Benjamin Franklin once said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” It’s true, that humanly-speaking nothing else ultimately is inevitable. That means that often things go neither as we expect, nor as we desire. To take Franklin’s point to perhaps its logical next step, outside this world, there perhaps is something else that is in fact certain. That would be God’s ability to do all things. Keep your finger on that point for a second and we’ll come back to it.
This week my reading will bring me to the completion of my annual reading plan through the Old Testament, as well as the beginning of my reading plan for next year, which is to read through the New Testament. For the purpose of this week’s message, I’m only including the Old Testament element of the reading.
As I read through Isaiah 56 – 62 and Daniel 2 – 8 this week, a passage struck a chord that conjured the thinking I noted above. It’s found in a familiar passage in Daniel, chapter 3 verses 16 – 18. To set the stage a little, the situation occurs at a time the Babylonians had taken over rule of Judah and the Babylonian king was Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar had issued a decree that whenever the people in his kingdom hear the playing of certain musical instruments, the people were to bow down and worship a statue that Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were three Jews who … along with Daniel … had demonstrated unwavering faith to God and yet were highly regarded by the powers that be in Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom. When it was reported to the king that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to bow to the statue, it was not a good potential situation for them …
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. 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.”
The penalty that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego faced for not bowing down to the image that was created for Nebuchadnezzar was to be placed in a blazing hot furnace, which was so hot by the time they were thrown in there that the guards that placed them in the furnace burned up just by opening the door to throw them in. Nonetheless, they were unmoved in their faith in God.
There are a few different insights to pull from this that I think are hugely instructive to us. Note that when they were confronted with the potential penalty for their refusal they said “the God whom we serve is able to save us.” It’s often important focus on word choice in Scripture, so let’s note that they say God is able to save them. They didn’t say “our God will save us.” That’s not because God couldn’t. It’s not even necessarily because they felt that God wouldn’t. In this instance, I think the takeaway has less to do with God than with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego … and by implication, us.
They had the attitude that God could save them, but even if He didn’t, they decided to be faithful, to be willing to take on whatever might come about. They were unwavering. The reason … well, it comes back to my earlier point, that God’s ability to do all things is a certainty. Whether He does or not is within the governance of His providence, and that’s where faith came in.
My sense in reading about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego is that they had chosen at some point before this to live by faith in God. No matter what. So, in this instance, if God elected to show up and save them (spoiler alert … He ultimately did) they were going to choose to follow Him by faith. If He elected not to show up, they were going to choose to follow Him by faith. Even if it meant getting burned up in a fiery furnace. Even if God didn’t show up in the way they hoped, expected, and / or thought was “right.” Even if He, in human terms, disappointed them.
So, they stood their ground. They did what was right, no matter the ramifications.
What about us? How often do we recognize that our God is able to do anything? Do we really believe that in our heart of hearts? Think about what Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had to decide in this case. They were facing a very literal and likely very painful death. Imminently. The fact that they were willing to stand up to their beliefs in the face of that death says definitively that their belief in God’s ability was real and complete. Otherwise, with impending death we can reasonably conclude that at least one of them would have capitulated … like, “Hey, you know what, I’m all for God and everything, but that furnace is HOT and dying wasn’t on the to-do list today. Where’s that statue?” To stand up for our principles when they’re most challenged is demonstrative of the degree to which those principles are preeminent in our lives.
Another question for us is will we still follow if there’s a chance He won’t do something? This speaks not only to our belief in God’s ability, but our belief in His providence. That is, that He knows better than we do about the right outcome to a situation, that He loves us way more than we love us, that He loves others way more than we do, that He’s got a bigger-picture plan that extends beyond our perceptibility. Will we take a step not knowing what that step might lead to … or knowing that it might lead to nothing? Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego took that step … not knowing whether they were about to fry, or whether God would show up or not. In the end, He did indeed show up, personally.
As we prepare to say goodbye to 2014 and prepare for 2015, if you’re not sure about how you stand relative to the abovementioned questions, allow me to challenge you a bit. Two habits can help you fortify your sense of strength around the questions of God’s ability and God’s providence. While I’m not a big proponent of New Year’s resolutions (they rarely stick, and when they do it’s often because the bar’s so low as to not make much of a difference), perhaps that approach might help. First, read God’s word every single day in 2015. Set that goal and stick with it. The amount of reading is inconsequential, but perhaps start at Matthew chapter 1 and read one chapter a day. We’re talking 15 minutes a day, max. I don’t know a single person’s schedule, no matter how insane, that couldn’t allow for that commitment. Second, before you read, say a brief, quick prayer … the words don’t totally matter, but something like, “God, speak to me through your word.” He’ll do the rest.
For my part, I’ll be doing the same as I read through the New Testament this year. I’ll add one thing to my list though … I’ll be praying for God’s revelation to you (in addition to me) during the course of this. Seriously … try it … just one chapter a day, every day in 2015. You’ll be amazed what He can do and what He will do! It’ll truly be a Happy New Year!
Because He can, even if He doesn’t,