Shadrach and friends – death in defying the king
King Nebuchadnezzar – ruler of the Babylonian Empire – built an idol to his own accomplishments and ordered everyone to worship it. The consequence for disobedience was extreme: “Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.” (Daniel 3:6.)
As you might expect, someone didn’t worship the idol. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego – Jewish men who had become officials in Nebuchadnezzar’s empire – refused to worship the idol. When the king demanded obedience they replied:
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.” (Daniel 3:16-18, emphasis added.)
They knew that God could save them, and yet even if he did not they chose to worship God alone. In facing death for defying King Nebuchadnezzar, they looked to God as the one to stay faithful to.
Esther and Xerxes – death in approaching the king
Queen Esther had a secret. No one in the palace knew that the young woman King Xerxes had chosen was Jewish. When the prime minister started a campaign to wipe out the Jews from every corner of the empire – an empire which stretched from Africa to India – Esther’s uncle Mordecai told her she had to speak to the king. The only problem was that no one was allowed to walk in on the king uninvited. Esther told Mordecai:
… for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that they be put to death unless the king extends the gold scepter to them and spares their lives. But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king. (Esther 4:11.)
Esther faced mortal consequences if she approached King Xerxes but Mordecai convinced her to try anyway, concluding, “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14.)
Esther asked Mordecai to organize a three day fast among the Jews and said, “When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16, emphasis added.) She knew that death could result, but she chose to follow the path God had put her in.
Thomas and Jesus – death at the side of the King
Toward the end of his three years of ministry, Jesus told his disciples he would return to the area near Jerusalem. His friends tried to warn him against it, pointing out that the last time he was in Judea there were people who tried to stone him to death. Jesus told them that despite the danger, he was going. One of his friends spoke up:
Then Thomas … said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16, emphasis added.)
Jesus, the King of kings, asked simply that they come with him. Some argued against going, but Thomas knew that it was better to face death at Jesus’ side than to stay safely behind without him.
Life by following the King
The word of these followers of God are striking: “but even if he does not”, “if I perish, I perish”, “that we may die with him”. Yet they trusted God, the source of true life:
Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (John 17:3.)
You likely will never face death in defying a king like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did, nor in approaching a king either as Esther did, nor even in accompanying the King as Thomas did. But you face other obstacles than physical death.
It is in your day-to-day choices that you decide whether to defy or approach or walk alongside. The urge to conform can be strong, pressing upon you, telling you that you don’t need to defy anyone in order to remain faithful to God, you don’t need to speak up in order to carry out the task God has given you, you don’t need to walk in the way of Christ.
But you know that following the King has a price, and you must decide if it’s worth it. (Luke 14:25-35.)
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego decided it is.
Esther decided it is.
Thomas decided it is.
What have you decided?