Faith: Following one truth in a pluralistic world?
Good evening. A quick question at the beginning: Who knows what kopi luwak is? If you do, don’t say anything. But if you don’t know, let me tell you what it contains: kopi luwak includes partially digested coffee cherries, eaten and defecated by the Asian palm civet. I hope you regain your appetite for our dinner later. Sounds repelling right? Something no one of us would probably touch with a 10-foot pole. And yet when someone dared to taste the droppings of these civets it turned into the basis for one of the most expensive coffees in the world with prices reaching u to US$700 per kilogram.
Why this not completely hygienic story? When we are going into the third chapter of Daniel tonight, we meet three of Daniel’s friends who live in a very pluralistic society. A society that didn’t want to touch their faith with a ten-foot pole either. Because they see the believe in one God as something intolerant. A danger even to the public peace. Something they want the friends to give up or at least compromise on.
A request that we will see the friends are not able to fulfill. Because they have tasted the beauty of what their faith really holds. The beauty of the God they follow. And that’s why they know that, like these kopi luwak beans, what might look repelling and intolerant to others from the outside, turns out to be the best and most liberating message for all of us, once we tried it.
So the three points I want to look at tonight are:
1. The Intolerance of Faith
2. The Beauty of Faith
3. The Freedom of Faith
Before we get into the text, I would like to pray with us.
— Prayer —
1. The Intolerance of Faith
Read with me the first 7 verses:
1 King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. 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. 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. 4 Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do: 5 As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. 6 Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.” 7 Therefore, as soon as they heard the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp and all kinds of music, all the nations and peoples of every language fell down and worshiped the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
Just to understand what Nebuchadnezzar is doing here. The Babylonians had conquered many other city states and countries in their time. And while that gave them great power, it also faced them with a pressing issue. They had to figure out how to unite all of these different people, with their different languages and beliefs, under one nation. Ensure that these people would peacefully co-exist under the Babylonian rule. And the golden image now was Nebuchadnezzar’s clever answer to this issue.
Because look at what he isn’t saying with this statue. He doesn’t tell everyone to only worship his Babylonian gods for whom we build this statue. Many cities and countries back then had their own set of gods that they believed in and worshipped. And taking them away would have led them to immediately revolt. So instead of telling everyone to give up their belief, Nebuchadnezzar now introduces his gods as something that the people could worship in addition to theirs. He creates a way for everyone to worship together while still keeping their own gods as well. All they needed to do is add a few gods into their mix. A few truths to their world view to secure a peaceful and tolerant environment.
And when I read these verses I thought: That is pretty modern. Everyone agreeing on a tolerant way of life. People being able to live out their faith freely as long as they agree, that there are other equally valid truths out there to live by as well.
And everyone was on board. Some believed in many gods anyway. Probably wasn’t a big deal to just add a few more. Others probably didn’t want to face the punishment. Everyone bows down, except these three lonely Israelites. These three friends of Daniel that now refuse to bow down before this golden image. Because the king’s order puts them in a dilemma.
Because the God they believe in gave them 10 commandments and the first 2 clearly state: “You shall have no other gods before me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them;
Their God was as intolerant as they come. He claims to be the only living God. And if that wasn’t enough, he tells us that the best thing for us is to worship him alone and no other gods beside him. And because the friends believe this God, they refuse to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s image.
And when the king hears this, he gets angry. From verse 13 on we read:
13 Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, 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? 15 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?”
Nebuchadnezzar just can’t understand why the friends stay so intolerant. So stubborn to their exclusive belief. Endangering his authority and the peace in his kingdom. And people who were only 2 chapters ago some of the kings most trusted advisers, now seem to Nebuchadnezzar as a threat that had to be taken care of.
And maybe you are here this evening and can identify a little with the anger Nebuchadnezzar feels. Maybe you have talked to Christians before and they seemed intolerant to you too. You couldn’t understand how people in our day of age can claim to have found the one truth. The only way to God. Can’t understand why they won’t stay humble like everyone else and admit that they are only part of the truth. That we are all on a journey and that many ways can lead to God and fulfillment.
A few months ago, I had this happen to me. I invited people in a WhatsApp group I’m in to a bartalk. And one person that was new to the group took offense. He started telling everyone that this was just a way to convert them. That I would just lure them in to brainwash them. That they shouldn’t come and should not listen to me. He went on and on about how Christianity can’t be right and how there can’t be one truth or one God.
But then something very interesting happened. Another person jimed in and wrote: Ironically the suspicion the Christian “pastor” would try to convert people has led to a sermon of another faith.
And I think he grasped a very important point we sometimes lose sight of when we talk about truth, faith and tolerance. Because no matter how tolerant we want to be, if we really want to find truth, we will end with an exclusive faith one way or the other. End up with a golden image. Something we believe to be non-negotiable for our lives. Maybe it’s our strive for success. Maybe it’s your own or other people’s happiness. I meet many people who find their truth in self-improvement. And even if you say, that there is no one truth for you. That everything is equally important and valid. That we can’t find absolute truth. Then this belief would become an absolute truth for you as well. A truth where you would be intolerant to the people who believe to have found ultimate truth.
And don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that we shouldn’t find a tolerant and respectful way to deal with these differences. But I think in its core, truth will always be to some extent intolerant.
And I hope, that although the message these friends hold might sound intolerant and narrow-minded to you right now. Maybe outdated. You would give this truth that the friends hold to a fair shot. See if there might be a reason to belief in this God that the Bible tells us about. Despite the challenge it might be for our modern world view. See what this beauty is that lead three friends to even risk their lives, by giving the mightiest king of their time the following answer:
2. The Beauty of Faith
Read with me what the friends say in verses 16-18:
16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 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.
The beauty that the friends found in their faith was, that they had an answer to the king’s question. Nebuchadnezzar had asked the friends before: What god will be able to rescue you? And they now answer in verse 17: Our God can! “The God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand.
The reason why the friends were so confident and wouldn’t give up their belief even when threatened with certain death was, that they knew that the God they followed is bigger than any person or situation that could threaten them.
How did they know? Because they had experienced it before. If you were here 2 weeks ago, you might remember how God saved them from defiling themselves with the food they were served. How he gave them success, even though everyone laughed at their decision. And with that in mind, they trust God to care for them now. Choose not to compromise, although they would otherwise face certain death.
And maybe you are following God and sometimes find yourself in the shoes of these friends. Find yourself caught between what you know God wants you to do and what others or even you yourself expect of you. Maybe your boss asks you to not be honest with a client to close a deal. Maybe you know you will only get the next promotion through let’s say morally questionable ways. Maybe your boy- or girlfriend is pushing a stage in your relationship that you know is not where God wants you to be.
And I don’t know about you. But although I admire what the friends are doing here. And theoretically I agree that God is bigger than anything that could threaten me. When the stakes are high. When my job, my friends, my potential partner, my reputation are on the line, I am often drawn to maybe not bend both knees, but maybe at least one. Tempted to compromise. Tempted to bend the rules a little so that I don’t totally have to stand out in the crowd. Find a middle way where I can make sure I get what I think I need or avoid the danger in front of me without offending God too much.
Because in the end I often end up asking myself the same question that Nebuchadnezzar is asking the friends: If I follow God now, where will that leave me? What will others think of me? And if things go sideways, what can God do to rescue me then?
And in these moments, I think we can learn a lot from these three friends. Learn not to fall into the trap of concentrating only on what we can do. On how we can solve the situation. But to look up from our troubles and remember who this God is that we follow. What he is capable of doing and where we have already experienced that in our lives.
And if you can’t think of anything to draw confidence from or maybe are not living with God yet, then we can look to what the Bible calls God’s ultimate prove of his love and care for us.
Where God already saved every one of us from the biggest threat, the biggest furnace we could ever face. A danger we put ourselves in with all the times where we put our careers, our pleasure, our security before him. Where we broke his commandments and worshipped these golden images instead of him. Something that separated us from God. Separated us from the only one who can truly fulfill us. Who unconditionally loves and cares for us. Our choice against God would have made all of this impossible for us to experience.
And because God knew that we were not able to ever repay our debt. Get us out of the corner we backed ourselves into. He came to earth in his son Jesus Christ. He gave his life on the cross. Died the death we were supposed to die because of our decision against him. And in doing so, Jesus offered us a way back into a relationship with God. A way back to follow him unconditionally, knowing, that he will take care of us. Knowing that if he gave up everything for us to save us from our biggest threat, he will take care of us in our smaller challenges as well.
And this is the beauty of what we call the Gospel. A faith that from the outside might look very intolerant. But once we take a step towards God. Experience his beauty. Really understand of what Jesus’ death means for us. It will turn out to be the most liberating choice we could have ever made.
3. The Freedom of Faith
If we trust God. Experience the beauty of a life spend with him. Then it frees us on the one hand to let go of the golden images we looked to before for truth, meaning, and fulfillment in life. Things like our career, our reputation, our possessions, our relationships. Things more and more people today realize won’t satisfy us completely. That only put us in a hamster-wheel where we have to work harder and harder to get at least some meaning, some satisfaction, some happiness in life.
But with God in our life, we are free to step out of this wheel. Free to enjoy all of these good things, without the pressure that they need to fulfill us. Because with a God who loves us just the way we are, we no longer have to depend on what others think about us or how much our partner love us. No longer have to look to our position or popularity to determine our worth, because God calls us his children. We can be free to accept people who hold to different truths. Not only be tolerant, but truly love them, because we know how much God loves them as well. Share our faith with them not because we want to be right or show that we are better, but because we want them to experience God as well.
And on the other hand, the beauty of faith frees us to follow God, even when it costs us.
I know there are some pastors out there who preach, and we could easily understand the text here that way, that once we follow God, our lives will get easier. That if we just follow him, we will have success, be happy, get where we want to in life. That God is basically the best way to reach our goals in life. And yes, God has the power to turn bad situations into good for us. Might give us the promotion even when we turn down the shortcut.
But as the friends say in verse 18: 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.”
When we follow God, that can sometimes mean that we end up losing our promotion because of it. Have friends turn their backs on us. Still have to wait for a relationship that God would approve of. All things that hurt. That are not easy to accept. But with God we can have hope even in these difficult times. Are free to follow him regardless, because we know that he is still with us and wants the best for us. Even if we cannot see it yet. And one day he will be waiting with an eternity spent with him, that will more than make up for all the pain and disappointments we endured here.
I don’t know how your next week looks like. Maybe you know there will be a few of these Nebuchadnezzars in it. Situations where you have to decide who to follow. Who to trust. And I hope that you will take a moment before making a decision and think of the beauty we have in this God. What he has done for us. And find the strength from that to maybe make a difficult decision. Stay loving to the people around you, but also firm in what you know we have in our relationship to God.
And maybe this God and the beauty of what Jesus did for us is still very new or only a theory for you. Something you haven’t experienced for yourself yet. Maybe you still have questions. Then I would invite you to come after the sermon. I would love to talk to you about them.
But in the end what God offers you and me is a relationship. Something you, like every other relationship as well, can only fully understand once you are in it. And if you want to see why this God and the faith in him is not intolerant, but the most liberating truth that we could ever follow. Then you can also come and we can take this first step together.
And I hope that the next week will be a time where we experience that although following God might sometimes seem like a risky step to us. We can be sure that whatever we dare to risk for God, won’t compare to the joy and freedom we will find when we follow him. Here on earth and forever after.