Who would have believed that a storm or a fire could be good for a forest; but they are. The trauma of a storm shakes the trees causing them to send their roots deeper in the soil. A fast-moving fire in a pine forest burns up unwanted dead vegetation as well as opening tightly sealed cones, so that the seeds may be released and take root. So, life’s normally frightening storms cause the Christian to grow in maturity, sending him closer to God and deep into His Word. The fiery trials help us to overcome our fears and open our lips to release the precious life-giving seed of the gospel into a dying world. [i]
God never promised us an easy life, that God will meet all of our wants and we will only know blessings and prosperity all of our lives. No; God will let us go through storms, or fires, to help us to draw us closer to Him. When we go through trials, it really teaches us who we are. They can drive us to our knees and get closer to God. Trials dig up the soil in our lives, they help us to see what the foundation of our life is truly built on. We need to Have Faith in God – Have Courage to stand strong – Have Hope for eternity with God. As we draw closer to God, we get more of a love for Him and want to tell other people about God and His love – Our faith in grows because we feel His love toward us knowing that he suffered and died on the cross to bring us to Himself – To have courage to stand strong for God and for His virtues knowing that He has not left us alone, He has given each one of us the Holy Spirit to guide us and give us the strength we need – To have hope in eternal life with Him; that God is waiting for us to give us our heavenly reward that will vastly outweigh any earthly problems. Do we have a deep foundation that is built upon an immovable God, or is our foundation built upon ourselves and our desires, something that will change and sway with the times?
In the Old Testament, there are several stories of struggles that God’s people went through. You see that the God’s people didn’t always have a nice sunny walk through a beautiful meadow. Today we are going to go through the story of three men who literally went through the fires of life and came out to tell their experience of it; Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. We need to Have Faith – Have Courage – Have Hope. We will also see how lessons learned from these men can be applied to our lives today; because we could also be persecuted for our faith in God. I won’t quote all of ch.3, but hit a few verses to help tell the story. The bulk of the teaching is on Dan 3, but Dan 1 also tells about them. I will be quoting much out of the Living Bible.
Per the prophecy of Jeremiah, under their King Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonians conquered Judah and took many of the Jewish nobility into Babylon. They thought if they took the nobility away from their homeland and established them in Babylon, they would get indoctrinated in Babylonian culture, and then they would think of Babylon as their home and not want to rebel and return to Judah.
To help with this indoctrination, King Nebuchadnezzar had the best young men of Jewish nobility trained in the Babylonian language and literature so they could enter into the King’s service. This includes some of our heroes of the faith: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. They gave these four men Babylonian names: Daniel – Belteshazzar; Hananiah – Shadrach; Mishael – Meshach; Azariah – Abednego. These four young men submitted to the Babylonians and allowed themselves to learn of the new culture they were forced into. They not only learned, but they excelled at learning. So much so, that Dan. 1:19 we find; “The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom”. They were not perfectly submissive to the Babylonian ways; they still chose to cling on to their Jewish dietary laws. After humbly dealing with an initial problem, they were allowed. They were totally immersed and knowledgeable about the world of the Babylonians. They drew a balance; they were in the world, but not of the world. They submitted to the leadership and ways of the Babylonians, but they were careful not to do things that were against the commands of God. These four men not only served well in the government of Babylon, but in the end of chapter 2 we see that Daniel was in a high position serving the king in his royal court, while Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego also increased in power and influence to become administrators of the province of Babylon.
Looking at the way these young men served the king of this foreign power, it is a great reminder of how we are to serve in our jobs doing the best that we can. Eph 6:7 tells us; “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people”. This is the principle that these four men applied to their lives. They had been forcefully taken from their homeland, made to serve in a government whom they did not agree with their politics, but they were still the top of their class and served the king the best they could. They put their hearts into it. It’s not that they had a nice boss, Nebuchadnezzar. This was the man who took them out of their homeland and forced them into their career path. Nebuchadnezzar could have his employees killed if they went against him. We don’t have some of these problems at our jobs. Nonetheless, we need to apply this lesson into our lives also; to do the best that we can. We might not have a nice boss; he might be mean and not treat the employees with respect. Nonetheless, we still need to do the best that we can. What kind of an example of Jesus are we to our co-workers when we are regularly late; take long breaks; often complain; not work hard to hit the deadlines; shop on the computer instead of work; spend too much time talking to our co-workers or other ways of not being productive? God has not placed us at our jobs just to earn a living, but as opportunities to be lights for Jesus to people who wouldn’t crack open a Bible, let alone go to a church.
We should evangelize when opportunity arises; encourage Christians in their faith; stand strong for Godly values; be lights for God at our workplaces. We are to give respect to our bosses and be sincere, not just pretend to be obedient to them, only to intentionally disobey them later. We shouldn’t lie, cheat, steal, or do anything against our values for them. We are to be the same hard working laborer when nobody sees us as we are when the boss is looking over our shoulders.
Daniel 2 tells of a dream that Nebuchadnezzar had of an enormous statue with a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron and feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay. When Daniel interpreted this dream, Nebuchadnezzar found out that he was the head of gold. This must have built up his pride and ego. At the end of chapter 2, we find that Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were raised to positions of authority in the government of Babylon.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego knew that they were brought into bondage in Babylon because of God’s judgment against the Jewish people for not worshiping God correctly. Now these young men were going to be put to the test to see if they learned the lesson and would worship God in truth.
Dan 3:1 says “King Nebuchadnezzar made a gold statue ninety feet high and nine feet wide and set it up on the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon” (Living). We see that Nebuchadnezzar must have been so impressed that God said he was the head of a huge statue that he decided to make one entirely of gold. But to him it wasn’t just a statue, it was an idol that Nebuchadnezzar wanted people to bow down and pay homage to.
Dan 3:2 “then he sent messages to all the princes, governors, captains, judges, treasurers, counselors, sheriffs, and rulers of all the provinces of his empire, to come to the dedication of his statue.” (Living) He sent throughout all of the provinces of Babylon for all of the government officials, no matter how large or small a role they played. If they were on the government payroll, they had to attend. Since Shadrach Meshach and Abednego had recently been given a high position and were on the payroll, they were also required to be in attendance and participate.
This put a lot of peer pressure upon these young men, they were new to this job in a foreign land, but they knew they still needed to serve the God of their fathers. Peer pressure can cause us to fall into temptation, to do things that are not pleasing to God. Most everybody wants to fit in, they don’t want to feel like an outcast. Everyone has their own weaknesses as to what will tempt them. To some it is pornography – others gossip – lie – commit adultery – have a wrongful desire for power – homosexuality – being covetous for money or possessions – being proud. The list goes on and on. Peer pressure helps us to give in to them. Everybody else is doing it; society thinks it is ok; I see it regularly on TV or they make it sound good in the songs; so it must be good. These three men did not have good examples from their nation to follow, what would they do?
As Christians we know that life is tough; all of us need encouragement and strength. God hasn’t called us to be Lone Rangers; we need support. We need to have someone to whom we are accountable; someone who can lift us up to give us strength to make it through challenging situations. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had each other to lift each other up and strengthen each other. We also need to be building each other up. We usually keep all our problems from people; you don’t know what each other is going through. Lift each other up, don’t knock each other down.
All the Babylonians were instructed that when they heard the band play to bow down and worship this statue. If they did not, there would be a heavy penalty to pay: Dan 3:5-6 “When the band strikes up, you are to fall flat on the ground to worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s gold statue; anyone who refuses to obey will immediately be thrown into a flaming furnace.” Talk about intimidation at work! Nebuchadnezzar’s word was law and if he said someone will be executed, there were no questions asked. The executioner would perform his duty; everyone knew that there would not be any excuse for disobedience. So when the band played, everyone bowed to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statue.
When the music played, some officials noticed that a few Jews didn’t bow down. These officials did not want to be friendly and assume that since they were new to the position that they should go over to tell them their fault. These officials saw a chance to have these Jews killed, maybe because they wanted their jobs. So these men went directly to the king to tell him about this. Dan 3:9-12; “Your Majesty,” they said to him, “you made a law that everyone must fall down and worship the gold statue when the band begins to play, and that anyone who refuses will be thrown into a flaming furnace. But there are some Jews out there—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, whom you have put in charge of Babylonian affairs—who have defied you, refusing to serve your gods or to worship the gold statue you set up.” These officials knew that because of their high positions it would be scandalous to the king’s authority, so Nebuchadnezzar would have to act.
“Technically speaking, this passage shows how God often called upon Old Testament saints to stand up for their faith. By extension, it also shows that God may call upon New Testament saints like us to do the same.” [ii] Despite what some popular preachers may say, the Bible warns us that we will face persecution and hardships. Jesus said in Mt. 5:10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” 2 Tim 3:12 tells us, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”. Makes you wonder if Jesus is doing a good job on encouraging us to follow Him. That is like a used car salesman telling you about all of the problems of a car. If he told you about the oil lead and all of the squeaks it makes, would you think he is doing a good job of trying to sell it? But Jesus does tell us of the problems. Persecution is guaranteed. Jesus will look at us right in the eye; He will tell us the truth if we like it or not. He will forewarn us, so that when persecution does come, we are not surprised and that we are ready for it.
When we accepted Jesus into our lives, we accepted Jesus to be Lord of our lives; to give Him complete control. We would leave the old sinful nature behind and become a new man in Christ Jesus. We left the status quo of the world. But when you leave the status quo, you go against the status quo. We are not to be politically correct, but Godly correct. So when we stand up for God and Godly values, the world will now come against us and persecute us when we do not agree with their values. As followers of Christ, we can expect this. One older Christian friend who took me under his wings early in my Christian walk would say that if we were not being persecuted we must not be Christians; because we are not standing in our faith and letting other people know of our faith. I am not that radical, but I know we are promised persecution.
There are three kinds of persecution – Verbal – Physical – Death.
Verbal – the one we are more familiar with here in the U.S. People will belittle us; say things to try to harm us emotionally. ‘You don’t really believe that!’, ‘That’s an archaic belief’; ‘You are stupid to believe that’. It doesn’t hurt us physically, but emotionally, trying to get us to not stand up for our faith. Never be discouraged by the humiliation of mockery. Be honored to bear the reproach of Christ and His cross. [iii] What is that old saying? Stick and stones my break my bones, but words will never hurt me. We need to let those words bounce off of us and consider it an honor when we are mocked for the Lord.
Physical – When a believer is hit, beat up, thrown in jail or some other physical harm. Some people in other countries know that they can be physically harmed for doing the Lord’s work. Like Saeed Abedini, a brother in Christ who went back to his home country in Iran to build the church there. But he was captured and is currently suffering in the Evin Prison; he has been beat up, has suffered broken bones and not given adequate medical attention. Some Christians live with the knowledge that they could be physically harmed for their faith. We don’t have to worry too much about this in our country. Although when Proposition 8 was on the ballot some people were threatened, their cars were scratched and some churches were damaged. The day could be coming when we might have to be ready for more persecution like Saeed Abedini’s.
Death – Sometimes people are killed just because they are Christians. Here is a paragraph from an article from The Voice of the Martyrs website of an event that recently took place in Nigeria; “On May 15, 2013, Anna boarded a bus in Maiduguri, Borno state, along with five other passengers. When they reached their destination, they were attacked by Boko Haram as they got off the bus. Anna watched as the militants killed the other five passengers, all men. The lone survivor, she was taken to the Boko Haram camp as their hostage. While in captivity, she saw more than 50 others killed by the militants. Those brought into the camp were quickly identified as either Christian or Muslim by their ID cards. The Christians were immediately executed, and the Muslims who refused to join the Boko Haram were also killed.” [iv] The Boko Haram is an Islamist militant group. The Christians they killed were not witnessing, passing out tracts, or caught reading their Bibles; they were killed just because they were Christians. It is estimated that over 100,000 believers die each year because of their faith. *
Going back to our story, this disobedience put Nebuchadnezzar into a rage; he did not like anyone defying his direct order. So he called Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into his presence and asked them if this accusation is true. Evidently, they admitted that it is true. These young men understood the 2nd of the 10 Commandments, “You may worship no other god than me.” (Ex 20:3). They learned the lesson of what happened when their country disobeyed God; therefore, they were now in exile. Despite everyone else they knew bowing down to the image; they would not give in to the pressure to do this also. They could not and would not worship the false god that Nebuchadnezzar set up. We have to Have Faith – Have Courage – Have Hope.
But Nebuchadnezzar gave them one more chance. Dan 3:15; I’ll give you one more chance. When the music plays, if you fall down and worship the statue, all will be well. But if you refuse, you will be thrown into a flaming furnace within the hour. And what god can deliver you out of my hands then? He challenged them to repent of not worshipping his idol. If so, they would be forgiven and could go back to their jobs. If not, he warned them that not even their God could protect them from the fires of the furnace.
Temptation will often hit us a second and third time, but we still cannot give into it. To be tempted is not a sin, but to dwell on it and to give in to temptation is a sin. Therefore the devil is going to keep working on us, trying to break us down to the point that we will give in to the temptation. No matter how many times we are tempted, we must not give in to the temptation.
Listen to the response of these three godly men; Dan 3:16-18 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not worried about what will happen to us. If we are thrown into the flaming furnace, our God is able to deliver us; and he will deliver us out of your hand, Your Majesty. But if he doesn’t, please understand, sir, that even then we will never under any circumstance serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have erected.” They did not hesitate in their answer; they did not try to weasel out of it by giving a politically correct answer. They were not worried about the consequences of their actions. This is in line with Mt. 10:28 where Jesus says; “Don’t be afraid of those who can kill only your bodies—but can’t touch your souls! Fear only God who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Jim Elliot was a Missionary who was killed in January 1956 trying to reach the Huaorani people in Ecuador. He has a famous quote, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” He knew it was more important to do God’s work, knowing he could lose his life, because he had the assurance of Heaven. These people did not look for martyrdom; nor did they shy away from it. Their confidence and dependence upon God is very apparent. We cannot keep our lives for very long on this earth; we are not fools if we are killed because of our faith. We have great gain, because we will go straight to Heaven to spend eternity with God. Yet if we deny our faith, we can only prolong our life here a few more years before we have to give an account to God. Is it worth it? He is a God of mercies; but He is also a jealous God, God does not want us to deny Him.
We should not fear those who can only kill our body; that is all they can do. We need to stand strong and true in Jesus and never deny Him. We cannot give in to peer pressure to deny Christ, either to fit into modern culture or to spare our lives. What does Jesus say about those who deny Him? Mt 10:33, “But if anyone publicly denies me, I will openly deny him before my Father in heaven.” Then in verses 38 and 39 we read; “If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give it up for me, you will save it.” Jesus does not play games; we cannot deny Him and expect to get away with it. He has given each of us the Holy Spirit inside of us; we will be accountable.
This decision by Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego was to trust in God so they took a stand before Nebuchadnezzar and chose to suffer death in the furnace rather than sin and have to stand before a jealous God. We have no guarantee of what life has in store for us. Sometimes we are put in circumstances that we wish we were not in; maybe something similar to these men. We have to trust in God, be obedient to Him and make the best of the situation that we can. We need to Have Faith – Have Courage – Have Hope. We have the promise of Rom 8:18 “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” No matter what suffering we go through on this earth, it will be worth it when we stand before God. We need to be meek in our replies when threatened, but we need to be decided that we are going to obey God rather than men.
This also took courage to take this stand before Nebuchadnezzar. It is not that these men were fearless. Here is a definition of courage that has hit a chord with me – “Courage is a radical obedience in the face of what scares you to death. It’s not pulling back, it’s pressing into your fears. It’s not denying your fears, but it’s seeing what needs to be advanced – What needs to be accomplished – as greater than your personal comfort.” [v] (Crawford Loritts). I am sure these men were timid to take this stand – it definitely took them out of their comfort zone. C.S. Lewis put it nicely in one of his Chronicles of Narnia books when one of his lead characters, Peter, was ready to go into battle. “Peter did not feel very brave; indeed, he felt he was going to be sick. But that made no difference to what he had to do.” Despite the fear that must have been inside of them, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego decided that they would have this radical obedience in honoring God before this wicked king.
When the men took this stand, Nebuchadnezzar got even angrier; he ordered the furnace to be made seven times hotter than normal and have his strongest men tie the three men up and throw them into the furnace. When we take a stand for the Lord, those who hate Jesus will get even angrier.
The heat in the furnace was so hot that it killed the soldiers trying to throw the men in; but the three were close enough that they fell in. Often times, God will let people die for their faith; there have been many martyrs throughout the centuries. But there are occasions when our Almighty, Omnipotent, ever loving God will intervene and save us. This was one of those occasions.
Nebuchadnezzar had been an instrument of cruelty, and he wanted to see these men literally go down in flames. But what he saw next blew him away. He knew that three men had been thrown into the furnace, but he looked, he saw four men walking in the furnace. He saw something different about the fourth man, because he exclaimed (Dan 3:25b) “And the fourth looks like a god!” It seemed like some kind of a divine person, a messenger from Heaven that came to deliver them. Some people believe that this was Jesus Himself who came; we don’t know for sure who it was. The Messenger must have put their minds at ease, because they felt like taking a walk inside of the furnace. That must have been a neat experience walking in flames but not feeling it; I don’t blame them for taking advantage of that opportunity.
Nebuchadnezzar called to these men to come out of the fire. V. 27, “Then the princes, governors, captains, and counselors crowded around them and saw that the fire hadn’t touched them—not a hair of their heads was singed; their coats were unscorched, and they didn’t even smell of smoke!” God did not allow for any harm to come to these men. They had bravely taken their stand before the king to not bow to his idol; and God in his mercy spared them their lives. They were willing to die rather than serve or worship any god beside the true and living God. Because of this, God was glorified and these men were honored. Nebuchadnezzar once again acknowledged God before all of the people, because he knew that there was no other god who could do that. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were honored for their faith; they got promotions and they prospered in that foreign land.
God still moves in miraculous ways to save us. A member of my church, Art Grant, recently told some of us of a miraculous experience he had. Here is the short version of the story. He was a teacher at San Fernando High School in the early 70’s, a time when there was a lot of tension between Hispanics and Black people. One day a large group of rioters stormed the campus, overwhelmed security and knocked down the principal and vice principal before coming into Art’s classroom. Art knew what they were up to. He felt the Lord telling him to tell them Jesus loves them, but he didn’t because they will think he is crazy. They hit Art from behind with a trash can and started fighting with the kids in his classroom. Art feared for his life; he knew that he had to obey the Lord now. So he started yelling at them “Jesus loves you”. When he did that, they looked at him and Art was surprised to see them all run out of the room and away from the school as fast as they could. The next semester he talked to one of the guys who was in his class. He told Art that when he said “Jesus loves you” during the fight, there was a huge ugly guy, whose head almost hit the ceiling, standing behind Art, staring directly at him. He feared for his life and ran. It looks like an angel came down to protect Art from more harm.
We don’t know what the Lord has for us to do in the future. As the Pastor of my church teaches us, we might face some real persecution ourselves. May we be a people who Have Faith – Have Courage – Have Hope. Paul says in Phil 1:20-21, “For I live in eager expectation and hope that I will never do anything that will cause me to be ashamed of myself but that I will always be ready to speak out boldly for Christ while I am going through all these trials here, just as I have in the past; and that I will always be an honor to Christ, whether I live or whether I must die. For to me, living means opportunities for Christ, and dying—well, that’s better yet!” No matter what circumstances we are in we need to be lights for Jesus, so other people see our love and passion for Him; to lead people to a saving faith in Jesus and strengthen our fellow Christians; to stand strong in our faith in Christ. We have the assurance that no matter what bad things happen to us here, that we have a wonderful home built for us in Heaven where we get to spend all eternity with God because we know Him and are faithful to Him.
Dudley Rutherford; Sr. Pastor, Shepherd of the Hills – Sermon on Persecution – 2014 * notes from ‘Stepping Up’ conference Wikipedia Various Bible League daily devotionals
Various quotes from Jim Elliot, CS Lewis, Ray Comfort
[i] Jaws Without Teeth, Ray Comfort, pg. 107
[ii] Pastor Manuel Gonzales – suggestion
[iii] Jaws Without Teeth – Ray Comfort – Pg. 91
[iv] http://www.persecution.com/public/newsroom.aspx?story_ID=NjY1&featuredstory_ID=NDI4 – 3/25/14
[v] Crawford Loritts – Stepping Up, a Call to Courageous Manhood – pg. 32.