The notes for a sermon on Daniel 3 I gave at Gateway Community Church Perth
Watch Bonhoeffer Clip
From 3:12 to 5:58
So what would you have done? taken the oath?
The character in the film who was preaching was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century.
The oath that the Gestapo officer ordered everyone to take meant acknowledging Hitler as your supreme authority in life and committing yourself to obeying all his laws including the so called Nuremburg Laws which allowed the Nazi party to control the church and instructed the church to exclude anyone of Jewish descent.
So what would you have done as a Christian if the Gestapo told you that you couldn’t speak about Jesus in public, that you couldn’t share any of your thoughts about Christ with anyone else and that you had to publicly demonstrate that the State not God had your completely loyalty and obedience?
Although they are separated by thousands of years Daniel’s friends, Shadrach, Mesach and Abednego faced exactly the same question.
Probably most of us know the story from our Sunday School days
King Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon had an enormous Golden statue erected. In a sense embodied the state of Babylon, it represented all of Babylon’s Gods and may well have looked like Nebuchadnezzar.
King Nebuchadnezzar made a law that everyone had to bow down publicly to this statue, that they had to publicly acknowledge, the Babylon King and Gods were the supreme power over their lives. This was a test of loyalty to see if you would do whatever Nebuchadnezzar said, that whatever Babylon commanded you would obey.
Hitler had his oath of loyalty and Nebuchadnezzar had his Golden Statue but it amounted to the same thing, acknowledging that they as ruler, the State, had the final say in your life was the supreme power
Hilter’s oath and Nebuchanezzar’s statute put them on a collision course with Bonhoeffer and sadrach, Meesach and Abedingo because as followers of the living God they knew that only their God could command the kind of loyalty and obedience that these two tyrants were asking for.
US & OUR FRONTLINE
We are thinking at the moment about living as Christ followers on our frontline, that is living as disciples of Christ in every area of our live and realising we serve God not just when we come together as a church but in our families, and work places and out in wider society. Living for Christ means that Christianity can’t be a privatised personal hobby.
We looked at Daniel in chapter one we thought about the fact that he had gone from living in a culture which was supportive of his faith, it was relatively easy to live for the God of Israel in Jerusalem. All the laws reflected the values of God and of course the rulers were sympathetic and supportive.
Daniel discovered it was a very different story in Babylon, this was at times a hostile environment to live for the God of Israel, the values and laws were different and often brought Daniel and his friends Mesach, Drasach and Abedingo into conflict with the authorities.
Which is of course exactly what happened here with the golden statue.
Nebuchadnezzar believed he was to be the supreme authority and should have the unquestioned obedience of all of his subjects these young Jewish men believed in contrast that they could worship no other God than the God of Israel and that he must have their complete obedience.
OUR CULTURE AND COMPANY
I suspect that while we might not face being thrown into a fiery furnace increasingly as we try and live for Christ in our contemporary culture we are going to find more and more occasions when like Shadrach, Meesach and Abednigo our values as disciples of Jesus are going to bring us into conflict with our rulers and their laws in ways which are going to have potentially serious consequences for us.
You see for just about a thousand years here in Europe we had what was called Christendom. That meant the state largely supported the church, Christianity was given a powerful, privileged and protected place in society. Most of the laws were in line with our values and so we rarely came into conflict with the State. The values of the State and Christianity were largely in line with each. christians fitted in quite easily.
However increasingly as we move into what is called Post Christendom, as Christianity loses its privileged and powerful place at the centre of our culture and is pushed to the margins we are going to find our values clashing with the values of our culture in the same way that Bonhoeffer did and Messach, Drashach and Abedingo did.
We are going to be told to do things we believe that our God has forbidden or not to do things that our God has commanded us to do.
I think there will be two areas where we are going to be put in the same position to a certain extent as Bonhoeffer Messach, Drashach and Abedingo
One will be at the level of our CULTURE. I think probably in the next few years in there will be laws which command us to do things God said we shouldn’t and not to do things God commands us to do.
Although the Scottish government says our religious rights will be protected what if the European Court of Human Rights rules that if we don’t as a church marry gay people we will be breaking anti discrimination laws?
What will we do?
What if a new tolerance law means that we can’t say in public anymore that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life?
THE OTHER AREA WHERE OUR VALUES WILL BRING US INTO CONFLICT WITH THE VALUES OF OUR CULTURE WILL BE IN OUR COMPANIES, our work places
I bet many of us have been in a very similar situation to Meesach, Drasach and Abednego?
We have had to work for an unreasonable boss with an explosive temper and have had some jealous back stabbing colleagues who would say anything to drop us in it with the boss.
Our bosses at work might not hold our lives in their hands or be able to take us to court but there is a sense that they hold our destiny in their hands, our livelihood.
They can sack us and its hard to find work in this economic climate
They can side lines us and block our promotion
They could make our working conditions intolerable
That has caused many Christians at work to do the equivalent of bowing down to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statue and do what our boss or company tells us to do even thought it means disobeying God.
SO WHAT DO WE DO WHEN OUR VALUES BRING US INTO CONFLICT WITH OUR RULERS, WHETHER THAT IS THE GOVERNMENT OR OUR COMPANY AND OUR BOSS?
let’s look and see if we can get any guidance from these three young Jewish men.
Now last time we came across Daniel, and incidentally we have no idea why he doesn’t feature in this story, maybe he was elsewhere in the empire working, and his three friends in Daniel 1. We thought about the fact that there their areas in their working lives where although they would have felt uncomfortable with what they were being asked to do they felt able to compromise but that they had a BOTTOM LINE.
In other words they had issues where they had drawn a line in the sand and said they wouldn’t be able to compromise without betray their God
Bowing down before the Golden Statue was a bottom line issue for Meesach, Drasach and Abednego, for them there was no room for compromise on this, the only God they would bow down to was the God of Israel, the only person they would acknowledging as having their complete loyalty was their God.
So the starting point for us, is knowing at work and in our culture and company where we can compromise and where we need to draw the line in the sand.
For myself as a minister who performs weddings
I can compromise with gay marriage as a law, I am uncomfortable with gay couples describing their relationship as marriage but I can live with it because I don’t think non Christians should be made to live by Christian morality by the State.
My bottom line is I won’t marry a gay couple even if they make it against the law not to.
SO WHENEVER AN ISSUE COMES UP, AT WORK OR IN OUR COUNTRY WE NEED TO DECIDE WHETHER ITS AN AREA WE CAN MAKE
MAKE AN UNCOMFORTABLE COMPROMISE ON
WHETHER ITS A BOTTOM LINE ISSUE?
For Meeshach, Drashach and Abednego bowing down to the Golden Statue was a bottom line issue, they knew they couldn’t compromise
so here is what it looks. Living for God in pagan culture will lead us to experience:
CONFLICT ….. Our values bring is into conflict with values of our rulers
CHOICE …. We can either compromise or face confrontation
CONSEQUENCES …. If we choose confrontation we will face consequences
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[c] 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.’
The conflict was whether to acknowledge Babylon as the supreme authority in their lives and bow down to the statue or to be loyal to the Lord as the only person they would worship.
The choice was whether to to bow down and compromise or disobey the State.
Many Christians have felt uncomfortable about disobeying the state because of what Paul wrote.
13 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.
Many oppressive governments have used those words to pressurise Christians into obeying the State. The Gestapo quoted these words to Bonhoeffer.
So should we always obey the government or our boss? Well I think only when the authorities are acting in line with the Kingdom of God.
If they tell us to do what God forbids or forbid us to do what God commands our response should be the same as that of Peter when he was told to stop speaking of Jesus
Acts 5:29 Peter and the other apostles replied: ‘We must obey God rather than human beings!
“The principle is clear. We are to submit to our rulers right up until the point where obedience to the state would mean disobedience to God. If the state commands what God forbids or forbids what God commands, then our plain Christian duty is to resist, not to submit, to disobey the state in order to obey God” John Stott
As Christians we are to be good citizens and good employees but we cannot give unquestioning obedience or blind loyalty to our country or company because we are first and foremost citizens of the kingdom of god.
A PET PEEVE
A so called “hymn” that should be banned in church because it’s idolatrous, it’s ….. “I VOW TO THEE MY COUNTRY” It should never be sung by a Christian or in Christian worship because it contains the line about giving to our country ….. THE LOVE THAT ASKS NO QUESTIONS
That’s what Nebuchadnezzar wanted, that’s what Hilter wanted, unquestioning obedience and loyalty and that is what we cannot give as Christians to anyone except our God. We can never offer our country, or our company for that matter, a love that asks no questions. That kind of loyalty we can only give to our God.
When we choose to obey God and disobey our country or company there will be consequences, sometimes serious
We shouldn’t get the wrong message from what happens here in Daniel 3, God doesn’t promise us that we won’t face the fire, He promises that He will be with us in the fire!
God Protected meesach, drasach and abedingo from the flames BUT he didn’t save Bonhoeffer from the hangman’s noose. Yet Bonhoeffer’s LETTERS FROM PRISON ….. Describe the most incredible sense of God’s presence that he had as like Meesach and his friends he faced death he was as sure God was with him as these young Jewish men were with their mysterious angelic visitor in the furnace?
Christendom insulated us from the cost of discipleship.
But Jesus warned us there would be a cost involved in following him. That we must be willing to pick up our cross and follow him, being willing to follow whatever the cost
25 Large crowds were travelling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
28 ‘Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and count the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, “This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.”31 ‘Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.
34 ‘Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? 35 It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure heap; it is thrown out.‘Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.’
Our brothers and sisters round the world have being paying the cost to follow Christ for many years in
Islamic Countries etc
Just like these young men they have had a “whatever the cost” faith, they have been willing to obey God whatever the consequences.
Shadrach, Meesach and Abednigo were willing to take the heat for their choices, willing to pay the cost, whatever that cost was for being followers of the Living God.
“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.’”
BONHOEFFER in his most famous book THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP wrote prophetically ….. “when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die”
In other words to follow Christ is to be willing to pay the cost, to have a “whatever the cost” faith. Bonhoeffer said we must be willing to put our life in Christ’s hands no matter the cost and he lived, and died, that way himself.
This isn’t an easy sermon to preach or hear, increasingly living as a Christ follower in our front line in 21st century PostChristendom Scotland will mean for us at times:
Let’s pray and support one another so that just like Meesach, Shadrach and Abednigo and Bonhoeffer and countless thousands of of nameless Christ followers we will be willing to “take the heat” and follow Christ whatever the consequences.