Another year is on a relentless sprint towards December. Father Time, usually depicted as an elderly man with an hourglass and scythe, is a very fit being indeed – no slowing down. He seems not to be affected by the virus at all. The countries of the world, on the other hand, seem to ride some wave, higher or lower than the next in the stormy seas of politics, policy and statistics. Some could find a life-belt, some are gasping for air. Life goes on. It does not wait for panic attacks and heartache. So many people have lost loved ones because of the virus, but also because life ends in death – the natural progression of things. The medical world is still reeling on the front line of the struggle.
Anger and confusion are everywhere. The political, economic, and social impact of the virus will be scrutinized and dissected by various disciplines for a long time to come. Mostly people are struggling to regain some sort of normality, whatever that could mean for them. The debate on “normalizing” society is heated and sharp-edged and comfortably inside the church.
Times of crisis call for the powerful preaching of God’s word and the living prophetic word in the mouth of his children. The first source of the voice of God for the prophet (us in the Church of Jesus) is the Word that we have in our hand. Do we speak the encouragement and fearlessness that the Word calls us to?
Salvation is foremost on the agenda. We speak stability over our times and the abundance of salvation, wisdom and knowledge. The fear of the Lord is the guide for our talk. (Isaiah 33:6)
We are not helpless and rudderless on the stormy sea of virus-politics. Our future is not determined by the blustery wildness of politicians announcing regulations, dust swirls of bad news or even the thunderstorms of threats and foolish policies of those who rule over us. For the church, the fiery furnace is the place of revelation knowledge – the gate of heaven [Pebbles 211]
Time travel with me to a plain just outside the magnificent palace of Nebuchadnezzar in the capital of the most powerful empire in the ancient world at that stage. (+/- 600 BC) The mighty city, Babylon, on the banks of the Euphrates river is a collection of ancient ruins just south of Bagdad in modern day Iraq, about fifteen hundred kilometers from Jerusalem. The name means “gate of the gods”. In Biblical context Babel depicts confusion. The English word babble means to talk rapidly in a foolish and incomprehensible way – a derivative of the confusion of languages at the Tower of Babel.
Somewhere in the coiling arrogance of the Emperor, he decides to construct an image of himself to be worshipped – on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. He compiles an impressive guest list of higher officials to celebrate his greatness. As the orchestra started playing, everyone had to bow down in reverence and worship to the statue of gold. Anyone who would not comply would immediately be executed by death in the fiery furnace prepared for any rebellion.
Worship to an image is no problem to an idol worshipper who anyway makes the decision for his own gods by his own choosing. Most of them fell down in mindless submission so that the eating and drinking of a multi-day feast could begin.
The law was written in stone for the three Jewish managers of the province of Babylon: You shall not worship any other God than JHWH, the most high. In the sea of bent-over bodies, three standing figures stood out like a sore thumb for all to see. The decision to do what would bring imminent death, was engraved on the table of their hearts.
Before the feasting could begin, everyone had to watch an execution. The honour of the great Nebuchadnezzar could not be tainted by his own appointees. They will be reduced to ashes blown away by the wind of his might.
The fiery furnace was made hotter than ever, taking the lives of its operators. The words of the three Jews before Nebuchadnezzar stand for time and eternity as the ultimate attitude in the face of death.
“O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18)
Even if it were their last day on earth they would not bow before an image in worship. In their words they state the greatness and almighty ability of God and submit to his will as the ultimate executioner of their lives.
In front of the oven is chaos. The executioners die of the fire, but somehow manage to get the bound men inside. The men in the fiery furnace is the dramatic turn-around of the most powerful man on earth at the time. I am very sure that nobody in his audience that day expected these words.
Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished; and he rose in haste and spoke, saying to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?”
They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.”
“Look!” he answered, “I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” (Daniel 3:24-26)
When the Church is in the fiery furnace of brokenness and the secular circumstances are set scorch and scald, what will the unbeliever see? Will they see the Fourth Man?
There in the fire walks the Son of God and escorts us out of the flames without even a smell of smoke. Everyone saw that the fire had no power over them, their hair was not singed. The heat of the argument will kill the unbeliever. Do not let the argument make you stink of the smoke that symbolizes confusion and deception.
The Fourth Man is the answer to the white-hot flames of challenge on every level of life. He is the Son of God. He will never leave us.
Let the pagan cry out:
… because there is no other God who can deliver like this.” (Daniel 3:29)