RPM, Volume 13, Number 16, April 17 to April 23, 2011

Facing the Fire and Living with Lions

Daniel 3.8-12; 16-26; 6.3-10; 14-24




By Michael A. Milton, Ph.D.,

Chancellor/CEO Elect; Interim President,
Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte North Carolina;
Director, the Chaplain Ministries Institute



The following message was delivered at the United States Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Memorial Chapel, on March 13, 2011.

Introduction to the Reading

We come today to one of the most famous parts of the Book of Daniel: the fiery trials of three boys who would not bow down to the golden image of Nebukadnezzar and the lion's den that made Daniel so famous.

But in these familiar stories of faith, God gives not just great heroes but a living hope.

You will notice in the two stories, one of the three Hebrew boys who were thrown into the flames and were saved, and the other about Daniel who refused to worship any but God and was thrown in the lion's den and was saved, that there are patterns. I call them movements in the life of a believer.

• There is an accusation. It came from unwitting agents of Satan who were seeking to kill God's people. The Devil is an accuser. He accuses the saints, we are told. So we start there. But we see another movement.

• There is conundrum. The leaders in both stories receive the accusations from the malicious prefects and presidents in their kingdom. Yet in both cases, the conundrum is there because the faithful Hebrew boys as well as Daniel had become model citizens and servants of the King. It is possible, then, to serve God by serving even pagan kings while you are in captivity. In both cases, as it was with Pilot, as it is through history, the king acquiesces to the evil rather than affirms the good.

• There is a moment when true faith is tested. This is the time when a decision is made in prayer: "I will serve God rather than Man." Everything that happens after that decision is simply the fallout of this decision.

• There is persecution.

• There is divine deliverance.

• There is testimony.

• There is conversion.

• There is praise.

In these cases, the pagan kings are converted and send out messages to the world about the glory of God.

Today we shall focus on the moment of truth: when true faith is established.

In a place like this, you are immersed in strategic studies. Today, we shall consider the strategic study of faith and how to stand strong in hard times. This is for Army officers and CIA agents and it is for moms and dads and for children. We all face moments of truth: when we either give in, or take a stand.

Introduction to the Sermon

The great G.K. Chesterton wrote in his wonderful book, Orthodoxy, that "As long as you have mystery you have health." Is that true? Is that Biblically "orthodox"?

Is true faith knowing, precisely, which way to go? Or is true faith taking the hand of God and walking forward though you really have no idea where you will end up?

We have moved through a time in North American Christianity where we have seemed to wrap faith up in a nice package with a bow on it. In the most bizarre and plainly unbiblical forms, faith is equated with health and wealth. This of course flies in the face of a suffering Savior who had no place to lay his head. But in more mainstream Christianity, sermons are said to be effective when they are "relevant." Usually that works out in, "Seven Ways to Avoid Burnout in Your Life" or "Nine Ways to Make Sure Your Kids Turn Out OK." There is nothing wrong with "How To" Sermons. But there is a problem with using the Bible as a way to make God fit into a box or reduce the mysteries of life to "How to" points that resolve all problems with just a few behavioral modifications. The problem with such sermons, like the problem with a snake-oil-salesman advertising a happy marriage for whoever buys his love potion number 9, is that life doesn't always conform to philosophical syllogisms or 9-point happy-life sermons or potions. Our faith is best lived out in mystery. So I think Chesterton was right. Now I do not mean by mystery (nor did Chesterton) that we can't know God or His Word. We most certainly can and must. But the faith that comes and is built up in that Word is lived out in the unpredictable, transient, paradoxical places called life. It is a place where the beauty of nature, say a magnificent mountain, becomes a merciless killer to a mountain climber. It is a place, kids, where if you cheat on your exam, you are expelled, but if a newsman does it he is on the air again the next night. It is a place where innocent people are murdered by brutal terrorists, and yet it is a place where God lives and where in the midst of it all we are promised peace by the One who is called the Prince of Peace. Admitting that mystery, as Chesterton suggests, leads to a health (and I would say a spiritual health).

We could put it like this: I don't know the future but I know the One who holds the future. Faith in uncertainty. Or like a former assistant pastor of mine would learn to put it, I do not know why the accident happened that took the life of my brother, but I know that God is there.

This is a faith that trusts in a God who is there in fiery furnaces and lion's dens.

As we turn to Chapters 3 and 6 of the Book of Daniel we will come face to face with God's picture of true faith. The attitudes of Biblical faithfulness seen in the Three Men in the Furnace, and in Daniel in the Lion's Den, lead us to discover four facets of true faith that will give us the spiritual strength to stand in the mysteries of our lives.

So here are four facts of true faith found in Daniel 3 and 6.

1. True faith is established not just in the encouragement of friends but in the accusations of the Enemy (3.8-12; 6.3-9)

In the first case, the three Hebrews, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are targeted by "certain Chaldeans" who accuse these men of not bowing down. There is a plot to destroy these men. Then, an identical thing happens to Daniel, now under the lordship of Darius of the Medes and Persians, who have succeeded the Babylonian empire. Again, there are those jealous of Daniel, who has become a governor and is well on his way to becoming the prime minister of the whole kingdom (6.3). They looked for a way to trip him and there were found none. So, we read in verse 5, that they figure that the only way to get him is through his faith in the One True God. Thus, the plot begins to get him. They conspire to get an injunction. Anyone who would pray to any god or man thirty days, except for praying to Darius, will be thrown to a den of lions. The king signs it and it seems the enemy has gotten rid of Daniel.

Names change but the plotting stays the same. This is what happened with the plotting against Joseph in the case of Potiphar's wife. Remember in Esther? There, a jealous and maniacal underling named Haman plots to kill all the Jews. And on and on it goes. Until at last we read how the unbelieving Jewish religious leaders conspire to undo the Savior.

The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. (Mark 3.6)
Judas, too, becomes one who conspires with them, out of his own evil heart, to destroy Jesus.

After Jesus, the same motif continues in the New Testament records as we see how Paul spoke about "the plots of the Jews" (Acts 20.19). The Book of Revelation teaches us that after the Dragon, representing Satan, could not destroy the Child of the Woman, speaking of Jesus; this serpent went after Jesus' people.

The second Psalm speaks to this when it says:

Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his anointed, saying, "Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us." (Psalm 2.1-3)
Jesus identified those who opposed him and sought to kill him when he said:
You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8.44) You see what is going? The Bible is teaching that faith does not exist in a vacuum. There is real spiritual warfare going on in the lives of believers. Being a Christian is not tip toeing through the tulips of life. It is life lived in the presence of the Enemy. The Bible is teaching us several things about this:
1. Those who are Christ's people and who live for Christ can anticipate their faith to be targeted for attack. The servant is no greater than the Master, Jesus told us.

2. Those who do such things, unwittingly or not, are playing into the hand of the enemy. This is why Jesus told those Jewish leaders who opposed Him, in John 8:44, "You are of your father the devil."

3. Because Jesus was and remains victorious, everything that comes against you comes against Jesus and therefore cannot be ultimately victorious. I say ultimately out of 12 apostles, 11 went to be with the Lord because of martyrdom. And our own times have witnessed unspeakable atrocities against Christians because of true faith. But I say there will be ultimate victory because God says so. Paul speaks a litany of crimes against Christians, and then says we are more than conquers through these very things because of Christ who loves us. And the Book of Revelation speaks of martyrs gathered under the very throne of Christ. And they cry out for vindication and it shall come in the judgment of a Savior who stands for His people.

So, where does that leave us? It leaves us where it left Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. And where it left Daniel. Our faith does not depend on good times. Our faith is actually strengthened in such times. In church history it has even come in such times.

Once I stood in a great amphitheater that had been unearthed in Durrës, Albania. As I toured the facility, I was shown these cages where wild animals used to be held to be set free to eat Christians. But I noticed in these cells that there were beautiful mosaics embedded into the walls of the cells. When I inquired about them, I was told these cells, that once held wild beasts unleashed to destroy believers, became the very thing that unleashed true revival in the Roman provinces. And the very cages which held animals to destroy the faith of Christ's people were transformed into chapels to worship Christ and build up the faith of Christ's people.

Beloved, don't fret over the presence of accusers. What God did for Joseph, for the three Hebrew children, for Daniel, for Esther and Mordecai and the Jews of that day, for Paul and for Peter, He will do for you. For if you have trusted Jesus, you now have the King of Kings and Lord of Lords as your defense. He has taken accusers on and through the paradox of the cross, where the Enemy thought he had won, Christ became the victor once and for all. Thus,

A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but [the Enemy] will not come near you. (Psalm 91.7)
2. True faith is confirmed NOT in the fiery furnace or in the lion's den, but in the decisions that bring us there (Dan. 3.16)

The Lord has blessed my pastoral ministry with numerous lawyers in my congregations. And yes I said blessed! Just try being accused of something in a court and not having a lawyer with you! Or think of the prosecutors who also stand up for us! Or the judges who ensure that our constitutional rights are preserved in the judicial system. Well, I am told that much goes on between the defense and the prosecution before the trial ever begins. There are pre-trial motions and negotiations between attorneys and so forth.

And it is certainly true in matters of our faith. Before the actual trial begins, there are pre-trial motions. In fact, for the believer, it is because of his decision to follow God that he even ends up in the Fire or in the Lion's Dens of life!

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego simply cannot bow to another god. And Daniel could not yield to the edict to not pray to the Lord. Peter was told to not preach Christ but he said, "Shall I obey God or man?" Paul was repeatedly beaten for preaching Christ but what choice did he have as a follower of Christ?

True faith did not happen for the three Hebrews in the fiery furnace. That was when God came and stood beside them. True faith did not happen for Daniel in the Lion's Den, for that was God's part to stop the mouths of lions He had made. It was not Peter's faith that released him from prison but the power of God.

And my beloved the great faith that we are called to return to the Lord is not at the moment of the crisis but in that moment when a decision is made: will we follow God or not.

The Archbishop of Canterbury during the Reformation in England was also the man who was primarily responsible for the beautiful, soundly Scriptural and beautiful, Book of Common Prayer: Thomas Cranmer. When Thomas Cranmer was called to stand for the Gospel of grace, which was at the core of Biblical faith as held by those Reformers, Bloody Mary threatened the stake! But he did what the Hebrews children did who faced the fire. He did what Daniel did who faced the lion's den. He did what Peter did and Paul did and so many before him did. What would you do if you were told, "Recant your faith in the Gospel of grace? Would you stand though you look through the bars of your cell to see the servants carrying the sticks to the stake to be lit and prepared for your execution by burning? Well Cranmer made the decision to stand for Christ. But he gave in. In fact, the mad Queen, the daughter of Ann Bolin who had been wrongly divorced and ousted from London by her father Henry VIII in favor of a new woman and a new sort of Christianity, wanted nothing more than this Reformed church leader to recant his views and be seen as a coward. And so dangling between the judgment of being burned for faith in the Gospel of grace or being freed for a religion of works, he recanted his confession! And all of Reformed England bowed her head in shame. But then Bloody Mary said, "Ah ha! I appreciate your recantation BUT YOU WILL BURN ANYWAY!" And so the fires were lit again. And in the solitary place of a cell, where Cranmer realized that his only freedom, his only safety was in the eternal arms of God not in the whims of a troubled woman, he recanted his recantation! And as he was led to his death, he asked that the hand that had originally signed his recantation of grace be placed so that it would be the first to burn. And though fearful and though he retreated from his stand for Christ, in the end, the power of God that gave him saving faith gave him faith to stand. And as he forgave his executioner and the queen herself, revival began to sweep England.

I have been told by mature believers, "I don't think I could stand for Christ in times of affliction." My beloved, do not worry about the fire. Do not worry about the Lion's Den. When the hour of decision comes to you, the One who called you to that hour will not forsake you. And the very words, the very decision, the very act of courage is found not in yourself but in the Spirit of Jesus Christ inside of you.

3. True faith is dependent NOT on knowing God's decretive will but in knowing the certainty of God's revealed will (3.17-18; 6.10)

Now before I unpack that let me tell where I'm coming from. In 3.17-18 we have the record of the three Hebrew boys:

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. (Daniel 3.17)

But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." (Daniel 3.18)

In 6.10 we have the response of Daniel:
Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. (Daniel 6.10)
In both cases, the faith of these young men was not tied to whether God may get them out of the bind or not! Their faith was in the God who had already saved them! The Book of Hebrews teaches us that this is true faith:
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11.1)
God began his commandments by saying, "I am the God who saved you out of Egypt." God is the Savior. There would come a Savior, God's Son, and in Jesus came the fulfillment of all other saving events in redemptive history. And when Jesus was crucified on the cross we are told He cried, "It is finished!" That is what Daniel and these boys were counting on. They will pray. They will seek God. In the case of Daniel, even the king, Darius, fasted for Daniel. He wanted him to be saved. But by the time the fires were lit in the furnace, so hot that it killed the men who threw them in, the three boys were trusting in God's Word. By the time Daniel was thrown into the lion's den, he was trusting in God's Word. Now this is the key: these men were trusting NOT in seeking God's unknown will—His decretive will, His will made known to Himself in what He has decreed to happen—but they were trusting in the revealed Word of the Lord. God is a Savior and they looked to Him alone for their salvation.

Now, the Bible says that we have a word made more sure. 1 The Bible says that in times past God spoke through the prophets but now He has spoken through His Son. 2 Now if Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and Daniel could trust in the revealed Word of God, we are told we are in a much better position. They longed to see what we now have: 3 the Son of God revealed to us on earth and His authoritative Word, the Bible, in our possession.

Now I return to this matter of trusting God's will. We do not—nay, we cannot—know what God has decreed and hope to line up our lives to that. Yet that is what Christians mistakenly think of when they think of God's will. But, like our examples from Daniel, we turn to God's revealed will in His Word, and turn to God in prayer, listen for the Spirit sealing the Word to our hearts, learn to read His providential leading, and follow Him there. But it all begins and ends with God's revealed Word, the Bible.

Now all this is leading us to say, like in Daniel, we may not know where a decision will take us. It may take us to being saved from what is seeking to destroy us. Or it may lead us to Jesus face to face. Faith does not know the temporal outcome, does not force God into a position by a magical incantation, but it leans solely on Him through it all and believes that by following Him, we will arrive, eternally, at the best place.

4. True Faith is consoled by the presence of Jesus Christ (3.24-25; 6.22)

This is one of the favorite passages of believers because there, in that fire, we have the testimony of Nebuchadnezzar, "Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?…But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods."

A pagan sees what we know: The Son of God, our Lord Jesus in His pre-incarnate presence, was with those boys.

Who is this fourth man in the fire? He is the One who is in every book of this Bible:

"In Genesis—He is the seed of the woman

In Exodus—He is the Passover Lamb

In Leviticus—He is our High Priest

In Numbers—He in the Pillar of cloud by day and fire by night

In Deuteronomy—He is the Prophet like unto Moses

In Joshua—He is the Captain of our Salvation

In Judges—He is our Judge and Lawgiver

In Ruth—He is our Kinsman-Redeemer

In Samuel—He is our Trusted Prophet

In Kings & Chronicles—He is our Reigning King

In Ezra—He is our Faithful Scribe

In Nehemiah—He is the Rebuilder of the broken down walls

In Esther—He is our Mordecai

In Job—He is our Ever-Living Redeemer

In Psalms—He is our Shepherd

In Proverbs & Ecclesiastes—He is our Wisdom

In Song of Solomon—He is our Lover and Bridegroom

In Isaiah—He is the Prince of Peace

In Jeremiah—He is the Righteous Branch

In Lamentations—He is the Weeping Prophet

In Ezekiel—He is the Watchmen over His people

In Daniel—He is the Fourth Man in the Fire

In Hosea—He is the Faithful Husband

In Joel—He is the Baptizer with the Holy Spirit

In Amos—He-is our Burden-Bearer

In Obadiah—He is Mighty to Save

In Jonah—He is the Hesed—the grace of God—that reaches the hardest cases

In Micah—He is the Messenger with Beautiful Feet bringing a message of salvation

In Nahum—He is the Avenger of God's Elect

In Habakkuk—He is God's Evangelist

In Zephaniah—He is our Savior

In Haggai—He is the Restorer of God's Lost Heritage

In Zechariah—He is the Fountain open in the House of David to cleanse all sin

In Malachi—He is the Sun of Righteousness with Healing in His Wing."

Let us say it clearly: The fourth man in the fire, the One who was with Daniel in the lion's den is the One, is the author and finisher of our salvation, the subject of God's revelation to Man. That One is the One who is now and forever with every soul who calls on His name: He is Jesus of Nazareth who is the Son of God, the righteous One, the promised One, the crucified One, the risen One who said:

"I am with you." Who said, "I am the Good shepherd." Who said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."
As Jesus stood with those three boys in the fire, as he was there with Daniel He is always there with His people.

Jesus was the fourth man in the fire when James was thrown down from the temple and killed for his faith. Jesus was the fourth man in the fire when Martin Luther stood before his accusers and gave Luther the spirit to say, "Here I stand." Jesus was the fourth Man in the fire of my godly Christian Albanian professor who would not bend the knee to Stalin's regime, who was thrown into hard labor for five years for his faith, whose wife was stolen from him for thirty years before they were reunited. And Jesus is the fourth man in the fire I see every day in the lives of people in my ministry: Jesus is there gathered around their loved ones who are going home to be with the Lord; Jesus is there with believers being wheeled into surgery; Jesus is there with the Christian surgeon who prays in secret, "Lord give me wisdom, Lord guide my hands for Your sake…" Jesus is there with our teachers when they need wisdom to help a failing student. Jesus is there with our attorneys as they prepare a case for trial. Jesus is there at the funeral, there in marriage counseling. Jesus is there with you children when you feel like you have no other friends. Jesus is your friend, my child. And He stands with anyone here in any situation, no matter where you have been and what you have done, when you say, "Lord Jesus, deliver me. I cast myself on Your grace and mercy completely."

For you see there was no fourth man on the cross. There was no help. He took the Hell. He took the lions on. In surrendering to the powers of evil, He rose again and defeats the powers of evil. And He will stand with you. Will you today, by faith, stand with Him?

I recorded a song, He Was There, that I wrote after studying Daniel and by the presence of the fourth man in the fire whom I see every day in the lives of everyday, extraordinary lives. I offer it as an invitation to receive the One who is always there.

Notes:

1. 2Peter 1.19 And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts,

2. Hebrews 1.1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

3. 1Peter 1.10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully,



This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor.

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