One of the most familiar stories in the Bible reveals some of the deepest truths about God and us. In Daniel chapter three we find three Hebrew young men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in a very precarious situation. Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar had issued a decree demanding worship of a statue made in his likeness. The most powerful man in the world has decreed that at the sound of his band’s music all people are to bow down so that he might be worshiped and glorified as a god. What are three young men who are devoted to worshiping the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to do?
They stand tall. The consequence of their faithful devotion to God was a death sentence by fire. They had two choices: Recant and live by worshiping Nebuchadnezzar, OR be burned alive. Their choice:
“Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “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.” (Daniel 3:16-18 ESV)
They chose to worship in the face of certain death. These three young men declared that God would rescue them and they would win! They also declared that if God chose not to rescue them – they would still win! Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego believed that the one true God was the greater prize – even greater than their own lives. To these faithful men knowing Yahweh, the LORD, was sufficient – no matter how He satisfied their desires. Their circumstances didn’t determine whether or not they worshiped. Their worship declared the greatness and faithfulness of God to their circumstances.
It didn’t change an evil king’s heart though. They found themselves being thrown to their fiery death. Then God showed up on their behalf. Nebuchadnezzar looks into the fiery furnace and is astonished to find FOUR – not three men standing unaffected by the flames. Jesus had shown up. The game had changed. Worship broke out in the city. This changed the King’s heart and he too declared that Babylon should worship the God of these Hebrew boys. He even wrote a song:
“It has seemed good to me to show the signs and wonders that the Most High God has done for me.
How great are his signs,
how mighty his wonders!
His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and his dominion endures from generation to generation.
This was sweeter worship. Mountaintop victory is sweeter when we’ve faithfully languished in the valley of despair. The thrill of victory is sweeter after we’ve fought and worshiped through defeat after defeat.
The moral of the story: Jesus is the prize for WHO He is, not WHAT He can do for us. In this moment we discover – that no matter what circumstances we face: WE WILL WIN! Because no matter what this world may take from us, we get JESUS!
This is what my dear sister Leslie Vogel understands. Earlier this week, while facing death square in the face she wrote:
David and I were in the car the other day and I was not having a good day. I was upset and sad and scared. I was feeling so left out and so hurt. I was questioning God and why He wouldn’t want to save me, why He wouldn’t want me to be a mother or grow old with my husband…
David put on some music and said, “We need to worship right now.”
I looked at him like He was a crazy person. How could I worship God right then? I was pretty upset with Him. How could I tell Him how wonderful He was, when I felt like He had forgotten me.
But David was insistent. So at first I started to sing half-heartedly. I was just letting the words come out, but not really feeling it. But the more I sang, the more I wanted to sing. As the song went on, tears came to my eyes and I knew the words I was singing were true. I couldn’t deny them, even though I can’t see them played out in my life yet.
My song was not pretty.
My song was broken.
My voice cracked because of my tears.
There were many times I couldn’t even get the words out.
But I think I truly worshipped God.
This is what Paul understood when he wrote:
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:55-57 ESV)
A couple years latter Paul would win Jesus by way of beheading. Death still had no victory or sting!
Worship is sweeter when we discover that this life is not the prize, but that Jesus is the prize.