Shine the Light: “The Puppet Masters” – Daniel 3

Dan Brown InfernoOver the past few weeks, when I get a few minutes for entertainment reading, I have been pouring over Dan Brown’s book Inferno, a fascinating story set in Florence, Italy – the city famous for the home of Dante Alighieri, the famous poet author from the dawn of the fourteenth century. Dan Brown is a good story teller, which is evidenced by the popularity of one release after another. I am only a third of the way through this book, but I admit the plot does grab you, and thrust you into the fictional story. The characters seem quite believable. I won’t take the time to explain his tale, except to say that the premise of the book is that there is a shadow organization that is at work behind many seemingly unconnected events on the international stage, working for clients that have their own agenda. What would appear to be a car accident in one country, and a boating accident a month later in another – were actually connected plots that would take enormous effort to detect – and that was by design.

I admit that I am not a conspiracy theorist by nature. I tend to be a skeptic about many of these “so-called plots” that swirl around. Yet, I do believe that behind men and women of power, a case can be made that other forces are at work – and perhaps those forces are more organized than I have been able to grasp. I don’t know – the world is a big place, and I am not knowledgeable enough to conclude much about sweeping agendas and powerful strings. At the same time, when I look back into God’s Word, I find a story that reads like one of Dan Brown’s plot lines. The one I want to consider in this lesson is taken from a journal preserved from the sixth century BCE, written by a Babylonian sage who was also named Daniel. His story is so compelling that I would bet Dan Brown would buy this book himself, and his story wasn’t fiction. Let me set the scene:

The room was dark and the shadows many. The men who gathered there treasured darkness, because the words they spoke meant pain, trouble and sometimes even death to those touched by their evil sway. They didn’t want fame – men like these prefer not to be known and celebrated publicly. These are men behind the political scene. They didn’t want to be interviewed on the Sunday morning talk shows from the capitol. These men wanted something much, much more valuable… they wanted power over decision makers. These faceless king makers made sure every word uttered was carefully measured – because power must be carefully guarded if it is to be maintained. They spoke slowly of detail and of plots unfolding in a world that had literally no suspicion at all of the strings of their puppet masters. These political architects carefully wove a plan from three powerful strands. They used the zeal of misplaced religious fervor – for little is as powerful and as adaptable. They blended their plot with a dose of political intrigue and then folded in the basest impulse of all – the pure unbridled arrogance of self-promoting politicians. None of the plotters looked much past their own advancement. They cared little for the lofty goals of civil morality or kingdom longevity – what they craved was growing influence that led to their utter dominance…and they would do whatever it took to secure their place of power.

That is the story Daniel unfolds in chapter three. This time, he isn’t relating his own experience, but rather the experience of three friends that were snatched away from Judah at the same time he was brought to Babylon. Daniel made plain that a king was sucked in by his own ego to making proclamations that hurt believers. Ruthless political players brought persecution down on the heads of believers that put the future of the message of God in Babylon in peril. Yet, the passage isn’t about the problem – it NEVER is. It is about the POWER of God and the confidence we can have in Him!

Last time I tried to convince you that the greatest problem most of us have is the way we VIEW our problems. As I open to chapter three, I am deliberately bypassing the last part of Daniel 2, because I will be handling the prophecy portions of Daniel in detail in a future lesson. I want to continue to press the issue of HOW WE VIEW TROUBLE, because this book addresses it with precision. Chapter three unfolds a principle that I believe is significant…

Key Principle: Dark Times are unique opportunities for piercing light to make a real difference!

Drop into the story of an ancient king who has been reading the mail of sycophants and flatterers and decided on a building project that he thought was a suitable self-tribute:

Daniel 3:1 Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, the height of which [was] sixty cubits (ninety feet tall) [and] its width six cubits (nine feet wide); he set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.

The entire story can be divided into two simple parts – nothing fancier is needed! The first part is the development of the problem, and the second part is the response of the believer.

The Problem Developed (Daniel 3:1-15)

Set up: The enemy of God and His people often uses a familiar cocktail recipe:

First, he misdirected a man of power and influence – in this case the king of one of the great superpowers of the world. Satan’s most effective work begins with the soft blowing of subtle influence pushing along a fragile ego. Think of it: Nebuchadnezzar was the undisputed king of perhaps the world’s most elegant city and most powerful government – and yet he thought what was truly lacking in his kingdom was a ninety foot tall statue of himself. His most pressing issue wasn’t health care, not education, not immigration, not civil rights – he concluded his biggest problem that needed the most serious investment – was his image sculpting. Only one who is thoroughly self-absorbed could draw such a conclusion. When a leader becomes more consumed with image than effect, he has lost his way, and the breath of the enemy has become a driving wind.

Second, he confused the man with religious symbolism – the image of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream from chapter two, (he dreamed of a great statue and the prophet Daniel explained that Nebuchadnezzar played a direct role in the interpretation of its meaning). The image was a statue, and the king got the idea from misguided religious thought that he should build one of himself. Bad theology leads to bad action, but is most often driven by good impulse. How many times has a social program been started by a leader who wanted to help – but their solution actually added many unintended consequences that hurt more than were aided.

Third, ego produced paganism (the celebration of the creation over the Creator), which in turn produced persecution. Clearly the meaning of the dream of rising and falling kingdoms was disclosed by God as something that came from HIM – but the arrogance of the king caused him to dismiss the real lesson – that God is in control of the rise and fall of kingdoms. Dismissal of truth is the beginning of the adoption of error.

Daniel sets the scene well in Daniel 3:1. Here is the truth: The prophet described the scene in detail, as men erected a ninety foot tall statue of their leader for all to see. He understood the OPPORTUNITY of the problem of this new brand of enforced paganism… Powerful people may behave badly and lead with what seems like unending ego, but that doesn’t change the people of God and their mission, nor their passion to follow God and love people… Don’t stop reading Daniel’s account after he details the statue – or you are left with only the problem. That is what the NEWS MEDIA does. It leads you to the intractable issues of our day, and offers the blur of contradictory opinions of pundits from opposite sides of the aisle. God’s Word isn’t about the problem – it is about the platform the problem affords the believer to shine a light that pierces the darkness. That is how it unfolds answers.

Surge: In the face of the enemy at work – the wave of compliance by godless men looks overwhelming!

Daniel 3:2 Then Nebuchadnezzar the king sent [word] to assemble the satraps, the prefects and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates and all the rulers of the provinces to come to the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up. 3 Then the satraps, the prefects and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates and all the rulers of the provinces were assembled for the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up; and they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. 4 Then the herald loudly proclaimed: “To you the command is given, O peoples, nations and [men of every] language, 5 that at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, bagpipe 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.” 7 Therefore at that time, when all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, bagpipe and all kinds of music, all the peoples, nations and [men of every] language fell down [and] worshiped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.

One of the most startling observations is that darkness can spread at such an alarming rate, with seemingly no obstacle to repulse the dark wave (3:2-7). It is in the face of the tsunami of evil the believer must be calm, and recall that although the conditions may be darkening, but that doesn’t change the people of God and their passion to follow God and love people. God doesn’t allow evil to march forward without a purpose in the telling of His story. The dark setting offers a rich backdrop for light to shine. Witness in dark times is much more profound. No one likes to be hungry, but the joy of a full stomach is all the sweeter if hunger has been experienced – and vanquished.

Break down the verses, and three ideas emerge.

• First, there was a command: Someone takes the lead in sponsoring darkness. In this case, word was spread and the powerful came to dedication (3:2-3). False ideas when presented with the power and symbolism of official channels often gains traction quickly. It is not by mistake that our government tests some social theory in the military – because opposition is slight in a chain of command situation.

• Second, there were conditions: The announcement set clear expectation (3:4-6). A surge like this asserts MIND CONTROL. The king didn’t want allegiance – he wanted worship. He wanted surrender to his will. Evil men cannot tolerate opposition, despite their claim that they are the tolerant ones among us. They don’t want pagan ideas merely installed in our education system – they want unqualified control of our society’s world view. We resist because we know what they want. It isn’t the freedom to live the way they choose – it is the right to force me to agree with them or be removed from the public square. If you doubt me, just become a celebrity and proclaim yourself for “traditional marriage”. You won’t have to condemn anyone. You won’t need to say one negative word. The vilification will be swift and angry – offered by the voices that advocate “tolerance”. It is a rouse, and honest people know it. We must seek to be peaceable and kind, but never passive in defense of truth.

• Third, there was almost uniform conformity: People fell down in obedience with practically no resistance (3:7). We must remember that the moral system of most people allows them to compromise anything to get ahead with those in power. Believers don’t have that luxury, because we serve the King above the king. That is now persecution typically developed in history. The enemy positioned the authorities in such a way that believers could not choose to follow – thereby making them look like the divisive dissidents.

That truth is not a reason for despair – it is a reason for us to live with CLARITY the principles of our Father in Heaven. As the backdrop color of the public square grows in contrast to Biblical values, the people of God stand out more….Consider how profound it will look to have a deeply committed and happy marriage (as defined in the Bible) in the average workplace. These dark days offer us real OPPORTUNITY!

Squeezing: Anger and rage will be vented on any who question the rising evil.

Along with the set up of the enemy and the surge of the crowd, there is one more feature that we observe as the dark clouds of trouble gather for a follower of God. It is the deliberate SQUEEZING of God’s people. Watch how it happened in the story…

Daniel 3:8 For this reason at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and brought charges against the Jews. 9 They responded and said to Nebuchadnezzar the king: “O king, live forever! 10 “You, O king, have made a decree that every man who hears the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, and bagpipe and all kinds of music, is to fall down and worship the golden image. 11 “But whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire. 12 “There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the administration of the province of Babylon, [namely] Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. These men, O king, have disregarded you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up.”

The issue is about one thing… control: The enemy will use the dark days to try and wipe out God’s message and messengers (3:8-12). He may even use those who were respectful and helpful just a short time before.

Look closely. What happened to these three Hebrews was out of their CONTROL. They hadn’t done anything wrong. God wasn’t punishing them for something they had done. SOMETIMES, things happen to us which are beyond our CONTROL. It’s not our fault. In those moments, remember that LIFE IS IN GOD’S CONTROL – not the control of godless men! When we despair at the wickedness we blunt the knowledge of God’s sovereignty! We can spend our time trying to find who is to blame, or trying to discern what God wants us to produce in the face of the problem.

• The believers were not trying to be in the way, but they attracted the ire of the Chaldeans. Jealous of their independence, the Chaldeans raised an accusation (3:8).

• The unbelieving leaders appeared to have an “in” with the king, and used that to set up persecution cloaked as a necessary nationalism and public good. (3:9-11).

• The unbelievers framed the intent of the believers as hostile to the power of the state. (3:12). Here is the truth: Lying about the believer’s intentions is not a new ploy – but a tried and true strategy. Rather than be appalled, we need to be prepared to stand up to false worship, as well as be prepared to address positively why we do what we do.

The squeeze became obvious as the king had the offenders dragged in:

Daniel 3:13 Then Nebuchadnezzar in rage and anger gave orders to bring Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego; then these men were brought before the king. 14 Nebuchadnezzar responded and said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? 15 “Now if you are ready, at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery and bagpipe and all kinds of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, [very well]. But if you do not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?”

Faced with a choice from which there was clearly no escape – the faith of three men became crystal clear. This is the point of the problem – God wanted to show something to the king, and he chose to do it through the lives of these three men.

The Believers Responded (Daniel 3:16-30)

Contest: First, they faced the challenge – Put God above self. (3:13-15).

Look at the king’s question! But if you do not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?”

He had no idea there is an affirmative answer to the idea that there was a God that could save them from his authority… and he was completely WRONG! Believer, don’t confuse confident assertion with certain truth. The king may have believed he was in charge of all things, but that only lasted until the truth came out in FIRE. Fortunately for him, it was a furnace. For others it will be a forever fire that is not quenched that will show them the truth.

Be careful who you pick a fight with. The king not only CHALLENGED God when he set up the image for all to worship him … he CHALLENGED God for His ability to do anything about it. Nebuchadnezzar was on very dangerous ground.

Here is a truth that may not be popular – but we must grasp it: God may decide to offer YOU or ME – our lives – to win another to Himself. Ask our missionaries if that is easy – if they are honest they will tell you it is not. God has the right, and God knows the plan. Is it not a deep privilege to be used by the Creator to bring salvation to others? The contest is within the believer, but the conditions that make it clear are often in the world around him or her. The furnace and the throne became the platform for a clear testimony – as tough as it was to face it.

Confidence: (3:16-18): They didn’t need to rethink the issue because they knew the king’s King!

Don’t forget: The enemy has every interest in dragging out and dramatizing his power – the power over your body. It is a temporal power, but it is all that he has to work with! The king offered another opportunity for the men to “bail” – a dragging out of the decision process, but the men would have no part in that. Daniel 3:16 “Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. 17 “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. 18″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.

Can you pick out the confidence in these men? When we truly encounter God, we aren’t nearly as impressed with human power, accomplishment and ability! Temporal power pales before eternal. That is why a Biblical world view is so critical… it will provide a foundation under the choices of our lives. If God is really in control, the enemy has a limitation on him. Whatever passes into my life passes the approval of God’s hand before it arrives to me.

Consider this: A submarine has enormous pressure on the hull as it sinks deeply in the ocean. It is only the inner counter pressure of the air that stops the outer pressure from collapsing the vessel into itself. By the same token – The world is trying to shape you into its image … shape you into its mold. We aren’t to be shaped by OUTSIDE forces … BUT … by the INSIDE strength and domination of the Holy Spirit. When you surrender to God’s power and allow the work of the Spirit to take over within, you protect against collapse to the outer pressure to conform!

We cannot deny that part of what shapes us is the outer force as well. With no resistance, believers become weak and unchallenged.

In their book, We Let Our Son Die, Larry and Lucy Parker recount the tragic story of a misguided faith. In painful and painstaking detail, Larry and his wife paint the picture of how they had come to believe that if they just had enough faith, God would heal their diabetic son. Eventually, their son Wesley got ill and needed insulin. Believing that God would heal Wesley, they withheld the insulin and, predictably, Wesley lapsed into a diabetic coma. The Parkers, warned by some about the impropriety of not having enough faith, believed that God would heal Wesley. Unfortunately, Wesley died. But even after Wesley’s death, the Parkers, undaunted in their “faith,” conducted a resurrection service rather than a funeral service. In fact, for more than a year following his death, they refused to abandon their firmly held faith that Wesley, like Jesus, would rise from the dead. Eventually, both Larry and Lucy were tried and convicted of manslaughter and child abuse.

A tragic story? Yes. But even more tragic is that countless other stories with a flawed concept of faith that inevitably leads to shipwreck—sometimes spiritually, in other cases physically, and in still other scenarios, both. Many Christians believe that the Bible teaches that faith is confidence in a certain outcome. In our text, they did not pretend to know what was going to happen to them. These words may trouble you. Perhaps you want to say, “Oh, no, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! No ifs, ands, or buts. Believe without doubting.” But these men did not operate on today’s popular notion of what faith should be. Theirs was a biblical faith. God will do what He chooses, not what I choose. I control nothing, but He never leaves me in the process.

Companionship: By becoming servants like Jesus, they shared time with Him!

Watch the story finish with testimony:

Daniel 3:19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with wrath, and his facial expression was altered toward Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. He answered by giving orders to heat the furnace seven times more than it was usually heated. 20 He commanded certain valiant warriors who [were] in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego in order to cast [them] into the furnace of blazing fire. … 24 Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astounded and stood up in haste; he said to his high officials, “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!” 26 Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the furnace of blazing fire; he responded and said, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, come out, you servants of the Most High God, and come here!” Then Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego came out of the midst of the fire. 27 The satraps, the prefects, the governors and 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. 28 Nebuchadnezzar responded and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, 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. 29 “Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation or tongue that speaks anything offensive against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego shall be torn limb from limb and their houses reduced to a rubbish heap, inasmuch as there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.” 30 Then the king caused Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego to prosper in the province of Babylon.

Three men were hurled into a fiery furnace, but One was already in the fire waiting for them to arrive. The powerful men of the world stood outside in awe, while the King of the Ages had a little “pep talk” time with His faithful friends. In time, the men walked out of that furnace and showed the power of the God they served. All this happened because they completely understood, and lived out one essential truth: Their lives were not their own. Their troubles were nothing less than God’s platform to use each of them to speak to others. Every believer must face that difficult lesson… We aren’t always going to be protected from troubles, but we do get two opportunities.

First, with trouble we are given an opportunity to display God’s love and power.

Second, in the fire of trouble God draws nearer to us that we have ever known before!

Let’s say it plainly: when we fear the fire more than God – we become ineffective and uncertain in testimony. When we recognize we are His – He uses us profoundly..

Author Tim Hansel tells the story about the day he and his son Zac were out in the country, climbing around in some cliffs. He heard a voice from above him yell, “Hey Dad! Catch me!” He turned around to see Zac joyfully jumping off a rock straight at him. Zac had first jumped and then yelled “Hey Dad!” Tim became an instant circus act, catching Zac. They both fell to the ground. For a moment after Tim caught Zac he could hardly talk. When he found his voice again he gasped in exasperation: “Zac! Can you give me one good reason why you did that???” Zac responded with remarkable calmness: “Sure! Because you’re my Dad.” Zac’s whole assurance was based on the fact that his father was trustworthy. He could live life to the hilt because his father could be trusted.

Don’t forget! Dark Times are opportunities for light to make a real difference!