The Glorious Presence
June 21st, 1970 @ 8:15 AM
THE GLORIOUS PRESENCE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-21-70 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Glorious Presence. This is the concluding message from the third chapter of the Book of Daniel. The chapter begins, you remember, with the announcement from Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, that at the sound of music, all the people were to bow down before a gigantic golden image which he had erected on a plain outside of the city [Daniel 3:4-5], and the whole earth bowed down except three: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego [Daniel 3:12]. And the king was incredulous when the priests of Bel-Merodach [Jeremiah 50:2], the Chaldeans, came and said that all the realm, the princes, the counselors, “all obey thy command except these three” [Daniel 3:8-12].
So he sent for them, and said, “Is it true, that you do not serve my gods, nor worship the golden image which I have set up?” [Daniel 3:14]. And they answered, “We are not careful to answer thee in this manner” [Daniel 3:16]. “We do not even need to discuss it, to think about it. We are ready to answer on the spot. We will not bow down” [Daniel 3:18].
Then was Nebuchadnezzar full of fury, “and the form of his visage was changed.” And he said to heat that incinerator, that cremator where the dead were burned, to heat it seven times hotter. And he commanded his mighty men to take those three Hebrew children, and to bind them, and to cast them into the fire [Daniel 3:19-20]. And because the king’s commandment was full of haste and urgency and because of the flaming heat of the furnace, even the men who threw them in the fire themselves were slain [Daniel 3:22]. So these three men were bound down and cast into the midst of the fiery furnace [Daniel 3:21, 23]. Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonished and rose up in haste and spake and said unto his counselors, “Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?” They answered and said unto the king, “True. True” [Daniel 3:24]. He answered and said, “Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God” [Daniel 3:25].
Not in all of Scripture could you find a story more fraught with deep meaning for us today than the one I have just recounted out of the third chapter of Daniel. Let us see first what God did. One: He came and stood; the Lord came and stood by those three faithful believers [Daniel 3:25]. The people, when they looked at what happened, said, “They’re fools. They’re idiots. They’ll be burned alive!” But God didn’t say that.
You know, there’s a strange heroic streak in some people. All William Tell had to do to escape with his son was just to doff his hat. All these boys had to do to save their lives was just to bow [Daniel 3:14-15]. They were political rulers. The king was their benefactor and lord, and a gesture of deference to the king would have been highly politically in order. But rather than bow before an image, they had rather face the fury of the burning furnace [Daniel 3:16-18], and the people said, “They’re fools.” Just as they say about you, “You’re a fool, you’re an idiot, you’re a fanatic.”
But God didn’t say so. And the Lord God, when He looked down on those three faithful heroes, the Lord God left His throne in glory and the invincible Almighty came down in human form and stood by the side of those three young men [Daniel 3:25]. That’s what you call a “theophany.” A theophany is a pre-incarnate appearance of the Son of God. In the eighteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis is the theophany when the Lord in human form visited with Abraham [Genesis 18:1-33].
In the fifth chapter of the Book of Joshua is a theophany when the Lord appeared to the commander, Joshua [Joshua 5:13], and said, “As the Captain of the host of Israel am I come. Take off the shoes from your feet; for the place where you stand is holy ground” [Joshua 5:14-15]. This is a theophany: the Lord God, the Mighty Christ, came down from heaven, and in human form stood by the side of those three young men [Daniel 3:25].
All right, another thing, “And the king said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire” [Daniel 3:25]. That is the Christian’s pace: walking with God. As Enoch walked with God [Genesis 5:24], as Abraham was called the friend of God [Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23], as the Lord spake to Moses, face to face [Exodus 33:11], so the appearing, blessed Redeemer is in the fiery furnace with these three young men, walking [Daniel 3:25]. Isn’t that sublime? Walking, their pace unquickened, with calm and peace of mind; walking with the Lord. The furnace was like the garden of Eden when God walked with Adam [Genesis 3:8]—the burning coals, like livid lava, are soft as silk, and there in the midst of the burning fire, having sweet communion and fellowship with God [Daniel 3:25].
I walk with the King,
I walk with the King,
Praise His name.
No longer I roam,
My heart faces home.
I walk and I talk with the King,
In the midst of the fiery furnace.
[“I Walk with the King,” James Rowe, 1913]
Do you remember the closing verse in the fortieth chapter of Isaiah?
They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings as eagles;
they shall run, and not be weary;
and they shall walk, and not faint.
By running, the prophet was referring to the crises in our lives. And God sustains us in the haste and urgency, in the exigencies and sometimes the overwhelming providences of those hours. But mostly life is a walk with the Lord: “They shall walk, and not faint” [Isaiah 40:31]. The years and the years of our communion with God, this, I say, is the Christian’s pace, walking with the Lord. And here they are with the Savior in the midst of the fiery furnace; without haste, without perturbation, just walking with the Lord [Daniel 3:25]. As on the outside, so on the inside; walking with the Lord.
Another thing: this is the time that you will find when God comes down especially and particularly to reveal Himself to you: it’s in times of trouble—almost always it’s in trouble, it’s in the fiery furnace that you will find God especially and particularly and unusually close to you, and you feel His presence. As the Lord came down in the burning bush [Exodus 3:2], and spoke to Moses, and said, “I have heard the cry of My people” [Exodus 3:7], in a day of trouble. As the Lord came down and spoke to Elijah [1 Kings 19:12-13], it was in the day of great national apostasy, kind of like our day, when there’s a whole turning away from God. It is as it was when the disciples were on the Sea of Galilee, and the storm suddenly arose, and Jesus came walking on the water [Matthew 14:25-32]. It is as it was when the two disciples were on the way to Emmaus, walking, and were so forlorn and sad, and the Lord came and walked by their side [Luke 24:13-17]. It was as it was when Stephen was beat to the ground with heavy stones, and as they beat him to the ground, he looked up, and there was Jesus [Acts 7:55-56, 59-60]; always in a time of trouble.
As the apostle Paul, when he was beat and scourged and finally discouraged—he said the Lord appeared to him in the night and said to him, “Be of good cheer” [Acts 23:11]. It is as it was when the apostle John was placed on the lonely Isle of Patmos to die of exposure and starvation. He heard a great voice back of him, and he turned to see the voice that spake unto him; and being turned, he saw in the midst of the churches, of the seven lampstands, One like unto the Son of God walking in the midst of the lampstands [Revelation 1:9-18].
If you don’t know trouble, the great chances are you’ve never had a real sense of the closeness and the presence of God, for He appears seemingly, almost inevitably in a special manifestation to His people when they are in trouble, when they need help.
Now I want you to remember some things from this passage. One: we are to be unafraid. Whatever the providence, whatever the turn of fortune, we are to be unafraid. When they burned John Huss of Moravia and when, a little later, they burned Jerome of Prague—his companion—the man who set the fire, who brought the fagot to the pyre to burn Jerome, went around to the back in order that he might spare the sainted martyr the sight of the fire being kindled. And when the executioner went around to the back with the flaming fagot to set fire to the pyre, why, Jerome said, “Come here and kindle the fire before my eyes, for if I dreaded such a sight, I should never have come to this place when I had free opportunity to escape.” So the executioner went around to the front and built a fire where Jerome could watch it and see it begin to flame and to burn, and as it started, he began to sing hymns until the fury of the blaze drowned out his song; unafraid.
Another martyr was named Algerius, an Italian, and he wrote from his prison before his execution these words: “Who would have thought that in the dungeon, I should find the paradise so pleasant; in a place of sorrow and death, such tranquility, hope, and life; where others weep, I rejoice.” It is God who makes that difference. It is the presence of the Lord that changes a furious fire into balmy air, soft as the moonlight that changes the glowing lava coals into a paradise of Eden. It’s God’s presence who does it, and what a difference that makes; to know the Lord in the hour of need and trial.
I don’t think I’ve been more moved in my life than I was in reading this poem that a nineteen-year-old boy had written, and it was found upon his body when he was killed in Vietnam. I want you to listen to this, and especially you young people who have been reared in a generation that doesn’t believe in God. You listen to this, found on the body of a nineteen-year-old soldier, American soldier, in Vietnam. He wrote:
“Look, God, I have never spoken to You,
But now I want to say, ‘How do You do?’
You see, God, they told me You didn’t exist,
And like a fool, I believed all of this.
But last night from a shell hole I saw Your sky,
And I figured out then they had told me a lie.
Had I taken the time to see the things You made,
I’d know they weren’t calling a spade, a spade.
I wonder, God, if You’d shake my hand.
Somehow I feel You will understand.
Strange, I had to come to this hellish place,
Before I had time to see Your face.
Well, I guess there isn’t much more to say,
But I’m sure glad, God, I met You today.
I suppose the zero hour will soon be here,
But I’m not afraid since I know You are here.
The signal! Well God, I’ll have to go,
I love You lots, this I want You to know.
Looks like this will be a horrible fight.
Who knows! I may come to Your house tonight.
Though I wasn’t friendly with You before,
I wonder, God, if You’d wait at the door.
Look, I’m crying; me, shedding tears!
I wish I’d known You these many years.
Well, I’ll have to go now, God; good-bye.
Strange; since I met You, I’m not afraid to die.
[“A Soldier’s Prayer,” Cpl. Harry Silber, 1944]
I am telling you, young people: you listen to these who do not believe in God, they’ll lead you down a blind alley and a dead-end street. And sometimes it takes troubles and dire ones to teach us how wrong these unbelievers are. Sometimes it’s a fiery furnace before we ever know the close sweetness of the reality and the presence of God. But that’s the Lord. Isn’t that the beautiful twenty-third Psalm? “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.” [Psalm 23:4] That’s the Lord. He goes with us into the fire, and He is by our sides through the trial. “And, lo,” said our Savior, “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the age” [Matthew 28:20]. “And because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart” [John 16:6]. “Let not your heart be troubled” [John 14:1]. “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you” [John 14:18]—the sweet presence of the blessed Jesus, walking with us in the midst of the furious, flaming, burning fire [Daniel 3:25].
Now I must close the message. I want you to see how God always does something. God in His sovereign providence, God in His elective purpose and choice, God always turns the providences of life, the flow of life, the course of history—God always turns it for good, for God, for glory, always.
One, He always makes Satan defeat himself; always, always. Think of how Satan must have exalted when he saw those three witnesses of the true Jehovah God bound and thrown into the furnace [Daniel 3:21-23], think how he must have exalted. When Jesus died on the cross [Matthew 27:32-50], think how the master of darkness and the archenemy of our souls, think how he must have exalted when he saw the Son of God nailed to the tree [1 Peter 2:24]. Israel had slain, had murdered her own Son. Think how he must have exalted over the death of Christ. The apostle Paul: did you know, when you figure his life, when he was saved and when he died, practically all of his life he spent in prison, in dungeons, in stocks and chains? And think how Satan must have exalted when he looked upon that matchless, flaming apostle of Christ, no longer out there preaching on the streets and wherever men would listen to him, but bound and chained and inside of a dungeon [2 Corinthians 11:23]. Think how Satan must have exalted.
There’s no exception to it. These three heroes, ah, that’s why we know about them! [Daniel 3:15-26]. Think about our Christ on the cross; that’s how we’re saved! Were there no tears and blood and agony, we’d still be in our sins. It’s His blood that cleanses our souls and washes the stain of sin away [1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5]. And think of the apostle Paul—out of those years of incarceration came those prison epistles, which is most of our New Testament. That’s God. In His sovereign choice and elective purpose, Satan always defeats himself. He never wins. As the Lord said in [Luke 10:18], “I saw him fall out of heaven.” He’s already vanquished, already.
Again, think of the effect for good of those three young heroes. The king, as he looked astonished in the fire, “And the fourth is like the Son of God” [Daniel 3:25]; and Nebuchadnezzar spake, and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego” [Daniel 3:28]: then he made a decree throughout all the empire that the whole world was to pay deference to the God Jehovah of those three young men [Daniel 3:29]. Think of the effect upon the king. Think of the effect upon the people of Babylon. Talk about fire. I can just hear that story leap in livid flame from one heart and mouth and tongue to another as they told, repeated, recounted, reiterated that marvelous thing that had come to pass. Think about the effect through all of the centuries. In the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews and the thirty-fourth verse, when the inspired author calls the heroes of faith, he calls and refers to those three young men who quench the violence of fire by their trust in God [Hebrews 11:34].
And think of the effect upon us today. Out of the fire they call to us today: “Be you strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might” [Ephesians 6:10]. I tell you, verily, were the pillars of this earth dissolved, these three young men would still stand, bearing on their shoulders the whole world by the power of Almighty God [Daniel 3:16-18].
There is no such thing as commitment to Christ and belief in the Lord but that God honors. He honors it in us, and He honors it in those who are all around us. That’s the sovereign, elective purpose of God for our testimony, that the Lord multiplies it and blesses it, makes it a thousandfold sweeter and finer in His dear hands and under the aegis of His blessed Spirit. And that’s why the Lord lays upon us the commitment of our lives to Jesus. Why a public avowal? Why an open commitment? In order that the Lord might bless it to others.
And this morning as we sing our song, somebody you to give your heart to Jesus, a family you to respond, would you come today? I cannot help but notice that flaming fire that God used to magnify His name, as those three children walked through it [Daniel 3:25], slew those who, the enemies of God, threw the three into the flaming furnace [Daniel 3:22]. There is a fire that doesn’t hurt God’s people. There is a flaming fire of vengeance from the consuming Lord God who shall destroy those who do not obey the gospel [Hebrews 10:30-31, 12:29]. O Lord, that it might be the fire of purity and trial and witness that sanctifies, and not the fire of damnation and hell and destruction. Lord, that we might be saved [Romans 10:9-13]. Today, give your heart to Jesus. Take the Lord as your Savior [Ephesians 2:8]. Ask Him to forgive your sins [1 John 1:9], to write your name in the Book of Life [Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27; Luke 10:20]. Trust Him today [Acts 16:30-31]. A family you, all of you coming, or a couple, as God shall press the appeal to your heart, on the first note of this first stanza, come. Do it this morning, while we stand and while we sing.
THE GLORIOUS PRESENCE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. What the Lord did
A. Came down from heaven to stand by the side of Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah I the furnace
B. They walked together in the midst of the fire
C. The Lord even appeared in times of trouble
II. These things to remember
A. We are to be unafraid
B. God makes the difference
C. Christ is with us
III. Sovereign, true provisions of God
A. Satan defeats himself
B. By their faithfulness, they influence this age and time
C. The furious flame through which they passed safely burned their enemies