Saturday, July 16, 2011

Fear Less

Daniel 3

Who hasn't heard of the fiery furnace?  There's even a state park that bears the name.  But outside of Sunday School, somewhere around the age of ten, seated between the adorable Kenny Sagers and that twit, Patty Astin (who spent the entire class sniggling and whispering to her equally twitty girlfriend Stacey) when was the last time you really looked at the account?  I remember as a kid, thinking, "Cool!  God can do anything," and I'm sure that's part of the message here.  But did I ever stop to think, "Cool!  I can do anything!"?  I mean let's look at the participants as well as the events...

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, according to general consensus, appear to have been around 18 years old.  Just stop and recall what you were like at 18.  Got it?  Let's move on.  They were Jews -- devoted, orthodox (small "o") Jews -- living in a Babylonian world.  Just a recap:  Babylonia -- earthly luxuries; worldly entertainment; a cultural center known for excess; a place in which "anything goes" was not the standard, but "anything encouraged" was.  "Being in the minority" doesn't quite describe the situation of these three young men.  (I like to image myself and my two best friends on Lady Gaga's tour bus.)  Now, bring in the enormous golden idol!  Imagine the sea of people, dwarfed by such an imposing figure; some may have fallen to their faces out of fear.  Cue music, and -- wait!  "Are you deaf?  Did you not hear the music?"  The three youths, who one might believe would have been best served by remaining as anonymous as possible, tower over the rest of the masses.  (Here's where I hear Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny:  "Oh, yeah, you blend.")  So, it's off to the fiery furnace -- but first, Nebuchadnezzar, merciful king that he is, wishes to give these obviously touched, Jewish boys another chance.  What is their response?

v. 16 "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you."

Are you kidding me?  The insolence!  But these young men had no need to fear an earthly king; they were subjects of the King of All Creation.  The simple knowledge of God Almighty's supremacy freed them from any grip Old Nebuchadnezzar could possibly have on them.  As subjects of the King of Kings, they had real power!  And they did not answer to some megalomaniac who put his tunic on the same way they did every morning.

Then, v. 17 "If we are thrown into the blazing furnace..." 

"If?  Who said anything about if?  You broke the law; you are still refusing to obey my law; you know what's coming to you."  But Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were open to anything.  Sure, the king said "fiery furnace," but what did the King say?  Earthly edicts and ultimatums aside, they knew God had a plan; though they may not have known exactly what it was, they trusted Him to do what He knows is best.  Wow.  How often do we put conditions on God's redemption of us?  "OK, I'll stop doing    ?   , if you'll fix it this way," or "Give me a sign," or "I trust You, God" as we're tossing and turning all night, sick with worry all day, unable to imagine what God's Plan might be, unable to see it unfolding.  It is our job to ask and then trust God's mighty hand.  Anything beyond that, and we're trying to do His job.

But, back to v. 17 "He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty." 

"He will."  Faith.  Pure.  Simple.  As certain as if they'd said, "King, you will one day die."

v. 18 "But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” 

Again, speaking with bravery that would be difficult to find in most thirty-year olds, "NO MATTER WHAT, we will keep our committment to God."  These you men weren't fearing death.  They weren't thinking of being remembered as fools, defying the king, and suffering the consequences.  They were committed to the consequences of following The King!  The idea of God allowing them to burn was not a deal breaker for them.  God doesn't leave His children in the lurch.

v. 20  "...and cast them into the burning fiery furnace."

What was God's plan?  To fry them?  Well, not quite, but they were sure close.  Does the Bible say they began to scream in fear, cry out in pain, beg for mercy?  No.  There they were, amidst fire and flame, and Jesus standing with them.  He didn't take them by the hand, lead them out, or even quench the flames, but there He stood, with them.  Notice too, that the king actually had to call them forth.  They weren't running out in some pancked frenzy.  Ironically, the very same king who sentenced them to cremation, wide-eyed and in awe yelled, "Get out and get over here!"  I think of my attempts to get the kids out of the bath, long after it has started to go cold, and their lips look like raw liver.

Lastly, v. 27 -- They didn’t even smell of smoke!
I love to grill.  But the smell?  Yech!  I can hardly eat for want of a shower.  I'm not sure what they were using for fuel in Nebuchanezzar's palace in those days, but didn't most of these ancient civilizations use dung?  Um, dung smells.  And it's no bed of roses when it's burning either!  But not a singed hair (I can't make that promise when I'm straightening my hair) or a scorched robe (or ironing).  Not even the smell of smoke! (or, apparently anything else, for that matter)

I am nothing without Jesus, but with Jesus I have courage, power, certainty, and the faith to stand out in a crowd.  His power is within me and I have nothing to fear.   
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