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Presence in the Fire

Presence in the Fire

How do some people find the courage to do what the rest of us are afraid of doing?

Some people find the courage to go skydiving when the rest of us are like, “I’m actually good with my feet on the ground.” Some people find the courage to start a new company but the rest of us are like, “I’m good with a steady paycheck from an already-established company.” What is the thing you wish you had enough courage to do? And is it possible for your courage to increase? And what would need to change for you to no longer be paralyzed by fear in this area?

We’re still in Daniel chapter 3. Here’s where we left off last week: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego have just told Nebuchadnezzar – “Even if God doesn’t rescue us, we still will not worship the image of gold you have set up.” And here comes the showdown.

Daniel 3:19-30 Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. So these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. The king’s command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace.

Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?” They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.” He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”

Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them. Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.” Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the province of Babylon.

“Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed.” Don’t miss this principle that is still dominant in our world today:

People are usually good with you, as long as you are good for them.

We’ve all witnessed what’s happening in this moment. There are people who, as long as we’re doing everything the way they want us to, they’re happy with us and might even promote us. But when we make it clear that we aren’t going to carry out their wishes, everything changes.

You decide that you won’t sacrifice your family to work an obscene number of hours for their company. You determine that you won’t overlook the immoral actions of your executives. You are clear that you can’t be paid enough to give up your integrity.

Now that won’t usually mean that they throw us into a blazing furnace, but it’s very likely that some people will treat you differently when you decide you can’t go along with whatever they’re asking you to do. You might get fired. Or you just won’t be considered for a promotion in the future. You might not be asked to sit in on some of the meetings you used to be a part of.

There is something inside most of us that causes us to be people-pleasers. I know it’s inside of me. I want you to like me, to think I’m a good leader, and to approve of my actions. But living to please people means that we will have to forfeit pleasing God at times. Paul said it like this:

Galatians 1:10 Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

It sounds like Paul used to have some people-pleaser in him. But he realized that he couldn’t’ live for Jesus and try and live for people. He had to choose and so do we. These three men can please Nebuchadnezzar or they can please God, but it’s impossible for them to please both Nebuchadnezzar and God.

This can actually keep us silent about our faith in Jesus.

John 12:42-43 Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human praise more than praise from God.

Do you love human praise more than praise from God?

Nebuchadnezzar powers up. He orders the furnace to be heated seven times hotter than usual and he commands some of his strongest soldiers to tie them up. “The king’s command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers.” If this happened to the soldiers, then there’s no way the three men, who were thrown INTO the furnace, could possibly survive.

Unless someone else was with them who is stronger than Nebuchadnezzar and a furnace that’s seven times hotter than normal. I can’t explain everything about how things like this happen, but here’s what I know is true:

The favor of God is the greatest distinction that can exist over your life.

When God sent some plagues into Egypt, the people of Israel weren’t affected – AT ALL. God is able to make whatever distinction He chooses. The favor of God can give you a job you aren’t qualified for. It can give you a house, even though you didn’t bid the highest. It can give your church real estate in San Francisco, no matter how unlikely that seemed. And it can keep an incredibly hot fire from affecting you at all.

It's obvious that Nebuchadnezzar sees something that amazes him. He asks his advisers, “Weren’t there three men we tied up and threw into the fire…because I see four men walking around – unbound and unharmed…and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”

Who is this fourth person? Some scholars believe it was an angel, but others believe it is the preincarnate Jesus. And that’s what I believe too. What we can say with clarity is that this is the divine presence of God.  

We try to avoid these moments or seasons of intense testing and trials. I get it. But if we’re going to orient our entire lives around Jesus and not anyone or anything else…these testing times are going to come for us.

What do you value more, the presence of Jesus or the absence of trials?

If I’m being honest, my first inclination is to do whatever it takes to remove the hard and difficult things from my life. But I don’t want to give into that temptation. I want and need Jesus more than I want and need an easy life or ideal circumstances or for everything to always work in my favor.

Isaiah 43:1-2 But now, this is what the LORD says – he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.

“The root of our anxiety is our disconnection from God; this means we cannot be a non-anxious presence without God’s presence.” Mark Sayers, A Non-Anxious Presence

Nebuchadnezzar orders them to come out of the fire. A crowd gathers around them and they all see that the fire has not harmed their bodies and they don’t even smell like fire. Then you get this line from Nebuchadnezzar – “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.

Nebuchadnezzar astutely recognizes three things that are present in those who are wholeheartedly devoted to God. The first is trust.

Is your trust in God deep enough that it can carry you through whatever comes against you?

The second thing Nebuchadnezzar realizes is that they were willing to defy the king’s command.

Are you willing to defy the orders of others to follow Jesus?

The third is their willingness to give up their lives.

What are you willing to give your life for?

It’s important to point out that, while these guys were rescued by God, not everyone who trusts in God will be rescued – at least not physically.

God will not always rescue us from the fire, but He will not abandon us in the fire.

But here’s what is also true: I want to see God do these kinds of miracles in our day. Don’t you? We should believe and pray for those too.

How do we invite God into our trials and recognize His presence in the midst of whatever we are facing?

“The challenge is to let go of fear and claim the deeper truth of who I am. When you forget your true identity as a beloved child of God, you lose your way in life. You become scared and start doing things not freely, but because of fear. But when you make space for God in your life and begin to listen to God’s loving voice, you suddenly start to realize perfect love. You can claim it, and you can gradually let go of your fear. The fear may come back tomorrow and you will have to struggle, and you can again return from fear to love. Every time you feel afraid, you can open yourself to God’s presence, hear God’s voice again, and be brought back to perfect love that casts out fear and brings in greater freedom.” Henri Nouwen, Spiritual Formation

Do you think you could become more courageous? You can. See, when we see courageous people, for some reason – we assume they’ve always been like that. But some of the people who you think are so courageous – they’ve dealt with significant fears in their lives. Let me give you two major examples. First – Peter.

John 18:25 Meanwhile, Simon Peter was still standing there warming himself. So they asked him, “You aren’t one of his disciples too, are you?” He denied it, saying, “I am not.”

At this moment in Peter’s life, had he been living in Babylon, he would have been like, “Nebuchadnezzar I will bow down to whatever you tell me rather than risk my own personal safety.” But notice what became true of Peter only about 2 months later:

Acts 4:13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.

From being so afraid to having visible courage. This same transformation happened for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on the night of January 27, 1956.

Back to our story. Don’t miss that there were 3 of them. Not only was God with them, but they had each other. This is surely part of the purpose of us being in this community together. I need your courage and you need mine.

Jesus wasn’t rescued on the cross so that He could rescue us through his death. And we needed His resurrection so that we too could have life after death. Have you been rescued by Jesus?

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