We've all been through fires–burnt, scorned, and seared. And as long as our feet are planted on this earth, we will go through more. There is no shortage of suffering for this world to dole out to its inhabitants–relationships, jobs, and bodies have all been ravaged by a broken and dissonant world–a world that needs more of Jesus.
One of the more popular Bible stories to teach children is of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Many of us probably have this story from the book of Daniel tucked away in the folds of our brains, but I want us to access it freshly and diligently together. I want us to recall what the Lord has done and what that indicates about what He will do. I want us to be changed by this story, invited by the Holy Spirit into sanctification and greater reaping of faith in God.
The story takes place in the exilic period of Israel's history. God's people were exiled from the Promised Land because of their immense rebellion against God. Now residing in Babylon, the book of Daniel tells us of lion's dens, fervent prayers, visions from God, and–the fiery furnace. Three Hebrew men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, refuse to partake in the idolatry of the Babylonians and find themselves threatened with a death sentence. The king asks them a scandalous question: why won't they worship the statue? Surely they know the grave consequences of disobeying the king. Surely, they know this means death. But the three men have a robust response:
"If the God we serve exists, then He can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and He can rescue us from the power of you, the king. But even if He does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up." (Daniel 3:16-18).
But even if. These men were simultaneously confident in God's power to save and resolved in the fact that He may choose not to. They walked the tension that you and I face every single day. They saw the Lord as able to save, and they also saw that He may choose not to. And in the case that He may decide not to, they were resolved and confident. Their faith was not shaken by the prospect of death before them. Can we say these words ourselves–even if? Even if God withholds an answer. Even if God chooses not to heal. Even if the flames come. Even if the fire consumes. The three exiles' response to the king didn't depend on the outcome; it depended entirely on the delight they found in God and His sovereignty over suffering.
The king then demanded that the furnace be heated seven times hotter in preparation for the men, and he commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be tied up. The king's soldiers threw the three of them into the blaze. Their clothing should have disintegrated immediately. Their hair should have singed. Even the men who delivered them to the furnace were caught up and killed in flames. So we pause, and we realize that our friends in the faith must have been given over to the insatiable flames. The fire licked them up.
Of course, however, that's not the end of the story. In the following verses, we find the king deeply concerned as he looks into the furnace saying, "Look! I see four men, not tied, walking around in the fire unharmed; and the fourth looks like a son of the gods" (Daniel 3:25).
Look! The God to whom these men pledged themselves had, in fact, appeared. The three exiles were spared by the Lord and the Lord alone. A fourth man, brightly shining and brilliant, appeared amid the dire flames and supernaturally protected the children of God. Look! Is the only appropriate response. Look. Look. And Look some more. See that the Lord is good.
The fire did not consume them, but do you think they felt the heat? The flames did not melt their skin, but do you think they were nearly blinded? If not from the fire, then from the brilliance of the Angel of the Lord? The presence of God was with them in their suffering, but I don't think that means they were comfortable. I don't know that that means they weren't hot, sweating, and tired. Any peace of comfort they felt was not because of their circumstance but solely because the Lord was with them.
So the job that you hate, or the hard marriage, or the kids who test you, or the friend that betrayed you, or the illness that plagues you–Christ is with you in it all. The pain is there, the confusion is there, and the suffering may take a while to relent. But Christ is with you in it all. He's in the furnace. Look!
What great consolation it is that the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is the God we serve today. The God who was with them in their literal flames is the same who is with us in our figurative ones. Our confidence in God doesn't mean that we don't leave room for Him to work out His sovereign will in the way He sees fit. Our companionship with Christ doesn't mean we won't feel the heat, sweat a little, and be blinded by the light. Our relationship with God and our faith in Him does not exclude discomfort or suffering. But it means that Christ is with us in it all.
Nebuchadnezzar sums this up pretty well in Daniel 3:28-30 when he says, "Praise to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He sent His Angel and rescued His servants who trusted in Him. They violated the king's command and risked their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God...For there is no other God who is able to deliver like this."
A pagan king was convinced that Yahweh was superior to all other gods. A pagan king reminds us that there is no other God who is able to deliver like this. Rest in that. No one else will be in the midst of the pain and flames with you in the same way God is. No other God will deliver as He can.