The Journey: But If Not...
December 3, 2017
Daniel 3:1, 8-30
In 1940, in the early part of World War II, the German forces were inflicting heavy casualties on the Allied Forces of Britain and France. As the powerful Nazi troops swept across Europe, the 350,000 soldiers of the Allied Army were forced to retreat.
BUT as they were making their escape, they got trapped on a beach across from the English Channel at Dunkirk, France. The sea on one side, the invading Nazi army on the other.
The Nazi’s had the Allied Army completely surrounded. The Nazi Air Force actually dropped leaflets on the British Forces telling them to surrender --- there was no hope of escape.
All of England knew of the situation that their soldiers were in … and were waiting on the news of the annihilation of the 350,000 brave men.
Late one night…May 25th, a simple three-word message was transmitted across the airwaves of England from the commander of the British Army. The message read: “But … If … Not.”
And then something amazing happened.
In a matter of hours, without any formal organization, thousands of English citizens got in their private boats and began heading across the English Channel towards their trapped soldiers at Dunkirk.
Small fishing boats, trawlers, large private boats, even an Olympic racing yacht. At the risk of their own lives from the dangerous waters and certain enemy fire, they raced to the beaches of Dunkirk and began evacuating their sons, brothers, fathers, and friends.
By the next day, all the troops had been rescued in what historians now call the “Miracle of Dunkirk.”
But … if … not …
What did these three words mean, and how did the Brits all know to act so collectively and decisively.
The answer, of course, is in the 3rd chapter of Daniel.
The story of three men, about to be thrown into a fiery furnace because they refuse to worship a false god.
They trust that God will save them …
and they tell the king Nebuchadnezzar as much …
and then they say these words …
from the King James version … the version the Brits would have been familiar with in 1940:
“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.” – Daniel 3:18, KJV
Death appeared imminent …
they trusted God for rescue …
But if not …
they still wouldn’t bend their knees,
they still wouldn’t surrender.
The Brits knew about BUT IF NOT … and it moved them to action.
BACKDROP – BABYLONIAN EXILE
The story of the fiery furnace is set during the time of the Babylonian Exile.
It’s an event recorded in 2 Kings 25, and written about in many of the Psalms, the book of Lamentations, and is the backdrop to many of the prophets’ writings.
The Israelites had rebelled against the Babylonians.
Babylon was the major superpower of the day.
And so the Babylonians, and their King Nebuchadnezzar, paid retribution on the Israelites for their rebellion.
First, they took the King, the Priests, the Prophets, the Army, and all the wisest leaders of Israel to Babylon.
And then, the Babylonians decimated the city of Jerusalem.
They destroyed the temple.
The crushed the synagogues.
And they left the people there to starve to death.
The OT book of Lamentations is about the people who were left in Jerusalem during that time.
So with that history in mind, the only way to understand Daniel 3 is by explaining what happens in Daniel 1 and 2.
In Daniel CHAPTER 1: We learn that the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar ordered his chief of the court officials to bring some Israelites from the royal family to him …
He wanted to put them through three years of intense training where they would learn the language, the literature, the history, and the culture of the Babylonians. Basically, three years of brainwashing into the Babylonian way of life.
Among those chosen were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah …
And, as part of the brainwashing, the Babylonians gave them new names.
Daniel becomes Belteshazzar.
Hananiah became Shadrach.
Mishael, became Meshach.
And Azariah became Abednego.
But unlike the other Jewish men who were chosen, these men had a strong faith in God … and they refused certain aspects of the king’s court that went against their convictions.
Changing their names didn’t change their character.
Chapter 2 begins with King Nebuchadnezzar consulting his magicians, and astrologers, and smartest guys in the empire about a dream he wanted to have interpreted. None of them could do it.
Which made Nebuchadnezzar really angry. So angry that he ordered the execution of all the wise men of Babylon.
Well, Daniel prayed, asking God to spare his life and give him an interpretation of the dream.
And, God answered his prayer.
Now, the King is so captivated by Daniel’s ability that he places Daniel as a ruler of the entire province of Babylon and places him in charge of all the wise men….
and appoints Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego administrators over the province of Babylon.
So … by the end of the second chapter…Daniel and his three friends are …
men of great faith.
men of great passion.
And now men of great position.
They’ve found favor not just with God …
but also with their enemies!
And that brings us to chapter 3 – the fiery furnace …
DANIEL 3:1, 8-30
1 King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, ninety feet high and nine feet wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.
8 At this time some astrologers came forward and denounced the Jews.
9 They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “O king, live forever! 10 You have issued a decree, O king, that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music must fall down and worship the image of gold, 11 and that whoever does not fall down and worship will be thrown into a blazing furnace. 12 But there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego—who pay no attention to you, O king. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up.”
13 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, …or in the King James Version: “But if 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.
28 Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “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. 29 Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.”
30 Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the province of Babylon.
BUT IF NOT…
But if not…
Three words … spoken in the midst of tragedy …
Three words … spoken with great faith….
Three words … spoken as an act of courage…
Three words … spoken as an act of submission,
not to the temporary pressure of the moment, but to the eternal presence of God.
Three words … spoken in the flames of a furnace.
BUT IF NOT … those three words still have something to teach us today about living in the flames.
We all encounter flames of some kind at some point …
THE QUESTION IS: How do we live in the midst of the flames? When we feel as though we’ve been carried off to a foreign land,
or asked to do something that goes against our convictions,
When we face dire circumstances and we don’t see a way out … how do we live?
But if not …
These three words, and what they represent become a powerful way to live in the midst of struggle and suffering.
THERE ARE THINGS BEYOND OUR CONTROL
First, BUT IF NOT reminds us that there will always be things beyond our control …
but the things beyond our control don’t have to control us.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego
had no control over the flames of the fire,
no control over the response of the king,
no control of the land they were living in …
They weren’t in control of their circumstances,
Their circumstances weren’t in control of them, either.
Sometimes, in the midst of the furnace, all we can say is
“God I trust you … I believe you love me … I believe you will make a way out of this … but if not … I will still not bow down. I will not give myself over to the false gods
You know, I’ve done a lot of damage to my soul and to the welfare of others because I’ve felt entitled. You probably have, too.
BUT IF NOT refuses to bend a knee to all of these false gods who continually whisper “follow me to happiness, to independence, follow me because you deserve it.”
You see … BUT IF NOT is declaration of trust without conditions.
YOUR TRUE NAME!
Now, the question is, How do you muster the courage,
how do you find the audacity to face the flames of life with that kind of unrestricted, unconditional trust …
like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego avowing “BUT IF NOT …”
Well, You Remember Your true name.
We know this as the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. But those are not their real names.
Those are the names given to them by the Babylonians.
- Did you know that Shadrach, is a name that means … “Commander of Aku [the moon god].” But his real name, wasn’t Shadrach, but Hananiah, a name that means: “God has been gracious.”
- And, did you know that Meshach is a name that means “Who is like Aku?” But, his real name wasn’t Meshach, it was Misha’el … which means: “Who is like God [Yahweh]!”
- And did you know that Abednego is a name that means, “Servant of Nebo [god of wisdom].” But his real name is Azariah, which means: “Yahweh has helped.”
It’s a shame that we know them by their false names…the names that the Babylonians gave them.
Because they lived their lives, not by those names,
but by their true names.
Lives of devotion, reliance, and trust in God.
Of course, we have the same choice.
This world will try to give you all kinds of names.
It may be a name that others covet – a name that implies wealth, power, and influence.
Or it may be a name that stinks of a curse – like reject, loser, or failure.
But…those names … are … not … your true … names!
The bible says that in Christ you are a New Creation.
It says that we are Saints.
Predestined for good things.
Chosen before the creation of the world.
… like stars shining in the heavens.
Children of the living God.
That is your true name!
And when you live in the flames of the furnace,
you have to remember your real name.
Because the names that the world gives us just don’t cut it.
Today, your Heavenly Father, your King, invites you to trust …
- To trust that even though you aren’t in control, God still is.
- To trust that your true name is the name that your Heavenly Father has given you, and none other.
- To live a life of trust marked by three little words, “But if not …”
You know … it strikes me that on the night that Jesus was betrayed, he prayed a BUT IF NOT prayer … In the garden before he was arrested, you remember? He prayed, “Father, if it’s possible, let this cup pass from me … but if not … but if not … I will trust you anyway.”
Do you want to know what’s on the other side of “But if not …”? What “But if not” leads to?
This morning, God invites you to allow the broken bread,
and poured out wine to lead you to trust
To trust that your sins are forgiven in Christ
That the old is gone and the new has come
That death has been defeated
That the flames have already been extinguished
through the broken body and the poured-out blood of the Risen Christ who prayed, “But if not …”