This is what we really have in mind when we think of following God. We've got the "trump card" that will enable us to come out on top, no matter what. We want to be able to play the God card and receive deliverance from all our troubles. . . and if He is glorified along the way, even better! As we look closer, I'm not sure this is what we really want after all. I mean, the final scene is great, but when you look at the whole story . . . I might rather take a pass.
The key issue is this: God delivers us from trouble. That is what we want and what we need. Our sins and the sins of those around us get us into difficulty, trial, and trouble. In this case, we see both. It was both the sins of the individual Israelites and the corporate sins of the nation of Israel that led God to judge them by the hand of a foreign nation. That led to the overthrow of Israel and caused these young men to be led into captivity. While in exile in Babylon, it was not their sin but the sin of King Nebuchadnezzar that brought them trouble. No matter who we are or where we reside, our lives will encounter trouble as the result of our sin or the sins of those around us.
The problem is this: God doesn't deliver us from trouble, He delivers us through it. We want deliverance from trouble - meaning that I never have to walk through the difficulty. We want God to keep us from all hurt and harm. However, throughout Scripture, we see that God is a God who delivers us through trouble. Our lives are preserved and He is glorified, but we have to journey through the difficulty. Once we reach the other side, we find that it is a place of prosperity (Ps. 66:8-12). We have a better understanding of who God is, we are better equipped to trust Him, our character is refined, and our lives prosper as a result. However, to get there we have to endure the trial. We have to face the difficulty ahead with no hope but God.
As we read these words, the challenge does not seem so great. Ok, here comes some difficulty, so I have to remain focused on Jesus and He'll see me through. In the abstract, it all seems so simple. But then, we face the situation in real life and everything changes.
The reality is, we are not promised deliverance in the sense we read it here. In fact, these stories are ones that sound great because God chose to grant them deliverance and spare their lives. They were not guaranteed that ahead of time. Death was a real possibility. Throughout history, God has often granted deliverance to His children by allowing them to come home to Him instead of retaining their lives on earth. The ones who lived through their trials are not better than those who did not, they were simply given a different course, because that was God's choice for them (see Heb. 11:32-40, Acts 7:54-60 for two examples).
In this case, Daniel was facing death. His only hope was to turn to God. Perhaps God would grant him the ability to do the impossible. Everyone agreed that what had to be done could not be done. However, Daniel realized that God could do it if He chose. The problem for Daniel was that God did not have to do the impossible and if he didn't, Daniel would die. That cold, hard reality should never escape us. But God did the impossible. The result? Everyone worships the God of heaven. He has demonstrated that He is far greater than the king, the "wise men," and even Daniel. He alone is God.
Nebuchadnezzar had not learned his lesson and builds an idol to himself. In his mind, he was the greatest power in the world and deserved the worship of all people. This was not the reality and the three young Hebrews knew it. To worship him would be an offense to the One True God. So they refused. But this did not take place in a climate of religious tolerance like we live in. This took place in a time when the king's words were law. Their actions could bring only one outcome - death.
The king threatens this exact thing and the response is beautiful. "The God we serve is able to save us . . . but even if he does not . . . we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." (3:17-18)
At this point, we want the skies to part and God to slay the king or something like that. But He doesn't. God's children find that their hands are bound and they are sentenced to die. As they approach the fire, it is so hot that some of the strongest warriors in the king's command drop dead. When they fall, the Hebrew men fall into the fire. What were they thinking? Did they think God had chosen to not rescue them? Were they still looking for His deliverance? What do we think as the circumstances worsen?
They find themselves in the furnace. The furnace that has already killed several soldiers. They look around and see that none of them are burned. In fact, the fire has no effect at all, except one. The ropes that bound them are gone. God has used the fire to remove the thing that held them back. As they look around to see what has happened, they see the greatest thing of all. There, in the middle of the fire, when all hope is lost, Jesus is standing with them.
We never know the outcome of the trials we face. Our faith does not guarantee that the diagnosis will be proven wrong, the problems will disappear, or that no trouble will ever touch us. One thing our faith does guarantee is that Jesus will be there with us in the middle of the worst of it all. Jesus, who faced every trial and difficulty we will ever face. Jesus, who died in our place and faced death, the most feared of all penalties, on our behalf. Jesus, who still bears the marks of His deliverance and ours on His hands and side. Jesus is right there with us.
Jesus is with you and He is God's deliverance.