The Blessing of Persecution
It is a truth self-evident to almost all of us that it is immensely important for people to like us. So it comes as a shock to learn that Jesus taught emphatically about the blessing we will come to know when others hate us, exclude us, and insult us “on account of the Son of Man.”
It’s because of our relationship with Jesus that such condemnation comes. In fact, Jesus described something that will be true of every believer: when we stand with Christ, we will be rejected by the world. Jesus develops this truth elsewhere in Scripture. For example, the night before He died, He reminded His followers that the world hated Him before it hated them and that, as His servants, they (and we) must expect the same persecution that our Lord experienced (John 15:18-20).
You may have experienced such persecution at school; maybe you took a stand for the Bible, and then you suddenly found yourself isolated from your peer group. You may have tasted the pain of being ostracized by a friendship group, or passed over for promotion at work, because you had explained to someone who Jesus is, why He died, and what that means. You may even know the pain of being spurned by members of your own family because of your faith. If you stand up and stand out for Christ, then ever so subtly and yet so very clearly the hatred begins to spill out, and the sense of scorn is nearly overwhelming.
There is nothing easy or enjoyable about being maligned or left out when we live in obedience to God. Indeed, there is great heartache that accompanies rejection. How, then, are we to find blessing and comfort in its midst?
We must cling to the truth Jesus speaks of here: that when we find ourselves on the receiving end of the world’s hatred as a response to our faithfulness to the Son of Man, nothing has gone wrong: we are, in fact, in a place to know blessing. In other words, this sort of mistreatment is tangible evidence of our genuine faith and relationship with the Lord. Furthermore, Jesus promises that if we acknowledge Him before men, He will also acknowledge us before His Father in heaven (Matthew 10:32).
The man or woman who leads a holy life—who is prepared to speak and obey God’s word with boldness and who refuses to seek the nonexistent middle way between an obedient life and a popular one—will eventually collide with the ungodly and incur the enmity of the world. How are you being called to risk rejection in order to speak of Christ or live for Christ? Do not lose heart! Instead, respond to slander against you or dislike of you on account of the gospel by rejoicing, “for behold, your reward is great in heaven.” The world has nothing to offer that comes close to comparing with that.
Nebuchadnezzar's Golden Image
1King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits1 and its breadth six cubits. He set it up on the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon. 2Then King Nebuchadnezzar sent to gather the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces to come to the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. 3Then the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces gathered for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. And they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. 4And the herald proclaimed aloud, “You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, 5that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. 6And whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace.” 7Therefore, as soon as all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, all the peoples, nations, and languages fell down and worshiped the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
The Fiery Furnace
8Therefore at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and maliciously accused the Jews. 9They declared2 to King Nebuchadnezzar, “O king, live forever! 10You, O king, have made a decree, that every man who hears the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, shall fall down and worship the golden image. 11And whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into a burning fiery furnace. 12There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These men, O king, pay no attention to you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
13Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought. So they brought these men before the king. 14Nebuchadnezzar answered and said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? 15Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good.3 But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”
16Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17If 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.4 18But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
19Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with fury, and the expression of his face was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He ordered the furnace heated seven times more than it was usually heated. 20And he ordered some of the mighty men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace. 21Then these men were bound in their cloaks, their tunics,5 their hats, and their other garments, and they were thrown into the burning fiery furnace. 22Because the king's order was urgent and the furnace overheated, the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. 23And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell bound into the burning fiery furnace.
24Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.” 25He answered and said, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.”
26Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the burning fiery furnace; he declared, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here!” Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire. 27And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king's counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men. The hair of their heads was not singed, their cloaks were not harmed, and no smell of fire had come upon them. 28Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside6 the king's command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. 29Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way.” 30Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon.
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