Sunday, April 25, 2010

STANDING TALL IN PAGAN TIMES


A. Brother
©2010 Narrowgate Publishing



          “King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, ninety feet high and nine feet wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.”  --Daniel 3:1

          “Therefore, as soon as they heard the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp and all kinds of music, all the peoples, nations and men of every language fell down and worshiped the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.”
                                                                                                                  --Daniel 3:7

          This is the stage upon which we tell our children one of their most memorable Sunday School stories, when Shadrach, Mesach and Abednego are thrown into the fiery furnace because they refuse to kneel to this gold statue.  We give it to them in nice little pictures, and they remember it because it is so dramatic.
            But what’s the real point of the story?
            Do we give our children any strong instruction in its meaning?
            Or is it just another Bible story to entertain?

            This recounting of an actual occurrence should be of great importance to us, and not relegated to the children’s bookshelf.
            Yes, we should teach our children the real point of this frightening and serious thing that happened to these men in Babylon.  We must share with one another the meaning for us, and the meaning for our children, and all who would follow Jesus.

            These three men were Jews, like Daniel, who chose them as administrators and leaders over the entire province of Babylon, the greatest city and richest province of the Kingdom of Babylon, which was the greatest empire of the ancient world.             These three men were true believers in the One God, Jehovah, maker of heaven and earth.  All other gods of wood and stone and silver and gold were not gods at all, these men knew.  They worshiped the living God, the one who had delivered Israel so many times over the centuries and was watching over his chosen people, even in their exile in this foreign, pagan land.  Every day these men, along with all the Jews, lived among idol worship and cultural customs that went completely against all they believed, and this huge tide of wrong thinking and wrong living swept over them like a flood.
            Yet Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were like Daniel.  They refused to compromise one bit with this flood, and clung to their Rock, Jehovah, God Almighty.  They were upright men—in other words, men who stood tall in the flood, not hunching over and sliding by, but firmly standing against the wicked, sinful flow of life around them—even in their prominent and powerful positions within the government.
            So they attracted enemies, and these enemies, like Daniel’s, would try everything in their power to take these men down and get rid of them.
            Does this sound like a cute little child’s bedtime story to you?
            Nebuchadnezzar was the most powerful man on the planet.  He could, and did, hold the lives of every man, woman and child in his kingdom in his hands.  Whom he ordered dead, was dead.  Whom he ordered imprisoned was imprisoned.  If he told his army to annihilate an entire city, they would do it unquestioningly and immediately.  He was absolute, despotic ruler of dozens of cultures and people speaking hundreds of languages.  His will was supreme, and obeyed.
            So when he had smelted and formed a ninety-foot solid gold image of some god or other and set it up on the plain outside Babylon’s gates, and ordered every person in the kingdom to bow down and worship it when the music started, everyone had to do it or die.  The fiery furnace was the threat, and make no mistake, the people bowed down.  Including the Jews, who were forbidden worship of any God but Jehovah, whom they knew to be the only true God in the universe.
 
            The Jews knew that God was God.  They had been raised with the truth about Him, and were taught to love and cling to Him above pagan idols.  They were taught that God was Lord of all, and that they must never forsake Him, because He would never forsake them.  They knew all about and remembered the great deliverances God had worked on behalf of His chosen people, Israel, and that God had given them over to the King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, because of their refusal to follow His Ways, and to obey Him.  Their uncomfortable exile in this foreign, pagan land was a result of their compromise with the world, with their worship of pagan gods, with their pursuit of wealth and security over their pursuit of their God.  When Jeremiah had prophesied the Word of God, and told them to submit to Babylon and go into exile, they had fought that, too, and many lives were lost because of it.  They had seen the Word of God come true in their lifetimes, and been dragged off to this strange country where their God was considered just another god, like the gods of wood and stone that people bowed down to in their household shrines.
            These Jews were the spiritual descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  They were the spiritual descendants of Moses.  They were the spiritual descendants of Joseph, and David.  They were the spiritual descendants of Samuel and Elijah and the other prophets.  They were a Holy Nation, set apart for God, for His glory, told to love Him with all their heart, soul, mind and strength.  They were to stick together in this foreign land, and to cling to their Lord only, avoiding all contamination by pagan and worldly beliefs.
            Every one of these Jews was taught these same things, and expected to live by them.
            Yet, here we have the king issuing a decree, and all the lands, and all the peoples across the vast deserts and mountains of the empire immediately bowing down to this false god, this golden image, including all the Jews.
           
            How could this happen?  Could it be that only these three men stood up against this tide?  Could it be that when you looked around, there was a sea of bodies laying low, bowing with their heads to the ground, bent over in the current Muslim manner, and that only three men stood tall, refusing to go along with this pagan river of idolatry?

            Yes, it could and did happen.  The King was furious, not at thousands of Jews, not at a few hundred.  Not even at a dozen.  He was livid with anger at three men, who were leaders he had appointed, and they repaid him with defiance.  These three men had stood up when they should have been bowing down.  They didn’t jump when the boss said jump.  They didn’t unquestioningly follow the pagan ways.  They didn’t listen to false gods, and didn’t worship them.  They regarded the 90 foot giant golden statue as a fraud, and knew that it was not a god, and knew they shouldn’t bow down to this man-made, hand-forged monstrosity no matter who told them to.  They loved God and His Word more than their own lives.  They were the few, the humble, those who would follow God to their own deaths if necessary.

            Like Abraham when he took Isaac upon the altar and raised the knife, they were standing themselves on the altar, and had no idea that God would provide a ram in the thicket.  Their lives were over, but they were willing to give up all their wealth, their position, their status, their families, and all they held dear to love their God and stand for Him.

            “Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.  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.   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.’”  --Dan. 3:16-18

          Thousands of their fellow Jewish countrymen were looking on, from their bent over and compromised positions, full of shame and remorse, yet seemingly powerless and impotent to stand with these men.  The king was out of control, furious, his temper raging.  He ordered the furnace heated to maximum heat, beyond the ability of men to be near.  The three men were thrown in, bound tightly by large ropes, still in their heavy robes, pants and hats.  The soldiers carrying them were killed by the flames.  The crowds bowed down breathless while the sun-scorched city watched this display of pagan wrath. 

            These men were martyred, having given all to stand firm in their faith for the one, true God.  Not bowing to this furious man, not bowing to pagan customs, not worshiping the gods of gold and silver or wood and stone.  They gave their lives to the blazing furnace, dying as they lived, without compromise.
            But their God decided to intervene, and these men were rescued, and protected from the flames by their Deliverer.  Their lives were given back, as if by resurrection, and because they were raised from the dead, even King Nebuchadnezzar believed in God after this.  Though he still reigned over a pagan kingdom, he acknowledged this miracle by proclamation, and joyfully accepted the Jewish God as the one, true God who delivers His people miraculously.  The lives of many, including the Jews who had shamefully bowed down to the false gods, were changed for the better immediately. 

            The real point of the story is that the Jews, God’s people, in exile over their disobedience, didn’t stand for God at crunch time.  When the big test came, they failed.  Why?  Why were these three men the only men who didn’t bow down to the golden image?

            Because God’s people had been in the fatal grip of compromise for many years—even for generations.

            Like the so-called ‘Christian’ churches in our affluent American society, they had been bowing down to the gods of gold and silver for so long they didn’t even recognize the test when it came.  It was just another day to them. 
            Money and status and comfort were their gods.  Love of the world and its ways were running strong in their veins.  Their treasures were on earth, not in heaven.  The people of God were people of the world, only separated from the pagans by a few meaningless religious rituals. 
            The Holy Nation was not holy, and not set apart for God alone.  These Jews, like our affluent society Christians today, had been slowly boiled like frogs in a pot, accepting more and more compromise with the pagan society around them each year, each decade, each generation, until they could no longer distinguish the blurry lines between truth and lies, between God and gods, between pagan and believer.       They were a people held captive not only in body, but in mind and heart.  They didn’t truly believe in their creeds and dogmas, they only recited them.  They didn’t cling to the Rock in the flood, they built boats to save themselves, floating along with the tide.  They didn’t love God, they only acknowledged Him in a cursory way, hoping He would overlook their sins and their compromise, but not willing to look Him in the eye and become His wholly committed people. 
            They weren’t willing to take up their crosses daily, and so when the day came to stand up or be crucified, they stood down and bowed down, unable to take up that cross and follow their God.

            The point of the story, whether we teach it to our children, or to ourselves, is this:

            Stop dancing to the tune of this world, and stop bowing down to the idols of gold and silver, wood and stone.  Stand apart, willing to die daily, taking up your cross with Jesus, your Lord.  Stop the compromise today, and put your feet firmly on the Rock.  In this flood of pagan philosophy and worldly ambition, be a Shadrach.  In this endless pursuit of wealth and possessions, be a Meshach.  In this terrible time of chasing pleasure and profit, be an Abednego.  Start laying down your life daily for Jesus, being a true disciple.  Give up all your own plans and dreams and seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness.  Bow down at the throne of grace every moment so that when each evil day comes you can stand tall as these three men did. 
            And let’s teach our children to do this at an early age, so they will be ready to be strong and love their God above all when the tests come.  Let’s teach them the true meaning of the lives of great men of God like these, given to us for our good.
             





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