Today’s read of Daniel 3 is such a good one! If you grew up in Sunday School, you know this story, where Daniel’s three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego defy Nebuchadnezzar to remain faithful to God. Nebuchadnezzar built a huge golden image, 90 feet tall and 9 feet wide. We assume it was an image of himself, but scripture doesn’t say. He calls everyone who is anyone in the kingdom to his dedication ceremony. Governors, prefects, counselors, treasurers, magistrates, and all his rulers show up to see what the king has built; in this crowd are our three heroes. You know the story. The music plays and the crowds mindlessly bow down and worship before a chunk of metal at the command of the king.
All except three. Three young men who remember what their parents taught them before they could walk: You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God. (Exodus 20:3-5) The commandments of God weren’t just good suggestions for a happy life for these three. They were willing to risk their lives to be faithful, not just to a rule, but to the God who gave them the commandments.
Why were they able to stand firm in the face of a horrible death? Were they really willing to “die” on principle? Because they believed they were right, and the rest of the crowd was wrong? Did the belief that idol worship was a sin enough to keep them from obeying Nebuchadnezzar? I don’t think so. Their faith went beyond the commandment to a firm conviction that the God who gave them the commandment was alive, and real, and personal, and able to keep them and protect them even in a fiery furnace. They weren’t just adhering to some words written on a stone tablet. They passionately loved and served the God whose fingers wrote those words.
Do you struggle not to sin? Do you find it hard to obey God’s commands? If you were threatened with death, would you say you are committed enough to what you believe that you would die for it? If you’re just believing in a moral code, my friend, then I am afraid your knees will hit the pavement as fast as anyone’s when the Babylonian music starts playing. Loyalty to a moral code won’t hold up when real persecution comes. The only thing that will keep our hearts faithful is a relationship with a personal God, a God who is alive and able to bring us through fire without even smelling like smoke!
How do I know this? Because of what Nebuchadnezzar saw after he threw these three young men into the fire. The Most High God showed up. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego weren’t walking around praising their own strength to keep a moral code. They were enjoying the presence of God. It may have been Jesus Himself in a pre-incarnate appearance, or God simply may have sent one of His angels to rescue them. Regardless, they knew God was alive and well when they stepped in that furnace, and when they stepped out unharmed, so did everyone around them.
What about you? Where would you be in this story? If we claim that we are Christians, may we love Him, not just the idea of Him. May we commit our lives in faithfulness to the living God, no matter how great the threat or how hot the fires of persecution.