What Can Man Do to Me?

Sermon 1721 Daniel 3 November 15, 2020

During one stretch of bumpy road a former member of ours, Sue Sargent, tried to cheer me up. I told her not to worry about me. “All they can hit is scar tissue.”

“All they can hit is scar tissue.” We are all getting a bit of scar tissue right about now, aren’t we? Hospitals are filling up as the cold weather and snowbirds descend. Family gatherings are about as safe, some tell us, as driving 120 miles per hour down a two lane country road. And my grocery stores are starting to ration what you can buy. Now, this last bit of news is not much of a hardship for me, because I have been trying to buy golden raisins for six weeks. You have forty-five types of olives, but can you stock just two types of raisins? If only somebody figured out how to use them to garnish a cocktail, then they’d stock golden raisins.

Finally, you get used to it. Your psyche builds up an emotional callous. We wish. The fact is, bravado only helps to a point. Life can hurt us, unless we are prepared for it. The damage can be real, unless we have our eyes set on a different prize. But why philosophize when I can give you a flesh and blood example—three of them! Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

What Can Man Do to Me?

1. The Lord is my God (1-18).

2. The Lord will save (19-27).

3. The Lord will be glorified (28-30).

The Babylonians were having a second chance at running the world. Nebuchadnezzar was making a mark all right, like those tread marks on the circular ramp at the airport parking lot. He had erected a golden statue ninety feet tall and nine feet wide. He had invited all his government officials for the dedication. Then he pulled the old bait and switch tactic. “As soon as you hear the sound of all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up (5).” And in tried-and-true government fashion, there’s always a penalty for failure to comply. “Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace (6).”

Unfortunately, three of the Jewish exiles, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, were highly placed governmental officials who were also at this soiree. Oh, the Babylonians had changed their names to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, but I thought someone should mention the Christian names their mothers had given them (God is gracious, Who is like God and God is my Helper). People noticed the three standing while everyone else was face to the ground in worship of the golden idol. The report flew back to King Nebuchadnezzar. “[These men] you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon…pay no attention to you, O king. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up (12).” They pay no attention to you. They do not worship your image of gold.

When a furious Nebuchadnezzar gives Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego a second chance, they refuse him. “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. 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 (17-18).”

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego know something we need to keep in mind. God does not promise us earthly deliverance. They did not know if God would save them from the fiery furnace. They had no explicit promise from God that they would be safe. But that didn’t matter to them. The Lord was their God and nothing was going to change that.

On a walk the other day I was telling my wife how it would be really miserable if, after all this time being careful, we still got COVID before we could get a vaccine. God has not promised any of us we will be spared. Does that mean we will stop worshipping God? Do we only worship God for the goodies of this world? A good reputation, good people to run with, prestige—to take a line from Jane Austin, do we follow God for pride and prejudice? It is so good to feel better. I thank you, God, that I am not like other men. The Pharisee is strong in each one of us because the Pharisee cloaks sinful pride in the flag of piety. “Hypocrites,” Jesus spits out at us. “You are like a cemetery. You appear clean on the outside, but on the inside you are filled with decay and dried out skeletons.”

If someone ever had a right to follow God for a cushy life, it was Jesus. Unlike us, he never suffered for putting his foot in his mouth. In fact, no deceit was found in his mouth. When he was threatened he did not retaliate. When he was slandered, he did not trash talk. What kind of life did Jesus get for all his efforts at worshipping the one, true God? He was driven out of his home synagogue, spoken against by his own church leaders and crucified to give in to the riotous shouting of his own countrymen. And he got a borrowed tomb to boot. None of his friends attended to his burial.

But that is just the point. What can man do to me? The Lord is my God. The Lord will save. By his suffering and death, Jesus offered a different type of salvation. That is the salvation he offers all his believers. That is the guarantee Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were counting on. They were counting on being saved from the eternal fires of hell. They were counting on going to heaven when their lives were over, whether from a few seconds in the fiery furnace, being burned alive, or years down the road from natural causes in in old age.

That is the salvation we are trusting God for, too. If only for this life we have hope in God, we are to be pitied more than all men, the Apostle Paul says. Look at all the temptations we don’t give in to. Look at how often we have to fight against our sinful human nature. If this life is all there is, why not grab for the most of it you can get? But this life is not all there is. The Savior proved it by his resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday. He promises you and me that same resurrection on the Last Day. No man can take that away from me.

What can man do to me? The Lord will save.

It was no surprise to anyone that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown into the fiery furnace, heated seven times hotter than normal. It was also no surprise that the nameless soldiers who threw them in were instantly incinerated by the backdraft from the mouth of the furnace. But this did surprise Nebuchadnezzar. “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire? I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods (24-25).”

A heavenly angel had been sent to protect and encourage Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. When they came out of the fiery furnace, “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 (27).” You and I smell worse when we walk through a casino. The Lord saved them from earthly destruction.

What can man do to me? The Lord will save.

That is the prayer and hope of every one of us. As the Lord has seen fit to give us heaven, we trust that he will keep us safe until the time comes for us to leave for heaven. So we pray for deliverance from every sickness, from disease and lingering illness. We pray that natural disasters be turned away. Maybe that’s why so many underwater earthquakes do not produce tsunamis. The Lord hears the prayers of his people as they intercede for those coastal dwellers. Maybe that is why so many hurricanes suddenly weaken just before they hit landfall. Prayer, as we have seen before in our Sunday School lessons, prayer works. If we have come out of surgery, we have seen the Lord’s saving power. He is working through the medical system. If we have been late in arriving at a fatal accident, he is working through coincidences to save us. If our fears over that pregnancy did not materialize and the baby was healthy and headstrong, the Lord is at work, no matter how dire the warnings about percentages an Obygyn doctor gives us.

The Lord has saved me. I can point to the day. I have known most of you long enough to know the Lord has saved you and I can point to the incident. If the devil knew there was no way we were going to worship a false god, pleasure, money, power, then he decided he would wipe us off the face of this earth. Time and again he failed. We recovered. The reputations that the envious, unbelieving would destroy, those reputations stayed as good as gold once the dust settled and it became clear who the real liars were. The financial hardships they predicted would crush us, well, we’re still standing, because, well, you know. Man does not live on bread alone. The Lord will provide.

What can man do to me? The Lord will be glorified.

Now here is the real kick in the pants if you are on the wrong team, if you are foolish enough to be betting against God. The Lord will be glorified in spite of the hardships the devil, the world and our sinful human nature can inflict upon God’s people.

King Nebuchadnezzar proclaimed, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants (28)!” And, in true governmental fashion, to put other people’s money where his mouth was, he decreed that no one should say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. “For no other god can save in this way (29).”

And the Jews, God’s people in exile throughout the Babylonian empire, enjoyed protection for the rest of the rule of the Neo-Babylonians. Daniel would rise to be the vice president of the empire. The Talmud, a learned book of Old Testament interpretation, would be written in Babylon and maybe, just maybe, the three wise men who would visit the baby Jesus in Bethlehem would have learned all about a star rising out of Judah from the Jews who stayed and prospered in Babylon.

What is God’s will? He wants all men to come to a knowledge of the truth and be saved, Paul tells us in his letter to Timothy. His primary purpose is not to give you and me a good life, an easy life, a life that starts on third base and we get walked home. God’s primary purpose is to get us to heaven, no matter how down and dirty the devil wants to play it. But every time the devil plays down and dirty with us, the Lord shows his power, the Lord shows his glory, the Lord shows his grace. People see it. People are changed by it.

Look at the centurion at the foot of the cross. He had seen Jesus scourged. He had attended the death march to Golgotha. He had heard words of grace and truth flow from the mouth of a man supposedly so evil he was being put to death all the while the religious people were mocking Jesus in the crudest terms possible. When Jesus died, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” The Apostle Paul is under house arrest in Rome and members of Caesar’s household become believers. After Jonah insists he be thrown overboard so the storm stops and the sea becomes calm, the pagan sailors worship Jonah’s Lord.

And these are only the ones that quickly come to my mind that the Holy Spirit has told us about in the Bible. If I could see today’s world through the eyes of the Holy Spirit I could see other mockers, other blasphemers, other enemies of the cross confess Jesus as their Lord and Savior when they see the grace of God poured into the lives of God’s people, each saved from various earthly disasters, but all confident in their common salvation from eternal destruction in hell.

No other god can save like this. I want this God for my God. The psalm for Reformation Sunday has the Lord’s command to us. “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth (46.10).”

Wicked men never counted on that.

What Can Man Do to Me?

1. The Lord is my God (1-18).

2. The Lord will save (19-27).

3. The Lord will be glorified (28-30).

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego is one of the children’s favorite stories in the Sunday School curriculum. They know what is at stake. They rejoice in the Lord’s deliverance. They are proud that the world confesses their God as the only Savior. Let’s never grow out of that. It will help us so much in the days to come. What can man do to me?


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