The Glorious Presence
June 21st, 1970 @ 10:50 AM
THE GLORIOUS PRESENCE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-21-70 10:50 a.m.
You are listening to the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Glorious Presence. This is the concluding sermon in the third chapter of the Book of Daniel. The chapter is introduced with the king of Babylon having made a giant image of gold, and he set it on the plain of Dura, just outside the city. Then he paid a herald – a paid preacher, a man to say what somebody tells him to say, a hireling of a preacher – he has a paid herald to command the people that at the sound of music, they all bow down and worship the golden image [Daniel 3:4-5].
So at the sound of the psaltery, and of the harp, and of the sackbut, and of the dulcimer, and of the cornet, of the cornet, at the sound of the music, they all bowed down and worshiped the golden image. That is, they all bowed down except the three Hebrew children: Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah – (Meshach, Shadrach, and Abed-nego). And the envious Chaldeans, who resented those captives being elevated to rulership over them, made haste to appear before the king to accuse them of insubordination and disobedience. And the king could not believe his ears. He was incredulous. In all of the realm, could there be three, even three among the millions of his subjects, could there be three who refused to bow down?
So he sent for those three Hebrew children. And he asked them, "Is it true? I must have been misinformed. It cannot be so. Is it true that you do not bow down nor worship the golden image which I have set up?"
And the three Hebrew children replied, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this. We do not have to discuss it. We are ready to give you an answer this moment. We will not bow down!"
Then was Nebuchadnezzar full of fury. And the form of his visage was changed. His anger was written large on his face. And he said, "Heat that crematory where they burn the dead, heat it seven times hotter than it’s ever been heated before" [Daniel 3:14-20].
And he commanded his most mighty men to bind the three and to cast them in the burning fiery furnace. So, the three were bound "with their coats, their hosen, their hats, their other garments, and they were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. And even those who bound them and threw them in the fire, because the king’s commandment was urgent, even those men were slain, so fierce was the outreach of the burning fire."
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, True, O King.
He answered and said, Lo (look), I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and look, the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.
And that’s where the title came from: The Glorious Presence. "Look, did we not cast three men into the fire? ,But I see four loose, walking, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like unto the Son of God."
We pause to enumerate first what the Lord did here. First, He came down from heaven to stand by the side of those three Hebrew heroes. The people said, "They’re fools! They’re idiots! They’ll be burned alive. And all they need to do to save their life is to doff their hats and to bow."
Like William Tell, all he had to do to save himself and his son was just to bow his head, just to doff his hat. You know, there’s a strange streak of heroic in a man made out of dust and dirt and clay. He can rise at times to unbelievably supernal heights. And these three boys brought up in a home with parents who had taught them they were not to bow down before any graven image, those three boys said: "We will be thrown into the fire and burned alive, but we will not bow down."
Now, the Lord God in heaven heard all of that; He watched all that; He saw all of that. And when the people said, "They’re fools, they’re idiots," the Lord God in heaven said, "I do not think so! I do not reckon them to be fools."
Like the reference of the apostle Paul when he referred to fools for Christ’s sake; God said, "I do not reckon them to be fools. They are My heroes of the faith." And the Lord God in heaven left His throne in glory and the invincible Almighty assumed human form and came down and walked with those three in the midst of the burning fire. That’s what you call a "theophany." A theophany – that is, it is a preincarnate appearance of the Son of God.
You’d find that, you meet it often times in the Bible: In the eighteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis is recorded a magnificent theophany when the Lord came down in human form and was a guest in the house and home of Abraham. You have that again in the fifth chapter of Joshua, when suddenly there appeared before the commander of Israel’s forces the likeness of the Son of God. And He announced to Joshua that as Captain of the host of Israel, had He come. And He further said: "Take off your shoes from your feet for the place whereon you stand is holy ground" [Joshua 5:15].
A theophany – and it is again here: preincarnate appearance of the Son of God, standing and walking with those three heroes of the faith. Not only did the Lord God come down and not only did He enter that fire with the three, but the Scriptures say that they walked in the midst of the furnace. Walking – the Son of God walking and those three Hebrew children walking with Him. This is the normal life and unquickened pace of the child of God, walking with God. Enoch walked with the Lord. And Abraham was called the friend of God; and the Lord spake to Moses as He would to a friend – face-to-face.
What a sweet and precious fellowship, walking with God, even though it is in the midst of a burning, furious, fiery, flaming furnace. But with the Lord, it is as nothing. That furnace was like a garden of Eden; like a paradise of heaven, as when God walked with Adam in the days of his unfallen innocence. The livid fire itself was as soft as silk as they walked on it. What a sweet fellowship, to walk with God. That’s a precious song. I wish we would sing it once in a while.
I walk with the King, hallelujah!
I walk with the King, praise His name!
No longer I roam, my soul faces home,
For I walk and I talk with the King.
[James Rowe c. 1913]
That’s what happened here: the three, thrown into the furnace, found a fourth walking with them. "And the form of the fourth was like the Son of God." That to me is one of the dearest, sweetest, finest pictures of the Christian life that I could ever hope to discover in the Word of God or in human experience. No hastening gait, no slackening pace, no change of life; out or in – walking with the Lord.
Do you remember the last verse of 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; they shall walk, and not faint" [Isaiah 40:31]. Running and not being weary, that would refer to the crises of life when the Lord is with us to help us. And walking and not faint, that refers to the long days and years of the routine of our daily living in the presence of God and the Lord with us. Walking and not fainting – all the providences that fill our lives and no one of us but has his life filled with those things, walking with the Lord without weariness. Whether into the furnace, or out of the furnace, or around or beyond it, walking with the Lord; and anywhere God is, what a preciousness and a blessedness to be there, as Paul and Silas in the prison, singing praises to God, for the Lord was there [Acts 16:25]. Anywhere that God is, is a great "where" to be – and thus with the three Hebrew children, in the midst of the fire, but as in a paradise, as an Eden, walking with the Lord.
Now, it seems to me as I read the Book and as I follow our own human Christian experience, it seems to me that the Lord appears to His people, that His presence is doubly felt, known, when we are in trouble. It’s in the midst of the furnace; it’s in the midst of trial that God appears to us, almost always.
When the Lord appeared to Moses in the bush that burned unconsumed, it was with this announcement: "I have heard the cry of My people" [Exodus 3:7]. When the Lord appeared to Elijah, it was in the days of the great apostasy, such as you find in America today [1 Kings 19:10]. When the Lord appeared to the disciples, walking upon the water, it was when they were in the grip of a furious storm and despaired of their lives [Matthew 14:22-32]. When the Lord appeared to those two disciples in Emmaus, it was as they walked along and were forlorn and sad [Luke 24:17]. When the Lord appeared to Stephen, it was when he was beat down with rocks into the dirt of the ground. And just before he died, he lifted up his face, his eyes, and there stood the Son of God [Acts 7:56]. The Lord appeared to the apostle Paul when he was so discouraged in Corinth and said to him, "Lift up your spirit. Be of good cheer. Preach the gospel for I have much people in this great city" [Acts 18:9-10].
And it was when the apostle John was on the rocky, lonely, island of Patmos, there to die of exposure and starvation, that he heard a great voice behind him. And turning to see the voice that spake unto him, he saw One like unto the Son of God, standing in the midst of the lampstands, of the churches, walking in the midst of the people of the Lord [Revelation 1:9-13]. God seemingly appears to His people, and His presence is doubly felt and sensed when we are in trouble – in the midst of a fiery furnace.
Now, let us remember some things. First, we are not to be afraid. Whatever the providence we face, whatever the fury of the burning fire, we are not to be afraid. Two of the great martyrs of Christian history are John Huss and Jerome of Prague. In the square in Prague – if you’re ever there – is what to me is the most magnificent bronze casting I’ve ever seen in the earth. It’s ten times bigger than any other that I ever saw and is so effective. And it is a presentation of the martyrdom of these two Moravian, Protestant witnesses of Christ.
John Huss was burned first. He was martyred first. And then upon another day in a separate occasion, his compatriot in the gospel ministry, Jerome was burned. And they, having tied Jerome to a stake, put all of the wood and brush around him. And the executioner, apparently being somewhat kind, and the executioner thought to save Jerome from watching him kindle the fire, so he went around to the back of the stake where the martyr was tied, to set the fire to the pyre back there. And when Jerome saw what he was about to do, he 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 came around to the front and kindled the fire where Jerome could see it. And as the fagot flamed and the brush burned and the wood began to burn, he sang a hymn of praise to God, which was only drowned out by the encircling flames.
When Algerius, an Italian martyr, was placed in prison before his execution, from that dark dungeon before his death, he wrote, "Who would have thought that in this dungeon I should find a paradise so pleasant; in a place of sorrow and death – tranquility, hope and life? Where others weep, I rejoice!"
We are to be unafraid. And the reason for our fearlessness, for our unafraidness, is because God is with us. We’ve met the Lord. We know our Christ, our Savior. And that makes us without trembling, without foreboding, without fear. God is with us. We have met and we know the Lord. I do not know when I have ever been more moved than I was in reading this poem, found on a nineteen-year-old American boy who was killed recently in Vietnam. And this is the poem that they found on the lifeless body of that nineteen-year-old boy. 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.
Last night from a shell hole I saw Your sky;
And I figured right then they had told me a lie,
Had I taken the time to see the things You made,
I’d known they weren’t calling a spade a spade.
I wonder, God, if You’d shake my hand?
Somehow I feel that You would 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 guess the zero hour will soon be here,
But I’m not afraid, since I know You’re near.
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 am crying! Me, shedding tears!
I wish I’d known You these many years.
Well, I’ll have to go now, God. Goodbye.
Strange, since I met You, I’m not afraid to die.
["A Soldier’s Conversion," Frances Augermayer, 1943]
What a message! What a message! That is for the youth of our day! I tell you, young people, these blasphemers and unbelievers who deny the existence of God are leading you down a blind alley and a dead-end street. These fair-weather philosophers are very nice to have around in beautiful weather. But when the going is tough and the way is rough, we need something more than what they are able to deliver into our hands and to place in our hearts. We need God!
And this is the incomparably precious promise of our Lord in 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"; leaning on the great, strong arm of God.
"Because I have told you these things," the Lord said, "sorrow hath filled your hearts [John 16:6]. Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God – (yes we do) – then believe in Me" [John 14:1]. And Lord, we shall.
"I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you" [John 14:18]. And in that exigency, in that hour, in that trial, in that furnace, God will be with us. Even as He promised in His Holy Word: "I will be with you even unto the end of the age" [Matthew 28:20]. "I see four men, loose walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the fourth looks like the Son of God" [Daniel 3:25].
Now, I close with another glorious revelation that comes to us from this blessed Word. It is the sovereign purpose of God, the elective almightiness of Jehovah God, to turn all the providences of life into good. That’s God! Everything Satan does, God overrules to the destruction of our adversary and the blessing of God’s people. I would think that when Satan encompassed the death of Christ, he exulted all over creation. "Israel hath slain her own Son. And the Redeemer of the world is dead. And the Prince of Peace is destroyed." I can just hear the gloatings and the boastings and the exultations of Satan when Jesus was murdered.
Or again, when Paul, the prince of all preachers and missionaries, when Paul was incarcerated – did you know you can take the Christian life of the apostle Paul, put it here starting in about, say, oh, 37 AD, and stop it here when he was martyred, say 65 AD, and between those two dates, practically all of his life he was in prison, in stocks and chains and in a dungeon? And I can just see Satan exult: "Here’s God’s preacher, the most gifted and eloquent and the most powerful in the demonstration of the presence of Jesus. Look at him, he’s not out there preaching! He’s not out there where the multitudes are. He’s not out there winning converts!"
I can just see Satan exult. Satan has got him bound down with chains. Satan has got him in prison. Satan has got his feet in stocks. I can just hear Satan exult. Did you know that out of that imprisonment came all of these prison epistles, comprising most of our New Testament? Had it not been for that horrible, long, weary incarceration, we would not have had the letters.
How God overrules Satan for the glory of His name and the blessing of His people. And had it not been for the death of Jesus, we’d be still in our sins. Out of the blood of the cross and the sufferings of the Lord, have come the fountains of blessing that enriches our lives and saves our souls.
And it is thus here. Ah, how Satan must have exulted when he saw the face of Nebuchadnezzar filled with anger and wrath, and when he stirred up that heathen monarch to bind those three faithful witnesses and to throw them into the fiery furnace. And I can just see Satan as he expected to see them burned to a crisp. But how God overruled and the sovereign purpose of the Lord was used to glorify His name and to bless the succeeding generations.
Why look, why look, those three young men, refusing to bow before his graven image, now thrown into the fury of that burning furnace. First, there is a king. The king was astonished! And he looked, and when they were brought out and not even the smell of fire passing on their garments, then spake Nebuchadnezzar saying: "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego." And he made a decree saying: "Throughout the whole realm there is to be no blasphemous reference to the great Lord God of these three Hebrew boys [Daniel 3:28-29].
Think of what an effect it had on the king; and think of what an effect it had on Babylon. Talk about fire burning in the furnace! Think of the fire of testimony that leaped from lip to lip, and heart to heart, and tongue to tongue as the story was recounted what God had done through those three heroes of the faith. And for all of the generations following, ah, the effect they have had. In that roll call of the heroes of the faithful, in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews in the thirty-fourth verse, these boys are referred to: "Quenching the violence of the fire."
And I’m preaching about it today, and this is two thousand six hundred years later. Why, my brother, if the very pillars of the earth were to be dissolved, those three young men would still stand, bearing upon their shoulders the burden of the whole world in the almightiness of the power of God, calling out to us from the midst of the furnace, "Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might" [Ephesians 6:10]. How God overrules in His sovereign grace all the providences of life to His glory and to the good and blessing of His people.
Now, the appeal – look at this: and so furious was the fire that the mighty men who cast in Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego were slain by the fire [Daniel 3:22]. That is again all through the gospel, "It is the savor of life unto life to them that believe, it is the savor of death unto death to them who do not believe, who do not accept" [2 Corinthians 2:15-16].
Ah, the fire shall burn! God says someday the very heavens and earth shall be consumed with fire [2 Peter 3:10]. To those who trust in the Lord, it is a purifying flame. It will rid us of these old bodies. It will rid us of this sin-cursed earth. It will deliver us from all of the drag of our depravity.
But the liberating, purifying fires that blessed us, O, Lord, what it means to those who are lost! Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica:
The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels,
In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:
Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power.
[2 Thessalonians 1:7-9]
O Lord! O Lord the fire that saves us and purifies us, the fire that snaps our bonds and burns our fetters and sets us free is the same fire that destroys those who don’t know God, who don’t love the Lord.
Ah, Master, have mercy upon us. And may our hearts be so attuned to Thee, and our lives so given to Thee, that whatever the providence – the fire in this life or the fire in the life to come, the judgment of God in our day or the judgment of God at the consummation of the age, Lord – whatever, that God is with us, and that Christ walks by our side, and that we are delivered and saved.
Trust that Lord this morning. Give your heart to that God today. In a moment, we shall stand to sing; and as we do, to trust the Lord, come and stand by me. To give your heart in faith to Christ, come and stand by me. In the balcony round, down one of these stairwells, at the front, and at the back, and on either side, there’s time and to spare – come. The throng on this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, "Pastor, this is my wife, these are my children; all of us are coming today."
Or just a couple you, or one somebody you, while our people prayerfully wait, while we sing this hymn of appeal, make that decision now in your heart. "I hear God’s call. I shall answer with my life." Do it now. Come now. Into that aisle and down here to the front, "Here I am, pastor, we’re coming now." Do it. And may the angels of heaven attend you in the way while you come, as we stand and as we sing.