COURAGE TO STAND
Chuck Allen // @achuckallen
Guys like me often begin by telling a story. It isn’t easy, really, finding a good story. One that captures the attention, has human interest, and the element of drama. Today I want to begin with the Bible because the story that I am about to read from its pages is much better than any story that I could use as a lead in. This story has it all. Rich texture, good guys and bad guys, conflict, danger, courage and grace. So listen in. Here is the familiar yet dramatic story from the Bible. Daniel 3
King Nebuchadnezzar made a gold statue ninety feet tall and nine feet wide[a] and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. 2 Then he sent messages to the high officers, officials, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates, and all the provincial officials to come to the dedication of the statue he had set up. 3 So all these officials[b] came and stood before the statue King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
4 Then a herald shouted out, “People of all races and nations and languages, listen to the king’s command! 5 When you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes, and other musical instruments,[c] bow to the ground to worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s gold statue.6 Anyone who refuses to obey will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”
7 So at the sound of the musical instruments,[d] all the people, whatever their race or nation or language, bowed to the ground and worshiped the gold statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
8 But some of the astrologers[e] went to the king and informed on the Jews. 9 They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “Long live the king! 10 You issued a decree requiring all the people to bow down and worship the gold statue when they hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes, and other musical instruments. 11 That decree also states that those who refuse to obey must be thrown into a blazing furnace. 12 But there are some Jews—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—whom you have put in charge of the province of Babylon. They pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They refuse to serve your gods and do not worship the gold statue you have set up.”
13 Then Nebuchadnezzar flew into a rage and ordered that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought before him. When they were brought in, 14 Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you refuse to serve my gods or to worship the gold statue I have set up? 15 I will give you one more chance to bow down and worship the statue I have made when you hear the sound of the musical instruments.[f] But if you refuse, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. And then what god will be able to rescue you from my power?”
16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. 17 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. 18 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.”
The Blazing Furnace
19 Nebuchadnezzar was so furious with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face became distorted with rage. He commanded that the furnace be heated seven times hotter than usual.20 Then he ordered some of the strongest men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. 21 So they tied them up and threw them into the furnace, fully dressed in their pants, turbans, robes, and other garments. 22 And because the king, in his anger, had demanded such a hot fire in the furnace, the flames killed the soldiers as they threw the three men in. 23 So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, securely tied, fell into the roaring flames.
24 But suddenly, Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in amazement and exclaimed to his advisers, “Didn’t we tie up three men and throw them into the furnace?”
“Yes, Your Majesty, we certainly did,” they replied.
25 “Look!” Nebuchadnezzar shouted. “I see four men, unbound, walking around in the fire unharmed! And the fourth looks like a god[g]!”
26 Then Nebuchadnezzar came as close as he could to the door of the flaming furnace and shouted: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!”
So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stepped out of the fire. 27 Then the high officers, officials, governors, and advisers crowded around them and saw that the fire had not touched them. Not a hair on their heads was singed, and their clothing was not scorched. They didn’t even smell of smoke!
28 Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He sent his angel to rescue his servants who trusted in him. They defied the king’s command and were willing to die rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. 29 Therefore, I make this decree: If any people, whatever their race or nation or language, speak a word against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they will be torn limb from limb, and their houses will be turned into heaps of rubble. There is no other god who can rescue like this!”
30 Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to even higher positions in the province of Babylon.
Wow. There are very few short stories more dramatic than that. Add to this one that it is true. Not based on a true story. Not historical fiction. No, what I read was the actual account of what happened on that day in Egypt.
In my own experience, this life has led me to the conclusion that I cannot make it in my own strength or on my own. Life is just too unpredictable. Life is just too rough and it’s grades too steep and its currents too swift for me to handle it in my own strength. I need strength for living day by day by day. Strength from another source. A sure and unfailing source.
II see in this passage that courage is a key ingredient in strength. Courage sustains the spirit even when the body is in mortal danger. Courage that rises out of deep convictions. It strengthens the soul.
The passage that I just read centers around one statement, two objects and three men.
The two objects are these: a gigantic statue of the king and a red hot flaming furnace. Two objects, the statue and the furnace stand as bookends to this story.
Then there were three men. The three men were each young, capable professional civil servants of the King. Their names were Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. But there was more to their story. They were also Jewish. Jews serving an Egyptian king. Jews with authority over Egyptian people. Jealously, resentment and racism chase them throughout their careers and seemingly win out as this story begins to unfold. Now, the truth is that these men had not applied for these jobs. You should know that these guys were taken from their homes in Israel when they were teenagers.
They were captured by an invading army and conscripted into service to the Egyptian King. A three year class was offered in how to best serve the King. The Bible says that these men graduated at the top of their class….and had been serving him faithfully ever since.
Two objects, three men and one statement. Here is the statement:: , “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. 17If 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. 18But even if he doesn’t, Your Majesty can be sure that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”
That is a powerful, courageous statement. I want us to examine how these three young men, so far from home, could find the strength to live in such a crisis, find the courage to make such a strong statement of faith.
Why would these guys respond that way? I mean, really? That’s some pretty bold faith. How can we be more like them, or more importantly, why should we?
Like you, I‘ve faced some circumstances in life that were red hot. I have felt the heat. I have been dragged against my will into situations that were very threatening. Some were health issues. Some were relationship issues. Some were emotional and hurtful issues – I have stared into the flame. I didn’t ask to be there. But I was there. And the crisis demanded more strength than I had in my own reserves. The heat of the moment challenged my faith and my resolve. I have felt the heat – Haven’t You?
Maybe today, you are you facing a situation that is completely unfair? Are you feeling the heat of financial loss like so many thousands of Americans? Do you have cancer? That’s like staring into the furnace, isn’t it? Has jealousy or racism tried to take you down? And keep you down? Jealously is fiery thing and racism smolders with hate. The life we are living, the world we live in….it can get pretty hot, can’t it?
So, when I read about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, I can identify with needing courage to face the emergencies and crises of life. I have been there when something inside of me said, “are still going to believe in God, even after this?” “Are you still going to worship God, even after this?” I have been there. How about you?
The King said something like this, “fellas, surely there has been a mistake. I heard that you did not bow and worship my image. The report was false I am sure. I know that loyal servants of the King, such as yourselves, would quickly bow down to my new golden statue. Or, if you didn’t, I am sure that this is all a big misunderstanding. It was a huge crowd that day and you probably were standing so far back that you couldn’t hear the music.
So, let me get the royal combo to strike up a tune over here and when you here the music just go ahead and bow down. Worship. It will take 30 seconds and we will all be on our way. By the way, one other thing. Look to your left. Do you see the palace furnace. So, what do you say men, are you ready for some worship music?” The furnace is in sight. The conductor is ready to strike up the music.
They faced a challenge. A big one. Bow down and worship the King and his statue or be tossed into the fire. Life or death. Now, etched on the hearts of these Jewish men were the ten commandments. The ten commandments are found in the second book of the Bible, the book of Exodus. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego knew these commandments by heart so they quickly recalled the very first commandment:
Then God gave the people all these instructions* : 2 “I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. “You must not have any other god but me. 4 “You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. 5 You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. 6 But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those* who love me and obey my commands.
The King was asking them to break the first and second commandment. The guys were being pressed toward one of two options: to compromise their faith or to conceal it.
And why not compromise? If ever there was a situation where it must have “felt right” to compromise, this was it. I’m sure that if they had wanted to, they could have come up with plenty of rationalizations. Why not just compromise?
Because they knew that it may be law, but it isn’t right! It is in blatant opposition to the Creator’s desire for His creation. So, why not compromise, or even easier, why not conceal their faith? Just be a stealth follower of God?
Because, rising up in their hearts was that first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before Me”. They made a deliberate but difficult decision to worship the one, the true and living God. But the why they could make that decision was key to why we can and why we should make the same decision today.
There are a lot of idols that compete for our attention and worship, aren’t there? I know in my life that there are many things that would unseat God from his rightful place on the throne of my life. So today, a lot of things, money, power, cars, jobs, sex, critical attitudes and bitter words, prestige and success….each of these and many more will try to shove the Lord from his rightful place as uppermost in our lives. As king of your heart.
It takes courage to remain faithful to God. The easy thing is to give in and bow to one or more of a thousand fake gods. It takes courage to fight off these challengers. But I think of the words that the Lord spoke to another young man, Joshua, when he told him:
Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do. 8 Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. 9 This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:7-9
Be strong and courageous. Let the Bible, God’s book of the law, be your guide and do not turn from it. If you will do this, God himself promises good success. God himself promises that he will be with you wherever you go. Refuse to compromise no matter how hot the situation. Hold high your standards of faith.
As Shadrach, Meshech and Abednego stood there before the King, with the flaming furnace crackling in the background, they faced the challenge to compromise their faith. But they faced another challenge as well. They could have chosen simply to conceal their faith.
Conceal it. Just be quiet and go along. Don’t speak up. Stay silent and get out of the place in one piece. I have to admit that many times that temptation to conceal my faith is greater than the temptation to compromise. You know what I am talking about. You are in a situation, maybe a family reunion, maybe an office party, something where you are given the perfect chance to say something about Jesus and the benefits of knowing Him as Savior and Friend. But you freeze.
Instead, these guys chose to speak up. They made the one statement on which this entire passage turns. Listen to it again. “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. 17If 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. 18But even if he doesn’t, Your Majesty can be sure that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”They faced the challenge and made a faithful choice.
How did they come to such a bold conclusion. Here’s what I think.
First, I have heard it said that you cannot rock faith that has already been rocked and yet remained standing. These men had no doubt had their faith rocked before. So, from a faith perspective, these guys faced the furnace with a been-there-done-that spirit.
Second, I am convinced that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego knew all to well that the reason that they and many other Jews were living in Egypt at that very moment. The reason was compromise. Israel had compromised their faith – They had seen lives and livelihoods engulfed in flames as a result of rationalizing sin.
Sin will burn down your life. And I am convinced that these men said if we are ever going to face the flames again, it will be the flames that result from faithfulness. Persecution rather than judgment. This flame was welcome in comparison.
A lot could be said about their miraculous escape by the power and presence of God. About the appearance of Jesus himself in the furnace with them. About these men eventually receiving promotions. About the King giving public acknowledgement to the true and living God. About the testimony of God’s love and power than no doubt went out from that place.
But the purpose today is this. Where do you find the courage to live out your faith when the heat is on? Here is the answer:
Courage to stand comes when you make an unwavering decision to trust in God and obey all that He asks of you. With every faithful choice your strength increases.
Be strong and courageous. As you string together a series of spiritual victories, you can expect to face tougher and tougher opponents. But like these Hebrew boys, you will be able to draw from your past spiritual resume and face the challenges placed before you. Your confidence will rest not in your own abilities but in God’s.
Why should we follow in their boldness? Because the same God calls us to stand when the whole world says to bow!
We and they had seen fires once before….fires from the campfires of an invading army as they laid siege to Jerusalem….fire was not new to these men….they had seen the flames of Jerusalem in flames….home and business and lives and dreams gone up in flames…..the smoke of spiritual compromise and the flames of consequence were etched in their sensory banks….no….if they were to face a fire again, it would be for the courage to maintain their faith and not for compromising it.
Why? Because you and I have seen, heard, felt and experienced the power of God and the presence of God! Why? Because courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.
A man stopped to watch a Little League baseball game. He asked one of the kids playing what the score was. “We’re losing 18-0,” was the answer. “Well,” said the man. “I must say you don’t look discouraged.” “Discouraged?” the boy said, puzzled. “Why should we be discouraged? We haven’t come to bat yet.”
The courage to face the fiery furnace moments of life….comes from….a previously established relationship with God….a deep-rooted and time-tested faith…..the reinforcement of Godly people…..a commitment to follow/obey God’s Word….the conviction that there is more to life than is seen and felt on this planet….these fiery trials are for on
From knowing God so well that you can trust Him even in the most difficult decisions….trusting His sovereignty over His ability. That is why – because when we choose to stand for a very real faith in a very real God, He is faithful and just to stand with us! Did you notice that there were four men standing in the furnace when the king came to see?
Why should you choose to live a courageous life of faith?
Why should you choose to stand for your faith?
Why should you stand when the whole world says kneel?
Because God is able! Because He will stand with you!