Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16–18)
It takes great faith to believe God can work a miracle. Perhaps it takes greater faith to believe even when he does not.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are commanded, along with the entire Babylonian Empire, to bow to an image of gold constructed by King Nebuchadnezzar. As the sea of people bow in reverence to the idol, these three young men stand as a tiny band of resistance against the most powerful empire in their world. What gave them the strength to do this? These young men had a vision. They could see an ultimate reality that others could not even imagine, and they staked their very lives on their all-out trust in God.
They were possessed by what Karl Barth called, “the defiant nevertheless”—a surrendered dependence that empowered them to face the flames. Perhaps this is the purest form of faith. This is the true hope of this story. It reveals that, in times of trial, God not only demonstrates his power, but even more, he gives his presence. It is interesting that God does not keep them from the fire; he keeps them through it. In the thick of the flames, we are not consumed, because there he is walking with us. And we are reminded that throughout Scripture, fire has been used to represent the intensity of God’s presence.
Our God has always been with us in the fire. For Moses, he was in the burning bush and the pillar of fire and cloud. For Elijah, he consumed the offering with fire from heaven. For Isaiah, his presence filled the temple and he promised to see us through the flood and flames. And, of course, at Pentecost our hearts are set ablaze by his Spirit poured out to fill and empower us.
God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, teach me to depend on you. These three young men had no way out unless you made the way. Yet they placed their trust in you. They believed you could perform the miracle, but they were prepared to believe even if you did not. Please cultivate in us “the defiant nevertheless,” that surrendered dependence that is not swayed by the prospect of outcome. In Jesus’ name, amen.
What does it mean to embrace “the defiant nevertheless”? Share a situation in your life that is calling for this scope of reckless surrender.
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