Last Sunday I watched a documentary about Johnny Copp and Micah Dash. Two American climbers preparing to tackle the previously unscaled southeast face of Mt Edgar in southwestern China.
They’d been training intensely for 12 months, and organising for every eventuality. They were in top physical condition, and perfectly prepared. They were cautious when they arrived because the area was unstable with frequent rock falls. Bad weather kept them at base camp for most of the four week climbing window.
In the last few minutes of the program, they decided to come home. They set out to retrieve their gear from the second camp they’d established further up the mountain.
But then the documentary switched to a voice-over. The two were missing, then later found dead, killed by an avalanche. They hadn’t even started to climb!
They knew the risks, but loved the thrill.
A couple of hours later, I heard that Marco Simoncelli died after falling off his motorbike while racing in the Malaysian Moto GP. He knew the risks, but loved the thrill.
Is there anything YOU’D be willing to risk your life for?
In 1999 teenaged gunmen were moving through Columbine High School shooting their schoolmates. In the library, 18 yr old Val Schnurr was hiding under a table with her friends as Dylan Kleebold moved through the room shooting whoever he saw.
Val was hit 8 times in her chest, arm and abdomen. She fell out from under the table onto her knees, and cried out, “Oh God, oh God, help me!”
Dylan Kleebold walked up to her, and asked her, as he reloaded his gun, “Do you BELIEVE in God?”
Imagine that was you. What would you say?
I’d like to THINK I’d say, “Yes.”
Would you risk your life to stand up for God?
Today we read two different stories about people forced to take a tough stand for God. A decision that really WAS a matter of life and death.
Nebuchadnezzar and the furnace
First up, in Daniel Ch 3, we read about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
In the previous chapter Nebuchadnezzar had his dream about a big statue. In THIS chapter, he actually decides to BUILD it. But instead of only the HEAD being gold, he makes THE WHOLE THING gold.
It’s 90 ft high and 9 feet wide. Which certainly sounds impressive. Until you THINK about it. Ten times taller than wide. That’s like a 30cm ruler. Pretty tall and skinny, really. Probably pretty unsteady, and easily toppled.
Nebuchadnezzar assembles all the government officials for the dedication ceremony. People from all sorts of nations and languages. His plan is to get them all to pledge their allegiance. That way he’ll strengthen the unity of his new empire.
As soon as the music sounds, they’re all to fall down and worship the image of gold Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Anyone who DOESN’T is to be thrown into a blazing furnace.
We don’t actually know what it was an image OF. It doesn’t SAY it was of the king. Best guess it was the god Nabu.
WHATEVER it was, Nebuchadnezzar’s plan was that it REPRESENTED HIS AUTHORITY and KINGDOM. To REFUSE was equivalent to TREASON.
So, all the public servants assemble. Including Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They’re standing there while the speeches and announcements drag on.
Then the band starts up. The three young men look at each other.
Everyone around them, no matter how noble, well-dressed and wealthy, drops to their knees and worships the gold statue.
They’re in a strange country. False gods and temples everywhere. The EASY thing would be just to join in. After all, does it really matter? They don’t have to MEAN it. They could just go through the motions.
They look at each other, they look around at everyone else on their faces. And they remain on their feet.
They risk their life to stand up for God.
But their refusal doesn’t go unnoticed. Some astrologers dob them in to the king (from v8). “O king, you’ve issued a decree. But there’s some Jews who pay no attention to you. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image you set up.”
Nebuchadnezzar’s FURIOUS. When Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are brought before him, he gives them one more chance (v15).
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?”
It’s almost A CHALLENGE to God. What god can possibly do anything about A BLAZING FURNACE?
The three reply (v16). Their lives are at risk, but their trust in God is solid.
“O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
Notice what their faith looks like. Not that God will certainly save them from the fire. But that God is ABLE to save them. They’re not going to change their minds even if they DO die in the furnace.
I reckon we forget that bit. That they don’t know the end of the story. We know how it turns out, so their decision doesn’t seem such a brave one to us.
But I’m thinking they’re EXPECTING to die. And they’re EXPRESSING their trust in God by refusing to back down DESPITE death. Their faith is not in a particular outcome, but in the God who DECIDES the outcome.
Which isn’t the way SOME people understand prayer. They see that if you prayed for something and didn’t get it. It must be because you didn’t have enough faith. You didn’t CLAIM it. “Didn’t get healed? Didn’t get that job? Your kids haven’t become Christians? It must be because you don’t have enough faith.”
But that’s not the way the Bible describes it. Faith when you pray isn’t believing REALLY, REALLY HARD that you’ll get a certain answer. That’s MAGIC, or SUPERSTITION.
Faith in prayer is confident reliance on the GOD of prayer. Yes, he’s a God who CAN do anything. But who might NOT. He’s not a genie in a bottle who’s bound to do what WE want, as long as we use the right formula.
He’s the infinitely wise, infinitely LOVING heavenly Father, who only gives us what’s GOOD for us. And who knows better than WE do.
He doesn’t expect us to know the end of every beginning. Just to TRUST him as we live through it.
Which is what the three young Israelites do. As Nebuchadnezzar fires up at their response. He orders HIS FURNACE to be fired up. Seven times hotter. As if a NORMAL furnace isn’t hot enough to kill them.
His strongest soldiers bind them, lead them to the top of the furnace. And are, themselves, burned alive.
V23, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego fall into the blazing furnace. They wouldn’t fall down before the statue. So instead they fall into the furnace.
Darius and the lions
That’s story one. Next we jump forward more than fifty years. And over to Ch 6. Nebuchadnezzar’s gone. In fact, his whole kingdom’s been taken over by the Medes and the Persians. And King Darius is ruling instead. But Daniel’s still around.
It’s a different situation. With a different character, and a different king. But there’s lots of similarities with Ch 3. Once again, it’s a story of DEFIANCE. Of risking your life to stand up for God.
By this stage, Daniel’s been promoted all the way to one of the top three positions in the kingdom. Only the king is higher. And he’s even in line for ANOTHER promotion. Darius is about to make him second in charge of the whole empire.
Which makes the OTHER administrators jealous. They reckon THEY deserve the promotion. So they look for a chance to stab him in the back. Sounds just like a MODERN workplace. But, v4, they can’t find any dirt on him. No skeletons in the closet.
They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.
Their only hope is something to do with the law of his God. They’ll use his reliability AGAINST him. They go to the King. V7. Their plan’s a cunning one.
“O King Darius, live forever! 7 The royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers and governors have ALL agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or man during the next thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be thrown into the lions’ den.
We’ve ALL agreed. All except DANIEL, that is!
They’re pretty certain Daniel’s so reliable, he’ll still pray REGARDLESS. Which is just what he does. V10
10 Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.
Once again, just like his three friends so long ago. Daniel refuses to compromise. He could have closed the windows. He could have prayed in his closet. But, even though he knew it would probably cost him his life, he prayed as normal.
And the officials are watching. And they rush off to dob him in (v15). And the King is forced to act. Daniel’s thrown into the lion’s den, but with the king’s blessing,
“May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!”
And all that night the king can’t sleep a wink. Because he really LIKES Daniel.
Allegiance to God makes a difference
Let’s just hit the pause button for a moment. And think about our two stories. We’ve got the three friends falling down into a blast furnace. And we’ve got Daniel being sized up as dinner by a pack of lions. Most of you know how the stories turn out. That God DOES save them. MIRACULOUSLY.
But that’s not the point to emphasise. Because God doesn’t promise that our stand for him will always turn out like that. Chances are when you make a tough stand for God, you’re going to cop it in some way.
And THAT’S the point I want to make. Allegiance to God makes a difference. By that I mean that standing up for God shows you to be different from those around you. And sometimes that can be COSTLY. Sometimes, depending where you live, it can cost you YOUR LIFE.
But with US, our salvation is EVEN GREATER than from lions, or from fire. Our salvation from judgment and eternal separation from God. Is worth EVERYTHING it costs us NOW. No question!
Allegiance to God makes a DIFFERENCE. For Daniel and his three friends, being faithful to God in a foreign country meant being DIFFERENT. Different from the Babylonians around them.
Being faithful to God meant keeping his LAW. His law, where God said
3 “You shall have no other gods before me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself an IDOL in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not BOW DOWN TO THEM OR WORSHIP THEM; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God
And the whole reason they’re in Babylon in the FIRST place is because Israel INSISTED on BREAKING these laws. Insisted on worshipping the gods of the nations. Insisted on NOT being different.
And that’s just what they were being pressured to do. To bow down and worship. To pray to someone else other than God. To just BLEND IN.
And Daniel and his friends aren’t going to have any part of it. God’s called them to follow him ONLY. And that’s what they’re going to do. WHATEVER the consequences.
Even if it means turning LEFT when everyone else goes RIGHT. Or choosing WHITE when everyone else chooses BLACK.
The reality is peer pressure isn’t something you grow out of. Everyone likes to fit in. Everyone likes to be liked. I don’t like disappointing people, or disagreeing with them, or not having people LIKE me.
But the question Daniel and his friends call for us to consider is this: “Who’s opinion of you matters MORE – God, or the people around you?”
You know, it’s interesting that in Ch 6, when Daniel prays, he doesn’t just sit in a comfy chair wherever it’s convenient. He went to the room where his window faced JERUSALEM. Why?
Because that’s where he BELONGED.
By this time, Jerusalem was nothing more than a pile of rubble. But Daniel knows it’s more his home than Babylon will EVER be. It’s Jerusalem that defines his identity, not Babylon.
The decisions he makes, the choices he takes, need to be based on HIS IDENTITY.
And I think that’s something we sometimes FORGET. For Daniel and his friends, the clash of cultures was OBVIOUS. They were reminded of it every day.
And it’s no different for us. Except that we often FORGET it. We get COMFORTABLE. We make ourselves at HOME. And we forget where our TRUE identity lies.
We’re not primarily male or female, single or married. We’re not primarily consumers, or Australians. We’re not primarily employees, or parents, or voters. We’re not gardeners, or teachers, or cyclists.
When we start thinking like that, we start losing the DISTINCTIVENESS we’re called to have. We start to blur into the culture around us. We let IT change US, rather than US change IT.
Black and white moral choices become shades of grey.
Lying becomes just creative advertising.
Ripping people off becomes just competitive business practices
Gossip becomes just sharing prayer points.
Backstabbing and character assassination becomes just joining in with the conversation.
Jealousy and dissatisfaction become just ambition and a desire to succeed.
Laziness at work becomes just keeping a good life balance
And in the end we don’t look much different from everyone else.
In the end perhaps we need to ask the question whether our allegiance to God is really making much of a difference.
Daniel looked towards Jerusalem. Because that’s where his identity was found. That was who his allegiance belonged to.
Let’s take our eyes off Babylon. And fix our eyes on who WE belong to. Listen to what God says
Where do you LIVE? Hebrew 12:22-24
22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant,
Where do we BELONG? Who do we belong TO? Eph 2:4-7
4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and SEATED US WITH HIM IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS IN CHRIST JESUS,
Where is our citizenship? Phil 3:20-21
20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
What does that mean for our attitude TODAY? Col 3:1-4
3:1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
So, who are we? 1 Peter 2:9-12
9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11 Dear friends, I urge you, AS ALIENS AND STRANGERS IN THE WORLD, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12 LIVE SUCH GOOD LIVES AMONG THE PAGANS that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
That’s who you are. Is that a description of your life? Is your allegiance to God making a difference LIKE THAT? Are you willing to stand up like that even if it means SUFFERING?
God’s saved you from something much worse than lions and fire. And it’s cost him FAR MORE than he’ll ever ask of you. Will you risk your life to stand up for HIM? Will you risk your life to MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
Maybe you can say “Amen” to this quote from Bob Moorehead’s book “Words Aptly Spoken.”
I am part of the fellowship of the unashamed. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made–I am a disciple of His. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, my future is secure.
I’m finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colourless dreams, tame visions, worldly-talking, cheap giving, and dwarfed goals.
I no longer need pre-eminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded or rewarded. I now live by faith, lean in His presence, walk by patience, am uplifted by prayer and I labour with power.
My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions are few, my Guide is reliable, my mission is clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, diluted, or delayed.
I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.
I won’t give up, shut up, let up, or slow up until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, and preached up for the cause of Christ. I am a disciple of Jesus. I must go until He returns, give until I drop, preach until all know, and work until he comes.
And when He comes to get His own, He’ll have no problem recognizing me. My colours will be clear.
From “Words Aptly Spoken”, By Bob Moorehead.