September 13, 2015
While we live our lives day by day great changes are afoot. And change usually involves upheaval. I enjoy reading biographies of U.S. presidents. I am struck by all the upheaval that continues to occur in the history of our country.
Most of us just try to steer clear of trouble until we are forced to take a side. And when we are forced to take a side issues of morality and justice are usually involved. And issues of justice and morality are connected with religion and faith. And if our faith commitments are at odds with the majority opinion, we are in trouble.
As Christians now living in a post-Christendom society we are experiencing some trouble. Our Christian understanding of morality is not in sync with the morality of our present culture. In the Bible it was often this way for those who trust in God and his Son Jesus. Today from Dan.3 I want to say that in a Post-Christendom society Christians must be faithful to Jesus Christ.
I. WE SEE FAITHFULNESS CHALLENGED. Dan.3:1-7
In society and government, things can seemingly change overnight. For many years the issue of slavery and states’ rights simmered in this country. As the abolitionist movement gathered strength tensions mounted. With the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, South Carolina was the first of eleven states to secede from the union. On April 12, 1861 at 4:30 am, everything changed when South Carolina attacked Fort Sumter. With that the civil war began. Things can change quickly.
Daniel and his three friends were trying to make the best of their situation in Babylon. God had blessed Daniel with an amazing promotion to become ruler of the whole province of Babylon and his friends were also promoted. But then, one day king Nebuchadnezzar decided to build an image of gold, 90 feet high and 9 feet wide. I imagine it took some time to construct this image. Perhaps Daniel and his friends were concerned about it. But then the day came. The gold image was ready and a decree was issued.
The king summoned the satraps, the prefects, the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the various provinces together and he told them that when they heard the worship band, they were to bow down and worship the golden image. This included Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
So what was this image all about? From what I’ve read it was probably not an image of the king, but rather an image of his patron god, Nebo. So these officials would be bowing in worship of Nebo. But it is a little more complicated than that. In reality it was an act of religious loyalty to the king himself. After all, it was the king who was giving the command. I have heard people close to the president of the United States say things like, “You don’t say “No” to the President.” If that is true in our society where there is free speech, just imagine how true it was in a society in which the king held the power of life and death. In fact, v.6 tells us that the king made it clear that if anyone did not bow down he would be immediately cast into the fiery furnace. Well there you have it. Almost overnight, the faithfulness of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego was going to be challenged.
In the latest issue of Christianity Today I was quite surprised to read the following. “In 1920, Southern Baptist statesman George W. Truett gave his most famous speech, “Baptists and Religious Liberty,” from the steps of the US Capitol to an estimated 10,000–15,000 attendees. He taught that Baptists and Americans had a shared goal: “Democracy is the goal toward which all feet are traveling, whether in state or in church.” It is hard for me to imagine an Evangelical saying such a thing in today’s climate. In fact Russel Moore, the 8th president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the public-policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention recently said, “[F]or too long we have assumed that the church is a means to an end to save America. America is important. But the end goal of the gospel is not a Christian America. The end goal of the gospel is redeemed from every tribe and tongue and nation and language. We belong to another kingdom.”
Now I am glad to be living in the United States. I deeply appreciate our democratic and free government, but democracy is no more a friend to grace than a monarchy or even a dictatorship. As Christians, we have been blessed to live in a country which has a history of embracing many Judeo-Christian principles of law. That could also be true in a monarchy or even a dictatorship as long as the king or the dictator firmly embraced Judeo-Christian principles. We have been fortunate to be able to freely practice and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in this country.
But things are changing for us as Christians in the United States. The ability to act on our beliefs is beginning to be challenged. And currently it is being challenged around issues of rights and discrimination. The Supreme Court decision regarding same-sex marriage has put Christians on the defensive. Our faithfulness is being challenged.
This past year Kim Davis was elected county clerk of Rowen County, Kentucky. Currently, Kim is refusing to grant marriage licenses to same sex couples. The situation came to a head this past week when the Supreme Court of the United States denied Davis’ request for a stay of an order that she issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and she was sent to jail. This past week she was released. Davis is trying to act on her Christian beliefs regarding marriage. The same is true for Jack Phillips of Colorado, who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding, and for Barronelle Stutzman, the 70 year old florist in Washington State who refused to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding, and for photographer, Elane Heguenin, who refused to photograph a same-sex wedding. All these folks have been vilified and the courts have ruled against them.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were put on the spot. The stage was set for a showdown. The king did not give anyone a choice in the matter. Suddenly things had escalated and they had to decide what they were going to do.
II. WE SEE FAITHFULNESS IN ACTION. Dan.3:8-23
The worship band began to play. Everyone bowed down. O wait a minute! Who are those three guys in the back standing up? In v.8-12 we learn that some of the Chaldeans approached Nebuchadnezzar with an accusation. The Chaldeans were at the top of society. My sense is they were jealous and despised these Jewish men despite the fact that Daniel had saved their lives by interpreting the king’s dream. In v.12 they make it clear to Nebuchadnezzar that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego pay no attention to the king. They do not serve his gods and did not worship the golden image. The king was furious and immediately summoned the Jewish men. Look at v.14-18 (read).
Well obviously the accusers were trying to make Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego out to be completely disloyal to the king. That wasn’t the case at all. They were as loyal to the king as their faith in God allowed. They sought to do everything the king commanded, but here the king was demanding that they worship an idol. Their prior and greater loyalty was to God. And you get the sense here that they never even questioned whether or not they should bow down. When the king gave them a second chance their response was immediate. “No.” There was no way they could have worshipped the idol. That would have been the height of disloyalty to God.
Now some Christians might think, “Well, in my heart my loyalty is sure. I worship God. And God knows that. So who really cares if I bow down to the image? I’m just trying to get along in a very difficult situation.” But when you do that you become a house divided. By bowing you’re your body, you contradict your conscience and you disobey God. You are like Peter saying, “I do not know this Jesus of Nazareth.” In 2Tim.2:11-13 Paul writes concerning Jesus, “The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful--for he cannot deny himself.”
This brings me back to Kim Davis. From what I can gather, Kim Davis views the issuing of marriage licenses to same sex couples as a compromise of her faith in Christ. For her it is a matter of conscience, and it is rarely wise or good to go against your conscience. On the other hand, she is an elected official and her salary is being paid in part by the same sex couples applying for marriage licenses. She is claiming that the government is robbing her of her first amendment rights. The first amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
In our country the rules have changed and Kim Davis does not feel she can abide by the new rules. Like the Chaldeans, the same-sex couples are accusing her of violating the law. And she is violating the law in order to remain true to her conscience.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, were willing to pay the price to be faithful to God. “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O King that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” Any questions? I don’t think so. It sounds pretty clear to me. They were thrown into the fiery furnace. Now it seems to me that this great country of ours could find a way to accommodate Kim Davis and others, especially in light of the fact that there are many Christians in this country. That said, if no provision is made to allow Kim to exercise her 1st amendment rights, It seems to me, that she should resign her post unless she decides to slog it out in the courts. There is a price to pay to follow Christ.
Obviously, these are not easy decisions and I imagine there will be many more situations in which Christians must think carefully about how they are going to respond. Neither the baker, the florist, nor the photographer were trying to be unkind or discriminatory. They were trying to graciously live according to their beliefs. Over the years, the perception in our country is that business owners could operate their business as they saw fit. But things are changing. Is it discriminatory for a business owner to decide to serve one and not another on religious grounds? Does the business owner have that right? In a post-Christendom society those making the laws are not thinking from a Christian perspective and it will become more difficult for us. If the law said that I must perform same-sex weddings I couldn’t do it.
In 1Thess.4:10-12, we read, “But we urge you, brothers…to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” And in 1Tim.2:1-2 Paul writes, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” All of us must seek to live according to God’s word and our conscience. If we are commanded by law to do something that clearly violates Scripture we must be ready to pay the price as these men did.
III. WE SEE FAITHFULNESS VALIDATED. Dan.3:24-30
In v.15 Nebuchadnezzar said, ‘And, who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” It is never wise to disrespect God. Obviously there is a God in heaven who doesn’t mind the heat. The men were thrown into the fire and as Nebuchadnezzar looked into the furnace he saw four men walking around and the fourth looked like a son of the gods. Many of us believe this was pre-incarnate Christ. The king called Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to come out of the fire and when they came out there was no evidence of any kind that they had been in a fire. The three men would have never known or experienced God’s faithfulness to his people unless they had been willing to go into the fire. They feared God more than they feared Nebuchadnezzar and the fire. They loved God more than they loved their lives. And God delivered them. In Lk.14:26-27 Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”
The king was astounded and impressed with their integrity and loyalty to God. In v.28 he says, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king's command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God.” Then he made a law that no one was to speak anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego upon punishment of being torn limb from limb. And then he promotes Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the province of Babylon.
Faithfulness is not a bargaining chip. We don’t think, “Okay, if I am faithful to God in this situation, he will deliver me from the fire and reward me afterwards.” That is not the lesson to be learned here.
We are faithful to God because he is God, our Creator and Sustainor. We are faithful to Christ because he is God, our Savior, King and Lord. As our lives reflect the gracious kindness of Christ in this world and as we live faithfully with Christ, others will take note. If God delivers us from persecution and hardship while we live in this world, God be praised. If he doesn’t, God be praised. This world is not our home; we are just passing through. Our life is not our own. We have been bought with a price.
Now I find these issues difficult to discern. I think we need to exercise grace as believers try to figure out how to personally respond. Bluster and arrogance is surely not the way. Being in power is not our goal. Being faithful to Christ is our goal. Maintaining our rights is not our goal. Maintaining our faith is our goal. In a Post-Christendom society Christians must be faithful to Jesus Christ.