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When the Heat Is On

The Lord is with us in our fiery trials.


Have you seen the famous photo from 1936 of a huge crowd of people all saluting Hitler, but one man stands out. Why? He keeps his arms crossed and doesn’t join in. He was identified as August Landmesser, a German shipyard worker who wanted to be a loyal citizen but fell in love with a Jewish lady and the government just passed a law forbidding “inter-marriage.” A few years later she was killed in the Ravensbruck concentration camp, whereas he was pressed into military service, sent to the front line, and died.

There’s a phrase that says “You’ve got to go along to get along” but he wouldn’t. He couldn’t go along with what everyone else was doing.

Now I like to think I’d be like him, because the Bible says, “Do not follow the crowd in wrong doing” (Ex 23:2). But really, I’m not at all sure. When the trumpets, tubas, and trombones play and it’s trouble if you don’t join in, I’m like you and we like to fit in. But when it’s bow down or die. What do we do?

Stanley Milgram was a psychologist who examined the justifications given after the war at the Nuremberg trials for those who had committed the atrocities and genocides and saw how often they said they “We are not bad people, we’re ordinary people who were just being obedient to the higher authorities.”

So, in the 1960s at Yale, he set up a now famous experiment to test how far people would go in obeying an instruction if it involved hurting people. 40 people were made to believe by a man in a white coat carrying a clipboard that on the other side of the screen was a man, really an actor they’d met in the waiting room, who they saw being strapped into a testing chair with some wires on him.

And they went next door and had a button, and they were to ask questions and if the guy who now they couldn’t see got an answer wrong they were to press the button and they’re told that person would receive an electric shock, starting out very mild, but going up to 300 volts, which was very severe. They had this fake box in front of them showing the needle going up.

Of course, the actor starts giving wrong answers, and just about everyone gives the first couple of light shocks, but if they refuse the authority figure says something like, “The experiment requires that you continue ….” Mostly, they did. Even if they could hear the person screaming on the other side of the screen. Many of them didn’t even seem reluctant. In fact, he says they showed “extreme willingness,” with 65% of them went right up to the highest shock they could give—300 volts.

He went on to do 18 variations of the experiment and always got similar results. This wasn’t even about peer pressure and the crowd, just one authority figure, but he showed how much people are willing to take orders if they believe they’re morally or legally correct. And how they’ll mistreat others to do so.

(Read Daniel 3:1-27)

Bow or Burn

The authority figure here was the most powerful human in the world at the time, King Nebuchadnezzer. Full of pride, he created a 90-foot high “god” and many scholars think it’s a statue of himself. He wanted everyone to bow down to him. No choice. When power becomes tyranny like this, it’s never satisfied until everyone bows down.

It must have been a magnificent spectacle, gleaming and golden in the sun on this immense plain, in the heat of the Mesopotamian sun. Everyone was told: step up, come out, and bow down. Or else. Anyone who refuses, who does not fall in line, obey the orders, forfeits the right to life. Bow or burn. Smoking or non-smoking, that’s the only choice.

Daniel 3:7 says everyone was going along with it, all the Babylonians and “people from all the other nations and languages” because after all, they were tolerant people. Babylon was a multi-cultural, multi-religious place now, a huge mixed crowd who all worshipped lots of gods anyway and agreed this a good thing to do.

They heard the order, saw what everyone else was doing, came out, stepped up, sang along, bowed down to the statue, the image, the man-made object of worship. This has implications to think about regarding freedom and personal liberty but that really wasn’t what bothered Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego because they realized this was really about worship.

Everyone bows down to something, everybody worships. Sociologically, anthropologically, there’s never been a people group or place in history that has not had some element of religion. Even atheists make a god of their own intellect by declaring that they know for sure no other god exists.

The question is never going to be WHETHER we will worship, the question is WHAT. We may not bow down to statues of the powerful, but what will we devote our attention, our focus, allegiance, even our love toward? What do we spend our lives pursuing? What or Whom is number one?

People Worship What Matters Most to Them

You may be in church today singing ‘I love you Lord …’ but show me your calendar, your bank statements, and we’ll see what matters most to you. That’s what you really worship.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans he describes how the downward spiral of sin and corruption spoiling the whole world has its origin in worship. In the choice humanity makes to look at the world God made and rather than worship him, the Creator, they choose to worship the creation. Just like Adam and Eve in the beginning and ever since because “They neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him … their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened … (something happened) … they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images…” (Rom. 1:21-23).

Images. Idols. Things. Stuff. It could be gold or made of it, it could be or look like other humans, or animals, or pretty much anything. It’s the corruption of true worship, the worship of the true God that we were made and meant to enjoy worshipping forever.

As GK Chesterton is quoted as saying, “When Man ceases to worship God he does not worship nothing but worships everything.” Anything we decide or invent can become our idol.

But it’s important we choose correctly what we worship because of what always happens next.

People Become Like What They Worship

(Read Psalm 115:3-4, 8)

We become reflections of what we worship. Which is great news if we worship Jesus Christ, but you may have heard the myth of Narcissus who fell in love with his own reflection?

The Book of Romans says when we exchange God’s glory for images, we’re rejecting the real God. You can’t do both! Jesus said nobody can serve two masters. The real God is “Holy, holy holy …” as the prophet Isaiah saw and heard the angels declare.

It wasn’t just Nebuchadnezzer in his pride, people make gods in their own image all the time, but the real God is not like us. We are sinful. Sinful people make fake gods like themselves and reject the real God for a little version they are in control of who we hope will do whatever we want, keep us safe and well and out of trouble, keep us happy and popular and successful if we rub their little belly, a little g god who will agree with what we think or say, and never hold us to account or judge us.

But do you know what the real problem with that is? God. God has a problem with that.

The true God has a big problem with all the little gods we worship. That’s why God put making him number one, with no rivals or substitutes, the first, and second, of the Ten Commandments. We read in Exodus 20:3-4, “You shall have no other gods before me.” There’s number one. And “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.”

That’s why Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego knew in one sense that they had a big problem. Not just because the golden statue was nearly ten stories high. Even though they saw everyone else around them bowing down and not having a problem with bowing down, they knew God’s commands and he said you must not bow down to an idol, you must not sacrifice, swear by, serve, or worship any other God.

So the king says “Have you seen the gold statue I made?” “Yes, your majesty” “Have you heard the music, read the law, see what everyone else is doing?” “Yes, your majesty.” “Do you know that everyone—INCLUDING YOU—has to bow down?” “No, your majesty. We can’t go along with that. We can’t obey that law. We won’t bow down. Because of what the true God said, and because also, you know what, it’s just a statue.”

When the threats came, the chance to change their minds and “just do the right thing,” keep their positions by staying safe and doing what everyone else was doing. At this crisis moment, they took a stand. They didn’t bow. The choice they were presented with was stark. No room for bargaining, begging, compromising, or meeting half-way. It was do or die, bow or burn, life or death. They chose death, they stepped closer to the fire.

I don’t know when or how I might have to make a stand, but I have to put myself in their shoes and ask how. How did they refuse and resist in the face not just of peer pressure, but capital punishment?

Fiery Trials

The answer is in verses 17 and 18. As the king is bellowing his threats, we see that these three knew their God. We can learn so much from this for whatever we go through now or in the future and what they knew in theory was going to be tested in the trial. There are things things we only learn about ourselves when we go through fiery trials. And there are things we only learn about God, when the heat is on.

The first thing they knew is that the real God is OMNIPOTENT. That’s a theological word meaning what they said right there, “If we are thrown into the fire, however high you heat it up, the God we serve is ABLE to deliver us.” No idols could ever do that. They’ll always let us down. They have no real power.

Secondly, they knew the real God is LOVING. So they trust that “He WILL deliver us!” He’s done it before, all our lives he’s been faithful, we’re going to trust him somehow to do it again but even if that isn’t how it works out, we can’t make the real God do whatever we think is best, we don’t even know.

God is SOVEREIGN. He is LARGE and in charge! He’s mightier than any king or earthly ruler, bigger than any statue you can bow to. So “Even if he doesn’t … we still won’t bow down O king.” That’s true faith. Mature faith says “Even if …” we’ll trust his wisdom. I might have “God is able” faith. I may also have “He will save us faith.” But do I have “Even if not” faith.

The king’s angrier than ever because his authority is being challenged. He orders them to be thrown in the oven and some of his servants go along with it “just doing their duty.” But then there was one more thing that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego discovered that day, which may have only been theory until it was tested. But when it happened, even the king saw it and could never be the same afterwards. There was another in the fire, walking and talking and meeting there with them.

The king’s jaw dropped when they came out unharmed. He turned away from his idols, and worshipped their God, and commanded everyone else to do the same.


There are some things about God you may only know, until you go through the fire. We ask, “Why God? Why did you allow this to happen to them? Why did you let this happen to us? I love you. Why did I have to go through that?” Then you meet him in the fire. Some of you know this don’t you? He may not have saved you from it, but he’s saving you in it.

In one of the Bible’s most precious promises, God says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.

When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze” (Is. 43:2).

But we’ll never prove that, it’s theory unless it’s tested. Until we are tested. When the heat is on we find out, for real, that the real God is ABLE, and the real God is LOVING, and the real God is SOVERIGN.

But we also find, whether we see it at the time or find out later that no matter what, where, or when … our God is WITH US. He’s with us. There’s another in the fire. One like a son of man. The Lord Jesus Christ. Maybe we can see him, unless smoke is in our eyes. Maybe the fire will be an illness or a bereavement. Maybe the threat won’t be loss of our lives but it could be loss of popularity, a job. The Lord is with us in the fire. He’s there. He meets us there. When the heat is on.

Anthony Delaney is a Leader at Ivy Church in Manchester. He is also the leader for New Thing and the LAUNCH conference. He is an author and hosts the television show “Transforming Life.”

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