Worship of Empire

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When we last saw King Nebuchadnezzar, he had just fallen down to worship Daniel and his friends after Daniel had both described and interpreted his dream. “Then King Nebuchadnezzar threw himself down before Daniel and worshiped him, and he commanded his people to offer sacrifices and burn sweet incense before him. The king said to Daniel, “Truly, your God is the greatest of gods, the Lord over kings, a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this secret.” Then the king appointed Daniel to a high position and gave him many valuable gifts. He made Daniel ruler over the whole province of Babylon, as well as chief over all his wise men. At Daniel’s request, the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to be in charge of all the affairs of the province of Babylon, while Daniel remained in the king’s court.” Daniel‬ ‭2:46-49‬ ‭NLT‬‬. So the king seems to have learned something from his experience – Truly, your God is the greatest of gods. He promotes Daniel to be ruler of all Babylon, and chief of his wise men. He appoints Daniel’s friends Shadarch, Meshach, and Abednego to be in charge of “the affairs of Babylon”, whatever that means. Basically, Daniel and his friends seem to be in charge after the king gets scared silly by the dream (nightmarish to him) that Gods Kingdom will come and rule long after all human empires have disappeared.
However, Nebuchadnezzar’s humility towards the one true God is very short lived.

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King Nebuchadnezzar made a gold statue ninety feet tall and nine feet wide and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. That’s a whole lotta gold statue!! Nebuchadnezzar here is rejecting the interpretation of the dream he received from Daniel. In the dream, remember, the statue had a golden head, silver shoulders and arms, bronze waist, iron legs and clay feet (or something like that). The clay feet would be hit with a stone pulled by divine hands, breaking the feet, causing the rest of the statue to crumble and fade to dust. The king rejects the interpretation that his empire would fall, to be followed by lesser empires, ultimately all to be replaced by the kingdom of God.
Instead, old Nebuchadnezzar builds this giant gold statue, declaring that his kingdom is all gold and will never end, not for any lesser empire or the kingdom of God.

 

Isn’t this really the way we look at ourselves? Aren’t we all golden, all good, all blessed by God, the empire that will never end? I actually had this conversation a few months ago with a co worker, an intelligent coworker, and he seemed kind of puzzled by my statement that America will at some point become just another history lesson. He responded with something about technology being so different and the financial world being so entrenched. He truly believes, as do many of you reading this, that America will last forever. Maybe, to us, America is a synonym for The kingdom of God. But…back to our story.
He sends for all the officials of the kingdom to come for his dedication of the statue. So all these officials came and stood before the statue King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Then a herald shouted out, “People of all races and nations and languages, listen to the king’s command! All races, nations, and languages, listen up!! Aren’t all the nations and races to bow down to Jesus? This is the way of all empires, always. Empire demands the right to tell the rest of the world how things are going to be done. They claim the power of God to rule the nations. When you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes, and other musical instruments, bow to the ground to worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s gold statue. When you hear our anthem playing, bow down and worship the empire!! Oh, how we react to someone who does not stand for our own anthem. (Please understand, sometimes I write these more to myself than anyone else…)

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That decree also states that those who refuse to obey must be thrown into a blazing furnace. But there are some Jews—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—whom you have put in charge of the province of Babylon. They pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They refuse to serve your gods and do not worship the gold statue you have set up.” So not just an order of the king to bow down, but very specific consequences if we don’t. For those who refuse to bow down before the golden statue of the empire a blazing furnace awaits. And by the way, King, those Jews you put in charge – Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego – they just don’t get it. They don’t respect you. They refuse to bow down and worship your golden statue of empire.    
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Then Nebuchadnezzar flew into a rage and ordered that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought before him. When they were brought in, Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you refuse to serve my gods or to worship the gold statue I have set up? I will give you one more chance to bow down and worship the statue I have made when you hear the sound of the musical instruments. But if you refuse, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. And then what god will be able to rescue you from my power?” It can’t be true, can it?? You guys are my main men!!! I KNOW you don’t have a problem with bowing down before my statue!! In fact, Nebuchadnezzar says he’ll give them another chance, if they’ll just reconsider and bow down, this whole little controversy can just go away. But if not, what God can save you boys??!!
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” O King…there’s been no mistake. We understand. But we believe OUR God can save us. But even if he doesn’t, we will never serve your Gods. We are willing to work for your good and the good of those around you, but we will NEVER worship your golden statue!!

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Nebuchadnezzar was so furious with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face became distorted with rage. He commanded that the furnace be heated seven times hotter than usual. Then he ordered some of the strongest men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. So they tied them up and threw them into the furnace, fully dressed in their pants, turbans, robes, and other garments. And because the king, in his anger, had demanded such a hot fire in the furnace, the flames killed the soldiers as they threw the three men in. Ok!! You won’t bow down to my golden statue, then we’ll turn up the furnace SEVEN TIMES HOTTER!! We don’t even know how hot that is!! He’s got the strongest men in Babylon to tie up these three, but they get killed by the flames just trying to throw Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in!! And poor Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, they are tied up and thrown into that inferno…they have no chance!!!
But suddenly, Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in amazement and exclaimed to his advisers, “Didn’t we tie up three men and throw them into the furnace?” “Yes, Your Majesty, we certainly did,” they replied. “Look!” Nebuchadnezzar shouted. “I see four men, unbound, walking around in the fire unharmed! And the fourth looks like a god!” They have no chance. Except they do. When the king jumps up and asks “Didn’t we tie up three men and throw them into the furnace?”, I just love this translation of the response of his advisors. “Yes, Your Majesty, we certainly did,” they replied. But there were now 4 men inside that furnace, not 3. And that 4th one, he kind freaked old Nebuchadnezzar out, he looks like a god!   
Then Nebuchadnezzar came as close as he could to the door of the flaming furnace and shouted: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stepped out of the fire. Then the high officers, officials, governors, and advisers crowded around them and saw that the fire had not touched them. Not a hair on their heads was singed, and their clothing was not scorched. They didn’t even smell of smoke!  

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We know who that fourth man was, don’t we?? We call Him Messiah, wonder worker, the son of God, the son of man, Prince of peace, the alpha and omega, the beginning and and the end. Love. Prince of peace and Lord of Lords. Kind of like that nightmare, He freaks the empire out, but we long for His presence.

If we (you) stay true to Jesus, there is no promise you will not suffer in the furnace. Jesus’ apostles suffered. Martin Luther King Jr suffered. Dietrich Bonhoeffer suffered. Stephen suffered. But if you oppose empire in the name of Christ, He will always be with you. He may deliver you from the furnace, or He may not. But he will never forsake you.

We can,and do, seek the good of our nation, but we can not bow before the Golden statue that says God is on our side no matter what. God can not and will not serve our selfish interests. He can only rule in his love and justice. Asking God to bless our nation at the expense of other nations is an attempt to make all the other nations bow down to our golden statue.

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Jesus taught us how nations are judged under his rule, which has ALREADY STARTED. Jesus is Lord. He is lord right now. Not Lord-elect. He has been raised from the dead and promoted to the right hand of the father, and the father has given him all authority over the heavens and the earth. He is judging nations right now, but not according to the size of our economy or strength of our military. He judges nations by how we treat the poor, the sick, the immigrant and the imprisoned. Remember this – “”When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” Matthew‬ ‭25:31-40‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Before him will be gathered all the nations…
We say God Bless America, and well we should and well we could. God has certainly blessed America, in so many ways we have been that shining city on a hill. But we, even inside the church, have forgotten that Jesus set conditions for blessing.

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“”Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew‬ ‭5:3-12‬ ‭ESV

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If we line up with the sermon on the mount, the blessings will be there. We want to blessed, but we want the blessings to come our way. We want to “make our own luck.” We don’t want to be humble. We don’t want to be meek. We want to be powerful, strong and mighty. We want all the nations to dance to our tune. We want to bow down to a golden statue.

 

John Lewis

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