That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong- 2nd Corinthians 12:11 NIV
Daniel chapter three opens with a exhibition of unbridled narcissism. After hearing how awesome he was (Daniel 2:37-38). King Nebuchadnezzar decided to declare himself a god and have a massive statue created in his image (Romans 1:25). When his project was complete he threw a dedication party and commanded all the leaders in Babylon attend. (Daniel 3:1-3). The attendees were instructed to bow down and worship the statue anytime the music played.
In classic Nebuchadnezzar fashion he informed the crowd that if anyone, for any reason, failed to worship the monument to his own awesomeness he would have them thrown into a blazing hot furnace (Daniel 3:4-6). Posthaste. Three Jews, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego stubbornly refused to get on board. It didn’t take long for one of the court sycophants to take notice and rat them out to the king.
Nebuchadnezzar was not accustomed to being told “no”. Their refusal enraged him. He had the three men be brought before him and gave them one more chance to submit or face the consequences.
They chose the consequences.
But not before, making perhaps, the most beautiful statements of faith found anywhere in all the Bible (Daniel 3:16-18). Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego flatly refused to submit to an idolatrous act, defend themselves, or beg for mercy. Rather, they calmly informed the king they believed their God did indeed have the power to save them. They also conceded God might choose NOT to save them. Either way there was zero chance they were going to be bowing down to his silly statue. Period.
God did save them.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were bound with ropes and thrown into a furnace so blazing hot it killed the men tasked with executing them. When Nebuchadnezzar looked in on the men, not only were they alive and well, there was also a fourth man walking in the furnace with them. It is commonly believed the fourth man in the fire was the pre-incarnate Jesus. The God of the universe was so pleased with their loyalty and obedience He got into the fire with them. They walked out of hell without so much as the smell of smoke on them.
In the face of the worst kind of pressure these three young Hebrews retained their composure, fidelity to God and faith in God’s goodness.
It’s a great story.
However, it’s more than a story. It’s also a bit of a sneak peek into future events. (Revelation 13:1-8, Matthew 24:15). The Bible predicts that as the end of this age approaches, society and the people in it, will become scarier, less open to truth, more immoral and much more lawless (2nd Timothy 4:3, 2nd Timothy 3:1-5, 2nd Thessalonians 2:1-7, Matthew 24:1-25). All that will result in tyranny and intense persecution of anyone who refuses to worship the gods of this world.
Christians are told to watch for signs of these times (Mark 13:34, 1st Peter 4:7).
Our world is becoming more lawless and corrupt all the time. Barring a massive revival life will only get tougher for God’s people as the world continues to wind down (Daniel 7:21-22, Daniel 12:1, Matthew 24:9-13). Christians should always be ready for persecution and trouble. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were prepared for spiritually challenging times. Each was able to maintain their loyalty to God in the midst of the worst kind of oppression and cruelty because they did four essential things:
They knew God intimately and were familiar with His word-
The law (Bible) was their true north (Psalm 119). Their understanding of the law gave them knowledge about God that fueled their love for God. Knowing God, His word and how fiercely they were loved by God (Isaiah 49:15-16) kept them spiritually resilient in literally the toughest of situations.
They were intentional about forming community-
From day one Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego and Daniel resolutely pursued community and the accountability community provides (Daniel 2:17-18). The strength they derived from their little community empowered them to resist the pressure to adapt to the Babylonian way of life. When the going got tough they had each other and that was often enough to keep them from caving to the enormous pressure to take the easy way out of a hard set of circumstances (Daniel 3).
They decided ahead of time where the lines would be drawn-
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego knew the time to prepare for persecution is not when it starts. We prepare for persecution by building our spiritual strength slowly over time. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego committed from day to saying “no” to the worldly temptations that would normalize sin that were so prevalent in Babylon (Daniel 1:6-21, Colossians 2:8, 1st Peter 4:12. 1st John 13:13, Titus 2:11-12). Because they went into their situation expecting persecution they were not spiritually disillusioned or confused about where God was in their situation.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, believed with all their hearts that losing their lives (dying) would gain them something infinitely better. None of them were hung up on hanging onto the things of this world (Matthew 10:39). Their theology of heaven empowered them to walk through hell here on earth.
We are no different from Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
We have everything we need to survive and thrive even the worst the world throws at us when we choose intimacy with the Father, Christian community, obedience and belief in a better future with Jesus.