The old story is familiar. It is one of the stories I remember my grandmother reading me in her chair — the chair from which I now read the same stories to my children. She had the Golden Children's Bible, with the old, beautiful illustrations. Daniel in the Lion's Den was my favorite. It was two stories past Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
King Nebuchadnezzar built a statue 90 feet high covered from top to bottom in gold. The king sent out a herald who proclaimed
that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. And whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. Daniel 3:5-6 (ESV)
The Chaldeans — astrologers and followers of the occult who advised the king — were very upset that Jews were placed in such high regard in the kingdom. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego would not bow before the statue. The Chaldeans went to the king and reminded him of his command. Subtly, twisting the knife, they then pointed out that the King himself had put in charge of many three Jews who would not honor the king's command.
King Nebuchadnezzar gave Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego a chance to bow down. They, without hesitation, refused. He ordered his furnaces overheated. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had all their garments put on them, were bound tightly, and were thrown into the fire. The fire had been made so hot, those who threw the three men into the furnace were themselves consumed.
But Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego encountered a pre-incarnate Christ. He walked with them in the fire. Only the binding that bound the three men had been destroyed. They were protected and the King let them out.
There are two key points about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that directly relate to the present situation faced by Christians who encounter opposition from totalitarians in the United States.
First, notice this passage:
Nebuchadnezzar answered and said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” Daniel 3:14-18 (ESV)
Notice they did not at first answer, much like Christ before Pilate. They stayed silent at first. They did not rebut, they did not defend, they let their actions, words, and deeds speak for themselves. But when they had no choice but respond, they did so without hesitation. They did not ask for a day of prayer and fasting. They did not spend time talking amongst themselves. They responded with faith and did so promptly.
Too many Christians today try to find loopholes. What is five times five? Twenty-five. What is two times three? Six. What is the purpose of man kind? To glorify God. What is the first commandment? "Thou shalt have no other gods before me". What is the definition of marriage? Ummm . . . .
We know the memorized multiplication tables. We know the catechism. We know the ten commandments. But there are basics even Christians in America choose to hesitate over, stumble over, and obfuscate on because they don't want to be disliked. They don't want to risk a furnace, a job lost, or even an angry stare. So they seek accommodation.
In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul writes "an idol has no real existence." Even in Jeremiah 10, the Lord said of idols,
Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field, and they cannot speak; they have to be carried, for they cannot walk. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, neither is it in them to do good.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not hesitate. They knew the scripture. They knew the idols were nothing. But they knew they must have no other God before them. I have no doubt were Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego around today, they would not be penning prose and poetry about Christ baking cakes or finding loopholes to accommodate the world based on whether providing a good or service might be part of or exempt from their faith or ministry.
They like Paul would recognize the idol has no real existence, but would also understand that
sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 1 Cor. 8:12 (ESV)
They would not bow down to the idols of the world today, even knowing it was just a good or service, if doing so may cause others to more fully stumble or may cause others to believe Christians are really fine with changing the definition of an institution established by God.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego when questioned did not hurl accusations. They did not blame others. They did not even yell out their beliefs and try to persuade Nebuchadnezzar of the error of his ways. They turned the other cheek and they were willing to go into the fire. Without hesitation and without trying to find loopholes to accommodate the world, they were willing to die.
They were willing to trust God to take care of them. Even if God would not take care of them in the way they no doubt hoped, they trusted God and trusted in Him for eternity.
But there is more.
After pulling them out of the fire, recognizing the power of their God, and decreeing that their God must not be disrespected, "the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon. Daniel 3:30 (ESV).
The three men did not withdraw from society. They did not walk away. They continued in service to the King. They did not take their football and go home, so to speak. They continued engaging the world, but doing so on their terms. They rendered unto Nebuchadnezzar what was his, but did not give over what was God's.
Too many Christians want to go start their own community and be left alone. They've suffered for their beliefs. They've had other Christians ridicule them by comparing the hardship in their lives to that of horrific suffering in other parts of the world. "Because they only lost their job or a court case or a television deal, it wasn't real persecution," say some of the accommodationists.
But it was. In fact, if you have never been persecuted in some way, no matter how small, you probably are not a Christian. God does not want your best life now. He wants you. But a Christian's life is a life of the world hating the Christian.
Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. Isaiah 41:1-3 (ESV)
Christians should be sure what they believe. They need not quibble with the wording, the translations, or the reliance on Christian accommodationists. But even in times like this, Christians should not walk off the field or seek loopholes from their faith. They must still "Go … and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that" Jesus has commanded, knowing he is "with you always, to the end of the age."