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Faith in the Face of the Furnace

The English language is always changing! Every year, new words and phrases are added to our vocabulary and old ones are dropped out. For example, in 2019, the Webster’s Dictionary added over 600 new words & phrases. Some of these were words like:

Screen time: We’re certainly getting a lot of that these days

Go-cup: That’s just a disposable cup that would hold your coffee or other drink as you take it ‘to go’ from a resturant

Detectorist: one who uses a portable metal detector as a hobby to find lost coins and artifacts and such…

Double-dipping: You’d think that one would have been the in the dictionary already, but that was new for 2019

Chai Latte: We apparently talk about those enough to warrant an entry in the dictionary.

And I would guess that most, if not all, of those terms are familiar to you – that’s why they’ve been added to the dictionary. Everybody uses those terms and phrases.

Of course, in the 2020 edition of the Webster’s Dictionary, there will be a whole new set of words to be added.

Words like:  Coronavirus, Covid-19, Social Distancing, Self-isolation, Flattening the curve,

These are all terms that we’ve all come to know very well in just a very short period of time. And hopefully, these are words that will drop out of use just as quickly! I think we’re all looking forward to the time when no one needs to use the terms ‘self-isolation’ or ‘social distancing’ anymore.

But this morning, and actually for the next few weeks, I want to talk about three other words. These three words have been around pretty much forever – and according to the Bible – they will continue to be around pretty much forever.

You see, I was reading 1 Corinthians chapter 13 this week – which is often referred to as the ‘love’ chapter of the Bible. It talks about all the things that love is – love is kind, love is patient, love is not proud, love is not jealous – all those things….

But at the end of that chapter – there is short little verse that just seemed to catch my attention this week. It goes like this in 1 Corinthians chapter 13 verse 13:

13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.  1 Corinthians 13:13

And I just thought was really good – the coronavirus will not last forever. Social distancing will not last forever. Even our chai lattes in our go-cups will not last forever. But these three things – faith, hope, and love – will last forever and ever and ever.

So for the next few weeks, I want us to look together at those three words.

Believe it or not, Easter is rapidly approaching (although that seems to have fallen off the radar for most people with everything that’s been happening) But faith, hope, and love is really what Easter is all about – it’s what Christianity is all about! And so that’s where I want us to turn our focus for the next three weeks.

Today in particular, I want to focus in on faith.

I want to begin by reading a few verses from Daniel chapter 3 – which is the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. And I won’t read the entire story, but let me just give you a quick summary of how the story begins.

The story takes place not too long after the kingdom of Judah is conquered by the Babylonians. In the aftermath of that invasion, many of the Jews were taken captive and were deported to Babylon. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were all such captives. But over time, Daniel and his friends proved themselves to be highly capable men and they came to hold some very high positions in the Babylonian government under King Nebuchadnezzar.

Now King Nebuchadnezzar was probably the most powerful person in the world at this time. In fact, in chapter Daniel chapter 4, Daniel describes him as being “great and strong – his greatness reaches up to the heaven, and his rule extends to the ends of the earth.”

And so it’s not surprising that Nebechadnezzar, (with all that power with such an extensive kingdom) – it’s not surprising that he had become a very proud man – and as such he had built a huge golden statue of Himself that was 90 ft tall and 9 feet wide.

Now just to give you a mental picture of the size of that – the statue of liberty is about 111 ft tall from head to foot – of course, the torch makes it higher yet – but from head to foot is about 111 ft. Nebuchadezzar’s statue was a little shorter than that at 90 ft – but his was made out of gold – so that’s got to count for something too!

Anyway the King commanded that all the important leaders and officials and officers in his kingdom come for the dedication of this statue – and so naturally, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were all part of that group. 

The trouble began when the King made the order that, when the music began to play, everyone present must bow down and worship this golden statue of the king. If they refused the King’s command, they would be immediately executed by being thrown into a furnace.

Of course, this furnace was not like the furnace in our homes – this would be more like an industrial furnace – likely used either for smelting ore for making iron tools or as a kiln for firing bricks. Either way, being thrown into this furnace is not something anyone would ever survive! 

And personally, I don’t the King ever thought He would ever have to throw anyone in that furnace when he made that command. I’m sure he assumed that no one would be foolish enough to disobey the King – especially not his own officials and officers.

But yet, that’s exactly what happened. When the music began to play, everyone bowed down and worshiped the statue – everyone except Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Of course, a report of this was quickly brought back to the King – and that’s where we pick it up in Daniel chapter 3, starting at verse 13.

13 Then Nebuchadnezzar flew into a rage and ordered that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought before him. When they were brought in, 14 Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you refuse to serve my gods or to worship the gold statue I have set up? 15 I will give you one more chance to bow down and worship the statue I have made when you hear the sound of the musical instruments. But if you refuse, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. And then what god will be able to rescue you from my power?”

Daniel 3:13-15

And it’s at this point that these three men – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – all faced the most critical decision of their lives. It was at this point that they had to decide whether their faith in God was well-founded or not.

Could they truly trust God in the face of certain death? Were they so sure of their faith in God that they were willing to put their lives on the line?

Well, we find the their answer in the next three verses:

16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. 18 But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”

Daniel 3:16-18

Isn’t that absolutely incredible? These guys didn’t even have a question about whether or not they could trust God. They just stated confidently, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power – but even if he doesn’t, we’re going to trust in Him anyway!”

That’s incredible! What an incredible confidence these guys had in God! These guys show us the definition of faith in God.

Hebrews 11:1 says…

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1 NET

That’s what faith is – it’s being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see – and that’s exactly what we see with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They were absolutely sure that God would take care of them – one way or another! They were convinced that God had power over Nebuchadnezzar – that God had power over the the fiery furnace – that God had power even over death itself.

 Their confidence was set fully on God and in his power and in his goodness.

And I think that’s a great reminder for us today. We can have that kind of confidence in God no matter what our situation.

You know, I think going through a crisis really reveals where we place our faith.

And there’s lots of options out there: 

I think as North Americans, we tend to put a lot of our faith in our economy, for example. We gain our confidence from our ability to provide for ourselves. We feel hopeful when the markets are up, when there’s savings in our account, when there’s a regular paycheque every two weeks. We feel good about life. So long as the money is in place, we have have a sense of joy and peace and hope for the future.

But what happens when the economy falls apart? What happens when the markets crash, when our retirement funds disappear over night, or when the pay cheques stop – what then! Do we lose our joy? Do we lose our peace? Do we lose our hope? If so, then maybe our faith in is the wrong thing?

Or another example that’s become very apparent in recent days, most of us put a lot of faith in the medical community. We’re trusting that our doctors and nurse will keep us safe and healthy. We’re trusting that they can cure our sickness and treat our broken bodies. From the birth of our babies to mending our broken bones, to treating our sickness and preventing disease – we put a lot of faith in medical community.

But for all the advances in medicine and for all the wonderful facilities and for all the hard work of these dedicated professionals – people still get sick. People still suffer. People still die. Medicine and doctors are wonderful gifts from God – but they are not our ultimate source of hope and peace.

And I could give you several more example of misplaced faith. We trust in our governments to save us from disaster. We trust our families to be there when we need them most. We trust our own abilities and our own wisdom and our own strength. 

But all of these things can be taken away from us in a flash – as we’ve seen so clearly in recent days. All of these things can let us down.

It’s like the kid’s song that we sometimes sing – “The man in the world, he gonna let you down. But my Jesus neva fail!

The President – He gonna let you down.

The Prime Minister too – He gonna let you down.

Your Parents, Your pastor, your money, your boss, your doctors, everyone…

The man in the world, he gonna let you down.

But My Jesus never fail!”

And that’s really the bottom line of it. My Jesus never fails!

That’s why Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego could have such unwavering faith in God – because their God had never failed. He is absolutely trustworthy.

Did you know that God has never made a promise that He hasn’t kept? He’s never broken a promise. If He says something will happen – that something happens!

    • If God says “I will never leave your nor forsake you” then God will never leave you or forsake you.
    • If God says “I will work all things together for good” then God will work all things together for good.

God always keeps his promises – even in those times when we have no idea how He’s going to do it. Remember:

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1 NET

For Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – they had no idea how God might rescue them from the power of Nebuchadnezzar – but they were absolutely confident that He would.

They had never been to Sunday school to see the flannel-graph cut-outs of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego walking around unharmed in the fiery furnace – accompanied by a fourth man who looked like the Son of God. They had never heard that story. And God had never done anything like that before – so they didn’t know what God was going to do.

But they knew the character of God and they knew the promises of God and they trusted that somehow God would deliver them from the hand of King Nebuchadnezzar. They were sure of what they hoped for – they were convinced of what they did not yet see. That’s faith. 

And that’s the kind of faith that we need to have today. In fact, it seems that’s the one requirement of being a Christian. We need to put our faith in God. We need to believe that God is who He says He is and that He will do what He has said He will do.

“Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Hebrews 11:6 NIV

While we may not be standing before an angry king who is threatening to throw us into a fiery furnace, all of us face situations where we need to choose to put our faith in God. We need to choose to believe His promises and trust in His character.

And why wouldn’t we? I mean, who else would we trust more than God? Our governments? Our stock brokers? Ourselves?

Is anyone more wise or powerful than our God? Is there anyone who is as loving and good and generous as our God?

We only need to look to the cross and to the empty tomb to see just how good and how powerful our God is.

Romans 8:31 reminds us:

31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? 33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.

35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:31-39

Our faith in God is not a blind faith. It’s not a ‘cross-your-fingers-and-hope-for-the-best’ kinda faith. Our faith in God is a confident trust in a powerful, loving God and in His Word. Our faith is in a God who was willing to die for us and who had the power to rise again from the grave!

It’s true that we don’t know how all this COVID-19 thing is going to turn out… We don’t know what will happen to the economy or to our jobs or to our schools or to our loved ones. There’s all kinds of unknowns.

But we do know that there is a God who is sovereign over all. We know that God loves each one of us more than we can even comprehend. And we do know that God works all things together for good. God has clearly said so in His Word.

So rather than fearing the things that we don’t know – let’s put our faith in the One who we do know.

    • Let’s put our faith in the God who saw this coming from before time began.
    • Let’s put our faith in the God knows exactly how He’s going to rescue us from whatever situation that we find ourselves in.
    • Let’s put our faith in the God is still in control and will use every situation for his Glory and our ultimate good.

Let’s put our faith in God.

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