Crime and Punishment
Three young men, government employees, stood waiting to be sentenced. It came as no surprise when they learned that they were to be executed immediately. Their crime? Refusing to adopt the values of the land where they lived in exile.
Before we dig deeper into this story, let me give you a little historical context. Around 600 BC, Nebuchadnezzar, a powerful Babylonian king, conquered Jerusalem, burned it, and destroyed the temple that Solomon had built. He then exiled the Israelites to Babylon, where they lived for 70 years. Some of the Jews were placed in positions of responsibility over the affairs of Babylon. Three of them, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, are the heroes of this story.
So, we left off with our three heroes being sentenced to death. Let's rewind the tape a little and start from the beginning. King Nebuchadnezzar had a 90-foot gold statue erected and the people of Babylon were commanded to worship it when the musicians started to play. Anyone who dared to defy the king's order would be burned alive. In an act of civil disobedience, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to bow down to the idol. Although they were fully aware of the price that they would be required to pay, they believed that God's law must always be obeyed, even if it means disobeying the law of the land and even if it cost them their lives.
Good Roots, Good Fruits
From an early age, these three men had been taught, "You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them" Ex 20:2-5. Because this precept was rooted deeply in their hearts long before they encountered the Babylonian bullies, there was no question as to which path they would choose. Despite the threat of being "cancelled", they stood up to the chief bully, saying, “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.” In short, they were sayin, "We will not bow!" Their relationship with the Lord was solid and nothing could entice or intimidate them into worshipping false gods or endorsing man-made ideologies.
It's a Matter of the Heart
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego easily could have said, "Aw, c'mon, what's the big deal? We do a little bowing and nobody gets burned, right? After all, God understands our dilemma." Instead , they said, "we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold." They understood that true worship is more than outward religious activity, it is a matter of the heart. True worship is an act of love. It is the deepest expression of love we are capable of. You are to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." Mark 12:30 Jesus said, "true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth" John 4:23. There is only One who is worthy of being worshipped. Just like our three heroes, we give all of our love, adoration and thanks to the one true God. Jesus is the one we trust and obey.
Okay, that was a nice Sunday School lesson, but nobody is holding a proverbial gun to your head demanding you worship some sort of idol, right? After all, freedom of worship and freedom from fear are two of the core values of this country. Actually, that may not be the case much longer. The alarming truth is, both of these freedoms, along with freedom of speech, have already been curtailed and if we do nothing, we may lose them completely. “It pains me to say this,” Justice Samuel Alito said. “But in certain quarters, religious liberty is fast becoming a disfavored right.” Attacks against our freedoms are gaining momentum and persecution of Christians is clearly on the rise. On college campuses across the country, Christian students who stand up for their faith are being ridiculed, demeaned and targeted. They are accused of being hateful and bigoted. Jim Howard, Executive Director of Trinity Security Allies and a nationally recognized expert in church security says, "In the past five years, we have seen reports of all sorts of crimes against churches. We feel that these crimes are increasing in numbers and severity." Before it is too late, we must heed these warnings and awake from our complacency.
Let's learn from the experiences of our brothers and sisters around the world. Newsweek reported that “the persecution and genocide of Christians across the world is worse today than at any time in history.” Here are just a few of the statistics included in the World Watch List published annually by Open Doors USA: 1 in 9 Christians worldwide experience high levels of persecution. They also reported that in the top 50 World Watch List countries, 2,983 Christians were killed in one year for faith-related reasons. In those same countries, persecution has risen 6% in one year. You will find a link to the full report at the end of this post. As we are shaken by these numbers we should also be inspired by Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. We must not allow ourselves to be intimidated and silenced by bullies who demand our compliance. Let's pray, "Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness". Acts 4:29 We must not bow . It is time to take a stand.
Judge, Jury and Executioner
When we choose to take a stand, let's not go into this blindly. If we refuse to bow to the gods (ideologies) of today's culture, we face the threat of being "cancelled". Cancel culture has replaced the blazing furnace of ancient Babylon. Today, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego would be labeled "bigots". They would lose their jobs and probably many of their friends as well. Their Twitter and Facebook feeds would be ablaze with condemnation until their accounts were totally shut down to silence their "hate speech". This is the modus operandi of the bullies we face today. They are out to "cleanse" society of "undesirables." There is much to be said about this and it will likely be the topic of another installment in the "Babylonian Bullies" series.
Bullies vs, Shepherds
Political and social bullies use a variety of tactics to intimidate people and force them to conform to their ideology and embrace their worldview. Their focus is on outward compliance because they lack the means to affect a genuine change of heart. This is the antithesis of God's way of bringing change in people's lives. As we yield ourselves to the Lord and ask Him to work in our lives, He brings about a genuine transformation which blossoms from the inside out. We are drawn by love, rather than being driven by intimidation. Never violating our free will, Jesus invites us to follow Him. He is the good shepherd. In His kingdom, thoughts, words and deeds are motivated by love, not demanded or coerced.
No Battle, No Victory
As we decide to follow Jesus, we must count the cost. Jesus told us what we can expect: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you" John 15:18-19. We are much like the Jews who were living in exile and refused to adopt Babylonian culture, we are in this world, but we are not part of it. Jesus also said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” John 16:33. Jesus never candy-coated the truth. He told us very plainly that, as His followers, we would face opposition and persecution, but in the midst of the trouble, we have a peace that passes understanding. Yes, there will be battles, but in Jesus we always have the victory.
Let's Stand Strong Together
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Up Next: Babylonian Bullies Part Two: We Will Not Burn