For one last time (in this series)…
We have been pounding one single verse for the past two weeks, and we’re about to do it one last time (at least in this series). Paul gives us a no-nonsense, direct and passionate challenge as we prepare for and engage in the spiritual battle that is raging around us every minute of every one of the days God has numbered for you and me. Simply said…
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.
1 Corinthians 16:13 (NIV)
We hope and pray that we have so bludgeoned your consciousness with this verse that you mumble it as you fall to sleep, and that it is still in your mind as you wipe the sleep from your eyes in the morning. We hope and pray that it comes to mind repeatedly during the day and you can speak it on command. It is that important, every minute of every day.
Here’s the story, of three friends with weird names
(Title intended to be sung Brady Bunch-style!)
In this final week of The Warrior series, our focus turns to the final two commands in verse 13 — be courageous; be strong — and the amazing story of three young men and a fiery furnace. You’ll need to listen and watch to get the full back story, but our young men are tested in a way that few are equal to. Mighty King Nebuchadnezzar and the full force of Babylon besiege the city of Jerusalem. He is a cunning leader and takes the best and brightest from Jerusalem, among them four young men known to their own people as Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. We know Daniel, but what of the others? Who are they, other than good friends of Daniel? In captivity, all four are given new names. Daniel’s changes to one which you may not be familiar with (Belteshazzar), but the others will sound much more so … Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
All find favor with the king, but Daniel sticks out among them. He is the only one especially gifted by God to interpret King Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams. As a result, Daniel is placed in a high and privileged place in the kingdom as governor of the province of Babylon. Once in this position, Daniel requests assignments for all three of his friends as administrators reporting directly to him. They have been captured, but God has blessed them.
King Nebuchadnezzar was hungry for more than power and demands the worship and adulation of all his subjects by commissioning the creation of a golden statue like none other before it. The statue stands 60 cubits (90 feet) tall and 6 cubits (9 feet) wide (Daniel 3:1). Here is how the story begins in the book of Daniel…
Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do: As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”
Daniel 3:4-6 (NIV)
An announcement is made that worship is demanded. When the instruments begin to play, every person is to fall down and worship the king. Of course this is something the three young men (administrators to the governor who reports to the king) cannot do, not if they were true and genuine followers of God. The first two commandments make it perfectly clear how God feels about other gods/idols in the hearts of His people. The three young men make a bold decision and we’re about to see its consequence.
Therefore, as soon as they heard the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp and all kinds of music, all the nations and peoples of every language fell down and worshiped the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. At this time some astrologers[b] came forward and denounced the Jews. They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “May the king live forever! Your Majesty has issued a decree that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music must fall down and worship the image of gold, and that whoever does not fall down and worship will be thrown into a blazing furnace. But there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego—who pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up.” Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”
Daniel 3:7-15 (NIV)
The king gives them a chance to re-consider. Here is their answer…
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
Daniel 3:16-18 (NIV)
“Oh no you di..in’t!” says the king.
Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. So these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. The king’s command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace.
Daniel 3:19-23 (NIV)
But God never left the three young (His) kingdom warriors alone. God delivers them from the intended consequence of the king and turns his heart in the process.
Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?” They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.” He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them. Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.” Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the province of Babylon.
Daniel 3:24-30 (NIV)
How incredibly courageous the three young men were. Everything to lose on this earth, everything to gain for the kingdom of God. Perfect illustrations of The Warrior we’ve been focused on these past three weeks.
So what about you? When the fiery furnace moments come, what do you choose? And not even in those moments … in the everyday inconveniences and “troubles” of your life, do you choose courage? We are confronted every day with choices and opportunities for sacrifice and service in our own spiritual battles. Do we engage with courage and strength or do we back down or cower in the face of temporal consequences. The fire may come. “So what,” these three young men say. “Step into the fire with us.” What will you do?
This week, and continuing on in your walk of faith, I challenge you to consider this question when you run up against a fire of varying intensity … “What would someone with courage do?”
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.