All Saints’ Day November 6-7, 2021
“Three Saints” Daniel 3
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Recently I am doing something that I haven’t done in years. I started combing my hair? Right? No – I’m leaving it just as God made it. I’ve become a mentor. A young student from Denver Seminary asked if I could serve as her mentor for the Fall semester. She is in studies to become a counselor. And so I am serving as a mentor.
Two weeks ago, we began discussing how we best learn. Is it from a book? Or, is it through observation and experience? I told her that I delight in learning from observing people. Through the years I have learned how I want to be and what I want my character to be by observing others. When I see some people and observe how they handle the hardest moments with courage and great faith they inspire me, encourage me and help me in my development. I want to be like them. But, at times, I learn how I don’t want to be from others. I see the worst, the weakest, or the choosing of the wrong way, and I don’t want to follow them. Some show me how to live. Others show me how not to live. How do you learn? What have you learned?
We are recognizing the saints who have gone before us in our worship today. I have chosen Daniel 3 to talk about three saints – Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Do you remember the account of the three men in the fiery furnace from Sunday School? Here is their story: They were Jewish refugees taken to a foreign country – Babylon – a country that worshipped all types of idols. The King – Nebuchadnezzar – had made an image of gold that was 90 feet high and 9 feet wide, it was an idol, and he wanted everyone to obey his orders and worship a piece of gold. This was the decree that he gave, “[Everyone] must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.” (Daniel 3:5b-6)
But those three didn’t pay any attention to the King. They didn’t bow their knee. They wouldn’t break the first commandment and forget their loyalty to the only true God. Because of their refusal to follow his orders the King called them in. He demanded their obedience. If they didn’t worship the idol they would be sent to a certain and awful death. But they wouldn’t budge. Their words to Nebuchadnezzar were, “We do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 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.” (Daniel 3:16-18)
Do you know what these saints had? They had guts. These three, along with Daniel, (Of Daniel and the Lion’s Den fame) had been taken from Jerusalem to Babylon and they had been selected to serve in the king’s palace. This is why they were selected, “[They were] young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace.” (Daniel 1:4) They were the best of the best. In the second chapter it tells us that the three became administrators over the province of Babylon. Life for those three was pretty good. And now this was before them. Would they bow down to the statue? Would they save themselves and their position and their power? Or – would they die in the fire?
We read a good number of names this morning. You may know some of them. Some of them may be your relatives. What did you learn from them? What did you see in them? I hope you saw the best, the things that you will try to imitate. Look deep and see courage.
Saints, then and now, your loved ones and mine, have to have courage. Christians, in a country that wants us to bow down to everything that isn’t divine, must have courage. Jesus gave these words about what it takes to be His disciple and follow Him. In Matthew 10 Jesus says, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28) Later in the same chapter, Jesus asks for a full courageous faith and confession as He says, “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33)
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego must have known how demanding a faithful life would be. They must have known that though they had everything on the outside – good looks, a bright mind, a high position and the money that came with it – they had to have something in their soul. They had to have guts. They had to have courage. They said they knew that God could save them from the fire but notice what they also said, “But even if he does not save us, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” So there!!
As long as we are talking about Old Testament heroes, you might know another “R” rated Sunday School story that demanded much courage from the follower of God. The story is about Joseph and Potiphar’s wife. (See Genesis 39) Joseph – 6’ 2’’, 220 pounds, all muscle, wavy hair, blue eyes, chiseled chin. (Author’s imagination!!) And Potiphar’s wife wanted him. She invited him to her bedroom over and over again. But he refused. Why? He told her, “My master has withheld nothing from me, except you, because you are his wife. How could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9)
To be one of God’s saints it takes courage. You may suffer in a number of ways by being a disciple of Jesus, but you will have a life that is respected by many and praised by God. Though the names of Daniel and our three saints are not mentioned in Hebrews 11, the chapter on faith, it is clear that their courageous faith and life are being applauded, “Who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.” (Hebrews 11:33-34)
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor, and a German who tried to assassinate Hitler, was imprisoned and executed for his courage. In his classic, “Letters from Prison”, knowing full well that when he would not bow down to the golden idol in Germany he would lose his life, wrote, “Faithless vacillation, endless deliberation without action, refusal to take risks – that is the real danger. I must be able to know for certain that I am in God’s hands, not in men’s. Then everything becomes easy… No earthly power can touch us without his will, and danger and distress can only drive us closer to him… Christ not only makes people “good”, he makes them strong, too.”
The conclusion to this account for these three saints, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, is miraculous. The furnace was heated seven times what it normally was but not one hair on their head was singed, nor their robes scorched, and they didn’t even smell like smoke. That is just a miracle but it wasn’t the biggest one. The biggest one was their courage to face whatever would come because they were people of faith.
No, I have a bigger miracle here – the biggest miracle was how God showed up in the fiery furnace. When the Babylonians got sight of what was happening they were shocked. They asked, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?” (Daniel 3:24b) They asked that question because of what they saw next, “Look, I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” (Daniel 3:25) God showed up. In the Old Testament the pre-incarnate Christ shows up at various miracles. Maybe it was Him. Or, maybe it was an angel sent from God. Either way, God came to that place and showed Himself.
Three saints… and one Savior. Please look at the moments that are your greatest trials, your roughest patches, your times of guilt and grief, and see Jesus with His forgiveness and His strength by your side. On this day to remember God’s saints, our most blessed, consider who made them strong. And for all of us who look forward to the eternal day, consider who makes you strong and gives you the guts to be faithful to your faithful God. Humbly and with determination your knee can only bow to One, “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10-11) Hundreds of saints…and one Savior. A joyous combination. Amen!!