Our story is about the the powers of this world trying to have the last word. Our story is a reminder that again, death is not the end of the story for us as people of faith.
July 18, 2021
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego
Pastor Heather McColl
King Nebuchadnezzar made a golden statue whose height was sixty cubits and whose width was six cubits; he set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. Then King Nebuchadnezzar sent for the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces, to assemble and come to the dedication of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. So the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces, assembled for the dedication of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. When they were standing before the statue that Nebuchadnezzar had set up, 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, drum, and entire musical ensemble, you are to fall down and worship the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire.” Therefore, as soon as all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, all the peoples, nations, and languages fell down and worshiped the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
Accordingly, at this time certain Chaldeans came forward and denounced the Jews. They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “O king, live forever! You, O king, have made a decree, that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, shall fall down and worship the golden statue, and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire. There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These pay no heed to you, O king. They do not serve your gods and they do not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”
Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought in; so they brought those men before the king. Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods and you do not worship the golden statue that I have set up? Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble to fall down and worship the statue that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire, and who is the god that will deliver you out of my hands?”
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”
Then Nebuchadnezzar was so filled with rage against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face was distorted. He ordered the furnace heated up seven times more than was customary, and ordered some of the strongest guards in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and to throw them into the furnace of blazing fire. So the men were bound, still wearing their tunics,[c] their trousers,[d] their hats, and their other garments, and they were thrown into the furnace of blazing fire. Because the king’s command was urgent and the furnace was so overheated, the raging flames killed the men who lifted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. But the three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down, bound, into the furnace of blazing fire.
Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up quickly. He said to his counselors, “Was it not three men that we threw bound into the fire?” They answered the king, “True, O king.” He replied, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the middle of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the fourth has the appearance of a god.” Nebuchadnezzar then approached the door of the furnace of blazing fire and said, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire. And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men; the hair of their heads was not singed, their tunics were not harmed, and not even the smell of fire came from them. Nebuchadnezzar said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants who trusted in him. They disobeyed the king’s command and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that utters blasphemy 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 deliver in this way.” Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon.
Our “Faces of Our Faith worship series continues this morning with a look at Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego Daniel 3.
“Who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” This is the question King Nebuchadnezzer asks of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. This question is based on the narrative which tells us that the powers of the world rule and control everything. This question which King Nebuchadnezzar asks is a question which does not understand the power of the empty tomb. It is a question which does not understand the promise of the resurrection.
The question of “who is the god who will deliver out of my hands” is not a faith-based question. It is not one we would ask as the people of God. The very premise behind this question goes against everything we know and have experienced about the Kingdom of God in our midst.
Because the question which King Nebuchadnezzar asks of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego tries to create a framework, tries to create a social construct in which God has no role, in which God has no point. This question is the king’s attempt to control the larger narrative, to destroy all hope that God is at work in this world, bringing about healing and wholeness for all of God’s people.
King Nebuchadnezzar’s question shows us once again that the powers that be simply do not understand how the Kingdom of God actually works. They can only think in terms of either or…either God is faithful or God is not. Yet as people of faith we know our God is so much more.
As the people of God, our faith story tells us, teaches us, reminds us that death is not the last word, It tells us that love and life will always overcome. Through the power and grace of the Kingdom of God, we have experienced a different way to be, a different way to live, a different way to be in relationship with one another. A way which runs counter-cultural to the ways of this world. While the world thrives on power and might, the Kingdom of God invites all to gather at the Table and experience the abundance of God. While this world operates by the mantra that the one with the most money wins, the Kingdom of God teaches us that the first will be last and the last shall be first.
Like other models of faith when confronted by the powers that be, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego change narrative. They ignore the question which offers only a limited view of the world. And in doing so, they expand the vision of the Kingdom of God at work in our world for us as the people of God.
They respond to the king’s question by telling him that they do not owe him a defense in this matter. If God is able, let God deliver them but if not, they will still not serve the king’s gods or worship the statue he set up.
Please don’t get the wrong idea. These three are not giving up hope. They are not being fatalistic. Their statement to the king is actually a faith statement. It is a statement shared by those who know that God is at work in this world, shared by those who know that death and destruction will not have the last word. These three model for us what faithful civil disobedience looks like.
You see, the author is showing us that this story was never really about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The story was never about whether or not they survived the fiery furnace. This story has always been about how God is at work in this world despite what this world might say to the contrary.
Or let me say it this way…We know that as people of faith we were never promised that bad stuff would not happen to us. Nor were we promised that our lives would be sunshine and rainbows 24/7. What we were promised is that God would always be with us, that God would always guide us, that God would always lead us, that God would never leave us alone regardless of what life may bring our way. This is the message of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego Daniel 3.
Our faith in God is not meant to be quid pro quo. “God is not a vending machine into which we insert our faithfulness and out comes the reward we are seeking.” Our faith in God is grounded in knowledge that death, that destruction, that brokenness, that hate, that hurt “does not limit or end God’s capability to create a future.”
That’s the power of the empty tomb. That’s the life changing transformational promise of the resurrection. That’s the gift we experience through the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
As people of God, what we know is that we have been given a promise by our God who loves us more than we could ever imagine. We have been given a promise which strengthens us, which encourages us, which empowers us to say to the powers that be of this world, even if God does not deliver us we will not bow down to your statues, we will not abide by your oppressive systems. We will not play by your rules. Rather, instead, we will speak out against the injustices in our midst. We will work to bring about equality for all of God’s people. We will continue to see everyone as made in the image of God.
As the people of God, we are able to do this because we know who holds us secure, surrounding us with love and grace. We are able to speak up against the powers that be, to tell them we will not accept their narrative of their control and might because ultimately, we know that death is not the end of the story. Because we know that love and light will always overcome. Because we know our God is so much more than either/or. Because we know who really is the powerful Lord and King of all. May it be so.