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Through the Fire - Part 2

Tom Pennington Daniel 3


Well I'm excited about continuing with the new year, in fact a little more regularly with the beginning of this year, our study through the book of Daniel on Sunday night. A wonderful book and its great theme, of course, is that God, the God we love and worship and serve, is sovereign over all of human history. There are no rulers, there are no nations, there are no empires that are outside of His great and sovereign power. That's really the theme of this book. And it's really looked at through a number of different lenses as we work our way through these great chapters. And tonight, I invite you to turn with me again to the book of Daniel and specifically to Daniel 3, Daniel 3.

As I mentioned the last time we studied Daniel 3 together, persecution of Christians by the Chinese government continues to escalate. I don't know if you saw it or not, but last year, toward the end of the year, a group of more than 100 of our brothers, pastors there in China, issued a public statement, if you can believe it, in response to the growing wave of persecution in their nation. Several of the more than 100 pastors who signed that statement, a public statement with their names publically listed, have already been arrested; their churches in some cases shut down. Here's what they wrote. "For the sake of faith and conscience, for the spiritual benefits of the authorities in China, and of society as a whole, and ultimately for the glory, holiness, and righteousness of God, we make the following declaration to the Chinese government and to all of society. Christian churches (number one) Christian churches in China believe, unconditionally, that the Bible is the word and revelation of God. It is the source and final authority of all righteousness, ethics, and salvation. If the will of any political party, the laws of any government, or the commands of any man directly violate the teachings of the Bible, harming men's souls, and opposing the gospel proclaimed by the church, we are obligated to obey God rather than men, and we are obligated to teach all members of the church to do the same. Number two, Christian churches in China are eager and determined to walk the path of the cross of Christ and are more than willing to imitate the older generation of saints who suffered and were martyred for their faith. We are willing and obligated under any circumstance to face all government persecution, misunderstanding, and violence with peace, patience, and compassion. Number three, Christian churches in China are willing to obey authorities in China whom God has appointed and to respect the government's authority to govern society in human conduct. We believe and are obligated to teach all believers in the church that the authority of the government is from God and that as long as the government does not overstep the boundaries of secular power laid out in the Bible, and does not interfere with or violate anything related to faith or the soul, Christians are obligated to respect the authorities, to pray fervently for their benefit, and to pray earnestly for Chinese society. For the sake of the gospel we are willing to suffer all external losses brought about by unfair law enforcement. Out of the love for our fellow citizens, we are willing to give up all of our earthly rights. And number four, finally, [they write], for this reason we believe and are obligated to teach all believers that all true churches in China, that belong to Christ, must hold to the principle of the separation of church and state, and must proclaim Christ as the sole head of the church. We declare that in matters of external conduct churches are willing to accept lawful oversight by civil administration or other government departments as other social organizations do. But, under no circumstances, will we lead our churches to join a religious organization controlled by the government. For the sake of the gospel, we are prepared to bear all losses, even the loss of our freedom and of our lives."

As I noted, more than 100 Chinese pastors signed this statement publicly. The first name on the list - that man has already been arrested; separated from his family and his church. The building, that they met in, has been made unavailable to them permanently, and they are now seeking to meet with churches in various locations. This is a reality. And when you read this statement, I was struck with this, that is the biblical response to persecution by the government.

It is the very response we see lived out in the lives of three young Jewish men, more than 500 years before Christ, who found themselves captive in Babylon. The message of Daniel 3 is that God is sovereign over the state sponsored persecution of His people. This account from the lives of Daniel's three Hebrew friends, there in Babylon, really provides us with four biblical perspectives about the persecution that comes against God's people from the governments of this world.

Last time we studied the first 15 verses and the first perspective that it provides. In verses 1-15 we learned this – the relentless reality of government persecution. Read it with me. You follow along as I read. Daniel chapter 3 beginning in verse 1. Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, the height of which was sixty cubits and its width six cubits; he set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. Then Nebuchadnezzar the king sent word to assemble the satraps, the prefects and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates and all the rulers of the provinces to come to the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up. Then the satraps, the prefects and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates and all the rulers of the provinces were assembled for the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up; and they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Then the herald loudly proclaimed: 'To you the command is given, O peoples, nations and men of every language, that at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, bagpipe and all kinds of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king has set up. But whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire.' Therefore at that time, when all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, bagpipe and all kinds of music, all the peoples, nations and men of every language fell down and worshiped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up. For this reason at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and brought charges against the Jews. They responded and said to Nebuchadnezzar the king: 'O king, live forever! You, O king, have made a decree that every man who hears the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, and bagpipe and all kinds of music, is to fall down and worship the golden image. But whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire. There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the administration of the province of Babylon namely Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. These men, O king, have disregarded you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up.' Then Nebuchadnezzar in rage and anger gave orders to bring Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego; then these men were brought before the king. Nebuchadnezzar responded and said to them, 'Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? Now if you are ready, at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery and bagpipe and all kinds of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, very well. But if you do not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?'"

Clearly as you read this account, if you're familiar with Daniel at all, you know that Nebuchadnezzar had gotten the idea of building this statue from the image in his dream back in chapter 2 that God had given him. Including the base on which it stood, this great image was 90 feet tall, more than 30 yards high, and 9 feet wide. It was huge. And its proportions were meant to completely overwhelm anyone who stood before it. Verse 1 says it was made out of gold. Interestingly, unlike the vision in Nebuchadnezzar's dream, the image, rather, in Nebuchadnezzar's dream, that was made up of different metals, Nebuchadnezzar constructed his image entirely of gold. And we noted last time, he did so to make a statement. God had said there would be the Babylonian empire and then there would be the Medes and the Persians, and so forth. Nebuchadnezzar said, I don't think so. The whole image is gold. The Babylonian kingdom that I have built will endure. There will be no other kingdoms to follow. You see, the image that he commissioned, symbolized his defiance against what Yahweh had said. His kingdom would not be followed by another; his would endure forever.

For the dedication of this image, Nebuchadnezzar required, as we read, all of the important officials of the empire to be present. So hundreds of government officials, gathered in one place, stood in front of this massive statue. In requiring this, Nebuchadnezzar was demanding that all of the leaders of the nation of the empire affirm their loyalty to him as their rightful king, affirm their loyalty to the Babylonian empire, and worship the gods of Babylon who had made him king and given them their great empire. As we read in verse 6, refusing to do so came with a horrible penalty. You'd be cast into the midst of a furnace, a blazing fire, a smelting furnace there used to melt the gold that was hammered onto this great image.

So in verse 7, it's not surprising, then, when the orchestra began to play, hundreds of the most influential people in all Babylon fell down and worshipped the image of gold exactly as they'd been commanded. Everyone except for three who remain standing. Their unwillingness to bow didn't go unnoticed. Notice we read certain Chaldeans came forward and brought charges against the Jews. Notice verse 12 again because we're told they made three specific accusations. 'These men o king', number one, have 'disregarded you.' That is, they have no respect for you and for your commands. That was absolutely not true. Two, 'they do not serve your gods'. That certainly was true. And three, 'they don't worship the golden image which you have set up'. And that also was absolutely true. Nebuchadnezzar, verse 13, is overcome with rage. He orders them to be brought. He found it absolutely impossible to believe that these three young Jewish men that he had captured, that he had educated for three years, that he had given all the best of Babylon to, that he had promoted to positions of prominence in Babylon, had chosen to defy him in such a public and dramatic way. So, he decided to give them a second chance (verse 15). He says, ok the orchestra is going to sound again and if you'll do it this time then everything's going to be fine. But if you do not worship you will immediately, literally the Aramaic says, in the moment you will be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire. And don't miss what he adds at the ends of verse 15, "and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?"

In chapter two, Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged that Daniel's God was powerful. But now he says, but not that powerful. He's not powerful enough to protect you from me. And to protect you from burning to death in the furnace into which I will throw you. Nebuchadnezzar was intentionally challenging Yahweh, Israel's God. That's a constant reality. If you miss everything else, don't miss the fact that persecution by the governments of this world of the true people of God is as common as the sunrise. Why? Because they stand under the authority of Satan himself and they hate God and they hate His people. So don't be surprised. Don't be surprised as it continues to escalate in subtle ways in our country. And don't be surprised if someday it escalates in more dramatic ways as it is in China, because it's the reality.

Now that brings us tonight to a second perspective that's really important for us to have as we think about government persecution and that is, The Believer's Response to Government Persecution. We see this in verses 16 through 18. Under the inspiration of the Spirit, Daniel constructed this entire chapter so that verses 16 to 18 would serve as the center of the whole passage. I won't take you through the sort of chiastic construction of this chapter, but trust me, these are intentionally at the center for a reason. Because it's here that we discover how believers in every age should respond to the persecution that comes against us from the governments of our world. Now before we look at these three verses, and let me just warn you, we'll get through these three verses tonight and, Lord willing, next week we will finish the chapter. So I'm not going to take this long in every section, but this is key.

Before we look at these three verses together and the lessons we learn here, let me just step away and remind us what the Scriptures teach about government and our response to it and what that response should be. Let me just give you the big picture. First of all, remember that God has established all human government. Look at Daniel 4:25. Daniel says to Nebuchadnezzar, at some point later than this encounter, he says, you're going to experience becoming like an animal for a time, verse 25, until, notice the end of verse 25, "until you recognize that the Most High", that is the God above whom there is no one else, "is ruler over the realm of mankind and He bestows it on whomever He wishes." And verse 26, "And in that it was commanded to leave the stump with the roots of the tree, your kingdom will be assured to you after you recognize that it is Heaven that rules."

Look at chapter 4 verse 32, the same message, "you're going to be given grass to eat like cattle, seven years are going to pass over you until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and He bestows it on whomever He wishes." Listen! Look around at the rulers in our country. Look at the rulers in our world. They didn't get there because they are so shrewd and smart and so capable. They got there because God decided He wanted them there. Again, for our blessing or for our curse, but because He wanted them there. Verse 34, "at the end of that period, I, Nebuchadnezzar raised my eyes toward heaven and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; for His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are like nothing to Him. He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one, not even the world's greatest ruler, can ward off His hand or say to Him, 'what have You done?'"

And of course, Romans 13. In fact, turn to Romans 13 because I'm going to make a couple of points here. Romans 13 makes this point as well. "Every person", verse 1, "is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God." So remember that God established all human government.

Number two. Understand the two primary roles that God has given to government. In one way it reflects His own pattern of order and structure. Look at how God rules heaven. Look at how God rules the angels. Look at how God rules the earth. There is order and structure. Government is a reflection of that part of God's character. It is a minister of God, Romans 13 says, in that it reflects God's will and purpose. But the focus is on this one - it restrains, (government restrains) human depravity. If you're still there in Romans 13 look at verse 3. "For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same; for it (that is government) is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword (that's capital punishment) for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil."

You understand that even bad government is better than no government? Why? Because even bad government puts some restraint on human fallenness. It keeps it from expressing itself in the worst possible way. During the LA riots a number of years ago, Sheila and I lived there at the time. We had the opportunity to see what happens when the government pulls out of an area and this restraint is not in place. Government exists to restrain human depravity. Understand the roles God has given to government.

Number three, pray for all who serve in government. In 1 Timothy 2:1-2 we're told to pray for all those who are in authority; for kings and for others so that we might live a quiet and peaceable life.

Thirdly, we're to pay taxes. Excuse me, number four, we're to pay taxes. Romans 13:6, "because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing." You say, but what if you're overtaxed? Well remember Paul was writing to the Romans under Nero and they were overtaxed.

Number five, seek and pray for the peace and prosperity of the country even in the midst of persecution. Jeremiah 29:7. Jeremiah says to those Jews who would go into captivity in Babylon, "seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare." So even in the midst of a country that's persecuting, pray for the welfare of that place and seek its good.

Number six - submit to all the government's biblically allowable commands. 1 Peter 2:13,

"Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake for every human institution, including a king as the one in authority,"

And here's maybe the hardest of all, number seven, respect and honor those in authority. Romans 13:7, "Render to all what is due them; tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor." 1 Peter 2:17, "fear God, honor the king". And lest you think that that means the person of authority must be respectable for you to have respect, remember, we're talking about Nero. So, these are what Scripture teaches about government, at least in a nutshell. There are other things we could add, but that gives you an overview. Those are the ways we should ordinarily respond to government.

But how should we respond to government persecution? Should we launch a revolution? Should we take to the streets in violent protests? Well here in Daniel 3, where I want you to turn back with me now, we learn the biblical response to state sponsored persecution. The biblical response to state sponsored persecution.

First of all, the first response we should have is be completely unintimidated by human authorities. Be completely unintimidated by human authorities. Notice verse 16. Here's the response of these three teenagers. They probably were late teenagers, maybe early 20's. Verse 16, "Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego replied to the king, 'O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter.'" Now this was not pride. This was not a lack of courteousness. Rather, it was a full admission that they had done exactly what Nebuchadnezzar had accused them of. Look back in verse 14, "Nebuchadnezzar responded and said to them, 'Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, that (one) you do not serve my gods, (two) you do not worship the golden image that I have set up?" And that is exactly what they had done. And now they say, We don't have a defense to give. We don't have an answer to give you, and our minds are made up, and we're not changing. You see they would not be intimidated by the king's threats. Now as we sit here that seems like, well yeah of course that's what we expect them to do, that's what we would do. Now let's remember the circumstances. Nebuchadnezzar is the greatest king on the planet. He has the power at his word to order their execution. He has set up this huge statue and arranged this entire dedication event to be as intimidating and overwhelming as possible so that every important person in Babylon, whether they agreed with it or not, went along. But these three young men did not.

For a parallel in our culture, imagine going into an event where the President, all of Congress, our Supreme Court have all gathered together and they're there with the greatest pomp and circumstance you can arrange; all of the figures that give the sense of dominating presence. That's what happened then. It would have been extremely intimidating. But these young men simply refused to be intimidated by the greatest man in the world. How was that possible? Because, one, they knew all human authority was God given. And, two, they feared God more. Let me say that again. They could respond like this and you and I will be able to respond like this, if we understand that all human authority is God given and we fear God more. God towers over human rulers far more powerfully than human rulers tower over us. Psalm 27:1, "The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defense of my life, whom shall I dread?" When you understand who God is and how little any man is, it puts everything back in perspective. Or consider what Jesus said. When you face persecution, listen to this, Matthew 10:28, Jesus says, "Do not fear those who can kill the body but are unable to kill the soul". Don't fear those who can only damage your body. They can't get to you. They can't really change and affect you the real person you are. All they can do is hurt your body and kill your body, but Jesus says, "Rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."

You know what Jesus is saying? Fear God more. Fear God more.

So these three young men were not intimidated even by these powerful human rulers; in the same way that Elijah wasn't before Ahab. I love that scene in 1 Kings. Ahab, king of the northern kingdom (those ten tribes in the north), he has exalted Baal worship. He married Jezebel, a woman who's a Baal worshipper. He's put 400 prophets of Baal on the payroll. He's turning the kingdom to Baal and Elijah shows up in the court. And he's announced to the king. King Ahab, here is Elijah. You know what Elijah's name means? Eliyahu. My God is Yahweh. He was completely unintimidated. Or there's John the Baptist before Herod, 'it is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife.' Or Jesus before Pilate, listen to this, this is John 19:10-11. Pilate said to Jesus, "Do you not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and I have authority to crucify you?" You know what Pilate was doing? He was trying to intimidate Jesus. It's like look at me. Look at the greatness of my power. How does Jesus respond to that? Jesus answered, "You would have no authority over Me unless it had been given you from above." Jesus understood that Pilate's authority was divinely given. When you understand that, even when you stand before an earthly ruler, when our brothers and sisters in Christ stand before Chinese rulers and are commanded to abandon their faith, to abandon their worship, they can stand before those Chinese rulers and be completely unintimidated. hy? Because they know those rulers only are in their position because God has placed them there and He can remove them in a moment if He chooses and they fear God more. Be completely unintimidated by human authorities. That's the first response to government persecution.

The second response is be completely confident in God's power regardless of the danger. That is, be confident in God's ability to deliver you and to do so miraculously if He chooses to. Verse 17, "If it be so," that is if it be so that we are thrown in the fire, "our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire." You know what they were professing? They were professing their confidence in God's power to rescue them from the most powerful human ruler on the planet and the worst conceivable persecution – violent flaming fiery death. Where did they get this confidence? Well more than a hundred years earlier Isaiah had written these words. Listen to Isaiah 43:1-2. "Thus says the Lord your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, 'Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!' Now listen to this, this is Isaiah 43:2. "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you, when you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you." These devout young Jewish men knew that this was God's promise to His people in their captivity and they believed with all of their heart what God had said; that God could miraculously intervene and protect them in just this way. By the way, don't miss the incredible courage that God gave to these men and it is important to remember that. You know we read these stories and it's like, Wow that's impressive. I could never do that! Well guess what? Neither could they. The heroes of this story are not Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. The hero of this story is God who empowered His people to respond this way and if you're in Christ, when the time comes, God will give you the courage to respond in a way that honors Him, because He's the hero of every story.

But don't miss the courage that, by God's grace, they displayed. Look at the end of verse 15. Nebuchadnezzar just said there is no god that can deliver you from my hand. Now look at their response. "Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire." They were confident that God had more than the power to do this. Verse 17 says, "And He will deliver us out of your hand, O king." Why do they add that? What are they implying in that statement at the end of verse 17? Implied in their response, there, is the hope of life beyond death and their eventual resurrection. Why do I say that? Because in the very next verse it's clear that they're not absolutely convinced they would survive the fire. So, in what sense were they certain that God would deliver them? They were certain that they would live beyond death and experience the coming resurrection even if they perished in the fire. There was life for them beyond that fiery death. They had just learned, remember, through the dream of Nebuchadnezzar in chapter 2, that God intended to establish a kingdom for the benefit of His people that would last forever. So they say, Listen, God is more than able to deliver us from the fire, but if He doesn't deliver us from the fire, He will deliver us from you.

This is the hope. Turn over to Daniel 12. This is the hope of God's people. Daniel 12:1, "Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued."

Now's here's the hope of resurrection, verse 2, "Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but others to disgrace and everlasting contempt."

People of God have always had the hope of life beyond death, and that's what moved these young men. They believed that God could. But if He didn't, He would deliver them ultimately. This is our great hope. When we face persecution, and even possible death for Christ our Lord, this is what Paul said in 2 Timothy 4:18, "The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom." Paul wrote those words knowing that he would soon be put to death by the Roman government. His head was soon to be severed from his body. He wasn't talking about temporal deliverance. He was talking about eternal deliverance. So, when persecution comes, be completely confident in God's ability to deliver you in this life, even miraculously if He chooses and be confident that He will deliver you eternally.

Thirdly, if we're going to respond rightly to government persecution be completely submissive to God's will regardless of His choice. Be completely submissive to God's will regardless of His choice. Verse 18, the first part of verse 18, "But even if He does not…" Does not what? Even if He does not deliver us from the fire miraculously. You see they weren't uncertain about God's power to deliver them from the fire, but about God's plan. They weren't questioning God's ability, but His will. As Jerome the early church father wrote, "Thereby they indicate that it will not be a matter of God's inability, but rather of His sovereign will if they do perish."

By the way, let me just say, this is how true faith always works. Faith believes God's Word and God's power to intervene, even supernaturally, miraculously, if He chooses. At the same time, real faith also recognizes that God hasn't always promised to deliver and that it may not be His will to do so in your specific case. You know charismatic theology teaches that any failure to believe that God will heal me of cancer isn't real faith. But insisting that God must heal me because He can, is not faith. That's presumption because God hasn't promised to heal every case of cancer. Faith says God absolutely can and He might, in my case, if that's His will. But nowhere has He promised to do so.

These young men acknowledged God's power to intervene miraculously, and this also reminds us of the courage that God gave these men. They didn't know what we know. They didn't go into this interaction with the king knowing, fully confident, God was going to deliver them from the fire. There was a real chance they might burn to death in that fire. They acknowledged God's power to intervene miraculously, but they also acknowledged that they didn't know exactly what God planned to do in their case. And that's how you and I must always respond, in all of life, and certainly in persecution. Leon Wood writes, "If there is anything more rare than faith, it is submission."

Consider our Lord. Consider what our Lord experienced. If you want to devastate charismatic theology that says Just have more faith! A couple of times during Jesus' earthly life, God miraculously allowed Him to escape certain death by passing through a murderous crowd untouched. Incredible miracle. But the same loving Father, at another time, allowed His Son to be captured, tortured, and killed. When persecution comes, God may powerfully rescue us or He may allow us to experience the very worst that men can do to us. We simply have to trust Him and His sovereign purpose. We have to say with Job, in Job 13:15, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him." Or with Paul in Philippians 1:20, "It is my earnest expectation and hope that Christ will even now as always be exalted in my body whether by life or by death." It's His choice. Be completely submissive to God's will, regardless of His choice; whether it's miraculous intervention and rescue, or whether it's to let men do their worst.

There's a fourth response to government persecution – be completely committed to God regardless of the consequences. Notice the second half of verse 18. "But even if He does not, (deliver us from the fire) let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up." You see for these three devout Hebrew teenagers, what Nebuchadnezzar required was a blatant violation of the first commandment. They were unsure of God's sovereign will; whether He would deliver them from the fire or not, but they were actual certain about God's revealed will. You shall have no other gods before Me. Whatever it may cost them, they absolutely refused to deny their God by worshiping other gods. And of course, in their case, the cost was already pretty clearly laid out – a horrific painful death by burning to death in a smelting furnace.

This isn't uncommon. Read Foxe's Book of Martyrs and you will find that such words as these have been spoken through the centuries as believers have been faced with the threat of government. Sinclair Ferguson writes of these three young men, "They knew that should God deliver them, His name would be vindicated. They also knew that should they die, their faithful testimony would display the worthiness of their God and the unworthiness of Nebuchadnezzar's self-created idol." Notice, he writes that, "these men of faith would not have regarded their deaths in the flames to be a failure of faith, but rather an indication of God's will."

You know, read Hebrews 11. In fact, look at Hebrews 11. Turn there with me. We love Hebrews 11. And we love parts of it more than we love other parts. Hebrews 11:32, "What more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets", verse 33, "who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection…" If it stopped there, it would be great. That's faith! Wow! Look at what faith can accomplish. But keep reading, and others "…and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also in chains and imprisonment." [By faith]. "They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated… wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground." By faith!

That's the kind of faith these men had. They didn't know that God was going to rescue them. They weren't certain. They knew He could. They had confidence in His power. They didn't know that was going to be the outcome. But by faith, they were willing to face either. Dale Ralph Davis writes in his commentary on Daniel 3, "These men give us then a full balanced picture of faith: faith knows the power of God (he is able), guards the freedom of God (but if not), and holds the truth of God (we will not serve your gods)." You see the first real miracle in Daniel 3 doesn't happen in the fiery furnace. It happens right here in verses 16 to 18. Walter Luthey writes this, "That there are three men who do not worship in Nebuchadnezzar's totalitarian state, is a miracle of God. The miracle of the confessing Church." Obviously, that wasn't the church truly, but don't miss his point. "That the three were not devoured by the fire is no greater miracle. Suppose the fiery furnace had consumed them. The real miracle would have already happened just the same." So, those are the believer's response to persecution.

But let me see if I can step back and include these and add a couple of other things as we finish our time together. When government persecution comes, how should we respond? Let me just kind of pull it all together. First of all, we should remember that persecution is normal – situation normal. It's exactly how it's always been. Listen, if they persecuted Jesus do you really think they are not going to persecute His followers? Persecution is normal. Satan has always used the governments of this world to attack God's people and he will continue to do so.

Number two - remain respectful and law-abiding toward government authorities. I began with that Chinese statement. I thought that was so well put. We see it even in the response of these men to the king. They're respectful in their response, but they're firm and determined.

Number three - don't hesitate in the midst of persecution to respectfully insist that the law be followed. We have an example of both Jesus and Paul doing that. In Jesus' case, in John 18:22, "When He had said this, [Jesus had said what He said in His trial], one of the officers standing nearby struck Jesus, saying, 'Is that the way You answer the high priest?" Jesus hadn't spoken disrespectfully. "Jesus answered him, 'If I have spoken wrongly, testify of the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike Me?'" Do you know what Jesus was saying? You are violating the law of this land by striking a defendant who has not been found guilty. It's okay for us to respectfully insist that the law be followed. Paul did the same thing in Acts 22:25. They stretched him out. They were going to beat him. And Paul said to the centurion standing by, "Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman and uncondemned?" This isn't in keeping with the law. It's okay for us to do that as well.

Number four - trust God either to protect you from persecution, or to strengthen and sustain you in it and, regardless, to ultimately deliver you out of it into His eternal kingdom. This is the lesson we've learned from these three brave Jewish teenagers in Daniel 3. Again Leon Wood writes, "If one today has difficulty in remaining true to his faith in God, let him remember three Judeans in foreign Babylon standing tall first before a golden image and then before a mighty ruler, knowing that a blazing furnace awaited them and having the courage to speak these words."

Number five - trust the Spirit to give you the right words to speak when you stand before government authorities and persecution. Luke 12:11, Jesus said, "When they bring you" (He said this to His disciples and to us), "When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defense or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say." This is not an excuse for not studying for your schoolwork. You know, the Holy Spirit is going to help me. No. This is a very specific circumstance. This is when you find yourself in persecution. And you see examples of it throughout the Scripture.

Number six - continue to obey God's Word regardless of governments' demands or threats. That's what happens here in Daniel 3:18. "Let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up." Or consider the Apostles in Acts 5:29, threatened not to keep preaching the gospel, Peter and the Apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than men."

And number 7 - rejoice. You say rejoice? That's what Jesus said. Rejoice that you are counted worthy to suffer for Jesus' name. Look at Matthew 5. Matthew 5:10. Here's one of the Beatitudes. Here's one of the descriptions of people who are in Jesus' spiritual kingdom. Matthew 5:10, "Blessed (happy) are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." This is what believers face. Blessed are you! And by the way notice in verse 11, persecution doesn't always take the most overt, you know, physical torture in death forms. "Blessed are you when people insult you." Have you ever been insulted because you're a Christian? Either to your face or behind your back? I've experienced both of those. I expect most of us here have. "…persecute you, falsely say all kind so evil against you because of Me." Jesus says when that happens, "Rejoice and be glad for your reward in heaven is great…". Do you believe that? Do you believe for the one who is persecuted for the sake of Christ, who's faithful and endures that, that he will receive a great reward in the presence of our Lord? You say what is that reward? I think we see it in the life of Stephen. What happens when Stephen dies? He looks up and what does he see? He sees Jesus standing. You say wait a minute I thought Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father? He does. Jesus stands to honor a faithful martyr. One who died in faithfulness to Him. The reward is the praise of our Lord. Acts 5:41, "they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name." This is (you talk about a radical world view), this is how Christians are to think about government persecution.

Next week Lord willing we'll look at the final two points that Daniel makes in this chapter. We'll look at God's complete power over government persecution. And we'll look at God's specific purposes for allowing government persecution.

Let's pray together.

Father thank You for the time we've been able to spend together tonight in Your Word. We thank You that by Your grace we don't face great persecution from our government, at this point. We pray for our brothers and sisters, faithful brothers and sisters in China and other places around this planet, who do. O God, be their shield, be their light, their salvation, be their defense. But Father we also acknowledge that we live in a pagan culture and that antagonism against Christianity, both in people at large and in our government, will only continue to grow worse. Thank You for this magnificent chapter. Thank You for the courage You gave these three young men. And thank You, O God, that they were just like us. And that You will give us courage if You call us to stand in that circumstance as well. Thank You that they're not the heroes, but that You are, always faithful to Your people. You can cause us to stand. Father don't let us fear that. So many of us are tempted to live in fear of what could happen. Lord help us to live in confidence that You are on Your throne and, even as we'll learn next week, You have complete power over all of earth's rulers and even over their persecution of Your own. And You allow it for amazing reasons. Lord, help us to trust You. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.


Through the Fire - Part 1

Tom Pennington Daniel 3

Through the Fire - Part 2

Tom Pennington Daniel 3

Through the Fire - Part 3

Tom Pennington Daniel 3

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