But if Not…


Daniel 3:3-30


You can affirm God with your mouth without ever accepting His Leadership in your heart.


My introduction to the United States Army was a bit different than the average new Soldier. As a Commissioned Officer, I arrived at Initial Military Training at Ft. Jackson in Columbia, SC with little idea what to expect. There were no screaming Drill Sergeants, but there was still a lot to learn. Thirty years later in life than my son, I had arrived at the Center for Initial Military Training.

I was hustled to a computer, told to slide my ID card into a reader and to start filling in information. An Officer, who I later learned was a LTC, since I had no idea how to read ranks on a uniform kept talking in my ear. It was hard to concentrate. He said, “No, no, no, no… You are not a Baptist,” as I selected a box on the screen. “You must put Muslim or Jew.” “Sir?” at least I got that part right. “You must select Muslim or Jew.” “But I am neither?” “Yes, yes, you must select Muslim or Jew.” “Sir, I don’t understand.” He took the back of his hand and rubbed it across my cheek which hadn’t been shaven since the morning before. There was 5:00 shadow, and not much more. “Only Muslims and Jews can wear beards in the Army. So which are you?” Only later did I learn to appreciate this LTC’s sense of humor. For now, it was trial by fire.

Then there was someone else in my other ear. “Get up. Get to your seat. Sit down. Don’t say anything or think anything.” “Yes, sir!” I responded. “I am not a sir! I work for a living. You will call me Sergeant! Do you understand?” “Yes, sir,” I nervously replied. “Do you not understand what I am saying? Am I speaking the wrong language? I am not a sir! Are you tracking?!?” “Yes, sssssssssirergeant!” “Do you think you are funny?” I had no idea what the right answer was. “Give me 20 pushups now!” Trial by fire.

After becoming closely acquainted with the floor, I stood up and started to walk to my seat. I put my ID card in my pocket, and left my hand in there. A female Sergeant was staring me down like I had just stolen her lunch. She looked like she wanted to kill me. I froze. She stared. And stared some more. “Ma’am?” “I ain’t no ma’am, and I ain’t your momma, but I will whoop you good like your momma did if you don’t figure out what right looks like?” My knees began to shake. “You going somewhere, Chaplain.” “No?” I said, hoping that was the right answer. Then get your hands out of them pockets, stop disrespecting me, and get your lazy butt down and give me 20 pushups…” Trial by fire. 

Listen, character is built in the fire. Discipline is built in the fire. Maturity is forged in the fire. Being in the fire is no fun, but it is fruitful, and it can build your faith if you will let it.


Last week we saw an idolatrous King builded an idol to be worshipped. And the command went out to all the people to pay homage to the idol, representing the King, whenever the band played. Today, we are going to look at three men who would not bend, they would not bow, and they could not be broken, even if it meant being thrown into a fiery furnace.

I. The Command.

Daniel 3:4 retells the King’s Command. “You are commanded, when the band plays, you are to bow down. If you don’t, you will burn.” And everybody did. Why? There are many reasons, I am sure. But a couple of thoughts come to mind.

  1. Being disobedient to a ruler is scary. Going against someone in power is a scary thing. They have power, and you don’t.
  2. Being dispatched into a roaring fire is scary. Could anything being worse than having fire rip at your flesh?
  3. Being different from regular folk is scary. No one likes to stand out, be different from the regular crowd. We like to fit in and do what everyone else is doing.

But listen. To be a follower of Jesus Christ means that sometimes we have to go against rulers, face roaring fires, and be different than regular folk. Obeying God means that we will often have to stand up to rulers, stand in raging fires, and stand against regular folk. It is not easy, but it is necessary. And three men did. Three men of integrity. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not bow down, did not bend, did not break…they just believed.

II. The Conspiracy

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego took a stand when everyone took a knee. And this did not sit well. There were other rulers, already jealous of the position of these foreigners, and they hatched a conspiracy. Daniel 3:8 says, “at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and maliciously accused the Jews.” The Chaldeans saw the stand that the Jews were taken and decided this would be their chance to make them fall. 

Notice please, the Jews did not stage protests. They did not riot, nor march, nor sign petitions, nor appeal to the Courts, nor give speeches. They simply took a stand. They did not run, hide, hold a press conference, or resist arrest. They just took a stand.

And so the Chaldeans went with a malicious report to the King, reminding him of his edict and revealing the actions of the Jews. Verse 12 says, “These men, O king, pay no attention to you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

III. The Confrontation

Having heard the conspiratorial accusations of the Chaldeans, the King then confronted the Jews. He asked the men, in verse 14, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the God who will deliver you out of my hands?”

What a calloused confrontation! Do you think your God can save you from my hands! His case was clear: bow down or burn. The choice was clear: disobey the King and they would die. There was a line drawn in the sand. Obey the King and disobey God or disobey the King and obey God.

IV. The Confidence

Verse 14 shows the confidence of the three men. “They answered the King, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter.” You don’t deserve a response. We understand that you are royalty, but we serve a more Righteous King. “If thus be so, (if we are going to burn if we don’t bow), our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O King.”

What extraordinary confidence. This was a confidence built upon faith, and not a foolish courage. They believed, therefore they would not bow. These verses contain the only recorded words of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the Scriptures. But what faith-filled words! The three men affirmed their choice, exercised their faith in God, and were submissive to God’s will in advance.

They continued, “But if not…(even if God chooses not to save us, even if we burn in the fire) we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” It’s easy for us to rush to the end of the story without realizing the three men didn’t know the end of the story. We know how it all works out, but at this time they didn’t.  They believed in God before they knew the end of the story.

These words “but if not…” stand as a testimony to all who encounter trials in this life.

  • God can preserve me from COVID, but if not, I will still believe
  • God can heal me from cancer, but if not, I will still believe
  • God can rescue me from false accusations, but if not, I will still believe
  • God can keep me alive, but if not, I will still believe
  • God can protect my children, but if not, I will still believe
  • God can work miracles, but if not, I will still believe

Is it time for you to insert “but if not” into your prayers? “God, I am asking for your deliverance from the trial I am facing, but if not, I will still believe!”

Where did the confidence of the three men come from? They knew the works of God and they believed.

  • He spoke and the stars flew into the skies.
  • He spoke and the planets began spinning around the sun.
  • He spoke and the lion roared and the eagle soared and the fish began to swim.
  • He took a lump of clay and made a man.
  • Then he took the man’s rib and made a woman.
  • He turned a rod into a serpent and back into a rod again.
  • He sent a wind and the Red Sea parted.
  • He set a table in the wilderness and fed his children manna and quail.
  • He brought forth water from a rock.
  • He caused the walls of Jericho to come a’tumblin’ down (https://www.keepbelieving.com/sermon/a-time-to-disobey/)

They knew that God was able, but if God chose not to deliver, God was still God and was worthy of their belief! They believed that God who had worked in the past was still working in their present and were willing to accept whatever God had prepared for their future. “God will rescue us from your hands, O King.” These words were echoed by Paul many years later, “To live is Christ, to die is gain.” If I live, I will live for God. If I die, God’s got that too! But we will not bow, we will not bend, we will not break, because we believe.

V. The Consequence 

Radical belief in God carries a consequence. Verse 19 says, “Nebuchadnezzar was filled with fury, and the expression of his face changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He ordered the furnace heated seven more times than it was usually heated. And he ordered some of the mighty men of his army to bind them, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace. Then these men were bound in their cloaks, their tunics, their hats, and their other garments, and they were thrown into the burning fiery furnace. Because the king’s order was urgent and the furnace overheated, the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. And these three men fell bound into the burning fiery furnace.”

Let me ask you a difficult question. If the story ended right there, would God still be God? If Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego died with the King’s mighty men, would God still be God? I believe we run the risk of believing the subtle lie that God is only God when he delivers us from difficulty and death. God is still the God of my faith even if I die by the fire. Even if the three men died, God will still have been God and He still would have been Good, Righteous, Just, and in control. God is still my God, even when He chooses not to work a miracle. God is still my God, even when He chooses not to deliver. Why? Because He is God and He knows what is best for me. God will always be my God whether I am living or I am dead.

VI. The Companion

Daniel 3:24 says, “Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose in hasted. He declared to his counselors, ‘Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?’ They answered and said, “True, O king.’ He answered and said, ‘But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.’”

Who was this companion? I believe it is none other than an appearance of Jesus Christ. I find it interesting that Christ did not appear with the three men as they were accused by the King. It would have been great for the men if Christ would have appeared before the fire to answer the King’s fury. But Christ did not reveal Himself there. It would have been great for the three men if Christ would have appeared to them as they walked up to the door of the fiery furnace to give them strength. But He did not reveal Himself there. It was only in the fire that Christ revealed Himself.

Christ was with the men all along, but did not reveal Himself until they were in the flames. Christ is always there, but He manifests Himself most clearly when you are in the flames. What a great lesson for us. When the trial comes, when the flames are licking at our body, when the smoke is blinding our eyes, when the heat seems like it will be unbearable, then, right then, Christ reveals Himself. Though always present, it is in these moments that He is personal. The three men did not bow, they did not bend, they did not break; they simply believed. And because they believed, they did not burn.

APPLICATION: Stand up for what you believe.

  1. When you stand for what you believe, you will suffer the consequences of your convictions. You will face trials of many kinds. You will suffer for the name of Christ. Christ Himself said, “blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you for my sake, for great is your reward in heaven.” You will suffer, but you must stand.
  2. When you stand for what you believe, God may intervene, but He is not required to. This goes back to the settled determination of the three men, “God is able to deliver us, but if not, we will still serve God.” What a wonderful way to live. Again, this echoes the words of Christ, “Father, not my will but thine.” God may intervene, or He may not, but He is still God.
  3. When you stand for what you believe, you must remain faithful, and leave the results to God. God is big enough to care for His own reputation. God can protect and preserve His own name. All we must do is stand for what is right and leave the results in His hands. 


Notice please verse 27. “And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men. The hair of their heads was not singed, their cloaks were not harmed, and no smell of fire had come upon them.” Deliverance. Total deliverance.

  • The three men went into the fire bound. When they came out they were free.
  • The three men went into the fire believing in the promises of God. They came out having received the presence of God.
  • The fire did not burn them. It blessed them.
  • The fire did not restrict them. It released them.

Why is this story preserved for us in the Scriptures? It is to point us to Jesus Christ our deliverer. You see, this whole story, though very real, is a picture of the destinies of mankind. There is a continual call to bow and bend our knee to the gods of this age. Those who do will be like Nebuchadnezzar’s mighty who were consumed by the fire. This fire represents the fiery lake that is to come for those who reject Jesus Christ. But for those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, those who will not bow, bend, or break but rather simply believe in Jesus Christ, the fire cannot touch them, for those who stand with Christ are delivered forever from the flames of hell.


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