Daniel 3: ‘Three Friends Trust’ // 23 Oct 2016 // 6.30pm TRINITY Church
In 2005 8 men and 1 woman were arrested in Bali for attempting to smuggle a large amount of heroin into Australia. Amongst them were Andrew Chan, aged 21 and Myuran Sukumaran, aged 24.
They were sentenced to death for their crime.
For 10 years legal wrangles continued between Australia and Bali, high profile celebrities supported the campaign to have their sentences reduced or for them to be returned to Australia. Throughout this time both men became Christians, their lives being transformed by the love of Christ, in their darkest hour, with Chan even becoming ordained as a Christian minster during this time.
However, the Balinese authorities were unrelenting despite the obvious rehabilitation of the men and finally last year a date was set for the execution.
This is from a newspaper report at the time:
Strung to a pole and staring down at the weapons pointed at their hearts, the prisoners defiantly sang Amazing Grace in the moments before they were executed.
Pastor Karina de Vega described to the Sydney Morning Herald the extraordinary scenes of the prisoners “praising their God”. “It was breathtaking,” said De Vega. “This was the first time I witnessed someone so excited to meet their God.”
They reportedly refused to wear blindfolds so they could look their executioners in the eye, and as they sang in unison the bond between them was visceral (deep and inbuilt), said the pastor.
“They bonded together,” she said. “Brotherhood. They sang one song after another. Praising God. They sang a few songs together, like in a choir.” After singing Amazing Grace they moved on to Bless the Lord O My Soul. The order to shoot was issued before they finished…’
Such conviction to one’s faith is something I am sure we all hope we would show in times of great trial, but for most of us it won’t be tested in such a dramatic way as it was for Andrew and Myuran, or for Shadrach, Mishach and Abednego.
What must it take to be able to stare death in the face? to face pain, uncertainty, absolute fear and yet to be so sure of God, to have so much trust in him that nothing can away us from our absolute love and devotion to him? For Shadrach, M & A to face it with such conviction, such defiance in the face of the kings death threats? For Andrew and Myuran to walk to their death singing – in fact encouraging all the prisoners to sing and praise God, perhaps helping people to meet Jesus in their final moments? They had amazing faith, amazing trust in God, amazing devotion to him, but also they had each other.
We are just at the beginning of our new series, Seeing Jesus through Old Testament Heroes. Kirsty kicked off us last week looking at Samson and being a weirdo! And we are specifically looking at how these old Testament heroes point to Jesus.
You know I love this quote from Martin Luther –
The bible is the cradle wherein Christ is laid
Luther was a Priest, a Monk, very intelligent, well educated and knew the bible inside out. He was hugely influential in the reformation – a time which challenged some of the doctrine of the church and their practices. Luther taught that salvation had nothing to do with good deeds, or doing right but is only received only as the free gift of God’s grace through our faith in Jesus Christ.
Jesus has to be our focus. And in fact all of the bible points to Jesus.
Not sure I’ve said before but something like only 5% of all preaching is from the OT (not sure how they worked that out) (one stat here says less than 20%) and yet ¾ of our scriptures are in the OT – we cannot ignore them! These were the Jewish scriptures, the scriptures that Jesus himself would have known, loved and spoken from. Of course they were written before Jesus arrived on earth but the Jews believed there was a Messiah coming, they looked forward to that day he would arrive, their Saviour on earth.
We believe that Jesus is the fulfillment of the OT scriptures. So if we only read the NT then it’s like just watching the ending of a movie, missing the whole build up, it doesn’t means as much if you don’t know where it’s all coming from.
So it’s great that we are looking at OT heroes and how they point to Jesus.
This evening specifically through the story of Shadrach, Mesach & Abednego in the book of Daniel we are going to look at:
- Trust in Jesus – completely trusting in our amazing God, in all things
- Focus on Jesus – absolutely fixing our eyes no him and him only
- Together with Jesus – walking out our faith in fellowship with others – friendship.
- Trust in Jesus – completely trusting in our amazing God, in all things
Proverbs 3 is all about wisdom and advice for a Godly life, it’s a great passage, go and check it out later, but v 5-6 says this:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
Amazing words and quite challenging. TRUST IN THE LORD with everything… don’t trust your own thoughts, just be led by him.
In the message version is says this:
Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. Don’t assume that you know it all.
Run to God! Run from evil! Your body will glow with health, your very bones will vibrate with life! Honor God with everything you own; give him the first and the best. Your barns will burst, your wine vats will brim over.
What does it mean to trust God? Just that – bring him into every part of your life, every thing you do, every choice or decision, every action. And the rewards are huge. Do we entrust our lives to him – every area, our decisions, big and small (not, perhaps, what colour socks to wear in the morning.)
Which we might think ok I can do that, but what about in the tough times? When the really hard things come along, temptation kicks in or we face something hard?
For Shadrach, Mesach & Abednego, it is clear that they totally trusted God, with everything.
In V16 after Nebuchadnezzar has threatened to throw them all in the fiery furnace – they show no fear at all – in fact the opposite, total defiance. It does remind me a little bit of my kids when they are being a bit antsy and answering back, like ‘ well, fine, I don’t need my ipad anyway’. Kind of ‘I am so unphased by what you are saying…’ There’s that almost teennage arrogance – ‘we don’t need to defend ourselves before you…’
Except its not arrogance, it’s confidence, because they completely trust in God.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
I think it’s all about the bigger picture. Instead of focusing on what was right in front of them they looked to God.
It’s like looking at a painting close up you just focus on the bit in front of you, it’s just a blurry mess. But when you stand back you see the whole thing.
And Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were able to see the whole thing because they knew God – they had experienced him. So when faced with something that was right before their eyes, they could stand back and see the bigger picture, see where God was.
And what happened? – perhaps one of the clearest pointers to Jesus in the Old Testament: v:24-5
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.”
Don’t forget they didn’t know Jesus, they believed a Messiah was coming but they didn’t know when or who, perhaps this was Jesus walking in the fire with them, but they very fact that Nebuchadnezzar refers to him as a ‘son of the gods’ points us to the fact that there was a bigger picture and that God was at work here.
S, M & A they were fully persuaded. Fully focused on God. Nothing could make them bow to Nebuchadnezzar’s statue – no threats, no consequence, no punishment. They were fully persuaded of the promises of God and in their obedience to him.
Are we totally focused on Jesus? Do we trust him in all things? Can we step back and see him in the bigger picture?
- 2) Focus on Jesus – absolutely fixing our eyes on him and him only
So how do we trust in God completely as they did? We put our focus on Jesus completely.
S, M & A model this for us, they are so focused on God and won’t let anything tear them away from him.
Now these guys had been through the mill. They have ended up here because Nebuchadnezzar has already attacked Jerusalem (Daniel 1). Not only did he carry off plunder and things from the temple but people too.
These guys are from the nobility, the royal family and Nebuchadnezzar takes them and orders that they be trained to serve him. They have gone from living in the palace as nobility to being forced to serve those who live in another palace. It’s like the UK being attacked and Will & Kate being taken off somewhere and being forced to be a servant to a king in another country. It’s shocking, it’s demeaning, they have been taken by force from a position of great power and authority and reduced to this.
I wonder how that felt? They could have been angry at God – why did he let this happen? Why did he not rescue them? Why had he reduced them to such a position?
Real faith means obeying God even under difficult circumstances. And they just continue to honour God.
We read in Daniel 1 how he refuses to eat the meat provided by the king – it was ‘defiled’ – had probably been offered to one of the Babylonian Gods. Instead they ate vegetables and water and yet God made them healthier and better nourished than anyone else!
1:17 tells us that God gave them gifts of understanding, knowledge, literature, and that Daniel could understand visions and dreams.
In fact later Daniel interprets Nebuchadnezzar’s dream when no one else can and the king falls down and says ‘Surely your God is the God of the gods and the Lord of kings….
So they have seen God at work and are completely focused on him, even when threatened with death, they refused to worship the idol set up. Anything that would take their focus from God, they were not interested.
I wonder if we can say the same – that we are so focused on Jesus, we refuse to worship other idols?
Because I think often we get a bit disillusioned and we get drawn away from fixing our eyes on Jesus.
Old Testament idols were literally sculptures or carvings or things that people bowed down in front of as we read earlier (3:44)
But what are our idols? What draws us away from focusing on Jesus? It might not be a an actual sculpture but I think an idol is anything that takes our focus from Jesus – anything we spend more time focusing on, than on Jesus.
What are the things that take your focus away from Jesus? What are the things we might see as idols in our lives? What does our society encourage us to worship and focus on rather than God?
Ourselves? ‘Because you’re worth it’ – society teaches us we can do what we want when we want and no one has the right to take it away from us…
Do we make an idol of ourselves or our lives – I must have the next pair of Nike trainers, the latest hoody, or pair of jeans, I must look good, have perfect ‘on fleek’ eyebrows, defined cheekbones….
Our stuff – what about our stuff? Are we more focused on our possessions than on following Jesus? Do we worship our iphones and ipads for example…
Or do we worship other people? If only I could be more like them…?
Are we led by our friends, influenced by them and not by Jesus? Or sports teams? Frankly in our house I’m not sure that Seagulls aren’t an idol 😉 My son’s room is like an albion shrine!
Or social media – here’s a biggie – how many of us spend more time on Facebook or Twitter or Snapchat or Instagram than you do reading your bible? I actually want to challenge you this week to time it.
Anything that draws our focus away from Jesus can be an idol. And the bible is pretty clear about worshipping idols – basically it’s a bad thing!! For example:
Therefore I poured out My wrath on them for the blood which they had shed on the land, because they had defiled it with their idols. Ezekiel 36:18
They served idols, concerning which the LORD had said to them, “You shall not do this thing.” 2 Kings 17:12
Don’t get me wrong it’s hard! In fact I think the devil does everything he can to draw our focus away from Jesus. Distraction – it’s one of his biggest tools! And in our society there are so many things to distract us and draw us away from Jesus.
If we look at Shadrach, Messach and Abednego, I wouldn’t have blamed them for giving in and going along with what the culture around them was doing – it would have been far easier, let’s face it. Just eat the food you are give, do as you are told, join in and worship the statue when told to. It took real guts to be different – and it’s the same for us. It’s not always going to be easy, we might face trials along the way, but let’s not despair!
I read this quote this week:
Don’t despair. Because when the devil turns up the heat, God does too.
I like that – so appropriate here, we might not get thrown into an actual fire of course (I hope) but life brings us our own fires – the trials and difficulties we face. But you know, what we see with Shadrach, Messach and Abednego is that God doesn’t save them from the fire, he doesn’t stop them going into it, but he goes through it with them – we see him in the fire, the fourth person. And it’s the same for us. And you know what I think is amazing is that when they came out they didn’t even smell of smoke! What a great picture for us.
3) Together with Jesus – walking out our faith in fellowship with others – friendship
So, how do we remain strong and focused on Jesus? Just like S, M & A did – with each other
Life is pretty tough if you do it alone. And I know, I’ve been there. In my rebellious younger years which I have mentioned before. I was fiercely independent, not really knowing what friendship was, not letting people into my own life, my space. I had friends but only on the surface, I’m not sure there was anyone I could have called on if I was in deep need.
But God creates us to live in relationship with others. He himself is three persons, living in unity together. Man was not complete alone so God made him a companion. Jesus had his disciples, Moses had his brother Aaron, Paul had various companions – Timothy, Silas, Titus.
In fact there are few positive examples of people in the bible going it alone.
– we are not achieving all we can if we try and do life alone.
One example I love is in Exodus 17 where there is a battle going on and all the time Moses hands on the air, they are winning but he gets tired and his arms come down and they start losing. So Aaron and Hur hold his arms up.
We all need someone who can hold our arms up.
Daniel, S, M & A stuck together and in that there is great strength and support.
Daniel gets promoted by the king earlier on having interpreted a dream of his but he doesn’t leave behind his friends, instead he asks the king to promote them too, and he does (Dan 2:48-9)
When we stick together we are accountable to each other, when one person is struggling, the other can pull them up. When one person is in need, ill or having a tough time, the others can support them and help them. When someone’s focus in drawn away from Jesus, the others can draw it back.
1 Thess 5: 11-15 tell us:
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing… Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.
Friendship – much easier to stay strong in a group together
Castellers de Vilfranca – a Catalunyan tradition in Spain – building towers of people. – they way they can do something so unbelievable is in their mutual strength and be focussed on the task to achieve amazing things.
We need that too. We need to trust in God and in each other – recognising God in each other