I don’t have a sermon of my own to post for this Sunday, because we had MLC (= Martin Luther College) Sunday here. President Mark Zarling supplied our pulpit, and he delivered a wonderful sermon based on John 9:1-7, the man born blind that Jesus heals. For a twist, he delivered it in narrative style — as if he were the blind man! Super neat. Those are hard to do well and easy to do badly…like certain hairstyles or articles of fashion. Maybe someday I’ll try one, although I have a hunch that they’re not my style. I’ll keep you posted.
We had a lower turnout than I’d expected, which was a little disappointing. I don’t know why that was. Maybe people thought Pres. Zarling would just beg for money; maybe people simply had the chance to go out of town, so they did. I dunno. Lots of times I don’t know why someone is or is not in church. People come or don’t come for a multitude of reasons — but they all have to do with the Word.
What Pres. Zarling did talk about what exactly what I’d hoped he would: the worldwide need of sinners for Christ. The crying of the human heart for union with God, which can only be given through the gift of His Son. The high responsibility and privilege He has given us to be salt and light. He also made a couple of other good points, too: the world is shrinking. People are immigrating to America at ever-increasing rates, and many more Americans travel overseas than there used to be. (Even I’ve been to Israel, for crying out loud.) It’s easier to get in touch with people in other countries than ever before, and that can help us do more with less, humanly speaking, in this world we live in. Interesting thoughts. A lot of outreach-type activities never net a single new member for a church — but these activites can help build up the kingdom of God, and that’s what’s really worthwhile. MLC trains young men and women to be able to witness confidently and serve the Lord in whatever way He knows is best. If you want to learn more about MLC, click here. It’s a good school that my siblings and I all went to. They do worthy work there.
Instead, here’s a sermon from a few weeks ago. I wrote this before going on vacation, and then preached it in Morgan, at the nursing home here in town, and also recorded it for the Lutheran Chapel Service which airs on KNUJ 1490 out of New Ulm on Sunday mornings. For some reason the texts about confessing your faith and bearing the cross always seem to fall to me…I wonder why that is. (Ever feel like someone’s trying to tell you something?) Regardless, I preach it when it’s there. Few things are more encouraging or heartening to hear, if the preacher knows what he’s doing. I’ve never recorded for a radio broadcast before, but it was a snap and also fun. Hope you’re edified by the sermon.
“Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, 14 and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? 15 Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”
16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “O 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 save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. 18 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.”
19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual 20 and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. 21 So these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. 22 The king’s command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, 23 and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace.
24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?”
They replied, “Certainly, O king.”
25 He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”
26 Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!”
So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, 27 and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them.” (dan 3.13-27
Have you ever been going through your day, minding your business, when all of a sudden you run into a problem? I’m not talking about a problem of your own making – I’m talking about someone else who has a problem with you. They call you up or corner you in person, and then they want to lecture you or berate you or scold you for something they think you should have done differently. Such instances are tiresome and hopefully rare, but they’re not usually something that people die over. They’re usually not matters of life and death. In our text for today from Daniel chapter 3, it is a matter of life and death. Three young men are put on the spot because of their faith. They face a horrible death, but the Lord enables them to make a good confession and they are delivered. Let’s watch as God delivers His faithful confessors.
The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar had built an image of gold ninety feet high. Now, as a test of loyalty and an exercise of his power, he ordered everyone to bow before this idol. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the three young Jewish men, are ordered to bow down before the idol along with all the rest of the Jewish exiles. Their choices are pretty simple: bow down and live, or refuse and be thrown into the fiery furnace.
What are these three young men to do? They could refuse to bow down, but then it’s straight into the fire. Or they could try and compromise. They could tell themselves, “I’ll just bow down this once. It doesn’t mean anything – I know I still believe in the Lord in my heart. Wouldn’t God want me to live? It wouldn’t mean anything – would it?” Because after all, these three men hadn’t asked for this to come to them. They hadn’t gone out seeking martyrdom. Nebuchadnezzar had forced his unreasonable demands on them, not the other way around. They could have told themselves, “This wasn’t my choice, and it doesn’t have anything to do with me. I’ll just bow down and avoid the problem altogether.”
But in their hearts, these three young men know that’s not an option. What you confess with your mouth and with your actions shows what you believe. There’s no double standard when it comes to what’s in your heart. “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved,” St. Paul tells us in Romans chapter 10. The outer and the inner confession must match, or one of them will inevitably end up becoming a lie. That’s why the Lord urges us to confess our faith boldly – otherwise we will not be true to the faith God has planted into our hearts and nourished with His Word and Sacraments. Jesus encourages us, “Whoever acknowledges Me before men, I will acknowledge before my Father in heaven, but whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.” (Matt 10:32). If we do not give way to fear, but make a faithful confession even when it’s awkward or when it hurts, Jesus promises to remember us as His faithful confessors before the Father – but if we do not, then we will have no part in Him.
How can these three young men face this trial to their faith so boldly and calmly, while we surrender for far less? We give in to the sinful suggestions of friends. We follow the crowd rather than standing up for what is right, regardless of the consequences. We avoid awkward situations by avoiding a clear confession of Christ and what He has taught us. Sometimes we frantically backpedal from even a hint of anger or offending someone. We’ll say anything just to avoid making someone mad or alienating them by saying what God says. What it comes down to is that we’re ashamed of what God tells us, and of our God Himself. What other explanation can there be, if Jesus’ words and promises are true (and they always are)?
Jesus always provides His forgiveness for His frail children. He is faithful to all He has made; He knows that we are dust. He well understands the weakness of our flesh, because He shares that flesh. He too was tempted to compromise His clear confession of God’s Word – over and over again! But Jesus has conquered that temptation for you, and He has atoned for your failures. He gives you more grace to repent of your past missed opportunities to witness to your faith, and He promises to make you strong and steadfast in the future. He promises you the Holy Spirit, so that you can confess His name as these three young men do.
They calmly face the tyrant’s rage. Their reply is remarkable. Listen: “O Nebuchadnezzar, 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.” They calmly and confidently testify that God is able to deliver them. They express calm faith that He will. But even if he does not, they still won’t bow down to this idol – this mute statue which is no God.
“Even if He does not” — wow! It makes no difference to these three men that God might choose not to deliver them. They don’t let that uncertainty affect their confession or alter it in any way. This is a true confession of faith, one that risks everything on the certainty that God cannot lie and His promises are always true.
What enables these men to confess their faith so boldly? What makes them so brave in the face of death in the fiery furnace? Only the Spirit of God, working through His Word. Nothing else makes these men able to stand up in the face of the king’s rage and defy him, rather than dishonor God and His holy name. We have that same Spirit living in our hearts. He testifies with our spirit and proves to us that we truly are God’s children. He enables us to place all confidence in God’s holy Word, and to stake our names, our reputations, yes, even our lives and our very souls, on what it tells us. Whether the Lord chooses to deliver us or not, we know that He is our God, in life or in death, and He has declared to us that we will never be parted from Him. We are His baptized children, and He cannot turn His back on us, because of His dear Son, our Intercessor and Mediator.
Their answer fires Nebuchadnezzar’s rage, and he shrieks for the fire to be made seven times hotter. The three young men are thrown in, and then something miraculous happens. They don’t die – in fact, they’re perfectly fine. They’re walking around unharmed, and they’re not alone. The fourth man with them looks like a son of the gods, the Babylonians say. This is the Angel of the Lord, His Son, Jesus Christ – come to strengthen His faithful confessors and to save them in their troubles. They come out of the fire, and they are completely unharmed. God delivered His own miraculously from the hand of their oppressor. He was unable to harm God’s own. Their faithful confession saved them eternally, and it led to their deliverance from the flames.
We too have Christ as our Deliverer. He has given us eternal assurance before God, with which we can thumb our noses at the scorn of the world. Christ still delivers His own even today. He has promised to be with His own in all their troubles, and to save them. If He helps you and delivers you now, it will be to His glory. But even if He does not – even if He allows you to suffer – it will still be to His glory, when you receive the crown of life that will never fade away. Then all will see that what has been done through you was done through God. Take heart — God still delivers His faithful confessors. Amen.