October 1, 2013
Just a few weeks after leaving Egypt, the Israelites were camped at the base of Mount Sinai. The thunder boomed and lightening flashed as the clouds swirled and shrouded the top of the mountain. Moses had fasted and prayed for 40 days in the presence of God, and was now ready to receive the 10 Words of Law handwritten by God on slabs of stone.
The Israelites were to be the people of God dedicated to worshiping God alone, and these 10 Laws were to guide them and give them all they needed to live in a hostile world.
The world around them was filled with various culture groups all with their own regional gods and idols of wood and stone. So it is now wonder that one of God’s words would prohibit his people from engaging in the idolatrous practices of the people around them.
Exodus 20:3-6, “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
One of the primary themes running through the Bible is the tension between worshiping the True God and worshiping something else...something less.
The Apostle Paul understood the first sin of Adam and Eve as an act of idolatry (Rom 1:21–25), “...they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.”
But idolatry isn’t just about worshipping images of wood and stone. It isn’t simply refusing to bend our knees in worship to in a pagan temple. The root of all our sin is in fact a battle against idolatry.
Tim Keller writes “The Bible...does not consider idolatry to be one sin among many (and a rare sin found only among primitive people). Rather, all our failures to trust God wholly or to live rightly are at root idolatry—something we make more important than God.”1
We live in one of the biggest idol worshiping cultures that has ever existed! We are challenged daily to put something...anything at the center of our lives, and when something other than God gives us meaning and purpose and direction...we have succumbed to the call of idolatry.
Idolatry means we have taken something good and useful and beneficial and giving it all of our attention, worship, and service. Anything receiving our best time and attention and energy and resources...is our idol.
Just think of all the possible idols available for us worship:
Celebrity- Respecting, honoring, and learning from someone who has accomplished good things in their life is a good thing, but we have seen the throngs of people who worship at the feet of celebrity and status. The infatuation with every move our favorite celebrity takes...
Fame, Recognition and Personal Achievement- It is not wrong to be recognized for a life of hard work...for people seeing that you have done well in your chosen profession. But we have seen people who hunger for...live for receiving recognition...for being known. It is their idol
Wealth and Power and possessions are popular idols in our culture. Earning a wage for our work and taking care of our family is a good thing. Being in leadership is not a bad thing. Owning things is not in and of itself a sin...But when we stare longingly at the bigger house and want more stuff and love to have control over not just others but every facet of our lives...
Nationalism-Supporting our country and respecting our founding fathers is a good thing. But it becomes and idol when we allow the constitution to speak more boldly in our lives and dictate our actions over and above the Bible.
Science-It is not wrong to love science and the study of our world, but science has taken on an almost religious character moving from just observing and describing our world to infusing it philosophical and religious meaning based on those observations.
Even our children and our families can become idols.
A quick way to decide if you are looking at a possible idol in your life is to ask yourself, “If I were to lose this would it devastate me beyond my ability to cope?”
This is more than just making us sad or distraught or mournful or even hurting us deeply...We are human beings that face the psychological consequences of loss. No, this is basing all our existence and life on something good that is not God.
Another way to probe this issue is to ask, “What do I fear losing the most?” Because our deepest fears reveal what we most want to hold on to in life.
In this message series we have been looking at the book of Daniel, and specifically looking at how it helps us in our witness to the world around us. And how you and I deal with our own sins and idolatry says a lot to the world around us.
We desperately need to learn the lesson of Daniel 3 and see how Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were able to stand up to idolatry at a time when their very life depended on it...With the rampant idolatry in our world...Here are some things we learn from Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego as they faced down idolatry...
We build on prior practice
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were able to stand in the face of this idolatry because they refused to bend in Daniel 1. Many saw obedience to the dietary laws as just a small concession. The King would kill them if they didn’t listen and eat the food. But Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not see it as a small thing...it was simply a matter of obedience or disobedience.
For us to stand in the difficult times, we must learn to stand in the easy times. We must stand up in the small things. The moment we let up on our convictions...give just a little room...do something that makes us feel a little uneasy...we are setting a precedence for future failure.
Notice too they didn’t do this alone...
We depend on our friends.
The Bible doesn’t tell us what would happen if just one of them had been faced with this situation, but thankfully it doesn’t have to. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had each other, and that makes a world of difference when staring into the hungry eyes of temptation.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 reminds us, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
For too long we have hidden our sins from one another. Our desire to make it on our own or to protect ourselves means we have hidden our sins. So time after time we get in too deep and too far, and we are unable to escape without damage to our lives and to the cause of Christ.
Imagine if some of the pastors who have publicly fallen, very early on, had been able to tell one of their friends, “I struggle with pornography.” Or the Christian who committed adultery had been able to say to a trusted friend, “There is this person at work that I enjoy, more than I should, spending time with, and he is not my husband.” What if before succumbing to that temptation we were able to have friends come along side and help us withstand the storm of temptation as it batters at our walls?
But revealing those temptations are dangerous...so we hid them. We pretend they do not exist...so the unbelieving world just waits for us to fall prey to one more of our idols.
We need people around us who can help us stand.
And it is important that...
We remain consistent.
You can’t give up. Moral failure is moral failure even if it happens right at the end. In fact, it is even more sad if it happens right at the end because you had all this time, and rather than let that time strengthen us we allow the time to wear us down.
And don’t be fooled into thinking temptation will just come once. Temptation is a relentless pursuer. It will hunt you down, and chase after you attempting to wear you down.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow before the golden idol...then Nebuchadnezzar brought them into his presence to force them to bow down now. The temptation was amped up. It had to be fairly easier to resist when it was just the 3 of them standing among thousands...maybe no one would notice...but now they were standing there face-to-face with the King himself...the muscle head guards were flexing and holding the rope...the other magi and astrologers were snickering in the corner...the pyromaniac was stoking the fire higher and higher...
The temptation to cave had been substantially raised! And yet they remained consistent.
Even when the King became angry they held firm. Here is a secret...ok, it is not much of a secret...not everyone is going to like our stance when we resist temptation...when we buck the idols of our world...when we choose to live according to God’s principles rather than those of the world and culture around us. In fact, many who attend church and call themselves Christians will become offended when we take a stand for the Truth of the Gospel and living out the Jesus life.
We will stand out. We will be different. We will be noticed...but we will be a witness.
We trust God for the outcome.
I love how these 3 young men responded to Nebuchadnezzar. They said, “King 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 deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 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.”
Their belief in God did not depend on his ability to save them. Whether or not God saved them...He was real, and He was the one, true God. The outcome does not determine the existence of God. God is real whether they survive or not.
Some times we like to challenge God.
God if you are real...then we give him the answer we desire him to give...the action we think He ought to perform.
But God is not our monkey dancing to prove anything to us. When we pray and treat God in this manner we make him nothing more than a genie in a bottle.
God moves and act in response to our prayer, but it is all in service to the Kingdom. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego knew God would act and move according to what was best overall...but whether or not they were delivered God was still God and they would still trust him.
There have been countless times in my life where I have prayed for a particular outcome. Challenged God to move the way I wanted Him to move...and He did not do it. At times I got angry...and at others I acted in a way that was honoring to God...I have done it all...but no matter what
When we take a stand...We see God shows up!
I don’t know how God will help you get through your temptations and beat back the idols in your life...but I know that when you stand up to them, resist them, and depend on others for support God shows up. In the midst of the fiery trials of our lives...Jesus will show up.
He doesn’t always do things the way we want...If I were one of these 3 young men, I would have wanted him to show up before I ever had to take a stand...send me on Babylonian Business trip away from there so I didn’t have to bow down...give me the flu on the day of...cause the King to have a change of mind...
He could even have shown up just after I took the stand...you know, soften the King’s heart or even better make it so no one sees or just ignores me. Or, if I wanted the miraculous, He could have caused a strong wind to blow out the fire...I would prefer all of that to Him waiting to dance with me inside the fiery furnace!
But sometimes that is when God shows up...when we are in the furnace. When we stand up to our culture’s idols and refuse to worship at their shrines...God shows up. It isn’t always easy. He often waits far too long for our comfort, but He does show up, and when He does show up...
We draw people closer to God.
In Daniel 1, Nebuchadnezzar wasn’t even close to acknowledging the existence of Yahweh God.
In Daniel 2, after Daniel interprets his dream, Nebuchadnezzar acknowledges God. He says, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.”
Now, in Daniel 3, Nebuchadnezzar takes another step closer. He says, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.”
When we stand against the idols of our culture...it will make some people upset with us...even people who call themselves Christians and attend church...but when God shows up people’s hearts are changed...they are drawn closer to Him because we were willing to stand against our idols despite all pressure to cave.
Every day we are faced with the pressure to bow before the idols of our culture.
Our jobs will want us to work longer and harder. Our family will tempt us to place them on the pedestal. Our desire to get and have more stuff will come up over and over again. Our nation will ask for our complete allegiance over all others and disguise it as patriotism.
So we must continually challenge ourselves with this question... “Has something or someone besides Jesus the Christ taken title to your heart’s trust, preoccupation, loyalty, service, fear and delight?”2
But when we stand up to the idols of our world, some will be angered, but some will see the power of the God we serve and be drawn closer to Him because we stood against the idols!