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THE MEN WHO KEPT THEIR TESTIMONIES
Intro: The story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego is one of the best known stories in the Bible. Children learn about it in Sunday School and preachers preach about it and reference it often. This story is so special to us because it teaches that taking a stand for God always pays off in the end. I would like for us to take a new look at this old story today.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were young boys when they, along with Daniel and other Hebrews, were captured by Babylonian invaders and taken back to Babylon to serve King Nebuchadnezzar. When these boys arrived in Babylon, the Babylonians tried their best to assimilate the Hebrews in the Babylonian culture. When these boys arrived in Babylon, they possessed Hebrew names. Their names were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Their Hebrew names had religious significance, since each name spoke about the God of Israel.
• Daniel’s name means, “God is my judge.” His name was changed to “Belteshazzar,” which means “Bel is my judge.” Bel is the name of one of the Babylonian gods.
• Hananiah’s name means, “God is gracious.” His names was changed to “Shadrach,” which means, “Illuminated by the sun god.”
• Mishael’s name means, “Who is like God?” His name was changed to Meshach, which means, “Who is like Venus?”
• Azariah’s name means, “The LORD is my helper.” His name was changed to Abednego, which means, “The worshipper of Nego.” Nego, or Nebo, was the Babylonian god of wisdom.
In a further effort to assimilate the Hebrew captives into Babylonian society, there was an attempt to force them to adopt the diet of Babylon. This would have caused the Hebrews to eat foods that were forbidden under the Law of God. Daniel convinced the man responsible for their care to allow them to eat a vegetarian diet for ten days. At the end of that time, the Hebrews were judged to be healthier than the others who are the rich diet of Babylon.
So, the Babylonians failed to force their Hebrew captives to abandon the God of their fathers, and to adopt the lifestyle and gods of Babylon. Yet, when these men were brought before Nebuchadnezzar, he found that they were ten times wiser than the wisest men in his kingdom, Dan. 1:20.
As time passed, these four Hebrew men were elevated to places of authority within the kingdom of Babylon. It all started when the king had a dream that neither he, nor his wise men could interpret. Daniel was called before the king to interpret the dream. Daniel took the matter to God, and God gave him the interpretation, which Daniel shared with Nebuchadnezzar. The king was pleased and he glorified God and promoted Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to positions of prominence and authority in the kingdom of Babylon, Dan. 2:48-49.
That brings us up to our text. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, even though they are in positions of prominence, found themselves facing a life and death decision. They could stand for the Lord and face death, or they could deny God and live. These men chose to stand for the Lord, and because they did, they were thrown into a terrible, fiery furnace. In spite of the danger, in spite of the threats, in spite of the wrath of a pagan king, these men held tight to their testimonies and their faith in God.
I want to preach about The Men Who Kept Their Testimonies. Notice some truths in this passage that show us what faithful believers do when faced with the temptation to compromise their testimony and deny the Lord.
I. v. 19-23 HOW THEY WERE PERSECUTED
Ill. The context of verses 1-22. Nebuchadnezzar reacts in anger to the stand taken by Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and determines to keep his threat to destroy them in the fiery furnace. He orders them bound up and cast into a furnace that has been heated some seven times hotter than normal. The fire is so hot that the men who toss them into the fire are killed.
Verses 9-18 tell us why the anger of Nebuchadnezzar was directed at Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
A. v. 8-12 Because Of Their Standards – Ill. The golden image set up by Nebuchadnezzar and the command attached to it in verses 1-7. It would appear that either Nebuchadnezzar has set up an image of his favorite god, or more likely that he has set up an image of himself. Either way, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to bow to the image. Their faith in God would not allow them to stoop to the level of the pagans around them. Their standards and manner of life made them different from the others around them that day. Their convictions made them stand out.
Everyone who is saved is expected to have a different standard of living from the world, 2 Cor. 6:17; Col. 3:1-2.
B. v. 13-15 Because Of Their Sovereign – Nebuchadnezzar gives them a second chance. He knows why these boys are refusing to bow, and he mocks the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, v. 15. He implies that he, Nebuchadnezzar, is more powerful than the God they serve. He demands that they bow to his will instead of the will of God. They wouldn’t bow in public, and they wouldn’t bow in private!
The believer should walk in total submission to the will of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are to be totally sold out to Him and His will. He is to have first place in our lives. Listen to the Lord’s Own standard for us, Matt. 10:37-38; Luke 14:26-27.
C. v. 16-18 Because Of Their Stand – Even when threatened with a horrible death, these men refused to bend or bow. They take a stand for God in spite of the personal cost.
True believer’s should square their shoulders and take a stand for Jesus. He expects nothing less than total commitment, Matt. 16:24, 1 Cor. 15:58; Luke 9:62.
Here is what we need to understand: If we are going to live for Jesus in this world; if we are going to be His alone; if we are going to refuse to let this world squeeze us into its mold; then we are going to suffer persecution. That is what the Bible teaches us, 2 Tim. 3:12; 1 Pet. 4:12.
If we are going to live “godly”; if we are going to live for Jesus, then we are going to be persecuted. There will be furnaces of criticism, furnaces of intimidation, furnaces of hatred, furnaces of temptation, furnaces of trials like you cannot imagine. These furnaces will become more numerous and far hotter as society continues to flee from God and from the guidelines He laid down in His Word. That is just the way it is!
The furnaces of life, especially the furnaces of persecution, are no fun. In spite of how difficult they can be, the furnaces of life are good for us! The furnaces of life exist to help us become more like Jesus. Just as gold and silver are placed in the furnace and are purified through the process; persecution has a way of removing the dross from our lives.
We also need to understand that when the Lord sends you through a furnace and witnesses progress in your spiritual walk, He will place you in hotter furnaces down the road. What am I saying?
It’s going to get worse! Look at what the Lord told Jeremiah when Jeremiah came to God sort of whining because people didn’t receive him and his message, Jer. 12:5. God is basically saying, “Jeremiah, if you think it’s bad now, just stick with me and I’ll show you that things are going to get a whole lot worse.”
That’s not much of an encouragement, is it? What we have to understand is that this world cannot grasp Christians. Believers are an absolute mystery to lost people. The world cannot comprehend the way we live, the things we do, or the love we have for our God. Our testimony for God bothers them and they are convicted by the way believers live.
The natural reaction to their confusion and misunderstanding is to persecute the believer. They do this because they want us to abandon the way of the Lord so that we will be more like them. So, if you are going to live for Jesus, you will be persecuted!
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego faced this trial and they kept their testimonies. I pray that I will do the same when my time comes. I may fail, but the Lord Who helps me never will, 2 Cor. 12:9.
I. How They Were Persecuted
II. v. 24-27 HOW THEY WERE PROTECTED
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were cast into the fire, but an amazing thing happened. Instead of dying in the flames, they were loosed from their bonds and were walking around in the flames. Nebuchadnezzar cannot believe his eyes and commands them to come out, which they do, they are found to be totally unharmed by the violence of the flames. Notice how God protected them.
A. v. 25 They Were Protected By A Present God – When Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown in to the flames, they discovered they were not alone. The God they had testified about before met them in the fire. Nebuchadnezzar and the others were astonished! They threw three men into the flames and now they see four men loose and walking around in the fire!
Even in a furnace in Babylon, God kept His promise to His people. “But now thus saith the LORD that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee,” Isa. 43:1–2.
We have the same promise, Matt. 28:20; Heb. 13:5. When the flames rise around you, the Lord will be with you! Notice what happened because the Lord met them in the furnace.
1. They Were Free In The Fire – The fire did nothing more than burn away the things that had Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego tied up. The Lord used the fire in the furnace to free them from the ropes that held them.
When the fires of persecution and affliction come into your life, you need to remember this truth: The Lord is merely freeing you from some of the things that have you bound in your life. As the flames burn away the ropes of besetting sins, bad attitudes, bad habits, etc., you will find that you are freer in the fire than you were outside the fire!
Often, persecution seems like the worse possible thing that can happen in our lives. But, it can prove to be the best thing we have ever experienced.
Consider John Wesley, the father of the Methodist church. He wanted to preach in the pulpits of the Church of England churches, but his doctrine was so different and his message was so contrary to the establishment message that was being preached in the day, they would not allow him to preach in their pulpits. John Wesley was refused permission to preach in a pulpit in an established church.
Wesley thought he was being treated wrongly. He thought he was being deprived. He thought his ministry was probably finished. But, God knew something Wesley didn't know. The people God wanted Wesley to reach weren't in those churches anyway. God knew that the masses of the people weren't even coming to those churches. The masses of the people were out there in the world.
So John Wesley, going through the fires of being excommunicated and deprived of the pulpits of the established churches went out into the open air. John Wesley, his brother Charles, and George Whitfield, came to the American Colonies the preach.They began to preach out in the open air where the people were and thousands of people came to Jesus Christ. The flames of persecution simply loosed them from the ropes that bound them.
The fire has the same power to set us free from the things that bind us and hinder our walk with the Lord.
2. They Were Fine In The Fire – We are told that they “have no hurt,” v. 25. The fire did not kill them, it didn’t even burn them! God allowed them to go through the fire, but He did not allow the fire to go through them.
There is a powerful truth here for those who find themselves in a fiery furnace. The furnace may be frightening, but you were not sent there to be destroyed, but to help you grow in the Lord. God did not allow it for your harm, but for your good, Rom. 8:28; Jer. 29:11; 2 Cor. 4:17.
Even though the flames may come, they will only free you from what binds you. You will be fine in the fire, because the Lord will be with you, even in the fire. He will not leave you; He will preserve you through the fire, and He will keep you for His glory!
When Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown into the fire, only three men went into the furnace. When Nebuchadnezzar looked into the furnace, he saw four men in there walking around. When Nebuchadnezzar called for the men to come out of the fire in verse 26, only three came out.
What happened to that fourth man? Well, He is still in the furnace! So, when you find yourself there, you will find Him waiting for you. He will look at your flames and say “Cool it!” The three Hebrew boys were preserved by the presence of God and you will be too!
B. v. 27 Protected By A Powerful God – When those boys came out of the furnace, they were inspected by Nebuchadnezzar and his men. We are told that not a hair was scorched, there was no soot on them, and they didn’t even smell like smoke! Can you see them sniffing these fellows? What a miracle! You can’t even walk into a convenience store where people smoke without getting the smell of cigarette smoke on your clothes. But, the power of God operated in this situation and overcame the furnace totally!
That’s just God! When He does something, He does it all the way. When He heals, He heals completely! When He saves, He saves completely! When He forgives, He forgives, He forgives completely. Whatever He does, He does it all the way! How? He is all powerful, and He is able to use that power in your life and mine, Eph. 3:20! So, when you find yourself looking at a fiery furnace, remember that you serve an all powerful God, Who is able to keep you in the furnaces, and Who is able to bring you out for His glory!
These men stood by the Lord, and He stood by them! He did not forsake them or betray their faith in Him. When you stand for hIm, you can be sure that He will not let you down. He will help you in the day of persecution to stand for Him and to keep a tight hold on your testimony for His glory. He has a way of strengthening us an helping us to stand for Him. Notice the Lord’s promise to His people: “But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost,” Mark 13:11.
• He will enable us to stand for Him.
• He will enable us to remain faithful to Him.
• He will enable us to keep a tight grip on our testimonies for His glory.
I. How They Were Persecuted
II. How They Were Protected
III. v. 28-30 HOW THEY WERE PROMOTED
Everyone involved in this event came away with a greater understanding of Who God was and what God could do. Going in, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not know what God was going to do, v. 17. They trusted Him anyway.
Nebuchadnezzar thought that he was more powerful than the God they served, v. 15. In the end, everyone there learned that God was greater than the king and greater then the furnace of fire. Notice what happened when Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were delivered from the furnace.
A. v. 29 God’s Person Is Praised – A pagan king exalts the name of the true God. Because of what he saw God do for His people in the furnace, Nebuchadnezzar begins to see things differently. One of the reasons the Lord allowed this event in the lives of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, was so He could melt the hard heart of a lost, heathen king. God was after Nebuchadnezzar, and God meant to have him. God spoke to him in chapter 2, then again in chapter 3. In Chapter 4, the Lord shouted at him. God did what He had to do to get Nebuchadnezzar’s attention and bring him to faith. Eventually, Nebuchadnezzar surrendered his pride and placed his faith in the Lord. He was saved!
Hallelujah! I praise the Lord that He can save anyone, anywhere, and at anytime. If He can save a pagan king in ancient Babylon, He can save you today!
You never know how God will use the afflictions in your life. As we pass through the furnaces of life, we lean on the grace of God, trusting Him to sustain us. It may be that God is using those moments in our lives, those painful moments that hurt so much, to show a lost world that He is God and He can touch them like He has touched us. Because of that, we need to submit to the furnaces of life, trusting God’s grace to be sufficient, 2 Cor. 12:9, and His will to be done.
B. v. 30 God’s People Are Promoted – Because they were faithful to the Lord, they passed through the furnace. On the other side, they are promoted in the kingdom.
• There is a lesson in this for us. It is true, but it is a lesson that we might not like to think about. God never really uses anyone in a great way until He first takes that person through the furnace of affliction.
• You cannot stand on Mt. Carmel in power until you side by a dry brook in humility.
• You cannot lead the nation of Israel, until you first watch someone else’s sheep in a wilderness.
Ill. This truth is seen in the life of Gideon, Judges 6-8. Gideon was a general with an army of 32,000. 22,000 left because they were afraid. Now, Gideon is a captain with an army of 10,000. 9,700 of those are rejected by the Lord. Now, Gideon is a sergeant with an army of 300. Then, he hears the enemy compare him to a “cake of barley bread.” That would equivalent to being called a “dog biscuit.” God took Gideon “the dog biscuit” and used him to win a great victory. When God send you through the furnace, it is not to hurt you, but to grow you. He sends you there because He is about to use your life in a greater fashion.
Conc: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego kept a firm grip on their testimonies, keeping their faith where it belonged, in the Lord. They did not compromise. They did not give in to the world. They did not yield to fear. They did not give in to the honor of a pagan king. They did not fail, falter, or even stumble when they faced the greatest test of their lives. They stood for the Lord, and the Lord honored their faith!
That’s how it works. We stand for Him, and He stands with us. He blesses us and honors our faith in Him. We do not have to compromise with the world. We can stand strong for the Lord, when we do, He may or may not promote us here, but one day, at the end of the road, we will hear Him say, “Well done.”
That’s why it’s worth living for the Lord, even when we face the temptation to give in to the world and its demands. Let me encourage you to stand for the Lord regardless of what comes your way. It’s worth it here, and it will be worth it there.
Do you need to talk to the Lord about this matter?
• Maybe you need help to stand in the face of a temptation to surrender your testimony.
• Maybe you need to ask the Lord to forgive you for the times when you have surrounded and given in to the Lord.
• Maybe you need to ask for strength to take a bolder, more open stand for the Lord Jesus Christ.
• Maybe you need to repent of sin and ask the Lord to forgive you for failing Him.
• Maybe you need to be saved by the grace of God today. Let me invite you to come meet my Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. If you will come to Him, He will receive you, and He will save you.
If He is calling you, please come to Him!