"Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that [is] [the case], our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver [us] from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up." (Daniel 3:16-18)
This is a very well-known story that many preachers and musicians use in their sermons and songs. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, young men of noble birth in 605 B.C. were taken captive by the King of Babylon Nebuchadnezzar who took them to the city of Babylon. The Babilonians changed their names, but Daniel and the three young men do not change their attitudes before their Lord. Because of their strong convictions, faithfulness, and surrender to the Lord, He gave them "...knowledge and skill in all literature and wisdom; and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams." (Daniel 1:17) and blessed them in their high government positions. From history, we know that they served in the Babylonian government for approximately 60 years, during the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Darius, and Cyrus.
1. IN GOD'S KINGDOM THERE IS NO EXCEPTION. GOD EXPECTS US TO BE FAITHFUL IN DIFFICULT CIRCUMSTANCES REGARDLESS OF POSSIBLE CONSEQUENCES DUE TO OUR FAITHFULNESS TO THE LORD AND HIS WORD.
"If that [is] [the case], our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver [us] from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up." (Daniel 3:17-18)
The problem of modern Christianity is that Christians compromise in their relationship with God. Many believers use God's grace as an excuse to compromise, and not as a resource that leads man to conversion, consecration, and righteousness.
When we assume we have the right make excuses in certain situations we lose God's favor and blessing that belongs to only those who love Him with their whole heart and who are obedient and faithful to Him regardless of the consequences of their surrender to the Lord.
It is often easier to say that we believe in certain biblical principles than it is to practice them in difficult circumstances. Sometimes conviction is easier to hold to when we are not under great pressure, but what God always expects of us is faithfulness and consistency, regardless of the circumstances. Even in difficult times, such as when the price for faithfulness is our job, finances, reputation, family members, and our life - as in the case with the three young Jewish men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego.
We know that they had a final opportunity to bow to the golden statue built by Nebuchadnezzar at the sound of the trumpet. It was clearly told to them that if they did not, a terrible death awaited them. "But if you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace." (Daniel 3:15b)
These young men could have used many excuses to justify their bowing to the statute to save their lives. Today, Christians keep their lives due to compromise with the world because of fear of rejection. They could have said, "We will bow down, but in our hearts we are not worshipping the idol". "We are not idolaters just because we bowed down this one time, we will seek God's forgiveness later." "The King is an absolute authority and we must obey him - God understands." "The King put us in this position, we owe him." "We're in a foreign country, God will forgive us if we keep the traditions of these people." "Our ancestors had idols in God's temple, this isn't as bad as what they did." "We haven't offended anyone." "If they kill us, pagans will take over our positions. How will that help our people in Babylon?" Yet, they did not use these excuses, instead they faithfully stood with God!
You see, while all these statements seem understandable and "wise", actually they are dangerous compromises.
These young men knew that bowing down and worshipping the statue was in direct opposition to God's command that says "You shall not make for yourself a carved image--any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth." (Exodus 20:4) Their act would have eternally obliterated their testimony for God. They would not have been able to speak of God's power that is above every other god.
What are our excuses in difficult situations? Can we believe in correct doctrine and lose our testimony before God and man because we have discovered wise excuses? What is it worth to us? With God's Word and His principles we never have an excuse, regardless of our circumstances. He is God and He demands faithfulness, not only in the good times but also in the bad times, even when our life is at risk.
What is the problem then? If the path is invisible and we are facing eternal life then what is the problem? The problem is that many have only surrendered their lives to the Lord in part. This is why we live lukewarm and average lives. Our eyes are focused on ourselves and on earthly cares, not on eternity. These kinds of Christians will not bear the fruit the Lord expects of every believer - so that His name and kingdom are glorified among man.
2. WHILE LIVING ON EARTH GOD CAN, BUT NOT ALWAYS WILL, RESCUE US FROM EVERY TROUBLE.
"But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up." (Daniel 3:18)
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego were under great pressure to deny the Lord, but as we know they chose to be faithful to Him regardless of the consequences that awaited them. They trusted God to rescue them.
If God always saved us from every difficulty on earth we would not have to trust Him any longer. Our faith would be nothing more than a good life insurance policy, and the line for membership in Christianity would be long and filled with selfish people who only wish to use God for their own purposes.
How many faithful Christians have been persecuted and martyred around the world?
A little over a month ago I received pictures from an African Christian village where Christians were massacred by radical, militant Muslims. I believe that they were faithful Christians who stood strong for the Lord, but despite it all God did not rescue them from a violent death of rape, machete lacerations, and burning.
Actually, no where in the Bible does Jesus guarantee protection on earth, only eternal life after death. While He promised to be with us to the end of the world, this does not mean that He will protect us from every trial, persecution, or adversity. If this were true, then the apostles and early church believers would not be welcomed into churches that preach a gospel free from suffering and crisis.
If we read one or two of the Apostle Paul's statements, we will conclude that God can - but not always will - rescue us from every trouble here on earth. "But in all [things] we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings..." (2 Corinthians 6:4-5) or I [am] more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; forty [stripes] minus one. [in] journeys often, [in] perils of waters, [in] perils of robbers, [in] perils of [my own] countrymen, [in] perils of the Gentiles, [in] perils in the city, [in] perils in the wilderness, [in] perils in the sea, [in] perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness..." (2 Corinthians 11:23-27) We can surely say about him that he served the Lord with all his heart and stood firm. Yet, despite being rescued he could not always be saved from every trial on earth.
Of course, we can say without a doubt that God will save us from many troubles while here on earth, but we can also say that He is not obligated to. Jesus did not promise that we would not have problems or face persecution. He only promised to be with us in each circumstance and help us to bear up under them while on the path to eternity. Sometimes He miraculously redeems us and sometimes He leads us through trouble to test our faith. As believers, regardless of our situation, we need to know that He has not changed and He still desires that we be faithful and consistent.
The problem is understanding what it means to live with Christ. For many of today's believers Christ is just a good life insurance policy in case of death, emergency, sickness, or weakness; a heavenly bank account when they need money; Santa Clause to fulfill their desires; a heavenly police officer in case of attack; or even a mediator between marriage partners.
Although He provides, heals, protects, and reconciles, we must accept the fact that He can do all of these things but is not obligated to.
And now we come to the core of the problem that often frustrates us - people are not surrendered to God and His work because they have not dedicated their entire life to Him, or they simply wish to use His blessings. This is the reason why many people today do not serve Him with their whole hearts, they are not dedicated to serving their local churches, they do not wish to hear about surrender and dying for Him. They only want His blessings, healing, provision, joy, and protection. As soon as they are required to give to the Lord, they are at the end of the line. This is why there is compromise, laziness, fleshly behavior, disorder, and worldliness among Christians today. They do not take God seriously. They tolerate everything, rationalize, and find "wise" excuses while justifying their worship of the gods of this world.
3. IF WE ARE CONSISTENT AND FAITHFUL TO GOD, DESPITE DIFFICULT CIRCUMSTANCES, HE WILL OFTEN MIRACULOUSLY REDEEM US.
"'But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.' Then Nebuchadnezzar was full of fury, and the expression on his face changed toward Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. He spoke and commanded that they heat the furnace seven times more than it was usually heated. And he commanded certain mighty men of valor who [were] in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, [and] cast [them] into the burning fiery furnace... Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished; and he rose in haste [and] spoke, saying to his counselors, 'Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?' They answered and said to the king, 'True, O king.' 'Look!' he answered, 'I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.'" (Daniel 3:18-21, 24-25)
After they clearly informed King Nebuchadnezzar of the situation, the Word tells us that the "expression on his face changed". The word "tselem" in this context means "attitude". In other words, King Nebuchadnezzar's attitude toward them changed because of his selfishness.
We may often offend unbelievers or worldly Christians with our attitudes or actions so that, because of their selfishness, their attitudes toward us change and they no longer stand with God's Word free of compromise.
The price for surrender is high and sometimes means that people's behavior toward us may change. They may wish to hurt us when we seek to serve the Lord with all our heart. Jesus warned us many times that those who wish to live righteous lives will be persecuted.
Although God may not always redeem us from difficult circumstances, I believe - and have personally experienced - that if we maintain strong convictions and desire to live righteously, in the strength of the Holy Spirit we can experience miraculous redemption, freedom, provision, healing, and protection here on earth because our God is a God of signs and wonders!
In this story we clearly see that God "rewarded" the young men for their strong convictions. They did not pretend to be wise or use false pretenses, instead they clearly let the king know what they believed.
God will often glorify Himself in these situations for His name's sake. The king was astonished, not just because the young men did not burn up, but because He saw one more Person walking around in the fire. We are not sure if this was Jesus or one of God's angels, but one thing is clear - it was a supernatural work of God in a difficult situation in which these young men did not compromise with the world.
After they were rescued from the furnace unharmed, a decree was given to worship God. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego were were given an even greater position and, I assume, a bigger salary.
God does miracles for those who stand firm and He still blesses those who are faithful despite their difficult circumstances. Surely, He desires for us to stand firm in the midst of trials, that we give Him praise, and remain faithful. "Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying, 'Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king's word, and yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any god except their own God! Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation, or language which speaks anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made an ash heap; because there is no other God who can deliver like this.' Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego in the province of Babylon." (Daniel 3:28-30)
Even in the kings letters it is clear that the king recognized the hand of God, that He is a God of signs and wonders, and that His kingdom is eternal. "Nebuchadnezzar the king, To all peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth: Peace be multiplied to you. I thought it good to declare the signs and wonders that the Most High God has worked for me. How great [are] His signs, And how mighty His wonders! His kingdom [is] an everlasting kingdom, And His dominion [is] from generation to generation." (Daniel 4:1-3)
Let us make an important decision; let us remain consistent and faithful to the Lord and His Word, regardless of our momentary pressures. God's protection and power are without measure. If we are faithful to Him we will always be on the winning side! We must change our view of Jesus and not resist Him or turn from Him in difficult times. Instead, we must remain faithful and give Him the glory He deserves.
This is why Paul warned us and pleaded with us in his letter to Timothy, to endure hardship as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, to not entangle ourselves in the affairs of this world, and to appropriately compete if we wish to receive a crown of life. (2 Timothy 2:1-6). Despite the hardships from which God chose not to save him, despite being thrown in jail and being left alone, despite being sentenced to death, he did not bow the knee, instead he knew that he had to remain faithful to the Lord, continue testifying of His power and might and give Him the thanks and praise He deserves. "But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and [that] all the Gentiles might hear. Also I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve [me] for His heavenly kingdom. To Him [be] glory forever and ever. Amen!" (2 Timothy 4:17-18)