In a context of confusion and flashy journalism, rigour becomes a precious value.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were delivered from the king’s anger in a miraculous way, as are many Christians today. But thousands each year die for their faith, many more languish in prisons, are tortured, deprived of job and educational opportunities. This world is not worthy of them (Hebrews 11:38).
Few of us in the West are likely today to face the challenge that confronted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego: Worship an idol or die.
But in many parts of the world this is exactly what our brothers and sisters in Christ are facing. In prisons in Muslim countries Christians are invited, Return to Islam and you will be released from prison today and we’ll give you money and a job. In South-East Asia Christian villagers are told, Return to the traditional religion of the village or we will throw you out and confiscate your lands and property - and that means being left to a precarious existence in the jungle.
What decision will they make? Who will they worship? They are our brothers and sisters; they are part of the body of Christ, as 1 Corinthians 12 so eloquently tells us. Are we praying for them, so that they are not alone in the decisions that they have to make?
I live not far from Birmingham, the second city of England. Right in the centre of the city is a massive shopping complex called the Bull Ring; and there in the middle of the Bull Ring, set apart in its own space, is a large metal sculpture of a bull. I have not seen anybody prostrating themselves before this bull or making an offering to it - something that you would see quite regularly if you lived, say, in Nepal - but in the Bull Ring I see thousands of people each day caught up in and worshipping the idols or consumerism and materialism, believing that having more material goods will make them happier people.
Today in the West we no longer worship Diana/Artemis, the many-breasted goddess of the Ephesians who came off second best to Paul’s preaching in the city (see Acts 19). But millions of people in the West are bowing down before the idols of sex: pornography, unfaithfulness, sexual deviation, obsession. Yes, even in the West today we still face the challenge, Who will we worship? Because the idols are not so blatant, it does not mean that they have any less power.
The test for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came in a public place, in the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon (v.1). In Western Europe there are increasing pressures to relegate religion to the private sphere. But if our faith in Christ is worth anything, it must be evident in the public sphere as well. How we handle money and possessions, how we relate to the opposite sex (or for some, to the same sex), how we treat the poor, the marginalised, the disenfranchised of our society, how we handle responsibility and power - all of these are visible and will bear powerful testimony to our faith in Christ.
Sometimes, such as when we care for the poor, we may be commended by the society around us. In other situations, such as with sexual morals or euthanasia, we may be mocked, even despised. Will we hold fast to our faith in Christ, even when this causes us to swim against the tide of our society?
“We do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter,” the three Jewish young men told the most powerful sovereign in the world. The steady decline of Christian faith in Western Europe over the past century has left us so often on the defensive. Yet Jesus Christ does not need defending. Dare we once again have confidence to go on the offensive against the powers of darkness that we see at work in our societies? I am not ashamed of the good news, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, says Paul (Romans 1:16). “The God we serve is able to save us from the blazing furnace,” the young men told the king - and here is the marvel of their faith: “ But 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 you have set up” (v.18).
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were delivered from the king’s anger in a miraculous way, as are many Christians today. But thousands each year die for their faith, many more languish in prisons, are tortured, deprived of job and educational opportunities. This world is not worthy of them (Hebrews 11:38), yet still they remain faithful to their Lord and Saviour.
Your Christian faith may cause you to be promoted at work, as a trustworthy, conscientious person; or it may cause you to be sidelined, as a threat to a corrupt system which depends much on patronage and lies. The challenge of Joshua comes to us afresh: Choose for yourselves this day who you will serve (Joshua 24:15). Let us say with him, As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord - whatever the cost.