All Things Sing Praise (3 Children)
This morning we look at the first and most important of the Greek additions to Daniel's prophecy. We have sung the Song of the Three Children a couple times in worship, most prominently during the Easter Vigil service. This is the song sung by Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego while they were walking around in the fiery furnace.
You remember the story. King Nebuchadnezzar had taken over Judah. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had been taken into exile with the young men of Judah's nobility to become part of his royal court. God blessed these four young men with great wisdom and understanding. Nebuchadnezzar appointed them to great positions over the entire Babylonian Empire. They were blessed like Joseph over Egypt (Genesis 41) and Esther over Persia. They received the accolades and accepted the responsibilities.
In these high positions, they were expected to model for the rest of the Empire what it meant to be in Nebuchadnezzar's good graces. Daniel interpreted Nebuchadnezzar's dream about an image. A prophecy of Jesus coming into the world and setting everything off kilter. In response to the dream, Nebuchadnezzar erects a statue of himself that everyone's commanded to worship. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refuse to bow down. They get thrown into a fiery furnace (Daniel 3:23). The hymn version we just finished singing is a small portion of the full song found in the Septuagint. It gives the full gist of the song in these few verses. The full song begins with the narrative note: "And walking in the midst of the fire, they glorified God and blessed the Lord" (Song of the Three Children 1). Three men were thrown into the fire. Four men were walking around in the flames.This song shows why the fourth man, one "like a son of the gods" (Daniel 3:25), was walking around the fire with them. He is Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14). God with us. God with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were faithful to God. They fulfilled in their lives what each of us vowed or will vow on our Confirmation day (LSB p. 273):
- Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, even to death?
- I do, by the grace of God.
- Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?
- I do, by the grace of God.
There are many who have stood before this altar and made these vows who have not been very faithful in keeping them. This won't be another sermon about how we should go out and bring them back to faithful Church attendance. That horse has been beaten to death enough already. The Old Adam continues to win that fight. This is a sermon about the Last Day. A day that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were prepared for. They were ready.
As Lutherans, we don't have quite the focus on being prepared for the Last Day as our evangelical neighbors. Sure, we live in the certainty of going to Heaven because we have been baptized into His death and resurrection. But many times we look at that only as a past event. We take it for granted that Jesus has done everything for our salvation so we don't have to do anything at all. At most, just show up at worship services and community events the congregation might be involved in. Other than that, we don't have to DO anything. We don't have to BE anything. But we're called to be ready. To be found by Jesus with a LIVING faith when He returns to bring us home. We remember from Confirmation the great Lutheran verses that summarize our salvation in Ephesians 2:8-9: "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." And we stop there. But Paul doesn't. Paul continues, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus FOR GOOD WORKS, which God prepared beforehand, that we should WALK in them."
Faith saves. But "faith by itself, if it does not have works, is DEAD" (James 2:17). Dead faith cannot save you. Dead faith is dead. It cannot do anything. It is no better than Judas Iscariot's faith. Simple acknowledgment of Bible facts doesn't save you either. The devil and his demons can do that (James 2:19). Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego's faith saved them (Luke 7:50). They lived out their faith. They were ready to suffer whatever consequences, even burning to death in the fiery furnace, to keep their faith undefiled. Faith in their Savior Jesus. Without faith in Jesus, you cannot be saved. But that faith must be public or you cannot be saved. "So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 10:32-33).
So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego encourage everyone and everything not only to acknowledge that there is a God but to praise God. "All you works of God, bless the Lord" (LSB #930.1). Our hymn's refrain, "Raise your voices high, praise and magnify, all you works of God bless the Lord," is a singable translation of the literal, "praise and exalt Him above all forever." Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego understood the First Commandment as the basis for doctrine and practice. "You shall have no other gods. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things" (SC I 1-2). Everything revolves around the First Commandment. Everything revolves around God and His dominion over His creation. Everything revolves around Creation's praise of its Creator. The hymn with which we opened our worship, "Earth and All Stars," gives the Song of the Three Children a contemporary context. Everything in all creation is called upon to praise God. And praise God they will. Even on their worst days.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego plead with you to praise God while you are still alive. Believe in Him who died to take away your sin. Who took your condemnation upon Himself so that you might persevere even in the greatest trials.
In the midst of their greatest trial, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego could sing praises to God. Their Savior was physically with them in the flames. Though He would not be born in the Bethlehem stable for almost six hundred years, He was in the flames with His faithful servants. They praised their Heavenly Father for that comfort in their trials. And they called upon all of creation to praise God for His great mercy and deliverance.
St. Hilary of Poitiers wrote in his book, "On the Trinity" (X.45):
- Did the Jewish children fear the flames blazing up with the fuel cast upon them in the fiery furnace at Babylon? Did the terror of that terrible fire prevail over their nature, conceived though it was like ours? Did they feel pain, when the flames surrounded them? Perhaps, however, you may say they felt no pain, because they were not burnt: the flames were deprived of their burning nature. To be sure it is natural to the body to fear burning, and to be burnt by fire. But through the spirit of faith their earthly bodies ... could neither be burnt nor made afraid. What, therefore, in the case of men was a violation of the order of nature, produced by faith in God, cannot be judged in God’s case natural, but as an activity of the Spirit commencing with His earthly origin. The children were bound in the midst of the fire; they had no fear as they mounted the blazing pile: they felt not the flame as they prayed: though in the midst of the furnace, they could not be burnt. Both the fire and their bodies lost their proper natures; the one did not burn, the others were not burnt. Yet in all other respects, both fire and bodies retained their natures: for the bystanders were consumed, and the ministers of punishment were themselves punished. Impious heretic, you will have it that Christ suffered pain from the piercing of the nails, that He felt the bitterness of the wound, when they were driven through His hands: why, pray, did not the children fear the flames? Why did they suffer no pain? What was the nature in their bodies, which overcame that of fire? In the zeal of their faith and the glory of a blessed martyrdom they forgot to fear the terrible.
In the boat on the Sea of Galilee, the Apostles struggled against wind and wave. Where was Jesus? Walking atop the surging waves (Mark 6:48). Completely at peace amidst the chaos. When He entered the boat, His peace entered the boat. The wind ceased. The waves stopped crashing against the boat. Everything was calm and at peace. And the Apostles were "utterly astounded" (Mark 6:51). The Prince of Peace had brought them His peace in the midst of what seemed certain death by drowning.
This same faith and trust can be yours. God is a loving God. He loves His creation so much that He is willing to take on human flesh to walk among His creation. He walked in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:8). Even after He destroyed the sinful world in the Flood, He came back to Noah and established an everlasting covenant with all creation: "Never again ... never again ... shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth" (Genesis 9:11). God is a saving God. He seeks the salvation of all men (1 Timothy 2:4). He gave Noah a century to preach God's salvation to those who lived before the Flood, but only his own family was rescued from the Flood in the Ark.
God seeks to fill you with "the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge." This love comes to you through the Holy Spirit indwelling your heart and soul in your Baptism. From that moment on, you are "filled with all the fullness of God" (Ephesians 3:19). Being filled in this way, we need to pray as we sang before the readings this morning: "O Holy Spirit, grant us grace" (LSB #693). Grant us grace to sing God's praise. To run to the shelter of the cross where our sins are taken away. To live in its shadow so that we can remain faithful even in the midst of our own fiery furnaces. To remain faithful unto death so that we might receive Jesus' crown of life (Revelation 2:10).
"Children of God, dying and rising, sing to the Lord a new song" (LSB #817.7). Sing a song of praise. Even "when our earthly race is run, death's bitter hour impending, then may [God's] work in [you] begun continue til life's ending" (LSB #693.3). The Savior stands ready to hand you the crown of life. He stands on the other side of this world's fiery furnace. But He does not leave us as orphans (John 14:18). The Holy Spirit "sustains and comforts us in all trials, fears, and needs" (LSB #953.3). With Him in your heart and in your soul, there is nothing left to do but what Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego encourage you to do: "Raise your voices high, praise and magnify, all you works of God--all you children of God--bless the Lord" (LSB #930, refrain). Amen.