Live by the Spirit: The Fifth Commandment
Scripture Reading: Daniel 3:1-18
Teaching Lesson: Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 104
Today we have read about three friends named Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Their story may be familiar to you. They are three covenant youths who were taken from their home in Jerusalem and sent into exile (along with a lot of others) to a place called “Babylon”. Here they were re-educated into the ways and thinking of the Babylonian empire. It was “re-education for the common good” (or so Babylon would have told themselves). However, the empire failed to convert these three young men to their ways. In Daniel 3, the attempted “cultural genocide” of God’s covenant people is proven to be a failure in the words and actions of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. It’s an excellent story! When the law of the empire is set up against the Law of God, God always wins.
This morning we will be considering the Fifth Commandment which says, “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” The apostle Paul reflects on this law in Ephesians 6:1-3 where he writes, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right. Honor your father and mother – which is the first commandment with a promise – that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
What is the “fuller sense” of our understanding of the Fifth Commandment?
How does Q&A 104 explain God’s will for us in this command?
What is the promise of “long life” all about?
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were three covenant youths whom we can be sure were taught by their parents (and their first culture) to live in obedience to the Lord. In so far as this was done, they were educated in the Way and Wisdom of Christ. Christ has always been and will always be the Way, the Truth, and the Life. In our reading from Daniel 3, the Christ-centered identity of the three youths is being threatened by the government. Most of you have probably heard this story before and we’ve only read half of it this morning, but it is enough for us to get a better understanding of the Fifth Commandment.
In Daniel 3, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon has made an “image of gold” that is over 27 meters high and he sets it up on the plain of Dura. In verse 2 he summons all of the political figures in his empire to be present for a Dedication Ceremony of the statue. The liturgy for the Dedication Service is quite simple: Bow down or die!
Should the three friends have obeyed the law of King Nebuchadnezzar?
What will happen to those who do not worship the king’s statue?
What does this statue represent?
Three friends in a fiery furnace teach us something about the Fifth Commandment. Their story shows us that honor, love, and loyalty are not given lightly. Obedience is given freely, but not blindly. In the first set of commandments we are told to worship God alone, to make no idols or images of God, to reverence God’s Holy Name, and to rest in the vision of God’s Holy Day. The first part of the Law is all about our relationship to God. Knowing who God is and our relationship to him, the Fifth Commandment to honor our parents now turns the focus of the Law towards how we are to live with one another. How do we love our neighbor? The Fifth Commandment lays the foundation for all relationships of authority and obedience by first addressing the Christian home. Respect for authority begins in the home where Christ is Lord.
Parents are responsible for the spiritual upbringing of their young children. How does respect shown in the Christians home lead to respect in society?
What happens to the three friends? Are they thrown into the furnace? Do they survive? (Read the rest of Daniel 3 for the conclusion of the story!)
As church members and citizens of our nation, we give honor, love, and respect to all those who are in legitimate authority. We do this freely, not blindly. In this way the Kingdom of God is revealed in our world. In this way we keep in step with the Spirit of God who is at work in Jesus Christ to make all things new. Amen.