Trios abound: The Three Tenors, The Three Stooges … Manny, Moe and Jack. But never has history produced a threesome the likes of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. These were men of conviction, men with position … and men with a problem—they refused to move to the sway of the popular music.
Although they heard the tune and felt the beat, their heads wouldn't bow and their backs wouldn't bend to a lifeless god. And, as a result, their synchronized resistance has inspired every generation for twenty-five centuries.
Nothing is sweeter than character under fire or as rare as submission to the Highest Authority. Few things will cause a man to stand out in a crowd faster than his complete surrender to his God.
The eye-popping scene of Daniel 3 highlights our famed trio as they refused to conform to the Neo-Babylonian religion. Serving Jehovah in a city like Babylon was no picnic, then or now.
The local worship called for all parishioners to bow to a golden idol whenever the music played. Refusal to do so meant the ultimate excommunication—a fiery furnace. Idol worship then, as it is now, is a demanding religion. There's no one to forgive those who sin against an idol.
For the Babylonians, conforming to the state religion was anything but simple: either do or die. But when our trio was given the option, the Israelites said, "Light us up!"
I suspect that wasn’t their first impulse. They must have thought, "If Daniel were here he'd know what to do." And, "If we die, God gains nothing." And the always popular, "It's only a stupid statue--big deal!"
Yet as a wise sage once said, "Wherever God has placed a period, don't try to change it to a question mark."
It’s doubtful the trio ever expected to change the culture with their unbending stance; they simply chose to obey their core belief. And, in doing so, they sealed their fate. God’s ways are often costly, but the three were willing. Their obedience wasn’t contingent upon God coming to their rescue. The object of their affection was God alone, not what He might do for them—although He did join them in the fire.
A faith like that, one that overrides a person's comfort zone, is a faith that can handle the heat.
Charles Simeon was another candidate for the fiery furnace. At 23 years of age and only three years after his conversion he was appointed pastor of Holy Trinity Church at Cambridge. It’s hard to imagine the isolation for an evangelical pastor in the halls of Cambridge in the late 1700s. For starters the congregation didn’t want him. Church members boycotted the services and pew-holders locked their pews. Simeon built makeshift benches only to have them thrown out by the church warden.
At times Simeon was locked out of services. Rowdy students protested his sermons with obscenities and riots. It was not uncommon for some to pelt Simeon with rotten eggs and tomatoes as he left church. Even the faculty took delight in ridiculing him in their lectures.
But Simeon wouldn’t bow to the golden image or dance to the popular music. Like three memorable men before him, he too chose to obey his core belief. And in the face of treachery, he continued to preach about a Savior who died for the sins of a needy world.
Gradually the tide turned as growing numbers of students, won over by his courage, came to hear him speak. Pew-holders, amazed at his determination, reopened their pews for a look-see. Fellow professors, intrigued by his tenacity, came to learn and admire.
For more than five decades Simeon remained pastor of Holy Trinity. Finally, at age 77, Simeon was called into God’s presence, and no doubt, met Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
On the day of his memorial in Cambridge, the town’s shops closed and university classes were suspended as mourners lined four-deep around the college, waiting to pay final tribute to their beloved and faithful pastor.
Teaching God’s word has always been counter-culture. Scripture is not vanilla; it’s a bitter taste to a hostile world. Obedience and rebellion are not friends.
The proclaimers of God’s word may be furnace bound, but we’ll never be alone. As he has shown us time and again, He will always join us in the midst of the flames.