The Faith That Defies Defeat!
Today, there are two attitudes of mind, two opposite attitudes.
And every Christian must be on guard against these -- complacency and despair.
Complacency works in different directions.
There is the person who is complacent about the world.
Talk to him about the world's precarious plight, and he is not impressed.
In fact, he will complain, "Stop harping on that and look on the bright side."
Then, there is the Christian who is complacent about the church.
He sees no need for reaching out to to those without Christ.
The church is holding its own, so let us congratulate ourselves.
Let us be at ease in Zion.
Then, there is the Christian who is complacent about himself.
His attitude is: "I don't claim to be a saint, but at least I am making a reasonably
satisfactory show. I reckon I am adequate to most of the demands life
can make upon me!"
Here are three dimensions of the complacent Christian.
First, he does not see that the world is threatened by the deadly menace of evil every day.
Second, he does not see that the church desperately needs a baptism of fire and of the Holy Spirit.
Third, he does not see that his own walk with Christ has barely begun its journey towards the
"the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ."
But there is another equally dangerous attitude, the opposite attitude -- despair.
This also works in various directions.
First, there is the person who despairs about the world.
"How can I help it," he asks, "when this generation has witnessed all the injustice, the violence,
the crime, and other sins in this world?"
Second, there is the Christian who despairs of the church, who tells you frankly that he does not see
how anything is as ununited as the church.
He will point out that there is a gigantic, credibility gap between practice and profession.
So, how can the church ever be the victorious witness that Christ needs it to be
in this sinful world.
"Son of man, can these bones live?"
Third, there is the Christian who despairs about himself.
He would say, "It's understandable for Paul and John to talk about overcoming the world
and being more than conquerors; but I am not like that.
I am tired of trying.
It's not worth the heartache -- I'll not even try."
It is against this twofold background -- complacency on the one hand, and despair on the other
that this story in Daniel leaps to life.
Let us notice how modern this experience in Daniel is of three factors.
There are just three factors in the story: Nebuchdnzzar, the image, and the furnace.
They are all contemporary facts.
First, Nebuchdnzzar is the spirit of a militant materialistic, secularism that is rampant
in its success all over the world.
Second, is the image to be worshiped.
We have this also in this subtle way in which secularism can disguise itself as a religion.
This 20th century messiah, offering the most alluring, incredible gifts, is something to fill
the spiritual vacuum in the hearts and lives of so many today.
Third, is the burning fiery furnace.
We have that in the ultimate threat to all who refuse to conform to the spirit of the age.
Conform or be destroyed!
We look for our instruction at those three friends of Daniel: Shadach, Meshach, Abednego.
Here they are, caught in the in that situation, standing in the context of Nebuchdnzzar,
the image and the furnace.
Notice two things about them.
First, whatever else they were, they were certainly not complacent.
They had no illusions about the world, or the church, or themselves.
First, they had no illusions about the world.
The world was focused in the person of Nebuchdnzzar.
They knew there was something evil here.
Of course, they recognized his power.
They admitted his genius.
But the price was the enslaving of conscience, freedom of thought, freedom of speech,
-- all gone.
Here was a man warning to be a god, and in the attempt he had become demonic and evil.
They had no illusions about Nebuchdnzzar or about the world he represented.
Second, they had no illusions about the church, which in this case represented the people of Israel.
Israel was in captivity precisely because of her sins.
The might of Babylon was fierce and colossal, and the people of God were weak and puny.
Third, they had no illusions about themselves.
The fact that this crucial issue was focused on them -- Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego -- was dreadful.
They wondered who were they to be matched with God's great hour?
"Frail children of dust,
and feeble as frail."
What if we break at this crucial hour?
What if we lose our nerve?
Oh no, they were certainly not complacent.
So, the first challenge of this story is that we must also cast off complacency.
It is time that we stopped having illusions about the world and the powers of darkness.
As Paul stated: "We wrestle not against flesh and blood.
We wrestle against more subtle unseen foes."
And if, Paul was to come back today and look out at this demon-possessed world,
he would say it again -- even more emphatically.
We must remember that a secular society can deny God and still do mighty works on earth.
A materialistic philosophy can achieve marvels on the technological level:
it can even produce a certain pseudo-idealism, and speak to the aspirations of multitudes.
So, what can we say when a God-denying way of life dominates our cities.
We must stop having illusions!
Also, we had better have no illusions about the church.
For we can be sure that some of our present troubles are in some sense,
God's judgments on the church, for all the things left undone.
And we had better have no illusions about ourselves.
Who am I to bear the Christian name before the world?
Who am I to be an advertisement of what the power of God can do?
How dreadfully disappointed Christ must be in us!
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were not complacent.
That is one thing.
Also they were not despairing.
They might have said, as they were caught between Nebuchdnzzar, the image, and the furnace,
"This is the end. This is our unjust, hopeless end."
They might have, but they didn't.
Instead, they defied Nebuchdnzzar:
"Oh king, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter -- we are not going to mince words.
Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning, fiery furnace,
and He will deliver us out of thy hand, O king!"
And then, as if that were not fortitude and gallantry enough, comes this amazing admission,
"Our God can and will deliver us, but if not" -- three words, the hammer blow that breaks the rocks
in pieces and shatters the might of Babylon.
"But if not, if we are not to be delivered, be it known to thee, O king,
we will not serve thy gods or worship the golden image."
Isn't that magnificent?
The secret of their victory can also enable us!
What was their secret?
What was it that enabledir these three to utter that magnificent, "But if not"?
Their Secret Can Be Summed up in Three Words -- Providence, Prayer and the Presence.
Despair of the world?
How could they, with their doctrine of providence?
Despair of the church?
How could they, with their practice of prayer?
Despair of themselves?
How could they, with their experience of the unseen Presence?
And this is where this old story comes straight out of the Bible at you and me.
These three men had a profound insight into history.
They had a profound insight into God's providential rule of His universe.
They saw that, if the powers of darkness had a lot of rope -- the end of the rope
was in the hand of God.
They saw that God could use even what was pagan as an agent of His judgment
and to even purify His people.
They saw that even the empire of Nebuchdnzzar was an instrument in the hand of God.
They saw that in God's own time He would shatter the rule and kingdom of Nebuchdnzzar
-- just as Pharaoh's had been shattered long before, and as Caesar's would be in days to come.
They knew that the hand of God was controlling history.
Therefore: "He can and will deliver us: but if not, we defy you Nebuchdnzzar,
and glory to God in the highest."
That is the first secret of a conquering faith -- Providence.
This deep Biblical insight into history is seeing sovergnty of God.
The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof; and if the world sometimes seems to be
controlled by the devil -- remember, God still holds the reins.
God still holds the world in His hand.
And whatever comes to us, He can and will deliver us, but if not, even if the worst comes to us,
we will still praise Him.
The Second Secret Was Prayer
They were men of prayer.
The whole Book of Daniel is steeped in prayer.
Here we see the tumult, and the shouting of the captains and the kings.
You and I can have the deep calm of the secret place of the Most High.
Daniel himself, when death was in the air, flung open his Western windows towards Jerusalem,
and three times every day knelt and prayed to God.
Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego were also men of prayer.
Today we do not have that spirit of prayer.
We do not believe in it as Christ believed in it.
By prayer, Jesus routed the demons of the desert.
By prayer, the apostles shook the throne of Nero.
By prayer, dead bones sprang to life.
By real, concentrated, believing prayer, we will experience the power of God
breathing on us.
The real tragedy of the Church today is prayer paralysis.
The final secret is the Presence!
When we speak of the Presence, we are speaking of the unseen Presence,
which is the wonderful, indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God.
This was what even the pagan Nebuchdnzzar came to see.
For when Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego had been flung into the furnace,
Nebuchdnzzar looked and cried, "Look, (with mounting terror in his voice)
did we not cast three men into the furnace?
Why are there four?
And why is the fourth like a Son of God?"
We know the answer to that question -- who shall separate us from Christ?
Not the furnace of life, not the savagery of death; not chaos nor ruin
nor a world in flames can separate us from Christ.
"When thou passeth through the waters, I will be with thee; when thou walkest through the fire,
the flame shall not kindle upon thee."
We can exclaim with Wesley's great words,
"We have through fire and water gone,
But saw Thee on the floods appear,
But felt Thee present in the flame,
And shouted our Deliverer's name!"
Is there deliverance in the day of trial?
Yes! If it is the Father's will.
But if not -- then -- "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me."
It was told that when Savonarola was being marched to his death,
the watching crowd saw that the martyr was repeating something over and over to himself:
"They may kill me if they choose, but they will never, never tear the living Christ from my heart!"
This is the victory!
He is here! Always!
Sermon by Dr. Harold L. White