Faith

Throwback Thursday ~ Facing the Furnace

Originally published July 28, 2010

Nebuchadnezzar responded and said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up?

“Now if you are ready…to fall down and worship…very well; But if you do not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?”

Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter.

“If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king.

“But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with wrath, and his facial expression was altered toward Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. He answered by giving orders to heat the furnace seven times more than it was usually heated.

Then these men were tied up in their trousers, their coats, their caps and their other clothes, and were cast into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire.

Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astounded and stood up in haste; he said to his high officials, “Was it not three men we cast bound into the midst of the fire?” They replied to the king, “Certainly, O king.”

He said, “Look! I see four men loosed and walking about in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!”

Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the furnace of blazing fire; he responded and said, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, come out, you servants of the Most High God, and come here!” Then Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego came out of the midst of the fire.

The…king’s high officials gathered around and saw in regard to these men that the fire had no effect on the bodies of these men nor was the hair of their head singed, nor were their trousers damaged, nor had the smell of fire even come upon them.

Nebuchadnezzar responded and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, who has sent His angel and delivered His servants who put their trust in Him, violating the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies so as not to serve or worship any god except their own God.

“Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation or tongue that speaks anything offensive against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego shall be torn limb from limb and their houses reduced to a rubbish heap, inasmuch as there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.”

Daniel 3:14-29

What a great story. It’s almost Disney-ish in the telling. Three boys rise from virtual anonymity to high and respected places of power and influence. Next– oh no! –there’s a brief period of drama and suspense. But then, as we knew it would, comes the happy ending. Cut and print. That’s a wrap.

Hang on. Rewind.

If you grew up in church like I did, you probably can’t remember a time when you didn’t know the happy ending to this story. Check that. This wasn’t a story. This was a historical event. It was a real situation that happened to real, flesh and blood people, with real feelings, just like you and me. And just like you and me, when these boys were in the middle of their circumstances, they didn’t know what was going to happen next or how things would turn out in the end.

I think we forget that sometimes. We forget how frightening it must have been for Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego to stand up to this megalomaniacal king and say, “Regardless of the outcome, we’re not going to worship an idol.” They served in Nebuchadnezzar’s court. They had seen what this guy did to people who disobeyed him. Cruel and unusual punishment was his specialty.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego weren’t out to be heroes. They didn’t know that they would be written about and set an example for Bible-readers for thousands of years to come. Their only concern was personal obedience to God. Whether they lived or died. Whether or not anyone else noticed. They were in it for God, and God alone.

But since they were written about, what can we learn from their example?

Truly following and obeying God means trouble is coming our way.
How’s that for an advertisement for Christianity? Jesus didn’t say, “Follow Me so you can have ‘your best life now’.” He said, if you want to follow Me, you’d better realize from the get-go that you’re going to have to deny yourself and prepare to be crucified daily (Luke 9:23). He said, “Look, the world hates Me. If you follow Me, they’re going to hate you, too.” (John 15:18-20) He said, “In this world, you will have tribulation.” (John 16:33). Following Jesus is not a skip through the park.

Gird up. Now.
Where do you think Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego got the spiritual fortitude to stand against Nebuchadnezzar? These weren’t guys who just attended church, read the Bible, prayed whenever they happened to feel like it, and had a lackadaisical attitude towards their walk with God. You know how I know that? Because people like that don’t do great things for God. People like that fold when faced with the furnace.

These guys were firmly rooted in the Word and in prayer. They were serious about obeying God, even when it came down to meal time (Daniel 1:8-15). They had such an awe and reverence for God that they feared His judgment more than the furnace. They were able to stand firm because they were already girded up in the faith.

Don’t kick against the trials, embrace them.
God is sovereign. Any circumstance that comes into your life was put there, or allowed there, by Him. Even if it’s a circumstance that is confusing, horrific, or heartbreaking, He is allowing it into your life for His glory and for your good. Maybe He’s trying to reveal something to you about Himself, such as His faithfulness or His power. Maybe He’s disciplining you so that you will repent and obey Him. Maybe He’s trying to teach you a skill, such as patience, endurance, or persistence in prayer. Whatever it is, what greater blessing could there be than the God of the universe wanting to work in your life?

Just as Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego did not have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the furnace, accept that God has the right to use whatever means He deems necessary to work in your life, and thank Him for even wanting to. (Romans 5:3-5)

Trials allow us to know God in a new way.
It’s one thing to know, “…I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) just because the Bible says so. It’s another thing entirely to know it because you have walked it with your own two feet. Just as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego would never have come to know the manifest presence of God had it not been for the furnace, we cannot know Him as Provider without experiencing desperate need. We cannot know Him as Healer without facing disease. We cannot know Him as Comforter without experiencing crushing loss. It is not until we are in the furnace with nowhere else to turn but to God that we can experience the fullness of His promises.

What about Bob?
Or Joe or Mary or Nebuchadnezzar and all his cronies? What effect does the trial you’re going through, your reaction to it, and God’s handling of it, have on the people around you who need to know Jesus? Maybe it’s not just to grow you, but to bring someone else to salvation.

In verses 2, 3, and 27, Daniel gives a detailed list of the heads of state who witnessed this event. That was no accident. In His mercy, God brought each of these officials to Babylon to show Himself to them. Through Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego’s obedience and subsequent suffering, God’s glory and power, and the fact that He was the only true God, were displayed for all to see. Look at the reaction Nebuchadnezzar had in verses 26-29. In verse 26, this idol builder does a 360 and calls God, “the most high God”. In verses 27 and 29 he says, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego…there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.”

Trials aren’t any fun. They can be scary. They can be heart-wrenching. But if God gets glory, how small a sacrifice and how great an honor is our suffering.

Faith, Old Testament, Suffering, Sunday School, Trust

But Even If He Does Not… ~ Sunday School Lesson ~ 9-21-14

Shadrach

These are my notes from my ladies’ Sunday School class this morning. I’ll be posting the notes from my class here each week. Click here for last week’s lesson.

Through the Bible in 2014 ~ Week 38 ~ Sep. 14-20
Daniel, Ezra 1-6, Psalm 137, Haggai
But Even If He Does Not…

Exile. God has been warning Israel of the consequences of idolatry for centuries and has finally brought it to fruition. Last week we saw Ezekiel comfort the people with the good news that God’s anger and their punishment would not last forever, but today we find them smack dab in the middle of their time as Babylonian expatriates. How could they live as God’s people while being punished in a pagan nation? How could they please Him apart from temple sacrifices and offerings? Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are going to show us.

Daniel 3

The Problem- 1-7 (Exodus 20:1-6)
Here, the stage is set for the drama that is about to unfold. Nebuchadnezzar set up a 90 foot tall (probably much of that was a large base), 9 foot wide statue of himself, and commanded everyone under his rule to worship it. Emperor/king worship was not uncommon at any time during the Old or New Testament periods. While the emperor’s ego certainly must have played into this, it was mainly about loyalty and obedience to that leader and his rule. He was trying to preclude any hint of sedition while reinforcing to the people that he had control over every aspect of their lives. This was an especially important message to drive home to all of the governmental officials (2), because they were the ones most likely to slaughter the emperor and stage a coup.

From the emperor’s perspective, emperor worship also had less to do with actual religion and worship than submission to his absolute rule. Nebuchadnezzar and nearly everyone else in Babylon worshiped a panoply of gods, which was fine with Nebuchadnezzar as long as none of those gods superseded him and his rule in the eyes of his subjects. He was to be esteemed and obeyed above all others. That’s where our young Hebrew friends found themselves butting heads with Nebuchadnezzar’s new law. God is not OK with his people worshiping any other god before, besides, instead of, or in addition to Him. He is the only God, and He alone is to be worshiped, even if your life is on the line.

The Persecution- 8-12 (2 Timothy 3:12, John 15:18)
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were three of the Judean exiles. We saw in chapter 1 that they, along with Daniel, were godly young men who risked their lives to be obedient to God’s commands. By the end of chapter two, Nebuchadnezzar had promoted them to prominent positions in his government. This is probably why the Chaldeans accused them– they were jealous. As with Daniel’s accusers in 6:4-5, they likely could not find any other grounds on which to discredit Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego because they were upstanding, ethical, loyal citizens.

Satan hates God and anyone who loves and serves Him. John 15:18 says,

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me [Jesus] before it hated you.

Because of this hatred, Satan will do anything in his power to get God’s people to turn away from Him or sin against Him. He is the force behind all persecution, and he often uses his own servants to attack God’s servants. This was true for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and it is true for us today. Second Timothy 3:12 says,

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,

If we love God and strive towards holiness, we will find ourselves under attack at times.

The Predicament- 13-15
Being a child of God can often mean facing scary situations in which we are tempted to cut corners or sin. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were tempted to bow down to the image the first time when the music played. Here, the heat is turned up because they’re standing in front of the man who holds their lives in his hands, and they face the same temptation a second time. Why not just do it? God will understand and forgive them, right?

The Profession- 16-18 (Psalm 115:3, Romans 8:28)
Although it’s tempting to think that way, we can’t, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego prove this out beautifully. They would rather die than disobey their true King. And notice the strength of their testimony in the simple fact that they needed no time to consider Nebuchadnezzar’s offer (16). Immediately, they answered that their minds were made up. Under no circumstances would they bow to the image.

Why? Because they knew nothing was going to happen to them? No. We know that because we have the rest of the story. We have to remember that this was a real event happening to real people in real time, the same way things happen to us. They didn’t know what was going to happen next. For all they knew, they were toast. Yet they stood and boldly declared that God was able to do anything and they trusted Him no matter what.

But even if he does not…Those are probably the most important words in this story. To Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, God was still God, still worthy of worship and obedience, whether he spared their lives or not. Can we say the same?

There are a lot of false teachers out there that will tell you it is always God’s will for you to be healed, wealthy, successful. And if you’re not, it’s your fault because of your lack of faith. But the Bible clearly teaches the opposite. If God had not saved Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, could anyone say it was due to their lack of faith? Did God refuse to take away Paul’s thorn in the flesh because of his lack of faith? Were 11 of the 12 disciples martyred because they lacked faith?

The truth is, Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. (Ps.) God does what He does for His glory and our good. And, much like when we take our children to the doctor for a shot, what’s good for us can be scary and painful. What if God doesn’t heal you? What if your child dies? What if your marriage isn’t reconciled? What if you lose your job? For those that love God and are called out to His purposes, He works all things together for good (Rom.) He has not promised us an easy way, but a difficult way. But He has promised to be with us all the way. Can we stand in faith with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and say, but even if He does not…?

The Peril and the Protection- 19-30
If we were writing this story, it would probably end right after verse 18 with Nebuchadnezzar so impressed with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that he backed down and honored them for their courage and integrity. But God’s didn’t want Nebuchadnezzar to be impressed with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. God wanted Nebuchadnezzar to be impressed with Him.

If you’ll notice, God did not rescue Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego after their profession of Him. Things got worse. Nebuchadnezzar got angrier. The fire got hotter. God did not rescue them before they got tied up. Or before they got to the furnace. Or before they were thrown into the furnace. Or before they hit the bottom of the furnace. God allowed these three men who loved Him and were loyal to Him above all else to hit bottom before He rescued them. He didn’t rescue them from the furnace, He rescued them through the furnace.

God (possibly the preincarnate Christ in a theophany) was with them in the fire and, eventually, He brought them out on the other side. What do you think that did for their faith in Him? How much more intimately did they know Him, how much more thankful were they, and how much more intensely did they worship Him after God walked through the fire with them?

It’s the same for us. We grow to know and love God so much more intimately, when, instead of rescuing us from trials, He walks through them with us. I would not know and trust God as provider the way I do today had He not walked with me through some very difficult situations that only He could provide for. Others know God as healer or comforter or strength because of what He has walked through with them.

And what happened to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego wasn’t just about them, personally. God had a broader purpose for their suffering, and also for Daniel’s experience in the lions’ den. In those two incidents (and others), God got to pull back the curtain and reveal Himself to pagan people who desperately needed Him. He showed that He was superior to their gods, that they needed to repent and turn to Him, and that He loves His children. It had always been God’s plan to make Himself known to the Gentiles as well as the Jews, and here were God’s first missionaries. If these four men hadn’t gone through what they went through, Nebuchadnezzar and the rest of watching Babylon would not have seen God. What they went through showcased the great God they served.

Likewise, our trials can be an opportunity to point people to the Christ who has rescued us from the ultimate fire, and who can rescue them as well. Even if He does not…is a glorious opportunity to shine the spotlight on our great, mighty and merciful God.

Christian women, Idolatry, Old Testament, Sunday School

Idolatry: No Turning Back ~ Sunday School Lesson ~ 8-24-14

idolatry

These are my notes from my ladies’ Sunday School class this morning. I’ll be posting the notes from my class here each week. Click here for last week’s lesson.

Through the Bible in 2014 ~ Week 34 ~ Aug. 17-23
Jeremiah 35-50, Psalm 74, 79, 2 Kings 24-25, 2 Chronicles 36, Habakkuk
Idolatry: No Turning Back

Background:
Israel is gone, carried off into captivity by Assyria. Judah has managed to hang on a little longer, due in part to Hezekiah’s and Josiah’s godliness, but, now, Nebuchadnezzar has beseiged and overthrown the last of Judah’s fortified cities, slaughtered the king and the nobles, and carried nearly all the citizens off to a 70 year exile in Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar left a small remnant of the poorest of the poor to continue living in Judah to work the land, and set up Gedaliah as governor over them. Gedaliah was subsequently assasinated by the Ammonites, and the remnant decided -against God’s clear instruction through Jeremiah- to go to Egypt, and to force Jeremiah to go with them. This is where we now find them in chapter 44.

Jeremiah 44

God takes sin seriously.
As usual, Israel’s (here, Judah’s) main sin was idolatry, a clear violation of the first and second Commandments. That’s not something God just sweeps under the rug as an “oopsie”. In verse 3, He calls it evil. Verse 4, “this abomination that I hate.” In verse 6, God reminds them of His wrath and anger poured out becaue of idolatry. And think back over the scope of Israel’s history: the plagues, the pestilence, the snakes, the natural disasters, being conquered by enemies, and so on.

The vehemence with which God responds to idolatry shows us that He doesn’t take it, or any other sin, lightly. If there’s one major takeaway from the Old Testament, it’s that sin has a price tag, and somebody’s got to pay it.

Why does God respond so harshly to sin?  (1 John 4:8)
1. Because God is love (1 John). When we read that the penalty for sin is an eternity in Hell, we really have no idea what we’re talking about. We know Hell is bad, but that’s about the extent of it. God can see Hell. He knows precisely what it’s like, and He loves us so much that He doesn’t want a single person to go there. So much, in fact, that He was willing to go to the farthest extreme of sending His Son to provide us the way out of Hell and into Heaven.

2. Believers are God’s walking billboard to the world. When we share the gospel and walk in godliness, we can attract people to a saving relationship with Christ. But when we sin unrepentantly, and/or in what the world would consider to be a “big” way (adultery, embezzlement, drunkenness, etc.) we can turn people off to God. God wants to prevent us from doing that because He loves and wants to save those people just as much as he loves and wanted to save us.

3. Sin hurts people in the here and now. God doesn’t like that. He doesn’t want us to be victimized by other people’s sin and He doesn’t want us to hurt other people.

God pursues His people relentlessly, but not endlessly. (Romans 1:18-32, 2 Corinthians 6:2)
Take a look at verses 4-5:

“Yet I persistently sent to you all my servants the prophets, saying, ‘Oh, do not do this abomination that I hate!’ But they did not listen or incline their ear, to turn from their evil and make no offerings to other gods.”

Again, think back over all the ways and times God has tried to bring His people back to Himself. Hundreds of years, dozens of prophets, painful circumstances. Time after time as Israel rebelled against Him, God mercifully and patiently offered them opportunities to turn back to Him. He didn’t throw them away or give up on them. And here, even though He is about to destroy this remnant, it is not God who has thrown in the towel. It is the people who have relentlessly demanded His wrath. God could not have been more clear to His people in this chapter about what would happen to them if they continued to rebel, and still they said, “we will not listen to you, but we will do everything we have vowed” (16-17). So he gave them what they wanted- the freedom to reject Him forever.

God is the same way today. He pursues people relentlessly, but not endlessly. Romans 1 makes this clear. Three times in this passage, he says, “God gave them up…” culminating in verse 28:

“And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.”

This is why there is such a danger in people putting off salvation, thinking they can get around to it on their death bed. If people reject God long enough, He will eventually give them what they want and stop pursuing them. The Bible says (2 Cor.) today is the day of salvation.

The goal of God’s pursuit and discipline is restoration. (Jeremiah 42:9-12, 2 Corinthians 5:20)
Even here at the end of God’s patience, God’s desire is still to restore His people to a right relationship with Him. Just two chapters ago, He told the people that if they would only obey Him and stay in Judah instead of going to Egypt, He would have mercy on them. The same loving Lord who says in 2 Corinthians, “be reconciled to God,” has always desired that His people walk in right relationship with Him, and He uses whatever means and measures He has to in order to turn His people back to Himself.

Women have the power to influence our families, communities, and nation for evil or for godliness. (1 Peter 3:1-2) 
The worship of “the queen of Heaven” (Ishtar, an Assyrian/Babylonian goddess, the wife of Baal or Molech) started with the women of Judah (15,19). They then influenced their husbands to participate in, or at least approve of, this idolatry. The women, and the husbands they had corrupted, stood in Jeremiah’s face and said, “We will not listen to you. We will keep on with our idolatry.”

Why? Because the women had the false notion that the reason they lately “lacked everything and have been consumed by the sword and by famine” (18) was becase they had stopped sacrificing to her. (Of course, the truth was that they were experiencing these things at the hand of God because they had been sacrificing to her.(23))

Several months ago, when we studied biblical womanhood, we discussed the line from My Big, Fat Greek Wedding where the mother tells her daughter, “The man may be the head, but the woman is the neck, and she can turn him any way she wants.” First Peter puts it this way:

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.

Every day, we have opportunities to be like the women of Judah and turn our families and our communities away from Christ and towards idolatry. Let’s not be like those women, but, instead, women who, by our godly character, our respectful and pure conduct, and our submission to our husbands, turn the world upside down for Christ.