By Connor Neigenfind
There is an incredible story recounted in Daniel chapter 3 about three guys with really weird names: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. These men are inspiringly faithful to God even under intense pressure to recant their faith. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were Jews who had been exiled to Babylon (modern day Iraq) after the Babylonians besieged their nation and conquered it. Because of their remarkable giftedness (see Daniel 1:4) these men were exalted by King Nebuchadnezzar to places of prominence and influence, serving as officials over the affairs of Babylon.
For exiles (who were essentially slaves) things were going significantly better for these three guys than they probably would have guessed. Life was comfortable. They were provided for by the king. They had been entrusted with meaningful work. They were in coveted positions of authority.
A problem arises however when the king (who happens to be an ego-maniac) decides to build a gold statue of himself and requires that people bow down and worship it (remember the ego-maniac bit?). Refusal to bow down to the statue of the king would result in being burned alive in a fiery furnace. For the ordinary Babylonian citizen, it would have been no big deal to worship their king as deity—the choice would have been a no-brainer—but for these three Jewish men, this was a monumental crossroads at which they were going to have to decide whether or not they were willing to sacrifice their comfort, safety, and security in order to do the right thing.
My guess is that if you have been walking with Jesus for more than five minutes you can relate in some way to the dilemma that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are in at this point of the story. Most likely you haven’t been threatened to be burned alive for doing the right thing, but undoubtedly you have found yourself at a crossroads where choosing the path of Jesus would cost you something.
One of the first major crossroads that I faced in my life was when I started high school. From pre-kindergarten through the eighth grade I attended a private Christian school just outside of Seattle where I was admittedly in a “Christian bubble”. I was sheltered (in a good way) from many of the activities that society would deem unhealthy for teenagers. My best friends were all Christians, and generally speaking it wasn’t very cool or popular to do things that contradicted Christian behavior.
My Christian bubble was suddenly popped when my family relocated to Costa Rica at the start of my freshman year of high school. My dad’s business savvy combined with an inspiring work ethic and God’s blessing enabled him to be mostly retired before the age of fifty.
While in Costa Rica I attended a secular English speaking college-preparatory school called Country Day School Guanacaste. Like many of you, my high school did not provide a spiritually enriching environment: students drank, slept together, and did drugs. One of our teachers got fired for smoking pot on campus. I think the extent to which substances were abused at my school was exacerbated by the atmosphere of our surroundings in Costa Rica. Substances were easy to get. There was a place called “Monkey Bar” in the surf-town of Tamarindo where many of the students lived that would serve beer to middle-schoolers, and was a go-to hang out for a number of my peers on Friday nights. I remember walking down the street not far from that bar in broad daylight, when a complete stranger hollered from across the street asking if I wanted to by pot. You get the picture, my world could no longer be lived in a Christian bubble. I now had to choose who I would live for, and the choice would be obvious to onlookers. Gone were the days where I could follow Jesus and blend in, I had to make a decision.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were in this place times a million. Their very lives were at stake. They could choose to do what everyone else would do (bow down and worship the statue) and live, or they could choose what was right and walk boldly into fire. They chose the path of fire. While all of the people bowed to the ground in worship before the statue of the king, these three men dared to do what was right, and stood alone in defiance of the king’s evil edict. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are taken into the presence of the king where they are questioned by Nebuchadnezzar himself who said:
“Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you refuse to serve my gods or to worship the gold statue that I have set up? I will give you one more chance to bow down and worship the statue I have made when you hear the sound of the musical instruments. But if you refuse, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. And then what God will be able to rescue you from my power?” (Daniel 3:14-15, NLT).
The three men 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” (Daniel 3:16-18, NIV).
These men were bold, but respectful. They were unwavering in their God-given convictions. They were relentless in their belief that they would rather be in the fire with God than to choose the path of safety. They looked fire square in the face and ran into it, and to their pleasant surprise there was someone in the fire waiting for them… Because I can’t summarize what happens next more effectively than how it reads in the text I’m going to include the conclusion of the story from Daniel chapter 3:
Nebuchadnezzar was so furious with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face became distorted with rage. He commanded that the furnace be heated seven times hotter than usual. Then he ordered some of the strongest men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. So they tied them up and threw them into the furnace, fully dressed in their pants, turbans, robes, and other garments. And because the king, in his anger, had demanded such a hot fire in the furnace, the flames killed the soldiers as they threw the three men in. So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, securely tied, fell into the roaring flames.
But suddenly, Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in amazement and exclaimed to his advisers, “Didn’t we tie up three men and throw them into the furnace?”
“Yes, Your Majesty, we certainly did,” they replied.
“Look!” Nebuchadnezzar shouted. “I see four men, unbound, walking around in the fire unharmed! And the fourth looks like a god!”
Then Nebuchadnezzar came as close as he could to the door of the flaming furnace and shouted: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!”
So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stepped out of the fire. Then the high officers, officials, governors, and advisers crowded around them and saw that the fire had not touched them. Not a hair on their heads was singed, and their clothing was not scorched. They didn’t even smell of smoke!
Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He sent his angel to rescue his servants who trusted in him. They defied the king’s command and were willing to die rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore, I make this decree: If any people, whatever their race or nation or language, speak a word against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they will be torn limb from limb, and their houses will be turned into heaps of rubble. There is no other god who can rescue like this!”
Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to even higher positions in the province of Babylon. (Daniel 3:19-30, NLT)
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego ran into the fire and there God met them in a tangible and visible way. When these men ventured courageously into the fire that God had called them to, God showed up so powerfully, so unmistakably that even King Nebuchadnezzar responded with praise. If you don’t want that you’re crazy!
I think many of us want more of God. We want our faith to feel more alive, for God’s presence to be more tangible and identifiable in our midst. The irony is that we often resist the path that leads to Him, we often avoid the path where we will need Him to show up. We live lives of security and safety, hedging ourselves in by comfortable relationships and neighborhoods, good deeds that cost us little, missions and quests that are far too small, and we wonder why faith isn’t exciting and why God’s presence is seemingly absent. It is no coincidence that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego experienced the presence of God in the fire. I believe that if you have the courage to run into fire for the sake of the Gospel you will find him standing right there with you.
As I reflect on that most lonely season of high school, when I chose to run after God even when those around me ran in the opposite direction, I am aware that God was standing with me. No matter how I felt, I was never alone. God was there and that season of life was meaningful and helpful in the development of my faith. Since that time I have found myself at other crossroads with a similar choice to make. I haven’t always chosen correctly, but I hope that choosing the path of fire for the sake of the Gospel increasingly becomes my pattern and yours. I believe it is no coincidence that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego experienced the presence of God in the fire. I believe that if you and I have the courage to run into fire like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego then we will experience something similar to them. For when God calls you into fire, He never leaves you standing alone.