"But Even If"
A Hermeneutical Sermon
Given By John McKay
On October 18, 2006
A downloadable Quicktime movie of the introduction video is here
A downloadable Quicktime movie of the sermon is here
A Web version of the PowerPoint presentation is here
A downloadable set of the PowerPoint slides is here
(PPT Slide 1)
In the first two chapters of the Book of Daniel, we have seen where the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar promotes one of his captive Jews, Daniel, to be his most trusted advisor, and even praises the God of Abraham after Daniel correctly identified and interpreted one of the king's dreams.
Today, we turn to the third chapter of Daniel, and the story of three other great Jewish witnesses of God:
(PPT Slide 2-31, coordinated with the scripture reading)
Dan. 3:1 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.
Dan. 3:2 He then summoned the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials to come to the dedication of the image he had set up.
Dan. 3:3 So the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials assembled for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up, and they stood before it.
Dan. 3:4 Then the herald loudly proclaimed, "This is what you are commanded to do, O peoples, nations and men of every language:
Dan. 3:5 As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.
Dan. 3:6 Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace."
Dan. 3:7 Therefore, as soon as they heard the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp and all kinds of music, all the peoples, nations and men of every language fell down and worshiped the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
Dan. 3:8 At this time some astrologers came forward and denounced the Jews.
Dan. 3:9 They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, "O king, live forever!
Dan. 3:10 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,
Dan. 3:11 and that whoever does not fall down and worship will be thrown into a blazing furnace.
Dan. 3:12 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."
Dan. 3:13 Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king,
Dan. 3:14 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?
Dan. 3:15 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?"
Dan. 3:16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.
Dan. 3:17 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.
Dan. 3:18 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."
Dan. 3:19 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
Dan. 3:20 and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace.
Dan. 3:21 So these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace.
Dan. 3:22 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,
Dan. 3:23 and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace.
Dan. 3:24 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."
Dan. 3:25 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."
Dan. 3:26 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,
Dan. 3:27 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. 3:28 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.
Dan. 3:29 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."
Dan. 3:30 Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the province of Babylon.
(PPT Slide 32)
So what does the story contained in Daniel 3 have to do with firefighting, as the video showed? Let me explain that by telling you a little about my former, pre-teaching life. When I got out of the Army in the early 1980s, I went to work at Grady Memorial Hospital in downtown Atlanta as a Paramedic.
(PPT Slide 33)
I didn't really know what I wanted to do with my life at that time, I was not a believer in Christ, and all I really wanted to be was a hero. Grady was a good place to try and become one, as we averaged around 15 calls per shift, many of which were very violent trauma scenes, as well as dangerous rescue situations. Some of the violence was still going on when we arrived on scene, which made for some even more exciting situations. Some of the rescue scenes were overly exciting as well, leading to awards, commendations and plaudits on the evening news.
This was all very exciting and nice, but none of it satisfied the hunger I had for more. I know now what it was I was lacking, but at the time, I just wanted to get into more and more dangerous situations, and be a bigger hero to more people.
(PPT Slide 34)
After a few years at Grady, I left and went to Forsyth County as a Paramedic, but by that time, I had gotten interested in firefighting. It seemed like a great way to make a living:
- You wear $2,000 custom made suits that your job buys for you
- You drive to work in a million dollar vehicle
- That vehicle has all sorts of shiny things and bling
- People have to get out of your way as you drive to work, it's the law!
- Once you get to work, you get to take sledgehammers and knock down doors, and use saws to cut big holes in roofs
- Then you get to use big water hoses and spray water all over everything inside the house
- They pay you to do all this, and people love you for it!
(PPT Slide 35)
After training and working for other fire departments, I joined the Dahlonega-Lumpkin County Fire Department in 1989. At first I was assigned to an engine crew out of the main station on the public square,
(PPT Slide 36)
And later was assigned to crew a quick response and rescue unit.
(PPT Slide 37)
Firefighting is a great job, but not exactly heroic and glamorous, most of the time.
(PPT Slide 38-41, a few seconds pause between each)
This last picture illustrates well how firefighters are different than normal people – he is about to open that door and enter a "fully involved" room, one with fire from floor to ceiling. Most people would be heading at high speed the other way!
(PPT Slides 42-43, a few seconds pause between them)
More often than not, instead of widely publicized scenes of heroic rescues, you end up spending tedious, dangerous and exhausting hours pouring water on mostly destroyed structures.
(PPT Slide 44)
Much training is required in order to do everything safely and properly, including learning how to take naps in between training rotations.
(PPT Slide 45)
In 1992,I was selected to attend firefighting instructor's school at the Georgia Fire Academy in Forsyth, and was reassigned to the training department, teaching new recruits.
(PPT Slide 46)
Since this was a small department, I also got plenty of opportunities to fight fires – this is one of my favorite photos from that time. It was taken by a local news photographer at the scene of a house fire (obviously)
(PPT Slide 47)
I was asking the fire chief what he wanted me to do, and being a man of few words and a good grasp of the obvious, he simply replied, "Put the fire out, John."
(PPT Slide 48)
Another photo of the Station 1 crew – a good looking bunch of people!
(PPT Slide 49)
Later that same year, I was asked to come back to the Fire Academy as an adjunct instructor, here we are setting up for a "flammable liquids" school – teaching new firefighters how to put out blazing pools of gasoline.
(PPT Slide 50)
We had five instructors to teach all the required training to the 200-man department, plus train 10-20 new recruits every year.
(PPT Slides 51-56, a few seconds pause between them)
Each new recruit was put through a three month school that taught them how to work in zero-visibility environments, handle ladders and all the equipment on the trucks, and get used to the searing heat of structural fires. In 1993, I was promoted to lieutenant, and put in charge of the training department. As I was still looking for awards and glory, this seemed like an exceptionally good thing.
(PPT Slide 57)
My wife, Bonnie, a registered nurse, joined the department as a volunteer medical officer in 1990. She was a near-lifelong Christian, and had been attending a very active church until shortly before we married. I had less than no interest in being one of those "church people," like some of the men I worked with, as I had been raised in an atheist home, and had been taught to loath and ridicule anything even remotely Christian. Bonnie had backslidden around the time we married, and had quit attending church, something I heartily endorsed at the time. By the early 1990s, though, she had followed God's calling back into the faith, and had begun attending the Presbyterian Church in Dahlonega.
(PPT Slide 58)
Bonnie's very deep faith in the Lord had affected me by that time, and I started going to church with her. I still didn't believe in a God, much less in Jesus Christ being Lord & Savior, but the fact that my dearly beloved wife was such a believer started working on me. If she believed in something that deeply, there simply had to be something more to it than I had been taught by my parents.
(PPT Slide 59)
Bonnie has a great sense of humor, as well (she had to, to stay married to me!). Here is her on the cover of a cookbook the department put out – not the usually way to knock the fire down on a grill!
(PPT Slide 60)
In October of 1992, we had been donated an old house to burn and train in. I was going to lead my first full class of rookies into their first real fire situation. Here, and
(PPT Slide 61)
here, they are lining up behind the safety officer, getting ready to go in. I was in a hurry to get going, and made some critical mistakes. One of these firefighters did not have his gear on properly, and we didn't catch it until right after this photo was taken, right as we were supposed to enter the burn building. It took several minutes to correct, and the set fire got out of control in the meantime.
When we entered the burn house, I saw far more fire inside the main room than I had ever seen in a training situation before, way more than was really safe, and this was the very first real fire these new recruits had experienced. What I should have done was back out and send in the safety crew to knock down the fire and reset it. Instead, I ordered the rookies into the room.
Do you remember the warehouse fire scenes in the video, right before I came up here? It looked a great deal like that, except we couldn't see much fire through the heavy, black smoke. I remember seeing flames start to appear in the midst of the smoke, realized what was about to happen, and turned to order the rookies to hit it with their hose. All of them were frozen, just staring at all the fire and smoke. Before I could react and grab the hose away from them, the room flashed-over.
What that means is that the air and everything in the room had reached its ignition temperature, between 800-1000 degrees Fahrenheit. From the outside, it looked like this:
(PPT Slide 62)
I remember falling on my face, and thinking I was dead. It seemed like hours, but after just a few seconds in that fireball, the safety crew came in, put me out (all my equipment was burning), knocked the fire down in the room, and got us all out safely.
(PPT Slide 63)
My turnout coat, made of a NASA produced material called PBI, that isn't supposed to burn, was badly damaged,
(PPT Slides 64-65, a few seconds in between)
And my helmet, rated to withstand 500 degree temperatures, had scorched, pitted and partly melted.
This event shook me up for more reasons than the fire itself. While I was inside that fireball, something odd had happened. I had fallen on the floor, getting as low as possible, and had started feeling the heat from my gear catching on fire. But, after a second or two, I felt something, or someone, wrap around me, shielding me from the heat and flames. All of my gear was destroyed, but I didn't have so much as a bruise in the end.
(PPT Slide 66)
Bonnie told me at the time she had watched what had happened from outside the house, but that the Holy Spirit had let her know I would be fine. We talked about the reality of God, and Christ as being my savior, but I was still too dumb and stubborn to let go of what I knew, or thought I knew, to be right. Even after this direct and unmistakable show of God's power and mercy, Bonnie had to witness to me for 10 more years before she could lead me to the Lord.
Now, what does all this have to do with the lesson in Daniel?
(PPT Slide 67)
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego didn't have PBI turnout gear and high-temperature rated firefighting helmets to protect them from the inferno of that furnace. It did not matter though, as what actually protected me from death in my own fire protected them all those many years ago
(PPT Slide 68)
God had other plans for them that day
(PPT Slide 69)
And we know that part of that plan was to use them to display his might and glory to an unbelieving king.
(PPT Slide 70)
I was not a believer in Christ at that time,
(PPT Slide 71)
but God in His mercy and wisdom decided to save me from the flames as well. I do not know why, only that He saw some use for me in His kingdom.
(PPT Slide 72)
God has plans for you as well,
(PPT Slide 73)
None of us know for sure what those plans may be, or where He may see fit to put us, but we can rest assured in one thing,
(PPT Slide 74)
These plans are to prosper you and not to harm you, as the prophet Jeremiah wrote 2,500 years ago.
(PPT Slide 75)
God knows what is best for both you and His kingdom, and will arrange your circumstances to meet this. It may not always be what we want to happen.
(PPT Slide 76)
So long as you live here on earth, you will experience trials and hardships, you will have "fiery furnaces" of your own to go through
(PPT Slide 77)
You may be going through something right now that seems like it will burn you up
(PPT Slide 78)
You may have already gone through hard trials and difficult circumstances
(PPT Slide 79)
For the rest of your life these trials will appear from time to time.
(PPT Slide 80)
How you deal with the circumstances of your particular situation depends entirely upon how well you know and rely upon the Lord Jesus Christ.
(PPT Slide 81)
I did not have Christ as my Lord and Savior when I went through this trial by fire, and could see nothing but pain, suffering and death awaiting when it happened.
(PPT Slide 82)
But like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, we who are called by His name have a powerful protector who can see us through anything, any situation, any problem, any seemingly hopeless disaster.
(PPT Slide 83)
We who have surrendered our life to God do not have any need to worry about these situations, because we have all we need in three short words:
(PPT Slide 84)
"But even if"
(PPT Slide 85)
Daniel 3:16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.
(PPT Slide 86)
Daniel 3:17 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.
(PPT Slide 87)
Daniel 3:18 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."
No matter what we face, we can face it with confidence, calmness, and even joy, because we know that our God loves us, knows what is best for us, and will take care of every situation in a way that is both best for His kingdom and us in the end.
(PPT Slide 88)
All of this, though, depends on what it is that you worship. At the time, I believed only in myself, and sought out fame, glory and riches to prop up the false faith I had in my own abilities, my own intellect, and the delusion of my own greatness.
Truth be told, I did this because I felt so hollow and empty inside, but what awards and acclaim did come my way seemed so trivial in the end. I'd go home after an awards ceremony with some polished piece of wood with my name printed on it, and set the thing up on a shelf, and feel more miserable than ever before.
What I really wanted, but didn't know it until I finally had it, was God and His immeasurable love. Plaques, awards, promotions, television appearances, fame and glory all were nothing compared to this.
Paul wrote in Philippians 3, "I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ."
(PPT Slide 89)
Just like Nebuchadnezzar, have you set up an image of gold that you worship, that you demand other people acknowledge, bow down to and worship alongside you, just so you do not feel so empty and hollow anymore?
Or have you allowed the Prince of Peace to enter your heart, heal all the hurt and wounds, and give you more love than you ever knew could exist? If not, He loves you, just as he did me back when I cursed and mocked His name. He waits on you, just as he did me. And He will accept you without condition or reservation, just as He did me.
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