I began writing this blog post a couple of weeks ago, pretty much immediately after posting the most recent one about secrets. However, about the time I got ready to sit down and actually type it out and upload it, my sweet 92-year-old grandmother passed away. As weird as it sounds, her passing actually made this post even more special, and I can feel God’s hand on it after seeing how these events aligned. I’m about to tell you a story that begins with an old country church. It just so happens that this very church is the one where we laid her to rest–right beside my grandfather–last week. Because of her death, I was able to visit the exact spot where my story took place all those years ago. Isn’t it amazing how God uses regular life events to confirm His presence and activity to us?
So back to this super cute, very quaint country church. It was in this church that my dad, as a boy, attended both Sunday school and church services, although it wasn’t really Sunday school like many of us think of it. This church, Beaton United Methodist Church, was only one building: the sanctuary. That meant that Sunday school was conducted right there where they’d later hear the sermon and sing their hymns. All of the Sunday school classes. Right there together. The adults gathered up at the front near the pulpit; the older kids gathered in one back corner, with the young children in the other. Needless to say, that level of focus and attention has dissipated with our generation.
Well, it was during Sunday school one Sunday that my six-year-old dad overhead some of the adult class’s lesson. He explained to me that while he was “listening” to his teacher, his attention was caught by the adult teacher (which was likely my grandfather) discussing some very strange names from the Bible. He said he heard Shadrach. Then, he heard Meshach. But it was this next one that had him really tuning in, because after naming these two guys, my dad heard, “and a billy goat.” He then continued to listen closely to figure out what a billy goat had to do with anything, but obviously the Bible never addressed that within the story. So time passed, and young Ricky went on wondering about these two oddly named men from the Bible and their billy goat.
As the years passed and this story was told in Sunday school and church from time to time, my dad carried that mental image around in his now teenaged head of this strange group: two men and a billy goat. He said he always listened to hear that explanation of why these guys lugged this goat around everywhere with them, but he just never did catch it. Then, during one sermon in which he was following along with his Bible, the truth was illuminated (in my head this involves bright lights and singing): there was no billy goat! It wasn’t Shadrach, Meshach, and a billy goat. It was Shadrach, Meshach, and ABEDNEGO…a third strangely-named guy! Pretty incredible what you can sort out by opening that Bible, huh? 🙂
As I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, I want to spend some time with you today talking about these three guys (no billy goats included!) and the story from Daniel that shows what mighty men of faith they were. All of today’s discussion is coming from Daniel 3, and if you’ve not read this chapter for yourself (no excuses–it’s pretty short), I highly encourage you to do so. But before we start in on the circumstances facing these men and the decisions they made, as much as I hate to spend your time simply summarizing the Bible for you, I think that’s best so we have a clear picture of what’s taking place when these men enter the picture.
Daniel 3 begins with King Nebuchadnezzar instructing the creation of a golden idol. And not just a small gold statue for people to bow before. It was enormous: 90 feet tall and 9 feet wide. And with this idol, King Neb (no way am I typing that name multiple times) created this rule: when those within his kingdom heard any of a variety of musical instruments being played, they were to immediately “fall down and worship the golden image” (vs. 5). And being a narcissistic king, there was, of course, a consequence for anyone who refused to do as he commanded: “And whoever does not fall down and worship shall that very hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace” (vs. 6). Okay, so clear enough. Music plays, you drop what you’re doing and bow to the golden statue. If not, you burn. No questions asked, no excuses accepted, no exemptions made.
Enter our three main characters. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were brought before King Nebs because it was brought it his attention that they refused to bow to his idol, and it infuriated him. Once they’re before him, he questions their refusal, reminding them again that a fiery death awaited anyone who met his command with disobedience. To me, I picture the king with his puffed up chest, convinced of his own power and ability to scare these men into doing exactly as he desires. However, these three aren’t having it. They serve ONE God, and ole Nebby’s idol is NOT it. I love their response to the king’s threats. It says that they answered him saying, “…it is not necessary for us to answer you on this point. If our God Whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image you have set up!” (vs. 16-18) I love that first sentence: it is not necessary for us to answer you on this point. In other words, King, this is not up for discussion. Ha! We don’t care what you threaten us with, we don’t care what you demand, we aren’t even considering doing what you’re asking us to do because we serve God and that’s that.
How often do you and I get this part wrong? How often do we find ourselves selling out and worshiping those “golden images” of wealth, status, popularity, self, convenience, fear, worry, etc.? How often do we bow our heads and bend our knees in front of those things while pushing God aside? Thank you, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego for lesson number one: if we expect God to save us from pain and anguish and even certain death, we must bow to Him and Him alone. He must have first priority in our hearts and our lives, no matter what it appears to cost us.
In those verses above, I was also struck by another indicator of their attitudes in the midst of difficulty. You’ll notice that they have full confidence in God’s ability to deliver them from the fire they’re facing. HOWEVER, they’re also convinced that it’s fine no matter what God chooses to do. “But if not…” I don’t know about you, but I need to adopt this mindset much more often. When I’m facing something unknown, something uncertain and upsetting, I need to set my mind on the mighty God I serve and His ability to deliver me, but at the same time, I need to remember that if God chooses not to remove this fire from before me, I will still believe in His goodness and His love. I will still trust His plan and His promise to do good for me. Pssst…that was lesson number two.
Okay, so surely by this point you know enough about King Neb’s personality to know that an outright refusal by these three guys to do as he commanded wasn’t met with happiness. He was furious, and in an effort to punish them even more for their disobedience (because apparently burning to death isn’t tough enough), he demands that the furnace be heated seven times hotter than normal. Just to give you an idea of how hot this was, the king’s men who were tasked with throwing Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the furnace were killed immediately by the radiating heat. And then the miraculous happens…
Starting in verse 24, King Nebuchadnezzar is astounded, in total disbelief because, despite being clothed and bound, these three men are still alive! But that’s not even the most shocking part! Looking into the furnace, the king declares, “Behold, 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 a son of the gods!” (vs. 25) Hmmmm, wonder who that fourth man is in that fiery furnace with our three friends? Hint: IT’S JESUS! And just like that, we have lesson number three. Friends, no matter what “fire” you’re facing or even right smack in middle of walking through, you are not alone. The God that these men served, the God who literally protected them from the fire under their feet is the exact same God you serve. He is the same today as He was yesterday. There’s NOTHING that He can’t save you from, and if He allows you to face that fire, it’s because He has a plan and because He knows you can do it with His walking right beside you.
Because of Jesus’s protection, “the fire had no power upon their bodies, nor was the hair of their head singed; neither were their garments scorched or changed, nor had even the smell of smoke clung to them” (vs. 27). Look at what your God can do for you! With His help and His presence and your trust in Him, He can not only get you through that fire, He can do so without any harm coming to you. You can emerge victorious on the other side of that furnace without a single injury, even without the smell of smoke clinging to your skin. Because our three friends clung to God’s power and refused to turn their eyes from God no matter how dire their circumstances looked going in, their faith allowed God’s power to be recognized and glorified. After witnessing this miracle, the king declares, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Who has sent His angel and delivered His servants who believed in, trusted in, and relied on Him!” (vs. 28)
Lesson number four, my friends. Can you imagine what God is doing through whatever affliction you’re facing right now? Can you imagine the pride and thankfulness you’ll experience if you hold steady to your Jesus, to your faith in Him, through your “fire” so that He can be glorified through YOU?! Can you imagine the life-changing lessons your circumstances and your decision to trust God can teach your children? Your coworkers? Your spouse? Your friends? God is working. God is for us! Some of us might get to avoid that fire altogether…this time. But for most of us, God’s simply going to walk right through it side-by-side with us, holding our hand if need be, so that when we come out on the other side, we’re greeted by His abundant blessings. Not only will we be alive when it’s all said and done, but like these three guys with funny names, we’ll be unbound from anything holding us back, anything meant for our harm; we’ll be unharmed by those around us and those circumstances that seem to be lapping at our ankles; we’ll have been so protected through it all that there’s not even a leftover hint of that trouble that threatened to do us in. There will be no baggage for us to carry, no smoky smell to wash from our clothes. And most importantly, others will know Him because of what they’ve witnessed through us. Praise the Lord!
Dear Lord, thank you so much for loving me so much that You’ll never abandon me. I ask, Father, for Your deliverance from the fire I’m currently facing, but God, mostly I simply ask that, no matter what, You help me to feel and recognize Your constant presence. Help me not to question You and Your plan but to trust that at all times and in all situations You’re working for my good and protecting me when the going gets tough. I love you, Lord, and I ask that You use my life to witness to others, no matter what that might cost me. Help me to stay strong in my faith so that I don’t ever give in to the temptation to bow my knee at worldly idols. I declare today, Father, that You are my number one, and I ask that You guide me through Your Word to be strong enough to make that choice despite the furnace in front of me. Thank you for the faith of these three men and the lessons I can learn from them. Thank you for hearing my prayer. It’s in Jesus’s name that I pray. Amen.
(No billy goats were harmed in the writing of this blog post.)