Eric, Chris and I went to the theatre together this week to view the film “Son of God” in order to render opinion on it, take the church youth to see it, etc… and we’ll have more on that in other writings – simply will hint here that it is going to be fairly positive.
But while at the theatre and seeing the trailers for upcoming flicks there was one called “God’s Not Dead.” To be released on March 21st, it is the story of a young man who chooses to stand alone against a liberal, atheist college professor. He is challenged to a series of debates in class and other ignominious expressions, to which the student stands his ground successfully. Apparently the plot is based upon an unverifiable, but oft-repeated story of such an encounter by someone, somewhere, in some college. Does this happen? I’ve heard that this sort of challenge often happened regularly in our own little college in our own little town by our local most famous proponent of atheism. One of my boys attending a most liberal university did have to stand alone against professorial abuse on the issue of doubting the scientific veracity of climate change. It got ugly.
The courage to stand alone in the face of power or supreme authority – that takes fortitude based upon deep belief and conviction. My first mental picture of such is that fellow some years ago in Tiananmen Square who stood alone, face to face against the Communist tank. Sometimes the tank turns around, sometimes the tank takes a different route, but sometimes the tank runs you over.
Today we see the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who conspicuously on a vast plain surrounded by thousands of people who bowing to the image of Nebuchadnezzar, chose to literally stand out in that throng of people.
The story is a simple one and needs no explanation …
The Image of Gold and the Blazing Furnace
3:1 King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. 2 He then summoned the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials to come to the dedication of the image he had set up. 3 So the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials assembled for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up, and they stood before it.
4 Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do: 5 As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. 6 Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”
7 Therefore, as soon as they heard the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp and all kinds of music, all the nations and peoples of every language fell down and worshiped the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
8 At this time some astrologers came forward and denounced the Jews. 9 They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “May the king live forever! 10 Your Majesty has issued a decree that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music must fall down and worship the image of gold, 11 and that whoever does not fall down and worship will be thrown into a blazing furnace. 12 But there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego—who pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up.”
13 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, pipe 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 him, “King 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 deliver us from it, and he will deliver usfrom Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, 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, Your Majesty.”
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.
28 Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. 29 Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.”
30 Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the province of Babylon.
A question may arise, and has been asked over the years – where was Daniel? Bowing somewhere? On a trip out of town? At a level of government not requiring the same allegiance? We don’t know; but we do know of his faith and boldness … since, all of us having read Daniel before know that there is a lion’s den story coming up soon.
And who was this fourth person in the fire – identified by Nebuchadnezzar as some sort of divine being? This is a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ – like the visitor to Abraham, the wrestler with Jacob, the voice from the burning bush, and the Captain of the Lord’s Host who appeared to Joshua.
I have had a few awkward moments in my life where I’ve had to take a stand – I remember one at age 17 where I walked away from a whole gang of my high school friends at a county fair, when they started picking up girls toward the end of going drinking, etc., etc. that evening. I walked home alone in the dark that evening, and though truly the event held little actual interest or temptation, I remember keenly to this day the feelings of loneliness and isolation of that night. But all to say, I’ve never had to take a stand like these three Hebrews … not yet, that is.
I add that last little phrase, because, it could happen to me, to you, to any who name Christ. In fact, it happens all over the world every day. I tell you the total truth here when I say that mere minutes ago, while writing this, my computer trumpeted and popped up an incoming monthly email from the Religious Freedom Report. This news bulletin highlights the ongoing nature of the persecution of Christians around the world. Here are some headlines:
“Murder of 7 Coptic Egyptians in Libya met with Indifference”
“Pakistan: Two Young Christian Girls Killed”
“Archbishop Testifies on Capitol Hill of Flagrant Christian Persecution in Middle East”
“Persecution of Chinese Christians Continued to Increase in 2013”
Just days ago in his March 4 homily, Pope Francis called persecution a “reality” of the Christian life, challenging the faithful to take up the cross.
There are more Christian martyrs in the world now than at any other time in human history. It is just not happening much here in America, even as we uncomfortably sense some shifting winds and tides … and while we note changes in the culture that give rise to an intolerant hatred of the people of the gospel. But remember, this is normal; this is the common experience of the disciples of Christ over the centuries.
Could you stand? Would you? The three friends were miraculously saved by the Lord. But in the book of Acts, Stephen was stoned. And though Hebrews 11 speaks of the great faith of many, it also talks about those Christians who were sawn in two.
Sometimes the tank turns around, sometimes the tank takes a different route, but sometimes the tank runs you over. And God is in all three situations. Can you stand?
I told you the story last week of my pastor friend’s son – the 30-year-old pastor also, who was killed in a head-on collision. Here is the final written article by that young man – a weekly note to his church where he said, “… later Sunday night, after preaching on Philippians 3, praying and talking with God, the prevailing question was: is Christ enough? Is his work enough, or do I want more, do I seek my own will, or my own desires, or do I make it more about myself than I make it about Him? It’s a tough question, and it is even a harder question to answer. But my prayer is what Paul said earlier in Philippians 1:21 that “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Standing = living or dying = gain