Pastor Aaron Steinbrenner delivers a sermon entitled “Our God is an Awesome God” based on Daniel 3:16-28 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered on Sunday, November 4, 2018
Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, also known as Woodbine Willie, was an English priest. He served as a chaplain during World War I. He was in the trenches in France. He was right there in the thick of things…right there amidst the sights and the sounds and the smells and the horrors of war. While in France he sent a letter to his wife – really intended for his young son. And this is what he wrote:
The first prayer I want my son to learn to say for me is not, “God, keep daddy safe” but “God make daddy brave, and if he has hard things to do, make him strong to do them.” Life and death don’t matter…right and wrong do. Daddy dead is still daddy, but daddy dishonored before God is something awful.
In other words, he was asking his son to pray that he would persevere…that he would keep the faith…that he would keep his trust in God and live his faith even in the face of extreme pressure. That prayer came from a man at war in a foxhole, surrounded by danger. Could that be our prayer too? Could that be my prayer from my office cubicle?…from my college dorm room?…from my living room? “Lord, make me strong and keep me strong so that I do not dishonor you…so that I do not lose my faith. Lord, make me brave even though I am surrounded by the sights and the sounds and the smells and the distractions of this world.”
After all, what good would faith be if we believed for a little while, but then in the time of testing we fell away? What good would it do if we spent a whole lifetime casually talking about Jesus…even worshiping Jesus, but then in the 11th hour of our life we didn’t fully realize what Jesus has done on our behalf and we failed to put our trust in him? What good would it do if we neglected our faith in Jesus or allowed it to smolder out because the pleasures and cares of this world seemed more pressing and more important? Lord, keep us steadfast!
In the face of pressure…when the heat was turned up, three men – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not falter or flinch. In them we see what faithfulness is. But the answer is really our awesome God. He is Lord over all. He makes us strong.
He Is Lord over all – The place is Babylon. The king is Nebuchadnezzar. For the moment, you could not find a more powerful king. This king had an ego. He declared himself an offspring of one of the most powerful gods…and to give his people the opportunity to express their loyalty to him, a golden statue was made…a 90’ statue. But that’s not all. Not only did he commission the building of this false god, he then ordered everyone in the land to bow down to this false image whenever special music was played. And that’s what happened. When the music played, the people fell down to the ground.
Well, not everyone. Three men refused. There were from Judah…believers in the true God. They, among the brightest and the best from Judah, had been carted off to Babylon and now were given new names and new positions. Believers living in an unbelieving land. And here they were being asked to compromise their faith. They could take the easy way out and bow down like everyone else…or…they could remain faithful to the Lord…but that would surely result in their death…a fiery furnace death.
They knew something Nebuchadnezzar did not. They knew the 90’ golden statue was an inanimate piece of metal. It didn’t think or feel or walk or see or do anything. And they knew the God who had told them, “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols” did see and hear and feel and think and create and provide for and love. And so they did not bow down.
But Nebuchadnezzar was a reasonable man, right? No. He was furious…unhinged. He made the furnace seven times hotter. He ordered his strongest men to tie up these men and drop them in. He didn’t realize his rage and his overreaction and his zeal to heat up the furnace would accomplish two things:
- It would kill off some of his best soldiers
- It would only make God’s miracle of deliverance more impressive – for later when the men were taken out of the furnace, their bodies were unharmed, their hair not even singed, their clothes perfectly in tact…not even the smell of smoke.
He makes us strong – We’ve heard this account since we were kids. We know the outcome. These three men did not. They knew their God had the power to save them, but even if he didn’t choose to, they were willing to die…to be burned up, rather than compromise their faith.
The place was Germany. The Holy Roman Empire was calling the shots. For the moment, you could not find a more powerful ruling entity. And that powerful entity had summoned little Martin Luther to stand before them and take back all that he had said and written. You see, Martin Luther, as he was growing in God’s Word, recognized some teachings of the church that didn’t agree with Scripture. She he wrote the 95 Thesis and some other documents.
- The church said you could earn your way to heaven by living a good life; Scripture had convinced Luther that salvation was free.
- The church had said you could pay money and receive God’s forgiveness; Scripture had convinced Luther that only Jesus can and has paid for sin.
He wasn’t looking for a fight; just a debate. But in the end, he had a choice. Take the easy way out and recant…or…he could stand up for the teachings of Scripture even though the most powerful people in the world disagreed with him and would likely tie him to a stake, put some firewood and kindling at his feet, and happily light the match.
We’ve heard this account since we were kids. We know the outcome. “Unless I am convinced from Scripture…I will not recant.” He was willing to die…to be burned up, rather than compromise his faith.
And now return to your cubicle and to your college dorm room and to your living room and your neighborhood. I don’t see any fiery furnaces or burning stakes in any of your futures. But I do see
- College professors challenging the faith of our youth and college campus life challenging their values.
- Increase of distractions and creative excuses – threatening to keep us from reading our Bibles and gathering with fellow Christians – just ask your sinful nature and see if it won’t have a million different excuses and justifications.
- Social circles where you’ll be tempted to hide your faith and maybe even some friendships that will dissolve if you show and live your faith.
- Hard conversations you may have to have with your kids or grandkids about life choices and right and wrong.
- Like the English priest and chaplain…I see hard work ahead…a world that won’t make it easy for you…I see testing…I see pressures….I see hard choices.
Are you ready? Are you strong like the three men?…like Martin Luther? That’s the wrong question. Try this out for size instead: Is the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego your God? And is your God Lord over all?
- Know this: your salvation and your security does not depend upon whether or not you will pass the time of testing or whether or not you will make the right choices or whether or not you are willing to die for Jesus…it depends on Jesus…who did make all the right choices…who did pass all his times of testing…who did die for you.
- And know this: Your God is Lord over all and he can do the impossible. His death can pay for your sins; it already has. His resurrection turns the funeral of your loved one into a victory celebration. His baptism turns you into his child. His love fills you with love, and so equips you to be more patient and more forgiving and more understanding with your children and with your spouse. His strength fills you with strength, and so enables you to stand before your Nebuchadnezzars – whether they be on your college campuses or in your office spaces or in your neighborhoods.
Lord, you redeemed us and we know you will not abandon us. We now ask you to make us brave, and if we have hard things to do, make us strong to do them. Amen.