Daniel 3:13-27 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, pipes 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?" 16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, "O 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 save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." 19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual 20 and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. 21 So these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. 22 The king's command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, 23 and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace. 24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, "Weren't there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?" They replied, "Certainly, O king." 25 He said, "Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods." 26 Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, "Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!" So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, 27 and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them.
When your children were little, they held your hand, called you “Mommy” or “Daddy,” and gave you butterfly kisses in public. But something happens when children become teenagers. They want you to drive them around and pay for their meals, but they don’t really want to be seen with you anymore. You’re not quite as cool as you used to be.
I don’t suppose God is too thrilled with the children He adopted by faith into His royal family think that God is no longer cool enough to identify with Him in public. How that disdain must hurt His fatherly heart!
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were young men from Israel who had been dragged to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar. They rose to influential positions in the greatest empire of the day. But their civil service was interrupted one day when they learned that they and all the other officials were to gather at the plain of Dura. There the king had erected a massive 90-foot statue. This was Nebuchadnezzar’s idea of a team-building exercise. Every civil servant was to bow down and worship the statue in a display of loyalty. Anyone who disobeyed would be thrown into a fiery furnace.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego made no such excuses. Everyone else bowed down to the king’s idol – even Jews who no longer thought it cool to identify with the Lord. But these three men stood up and stood out. Their goal was not to stay alive, but to obey God.
When they were called before the king, Nebuchadnezzar gave them another chance to bow down because he personally knew and liked these three men. But they did not, would not, could not, compromise their faith. Instead they gave a great testimony of their faith: “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
What a commitment of faith! Under no circumstances would Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego obey the king’s command. Yes, they understood the consequences. And no, they had received no promise of protection from the Lord that they would miraculously survive the fire. But that didn’t matter. If God wanted to rescue them, that was His business. Their business was to obey God, no matter what.
These three men wanted the king to know that if they died in the fire, a miracle would happen and they would go to heaven and God would get the glory. If God somehow rescued them from the fire, it would be a miracle and God would get the glory. Either way, they would obey, be safe and God would be praised.
So what about you? Are you committed enough to step into the fire?
We may never be put into a position where our life is on the line because of our Christianity, but almost every day we are put in positions to stand up and stand out for our God. Maybe it is discussing infant baptism with a co-worker or dealing with the temptation to fit in at the Super Bowl party by having a few extra drinks and adding a few swear words to the action. Maybe it is being like everybody else and trying out marriage before actually being married. Or maybe it is keeping silent when our family member or friend needs correction or a warning or forgiveness or a prayer.
There are fires of persecutions of Christians smoldering in our nation – the national denigrating of our God, the protests to have the right to murder unborn children, and the rampant political correctness that allows for every imaginable sin but condemns any talk of a single, true God.
In the face of these fires, it is easy for us to disassociate ourselves with our heavenly Daddy. It is cool to be a Christian at WLS and Shoreland, but it becomes much more uncool when we are attending a liberal college or in a hostile work environment. Too often we hide our faith. We close our mouths. We lower our heads. We look the other way. We would rather keep silent than insert ourselves into a situation that calls for a strong Christian presence. We kneel to false gods hoping to fit in with the crowd. We shirk our responsibilities as Christians or as church members. We like the privilege of discipleship but not the responsibilities of discipleship.
“You know you can’t give up.” Joe’s words were earnest and heartfelt. His grandson just announced he was going to join the Marine Corps. Joe knew what was involved. He, too, had enlisted right out of high school. Joe understood the commitment and sacrifice. He wasn’t sure if his grandson did.
“You can’t give up.” These are the same words Jesus offers to all who follow Him. They are earnest and heartfelt words. They also underscore what it costs to be His disciples.
Often people announce to family and friends, “I’ve become a Christian.” But what does that mean? Not only does it mean putting one’s trust in Jesus, it also means being ready to follow Him regardless of the cost. This is where many become discouraged. They think that since they have become a Christian, life is going to suddenly get better and easier for them. But they quickly realize that life is actually harder as a committed Christian. The truths of following Jesus can mean ridicule, loss, rejection, persecution, and even death. If anything, there will be a constant battle with enemies that never give up. The devil refuses to accept he has been defeated. The world rejects the notion that it can no longer persuade you. Even your own flesh will continually betray you.
The fires are all around you. And they are only going to intensify as you become stronger in your faith and commitment to the Lord.
That is why you need to count carefully the cost of discipleship. You can’t be a Christian one day, then change your mind the next. You can’t declare to be a disciple of Jesus, then desert Him when it gets a little too hot. You can’t confirm your faith as a member of God’s Church and then quit when life becomes too challenging or the cost too great.
When you are challenged, when the fires are close and the flames are hot, look into the furnace. There’s a visitor waiting for you in there. Nebuchadnezzar saw him. “Look, I see four men walking around in the fire, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” This was either an angel of God or it was the angel of the Lord – the Son of God. The Lord is with us and He sends His angels to watch over us as we step into the furnaces today. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” (Romans 8:35)
Do you realize that the only thing Nebuchadnezzar’s fire destroyed besides his soldiers were the ropes that had bound the three men? Likewise, the only thing that death can now destroy is the bond that tethers you to this sinful, sorrowful world. That’s a bond we don’t mind giving up, is it? How can we be certain that we’ll survive death unscathed? Just as a baker doesn’t mind thrusting his hands into a hot oven because he’s wearing oven mitts, so we don’t mind facing death because God has covered us in Jesus’ righteousness so that God’s wrath against our sin will not burn us.
Jesus has promised to stand by the side of His people. Either He will put the fire out or help us survive the fire or He could even let us die in the fire and then take us home to heaven where we are removed from all earthly and eternal fires forever.
Jesus has done everything necessary to make and keep us as His disciples. He has called us through His Word. He has made us His own in Baptism. He feeds our faith with His body and blood. He has sent the Holy Spirit to sustain us in our faith. He has defeated the devil and chased away the demons. Jesus was committed enough to die for us – suffering the horrors of a flaming hell on that cross. When you compare all that Jesus has done for you with the cost of following Him, it is easy to see that His blessings always outweigh the costs.
David Livingstone, a legendary missionary to Africa in the 19th century, sacrificed personal gain for the good of Christ’s kingdom. Once he was contacted by a mission society eager to send a few good men to help Livingstone. They asked if there was a good road to the missionary’s current location. Livingstone wrote back, “If you have men who will come only if there is a good road, I don’t want them. I want men who will come even if there is no road.”
Whether it was little David facing giant Goliath in the valley or Daniel being tossed into the lions’ den or Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego being thrown into the fiery furnace or Jesus calling His disciples to pick up their cross and follow Him – we don’t hear any of them setting up conditions, like professional athletes configure contracts with one clause after another. “Jesus, I’ll follow you only if I can …” “Lord, I’ll remain committed only as long as … “ There’s no asking to be traded to a different team.
Actually, it is the Lord who attaches all kinds of benefits, blessings and perks to faithfully following Him. Sins forgiven. Faith empowered. Grace given. We receive the kingdom of heaven. We inherit the earth. We are comforted in our mourning. We are filled with righteousness. We are shown mercy. We escape hell without even the faintest smell of hellish sulfur or smoke. We will enjoy the reward of heaven. We are called sons and daughters of God. We will be counted worthy to be persecuted along side our Savior, His disciples and apostles. (Matthew 5)
Can people tell that you’re a Christian at your school? Where you work? In your neighborhood? In your family?
Jesus may call you to give of your treasured possessions or to sit at His feet on a mountain or even step into the fiery furnace of persecution. But He is there to provide the right assistance, in the right proportion, at the right time. So go. Follow. Put the Lord first. Be committed and be blessed. He is there. He is waiting. He is in the furnace waiting for you. Step into the fire. Hold hands with your heavenly Daddy. It’s still cool to associate with Him. Stand up and stand out. Amen.