Here is a trivia question for you. Of all God’s prohibitions in the Bible, which one is the most frequent? Do not steal? Do not lie? Do not murder? Do not commit adultery? Do not worship idols? Or something else?
The answer is: “Do not fear!” Do you know how often it’s given? 88 times! 88 times God says to us, “Do not fear!” Why? Because it’s something we all tend to do. Sometimes it comes disguised as worry and anxiety. For others of us, it involves sheer panic and terror. But it’s something we all fight on one level or another. Otherwise our Heavenly Father wouldn’t warn us about it.
I came across a study in Psychology Today magazine in which they asked 1,000 people what they’re most afraid of. Guess what made the list! I doubt it’ll surprise you. Number 1 was the death of a loved one. Number 2 was the fear of contracting a serious illness. Tied for number 3 were war and financial crisis. Number 4 was being the victim of a violent crime. Rounding out the list were fear of the dark, fear of heights, fear of flying, fear of going to the dentist, fear of public speaking, and last but not least—
Fear of snakes. One man said, “If I was captured by the enemy, all they’d have to do is put me in a room, release a couple of snakes, and I would tell them anything.” Can you identify with that? And there are other fears we could add to the list like the fear of taking tests, the fear of losing your job, the fear of being rejected, and on the list goes.
But here is the good news. God knows about your fears and wants to free you from all of them. In fact, you may not have realized it at the time but the moment you began to follow Jesus, God the Father enrolled you in a special lifetime course called “Fearless University” in which He little by little removes every fear from your life.
Listen to the way 1 John 4:18 puts it: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment, and the one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because He first loved us.” God doesn’t want us to live in fear any longer, because fear paralyzes us and makes it impossible to do anything productive. So little by little He sets us free from the fears that have enslaved us.
David the shepherd boy turned warrior said, “I sought the Lord and He heard me and delivered me from all my fears.” Can you say that—that Christ has saved you from all your fears and anxieties? That’s something I’ve tempted with all the time. But it’s something we can overcome if we put into practice the lessons found in this study.
And since courage is something more easily caught than taught, what I want to do is to travel back in time to see it modeled in the lives of three incredible young men who faced a terrifying decision. But rather than crumbling under the pressure of it, they mastered their fears and made an everlasting impact for the Kingdom of God.
I. Recognize the Sovereignty of God
First, a little bit about the back story. Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, had a dream in which he saw a huge statue made of different metals, and it frightened him because he couldn’t understand what it meant. So he called for all his wise men and astrologers to tell him both what he dreamed and what it meant. And if they couldn’t, he threatened to put them to death. Of course, no one was able to do so until Daniel and his friends—Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah—prayed to the God of Heaven and asked Him to reveal to them what the dream meant, which He graciously did.
In a nutshell, the dream was an outline of world history to come, each type of metal representing a different king and kingdom. Nebuchadnezzar was the head of gold. But his empire was soon be conquered by Cyrus the Great, the ruler of Persia. That was pictured in the chest and arms of silver. Persia, in turn, was conquered by Alexander the Great, the ruler of Greece, seen in the belly and thighs of bronze. Greece, in turn, was then conquered by the Roman Empire, symbolized by the legs and feet of iron. However, unlike the other kingdoms, Rome wasn’t conquered by an outside force. It fell apart from within due to corruption. But one day, and this is what is pictured in the feet of iron and clay—Rome will try to come together again in the last days as a union of ten European nations under the leadership of the antichrist, the beginnings of which many prophecy teachers believe is happening right now in the European Union. But like iron mixed with clay, their allegiance won’t hold together.
While the antichrist is trying to solidify his empire, the Lord Jesus Christ will return from heaven, destroy all the empires of this world, and set up a kingdom that will last forever. That was what the king dreamed. But instead of humbling himself before the God who gave it to him, it all goes to his head, and he erects a giant statue in his own honor, all of which is plated with gold, symbolizing his glory as a king.
Listen to how verse 1 puts it. It says, “King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. He then summoned the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials to come to the dedication of the image he had set up.” But that wasn’t the end of it.
He then had his herald announce (verse 4): “To you it is commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, you shall fall down and worship the gold image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up; and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.” Daniel is apparently out of town on the king’s business, because there’s no mention of him in this chapter. But his friends are still in Babylon, and this creates an enormous problem for them. After all, why was the Jewish nation sent into captivity in the first place? For bowing down to idols on every high hill in Israel! So even if everyone else is doing it, there’s no way these boys can comply. They’re forced to say what is often the most difficult word to say in any language! They say, “No!”
Now tongues begin to wag. Verse 8 says, “At that time certain Chaldeans came forward and accused,” them saying to the king in verse 12, “There are certain Jews whom you’ve 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.” That wasn’t true. Until now they’ve shown the king great respect. But this wasn’t a gray area where they weren’t sure what to do. This was a black and white issue. For as much as they respected the king, they recognized that above all things Jehovah our God is the Supreme Ruler over everything in heaven and on earth. In fact, He’s not just the Supreme Ruler, 1 Timothy 6:15 says, “He is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” So when faced with a decision like that—between pleasing God and keeping people happy—what do you do? You screw up your courage, say a quick prayer, and let the chips fall where they may. “No, I’m not going to do it!”
That made Nebuchadnezzar furious, so much so that he ordered the three of them dragged before him and then he gave them one last chance to change their minds. But they aren’t worried. They aren’t anxious. In fact, they aren’t even diplomatic. Verse 16: “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter.” “What! What do you mean you aren’t going to bow to my image! Don’t you know who I am? I’m the most powerful man on earth with your very life in my hands!” The pressure to conform must have been incredible! But then so is the pressure we face to conform to the values of this culture. Every day we’re asked to wink at things God clearly says are wrong.
So how do we respond? Dr. James Dobson writes: “One of the great American myths is that we are a nation of rugged individualists. We have really fooled ourselves at this point. We like to think of ourselves as Abraham Lincolns, Patrick Henrys, and cowboys standing tall and courageous in the face of social rejection. But that image is palpably untrue of most of us. In reality, we’re a nation of social cowards who expend a major proportion of our energy trying to be like everyone else, cringing in fear of true individuality.”
That’s not very flattering, but it’s something we need to hear, because life isn’t about to get any easier for us. Freedom of choice now trumps everything that was once normal—marriage between one man and one woman, sexual abstinence before marriage, sanctity of life in the womb. Lucifer’s manifesto is now the tagline of our generation. 5 times he cried out at his rebellion, “I will. I will. I will. I will. I will!” And that was our default setting before we met Christ. But no more! Now that we’ve surrendered our lives to Jesus Christ, our prayer in everything we do is, “Not my will, but Thy will be done.”
That’s the first step in conquering fear—recognizing God’s sovereignty. Fear factor #2 is—
II. Trusting the Love of God
Listen to the king try to reason with these men. I’m sure he thought he was very gracious. He says in verse 15: “Now if you are ready, at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery and bagpipe and all kinds of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, very well. But if you do 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?” What’s the king doing? He’s playing God, threatening to cast them into a lake of fire, while at the same time challenging Jehovah Himself, asking, “What god is there who is able to deliver you out of my hands?”
But they don’t doubt. They don’t stutter. They say to him, “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.” Don’t you love their courage and confidence? But my question is: Where did they get it? Answer: By looking back and remembering the two trials He brought them through in chapters 1 and 2—refusing to eat the king’s food and interpreting the king’s dream. So they simply say to themselves, “If our God did it before, He can do it again! So let’s trust Him and see what He happens!” They used past trials to summon up present faith.
And that’s what we need to do. When a new trial appears on the horizon, we need to look back at all that He’s brought us through and say to ourselves, “I know my God loves me and that He can do it again.” Amen!
The disciples had the same problem with this that we do. You remember how in Mark chapter 6, Jesus fed 5,000 families by taking the picnic basket of a little boy and then turning it into enough food to feed a whole stadium full of people. A tremendous sign of what our Savior can do! But did they learn from it? No. For what do we find two chapters later? A crowd of 4,000 families this time, and the disciples asking the same question, “Where are we going to get enough food to feed all these people!” You’d think the answer would be obvious. But it isn’t. They’ve completely forgotten what Jesus did for them two pages before.
Let’s not do that. Let’s not doubt in darkness what God has told us in the light. Remember that financial crisis He led you through. Remember that illness He healed. Remember that marriage conflict He helped you settle. Remember how much He loves you and then trust Him to do it again.
Recognize God’s sovereignty. Trust His love. Finally, fear factor #3—
III. Value God’s Reward
Remember the reason the Bible gives for Moses for leaving Egypt as a young man? It says, “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter choosing to be mistreated with God’s people rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking forward to the reward.” What reward? The heavenly reward awaiting everyone who loves Christ more than this present world!
That’s what motivated these young men. Imagine the excuses they could’ve come up with for taking the easy route and complying with the king’s orders. “We don’t have to believe in what we’re doing. Just one quick bow and we can go back to worshiping God the way we always have.” Or they could’ve said to themselves, “We aren’t doing this because we want to. We’re just following orders. Besides, think of all the good we can do by keeping our positions in the king’s court! But if we die, who does that help?” Or they could’ve pointed to the king’s kindness. “After all he’s done for us, it wouldn’t hurt to compromise at least a little! Besides, what happens in Babylon, stays in Babylon!” I was able to come up with at least half a dozen excuses these boys could have given for compromising their convictions. But God doesn’t accept excuses. He expects obedience, no matter what the cost. So they held firm.
Verse 18 is arguably the bravest statement found anywhere in the Bible. Having just said to the king, “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,” notice what they add in verse 18. “But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold that you have set up.” Don’t you love that? “But if not…” Those 3 little words are the biggest words in the book of Daniel. Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (better known as Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego) were saying, “We know our God can deliver us. We have no doubt about that. But that isn’t why we’re obeying. For even if He chooses not to rescue us, we still won’t bow down, because some issues are even more important than life itself.”
Those words remind me of another great believer. Standing before the officials of the Catholic Church and the German government, Martin Luther was threatened with death if he didn’t recant his belief in Sola Scriptura—that the Bible is the only authority for what we believe and do and that a person is saved by faith alone, not by loyalty to the church. So what was his defense? He said, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen! Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise.”
So it was with these young men. Their consciences were captive to the Word of God, and they could not do otherwise. They couldn’t bow. They wouldn’t bend. And they didn’t burn. Nebuchadnezzar, filled with rage and determined that no god would save them out of his hand, has the oven heated 7 times hotter than ever before and then casts alive into the burning fiery furnace. In fact, the furnace is so hot it instantly burns up the guards who’ve thrown them in. But the boys are unscathed. Verse 27 says they came out of the fire without even the smell of smoke on them. The only thing that’s burned up in the process is the rope the king used to tie them.
What’s more, as the king peeks into the furnace, something startles him, because now what he sees is not three, but four men walking in the fire, and “the appearance of the fourth,” he says in verse 25, “is like a son of the gods.” What an amazing payoff! Not only does God deliver them out of the fire; He is with them in the midst of it. And that’s the same promise He makes to you and me.
Hebrews 13:5. You know the first part of it. “For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.” But do you know the second part? “So that we may boldly say, “The Lord is my Helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” That’s the source of all true courage and strength. The assurance that the Lord is with me! So stand firm, knowing that He is ruling and overruling from His throne, that He loves you, and that He’ll reward you with His presence and everlasting joy to come.
Now to one of the issues causing all kinds of fear among the American people right now—the new healthcare law and all the uncertainties surrounding it. One of the most extreme examples is a rumor that’s been circulating on the internet the last year, claiming that contained within the Affordable Care Act is a proviso that the Secretary of Health and Human Services can at a future date, if she deems it necessary, require the implanting of digital medical devices with all our medical and financial data that can be scanned in case of an emergency.
Is that true? Can the wording of the law be interpreted that way? The answer: I have no idea. I’m not a lawyer. The technology exists. But will such a thing come to pass? One day it will, according to the Bible! If my theology is correct, that won’t happen until we, the church, are taken out of this world to heaven. But I think it’s good to ask questions like this. To look fear in the eye and ask, “If the worst thing I can imagine were to happen, would I be faithful to Christ? Or would I bow my knee to the government just to safeguard my health?”
Did you know that there are Christians all over the world who have had to think through issues like this and have decided like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, “No. Christ means more to me than life itself. So I’ll choose to suffer rather than deny my love for Him.” That’s the victory that overcomes the world. Revelation 12:11 says of those who will suffer under the antichrist in the latter days, “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony and because they did not love their lives even to the death.”
Telemachus was a man like that—an elderly monk from Asia who spent his days toiling in the cloistered garden of the monastery. But his faith in Christ and love for Christ was strong. So, sensing one day that the Lord leading him to make the long journey to Rome, he left his little garden and made his way to the great city stunned by what he found. The people were angry, coarse, and violent.
Walking along the street, he was suddenly swept up with the crowd and found himself in a place he didn’t know existed—the Coliseum where gladiators fought and died for no better reason than to entertain the crowd. Telemachus stared in disbelief as one after another stood before the emperor and shouted, “We who are about to die, salute thee.” Hearing the clash of the swords and watching one man after another fight to the death, he had to do something. Jumping on top of the wall surrounding the arena, he shouted, “In the name of Christ, forbear!” But no one listened. So without thinking about his own safety, he jumped down on the sandy floor of the Coliseum.
What a comic figure he must have seemed—an old man in monk’s habit dashing back and forth between the brutal fighters. But still he shouted, “In the name of Christ, forbear.” The crowd cheered as one of the gladiators bruised him with his shield knocking him to the ground. Tired of his interference, the crowd chanted, “Run him through! Run him through!” The same gladiator came down on his chest with his sword, opening his stomach with a single blow. The little monk slumped to his knees and with one last dying gasp, he cried “In the name of Christ, forbear!”
Then something strange happened. As the gladiators and crowd focused on that still small figure on the suddenly crimson sand, the arena grew quiet. In the silence, someone in the top tier got up and walked out. Another followed, then another. Soon all over the arena, spectators began to leave until the huge stadium was empty. There were other forces at work to be sure, but it was that one innocent figure lying in a pool of blood that finally solidified the opposition. And that was the last gladiatorial match ever held in the Roman Coliseum. The killing came to an end because of one man determined to obey the voice of His Master regardless of the outcome.
I wonder. Am I speaking to a Telemachus right now? Or maybe a Shadrach, Meshach, or Abedneggo? If so, I encourage you to stay strong by recognizing God’s sovereignty, trusting in His love, and living for His reward in heaven.