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Extreme Convictions
Daniel 3:5-25

 

Those of us who pray for the persecuted church, mourned the loss of Cardinal Ignatius Kung who died last month at the age of 98. Though I'm not a Catholic, I admire Cardinal Kung who stood by his convictions, and withstood persecution for his faith.

He was ordained as a Bishop of Shanghai in 1949, shortly after the communists took over China. The Chinese government pressured him to align his loyalties to the "Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association," he refused, choosing to remain loyal to his church's chain of command. In 1955, the authorities brought he and 200 other priests to a stadium in Shanghai. The government ordered them to "confess their crimes." Instead, Kung shouted "Long live Christ the King! Long live the Pope."

Shortly thereafter, he received a life sentence, where he spent the next 30 years in prison, most of the time in solitary confinement. He was freed in 1987 and finally arrived to his final resting place last month. (From Fresh Illustrations)

Though there are some distinct differences between my theology and Cardinal Kung's, I admire his courage. He is a man who lived life to the extreme. He had extreme convictions.

State sponsored persecution isn't new and Cardinal Kung isn't the first to withstand the "wrath of the King" to remain true to his God. My favorite story of people who lived life with extreme conviction is the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego.

Their King decided he was worthy of worship and made a proclamation to the people. They were to pay homage to his golden image whenever he wanted them to. Look in Daniel, chapter 3 verse 5 and follow with me as I read: "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." (Dan 3:5-6)

The King seems a bit fanatical doesn't he? I suppose all leaders have their egos, but this guy seems to have a real ego problem. His request seems totally unreasonable to me, but his subjects didn't seem to mind, they all complied. Look at verse 7, "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."

Well, Almost all, there were a few troublemakers who didn't want to play the King's games, look in verse 8, " For this reason at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and brought charges against the Jews. [9] They responded and said to Nebuchadnezzar the king: "O king, live forever! [10] "You yourself, 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. [11] "But whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire. [12] "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." 

The tattle tail Chaldeans report Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego's noncompliance to the King and interpreted it as defiance against the King's authority.

So here we are. We've got an out-of-control King with an ego that would flood the Grand Canyon. We've got a group of goody-two-shoes King's pets tattling on three "dangerous renegades." And we've got three Hebrews standing firm.

Think for a moment, what do you think the King is going to do? Will he respond to the offense with a punishment that matches the crime, something like send them to bed without their supper? Or will he blow a fuse?

You're absolute right. The King totally blew a fuse. He questioned the Hebrew children, then made a big mistake when he expanded the battle between he and them to he and their God! Look at the end of verse 15, "But if you will 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?" 

That's a line that Nebuchadnezzar was a fool to cross. He began to believe his own propaganda, and was ready to take on God. 

Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego didn't respond in kind; they didn't get angry, nor did they level threats against the King. With level heads, they said, "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." (3:17-18 )

We serve a big God! Amen? There are no obstacles too big for Him, He can handle our diseases, He can handle our finances, and He can handle our biggest problems. Am I right? That's not up for debate. But there is an element of the unknown for most of us. Will we remain faithful to Him even if he doesn't intervene? Or do we feel entitled? Can we say with Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego "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."

Cardinal Kung had 30 years to ponder that question, and he passed the test. He said, even if God leaves me in this solitary jail cell, I'll not buckle and compromise my faith. Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego had 30 seconds and they came to the same conclusion.

But instead of wasting away in solitude, they faced the worst kind of death--death by fire. Let's rejoin the story in verse 19. "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."

Satan doesn't like it when believers are faithful, and he will always turn up the heat! Nebuchadnezzar gave orders to make the fire seven-times hotter and has his most valiant men throw them in the fire (20-22). The furnace was so hot, his men perished, but not the victims of his wrath, they were doing just fine.

In verse 25 the King learns of the men's fate from his high official, "He answered and 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!" 

Nebuchadnezzar threw in three men who wouldn't compromise their faith, and a fourth one joined them. I believe it was Christ Himself. The one who would say no to Satan and yes to the Cross made a pre Calvary appearance to "walk through the valley of the shadow of death" with three courageous men! 

Sometimes God saves us from the fire, and we are rescued from peril. Sometimes He saves us through the fire, and walks with us in the midst of our troubles, and sometimes He saves us in spite of the fire and greets us on the other side.

How extreme are your convictions? Are you willing to die for them? Are you willing to live for them? Will you stay true to them knowing God will be faithful? Will you stay true to them even if he doesn't rescue you?

In memory of Cardinal Kung I read this scripture, "Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. [11] "Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. [12] "Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matthew 5:10-12) 

Cardinal Kung was a blessed man. And now, are you ready to be that blessed? Or will you only remain faithful to God if things go your way?

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