Responding to Hostility10 min read

With the Supreme Court’s ruling in June on same-sex marriage, continuing pronouncements that remove “plaques” of the 10 Commandments from government buildings, a diminishing receptivity towards Christian values and morals, and what appears to be an increasing hostility towards anything “Christian,” how should we live and respond as God’s redeemed people?

Answers in Daniel

I believe we can find some encouragement and answers in Daniel 3, which is the historical account of what most of us remember as the “Three Men in the Fiery Furnace.” If you are familiar with the book of Daniel you know that, at the end of Daniel 2, Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, seemed to be on the verge of becoming a follower and servant of the God of Israel. Daniel had been the only one who could tell Nebuchadnezzar what he had dreamt and what the meaning of the dream was. (And remember that his explanation of the dream included the assurance of the coming judgment of God, the rock that would cover the whole earth and crush everything – including the statue of gold.)

At the end of the chapter, Nebuchadnezzar said, “Surely Daniel, your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings” (Daniel 2:47). But now it turns out that Nebuchadnezzar has a very selective memory. He conveniently forgets about God and the living stone that will one day fill the earth—the coming of the kingdom of God and God’s shattering judgment. There is surely a lesson for us here: we need to take the time to remember and be thankful for the many and continued blessings that God graciously pours out upon his redeemed people.

Nebuchadnezzar, in his quest to bring the many nations and cultures that he had conquered into ‘one nation,’ issued a command that all the people were to make a pilgrimage out to the plain of Dura, outside of the city of Babylon, where he had built a statue that was 90 feet tall and nine feet wide, made of solid gold. There they would see the most impressive gathering of leaders from all the peoples and cultures ever assembled. If all of that is not enough to compel people to bow down before the statue, then Nebuchadnezzar decreed that failure to comply meant that you would be thrown into a fiery furnace to be burned alive.

I suppose this vast gathering of countless peoples from all tribes and tongues would be a little bit like the opening ceremony of an Olympics—for people who have experienced something like that—except add to it that it’s to be a transcendent, religious experience. Then the music starts, and the people are highly motivated to bow down.

But, in the midst of this vast assembly, in an act that looks like either monumental courage or suicidal folly, three young men refuse to bend the knee. Nobody has much doubt about what will happen next, for these men had powerful enemies. “… at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and brought charges against the Jews.” (v.8) These individuals had been placed under Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, and they’re probably consumed with jealousy. This is their chance to bring them down.

“Then Nebuchadnezzar in rage and anger … said to them, ‘Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? Now if you are ready, at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, and bagpipe, and all kinds of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, very well. But if you will not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?’” (vv.13-15).

Not a Rhetorical Question

One wonders how soon it will before each of us is asked a question like this. Please note that when Nebuchadnezzar asks the question, he’s NOT looking for information. He’s NOT looking for a name. It’s a rhetorical question. He’s just saying, “You better understand there is no escape. There is no way out. You are in my hands. You obey me or else.” This is the type of arrogance and hostility that we are beginning to face in our own country. This is why I think it is important and instructive to understand and contemplate the response of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego.

To Nebuchadnezzar’s surprise, these three men don’t treat his question as a rhetorical question. “Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego answered and said to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king’” (vv.16, 17).

Please note that their answer is truthful and respectful, but uncompromising. They knew who they were – beloved of God – and Whose they were – God’s children. Their faith and confidence came from the only god with whom they regularly communed. The fellowship that they shared is also not only exemplary, but indicative of the courage they demonstrated.

Our God is Able

Now I want to pause here for a moment, because this is a statement of remarkable faith. Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king.” “Our God is able.” I don’t know if it’s possible for followers of God to spend too much time reflecting on stories that teach this one truth: The God who saves us, the God you and I serve, the God who loves us, our God … is able.

Our God is able to reconcile broken marriages; to liberate people from addiction; to heal damaged bodies; to forgive the darkest sin; to provide for the greatest need; to guide with supernatural wisdom; to lead, guide, and direct us when we, in faith, don’t compromise and determine to follow God, speak the truth in love, and submit to his will … especially when the outcome is unknown or the situation is evil or hostile.

“The God we serve is able;” but they don’t stop there. I want to look at another statement of devotion, because I think it’s one of the most powerful any human being has ever made in the Bible, and it is where our faith and trust in God need to be.

I’m sure these young men in summary fashion came to realize the door to every avenue of escape had been closed to them. But in the confidence of the God who is able, they said: “But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (v.18).

But even if He does not …

“Don’t be deceived. Our God can rescue us still, Nebuchadnezzar. The God who drowned Pharaoh’s army and fell Jericho’s walls and dropped Goliath with a stone has lost none of his strength. Our God can rescue us still.  But even if He does not, we have already decided our response. We’ve made up our mind. 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 that you have set up. We will march to our death singing hymns of praise to the only God we will ever serve and love.”

Brothers and sisters, this very same God who caused you into existence and gave you new life through the waters of Holy Baptism, and strengthens you in the Sacrament of the Altar, and daily feeds you through His Word, our God is able. Our God is able to answer our deepest prayers, to fulfill our fondest dreams. But the question before us today is this: What about when He does not?

  • Please remember Job, who refused to dishonor God despite intense suffering day after day with no relief and no explanation, who says these amazing words: “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him” (Job 13:15).
  • Think of Esther who, like these three young men, decided one day to confront a tyrant king for the people of God even though it could mean death. And she says, I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16).

I will speak here for myself and say that too often I am used to, albeit thankful for, the ‘comforts’ I enjoy in this world. I also know that if I experience even a little difficulty in my faith life – or because of my faith life – I begin to ‘bend the knee’ to gods called self-absorption and self-interest and self-pity. I think that “me” is a pretty common idol for us all. I believe that, with all that is taking place today, God is presenting us with an opportunity, that He is renewing His call to us to be fully devoted followers of Christ. Jesus is our Savior but He is also our model, the one that we love, because He first loved us.

Jesus faced a day, an opportunity, once in the garden when He, the Son of God, said, “Father, let this cup pass from me. Do not make me go through this. Spare me this ultimate suffering. You are able. Father, you are able.”

But then he said, “Not my will, but Your will be done, Father. You’re able to spare Me, but even if you do not, I will not turn away. I will drink this cup to the last drop.” And on the cross, the Son of God says of His Father, “Though He slay me, yet I will trust Him.”

Because of Jesus’ completed work on Calvary’s holy altar and Easter’s open tomb, God is able … to forgive, to bless, to care, to continue to lead us through the greatest times of difficulty … and inevitably, to our eternal home with Him.

What if…?

Consider this question: Could it be that the growing hostility that we face towards biblical Christianity today is being used by God for our good? Could it be that through the difficulties we are, and will be, facing that God is calling us to be in the Word and to gather together for study and worship so that we can encourage one another to stand strong in the faith? Could it be that the witness we give will reach or encourage a few others … or countless thousands?

In the faith confidence of an all-loving God, and the supplied strength of the Holy Spirit, may we come to faith-fully confess: “Even when God does not bless in the way I think it should go, I will be His fully devoted follower. My confidence will be in the only true God, and my witness will be to speak the truth in love.”

By the way, if you continue to read the rest of Daniel 3, you will come face to face with another biblical truth: although we often hope that we will never have to suffer for our faith, that we will always be delivered ‘from the furnace,’ God often decides to deliver us in the furnace. He will meet us there.

I look forward to the leading of our God who has clearly promised to never leave or forsake us … and to the encouragement that we can give one another as we walk in faith and live in love. May God’s peace attend you.

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About the Author

Rev. Dr. David P. E. Maier is president emeritus of the Michigan District, LCMS.

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