Daniel 3:16-18

There are two attitudes that every Christian must be on guard against,
and they are complacency and despair.
Complacency works in different directions.

First, there is the person who's complacent about the world.
You may talk to him about the world's precarious plight, and he's not impressed.
In fact, he probably will ask you to stop harping on that and look on the bright side – believe in progress.

Secondly, there is the Christian who is complacent about the church.
As he sees it there is no need for the church to repent in dust and ashes, and there is no need for revival.
He thinks the church is holding its own, so let us congratulate ourselves, and be at ease in Zion.

Thirdly, there is a Christian who is complacent about himself.
His attitude is that he doesn't claim to be a saint, and that he is making a reasonable satisfactory show,
and that he believes that he is adequate for most of the demands that life makes upon him.

Look at three views of a complacent Christian.

First, he does not see that the world is threatened by the deadliest menace of evil
since the days of Nero.
Secondly, he does not see that the church desperately needs a baptism of fire
and of the Holy Spirit.
Thirdly, he does not see that his own walk with Christ has barely begun its journey towards
"the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ."
And there is another equally dangerous attitude, and that is the attitude of despair.
This also works in various directions.

First, there is the person who despairs about the world.
He asks, "How can I help it when this generation has witnessed all of the injustice, crime,
terrorism in this world?
Then, there is the Christian who despairs of the church.
He would tell you frankly that he does not see that anything is as disunited as the church.
He says the church has such a gigantic, credibility gap between practice and profession,
so how can it ever be the victorious witness that Christ needs in this sinful world.

"Son of man, can these bones live?"

And there is the Christian who despairs about himself.
His attitude is that it's understandable for Paul and John to talk about overcoming the world
and being more than conquerors, but he is not like that.
He is tired of trying.
He would tell you that it is not worth the heartache, and that he is not going to even try.

It is with these thoughts in mind with complacency on the one hand, and despair on the other
that this story in Daniel comes to life for us.

As we study this experience in Daniel, we will notice that it is contemporary.
There are three factors in the story.
There is Nebuchadnezzar, there is the image, and there is the furnace.
And all of theses are contemporary facts.

In Nebuchadnezzar we have the spirit of a militant materialistic secularism
and rampant in its success.
We see this all over our world.

Then there is the image to be worshiped.
This is the subtle way in which secularism can disguise itself as a religion.
The new 21st-century Messiah offers the most alluring, incredible gifts, "
and something people use to fill the spiritual vacuum within them.

Then there is the burning fiery furnace.
We also have this in the ultimate threat to all who refuse to conform to the spirit of the age.
Conform or be destroyed.

This is where we look for our instructions about those three friends of Daniel
– Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
They are called in that situation with Nebuchadnezzar, 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 of the church or of themselves.

They had no illusions about the world.
They saw a world that was focused in the person of Nebuchadnezzar.
They knew there was something demonic here.
Of course they recognized his power, and they admitted his genius.

But the price of following him would be the enslaving of conscience:
freedom of thought, speech, action – all gone.
Nebuchadnezzar was a man wanting to be a god, and in the attempt, he had become a demonic evil.
They had no illusions about Nebuchadnezzar or about the world he represented.
So we can say of them they had no illusions about the church.

In this case with the church being the people of Israel.
Israel was in captivity because of her sins.
The might of Babylon was fierce and unbeatable and the people of God saw themselves
as weak and helpless.

And the three Hebrew children – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had no illusions about themselves.
The fact that this crucial issue was focused on them was dreadful.
They wondered who they were to be matched with God's great hour.
"Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail."
"What if we break This crucial hour?"
"What if we lose our nerves
They were certainly not complacent.

So the first challenge of this lesson 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 said, "We wrestle not against flesh and blood, we wrestle against
more subtle unseen foes
And if Paul were to come back today, and look out at this demon-possessed world,
he would say it again, and say it even more emphatically.

Of course, 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.
But what can we say when a God-denying way of life dominates our cities and our world.
We had better stop having illusions.

Also, we had better not have any illusions about the church.
For we can be sure that our present troubles are in some sense God's judgment on the church
for all the things left undone.
And then, we must not have any 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!

So Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego were not complacent – that is one thing.
But they were also not despairing.

They might have said as they were caught between Nebuchadnezzar, 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 Nebuchadnezzar:
"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 by hand, O king

And then, as if that were not fortitude and courage enough, comes these amazing words:
"Our God can and will deliver us, but if not…"
These three words are the hammer blows that breaks the rocks in pieces
and shatters the might of Babylon.
"But if not, if we're 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 to be victorious.
What was it that enabled these three utter that magnificent, "But if not…?"

The secret of success can be summed up in three words – Providence, Prayer, and the Presence.

First, there was no despair of the world.
How could they with their doctrine of providence?

Second, they had no despair of the church.
How could they with their practice of prayer?

Thirdly they had no despair of themselves.
How could they, with their experience of the unseen Presence?

And this is how their experience jumps straight out of the Bible at you and me.

First, Providence

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,
to even purify His people.
They saw that even the Empire of Nebuchadnezzar was an instrument in the hand of God.
They saw that in God's own time, He would shatter the rule and kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar.
Just as Pharaoh had been shattered long before and as Caesar would be in the 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 Nebuchadnezzar,
and we give glory to God in the highest

That's the first secret of a conquering faith – Providence
In their experience we have a deep biblical insight into history,
and into seeing the sovereignty of God.
The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof.
The world sometimes seems that it is given in to the devil – but 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 – we will still praise Him.

The second secret was prayer.

They were men of prayer, and the whole Book of Daniel is steeped in prayer.
In this book we see the tumult, and the shouting of the captains and the kings,
and we also have a deep calm in the secret place of the Most High.
We even see Daniel when death was in the area, flinging open his western windows
towards Jerusalem, and three times a day, he would kneel and pray to God.
And Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were also men of prayer.

Today many Christians have lost that spirit of prayer.
Many Christians 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 came back to life.
And by real, concentrated, believing prayer, we can see the power of God breathing on us.
The real malady of the church today is prayer paralysis.

Then the third secret is the Presence.
The unseen Presence, that wonderful companionship.

This was what even pagan Nebuchadnezzar came to see.
For when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had been flung into the furnace
– Nebuchadnezzar looked and cried, "Look (said 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 of God

We know the answer to that question.
Who shall separate us from Christ?
Not the furnace of life, nor the savagery of death; not chaos nor ruin nor a world in flames.

"When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; when thou walkest to the fire,
the flame shall not kindle upon thee

We can exclaimed with Wesley's great words which we too can say:
"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!"

Deliverance in the day of trial?
Yes – if it is the Father's will.
But if not – then – "Tho I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no L; for Thou art with me

The story was told that when Savonarola was being marched to his death,
the waiting 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!"

That is the victory!
He is here!

Sermon adapted by Dr. Harold L. White