A Furnace Kind of Faith Biblical Text: Daniel 3: 1617 "Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king." The church has been tempted to wander down all sorts of intriguing byways in preaching, teaching and worship as we search for the quintessential worship experience. We've accumulated volumes of books, pamphlets, and papers concerning God, and there is a ceaseless stream of eloquent rhetoric about God. But our moral and spiritual affirmation of the eternal does not match our literature and our rhetoric. Through the centuries, the JudeoChristian religion's Godswitching pattern has crippled their faith in God. In great periods of prosperity and power there have been tendencies to stir up an intoxicating mix of minds and ambitions of towering personalities and powerful systems&in our attempt to match the mind of God. God switching is not a formally planned action. It is not done by vote or resolution. It is a creeping trend of distrust in the Almighty God and an evergrowing reliance upon idols. All through the Old Testament, we see the Hebrews shifting from god to god. They were often torn, disappointed and griefstricken. The patriarchs and prophets warned them, but they marched through the centuries transgressing just the same, and spending an equal amount of time repenting. And each time they returned to God, it was with a spiritual limp the result of their crippling encounters with idol gods. We would be wise to take a long hard look at our interpretation of the God of the universe. If we did, we might find that His spirit is buried beneath our towering temples, and our complicated organizational machinery. Our quest for an example of perfect faith is really unnecessary. If we analyze today's text in the book of Daniel, we will discover a fascinating story filled, with drama and suspense that demonstrates faith in its purest form. Even though its setting is ancient, it is more than a match for some of today's intriguing dramas. In our story, the King of Babylon had captured the nation of Israel, and had stationed troops to occupy his newly acquired territory. Among the captives were three brilliant young men who were best kept close to the king, if only to keep a close eye on them. The king hoped they would have the training and skill needed to keep the disenchanted Hebrews cool during the transitional period, and to further expand his spreading empire. King Nebuchadnezzar appointed these men over certain provinces with the hope of capturing their interests and loyalty. He was indeed a masterful politician, who hoped to purchase their loyalty by appointing these three key captives to positions of leadership. But Babylonian culture did not fit into their Hebrew faith. They had the training and skill to perform certain duties, but the king could discern that they were not totally oriented to Babylonian society. The king was apprehensive and suspicious. The king had AUTHORITY, but he sensed that these men had POWER. Authority is always at the mercy of power. No one learned this lesson better than Peter, on the night of Jesus' arrest in the garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus reminded Peter, saying "I have the moral and spiritual fortitude to win this fight. Your sword will reduce my victory to a midnight brawl, and I will die at the hands of an unknown mob." (paraphrased) The king was disturbed by the conduct of these three men, and not because they were militant insurrectionists. It was their calm, poised mood that upset him. Their lack of enthusiasm with Babylonian wealth and privilege haunted the king. The king had no idea how to persuade men whose value system did not match up with his own. Nebuchadnezzar reached a point during his reign where his ego needed a serious lift. He needed a vote of confidence, and a demonstration of public loyalty to quell his deep sense of insecurity. He wrongly assumed
that a vote of confidence would rebuild his moral and spiritual bankruptcy. A vote of confidence may rally the majority, but it will also expose an irritating minority. The psychological irritation of a rebellious minority can become terribly disturbing. Nonetheless, the king erected a huge image of himself as god, and summoned all of his princes, governors, captains, rulers, etc. to come and worship his image. He was about to discover that egoboosting can become a rather expensive business. The king gave the opening address and outlined the procedures. These young men immediately discovered a conflict of loyalties. They felt mounting tensions tugging at their hearts. They could see an impossible situation developing. They saw a crisis emerging. They could see that they were being maneuvered into a position where a critical decision would have to be made. The three young men must have whispered to each other in guarded tones. They certainly prayed to their God. "We are physical captives of this empire, but we are spiritually free. It may well be that a righteous minority should change the course of history in this wicked empire. It may well be that we must dramatize our Hebrew faith in this heathen land." A positive nod from each of the men indicated their determination to refuse to bow to the image of this earthly king. The three men were ratted out almost immediately. The word was dispatched to the king, and he became greatly distressed. He knew that this was a situation that could not be handled by his armed guards. This act of spiritual disobedience would have to be punished. The king called these young men into counsel. Allow me to use my imaginary eavesdropping for a moment and listen to the dialogue between the king and the three young men. "I gave you young Hebrews choice assignments in my empire against the counsel of some of my advisors. You have a promising future in this empire if you can adjust. Your nation has collapsed and you men are too intelligent to cling to some strange concept of a God who did not act to defend your crumbling nation. I will be happy to give you another opportunity to obey my orders. It may be that you have a language problem and did not quite understand what was said." One of the men said, "King, we are quite clear on your command. We are grateful to you for your assignments to our provinces, and we have fulfilled all of the requirements of our assignments in your empire. But your recent command is out of the realm of local government. Your orders have invaded the domains of an empire to which we have divine allegiance. We are aware of the fact that your military power overwhelmed our nation, but it was done with our God's permission. There is no point in giving us a second chance to switch our loyalties and worship you. Our minds are made up at this point. The answer here is not ours alone. It is written indelibly in our Hebrew Canon. 'I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt have no other gods before me.' We had to switch our physical position for economic survival, but we cannot switch Gods even in the most difficult crises." Then they spit out the ultimate challenge. "The God whom we serve is able to deliver us." What a reckless statement for captives whose nation has been shattered by war! How daring can faith become for people who are caught up in intolerable circumstances? The whole Babylonian empire is tense as these three men defy the command of their baffled monarch. They knew the penalty for disobedience. They knew they would be cast into the fiery furnace. Listen to the spiritual logic of these three men with your spiritual ears. "We do not claim that He WILL deliver us, but we do contend that He is ABLE to deliver us. We have explored the possibility that He may not choose to deliver us. But we have a furnace kind of faith, and we are prepared to test the validity of our faith in your furnace. Our faith has reached furnace proportions. Our faith is not negotiable. If your furnace is ready, so are we." The FURNACE FAITH of these three men is extremely significant. It revealed the character of their faith. They did not doubt the omnipotence of God, whatever position He might take in their situation. They were committed to God as the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Their will was lost in His divine purpose. They were determined, "If our bodies must perish in flames in this heathen land, we shall walk through the leaping flames shouting that the God whom we serve is able to deliver us." The FURNACE FAITH is very important in OUR Christian faith. God may not always intervene when we face the threat of certain furnace experiences in life. A touch of flames may be necessary to dismantle what has
us shackled and fettered. Sometimes it takes desperate measures to achieve real freedom. The purpose of God may need a flash of flames at times to singe His saints. God did not go to the scene of the demonstration, but He did go to the scene of the furnace. What better place to deflate the ego of the king than at the scene of the furnace! God's authority would be established at the scene of the furnace. The FURNACE FAITH of these three men would live as an ageless testimony to the power of the Living God. Many gods had been paraded through Babylon. It was time for the real God to act. Jesus was dispatched to fan the heat out of the flames and aircondition the furnace. Then He waited for the arrival of the Hebrew boys. When the king arrived, a voice from heaven shouted, "Will the real God of Israel please stand up!" And by His omnipotent presence, Jesus replied, "I am He." You know the rest of the story. Jesus and those three boys walked around in that furnace until the king repented. The unimpeachable authority of the Word of God should persuade you today that God's people do not have to bow to unholy systems to live. We must be prepared to take a bold and even defiant stand during times of turbulent history. The time may be now for a minority of saints to take firm stands and affirm our faith in Eternal God to shake and shatter the corrupt systems of our world. We need a furnace kind of faith! We need a faith that can withstand the heat of rejection. We need a furnace kind of faith! We need a faith that is inspired by God's righteousness. We need a furnace kind of faith! We need a faith that is encouraged by God's voice. We need a furnace kind of faith! We need a faith that's sufficient to assure us, Genuine enough to enrich us, Passionate enough to strengthen us; We need a furnace kind of faith that can motivate us, challenge us, feed us, heal us, satisfy us, comfort us, and deliver us. Do you have a FURNACE FAITH?