We are in the final week of our sermon series called ‘God-Size Faith.’ We have been discovering passages throughout the Bible of individuals who exercised extraordinary faith. The first week, we discovered that we often have to take the first step of faith in order to see God do amazing things within our lives. The second week, we were challenged to keep our eyes on Jesus instead of our circumstances. And last week, we explored what it means to faithfully follow God wherever He leads—even when the path is unclear.
This week, we will look at how our faith can stay strong even when it might cost us something. If we want to see God’s power in our lives, we must hold strong to our trust in Him no matter what. When we believe strongly in something, we are willing to pay the cost to remain committed to it.
It is similar to making the decision to get healthy. Have you ever made that decision to eat healthy? It’s not an easy process to start, and it’s an even harder process to keep up. That change comes with a cost. About eight months ago, I was led to a program that was meant to heal my body. For me that meant getting rid of migraines, something I was just trying to get under control. Fully getting rid of them sounded impossible. I’ve been suffering with them for nearly 30 years.
This program means I need to detox and do it properly. And to do that I need to eat properly. I can’t eat whatever I wanted anymore. I had to learn what’s good and what’s not. I had to learn how to read labels. It’s been a long journey, and I’m still learning how to get it right. And I’ll be honest, there have been a few times where I would have liked to walk away. But I had to tell myself to trust the process. And overall, the process is working! Praise the Lord! I’m getting better in more ways than just the migraines. But it’s still not easy, and I have to continue to remind myself to trust the process. I have to continue to remind myself that what I’m giving up, and what I’m giving into the process, is worth it. In other words, I have to be dedicated.
You see, to be dedicated to something—whether it is a regimen to become healthier, or a vibrant faith to grow a deeper connection with God—you can assume it will come with a cost. The question is whether we are willing to pay that cost?
The Old Testament gives us a story of three young men who faced immense challenges to their faith in God. It all began with a traumatic experience for the Hebrew people.
In 605 BC, Nebuchadnezzar became king of a nation called Babylon and showed such a high level of dominance that he was feared throughout all nations. When he invaded a country, defeat was certain. All knew he was going to win. Just months after his rein started, he attacked the Jewish people of Judah.
To demonstrate his power and dominance after a victory, Nebuchadnezzar would take the wisest men and most beautiful women, and anyone he thought was useful to Babylon as captives as well as all the possessions he wanted. He indoctrinated them into Babylonian culture so much that everything about their way of life was interrupted—everything from their diet to their worship. Everything was changed to fit their new context including their names.
The Old Testament book of Daniel describes how hard it was to live in captivity and how King Nebuchadnezzar was exerting his power over the Jewish exiles.
Particularly in chapter 3, King Nebuchadnezzar raised a massive golden statue that was 90 feet high and 9 feet wide. It was a huge spectacle, and the King made sure everyone attended the dedication of this idol. There the command was made very clear: when you hear the sound of the instruments, the flute, the lyre, the pipe, everyone must bow down and worship the golden idol in that very moment. It was not just about religion; it was about allegiance to the king. It was about worship and dedication to someone other than the one true God, Yahweh. And anyone who refused to obey would be thrown into a blazing furnace.
The difficulty was that living in Babylon at the time, there were many Jewish people who worshiped Yahweh and trusted Him alone. They put their faith, hope, and trust in Him exclusively. But they were being forced to worship someone else. Not only that, if they did not listen to the commands given, their lives would be at stake. It would cost them everything to remain faithful to God.
Though we in this church are not necessarily being forced to bow down and worship a massive golden idol, we are being tempted to bow down to other gods every day. We all have areas of our lives that receive our time, energy, attention, and affection. And wherever the majority of our time is, wherever the majority of our lives are focused is a good indication of what we worship.
POINT #1 – We all worship something.
Within our culture there is pressure to bow down to the god of travel baseball, the god of the bank account, the god of social status, the god of relationships, the god of career, the god of Instagram and Facebook, and so much more. And the expectation is the same. When these gods demand you bow, you bow. No questions asked. And we do it because if we don’t, it will cost us our reputation, our positions, our friendships, our comfort, our children’s desires. In the end, one of the greatest idols we serve that keeps us from true faith is the god of certainty and control.
I recently read this story about a young man who was eager to grow in His Christian life. He took a piece of paper and made a list of all the things he would do for God. He wrote down the things he would give up, the places he would go to minister, and the areas of ministry he would enter. He was excited and on fire for God! He took his list to the church and put it on the altar. And by doing so, he thought he would feel joy, but instead he felt empty. So he went home and started adding to his list. He wrote down even more things he would and wouldn’t do. He took the longer list and put it on that altar, but still he felt nothing. He went to a wise, old pastor, and told him the situation. The pastor said, “Take a blank sheet of paper. Sign your name at the bottom. Put that on the altar.” The young man did, and then peace came to his heart. Why? Because he quit giving God the to-do list, and instead he left God in the lead.
One of the greatest ways we commit to an unshakable faith is by giving God a blank sheet of paper and signing our name as a way of telling him we will follow him, that we will let him in the lead no matter what. As we learned last week, that’s what Abraham did when he left his home and decided to follow God without even knowing the destination.
POINT #2 – Faith in its simplest form is trust.
Back to Nebuchadnezzar, the King made a decree that all would bow down when the music played and worship his massive idol. But there were three men—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—who refused to bow down and worship the King’s idol. You know why? Because they knew the God they worshiped is greater than any man-made idol. The God they worshiped could not and would not be superseded by a mere gold statue, no matter how big it is. Their allegiance laid with God and God alone.
13 Then Nebuchadnezzar flew into a rage and ordered that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought before him. When they were brought in, 14 Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you refuse to serve my gods or to worship the gold statue I have set up? 15 I will give you one more chance to bow down and worship the statue I have made when you hear the sound of the musical instruments. But if you refuse, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. And then what god will be able to rescue you from my power?”
16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. 18 But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”
God gave these three men an unusual amount of wisdom, ten times the amount of anyone else in the royal service. So the king was impressed by them and used their wise counsel often. But when they refused to obey him and worship him and his idol, the king was furious (mostly because he had to kill three of his best men).
He demanded the three young men be thrown into the fiery furnace as a punishment for their refusal to bow down in worship. In reading this passage, you get a picture into the incredible faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Their response to the king was that they trusted that God was able to deliver them from the fire. The key to their statement was: even if God doesn’t save us, we will still never bow down to a false god!
We have made the statement throughout this entire series that if we want to see God’s power in our lives, we have to be willing to step out, lay it all on the line, display a radical faith, and be willing to count the cost of following God no matter what. Jesus actually spoke to this concept in the New Testament when He was clarifying what it means to be a true disciple.
22 “The Son of Man must suffer many terrible things,” he said. “He will be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He will be killed, but on the third day he will be raised from the dead.”
23 Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. 24 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. 25 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?
Jesus began by showing that He Himself was willing to pay the cost of remaining faithful to the will and ways of God. He was rejected and ultimately killed for His commitment to the Kingdom of God. And we can expect to experience a similar cost in our lives.
We may not ever be face with losing our lives where we live, but there certainly are Christians all around the world who are in danger of losing their lives for their faith, and many do each day. In fact, right now there are more martyrs each year than there was during the early Church’s persecution. To Jesus, true faith means being willing to take up our cross daily to follow Him. In fact, it is in losing our lives for His sake that we actually save our lives.
Author Joseph Stowell wrote in his book ‘Through The Fire’ about missionary named David Livingstone. “I think of David Livingstone, the pioneer missionary to Africa, who walked over 29,000 miles. His wife died early in their ministry and he faced stiff opposition from his Scottish brethren. He ministered half-blind. His kind of perseverance spurs me on. As I run, I remember the words in his diary: Send me anywhere, only go with me. Lay any burden on me, only sustain me. Sever me from any tie but the tie that binds me to Your service and to Your heart.”
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego understood this concept and held the same heartbeat as Livingstone. And their faith came at a cost. The fiery furnace was heated seven times its normal level because of the king’s rage. So hot that the flames killed the soldiers who threw the three men in.
23 So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, securely tied, fell into the roaring flames.
24 But suddenly, Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in amazement and exclaimed to his advisers, “Didn’t we tie up three men and throw them into the furnace?”
“Yes, Your Majesty, we certainly did,” they replied.
25 “Look!” Nebuchadnezzar shouted. “I see four men, unbound, walking around in the fire unharmed! And the fourth looks like a god!”
Three men went in, but there was a fourth in the fire. Scholars aren’t certain who the fourth person was. It could have been an angel, God in the flesh, or a preincarnate appearance of Christ. But what we do know for sure is that God sent a heavenly visitor to accompany these faithful men. The interesting thing to notice here is that God did not keep the three of them out of the fire because of their faith, but He did not let them go through it alone.
I have had the heartbreaking privilege of walking through trying times with church members. Sometimes it is through the loss of a loved one. Sometimes it is the struggle to remain faithful when they want to give up. Sometimes it is when they have questions without answers.
But what I get to witness to over and over again is that when someone finds the courage to lean on their faith during hard times, it is only because they can see that Jesus is there with them. I have had moments in my life when things were hard, and although I can’t explain it, what kept me from giving up, was that I had the sense I was not alone, that I was in the presence of God.
POINT #3 – In our greatest time of need, we find we are not alone.
Demonstrated for us throughout the Scriptures is a God who is willing to go to great lengths to rescue His people. In fact, the name given to Jesus at his birth was Immanuel—God with us. There may be someone here this morning that needs to hear this: “You are not alone.” God is in the fire with you. He is not somewhere far off and removed. He is as close as your next breath.
What if our courage to hold onto our faith in this manner could have the same impact as those three Jewish boys? The end of the story tells us this…
26 Then Nebuchadnezzar came as close as he could to the door of the flaming furnace and shouted: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stepped out of the fire. 27 Then the high officers, officials, governors, and advisers crowded around them and saw that the fire had not touched them. Not a hair on their heads was singed, and their clothing was not scorched. They didn’t even smell of smoke!
The word Nebuchadnezzar used here is a specific word for God; he has not used it up until this point. He said, “the Most High God,” which is El Elyon (El-illy-on). A king who spent an untold amount of wealth, power, and influence to demand everyone worship him and his golden statue now declared that the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is the God Most High.
Do you want to see the power of God in your life? The kind of power that can make a dominating Babylonian king believe in God? Then you must step out in faith and stay true to God no matter what it costs.
I want to give you the opportunity today to take a stand and commit to remain faithful to God wherever He may lead you. I’m going to give you an opportunity to sign a blank sheet of paper symbolizing that you trust God to be in control and that you will let Him in the lead, that you’ll let Him decide what is best for you, that you’ll trust Him to use you for great things.
As the music starts, tell God you trust Him. Sign the bottom of the paper. No list from us. Just your signature. Then you may bring it up to the altar and leave it for God.
Lord, by your grace, our salvation is free. We don’t earn it. We don’t even have to try. Yet, as we receive that salvation, we recognize that our lives will change, that there will be a cost. It’s not the cost of earning your love, which has already been given to us. It’s the cost of putting aside our old self so that we might be more fully devoted to you. Help us, gracious Lord, offer more of ourselves to you. Help us give up those things to which we are clinging to. Help us renounce our sin and turn from it. Help us let go of the possessions and securities that keep us from following you. And tomorrow and the next day and the next, remind us of our word, our commitment. O Lord, may we be more and more your disciples each day, by your grace and for your glory. In your precious name we pray, Amen.
Go and live boldly for Jesus and trust that He will take care of you, that He has not forgotten about you, and that He is always by your side no matter what.