"FIFTH MAN IN THE FIRE"
The Bible gives an account of three young men whose faith was tried by fire. Their names were Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. These three men worked for King Nebuchadnezzar and they held very important positions. Nebuchadnezzar had placed them in charge of the affairs of the entire province of Babylon. One day, Nebuchadnezzar decided to build a huge image made of gold that stood 90 feet high. He gave the commandment that from that moment on whenever music was played all the people in Babylon, no matter what nation they were from and no matter what language they spoke, were to immediately stop what they were doing and bow down to worship the statue. Any person who refused to obey his commandment would immediately be thrown into a fiery furnace. So when the next moment came when the music played everyone stopped what they were doing and they bowed down to worship this 90 foot tall idol. Everyone, that is, except for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. There were also others who worked for the king and they were jealous of the high positions held by Shadrach Meshach and Abednego. When they saw that the three young men did not bow down to worship the idol they took advantage of the opportunity and immediately ran to tell the king. As they stood before
Nebuchadnezzar they lavished him with praise and compliments to “butter him up” so to speak and they said to the king, “The three men whom you have placed over the affairs of Babylon are not abiding by your command to bow down and worship the statue. This is very ungrateful of them O king and it is insolence for them to disobey your command, especially since they hold such high positions. They are setting a bad example for others. Now I don’t think it came as a big surprise to Nebuchadnezzar that these three refused to bow down and worship his statue because he knew very well that they had never served any God but the one true God. These were three young righteous men who had always served the king with great respect and had always fulfilled their duties to him, but they were not about to follow Nebuchadenezzar’s command (or any other king’s command) to bow down to some pagan idol. Nevertheless when
Nebuchadenezzar heard that they were not abiding by his command he immediately ordered that Shadrach Meshach and Abednego be brought before him to explain their actions. The king asks them, “Is it true Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, that you refuse to bow down and worship the image of gold that I created? I believe that this was an honest mistake on your part so I am going to give you another chance.” The king was hoping that they would have second thoughts and change their minds. He continued and said to them “When the music plays again you must bow down to the statue of gold. If you refuse to bow down again all three of you will be thrown into the fiery furnace.” Again, the king knew that the three young men completely anchored themselves in their allegiance to God and he says to them “Who is this God that He can deliver you out of my hands? Let Him save you - if He can!” But Shadrach Meshach and Abednego remained calm, and their reply was instant. Unlike those who had earlier accused them, these three did not lavish the king with praise and compliments like hoping to gain his favor. Nor did they need extra time to come up with some type of evasive answer. They simply said to Nebuchadnezzar, “we did not make a mistake king Nebuchadnezzar and we will not apologize for not bowing down to your idol. The three young men had complete trust in God. They preferred to suffer for God rather than sin against God. They had no fear of the king’s threat to throw them into the furnace. Rather they simply looked at the king and said to him, “If we are thrown into the furnace our God is completely able to deliver us, and if He does not deliver us from the flames he will nevertheless deliver us out of your hands, but He WILL deliver us, either from death, or in death, but we will NOT bow down to your idol.” They were not afraid to stand firm in their total commitment to God. They were not afraid of the king or his threat. They told the king "We would rather die in our integrity than to live in YOUR iniquity." Not surprisingly, this made Nebuchadnezzar even more angry. The Bible states that he was so full of fury that he immediately ordered that the furnace be made seven times hotter than normal. In all of Babylon these three stood alone. Sometimes standing up for God means standing alone. What about you? Are you willing to stand for God and have your convictions challenged, and stand up to that challenge? Are you willing to completely trust and depend on God’s care for you and willingly place yourself in the fiery furnace with Shadrach Meshach Abednego and Jesus as the fifth man in the fire or will you simply adjust your standards for the sake of fitting in?
Another man named Daniel also stood firm in his faith and spent an entire night eye to eye with a den full of lions, all because of his stand for God. There were many times when Moses had to face down an angry mob because of his stand for God and that same challenge faces you and me as well. None of these men of God made undercover decisions to be Christians. No. They each had full-scale up-front total commitments to God that each of them lived out in their words and their actions. Can the same be said of you? Do your actions and your speech reflect the humble and loving character of Jesus Christ? Would God be able to walk through a day with you, going where you go, doing the things you do, and feel perfectly at home? You see when we take a stand for God we should "stand out." People should see a wonderful difference between us and the rest of the world. We simply cannot back down in our stand for Christ if we are truly fully committed to Him. We must be willing, without hesitation, to step in as the fifth man in the fire. Jesus knows all too well what it’s like to stand alone. He stood firm with everyone around Him mocking Him, ridiculing Him and eventually crucifying Him without anyone to stick up for Him. He calls us to follow Him in the same way, by standing firm.
Having commanded that the furnace be made seven times hotter than normal the king now orders the strongest men in his army to bind Shadrach Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the fiery furnace. The normal procedure before throwing someone into the furnace was to strip them of all their clothing but in the case of these three young men not only did Nebuchadnezzar order that their clothes be left on them but he also ordered that they be tied up. The reason for their clothes being left on them was because Nebuchadnezzar wanted the fire to consume them more slowly and thereby increase their agony and suffering. So now being tied up and still wearing their robes, shirts, pants and turbans, Nebuchadnezzar says “Throw Them In.” Shadrach Meshach and Abednego made no attempts to try to get away or plead for mercy because they trusted God COMPLETELY! They knew that nothing, literally NOTHING can overwhelm or destroy a man when he lives in complete faith. And the Bible says that as the soldiers threw the three young men into the fiery furnace that the fire was so hot and the flames were so great that even the soldiers who threw them into the furnace were themselves consumed and killed by the flames. The three young men fall into the furnace and the king hears no screams or cries of pain. So he jumps to his feet and from a safe distance looks into a large opening in the side of the furnace and he is astonished at what he sees. He calls his counselors to his side and asks them, “Did we not throw three men bound into the fire?” and they said “yes king we did.” And Nebuchadnezzar says “but I have looked into the furnace, and I see FOUR men, loose, and WALKING in the MIDST of the fire.” The fire did not so much as singe their clothing but it burn the ropes that had bound them thereby freeing them from their constraints. They were not hurt, they felt no pain, the flames did not harm them and they were not trying to get out of the furnace. Instead the Bible says that they simply walked up and down in the midst of the furnace completely unconcerned. When you and I experience trials tribulations and sufferings in our own lives that seem to throw us into our own fiery furnace, Jesus says “Don’t be afraid. I am ALWAYS with you. Trust completely in Me.”
The king said “we threw in three men but I see four men, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” The Bible says that Nebuchadnezzar went again to the mouth of the burning fiery Furnace and shouted - “Shadrach - Meshach - Abednego - come out. And they all three walked out from the midst of the fire. The princes, governors, captains and the kings counsellors all watched as Shadrach Meshach and Abednego walked out, and they saw that not so much as a hair of their head had been singed. There was not so much as a smell of smoke on them. The fire, hot and fierce as it was, had no power on them at all, and it was at that moment that king Nebuchadnezzar knew that the God of Shadrach Meshach and Abednego was the one and only True God. The king proclaimed “Blessed be the God of Shadrach Meshach and Abednego for He has delivered His servants that trusted in Him.”
The key element in this entire story is “Trust.” They trusted God implicitly that He would either stand by them and bring them out of the fiery furnace and back to their place on earth, or He would lead them THROUGH the fiery furnace and forward to their place in Heaven, but either way they KNEW that God would be with them. As a result of their public demonstration of great faith king Nebuchadnezzar immediately implemented a law that any person of any nation or any language who even so much as spoke a bad word against the God of Shadrach Meshach and Abednego would be cut into pieces.
No person stands alone when they stand for God. He is always there, standing with us. How far would you be willing to go in your stand for Christ? What hardships trials and sufferings would you be willing to endure for the sake of Jesus? How far would your trust in God carry you in the face of extreme adversity? John the Baptist did not waver in his stand for Christ and he was beheaded. Stephen was dragged out of the city and stoned to death because of his stand for Christ. Peter was crucified upside down because of his stand for Christ. All of them had complete, unshakeable, unwavering confidence trust and faith in God. Jesus Himself said that if you follow Me you will have to take up and bear your cross every day for My sake.
The world in and of itself is one big Nebuchadnezzar telling us to conform and place our faith and hope in things created by man. Sadly the majority of people love the world more than they love God. There is no way that we could ever love God as much as He loves us but nevertheless Jesus tells us that we are to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength,” and that’s exactly what these three young men Shadrach Meshach and Abednego did.
One of my wife’s favorite hymns is “The Love Of God,” and it says this:
The love of God is greater far Than tongue or pen can ever tell
It goes beyond the highest star And reaches to the lowest hell
Could we with ink the ocean fill And were the skies of parchment made
Were every stalk on earth a quill And every man a scribe by trade
To write the love of God above Would drain the ocean dry
Nor could the scroll contain the whole Though stretched from sky to sky.
The only thing that can mend a broken heart - restore a shattered life - or provide hope and peace is the boundless Love of Jesus Christ. No matter what the world tells you and no matter what the devil tells you, you are precious in God’s sight. Don’t ever feel that you are not worth loving or that you are not worth saving. You mean so much to God and you are so important to Him that He sent His One and Only Son to die upon a Cross and pay the penalty for your sin. When once you repent and by faith accept the price that Christ paid on your behalf His promise to you is that you will live with forever with Him in Heaven. That’s how much He loves you. How much do YOU love Him? When you and I place our complete trust faith and confidence in Jesus Christ and the time comes when we face the tribulations trials and hard times of life Jesus says to us - “I will stay with you!” I won’t ever leave you!” And it is only because of that love and our trust in that love that makes it possible for us to enter into that fiery furnace, un-afraid, with Shadrach Meshach Abednego and Jesus, and boldly stand with them as “The Fifth Man In The Fire.”