’re using my name to do so,] I will deliver them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he shall strike them down before your eyes. Because of them this curse shall be used by all the exiles from Judah [to] Babylon.” And here’s the curse: “‘The Lord make you like Zedekiah and Ahab, whom the king of Babylon roasted in the fire.’”[7] So Nebuchadnezzar was a real bad character. And when he made his threats, they were not idle threats. Therefore, this is no small thing for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to be confronted by this challenge.

And the furnace itself was a significant affair. I don’t know much about these things, only what I read. And what I read suggested that these furnaces in Babylon were constructed a bit like some of our nuclear power plants in some ways, or like a railway tunnel with struts that went up, that had openings in the top that provided the opportunities to bring in air. And the fuel was charcoal, and with the right circumstances it could be heated, we’re told, to nine hundred or to a thousand degrees centigrade—so, perfectly good for a very, very good pizza and for a very, very burned hot dog, and certainly providing no difficulty in just taking a life into itself.

And so it is, we’re told, that “as soon as all the peoples,” verse 7, “heard the sound of the horn,” you bet your life the peoples, and the nations, and the languages, they “fell down and worshiped the golden image.” It’s quite a salutary picture, isn’t it? Of the king somehow or another having a vantage point, perhaps from being up here like this, and he looks out over a scene that would be the lake scene without water, and all he sees as far as his eye can see are the bowed down heads and the robes and the headdresses of people who are as senseless in their response as the statue to which they respond.

I’ve long believed that Paul Simon has read definitely his Old Testament a great deal. I think that the opening line comes out of the Psalms—I haven’t had a chance to check with him—“Hello darkness, my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again.” That’s a line from the Psalms, not directly. “And the people bowed and prayed to the neon god they made.”[8] And here they bow down in a picture of absolute subjugation.

And in verse 8 the protagonists emerge, the pivotal event in the story appears, and “at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and maliciously accused the Jews.” They came to the king very obsequiously, and they reminded him of what he had done. And once again, for emphasis, there is the repetition back through the instrumentation—the reminder, as if the king needed a reminder, that “whoever does[n’t] fall down and worship shall be cast into a burning fiery furnace.” And then, here we go: “There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon.” In other words, “This is a bad idea on your part, king. You should have known that in the first place. You appointed them”—the inference being, “We would never have appointed them”—“and they don’t pay any attention to you. They don’t serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

Now, as a result of that, we’re told, verse 13, that the king “in [a] furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought.” And so they bring them in, and Nebuchadnezzar says to them, “Is it true that you don’t serve my gods or worship the golden image that I’ve set up?” Now, he doesn’t wait for an answer; it’s rhetorical. He says, “However, I’m going to get the bagpipes cranked up, and the trigon, and the lyre, and the pipe, and the horn; I’m going to give you a chance. I’ll give you one more chance. Okay, fellas? Get ready now. ‘Play that funky music, white boys.’[9] Come on! Get that going. And I’m gonna give you a chance, fellas. You got one more chance to bow down.”

Verse 16: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, ‘[We really don’t need to give you an answer in this.] If this be [the case], our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.’” It’s quite striking, isn’t it?

Now, if only we could be reading this for the first time. It’s one of the great benefits of a Christian home that you know these stories from your infancy. I often wonder what it must be like to come to the Bible in later years and for all of these stories to be brand-new to you. So you start reading through Daniel, and you come to this, and you get to this verse here, and you’re saying to yourself, “I wonder what happens next? Do they go for it, or what do they do?” And that’s what the first readers must have been saying, because it’s written to them, and as they read of the event concerning these three men and the story is read out for them, they’re listening and saying, “What are they going to do? Are they going to bow down to this thing, or what will they do?”

And “Nebuchadnezzar,” verse 19, is then “filled with fury, … the expression of his face was changed.” Interesting detail. And “he ordered the furnace heated seven times more than it was usually heated.” That means he got it as hot as he could. I mean, a thousand degrees is not gonna to make any difference to… I mean, what’s a few degrees between friends when you’re fried? No, but what does it tell us? It tells us about the nature of the miracle. This is not—somebody can’t come up with some story about “Well, it wasn’t really very hot on a Tuesday; they didn’t get it usually as hot.”

Don’t you love it when people try to explain the miracles by making the miracle bigger than the miracle actually is? You can find it in William Barclay’s commentaries, where, you know, “Jesus didn’t walk on the water. The boat was only in four inches, and that’s why it looked like he was walking on the water.”[10] You telling me you got a boat that weighs, like, half a ton, with twelve guys in it, and it floats in four inches of water? That’s a bigger miracle than the jolly miracle itself, for goodness’ sake! No, you don’t have to try and fix the Bible. Just leave the Bible as it is. God knows what he’s doing. He knows what he wrote.

Now, here we go. What is it? “They don’t pay any attention to you.” Well, that wasn’t true. But what should they do? What would you do? What will we do? After all, they didn’t have to take it seriously. They could bow down on the outside but not on the inside. After all, they thought the statue was a bit of a joke, and God knew that they thought that, therefore… They could have said, “Well, we’re not really hurting anybody by doing this. I mean, nobody’s harmed by it.” All the kind of routine rationalizations of contemporary American evangelicalism would have very quickly be brought into play to explain why it was that it really is a bad idea to do anything other than just get with the program and join the group. But what did they do? “No, we’re not gonna do that.”

Why not? “Well, it made them feel good about themselves.” No. Why not? “Well, they liked to be part of the big group.” No, I’ll tell you why not. I’m gonna read to you why not:

You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.[11]

In other words, they obeyed God because they must obey God—not because it worked out best for them but because God is to be obeyed.

You see, when we take our Christian lives into the realm of that which is most suitable, amenable, comfortable, understandable, we largely begin to extract it from the context in which what it means to be a disciple of Jesus actually says. And to the extent that we have done that, we make ourselves peculiarly vulnerable if the day does come when the only thing that will actually hold us to the line is simple, straightforward, unerring obedience to the Word of God—that “God has said this, and therefore,” whatever it might be. And I resist again, as I said the other morning, the temptation to go down all kinds of rabbit trails in my own mind. Many of you are filling in the blanks. You’re sensible people, and you understand this.

When Moses—and I just reinforce this for you, ’cause it is so very important—when Moses in Deuteronomy is giving to the people the demands and commands of God in relationship to obedience, at the very heart of it is the matter of idolatry. And loved ones, idolatry is not a problem of ancient civilizations. Idolatry is my problem. And idolatry and immorality go right together. That’s the significance of Romans 1: “Although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God, but their foolish minds were darkened, and they began to worship created things rather than the Creator. Then God gave them up to all kinds of immorality”[12]—that the idolatry preceded the immorality. And the idolatry of the human heart that exalts my agenda and my goals and my significance is the very idolatry that will bring us into realms that absolutely violate what the Bible has to say. And the irony of this situation, the ultimate irony of this, is that the reason Shadrach and Meshach and Abednego were in exile was because they had been idolatrous—because God had told them, “Don’t do this,” and they did it, and God in judgment sent them into exile. That’s the beginning of it: he gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar as an expression of his judgment.[13]

Now, Deuteronomy chapter 4. This is Moses speaking. He says, “When you father children and children’s children, and have grown old in the land”—this is when they’re brought into the promised land—

if you act corruptly by making a carved image in the form of anything, and by doing what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, so as to provoke him to anger, I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will soon utterly perish from the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess. You [won’t] live long in it, but will be utterly destroyed. And the Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the Lord will drive you. And there you will serve gods of wood and stone, the work of human hands, that neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell. But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search [for] him with all your heart and with all your soul.[14]

And he says, “You should be encouraged to know that this God is a merciful God, and he will not ultimately leave you or destroy you, but he will fulfill his covenant promises, and those he always keeps.”[15]

Now, here you fast-forward to the situation that we have before us. And the king executes his judgment, and in his fury “he ordered some of the mighty men of his army to bind” them up. And “these men,” verse 21, “were bound in their cloaks, their tunics, their hats, and their other garments.” You get the picture of the fact that he decided, “Let’s just get them in here as fast as we can.” Somebody said, “Well, those are nice turbans. I could use that.” “Never mind that. Just throw them in the fire! That’ll be fine.” The fact is, if they’re right, you’ll be able to use it afterwards anyway. But never the mind. “Just throw them in there.”

And in they go, seven times hotter—as I say, to make the miracle even better. People would have looked at them and said, “So where did your obedience get you? How’s your obedience? How’s that obedience thing working for you? God has really blessed you, hasn’t he?” “Yeah. Yeah. I’m obedient. Yeah.” “Yeah, oh yes, good. How hot is it in there, boys?”

And then, of course, this great mystery. Nebuchadnezzar, he’s agitated, astonished. He rises up “in haste.” He declared to his counselors, “Didn’t we cast three men into the fire?” And they said, “Yeah”: “‘True, O king.’ He … said, ‘But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they[’re] not hurt; and the appearance of … fourth is like a son of the gods.’”

And you’ll notice that they’re “walking in the midst of the fire.” They’re walking in the middle of the fire. Some of us are actually walking in the middle of our own little fire at the moment, aren’t we? Just to take a moment as an aside. It’s really too bad when, as Christians, we suggest that obedience to Jesus means that you skip the fire—you know, that you miss the clouds, that you don’t face the rain, when in actual fact, in Romans 8, what does Paul say? “We know that in”—“in”—“all these things we are more than conquerors.”[16] In the middle of the fire, God shows himself strong.

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
His grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply.
For he will be with thee, in trouble to bless,
And sanctify to thee your deepest distress.[17]

And some of us are able to testify to the fact that the most progress that we’ve made in our Christian life has not come through success and laughter but through disappointment and failure and tears, so that when we shun trials, we miss blessings—the things that God brings into our lives both to prove us and to reprove us.

Well, “Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the burning fiery furnace” and shouted out: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here!” It’s like he’s calling his Labrador, isn’t it? “Come out! And come here!” And “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire.” I love this. And who are the witnesses? The same jokers from before! Some of the Chaldeans: “There are some Jews here who are not bowing down, I think. I mean, you said, and so, therefore…” Here come Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, so that the witnesses to the faithfulness of the three, which gave rise to their experience in the furnace, the same witnesses apparently now are giving testimony to the faithfulness of God, who has preserved his people in the midst of it all.

It’s really too bad when, as Christians, we suggest that obedience to Jesus means that you skip the fire, that you miss the clouds, that you don’t face the rain.

Well, remember Jesus, when he said to his disciples in Matthew or Luke, I think it is—I’m just going to check and see—you know, when he sends them out, he says, “I’m going to send you out, and there will be nations rising against nations, and you’ll be hated for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.”[18]

And the detail, again, in this is quite striking, isn’t it? It says that not only were they not burned, their hair wasn’t singed, and they didn’t even smell of smoke. “Well,” you say, “that’s ridiculous.” No it’s not. It’s miraculous! And so the satraps are the one who testify to what God has done.

Well, it’s just a reminder, isn’t it—and with this we’ll move to a close—that God is the God who delivers. That God is a God who delivers. He delivered his people from the bondage of Egypt, brought them out with an outstretched hand.[19] He has delivered his people into the custody of Nebuchadnezzar in the experience of exile. And here, in this event, there is an indication of the fact that his people who are in exile can trust him that he will actually do what he said and bring them out of the furnace of their own experience.

Which, of course, runs the whole way through the Bible, doesn’t it? That the story of the Bible is “Salvation belongs to the Lord”[20]—that God is the God who delivers. “Let not your hearts be troubled,” said Jesus. “You believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms and mansions. If it weren’t so, I would have told you. I’m going to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there you may be also.[21] I’m going to deliver you.”

Now, you say, here, this one, this fourth individual who is identified—some of us have concluded very quickly that this is a preincarnate manifestation of Christ, which it may be. But that’s not what it says. It says that his appearance, “of the fourth,” was “like a son of the gods,” or like an angel. Certainly, if that is the case, then the angel saved these three men, but they died again. When Jesus saves, he saves, and we will never die again. “Even though he die, yet shall he live. And whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”[22] John chapter 11. The angel joined them in the furnace but did not, as Jesus did, give his life to save them.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are standing out in this drama: “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.” You see, the emphasis is on God. It’s not on the three of them. And this God, says Nebuchadnezzar—and I’m in verse 28 now, which means we’re close to the end—this “God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God”—this is an amazing summary of what these characters have done. They have refused to bow down to this statue representative of the Babylonian deities. They have trusted in God, that whether he delivers them or not, they will serve him. They have “yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God.”

Can I say to you young people for just a moment: that is what it actually takes. You’re gonna have to yield up your own body. We’re not mystics. We don’t believe that somehow the soul is trapped in a body, that the body doesn’t really matter, and what you do with your body doesn’t really matter. No, what you do with your body matters. It really, really, really, really, really matters. That’s why we sang in Sunday school, “So be careful, little eyes, what you see, and be careful, little hands, what you touch. And be careful, little feet, where you go, because there’s a Father up above, and he’s looking down in love”—the very love that gave the commands, not to thwart their lives but to keep them “in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”[23] It is his love that executes his justice and his judgment, so that, as Paul says, “I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. It’s the only reasonable and sensible, spiritual thing to do.”[24]

And that’s what these characters had done. And Nebuchadnezzar, despite all of his rage and all of his malevolent disposition, he recognizes this to be the case: “Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, … language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way.” You remember how he had started? “I got a big fiery furnace here for you guys. And do you know of any god that could rescue you?” The inference being, “No, you don’t. Nobody does.” And now he says, “There is only one God who could have done that, and that is the living God himself.”

Well, the issues of idolatry, as I say, are contemporary issues as well. If you’ve read David Brooks’s new book—I commend it to you—The Road to Character, it starts with what he refers to as the Big Me and the Small Me.[25] He says we spend a majority of our lives on what he refers to as “résumé virtues,” putting together our résumé in such a way that everyone will know who we are, what we are, how well we’ve done, where we’re going, what we’ve achieved, and everything else. And he says, “But the real you will not be found in your résumé virtues but will be found in your eulogy virtues. For those then will not be the superficial issues of your life, but they will be the core issues of your life. They will be the affairs of your heart,” he says.[26] These things are the things that will be remembered by your children and your grandchildren—not where you went to university, not your bank balance. They even don’t care about it already; they will not exalt in it then. But he says our society is preoccupied with the Big Me—or, quoting a Jewish scholar, “Adam I” as opposed to “Adam II.”[27] I’m just teasing you into purchasing the book; I’m not an agent or anything, but it’s the best book that I’ve read in the last two months. And I read a lot of books. But it is wonderfully helpful, and I think he hits the nail absolutely on the head.

I spoke at the baccalaureate for Grove City College, and not knowing what to do, I just decided, “I’ll go a little against the grain, because baccalaureate addresses are by and large…” By and large. And so I spoke on “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, or the strong man boast in his strength, or the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he knows me, the living God.”[28] Because the idolatries of our contemporary life have bled—let us be honest—into the church. The me-ism of evangelicalism is a travesty. How good it is to think of these young people being trained in this environment and saying, right at the very heart of it, “We’ve begun to discover from the outset that the key to leadership is in service,” for Jesus said, “I came among you as one who serves.”[29] And the idolatry of money and power and possessions and so on is a great snare, and I think Daniel 3 can help us in that regard.

Where did we begin? We began by saying that the great need for the people as they read this was to realize that God was able to rescue, and to rescue them even through the trials. And whether he did rescue them out of or in and through, still, they said, they were going to serve him.

When Peter is writing his letters, I have a sneaking suspicion that he has that scene in his mind when he says to his readers, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also [be] rejoic[ing] and … glad when his glory is revealed.”[30] And in chapter 3 he says, “You know the great rescue is this,” that

the Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but [he] is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. [For] the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what [kind] of people ought you to be[?][31]

Surely he remembers the words of Jesus, who, as he speaks to his disciples in Matthew 13, says to them, “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”[32] That’s the ultimate rescue.

You see, we’ve reached the point where we don’t actually believe that there is any notion of a fiery furnace—that somehow or another, God is just going to overlook everything in the end. Well, I think only our Bibles can save us from that.

Think of how Paul put it so clearly when, in speaking to the Corinthians of the problems that existed among them, where they were just absolutely in chaos, despite the fact that they had been loved and saved by God—remember what he said?

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, [not] revilers, [not] swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.[33]

“Jesus paid it all,” and “all to him I owe; sin had left a crimson stain,” and “he washed it white as snow.”[34] That’s the message: that God is the God who delivers from the darkest and from the deepest implications of our own rebellious hearts and brings us safely home. What a great story. What a wonderful truth.

Father, thank you. Thank you that although these words are familiar to many of us, that they shine, again, light on our pathway. Sometimes, as we look around us, we’re tempted to believe that somehow or another the Evil One is winning about six–one, and there’s only two minutes to go in the game. But here we’re reminded that you, throughout all of history, have kept your promises to your people. And so, as these men, in testifying to your faithfulness, testify to us, we want to trust in you, the same God who delivers and who sustains and keeps.

Bless us now in the day that lies ahead. Watch over us, and be with those whom we love and for whom we have concerns. For we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.

[1] See Daniel 1:17–20.

[2] See Daniel 2:21.

[3] See Daniel 2:44.

[4] See Isaiah 48:10.

[5] See Daniel 2:49.

[6] Genesis 11:4 (paraphrased).

[7] Jeremiah 29:21–22 (ESV).

[8] Paul Simon, “The Sound of Silence” (1965).

[9] Rob Parissi, “Play That Funky Music” (1976). Lyrics lightly altered.

[10] William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, The New Daily Study Bible (1957; repr., Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001), 2:123. Paraphrased.

[11] Exodus 20:4–6 (ESV).

[12] Romans 1:21–25 (paraphrased).

[13] See Daniel 1:2.

[14] Deuteronomy 4:25–29 (ESV).

[15] Deuteronomy 4:31 (paraphrased).

[16] Romans 8:37 (paraphrased).

[17] “How Firm a Foundation” (1787). Lyrics lightly altered.

[18] Luke 21:10, 17–19 (paraphrased). See also Matthew 24:7, 9.

[19] See Deuteronomy 26:8.

[20] Psalm 3:8 (ESV).

[21] John 14:1–3 (paraphrased).

[22] John 11:25–26 (paraphrased).

[23] Psalm 23:3 (ESV).

[24] Romans 12:1 (paraphrased).

[25] David Brooks, The Road to Character (New York: Random House, 2015), 5–8.

[26] Brooks, xi. Paraphrased.

[27] Brooks, xi.

[28] Jeremiah 9:23–24 (paraphrased).

[29] Matthew 20:28 (paraphrased).

[30] 1 Peter 4:12–13 (ESV).

[31] 2 Peter 3:9–11 (ESV).

[32] Matthew 13:41–43 (ESV).

[33] 1 Corinthians 6:9–11 (ESV).

[34] Elvina M. Hall, “Jesus Paid It All” (1865).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.