Sunday, September 15, 2013

Family Service Sermon: Daniel 3:1-30 The Fiery Furnace

This morning I asked you to bring along some musical instruments - whether a drum or a didgeridoo. You might have been wondering why I asked you to bring it along. In the Bible, musical instruments are used to call us to worship God. Psalm 98 talks about using the harp, the sound of singing, trumpets, ram’s horns. Psalm 150 adds the lyre, tambourine, strings, flute and cymbals. Musical instruments are a call to worship God.

If you have one with you, and even if you haven’t, I want you to listen carefully. Every time I say ‘musical instruments’ I want you to play yours for five seconds! If you’ve no instrument, God has still given you one - your voice. You can play an imaginary trumpet; or whistle. But just for five seconds, so listen carefully!

Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah lived in Jerusalem. When they went to the temple, they heard all the musical instruments as they called people to praise the God of Israel. But that was a long time ago now. King Nebuchadnezzar had attacked the city, took away the cups from the temple, and took Daniel and his friends back to Babylon. They couldn’t hear the musical instruments of Jerusalem any more.

But Daniel and his friends were given jobs serving the king. They went to school and learnt lots about the Babylonian culture and religion. They were helped by God to do their job well. (And last week we heard how) Daniel even helped the king by revealing a bad dream he had, and what it meant.

The dream was about a statue, and about lots of different kingdoms that would come and go after Neb. It had been made of gold, silver, bronze, iron and clay. Neb had an idea. He would build a golden statue of himself. It would be 90 feet tall - about the height of our tower.

The day came for the statue to be unveiled. Neb was excited. He invited all the people who worked for him from across the world. Everyone was given the command: When you hear all the musical instruments, bow down and worship the statue. If anyone heard the musical instruments but didn’t bow down, they would be thrown into a fiery furnace.

And so all the musical instruments began to play. The noise was really loud because all the musical instruments were playing. And everyone bowed down and worshiped the statue. Well, nearly everyone.

You know the way you can be driving along and see a tower standing tall against the backdrop of the fields? Or when you’re coming towards Belfast the city hospital tower stands out? When as everyone was bowed low, three people continued to stand out, because they were still standing up.

Their enemies, the astrologers went to the king. They reminded him of the command - when the musical instruments are played, everyone bows down. But, they said, when the musical instruments were played, just now, these three stayed standing.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Daniel’s friends who had been given new names) were brought before the king. He reminded them of the command - the musical instruments play, you bow down, everyone is happy. So here we go, let’s have the musical instruments, and you can bow down and worship my statue. But before the musical instruments could play their tune, these three said no.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego said that they would not worship the statue, because they could only worship God, the living God, the God of Israel. They knew that God could rescue them from the fiery furnace. They knew all about how God had saved their people before them. But even if God did not rescue them from the fiery furnace, even then, they would not worship anyone but God.

Neb had them bound up in their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes. They were wrapped up as if they were going out for a walk on a really cold day with the snow up to the knees. But they were thrown into the furnace, all tied up.

Suddenly Neb got a shock. He thought he had forgotten how to count. How many men were thrown into the furnace? Count with me: Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego. One, two, three. But when Neb looked in, he saw four! They were walking around as if they were in a park on a summers day. Not tied up. And the fourth looked like a son of the gods.

Even though this was five hundred years before he was born, this is Jesus, the Son of God, who is with them in this difficult time. God is with them in the furnace, because they did not bow to worship anyone else. God, their God, was able to save them.

Neb orders the doors to be opened and the three to be brought out. They stood before him, just as they had before they were thrown in. God had saved them. God had helped them. Neb knew that his gods could not do that. His statue was just a statue, a lump of gold, and couldn’t rescue anyone. ‘No other god can save in this way.’ But God, the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego - this God can save.

And that’s a good reason for us to hear the musical instruments - as they call us to worship our God. This is the same God who sent Jesus to rescue us from the danger we were in; the same Jesus who is with us now every day, no matter what we are going through. So even if there are musical instruments calling us to worship anyone else or anything else - football players, pop stars, or whatever - the musical instruments should remind us that God is with us; that God alone is able to save, so for his glory, play your musical instruments!

This sermon was preached at the Family Service in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 15th September 2013.

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