Friday, April 17, 2015

Clear Choices

Friday, April 17, 2015
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you.  If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us.  He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty.  But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”   Daniel 3:16-18(NLT)
Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king, had captured Jerusalem.  Daniel, a bright young, intelligent and handsome Jewish boy was taken into captivity with others like him.  Many of them eventually rose to levels of leadership within the king’s empire. 
Among them were, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.  These are the three Hebrew boys who were thrown into the burning fiery furnace for refusing to bow before the idol the king had set up at the Plain of Dura (a place near Tikrit in modern Iraq – the birthplace of Sadaam Hussein).
The fiery furnace is often the central focus in this story, but the fire is never the hottest in the furnace; it’s always hottest when you are pressed into a clear choice between right and wrong. 
It’s not always easy to clearly see the consequences and right or wrong of choices; sometimes it’s difficult to know what to do.  The consequences (like an uber-hot furnace) usually cloud the picture, blurring the line between choosing right and wrong.
But in this case, the three boys facing the “fire-ing squad” understood the choices and consequences; they didn’t flinch.  They were hauled before the most powerful man in the world and were presented with an ultimatum; bow to the idol or get ready to burn.
Their choice and answer came without stuttering – Our fate is in your hands…but we won’t ever bow to your idol; we will never serve your gods!
The king was enraged by this (as those who are endued with absolute power often are if they detect the slightest resistance).  The hopping mad king ordered the three Hebrew boys thrown into the furnace after the fire was stoked seven times hotter than usual. 
However the victims in this story turned out to be the victors.  Everyone, including King Nebuchadnezzar, saw a fourth man in that fire; an epiphany – the pre-incarnate appearance of the Lord Jesus, who protected the young men, to the extent that, when they came out of the fire unharmed there wasn’t even the smell of smoke on their clothes.
It was a game-changer in Babylon; King Nebuchadnezzar went to the altar!
Now it’s easy to read this story in isolation and have a warm and fuzzy feeling about how good God is, and isn’t it neat how not even a hair on their heads was singed.  It’s a veritable “underdog wins” kind of fairy tale.
But not for the Hebrew boys; had you been there and taken their pulse when the furious and over-the-top king screamed for the guards to sling them into the fire, you might have taken the same road Peter did outside Pilate’s house:  me? I don’t know those boys at all….sorry gotta leave now.
Faith is not a private thing; it is always shaking about looking for a context, a fence to push against. 
Faith that isn’t tested isn’t faith; it’s only hope.
One reason for the ongoing ministries of churches (beyond evangelism, stained glass windows, building hospitals, feeding and clothing and housing the poor) is to build the hope of the saints into rock-solid faith – the kind of faith that won’t bow to idols, won’t bend to King’s threats, and will always choose to serve what is right, even if it means burning in a seven-fold blazing hellhole.
There are some things for which it is worth dying!

For You Today

In worship, private prayer times and thoughtful moments, have you made your choice to serve God, by committing to truth and righteousness, no matter the consequences?

Today could be the day you meet your Nebuchadnezzar.

[1] Title Image: By No 5 Army Film & Photographic Unit, Midgley (Sgt), via Wikimedia Commons

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