Even if Not, No Matter What - Part 2
Series: My Preaching Bucket List
July 15, 2018
Last week, if you remember, I took you to a text in Acts that hides a big question in plain sight.
James, one of Jesus’ original twelve disciples and the brother of John, was arrested by King Herod and executed for being a Christ follower. When Herod saw the brownie points he got among the Jews for that, he decided to go big and arrest Peter, another of Jesus’ original disciples and the early church’s main leader.
Luke, the author of Acts, recorded a powerful prayer meeting where the disciples asked God to deliver Peter. God did in a miraculous way.
You can read about it in all Acts 12. As we came to the end of the message we discovered the big question hiding here was…
Why Peter and not James?
Surely God’s people prayed for James too. Like Peter, James was an original disciple, and, like Peter, he was one of the three disciples closest to Jesus! But he was allowed to die at the hands of a cruel and sinful king when Peter was miraculously delivered.
We get all pumped about God when he answers our prayers the way we wanted (as we should), but for every person able to say, “God came through in a big way!” there’s another able to say he didn’t.
The answer to why Peter was saved and James wasn’t takes us deep into the ways and will of God, and it points us to the bigger picture of his plans.
This week we look at a familiar OT text that sheds light on our quandary, and it’s found in the book of Daniel.
The events recorded in the book of Daniel happened hundreds of years after Moses delivered God’s people from Egypt. They crossed the Red Sea and wandered in the wilderness for forty years.
Then they entered and took over the Promised Land, Canaan, settling there. Things were good for a while, but, eventually, they started cycling through straying away from God’s Laws (as his covenant people) and God allowing nations around them to smite them, then crying for help and God raising up a judge to deliver them. Repeat.
Along the way, they graduated from judges to kings, but that didn’t make things any better. They still did all kinds of gosh-awful things.
If you can’t get along with God, you can’t get along with people, even family. Eventually, the Israelites split into two kingdoms, the Northern and Southern.
God sent prophets to warn them time and time again to turn from their evil ways…
2 Kings 17:14–20 (ESV) — 14 But they would not listen, but were stubborn, as their fathers had been, who did not believe in the Lord their God. 15 They despised his statutes and his covenant that he made with their fathers and the warnings that he gave them. They went after false idols and became false, and they followed the nations that were around them, concerning whom the Lord had commanded them that they should not do like them. 16 And they abandoned all the commandments of the Lord their God, and made for themselves metal images of two calves; and they made an Asherah and worshiped all the host of heaven and served Baal. 17 And they burned their sons and their daughters as offerings and used divination and omens and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger. 18 Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight. None was left but the tribe of Judah only. 19 Judah also did not keep the commandments of the Lord their God, but walked in the customs that Israel had introduced. 20 And the Lord rejected all the descendants of Israel and afflicted them and gave them into the hand of plunderers, until he had cast them out of his sight.
The Northern Kingdom fell first. God gave them over to the Assyrians. The Southern (Judah) went second many years later. He gave them over to the Babylonians - ruled by King Nebuchadnezzar (whom we will call Nebbie). He took the nobles and especially skilled Jews away from their homeland, integrating them into Babylon’s society and government (displaying them kind of like trophies).
This is how Daniel (an Israelite) ended up in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar. He served as one of his wise men. When the King had a dream, Daniel revealed and interpreted it for him (explain)…
Daniel 2:46–49 (ESV) — 46 Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face and paid homage to Daniel, and commanded that an offering and incense be offered up to him. 47 The king answered and said to Daniel, “Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery.” 48 Then the king gave Daniel high honors and many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon. 49 Daniel made a request of the king, and he appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego over the affairs of the province of Babylon. But Daniel remained at the king’s court.
And with that setup, we now we come to one of the most famous stories in the OT…
Daniel 3:1–7 (ESV) — 1 King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits and its breadth six cubits. He set it up on the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon. 2 Then King Nebuchadnezzar sent to gather the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces to come to the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. 3 Then the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces gathered for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. And they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. 4 And 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, bagpipe, and every kind of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. 6 And whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace.” 7 Therefore, as soon as all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, all the peoples, nations, and languages fell down and worshiped the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
The law of the land, handed down by the governing authorities, was “worship the idol when you hear the music.” But God’s people answer to a higher law.
Exodus 20:4–5a (ESV) — 4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them…
Now, we can imagine how this must have troubled our three men (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego). When they heard the herald’s decree, do you think they prayed, asking God to help them, to deliver them from this situation? Of course they must have. Keep that in mind…
Daniel 3:8–15 (ESV) — 8 Therefore at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and maliciously accused the Jews. 9 They declared to King Nebuchadnezzar, “O king, live forever! 10 You, O king, have made a decree, that every man who hears the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, shall fall down and worship the golden image. 11 And whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into a burning fiery furnace. 12 There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These men, O king, pay no attention to you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
Have you ever seen the movie Mean Girls? One thing above all else motivates mean girls to plot against you: jealousy.
These Chaldeans were mean girls in the king’s court, and they were jealous of our three men’s special favor.
13 Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought. So they brought these men before the king. 14 Nebuchadnezzar answered and said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up?
This doesn’t make sense at first. Didn’t Nebbie exalt the God of Daniel? Yes, but as a superior god among the gods, not the one true God who alone must be worshipped. Nebbie was okay with them worshipping their god, but he assumed, like all the others he had conquered and brought into his kingdom, they’d mix the gods of Babylon in too.
Because he favored them, he gave them one last chance.
15 Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”
Your god is great and all, fellas, but I have you in the palm of my hands. Your destiny is up to me!
We can only wonder how we’d respond to a situation like that. We don’t have to wonder how our three men did…
Daniel 3:16–18 (ESV) — 16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
We could stop right here and make a good sermon on how to live as citizens of a heavenly kingdom in earthly realms.
But that’s not what I want to focus on. How they responded to this situation holds the key, I believe, to understanding why God saved Peter and not James.
Let’s read that text again in the NIV…
Daniel 3:16–18 (NIV) — 16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
I think maybe they let us peek into their little prayer meeting, revealing what they must have prayed.
Oh, God, we know you are able to deliver us from the King’s hand: nothing is impossible for you. Our fate is in your hands, not his. But even if not, no matter what, we will trust you.
Our boys did not see God as a genie in a bottle you rubbed every time you needed a miracle. They allowed for God to just be God; they allowed the LORD, in his sovereignty and providence, to let them perish if he so chose...
This was NOT a lack of faith, but an abundance in understanding of who God is and how he works.
I believe that was the Spirit of the prayer meeting the early church had for Peter and James.
God is SOVEREIGN and he works PROVIDENTIALLY in all things to accomplish his will. I know those are churchy, lofty, theological words, but over the next few weeks we’ll try and unpack them.
Getting a better grasp of who God is and how he works (as much as we are able!) is important. It takes us out of the shallows and into the deep things and helps keep us from making faith mistakes.
Conclusion: [Bryan Chapell tells the story of a Christian miner who was injured at a young age and became an invalid who spent his time watching through a window from his bed as life passed him by. He watched as men his own age prospered, raised families, and had grandchildren. As he watched, his body withered, his house crumbled, and his life wasted away.
One day when the bedridden miner was quite old, a younger man came to visit him. “I hear that you believe in God and claim that he loves you. How can you believe such things after all that has happened to you? Don’t you sometimes doubt God’s love?”
The old man hesitated and then smiled. “Yes, it is true. Sometimes Satan comes calling on me in this fallen-down house of mine. He sits right there by my bed where you are sitting now. He points out my window to the men I once worked with who are still strong and active, and he asks, ‘Does Jesus love you?’ Then Satan casts a jeering glance around my tattered room as he points to the fine homes of my friends across the street and asks again, ‘Does Jesus love you?’ Then, at last, Satan points to the grandchild of a friend of mine—a man who has everything I do not—and Satan waits for the tear in my eye before he whispers in my ear, ‘Does Jesus really love you?’ ”
“And what do you say when Satan speaks to you that way?” asked the young man.
The old miner said, “I take Satan by the hand. I lead him in my mind to a hill far away called Calvary. There I point to the thorn-tortured brow, to the nail-pierced hands and feet and to the spear-wounded side. Then I say, ‘Satan, you tell me … doesn’t Jesus love me!’ ”
One thing we will ultimately get out of this series (if I can pull it off) is how the sovereignty and providence of God come together to demonstrate a love for us that overshadows and outdoes anything we could possibly face in this life. So that the question is not “Why didn’t God heal me or save me?” But “Why did God love me so much?”
Romans 5:6–8 (CEV) — 6 Christ died for us at a time when we were helpless and sinful. 7 No one is really willing to die for an honest person, though someone might be willing to die for a truly good person. 8 But God showed how much he loved us by having Christ die for us, even though we were sinful.
How did things turn out for our three men? Does it matter?
We’ll come back to it later. Those guys have more to show us.
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