In the news articles I read daily, there’s a lot of talk about Christian persecution. In my mind those words form images of tyrannical governments or radical religions stamping out any Christian influence in their countries, illustrated by pictures of torture, imprisonment or burned-out churches and homes, even murder.
And yet, Christians throughout much of the world, who live under a cloud of terror, continue to survive, worship and even serve the Lord – many out in the open, others meeting in secret within an oppressed nation.
Being discovered as a Christian in North Korea is a death sentence. If you aren’t killed instantly, you will be sent to a harsh labor camp where death comes much more slowly. It is estimated 50,000 to 70,000 Christians are currently imprisoned there. Yet behind the headline of persecution, a massive underground church exists in North Korea, estimated to be around 500,000 believers and growing.
In every country controlled by a primary religion, that religion determines who is legitimate and who must be minimized or removed. If their harassment can’t get Christians to leave or stop their practice, they must eliminate them. That religion may be Islam, Hinduism or any other traditional religious practice, or it may be atheistic socialism or communism. Or, as in North Korea, emperor worship.
In America, most persecution comes from the current socialist movement which redefines the Church as non-essential. We’ve been told to change our beliefs to fit into the progressive agenda which includes accepting abortion, alternative lifestyles and exclusion when it comes to national affairs. The goal is to diminish the influence of the Church forming the moral fabric of our nation.
Though it is hard to place what we experience in the same category of the types of persecution others face, it remains a growing factor of American life. By social conflict, to restrictions, to removing 1st Amendment rights, the church is being silenced by insult, harassment or humiliation.
At this very moment, lawsuits are under way to determine whether the measures of reinstated Obama Care can place social restrictions on the medical field. One attorney said, “The harmful Transgender Mandate undermines the federal government’s own medical experts’ advice on treating children with gender dysphoria, yet, politicians and activists are trying to force private doctors, on pain of severe punishment, to perform controversial procedures that can be deeply harmful to patients.” Another attorney fighting against this says, “The transgender mandate threatens to drive religious doctors from the profession.”
California passed a bill this past week that will fine any retailer $1000 who has separate sections for girls and boys clothing. The push is to create a non-gender society.
Last week, the New Mexico legislature removed the protection from any doctor or hospital who refuses to perform abortions on demand because of personal ethics. This push, on the larger scale, is to disconnect Christians from their convictions.
The Equality Act recently passed by the House is so dangerous to our society, it is like an engineered social virus that will steal, kill and destroy the very substance of life in America from women’s sports, to little girls having to share bathrooms with grown men, to who you can hire at your own business, which will even affect churches and Christian schools if the Senate supports it. Pray they don’t.
During last Thursday's House Debate over the Equality Act, a Congressman opposed the measure by pointing to God and the Bible to direct legislatures to God’s expressed will. Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York asserted that “God's will is of no concern to this Congress.”
What do you do when you oppose what’s handed down from the governmental leaders who contradict what you know the Bible speaks against? Do you hide your beliefs and hope you never have to face a choice to live or die because of what you know is true? Or do you stand firm in your convictions, regardless of the consequences?
Which takes us to the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. How do you stand firm on the basis of your knowledge of God’s will when it may cost you your job, your freedom or your life?
Their story actually begins in Daniel 2 with Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. In the dream, he saw a huge statue with various materials combined to represent the nations that would follow to control the world. Babylon was represented by gold, Persia, silver. Bronze, Greece. And the Iron was Rome. So, being inspired that Babylon was represented by the gold, Neb. created a golden statue, probably of himself, for the people to worship.
Dan 3:1-6 Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, the height of which was sixty cubits and its width six cubits; he set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. Then Nebuchadnezzar the king sent word to assemble the satraps, the prefects and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates and all the rulers of the provinces to come to the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up. Then the satraps, the prefects and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates and all the rulers of the provinces were assembled for the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up; and they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Then the herald loudly proclaimed: "To you the command is given, O peoples, nations and men of every language, that at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, bagpipe and all kinds of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king has set up. But whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire."
Now for three Hebrew men, this was a direct violation of the first two commandments: you shall have no other gods before Me and you shall not create an image to worship. To honor God, what else could they do but refuse.
Dan 3:7-12 Therefore at that time, when all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, bagpipe and all kinds of music, all the peoples, nations and men of every language fell down and worshiped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up. For this reason at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and brought charges against the Jews. They responded and said to Nebuchadnezzar the king: "O king, live forever! You, O king, have made a decree that every man who hears the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, and bagpipe and all kinds of music, is to fall down and worship the golden image. But whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire. There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the administration of the province of Babylon, namely Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. These men, O king, have disregarded you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up."
Persecution usually comes at a point of disagreement. When someone cannot tolerate another person’s viewpoint or practice, that person must be forced to change or be removed. This is the practice of Islam and Hinduism. But it is also the demand of atheism. Threatened by those whose beliefs not only contradict but expose the fallacy of those religions, they will do whatever is necessary to remove the threat whether it’s from individuals or whole communities of infidels.
This is what the Nazi’s did to the Jews during the holocaust. It was what Rome tried to do with both Jews and Christians. It’s what the Catholic Church did during the Spanish Inquisition. It’s what the Serbians did to the Albanians. It’s what the Iraqis tried to do to the Kurds. It’s what Russia used to do and North Korea now does to all Christians.
Why would the Chaldeans (the wise and influential men) bring charges against Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego? Partly, jealousy. Remember at the end of Chapter 2, Neb. placed these three men into important positions of his government. That’ll chap some hides. Uncontrolled jealousy leads to personal vendettas. But these three also stood in opposition to the common narrative of the day. Everyone must worship the image. Had Nebuchadnezzar found out that the Chaldeans knew of these three men and didn’t report them, they would all be thrown into the furnace.
Sound familiar? Everyone must do this or believe this or practice this or else. And if you see your neighbor or a business or family member not complying, turn them in. That’s been the policy of the city of Houston and Harris County during Covid.
That’s the heart of persecution. Persecutors persecute to protect themselves and their agenda. Anyone who disagrees is a threat.
Dan 3:13-15 Then Nebuchadnezzar in rage and anger gave orders to bring Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego; then these men were brought before the king. Nebuchadnezzar responded and 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 do 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?"
It’s hard for us to imagine having a knife to our throat or a gun pointed at our head or be forced to watch our family killed to force us to deny the Lord. But, according to Open Doors, every day, thirteen people are martyred for their faith. For no other reason than they are Christians. They are not revolting or raising up an army or planning to overtake the government. They are simply Christians practicing their faith.
But Jesus said: Matt 5:10-11 "Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.
How can there be blessing on the other side of persecution? 1Sam 2:30 the LORD declares, those who honor Me I will honor… Standing firm means honoring God is our ultimate objective and is more important than our own lives. This cuts across the grain of every one of us. Preserving our own life is our highest priority. And in defense of that, some will say, “Beliefs don’t matter. When they tell me they’ll let me live if all I have to do is deny the Lord, I’ll do it. They’re just words. In my heart God knows what I really believe. I’ll say what they want and keep my fingers crossed behind my back.”
From a report by witnesses of Polycarp’s death: As Polycarp was being taken into the arena in Smyrna, a voice came to him from heaven: “Be strong, Polycarp!” No one saw who had spoken, but our brothers who were there heard the voice. When the crowd heard that Polycarp had been captured, there was an uproar. The Proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp. On hearing that he was, he tried to persuade him to apostatize, saying, “Have respect for your old age, swear by the fortune of Caesar. Repent, and say, ‘Down with the Atheists!’” Polycarp looked grimly at the wicked heathen multitude in the stadium, and gesturing towards them said, “Down with the Atheists!” “Swear,” urged the Proconsul, “reproach Christ, and I will set you free.” Polycarp answered, “86 years have I have served him and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?” Polycarp was then burned alive. To Polycarp, they weren’t just words.
Do you think Peter’s denial was just words? Matt 26:74-75 Then he began to curse and swear, "I do not know the man!" And immediately a rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, "Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times." And he went out and wept bitterly.
We can’t play a game with honoring God. We will either honor Him or we won’t. A lie to escape death does not honor Him. And it costs us the blessing of the persecuted.
Listen to Paul’s encouragement to those experiencing persecution: 2Cor 4:7-10 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.
All we need is always provided for whatever we face. But what about those who die or are tortured or whose house gets burned? Did God fail to provide for them? No. God never fails His children. He blessed them in ways we cannot understand on this side of Heaven.
So, before the persecution reaches desperate proportions, we need to decide what we are willing to stand for and even, if necessary, to die for.
Dan 3:13-18 Then Nebuchadnezzar in rage and anger gave orders to bring Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego; then these men were brought before the king. Nebuchadnezzar responded and 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 do 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?" Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego replied 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. 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."
Dan 3:19-27 Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with wrath, and his facial expression was altered toward Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. He answered by giving orders to heat the furnace seven times more than it was usually heated. He commanded certain valiant warriors who were in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego in order to cast them into the furnace of blazing fire. Then these men were tied up in their trousers, their coats, their caps and their other clothes, and were cast into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire. For this reason, because the king's command was urgent and the furnace had been made extremely hot, the flame of the fire slew those men who carried up Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. But these three men, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, fell into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire still tied up. Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astounded and stood up in haste; he said to his high officials, "Was it not three men we cast bound into the midst of the fire?" They replied to the king, "Certainly, O king." He said, "Look! I see four men loosed and walking about in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!" Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the furnace of blazing fire; he responded and said, "Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, come out, you servants of the Most High God, and come here!" Then Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego came out of the midst of the fire. The satraps, the prefects, the governors and the king's high officials gathered around and saw in regard to these men that the fire had no effect on the bodies of these men nor was the hair of their head singed, nor were their trousers damaged, nor had the smell of fire even come upon them.
Here is our assurance: When we face the fire, we’ll not be doing it alone. God’s promise to not forsake us doesn’t mean we’ll not die, or go to prison or suffer some measure of indignity. It means, in whatever we face He will be with us. The greatest promise we can hold onto is God will never leave us nor forsake us. What was the last thing Jesus said before He ascended back into Heaven? I am with you, always.
That is the hope I try to give during a funeral. I use Ps 23 a lot because even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we do not need to be afraid, for our God is with us. He walks with us through that valley. It’s what we can count on.
Isa 43:1-3 But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel, "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you. For I am the LORD your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Deliverer;
Sometimes he takes us out of the fire. At other times He takes us through the fire. But at all times, He is with us in the fire. Because He is our Deliverer.
The result: Dan 3:28-30 Nebuchadnezzar responded and said, "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, who has sent His angel and delivered His servants who put their trust in Him, violating the king's command, and yielded up their bodies so as not to serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation or tongue that speaks anything offensive against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego shall be torn limb from limb and their houses reduced to a rubbish heap, inasmuch as there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way." Then the king caused Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego to prosper in the province of Babylon.
When I was in college, the cry was for tolerance. Allow people their own beliefs and practices. Who are you to impose your standards on other people? You don’t have to approve of what they do, just tolerate them. Yet, today that has turned around and those who cried for tolerance are now intolerant of us who have practices and beliefs they can’t tolerate. Where do you draw the line between a person’s convictions and society’s persecution of those who disagree?
For Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, the line was drawn inside a furnace of blazing fire. Where is our line drawn? This is where I stand. Upon this truth, I will not be moved. I will not bow down and worship the golden statue.
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. 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.
I believe that day is coming. I believe from here on out to the return of Jesus, we will experience more and more persecution for what we believe. Choose with me, that when it comes, we will honor God.
- It’s best to decide in advance how we choose to act before the challenge comes.
- If we wait until the moment to decide, pressure to conform will press us beyond our ability to stand firm.
- Convictions are truths we will stand on regardless of what’s going on.
- Without convictions, our beliefs are not enough.
- To stand firm, we need a higher calling – to honor God above self.