THE GREATEST THING WE CAN SAY FACING EVIL
“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.’”
Daniel 3:16-18, NIV
We know the essentials to this dramatic Biblical story, this pagan king demands all people worship him and give homage to his statue. “You live if you do and you die if you don’t!” It’s as simple as that—those were the merciless rules that King Nebuchadnezzar made.
And these three Jewish men firmly said, “No! We will not do that.” So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego realized the fate that awaited them. The king was furious with rage and summoned them to stand before him to be humiliated before death. And yet, without disrespect they said, “we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.” (verse 16)
Then they laid bare the most profound thought—“The God we serve is able to deliver us, but we are not sure He is going to do that, and even if He does not, we want you to know we will not worship your image or your person—we are willing to die for this conviction!”
And as we face today the issues and moral changes of life—this is the greatest thing we also can say! And now, I want to tell you: millions of people, faithful to God, have died in pain and agony throughout history making that same confession! They were not delivered from death!
They were non-conformist and they were totally opposed to the thinking of their day. These three made this confession wholeheartedly without apology or compromise. They did not ask for leniency. And all that is now written and these brief comments must tell us something vital of being faithful in a way most of us do not fully understand.
Again, people who have said words like these have been hung on a cross, jailed and imprisoned, and been burned at the stake. The word that now comes to the forefront is the word “martyr.” It’s a Greek word which means “witness,” but it means one who chooses to suffer death rather than to compromise or deny Jesus Christ or His kingdom. It refers to someone who is willing to sacrifice everything to advance the name and fame of Jesus. And it also includes a person who often endures severe punishment and suffering for their faithful witness.
But, and I need to point out that, there are more Christian martyrs today than there were in 100 AD, in the days of the Roman Empire! A respected study found that there were close to 164,000 Christians martyred around the world in the last year of the twentieth century. The estimate is that this total has gone up, not down. About 200,000 have died annually for the last ten years, as Christians faithful to death.
One example, a 17-year-old girl in Littleton, Colorado, was asked by a crazy gunman—“Do you believe in God?” She answered, “Yes, I believe.” The gunman said, “Why?” and before she could answer, the girl lay dead at his feet!
And here, standing before this proud pagan king, these three proclaimed, “we do not need to defend ourselves to you. If you throw us into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from the furnace … But even if God does not save us, we want you, O king, to know this: We will not serve your gods …” (Daniel 3:16-18, NCV)
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, minutes before he was hanged in 1945, “This is the end. For me, the beginning of life.”
In Russia, 16-year-old Ivan Moiseyev, called “Vanya” by his friends, refused his communist commander’s anti-Christian teachings. He was enlisted in the Red Army and faced death for disobedience. So, he was tortured, stabbed six times, beaten, and then drowned. He wrote on June 15, 1972, “Dear parents, the Lord has shown the way to me … I have decided to follow it … but I do not fear … though my body does fear somewhat or does not wish to go through everything, I do it because I do not value my life as much as I value Him … He says go, and I go.” He was not delivered by God from death!
So, marvel, if you will, that the courageous three Hebrew boys were spared—but wait a moment, let us think about those who did not come out of the blazing pit. Why? Because that is far more realistic. And we need to deal with that as a possibility. Thank God for miracles, but what shall we do if we are not delivered from the lion’s den or the pit heated seven times hotter than normal?
I. LET US CONSIDER WHAT IS POSSIBLE
Remember, the three did not know what would happen to them. They might be delivered, or they might be executed. They said, “God has the power to deliver us, but it may not be in His plan or will—we do not know, but we do know we will not be disobedient to Him.”
Jesus said, “take up your cross”—that’s an indication of a possible coming execution! We must realize God may have something in mind that may not include our escape from pain and suffering! He may allow the painful death of the faithful—but allow it for His ultimate praise.
The beautiful young mother Perpetua died in the arena in Carthage, North Africa, in 203 AD. She was not delivered. Yet thousands became faithful to God because of her example of faith. Perpetua and fellow Christians were to die by wild animals released into the arena on Caesar’s birthday. A wild bull was brought into the arena. Perpetua and a young woman were put in a net, they were pulled and tossed in the air, the crowd screamed in approval. But they did not die. Finally, gladiators were called out to execute them. They kissed each other, and with fearlessness, Perpetua guided the sword of the young gladiator to her throat and her blood was spilled on the sand. Millions have been moved by this event of people who refused to tone down their confession or deny their faith in Jesus.
Paul suffered his “thorn in the flesh” and then years of persecution; finally, he was beheaded, and two thousand years later we are still moved to understand the message of real Christianity because of him.
From The Message listen to the words of Jesus, “Don’t be bluffed into silence or insincerity by the threats of religious bullies. True, they can kill you, but then what can they do? There’s nothing they can do to your soul, your core being. Save your fear for God, who holds your entire life—body and soul—in his hands.” (Luke 12:4-5)
For centuries, godless people in positions of immense power have been amazed that God’s people are not afraid of them, even when threatened with death. They stood in their trials and in their humiliation and honored God. Throughout history, unlike these three, martyrs have given themselves to the flames with such courage that all who saw them die were amazed. Hebrews chapter 11 speaks of great deliverances of God’s people, but in verse 35 it says, “Others were tortured to death, refusing release,” and verse 36, “Others, again, had to face jeers and floggings, even fetters and prison bars …” and then, “All these won God’s approval because of their faith; and yet they did not receive what was promised.” (verse 39)
When threatened with being burned at the stake, Rose Allen Munt, in 1557 said to the sheriff at 2 in the morning when she and her parents were arrested, words we all now need to know.
The sheriff said, “Persuade your parents to act less like heretics and they will be set free.” “Sir,” Rose replied, “they have a better instructor than I for the Holy Spirit teaches them!”
“Well! It’s time to lock up such heretics as you!” Then the sheriff said, “I reckon you will burn with the rest, for company’s sake.”
“No, sir,” Rose replied, “not for company’s sake, but for my Christ’s sake, if I have to. And I trust in His mercies, that if He calls me to do it, He will enable me to bear it.”
Each of them refused to change their confession; they were sentence to be burned at the stake. Over 1,000 people watched them, as the fire rose around them, clap their hands for joy as fire consumed them.
C. S. Lewis said, “You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life or death to you.”
In southeast Asia a Christian said, “Suffering is not the worst thing that can happen to us. Disobedience to God is the worst thing!”
So then, consider what is possible—following Christ may cost you your life! That’s what the three realized, and millions more!
II. CONFESS WHAT IS POWERFUL
Nebuchadnezzar said, “I’ll give you one more chance … fall down and worship … [then] all will be well.” (verse 15)
“… our God is able to deliver us … But if he doesn’t, please understand, sir, that even then we will never under any circumstance serve your gods …” (verses 17-18, Living Bible)
We cannot predict for there may be times at the risk of our lives sometime in the future, so that, the important thing is a powerful, faithful confession of our faith in Jesus Christ.
Therese of Lisieux, France, said, “Suffering gladly borne for others converts more people than sermons.” Paul realized this; he confessed, “For it is a fact that I face death daily … I have lived with weariness and pain and sleepless nights. Often I have been hungry and thirsty and have gone without food; often I have shivered with cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.” (I Corinthians 15:31, II Corinthians 11:27, TLB)
People need to hear and see trust confessed at great personal cost—it’s powerful and it’s unforgettable! Thomas Aquinas said, “Words pronounced by martyrs before the authorities are not human words, the simple expression of a human conviction, but words pronounced by the Holy Spirit through the confession of faith.” Therefore, if you are given a chance to confess Jesus, believe that with the help of the Holy Spirit your simple words can live on in a mind and heart for years, even till the end of the world.
When William Tyndale was taken from prison to be strangled to death for putting the Bible into common English, his final words were a fervent prayer before his executioners, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.” They never forgot that prayer. Tyndale’s body was then burned. And yet, in only three years the King of England gave instructions that a copy of the English New Testament be placed in every church in England!
Paul said, “… God is using us to speak to you. We urge you, as though Christ himself were here pleading with you, ‘Be reconciled to God!’” (II Corinthians 5:20, NLT)
The three Hebrew young men made a confession that impacted the world—make such a confession now.
Let it always be “… the God we serve …” an expression of deep devotion and authentic allegiance in a person. Remember, one with a glowing experience with God is more powerful than a library full of evidence of God.
III. COMPLETE WHAT IS PURPOSEFUL
There is a true story told of two Chinese Christians who were led to torture and a very painful death. One quoted Jesus’ words, “It is finished,” in a whisper. But the other, whose voice was stronger, answered, “No, that’s not what Jesus said when He suffered and died on the cross. He said, ‘It is accomplished!’”
And God has a purpose in your life and mind—let that purpose be fulfilled. Let it be “accomplished.” Therefore, do not be overwhelmed by the fact that the three were not burned to death—yes, that is an amazing miracle! But even greater is that they stood faithful not knowing what awaited them. That is the headline in the story.
In 1551, in Scotland, Walter Milne was so weakened by prison and punishment that he had to be helped to the witness stand at his trial. But when he started to speak, a power came upon him. The 83-year-old had such clarity of mind when he was examined, his boldness, his logic, and his sincere faith so moved the court that the mayor of the city refused to be the judge. And furthermore, the people were so offended with his unfair sentence that they refused to sell oil or the wooden barrel in which he stood to be burned. Finally, enough was found for his burning alive.
But as he was burned to death, the crowd literally mourned aloud, and as a result it happened that thousands turned to faith in Christ and the Scottish nation reexamined its laws on executing “heretics.” He was the last person put to death in Scotland for his faith. A nation changed its laws because of him! Do we not see his suffering and death had a purpose?
But for us who may not be called to die for Christ in martyrdom, the most important statement is this one by Robert E. Speer:
“It is far less important to die the martyr’s death
than to live the martyr’s life.”