Sermon for Lent Midweek 5, March 24, 2021

Daniel 3:1-30

Often in life we have to make compromises. Sometimes this is to reach an agreement with an equal, sometimes in love of someone who we care for, but the hardest compromises come when we are forced to do so by someone who holds power over us. This last one was the case for the three young men in our reading tonight. Along with their friend Daniel, and most of the nation of Judah, these three men were prisoners of war, deported from their homeland in Palestine to the city of Babylon. God had allowed this deportation, this exile of His people, due to their sin and idolatry. They knew it too – God had sent many prophets to warn his people, but they largely ignored the warnings and went on with their life as usual. So these three men, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, were brought into King Nebuchadnezzar’s diverse team of nobles and renamed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – good Babylonian names.
         
Taking new names wasn’t their only compromise. Along with Daniel (who had been named Belteshazzar), these three men were given the finest food in the kingdom to eat – food that God has forbidden from his people as unclean. So, they asked the king’s servant for a compromise – they would just have vegetables and water – clean food – for ten days and if they weren’t as strong as the others in the court they could go back to the unclean food. After ten days they looked the best of all the youth in court, and were able to eat only clean food.
         
They were valued as wise men, astrologers, magicians – vocations detestable to them, but they would be called that if it didn’t interfere with their worship of God. When the king was about to kill all of his magicians when they couldn’t interpret a dream, Daniel was willing to compromise and speak to the pagan king with an interpretation that came from the only God who was real and true.
         
Having no power in these situations, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego dealt with the governing powers and culture they had to work with, with pagans who didn’t completely understand. They didn’t try to overthrow or undermine the king, but worked to support the best they could without abandoning their faith. That is, until Nebuchadnezzar made the idol.
         
With this idol, there was no compromise possible. One either bowed and worshipped it when the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music was heard or you didn’t. In the jobs that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were given in the province of Babylon, this was simply expected. In Babylon there was no exception for Judean monotheists. There was no religious freedom. To worship the idol, was to worship the king’s gods, and to worship the king’s gods meant loyalty to the king. To not bow down was a statement of treason against Nebuchadnezzar’s absolute authority.
         
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in this foreign land knew that the absolute authority of Nebuchadnezzar above all men and all gods was assumed, but they had been able to serve without making a definitive statement about that assumption. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego could not dissent quietly. They had nowhere to run.
         
They were like sand in the gears of the fine-tuned clock that was Babylon’s society. The image that King Nebuchadnezzar set up was magnificent in size. All the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all officials of all provinces were gathered before the image King Nebuchadnezzar set up. It was an important and impressive crowd. All peoples, nations, and languages were there. The sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music was no doubt quite catchy. Who wouldn’t want to bow down to it? It’s very easy – the peoples, nations, and languages hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music and worshiped the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. No need to think, just do.
         
All the might of Babylon was against them – no appeal, no sympathy to their views, no mercy allowed. God had put Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Babylon for a time such as this. For God’s people will not always be living and working only around other Christians. Or even those who sympathize and tolerate them. God sends Christians into places where hard choices have to be made, where compromise is not a possibility. Maybe you have already experienced this somewhat in your own job or social circles as our society becomes increasingly hostile to Christians.
         
Certainly no one in our current situation has faced such an authority with no appeal as King Nebuchadnezzar. The man who had conquered their people. The absolute ruler, in his eyes, most favored of the gods. And Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to him were nothing but weak and conquered, who worshiped some weak god. “Who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” He asks.
         
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king,O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.
         
Nebuchadnezzar, you are a mighty king, but you are not the highest authority. The highest authority is God. Servants of God have no need to answer or explain themselves. Do your worst, kill us, they say, and our God, the highest authority, can deliver us. And even if he doesn’t, we still won’t worship you. With no promise of deliverance from the furnace, just trust in God to take care of them, the three respond in a way that will send them to their execution. Nebuchadnezzar can’t stand having anyone obey a higher authority than himself.
         
Where did this faith come from? They knew God’s Word. They were convinced He would keep His promises. They feared, loved, and trusted in God above all things – even the greatest king on earth. For knowing God’s Word, they saw Babylon for the silly clock it was.  All the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all officials of all provinces automatically bowing before the image Nebuchadnezzar put up when the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music played – it was comical, like dogs being trained to salivate at the sound of a bell. That world promised them nothing. It was secondary to what God promised. So as they were thrown into the fire they sang their own song, preserved for us by tradition in the Apocrypha – praising the Lord who had authority over the universe.
         
God delivered them beyond what they would hope for. He sent His Son – the pre-incarnate Son of God – to be with them in the fire. The fire killed the guards that threw them in, but not a smell of smoke was on them. Either way, God was with them as they were thrown into that fire, but here God demonstrated clearly so Nebuchadnezzar and all his robotic officials would take a moment and realize it too.
         
As Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not compromise and were faithful unto death, Nebuchadnezzar saw briefly the one who would be faithful unto death – Jesus Christ. Jesus, who would face every temptation, be given the chance to deny his mission, be mocked as worthless and die a slave’s death, did not compromise or give in. For His life and death was the will of His Father, the highest authority, and no Jewish council or Roman governor or Satan himself could do anything to thwart it. Jesus went to his death to take on our sins and rise again. As Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego showed as a mere shadow – Jesus would be thrown into death, take the fiery punishment for our sins, and emerge victorious – but not unscathed.
         
For the one who rose for us is the crucified one. In his wounds we know the penalty for our sin was paid, and in his resurrection we know the payment was accepted. Now, completing the Father’s Will, Jesus, God and man, our brother, has ascended to the Father and reigns over heaven and earth, the true final authority over all creation.
         
With Him, there is no compromise, no half-trust, no other gods. Nebuchadnezzar would realize that this God was the true authority, and changed his law to punish anyone who spoke against the Most High God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. This Most High God would die for confused pagan people like Nebuchadnezzar, like the officials, like us. He promises to renew and strengthen us through this life and bring us to a blessed end to be with himself. No power or authority can ever take that away or snatch you out of his hand. Amen.

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