Have you ever seen a commercial on TV, specifically a fast food commercial, and thought to yourself, “That looks pretty good.” Like an Arby’s commercial where they pile on all that roast beef onto a bun and then they plop it down next to a big soft drink and a large fry, and then the voice in the background says “Arby’s, we have the meats.” And it does look so good, doesn’t it? But then you go to an Arby’s and you order the sandwich that was on the commercial and you open that little box they put it in, and does it look like what you saw in the commercial? Often, no, it doesn’t. Half the beef is off the bun. The bun itself is soggy and the fries that, in the commercial were all long full curls, instead look as though someone stomped on them a few times and gave you the bits and pieces. Looks can be deceiving. It looked good on TV, not so much in real life.
If we turn our attention to the lesson before us the same is true: Looks can be deceiving. And perhaps a good way to look at this lesson is to see it from the three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s view and then from King Nebuchadnezzar’s point of view. Starting with the three men, we ask ourselves who were they and why do we find King Nebuchadnezzar “furious with rage” over them?
These three men were administrators in the province of Babylon. They were friends of Daniel, the writer of this book, and were, like Daniel, Jews. Therefore, they worshiped the true God and feared him. Which explains why King Nebuchadnezzar was so angry with them because they refused his command to bow to and worship his image of gold that stood “ninety feet high.” The penalty for refusing? A nice warm death in a fiery furnace.
So, these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – aren’t their names fun to say? – found themselves before the king. By all appearances these men looked weak. They chose as Moses wrote in Deuteronomy, “To fear God and serve him only” and that decision left them standing meekly before perhaps the most powerful king alive, to face his wrath. Nebuchadnezzar promptly gave them one last chance to obey him or be thrown into the fiery furnace from which he asked, “What god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”
The three men’s response to the king’s question likewise appeared to be weak, “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.”And how does this make them weak? They admit that they need someone else to save them; they need to be rescued. But what I think is even more telling and more an admission of weakness than anything else is what they said next “But even if he does not” But even if he does not!
Do you see the weakness? Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, not only realized that only God can save them, they also realized he does not have to save them. They rightly recognized that they have no say in the matter. They can’t force God’s hand. They like every other human being must accept that God’s will be done. What a hit this is to the sin of pride. What a reminder this is to all of us when we get riled up and angry with God for not doing what we think he should be doing. Who are we compared to him?
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego tell us. We are his servants, “The God we serve,” they said. And look what else, even if God didn’t save them they’d still rather obey God. They said, “we want you to know, O king that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Why, why were they able to say and do all this? Because they saw clearly their own weakness. They saw clearly they needed God. But before we say more on that, let’s first turn our attention to King Nebuchadnezzar.
From his view point, he is the one who is omnipotent. He is the one who holds power over the life and death of these three men. He even throws out that challenge, we heard it earlier, “What god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” He saw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s act of disobedience as a direct threat to his rule and to his power, and in his rage he–and notice this – “commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up” the three men. “He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual”, all to prove a point. To prove that his strength could not be questioned and his authority reigned supreme. But looks are deceiving!
Nebuchadnezzar in his position of strength thought that he could force others to worship a god he created. Nebuchadnezzar, in his strength, believed that no person and no god, could save these three men from his wrath. In his strength, he failed to see God’s strength. So God made it clear, not just for him to see, but for all to see. The strong men who tied up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? Died. Died from the heat of the furnace. And that furnace, Nebuchadnezzar’s great fiery enforcer, did no harm to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. “The fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them.” Do we see clearly God’s strength in this story?
Now, do we see it as clearly in our own lives? Because the world will look at all this and say this is proof that we don’t need God. God wouldn’t allow others to make your life miserable. God wouldn’t ever force you to follow any rules or commands that made your life difficult or unpleasant. And the world is all too happy to point to all these situations as evidence that God, if he does exist, isn’t strong, isn’t loving, and therefore, isn’t worthy of anyone’s time. They think that God must fit inside some sort of box and must fulfill certain qualifications that they created in order to truly be God. Often we think the same way, we act like Nebuchadnezzar, we believe we have strength; we can be God. But God does not fit in our box, he is the box. He created this world. He created the rules. His will is done.
And that’s easy to say and nod your head in approval to when things are going well in your life, but when you’re standing their facing a fiery furnace, or, more realistically, when you’re sitting there staring at a pile of bills you can’t pay, or shaking with grief as you sign those divorce papers, or sitting there alone wondering if anyone even cares that you exist, it becomes hard to see clearly God’s strength. In those moments, when we are at our weakest, isn’t it easier to say as Nebuchadnezzar did, “What god will be able to rescue you.”
But as our lesson shows us, it is in those moments of uncertainty and weakness that God’s strength is revealed. Have you ever thought about your struggles in life, your uncertainties, and your setbacks in this way? In our Gospel lesson from the book of Matthew, which was read earlier by Pastor Kolander, we saw what Jesus said about hardships, persecution, insults, and false accusations in the life of a believer. They are a blessing! What? How? For the same reason that they were a blessing for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They are opportunities to grow in your relationship with God. They are opportunities for you to place your trust in him, and are opportunities for you to reflect your life of faith to others.
In weakness, we grow in our relationship with God as daily struggles and failures send us searching in the Scriptures for help with our problems and for comfort in temptation as it becomes evident that our “spirit is willing, but our body is weak.” In weakness, we notice quickly how fragile human relationships can be, how fleeting life’s joys and pleasures are, and how frail our own bodies become and we believe as the Psalmist writes, “that those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar.” Finally, in our own weaknesses we see how deep and desperate our need for a Savior is, and how that same need is in everyone, and are encouraged as Matthew writes, “to let our light shine before men so that they may see our good deeds and glorify our Father in heaven.”
When we see our weaknesses in this way, as opportunities to rely on and serve God, it is then that we are strong. We are strong because our ears are listening intently for God’s words of comfort, our eyes are searching diligently the Scriptures for strength, and our hearts and minds are focused on Christ. In Christ, there is no weakness. Jesus fought off all the temptations of Satan and the world. Jesus crushed the chains of sin that bound us and set us free from the fear of death by dying for us, but even death could not hold him as he rose and ascended on high. From heaven, he now is our shield, fighting on our behalf against all who would seek to rob us of the reward we have through faith in him.
That reward may not bring us physical comfort and peace on this earth, but is that something we want? Why would we need theeComforter if our lives are already comfortable? No, let us not get too comfortable on this earth. Let us instead revel in our weakness, let us see if for what it is, it is a blessing. Our weaknesses remind us that we live in a world of sin; a world in which we don’t belong. Our weaknesses remind us of our need for a Savior and they drive us into his arms. They remind us that our reward is in heaven.
So, my dear friends, remember this, looks can be deceiving. Being fooled by an Arby’s commercial is certainly disappointing, especially when you are hungry. But being fooled into believing the weak moments of your life somehow mean that God no longer loves you or isn’t capable of rescuing you is far worse, especially when you are spiritually hungry. Today, three men who faced death by fire are evidence of this truth. At the weakest moment of their lives –despised, condemned, bound hand and foot and falling into an inferno – they trusted that God was their strength. In your times of weakness, will you do the same? May God give you his strength to do so. Amen.