No Other Gods No Matter What!
A Review of the First Commandment
A sermon based on Daniel 3 (select verses)
Sunday, June 22, 2014 – Pentecost 2A
The young man was sitting on his bed, deep in prayer, asking God to give him the strength he'd need at this time of crisis. Suddenly the door was kicked in with a crash! Half a dozen enemy troops barged in and roughly seized him. "This was a bit excessive," he thought, as he willingly offered his wrists to be shackled. They were too tight and cut him as one of the men pulled the chain hard bringing him to his knees. A second man screamed in his face in a foreign language he didn't understand as the young man got up and followed them out of the room.
The next couple of months were rough as he, still chained to his captors, was forced to march on foot the thousands of miles from his home to the land where the enemy dwelled. He didn't know what they had in store for him, but he continued to quietly pray to God as the slow and steady march through the desert went on and on. But when they finally arrived months later, things started to look up.
The young man was hand-picked to serve in the foreign king's palace. Instead of laboring as a slave, he was served his food each day by slaves. Instead of being sent to the fields or the mines, he was sent to school—where he even met others like him from his home town and they quickly became friends. There in the school they studied the language and the literature of that land. And three years later, upon graduation, he and three friends entered the service of the king. "God surely was with him," he thought. "He did answer prayer." Though perhaps not how he would have wanted it answered, he was blessed nonetheless. But then, just when things seemed like they'd be okay in this foreign land, things took a turn for the worse.
Hannaniah, Mishael, and Azarah, more commonly known by their new Babylonian names, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, perhaps in their mid-twenties at most, were faced with the most difficult decision of their lives. Their boss, King Nebuchadnezzar, had built a golden idol ninety feet tall and he was ready to dedicate it. He passed a royal law that any who would not bow down and worship the idol when the signal was sounded, must be thrown into a blazing furnace to burn alive. Talk about pressure!
This was the choice the young men were faced with: Deny the true and only God who brought them safely to this land, who promised their safe return home, who promised them forgiveness of sins and eternal life in glory, or burn alive and die a painful death in taking a stand. What would they do?
Well, you know the story. It may have been easy to rationalize, arguing, "We're not being asked to believe in this so-called god or really worship it. Just one quick act of devotion to the king. Besides, God will understand. We can do more for these people as their governors, than if we're crispy fried."
But to them, there was only one course of action: They must obey God rather than men, no matter how powerful or dangerous. When the other leaders complained to the king, though he was filled with rage at their defiance, he graciously gave them a second chance.
It's one thing to break the rules when the boss isn't watching, but quite another to openly defy him to his face. Yet, here's how they responded…
16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up… "
What courage! The three young Hebrews expressed their faith that God could rescue them. But even if he wouldn't, they realized that their goal in life was not to stay alive, but to bring glory to God. They did fear, love, and trust in God above all things. They feared doing anything that would disappoint or dishonor him. They loved him enough to give their lives—if that's what it took—to bring honor to him. They trusted that he could deliver them and would, if it was his will. But they weren't promised or guaranteed any miracles. Their faithfulness to God wasn't dependent upon a happy ending. They would have no other gods, no matter what, even if the consequences meant burning alive.
And that's exactly what Nebuchanezzar had in mind. Nebuchadnezzar was furious! Not only did they defy him, but now they publicly humiliated him in front of all his subjects at his party. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual and gave the command to throw them in.
22 The furnace [was] so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, 23 and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace. 24 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, O king." 25 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…" 28 Then Nebuchadnezzar said, "Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king's command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.
What a miracle! Not only were they rescued, they weren't even touched by the fire! Their bodies were fine. Their clothes perfect. They didn't even smell like smoke. God had sent an angel, one "like a son of the gods," to protect and cover, to rescue and deliver, his faithful from the flames.
And what an impact this miracle made! This would be an event Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Nebuchadnezzar, and all the officials would talk about the rest of their lives. It was a clear witness to all who the true God was, not Nebuchadnezzar, not some golden statue, but the Lord, Jehovah, the God of free and faithful love. And Nebuchadnezzar ended his reign, and possibly his life, with this confession: "Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just." (Daniel 4:37)
What a blessed result of the courage and conviction of these three young men, who feared, loved, and trusted in God above all things, and had no other gods, no matter what.
But how about you? What if you were presented with the option: Deny the God who loves and preserves you, bow down and worship an idol or be thrown into a furnace to die a painful, horrible death. Which would you choose? I like to think that given such a challenge, I'd choose the painful, horrible death. And I like to think that so would each of you.
But the problem is, satan isn't so obvious. I don't think any of your bosses has ever told you, "Bow down to the company logo or I'll send security to kill you." Though it's more likely and possible I doubt they've even said, "Make the company your number one priority in life or you will be fired." But in a much more subtle way, we are all faced with the option of which god we choose to serve.
The checkbook says to you, "Make entertainment and leisure your god, they will provide you the things you want. Don't honor the true God with your offering check. What's he done for you lately?" The TV cries out, "Bow down to me! Spend time with me instead of with your Bible! I'll give you relaxation and escape from your troubles! Make me your god!" The savings account and the 401k cry out, "Put your trust in me. With me by your side you know everything will be okay." Or "You need me. Without me you won't be okay!"
And when you're in trouble, where do you turn for help? Do you turn to the internet and your own resourcefulness? Do you call mom and dad? Do you rely on the savings you have tucked away for a rainy day? In and of themselves, these aren't bad. But satan loves to take what is good and make it our god. When we turn to any of these before we turn to God, we make an idol of them.
Martin Luther explained the first commandment in this way: "If… your heart clings to anything else from which it expects more good and help than from God, and if your heart does not take refuge in Him but flees from Him when in trouble, then you have an idol, another god." You see, then, that each of us has broken this first commandment time and time again. In fact, any time we sin, we break this commandment. As we put our needs and wants above God's will, we make ourselves our own gods instead of fearing, loving, and trusting in him above all things.
And for such rebellion against the King of Heaven, the only true God, we deserve to be thrown into a furnace far hotter than the one into which the three young Hebrews were cast. We deserve an eternity of hell—where we endure not just the physical pain of scorching flames, but the nagging torment of guilt and regret forever and ever.
But thanks be to God! He's sent his Angel to rescue us—the Angel of the Lord, the Son of God—to rescue and deliver us from that hell. He not only joined us in the furnace, but took our place. On the cross he endured the furnace of hell to pay for every single time we've trusted in someone or something else more than we trusted him. He took our cowardice and rebellion—in denying the one true God to save our own skins, or our jobs, or our reputations—on himself and took it away from us. He took our place in live and perfectly feared, loved, and trusted in God above all things! And having perfectly kept the first commandment in our place, he gave that perfection to us.
Now you and I are saved from hell. Our bodies will not be harmed by it, not a hair of our heads will be singed, our clothes will not be scorched, and our souls will be safe. And because of what Jesus has done for us on the cross, we know without a doubt that we can fear, love, and trust in God above all things!
We don't need any other god because no other god could ever provide what he has! Our money can't buy protection from satan! Our friends and family and the best doctors can't save us from death! Our own hard work or our intelligence can't ever get us out of hell! But Jesus can! Jesus has! So we can and will fear, love, and trust in him above all else and have no other gods, no matter what, even if it means dying some slow, painful death for it!
And finally, when we do, dear friends, what an impact it will make! Others will see the bold stand you take and hear the quiet confidence you express. And they, like Nebuchadnezzar will cry out, "Praise be to… God… who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him… and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God." They too will cry out, "Now I… praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just." They too will know the true God and bring glory to him with you.
To God be the glory as we live our lives to honor him and have no other gods, no matter what! In Jesus name, and by the strength he gives in the gospel, dear friends, amen.