Tested By Fire (A Dr. O Special) – Daniel 3; Ecclesiastes 1:9

by Roger McCay
19 July 2020
Sermon Passage: Daniel 3; Ecclesiastes 1:9
Link to Audio Version
Link to Dr. O’s Preaching of the Sermon

16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. 17 If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. 18 But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up. (KJV)

Today I’m going to try something a little different. Other pastors have done this sort of thing, so the idea is not new with me. But, this is something I’ve wanted to do for a while.

Today’s sermon was first preached in 1980, at Trinity Church, in Montgomery, by my pastor, Dr. Robert J. Ostenson, whom we fondly called Dr. O. In “The Link” newsletter, back in March of this year, I wrote an article on Dr. O. If you want to take a look at the write-up again, on my website (rogermccay.org), you can find it among most of the other articles I’ve written for MPC over the past 3 years. 

My parents first heard Dr. O preach in 1974, at Dr. O’s first Sunday at Trinity. It also happened to be their first time to visit the church. After hearing Dr. O’s sermon, Dad was hooked. He says he’d never heard preaching like that before, and he wanted more of it. So, they joined the church, which had just broken away from the old denomination as part of the new denomination, the PCA. Over the years, Dad collected many of Dr. O’s sermons on cassette tape, and he listened to them over and over, to where some of the tapes were pretty worn out. As a labor of love, a few years back, I digitized all the viable tapes (97 sermons) and posted them on my website.

A fascinating thing about these sermons (which date from March 1975 to January 1985) is how apt they are for us today. They speak to the things of that time, but their message is also valuable in our time. This is, of course like the writer of Ecclesiastes wrote in ch. 1, v. 9,

What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. (ESV)

Today’s sermon is on happenings in Babylon in the 6th century B.C, with the events of the book of Daniel taking place from 605-536 B.C. It is remarkable how so many of the goings-on in 6th century B.C. Babylon are so timeless. They happen repeatedly throughout history in some form or another. Dr. O spoke on these things in his sermon series in 1980, which covered .

As I’ve listened to and studied his sermons, and as I’ve considered the state of things around us today, it has struck me how his insights are poignantly apt concerning the U.S. in 2020 (forty years, give or take, after they were first preached). Along those lines, I thought this sermon by Dr. O (about Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego in ), continues to have much to say to us, particularly with so many people bowing the knee to the idols of the culture, today, at times quite literally.

So, hear the words from the past, on the words from the ancient past, speaking to us today.

Dr. Robert J. Ostenson
“Tested by Fire”

Now, I want to open by asking you a question: What is your price? What is the price for which you would sell out your convictions, and your consecration, and your commitment? The world believes that every man, every woman, has his price, that if the bribe is high enough, the offer enticing enough, or the threat awful enough, every man, every woman, would be willing to sell his soul, and sell his convictions and his consecration. There are many who believe this is a universal truth. And yet, when we turn to the Word of God, we find revealed that there have been men and women down through biblical history that are not for sale—men and women of such commitment, of such devotion and determination to the living God that they would not sell out their convictions nor their consecration. We have this revealed here in the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, three young men who were devoted, who were determined, and as a consequence, were delivered.

By way of review, you remember the story that when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon laid siege to Jerusalem and destroyed it. He took away thousands of Jewish people into captivity back to Babylon. And he instructed his officers to pick some of the best young men and young women, in the Jewish city. Four of those young men that were taken back were Daniel, Azariah, Hananiah, and Mishael, but as soon as they arrived in Babylon, they were given the Babylonian names Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. And the intent was to train them for service in the royal court of Babylon. Do you remember the story in the first chapter, how these three young men refused the diet from the king’s luxurious table, and they thrived on pulse and water? But God also blessed them with great learning and wisdom, and he gave Daniel the ability to interpret dreams. And so impressed was King Nebuchadnezzar, with Daniel’s ability to interpret his dream of the great image, that he elevated the four young men to high positions in his government.

But there came a day, when King Nebuchadnezzar, in vanity, in pride, erected on the plains of Dura a large golden statue, probably inspired by his earlier dream of the great image. And on the day of its dedication, he gathered all the leaders of his kingdom, and he issued an edict, “When you hear the sounds of all the music, every single one of you is to get down on his knees and worship this golden image. And if you refuse, you will be cast into the burning fiery furnace.”

And so, at the appointed time, as the music drifted out over the Plain of Dura, everyone fell to his knees and worshipped the golden image. That is, everyone, except three Jewish young men, in whose hearts and whose minds rang the second commandment, which decreed, “Thou shalt not make unto thyself any images. Nor shall thou bow down and worship them.” Three young, Jewish men, who were devoted to the living God.

Now, when their refusal was brought to the attention of the mighty monarch, he was filled with fury, the Bible says. And he called these young men into his presence and demanded to know why they’d disobeyed. But, he says,

“I’ll give you one more chance. If, when you hear the music again, you will get down and worship the golden image, I’ll forgive your previous disobedience. But, if you refuse, you will be cast into the burning fiery furnace. And what god is able to delivery you from that?”

Now, from the human standpoint, there are all kinds of reasons, I am certain, that these young men could have dreamed up to rationalize themselves, so that they would have conformed to the king’s edict. For example: They were not necessarily being forced into a lifetime of idolatry. All they had to do is bend the knee this one time. They didn’t have to give up the worship of the God of Israel. Secondly, as captives of this mighty emperor, they could say they had been coerced. They were forced into it. They had to obey him. Thirdly, after all, the emperor had been their benefactor. He had educated them. He had provided for them. Surely, they could twist conscience just a little bit, in order to please their benefactor. And then, too, they were in a strange country. They were far from home. Couldn’t they roll with the stream when they were away from home? Furthermore, hadn’t their forefathers worshipped images and idols like this way-way back in their past history? And finally, if they would comply, they could retain their positions of prominence. And think of all the good that they would be able to do for the other people that were captive in Babylon. From a human standpoint, all of these seemed logical reasons why they could say, “Let’s conform, let’s bend conscience and conviction just a little bit and go along.”

But not so for these three young Jews. There was another word ringing in their hearts. A Word that had been put there by a godly father and mother. Godly fathers and mothers who had trained up their sons in the Word of the Lord. And without a moment’s hesitation, they replied to the mighty emperor of Babylon,

“O king, we don’t need time to consider this. We do not need to pause and think for reasons. We believe that our God is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace. He’s able to deliver us from your hand, if that be his will. But even if that is not his will, we want you to know, O king, we will not bend our knee and worship the golden image.”

When commanded to conform or to be consumed, these young men trusted the providence of Almighty God, that he was able to deliver them if that was his will. But, like Job of old, they said in their hearts, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.”

You see, they were willing to be martyred for their God-centered consciences rather than give in. And with a complete dependence upon Almighty God, they put themselves at the mercy of the emperor. And in his rage, Nebuchadnezzar commanded that the furnace be heated seven times hotter than it had ever been heated before. So hot was it, that the soldiers, who carried the three young men to its borders, were themselves consumed by the flames. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were cast into the furnace bound.

But then, an amazing thing took place. Those who were looking on reported to Nebuchadnezzar that no injury, no harm, had come to these three young Jewish men. And Nebuchadnezzar hastened to the edge of the furnace, and he was astonished. He said, “Did we not cast bound three men into that flame?” And they said, “It is true, O king.” And Nebuchadnezzar said, “But, I see four men walking, and they’re not harmed. And one like unto the Son of God is in their midst.”

Because of their devotion, because of their determination, God delivered them. Not even their clothes were singed. Only the cords that bound them were burned and set them free. One like unto the Son of God was there in the moment of trial to deliver them from this test.

And when Nebuchadnezzar beheld this amazing deliverance, he glorified the God of Israel, and he issued an edict that no-one speak any evil against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. And because he was so convinced of the integrity of these young men, who refused to dishonor their God, he elevated them to even higher positions in his royal court.

Now that’s the story. … The application:

I am convinced that there is a biblical truth and a biblical message that is revealed in this story for every single one of us. There is a pertinent, personal application of the truth that is revealed here. Morally and spiritually speaking, every single one of us has a Plain of Dura. We have a place where you and I are confronted with a crisis day after day, time after time. For you and I are faced with a decision, where we either have to go along in conformity with this world, or by conviction and consecration we have to take a stand and a commitment to the living God. You have your plains of Dura, I have mine. But, those places of testing, where you and I are confronted by a decision … Perhaps you were on your Plain of Dura this past week. A golden image might have stood on that counter in the office, or by that business desk. Or, it might have been in a social circle, or a dozen and one other places, where you were confronted by a decision, with a temptation to go the way of the world, or the decision to stand true for God. For you see, those plains of Dura are those places of testing, those places when you and I are confronted by a world that would claim our allegiance, that would captivate our hearts, and say “Do this or follow this. Conform.” Or you and I have to refuse like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and say, “My convictions and my consecration and my determination is such that I cannot bend the knee. I will not bow down to the golden image of the world!”

Now these golden images have all kinds of names: money, prestige, power, position, social acceptability, personal pleasure, you name it. But whatever causes you or calls you to turn away your devotion and commitment to the Lord and give it to the golden idol, the golden image, erected in your presence by the world … and, just as Nebuchadnezzar surrounded his idolatrous worship with enticing music in order to get the people into the mood to bow down and worship that golden image on the Plain of Dura, so it is with the world.

If we may put it this way, the world throws the book at you: the lust of the eye, and the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. In our books, in our magazines, on the screens, in the media, wherever you turn, they constantly barrage day after day, “O come on, give in. Bend the knee. Everybody’s doing it, why not you?” And if enticement doesn’t succeed, there is always the burning fiery furnace. That furnace is always hot and waiting. “Conform. Bend the knee. You’re going to lose business. You’ll be blacklisted. People will gossip about you and backbite about you. You’ll lose your prestige and position. You won’t be invited to parties anymore.”

You know how it is. So go the threats. So go the enticements. And Satan comes along and he whispers in our ears, “O come on, everyone has his price. What is yours? Tell me, and I’ll give it to you.”

Now, the question before us this morning is this: How can we stand? How can we withstand the enticements and the threats? How are we able to say this morning, “I would rather die in mine integrity than to live in iniquity?” How do you do that? How can you live in this world with all the peer pressure, with all the kinds of business pressures and social pressures that are leveled in a constant barrage against the Christian? How do you stand up to this? What does it take to emerge the victor on the Plain of Dura?

First of all, it takes a wholehearted devotion to the living God and his Son, Jesus Christ, based on some solid convictions. You’ve heard it said many times, “He who stands for nothing will fall for anything.” And that’s true in the spiritual realm, as well. In the day in which we live, through the modern media, through education, our society has been so brainwashed that we have practically no convictions concerning anything, particularly in the moral, ethical, and spiritual realms. Anything goes, just so long as it doesn’t interfere with my personal life.

We’ve been hearing Francis Schaffer say these evenings this past week:

“The great blanket, the cloud that has settled down over American life. The goals that stand before Americans—personal peace and affluence, as long as my life is not disturbed and bothered, as long as I can do my own thing and have my own way and not get involved with other people’s troubles anywhere, and as long as I can have all the material things that I want. That’s all that life really means.”[1]

But, my friend, if you name the name of Jesus Christ, if you claim to be a believer, you can’t live that way. You can’t live that way. The world may not have any real convictions. The world may not have any real commitment to the living God. But, if you belong to the Savior, if you claim to be redeemed by his precious blood, and been redeemed, and you have been indwelt by the Holy Spirit, you cannot live that way. Anything goes … not at all.

And you and I will never be able to stand against the drift of the day if we don’t have some solid convictions. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had solid convictions. Why? Because they had been trained in the Word of God. They knew something of their past history. They knew that Almighty God had delivered his people from the bondage of Egypt; that he had supplied their needs; that he had guided them. From their understanding of the Word of God, they knew that God was all powerful; that he was a God who was exceeding able to do his perfect will; that he was the great creator and lawgiver. But, he was also a merciful and loving God, who took care of his people. And when his people honored him, he was there to strengthen and undergird them. This is what it has to be for you and me.

I am convinced that the reason why more nominal Christians do not stand firm, in this society in which we live, is that they have so few solid convictions concerning Almighty God and his Son, Jesus Christ. And yet, God has given you his Word. Everything that you and I need to know about the living God and his Son, Jesus Christ, is revealed here in the Word. He has supplied everything that you and I need to have conviction! He has sent his Holy Spirit to drive those convictions into our minds and into our hearts and to confirm them. So that, when you and I come to the place of testing, when we come to the plains of Dura, no matter what the enticements, no matter what the threats may be, we can say, “My convictions and my determination are so solid that I will not deny my blessed Lord.”

We could speak this morning about a prayer life. How vital this is, to learn that day by day communion with the Lord. You see, when your heart and my heart (figuratively speaking), has its knees bent in prayer to the living God, it’s mighty difficult to bend those knees to golden images. And how important it is to be schooled in instant prayer. Cause, you see you never know when you’re going to turn the corner and there stands a golden image, and to be able to cry out within your soul, “Lord, help me!” in this moment of temptation.

But most important of all is this, knowing Jesus Christ in a personal, day by day, moment by moment walk. When we talk to him in prayer. When he talks to us in the Word. And we’re maintaining that close communion and fellowship with him, let me tell you something. Jesus Christ will satisfy your soul like nothing else will satisfy it. The golden images, my friend, are going to let you down some day. They will pervert the truth. But Jesus Christ will never let you down. And he will satisfy the hunger and the yearning of the human heart like nothing else.

Now let us realize this, finally, that when you and I would be faithful to the Lord, when we would take that stand based on the conviction and conscience inspired by the Holy Spirit, the fiery trials are going to come. The world crucified the Lord of Glory. Can his followers expect any less? The Lord never promised that the Christian would not have fiery furnaces, and storms, and testings, and trials. If ye go counter to the world in any way, you are going to experience this sometimes. In fact, my friends, something is drastically wrong; something is drastically wrong, if your Christian witness and testimony gets nothing but pats on the back. I’m not talking about any self-made, self-styled martyrdom. I’m just talking about living true to the Lord Jesus. Living for him. Seeking to glorify him. Seeking to live your life in obedience to the Word. That’s all we’re talking about. And, if you’re seeking to do that, with the enabling of the Holy Spirit, you are going to encounter some opposition. But although that may be true, I want to remind you that the Lord Jesus promised, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee. Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.”

So, know what they say for certain, that when you have refused to bend the knee to whatever the golden image may be, in that moment of temptation (when you are being tried, and you have cast yourself in complete reliance upon the sufficiency of Almighty God and his Son, Jesus Christ), God, in his mighty providence is going to undergird you and strengthen you and stand with you. O how I pray this morning, that the Holy Spirit would burn this, burn this into our hearts and into our minds. For how we need in the Christian church today, men and women of solid convictions, who unashamedly are willing to stand up and be counted for that which is true and right according to the Scriptures.

Everywhere you look, on the national level, on the state level, on the local level: compromise, sellouts, anything goes, expediency, conform. We elect men to office on the basis they say, “When I get into office, you elect me, I’ll do this.” And they don’t. Because the pressures are so great. How we need today Christian businessmen who refuse to operate by the shady rules of the business world. How we need Christian couples who unashamedly, in the social area, will stand up and be counted for Jesus Christ and refuse to conform to the cheap standards of our society. How we need Christian young people who unashamedly will stand up for Jesus on their campuses. No matter what the pressures may be. Christian people who will stand firm.

Beloved, everybody else is going the other direction.

Jesus said to the church, “You’re the light of the world.” He said to believers, “You are the salt of the earth.” But what happens if the salt loses saltness? Or, if the light is put under the bushel? Who is going to lead the way? Who is going to show the right way? It seems to me that the message of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is before us this morning in this 20th [now 21st] century. What do we do? The easy thing is to conform. The easy … It doesn’t take any character … It doesn’t take any moral integrity to float with the stream. But it takes people with solid clear-cut Christian convictions, filled with the Holy Spirit, who are willing to stand up and be counted for Jesus Christ and the gospel. And this is our calling today.

And, may I say, when you stand firm, and when you seek to honor and glorify the Lord, (just as it was in ), one like unto the Son of God standeth with you.

May we pray:

Our Father and our God, we praise thy name for the illustrations, the examples that are revealed to us in Thy Word. Paul says they were given to us for our learning, that we might learn the lessons we need to learn. Father, you have permitted us to live in a day and a time and a world that’s going down the wrong road. We look at the immorality. We look at the humanism. We look at the anti-God forces that are so prevalent. Lord, we ask ourselves this morning, “Where are the people of God? Where are those who are willing to be identified with the Lord of Glory? Where are those that are willing to stand up and be counted for the truth?” O God, move upon our hearts by thy Holy Spirit, that we may be found as those three young Jewish men, who were willing to say, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.” Grant it our Father, we pray, in Jesus’ name, Amen.


[1] From Francis Schaeffer’s “How Shall We Then Live” video series. Not sure the specific reference. May be a sum.