Immanuel Lutheran Church

Sermon

Easter 6

"Standing Firm for the Faith"

Daniel 3

May 21, 2017

Last year on a lonely beach in Libya a dozen Coptic Christians were beheaded by Muslim terrorists. What was intended as a propaganda film backfired when the Christians, instead of weeping and begging for their lives, said as their last words, "Jesus is Lord." Sadly, this has not been an isolated incident in areas controlled by militant Islam. The persecution of the church has taken place since its birth. Beginning with Stephan the list of martyrs continues to grow.

God's people have been the targets of hatred and death throughout the ages. Today's Old Testament reading is an earlier version of threats and death to the faithful. In this case it is a matter of official government persecution from the very top. King Nebuchadnezzar was a typical tyrant. His ego knew no bounds.

Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, he set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. 4 Then the herald loudly proclaimed: "To you the command is given, O peoples, nations and men of every language, 5 that [when] you hear the sound of the horn, flute, and all kinds of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king has set up. 6 But whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire."

Among those called to the dedication of this statue were three Jewish young men who had been living in exile in Babylon. Here is their dilemma. The First Commandment forbids the worship of any other gods. Should they sin by breaking the commandment and ask for forgiveness later or should they refuse to bow down?

There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the administration of the province of Babylon, namely Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. These men, O king, have disregarded you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up."

Tyrants depend of secret police and snitches to keep people under control. When the three refused to bow before the King's statue, they were immediately reported. From the king's point of view, their refusal to bow down was an act of treason. Treason was punished with death. Still, the king wants to show his generosity and offers the three the opportunity to reconsider their decision.

They replied: "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up."

Of course, the king is irate. He ordered the fire to be increased seven times normal. Once that was done, the three were thrown into the fiery furnace. The fire was so hot that those charged with throwing them into the furnace died. As the king watched, he saw not three but four men walking around in the furnace. He was utterly amazed and dumfounded. "Was it not three men we cast bound into the midst of the fire?" They replied to the king, "Certainly, O king." 25 He said, "Look! I see four men loosed and walking about in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!"

How was it that they were alive? Even the king had to admit it was a miracle. As the fire cooled, he approached the opening of the furnace and called them out. What else they discovered was also amazing. The king's high officials gathered around and saw in regard to these men that the fire had no effect on the bodies of these men nor was the hair of their head singed, nor were their trousers damaged, nor had the smell of fire even come upon them.

It was a miracle. The three gave credit and glory to God. In response, the King also gave glory to the Lord. "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent His angel and delivered His servants who put their trust in Him, violating the king's command, and yielded up their bodies so as not to serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation or tongue that speaks anything offensive against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego inasmuch as there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way."

Sometimes we may think that because we know the outcome so did the three. Yet, they did not. Remember, in their testimony to the King they said they did NOT know whether or not the Lord would rescue them. They believed that the Lord could save them from the flames but they did not know if He would. Their faith was tested. The Lord chose to deliver them. Why? It was to show the King that He was more powerful than this one mere human.

To his credit, Nebuchadnezzar caught on quickly. He also gave glory to God. Yet, in the end, the King is the exception to the rule. Most tyrants do not recognize the power and majesty of God. Because they refuse to acknowledge God, we also know that the three men thrown into the fiery furnace are also the exception to the rule.

Throughout the ages, the faithful have been martyred for refusing to worship kings, emperors, government systems and tyrants of every variety. The history of the early church is filled with stories of those who died because they refused to deny their faith in God. Church tradition tells us that 10 of the 11 remaining disciples were martyred. Only John lived to a ripe old age but even he was imprisoned because of his faith. His Revelation was written during his imprison-ment as an encouragement to Christians dealing with persecution.

The Coptic Christians on the beach realized that divine intervention was not coming. How could they confess the faith knowing they would soon die? They believed the promises of God. They believed that death and being with Jesus was better than living in the darkness of Islam. The Lord gave them the strength and courage they needed to face their grisly end. That faith and courage were demonstrated in their confession: Jesus is Lord! The planned propaganda event of the Islamists backfired on them. They had to cut the video short and could not use it because these brave Coptic Christians boldly confessed their faith in Jesus Christ.

We don't know how we will respond when the time of persecution comes. No one knows. History tells us that some who would be expected to confess did not and others who would not be expected to confess Jesus did. As the world's future becomes more uncertain and people become more anxious and fearful, they will lash out at those who do not share their angst. People of faith become targets because they have an anchor that holds them in the storms of life.

The anchor is Jesus Christ. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. The devil who is the author of chaos and death will do everything in his power to destroy the church. He is evil. The nature of evil is senseless and irrational. When evil descends, it seeks to destroy everything that opposes it. Thus, the good suffer and the wicked prosper. In those dire times, the Lord comes to His people to strengthen and encourage their faith. Whether like the three in the furnace or those on the beach, we will be confess that Jesus Christ is Lord of life now and forever. Amen.


September
09/24/2017
09/17/2017
09/10/2017
09/03/2017
August
08/27/2017
08/20/2017
08/13/2017
08/06/2017
July
07/30/2017
07/23/2017
07/16/2017
07/09/2017
June
06/25/2017
06/18/2017
06/11/2017
06/04/2017
May
05/21/2017
05/14/2017
05/07/2017
April
04/23/2017
04/16/2017
04/09/2017
04/02/2017
March
03/26/2017
03/19/2017
03/12/2017
03/05/2017
February
02/26/2017
02/05/2017
January
01/29/2017
01/22/2017
01/15/2017
01/08/2017
01/01/2017

December
12/25/2016
12/18/2016
12/11/2016
12/04/2016
November
11/27/2016
11/20/2016
11/13/2016
11/06/2016
October
10/30/2016
10/23/2016
10/16/2016
10/09/2016
10/02/2016
September
09/25/2016
09/18/2016
09/11/2016
09/04/2016
August
08/28/2016
08/21/2016
July
07/31/2016
07/24/2016
07/17/2016
07/03/2016
June
06/26/2016
06/19/2016
06/05/2016
May
05/29/2016
05/22/2016
05/15/2016
05/08/2016
05/01/2016
April
04/17/2016
04/10/2016
04/03/2016
March
03/27/2016
03/20/2016
03/13/2016
03/06/2016
February
02/28/2016
02/21/2016
02/17/2016
02/14/2016
02/07/2016
January
01/31/2016
01/24/2016
01/03/2016
01/01/2016

December
12/27/2015
12/20/2015
12/13/2015
12/06/2015
November
11/22/2015
11/15/2015
11/08/2015
11/01/2015
October
10/25/2015
10/18/2015
10/11/2015
10/04/2015
September
09/27/2015
09/20/2015
09/13/2015
09/06/2015
August
08/30/2015
08/23/2015
08/16/2015
08/09/2015
08/02/2015
July
07/26/2015
07/19/2015
07/12/2015
07/05/2015
June
06/28/2015
06/21/2015
06/14/2015
06/07/2015
May
05/31/2015
05/24/2015
05/17/2015
05/10/2015
April
04/19/2015
04/12/2015
04/12/2015
04/05/2015
March
03/29/2015
03/22/2015
03/15/2015
03/08/2015
February
02/15/2015
02/15/2015
02/08/2015
02/01/2015
January
01/25/2015
01/25/2015
01/18/2015
01/11/2015
01/04/2015

December
12/28/2014
12/21/2014
12/14/2014
12/07/2014
November
11/23/2014
11/16/2014
11/09/2014
11/02/2014
October
10/12/2014
10/05/2014
September
09/28/2014
09/21/2014
09/14/2014
09/07/2014
August
08/31/2014
08/24/2014
08/17/2014
08/10/2014
08/03/2014
July
07/27/2014
07/20/2014
07/13/2014
07/06/2014
June
06/29/2014
06/22/2014
06/15/2014
06/08/2014
06/01/2014
May
05/11/2014
April
04/27/2014
04/20/2014
04/13/2014
04/06/2014
March
03/30/2014
03/23/2014
03/16/2014
03/02/2014
February
02/02/2014
January
01/26/2014
01/19/2014
01/12/2014
01/05/2014