Our church has been going through the book of Daniel on Sunday mornings. This week, Dr. Cooper preached on Daniel 3, and it's been on my mind ever since. It's one of those stories that those of us who were raised in the church have heard 100 times. You know it. Let me set the scene.
Israel has been sacked by the Babylonians, and the people have been dragged away from their homes and brought to Babylon, where they can be kept under the king's thumb. It's not a good time for the people of Israel. They've lost their homes, their land, and their temple, and the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, seems hell-bent on ripping away their faith as well.
In chapter 3, he has an enormous golden statue constructed and declares that everyone, even the freshly imported Jews, is required to bow before it. Anyone who refused would be put to death. Well. That made things a little difficult for the Jews. Worshiping idols is clearly against The Rules (aka the Ten Commandments) that God gave Moses.
So the Jews had a choice. They could either bow down to the statue and live, or they could refuse and die. Enter Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, three Jewish youths who had already caused the king a bit of trouble. They refused to bow down. And for their insolence, the king sentenced them to death by fire. But before he had them tossed into the blazing furnace, he asked them who could possibly save them from their fiery fate.
And their answer. Y'all. It stops me in my tracks. Every. Single. Time. Standing before a king who had just ordered their death, the three boys answered:
O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up. (Daniel 3:17-18)
Did you catch that? Faced with certain death, their faith in God was unwavering. They declared that He is able to rescue his people from the most dire of situations, but even if he does not, he is still a God who is worth believing in.
God is able. Period. He is always able to rescue his people from the plights of the world. The hard part to swallow is that sometimes he chooses not to. Or at least, that's what it seems like. The cancer gets worse, despite our fervent prayers for healing. The marriage falls apart, despite our desperate cries for reconciliation. The miscarriages keep coming, despite our pleas to the contrary.
And those problems, as serious as they are, are nothing compared to what our brothers and sisters are facing in the Middle East. ISIS continues to target believers and execute them for their refusal to stand down. Being a Christian in Syria is a death sentence. Literally. It's almost as if nothing has changed since Daniel's day.
And yet, God is still able. If there's one thing you cling to when you're facing the fire, let it be this: God is who he says he is. He will do what he says he will do. And his word promises deliverance for his people. We must be the kind of people who say, "My God can do anything. He is my deliverer. My very present help in trouble. My stronghold. My shield. My salvation. But even if he chooses not to act in this moment, I will still be faithful. I will still serve him. I will still believe."
Because here's the thing. Sometimes God allows profound suffering because he has something greater in store. We don't have to look any further than the cross to know this is true. He isn't asking us to do anything He hasn't already done. He himself suffered. He himself died a brutal death, a death that was a necessary prequel to the Resurrection. Without the cross, there is no victory over death. There's no new life. There's no happy ending. There's no hope.
So you see, God's story is bigger than ours. He knows what he's doing, even when we don't understand it. And he is mighty to save. Always. No matter the circumstances. He is able. How do I know that? Well, as it turns out, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego weren't alone in that fire. There was a fourth man in the furnace with them, and the three boys emerged unscathed.
That fourth man was Jesus. He was in the fire with those boys, and he's in the fire with us today. We may or may not emerge unscathed, but either way, we know that salvation has already come. Death no longer gets the last word because Jesus rose and conquered the grave. It has no hold on us who believe. And that's what gives us the confidence to stand before the world and refuse to bow down.
It's easy to say we believe these things outside the fire. To stand apart from the flames and declare our faith in God, but it's an altogether different thing to hold fast to that faith while the flames are licking at our toes. May we have the strength to stand firm when the flames flicker in the edges of our vision. And through it all, may the God of our salvation be glorified now and forever. Amen.
Until next time, grace and peace.