Cancel Culture and a Fiery Furnace

Text: Daniel 3:1-30

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” —Isaiah 43:2

In the 1920’s, Eric Liddell was one of the greatest 100m sprinters Scotland had ever produced. Known as the “Flying Scotsman,” Liddell was in the spotlight and poised to bring home the gold medal during the 1924 Olympics. That is, until his convictions got in the way. Oh, how faith can sometimes be inconvenient! The 100m finals in Paris were scheduled on a Sunday and Eric believed that running on the Sabbath was dishonoring to God, so he refused to participate in the 100m. As the media can so readily do, they pounced on Liddell by vilifying him and labeling him a traitor. He found himself the brunt of “cancel culture” long before the phrase was ever coined.

Has your faith ever caused you to act on principles or convictions that got you into trouble with the culture or social norms? When I read the Bible I see countless heroes who sacrificed everything, not just social vilification, but their entire lives to remain obedient to God in the face of intense persecution. Hebrews 11 gives us a summary of the many who faced suffering, torture, and death for their faith. If we think that we can somehow skate through this world without paying a price for our faith in one way or another, we might have the wrong faith! The Bible makes it unmistakably clear that our faith—if genuine—will cause us to be canceled or vilified in some way (John 15:18-25).

In our current devotional series from the book of Daniel, we come to chapter three, where King Nebuchadnezzar erects a golden statue to which he commands all the people to bow down and worship. Here we see a discernible link connecting to Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2 (last week’s devotion) and the image he made in Daniel 3. As God gave Daniel the interpretation for the king’s dream, we saw that only the head was gold (symbolizing that Babylon was a temporary kingdom). When Nebuchadnezzar deliberately made an entire statue of gold in chapter 3, it appears he is arrogantly portraying his reign and authority as one that would never end—in defiance of God’s clear interpretation of his dream.

Nebuchadnezzar goes into full-scale tyrannical mode. He sends for all the prefects, governors, and public officials to come and gather for the dedication of his statue. The mandate to attend the ceremony indicates that he is using the worship of this image to test the allegiance of his people. Orders were given that when the musicians and party DJ began to play the music, “you are to fall down and worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.” Anyone who didn’t conform by bowing down to the golden image was to be immediately thrown into a burning fiery furnace. No mercy!

When it all went down, there were three young men standing in defiance of the king’s orders. They are the same youths we read about in Daniel 1 who declined to conform to the king’s defiled meal plan. Now Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down to the king’s statue. They understood what this kind of idolatry yielded. Their knees wouldn’t bow for anything except the one true God of heaven and earth. They counted the cost of their faith and determined to obey God rather than man.

The young lads’ refusal to participate in Nebuchadnezzar’s sin party caught the eye of some Chaldeans, who had obvious political motivation, and reported these Jews to the king. This was ancient Babylon’s way of appropriating cancel culture—a heated furnace was typically involved! Nebuchadnezzar was furious, threatening to throw the boys into his fiery furnace. He challenged the young men, “who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” Their response is unflinching: “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, 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.”

These boys were ready to die for their faith. They were determined that even if God didn’t physically rescue them, they still weren’t going to bow down to the bullying tactics meant to compromise their faith. If they were to burn, they would burn in honor of their convictions and not selling out to cultural conformity.

You’ve probably read this story before and know how it ends. Nebuchadnezzar ordered the furnace to be heated seven times more than it was usually heated, meaning “as hot as possible.” But after these guys were thrown into the furnace, a fourth person surprisingly accompanied them in the fire, described “like the son of the gods.” This manifestation has been explained as a Christophany (a physical appearance of Christ before his incarnation) or an angel. Either way, this is a physical demonstration of God’s presence with believers in their distress, a graphic fulfillment of the Lord’s promise in Isaiah 43:2. The Lord promised his presence with his people, ensuring that their trials and difficulties would not utterly overwhelm them. He always walks with us through the fire. We are never alone!

Nebuchadnezzar is amazed that the fire has no power over these young men. He pulls them from the fire and is so impressed with the witness of their faith that he changes the laws of the land to honor their God.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego never flinched. They never tried to hide their convictions. They didn’t pick a fight, but when it came to them, they were ready to contend for the faith (Jude 1:3). They understood that blending into culture for the sake of approval or acceptance wasn’t an option. Only God was worthy of their allegiance. As Charles Spurgeon wrote:

“You will not be able to go through life without being discovered: a lighted candle cannot be hid. There is a feeling among some good people that it will be wise to be very reticent, and hide their light under a bushel. They intend to lie low all the wartime, and come out when the palms are being distributed. They hope to travel to heaven by the back lanes, and skulk into glory in disguise. Ah me, what a degenerate set!… If you cannot be true to Christ, if your coward heart is recreant to your Lord, do not profess to be his disciple, I beseech you. He that is married to the world, or flinthearted, had better return to his house, for he is of no service in this war.”

If you choose to be obedient to Christ, you too may have to take unpopular stands that may pit you against the culture. You may be mocked, ostracized, unfairly treated, and even vilified. But in the midst of such treatment, we are called to “live such good lives among the [unsaved] that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds” so that they may “glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12). Are you ready for what your faith might cost you? Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

God, you alone are worthy of my allegiance. You are the one who bankrupted heaven to pay the ransom for my sins. You sent Jesus to this earth knowing that He would be flogged by an angry mob, beaten and crucified, so that I could be rescued from the dominion of darkness. You already went to hell and back for my redemption, so there is no fiery furnace in which you will abandon me to myself. Thank you for that assurance. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. What spectacular fireworks display stands out in your memory?
  2. What did King Nebuchadnezzar make and what were the people commanded to do? (Daniel 3:1-6)
  3. How did Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego respond to the king (Daniel 3:16-18)? What do you think gave them that kind of boldness?
  4. What did the crowd observe when the men came out of the fire, and how did the king respond to God’s deliverance of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? (Daniel 3:26-30)   
  5. What would make you confident or afraid if your safety were threatened because of your faith in God? If God chose not to rescue you from intense personal suffering, how would this affect your faith? What are you willing to risk in order to obey God’s clear commands?

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This VBS curriculum is based on the Old Testament book of Daniel. The theme teaches children how to live with courage in uncertain times. It was designed as a camp curriculum for children 8-12 years of age. Can also serve as a 5-week Sunday morning children’s ministry teaching series.

When Faith Requires You to Stand Alone

Text: Daniel 3:1-30

“When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.” —Isaiah 43:2

In the 4th century, an early Christian leader stood up against the heresy of his times. This “Black Dwarf,” as his enemies often called him, was exiled five times by four Roman emperors. Athanasius stood firmly in his beliefs even when others called him arrogant, stubborn, and narrow-minded. When a concerned colleague warned, “The whole world is against you,” Athanasius replied, “Then it is Athanasius against the world.”

It takes courage to stand alone, and oftentimes we find ourselves in situations and places where our faith requires us to do so—unless you are living in some quarantined spiritual bubble or hiding out in a religious bunker sheltered from the rest of the world.

When your faith requires you to stand alone, how do you respond? Is this a comfortable place for you?

In our quest to be liked and accepted, it is reassuring to remember the words of our Lord: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” and “a servant is not greater than his master” (John 15:18, 20). What Jesus faced, his followers can expect to face.

In Daniel 3, three young teenagers walked with God in the midst of a godless society. Their faith required them to stand alone in a way that jeopardized their very lives. When the narcissistic King Nebuchadnezzar commanded everyone in his kingdom to bow down and worship a golden image of himself, these three teenagers refused to give in to this blatant form of idolatry.

They knew full well that the penalty for disregarding the king’s order was death, but they were ready to give up their lives before they were going to give up their faith (Daniel 3:17-18).

Consequently, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were tied up and thrown into a fiery furnace, heated seven times hotter than usual. But as the Babylonian king looked on, he saw not just the three—but four—men in the furnace, unfazed by the flames and walking around freely.

It’s assumed that Jesus was the fourth man in the furnace that day—the same Jesus who walks with you through your fire. We should never compromise our faith in fear of having to walk alone or suffer hardship. Isaiah assures us “When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you” (Isaiah 43:2).

Where might your faith be requiring you to stand alone in this hour? Wherever God calls you to stand, remember that it is He who stands there with you! Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, we live in a world that seems increasingly hostile to our faith. Let us not return hostility for hostility, but in the manner of our Lord Jesus Christ, overcome evil with good. And when our faith requires us to stand alone, may we stand with uncompromising resolve and transcending peace that you go with us through the fire. In Jesus’ name, Amen..

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. Have you ever faced a hardship that felt like it was you against the world? Share your story.
  2. When has your faith ever required you to stand alone?
  3. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were prepared to die for their faith even if God didn’t show up to rescue them (Daniel 3:17-18). What do you suppose gave them this kind of resolve? Do you see this kind of faith prevalent in our society today? Why or why not?
  4. Does your faith have an “if not” clause in it? “Our God is able to deliver us,” is preferable. But if He doesn’t, are you still going to worship and serve Him? Explain.
  5. Read Romans 8:35-39. What confidence can this passage afford you in times of hardship, distress, or persecution?

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