As we continue with our series based on the mini-series The Bible, our journey takes us to the Book of Daniel. The stories in the Book of Daniel give us some inspiring insights into how God’s “great salvation” changes us from Victim to Victor, even when it may seem impossible.
My job is to take care of the possible and to trust God with the impossible.
~Ruth Bell Graham
Victim to Victor – Miracle at Dunkirk
Let me start with a little story.
It was May 1940. The allied French and British forces had been badly defeated by Germany in the Battle of France. Around three hundred fifty thousand men, including the entire British army, were backed up against the sea at the port of Dunkirk, on the coast of France.
They were sitting ducks. Their days were numbered. They were certain to be wiped out at any moment. Three hundred fifty thousand men…far too many to evacuate by sea. And the Germans were certain to press their advantage. German planes had only to bomb and strafe the troops from the sky.
The British commander at Dunkirk issued a cryptic three-word message to the people of England: “But if not.” It was a reference to the three Hebrews in the book of Daniel, who refused to bow to King Nebuchadnezzar’s image, saying, “The God we serve is able to save us…but if not, we will not bow.” It was a message of courage and defiance against impossible odds.
The king of England issued a call for prayer, and a call for help. The weather forecast changed, often grounding German planes. And soon nearly eight hundred fishing boats, yachts, and merchant vessels joined the navy to ferry those soldiers to safety over the course of ten tense days.
To this day, it’s called the “Miracle at Dunkirk.” It turned certain annihilation into a reason for hope. Apparent victims lived to fight another day…and eventually emerged victorious. And, this story that still defines and inspires the British nation; as many of the stories of the Bible define and inspire us. They explain where we’ve come from. They shed light on who we are. They guide our steps as we move forward in life.
The Story of Daniel
The story we will learn from today is the story that inspired that three-word cable from the beaches of Dunkirk that I mentioned at the start of my comments this morning. It is the story of a time when the entire nation of Israel was reduced to nothing. To rubble. To victimhood.
But God had a plan, as he does for every one of us. His plan was to work their salvation, in such a way that turned them from victims to victors; the same plan God has for you and me.
And the first such insight is this:
1. We can be victorious because “there is a God in heaven.”
The book of Daniel, in our Bible, is named for the main figure in the story; who was one of many exiles who were forcibly taken from their homes when Jerusalem was conquered by King Nebuchadnezzar, and the kingdom of Judah ended by the nation of Babylon. Though he was more than five hundred miles from home, among people who didn’t know or worship his God, Daniel’s story was just beginning.
He became an adviser to the very king who had tried to make victims of him and his people.
[View Clip: Nebuchadnezzar]
This clip was a summary of the story told in Daniel, chapter two. We’re going to study portions of Daniel 2, 3, and 6 today to see what God has to say regarding our situations by looking at Daniel and his situation.
Daniel had become one of Nebuchadnezzar’s many court advisers. And then, one day, the king had a dream that no one in his court could explain. So he issued an order to kill them all! But Daniel and his friends asked God for help; and God answered their prayers in a vision he gave to Daniel.
So Daniel told Arioch, the king’s assassin, that he could interpret the dream. In Daniel 2:25–28, they say:
“Arioch took Daniel to the king at once and said, “I have found a man among the exiles from Judah who can tell the king what his dream means.”
The king asked Daniel (also called Belteshazzar), “Are you able to tell me what I saw in my dream and interpret it?” Daniel replied, “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come,” (NIV)
That’s much the same scene shown in the video, except that the clip summarized Daniel’s wording, “there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries,” with the phrase, “But my God can.”
God can and does reveal mysteries. And because of that truth, we do not need to be victims. We don’t need to resign ourselves to our current circumstances. We do not have to settle for the status quo, any more than Daniel did. He faced a royal decree, a kingly contract on his life; his response…“but there is a God in heaven.”
We may feel like our situation is impossible; “but there is a God in heaven.”
We may be burdened by sin or sickness; “but there is a God in heaven.”
We may see no way to improve a dead-end marriage, a dead-end job, seemingly dead-end life; “but there is a God in heaven.”
There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, who can redeem us from our past, and who can give us boldness and confidence in our future.
But that’s not all. Because Daniel’s story is our story in another way, too:
2. We can be victorious because our God “is able to deliver.”
Chapter 3 tells the memorable story of a golden image the king had made. It was mammoth, about ninety-feet tall—the height of a nine-story building. And he issued a command that everyone in his kingdom bow to the image. And everyone did…except for three Jews whose Babylonian names were Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They would not, and did bow. And that is where we will pick up the story, in Daniel 3:13-23:
“Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, 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? Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe 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?”
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “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.”
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 and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. So these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. 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, and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace.” (NIV)
Sometimes we’re in the same position as they were. We, too, are children of God. We, too, face difficult choices. We, too, have to decide between compromise and conviction. And we, too, can be victorious because, as they told the king, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us.”
Let’s see how this episode concludes, starting in verse 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, Your Majesty.”
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.”
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, 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.
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. …
Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the province of Babylon.” (Daniel 3:24–28, 30, NIV)
It’s important to understand this story is not a guarantee that we’ll never have to endure injury or pain. But let’s also remember the promise of Psalm 34:17. It says: “The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.” (NIV)
And, let’s remember the resolute faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They said to the king, “God is able to deliver us…but if not, we still won’t bow to an idol.” I would submit that it was at that moment that they became victors––not when they walked out of the fiery furnace. It was their trust in God and their obedience of him that brought victory. We can have that kind of confidence, because our God is able to save and deliver us.
He was able to save Noah and his family from the flood.
He was able to save a whole nation of people from slavery in Egypt.
He was able to save the kingdom of Israel from oppression by Philistines, Moabites, and Edomites.
And he is able to save and deliver us here, now, today.
He is able to do things for us that we cannot do for ourselves.
And he is able to do things with us that we can’t even imagine.
So, we can be victorious because “there is a God in heaven,” as Daniel said. We can be victorious because our God “is able to deliver,” as the three Hebrews said.
3. We can be victorious because “our God sent”.
Years later, after Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon had been conquered by a new king, and a new empire, Daniel was still serving in the royal courts, and still faithfully praying to God—three times a day, in fact. But others among the court officials resented Daniel. He not only still had influence in the government, his influence was growing. So these officials plotted against Daniel, and convinced the new king, whose name was Darius, to proclaim a thirty-day period in which no one could pray to anyone but the king.
Thirty days. Now, I know some of us here might think, “I could go thirty days without praying.” Some may even be thinking, “I DO go thirty days without praying.” But these plotters knew that Daniel couldn’t…or wouldn’t.
And they were right. Even after the decree was signed, Daniel continued his three-times-daily prayer habit without missing a beat. So the king, though he liked Daniel and had plans to promote him, had to enforce his own law.
As punishment, Daniel was thrown into a den of lions…overnight. Now, we all know what happens when fresh meat is thrown to the lions – they don’t waste time. They get down to business, like some of us at a buffet.
But after the king suffered a sleepless night, in Daniel 6:19-23, the Bible says:
“At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den. When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?”
Daniel answered, “May the king live forever! My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty.”
The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.” (NIV)
Let me focus on verse 22. Notice: Daniel said, “My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions.”…“My God sent his angel.”…“My God sent.”
Daniel was saved…because God sent…
You and I can say the same…except in our case, God did not send an angel, but someone even greater than an angel; he sent His Son.
John 3:16, one of the most familiar verses in the Bible, puts it this way:
“God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (NIV)
We can be victorious over temptation and sin because “our God sent…”
We can be victorious over shame and guilt because “our God sent…”
We can be victorious over death and the devil because “our God sent…”
We can be victorious over all the evil and filth of this world because “our God sent…”
In closing, I’d like us to think about our quote for just a moment. Our job is to do the possible, and trust God to do the impossible. We must do our part, and we must trust the Spirit of God to guide us, even when things are tough, even when it seems impossible. I’d also like us to think about how the examples in the Book of Daniel can apply to us today.
How firm do we stand in our faith? Remembering back to a previous message, faith = trust. Do we trust God, even when it seems we’re facing a den of lions? What if we were told we must bow down to a ‘foreign’ god, or to idols, or die…would we bow down in order to save our lives? If we were told we could not pray for thirty days, and if we did, we would be executed – would we cease praying? Or, would e stand firm in our faith…in our trust in God? Let’s go one step further…we are told we must bow down and worship a ‘foreign’ god – and if we don’t, we must watch our child be executed. Now what’s our choice?
Now, I know the likelihood of actually being faced with such extreme decisions is pretty slim. But, during this time of Lent, as we prepare to celebrate the very foundation of our faith, it’s worth taking time for self examination. I invite us all to give thought this week to our relationship with God, and with Jesus. Is it as strong as we’d like it to be? Is our faith strong enough to stand and say, “our God is able to deliver,” and “but if not, we will not bow?” Is our faith so strong that we can say with conviction, regardless of circumstance, “with God, I am not a victim, I am victorious?”
- Daniel 2, 3, & 6
- Psalm 34:17
- John 3:16
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