July 8, 2007

"Shadrach, Meschach, Abeddnego: Unexpected"

(Daniel 3:1-30)

Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn


INTRODUCTION:

I've got a question for you this morning. Does anybody know how old the lowly marshmallow is? 50 years? 100 years? Maybe 200 years? Would you believe the marshmallow was around before Columbus discovered America? There's a very real possibility that Jesus, Mary and Joseph might have actually eaten marshmallows while in exile in Egypt. You see, historians estimate that the marshmallow came into being over 4000 years ago.

Marshmallows date back to ancient Egypt. Some historians claim marshmallows got their name when pharaohs discovered that by squeezing the mallow plant which grows wild in marshes, a sweet, sticky substance surfaced. Honey was flavored with the extract. The delicacy was so special, it was reserved for gods and royalty alone.

Marshmallows were introduced in France in the mid 1800s, in small candy stores. Believe it or not, Doctors used the marshmallow that when cooked and hardened created a medicinal candy that was used to soothe children's sore throats, suppress coughs, and help heal minor cuts, scrapes, and burns.

Consumers liked the marshmallow's unique texture and taste so much that candy makers couldn't keep up with the high demand. The candy makers needed a way to make marshmallows faster. They came up with "starch mogul" system was developed in the late 1800s. This system allowed marshmallows to be made in 24 to 48 hours.

Instead of making marshmallows by hand, the "starch mogul" system used molds made of corn starch (like jelly beans are made today). Today's marshmallows don't actually include any mallow; they are a combination of corn syrup, corn starch, sugar, and gelatin.

In 1948, trying to speed up the process, Alex Doumak, discovered a revolutionary process called the "extrusion process". The "extrusion Process" involves pumping the marshmallow mixture through long pipes and cutting it into the shape we are familiar with today.

In the early 1950's the "jet-puffed" process was developed. This process infuses air into the marshmallow which gives it a lighter, fluffier texture. Today, extruded, jet-puffed marshmallows can be cooked, cooled, formed, bagged, and packed in just 60 minutes.

Marshmallows are available around the world but are only made by three companies. Americans purchase more than 95 million pounds of marshmallows annually.

Why all this talk about marshmallows? Well, we're going to be talking about a big fire. And if there's going to be a big fire, you want to make sure somebody brings the marshmallows. The fire we're talking about is the one in the fiery furnace where Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego toasted marshmallows instead of being consumed by the flames. Let's look at the passage from Daniel 3.

[1] King Nebuchadnezzar made a golden statue whose height was sixty cubits and whose width was six cubits; he set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.

[2] Then King Nebuchadnezzar sent for the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces, to assemble and come to the dedication of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

[3] So the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces, assembled for the dedication of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. When they were standing before the statue that Nebuchadnezzar had set up,

[4] the herald proclaimed aloud, "You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages,

[5] that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, you are to fall down and worship the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.

[6] Whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire."

[7] Therefore, as soon as all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, all the peoples, nations, and languages fell down and worshiped the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

[8] Accordingly, at this time certain Chaldeans came forward and denounced the Jews.

[9] They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, "O king, live forever!

[10] You, O king, have made a decree, that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, shall fall down and worship the golden statue,

[11] and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire.

[12] There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These pay no heed to you, O king. They do not serve your gods and they do not worship the golden statue that you have set up."

[13] Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought in; so they brought those men before the king.

[14] Nebuchadnezzar said to them, "Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods and you do not worship the golden statue that I have set up?

[15] Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble to fall down and worship the statue that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire, and who is the god that will deliver you out of my hands?"

[16] Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter.

[17] If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us.

[18] But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up."

[19] Then Nebuchadnezzar was so filled with rage against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face was distorted. He ordered the furnace heated up seven times more than was customary,

[20] and ordered some of the strongest guards in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and to throw them into the furnace of blazing fire.

[21] So the men were bound, still wearing their tunics, their trousers, their hats, and their other garments, and they were thrown into the furnace of blazing fire.

[22] Because the king's command was urgent and the furnace was so overheated, the raging flames killed the men who lifted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

[23] But the three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down, bound, into the furnace of blazing fire.

[24] Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up quickly. He said to his counselors, "Was it not three men that we threw bound into the fire?" They answered the king, "True, O king."

[25] He replied, "But I see four men unbound, walking in the middle of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the fourth has the appearance of a god."

[26] Nebuchadnezzar then approached the door of the furnace of blazing fire and said, "Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!" So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire.

[27] And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king's counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men; the hair of their heads was not singed, their tunics were not harmed, and not even the smell of fire came from them.

[28] Nebuchadnezzar said, "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants who trusted in him. They disobeyed the king's command and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God.

[29] Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that utters blasphemy against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins; for there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way."

[30] Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon.

I want you to watch this short clip put together with Louis Armstrong's version of the story titled Shadrack.

I really was amazed at how many times this story has been put to music. I found 2 Bluegrass versions, this and another Jazz version, a blues version, about 5 Gospel music and Contemporary Christian music version, two different reggae versions, a version done by the Beastie Boys, and Johnny Cash's Fourth Man In The Fire. "They didn't bow, they didn't bend, they didn't burn."


I. THEY DIDN'T BOW:

This is a very popular story. Some basic background will help you see what's going on. Earlier in Daniel we find out that Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were all a part of the King's staff. They had been educated because they were of the royal lineage of Israel. King Nebuchadnezzar was smart and surrounded himself with smart people. Amongst those were some Chaldeans.

The King had been having disturbing dreams. He asked the Chaldeans to interpret the dreams and they couldn't. The King flew into a rage and ordered all the wise men, all his advisors to be thrown into the furnace. But, through the help of God, it turns out Daniel was a good dream interpreter. He approached the King and explained the dreams and how the answers came from God.

Once the King understood the meaning of the dreams and got a good nights sleep, he returned to his senses. He was so grateful he wanted to promote Daniel. Daniel says "thank you" but asks that the King promote Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. And that starts the court intrigue.

You see the Chaldeans didn't like the fact that these Jews got the breaks and the favored positions. So, they waited and plotted and then the time came. Nebuchadnezzar built the golden idol in the province headed by Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and THEY DIDN'T BOW. The Chaldeans couldn't wait to tell the King how Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego wouldn't bow down and worship the idol.

It was all kind of petty and nasty and smarmy in house politics. Politics aside, the King didn't like being snubbed. So, he sent for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.


II. THEY DIDN'T BEND:

There in the court they were offered a second chance. But THEY DIDN'T BEND. And that made Nebuchadnezzar angry. How dare they thwart his authority. And even though they were favored, they couldn't escape the King's anger. He had them thrown into the Fiery Furnace. BUT THEY DIDN'T BOW and THEY DIDN'T BEND. They even told the King that God would save them but even if God didn't save the, it wouldn't change their own love for God.

All that did was stoke the King's anger. So he had the furnace stoked seven times hotter than normal.

But to everybody's surprise, when the king looked in the fiery furnace they were still alive. THEY DIDN'T BOW, THEY DIDN'T BEND, THEY DIDN'T BURN.

Not only that, but there was someone else with them. Someone who had the appearance of a god. When they opened the door or the furnace, nothing was harmed, not their clothes or shoes not even a hair on their head was singed. They didn't even smell like smoke. And any good Texan who likes to Barbecue knows it doesn't take long to smell like wood smoke.

THEY DIDN'T BOW, THEY DIDN'T BEND, THEY DIDN'T BURN. And when asked how, they gave testimony to God. Nebuchadnezzar was so impressed that he declared that if anyone, anywhere ever says anything against God, they will be punished severely because there has never been another god who could pull off a rescue like that.


III. THEY DIDN'T BURN:

A. So, what does this story tell us. I think it has one big message. No matter what we face in life, no matter how hot the furnace or what kind of fire we find ourselves in, we are not alone, God is with us.

The issue isn't whether we'll spared the flames and fires of life or whether God will keep us from suffering. That's not really suggested at all. Jesus even said that we can expect to feel the heat. "In this world you will have trouble . . . but have faith, for I have overcome the world."

The biblical faith is this: God doesn't promise to take us out of the flames and the fires of life. God promises to be right there with us, smack dab in the middle of the flames and the fire.

B. I'm sorry but there's no such thing as a fireproof life or even fireproof faith. Accepting Christ doesn't give us some kind of heavenly fire insurance. But it does give us a promise from God. A promise of the very presence of God through Jesus Christ in whatever situation we find ourselves. And that's what fueled the faith Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

It really didn't matter to them whether they were saved by God or not. They already belonged to God. They knew what Paul would write to the future churches, that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ. And so, filled with that kind of faith, nothing would get in their way, no decree, no 90 foot golden idol, no king, not even the threat of death in the fiery furnace. They were faithful because God is faithful. The Son of God, Jesus Christ Himself, was the Unexpected guest in the furnace. The Son of God was the Fourth man in the fire with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

THEY DIDN'T BOW, THEY DIDN'T BEND, THEY DIDN'T BURN.

The fires of life are going to happen, so let the Son of God, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, be your Fourth Man in the midst of the fires of life. When you get thrown from the frying pan into the fire; when your life feels like it's caught in the cross fire and your facing another baptism by fire, remember: YOU ARE NOT ALONE. And don't forget the marshmallows.

This is the Word of the Lord for this day.

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Bibliography

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Other References Consulted

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