While there are many true stories in the Bible, which I love, I must admit that the encounter between Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar and the three Jewish young men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is one of my favorites. Their response to the King’s demand that they bow before his image is both inspiring and insightful as to how we live in faith in a contradictory world.
Here is that story.
Daniel 3:16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 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. 18 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.
Did you catch it? Most of us what to hear only stories of believers being rescued or healed. We want the glory of the Kingdom of God now in our day- to-day lives. We want to believe that we will be rewarded in material ways for our faithfulness. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had no expectation that their God must rescue them even though they affirm that he could if he wanted to. They stress that even if he does not save them it will in no way diminish their faith or their responsibility to stand up for him!
This is a message most of us don’t really want to hear! We want to be rewarded, exonerated, defended and healed. This “but if not…” is not in our normal Christian vocabulary. If I were the translator of the Hebrew text I would be tempted to changed the literal translation of “but if not,” to “NEVERTHELESS.” Nevertheless speaks with authority and conviction. Whether we are saved in this predicament or not has no affect on our beliefs or behavior.
How in the world do we move from the popular version of Christianity that sees everyone as healthy, wealthy, and wise to the Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego view of “nevertheless?” It begins by being honest about life and honest about the Word of God.
What do I mean by “honest about life?” When my mother in law Beatrice was dying of cancer at age fifty-one her Christian friends were convinced that it was God’s will she be healed and failure to be healed pointed to a sin or lack of faith on her part. In all my years of Christian ministry I have never met a women with more faith and conviction than hers! Christians need to own up the fact that in this world we will have trouble and some of it not of our creation. John 16:33
I recently read that there are still seven men and women, who contracted Polio in the early 1950’s, who are still alive today but have been flat on their backs in an iron lung for more than sixty-five years! How do we make sense out of this if we put all our hopes in this life and believe that everyone who loves Jesus will be healed? How do we come to grips with the fact that thirty fully loaded 747 airplanes of children is the equivalent of the number of children who die EVERYDAY in this world? (30 airplanes, 450 seating capacity, total 13,500!) How many of us, fully cognizant of this reality, will stand with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and declare “nevertheless?” Being honest about suffering and death opens the doorway to encountering the real Jesus Christ who will have the final word.
Secondly we must be honest with God’s Word. Isaiah 55:8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. We must always remember that Jesus has an eternal view of life while we have a very limited view. Jesus sees beyond the heartache and pain, we only see the heartache and pain. Jesus is working for our eternal welfare while we live in the moment. God’s Word reminds us that we don’t perceive life, purpose, and hope from His reality. We are very limited but He is not. His plans are forever while our plans are temporary.
Thirdly, our ultimate focus boils downs to knowing and pursuing Jesus above all else in this life. There is nothing more important than knowing him, serving him, living for him and even dying for him. When this becomes our reason for living then we can, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego declare, 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. Nevertheless is the primary word we need in our vocabulary to live in this confusing world.