He is Able—But if He Does Not!
I recently preached the funeral of my dear friend Gordon Free. While I was going through his Bible and his study notes with his wife Amy, I ran across this writing. I do not have any reference as to the authorship but thought it was worth everyone having the chance to read, because at some point in life, we will face similar situations. I have modified the narrative slightly. It is based on the story of Daniel and his three friends after Israel was taken captive in Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar. It is a story of rugged faith and uncompromising faithfulness to God.
(Daniel 1-3). Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego where colleagues of Daniel who had refused to defile themselves with the forbidden royal food and wine offered them by the king. Now their commitment was being challenged again. One spiritual victory is not the end: in fact each day sees us at the foot of a different mountain to climb. Every day we are subject to being tempted to deny the Lord or compromise our beliefs.
King Nebuchadnezzar had set up a golden image for all the people to worship. All the high officials of the Babylonian empire had been summoned and ordered to bow down and worship the image—or else, they would be thrown into a fiery furnace. The Bible doesn’t tell us where Daniel was at the time, but I am sure his three friends missed him terribly—they were on their own. They had to make their own stand without the guidance of their acknowledged leader. It is good to have friends in the Lord but we must not be over-dependent on them for we never know when a situation will arise when they are not there to help. This was a challenge the three young men simply had to face; a problem that would not go away.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to bow down. They refused to renounce their God and his commands and were determined to be faithful to the Lord at any cost.
Yes, it is easy to compromise—on morality, honesty, faithfulness to the Scriptures, to cut a few corners. But Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego would have none of it. With great courage and dignity they told the king that they would not argue with him on this matter. They did not try to make any excuses. They courageously refused to try to save themselves by compromising their faith. They were prepared to defy their king rather than to offend their God!
How were they able to do it? The secret was in the confidence they had in God. Nebuchadnezzar asked “Who is the God that shall deliver you out of my hands?” “The God we serve is able to deliver us from the fire, and will rescue us from your hand, O king”. They felt secure for their hope was based on a deep covenant and personal relationship. The faith of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in God was unquestioning. He had delivered the Israelites from Egypt and provided for them throughout their forty years in the wilderness. He had fed Elijah in the time of famine and drought. When we are facing trials, we need to recall the wonderful deeds of our God. He never changes.
The young men also had confidence in the purposes of God. Here he have some magnificent words. “Our God can deliver us, but if He does not…” (Dan 3:18). What they were saying is this: God can deliver us, and if it is His will, He will deliver us—but he may not! It may be His will to let us suffer and die. We do not know what His will is, and we do not mind, for His will is best!
One of the bishops in the century following the church of New Testament times had a similar experience. Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna was brought before the Roman authorities and told to curse Christ and he would be released. He replied, “Eighty six years have I served Him, and He has done me no wrong: how then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” The Roman officer replied, “Unless you change your mind, I will have you burnt.” But Polycarp said, “You threaten me with a fire that burns for an hour, and after a while is quenched; for you are ignorant of the judgment to come and of everlasting punishment reserved for the ungodly. Do what you wish.”
We know that God is able to save. He is able to heal. He is able to deliver from temptation. He is able… but we have a God who may not save. Faith in God is more important than faith in His works. Ultimately, our faith must rest in the character of God irrespective of what He does or does not do.
Being faithful may result in problems. Refusal to conform to this world’s patterns may well involve trouble and loss. But it is better to accept the narrow way that leads to eternal gain rather than follow the way of the world which will result in eternal loss. True faith is a readiness to trust God to fulfill His purposes whatever that might be. Job said, “Though He slay me, yet I will trust Him” (Job 13:15). Faith cannot always be proved by cause and effect.
The steadfast refusal of the young men made the king furious. He commanded the furnace to be heated again and again, and then had them thrown into the fire.
The three men were in the fire, but they were not alone, for the Lord was there with them. Nebuchadnezzar was filled with amazement. He could hardly believe what he saw. But to his astonishment, in the middle of the flames men were walking up and down, unhurt by the fire and quite unaffected by their fearful surroundings. He looked again—“no, it wasn’t three,” he said, “Look, I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” God had not delivered them from the fire, He had delivered them “IN” the fire! He had performed a miracle but God had gone even further that that, because in the time of trial He strengthened their commitment by His presence in physical form. God is also in the midst of ‘our’ fiery furnace, whatever form that might take. C.S. Lewis said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures but shouts to us in our pains.”
Paul said it best: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution of famine or danger or sword?.. ‘Nothing’ will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:35,38). What a companionship this is. We can draw strength as we remember that throughout our earthly pilgrimage we never walk alone. The message of this chapter of Daniel is that we need to grow in the grace of God so that when we are face to face with challenges of faith, there will be no compromise on Christian principles. But when the fire of pain, disappointment or disillusionment comes, God will be with us for the God of deliverance is also the Lord of the furnace!