Then Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. "Did we not cast 3 men into the fire?" They answered the king, "True, O King." He answered and said, "But I see 4 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." (Daniel 3:24-25, ESV).
Christians reading the Old Testament discover that there are a number of dramatic, miraculous rescues by the Lord of those who take a stand for Him out of faith, conviction, and obedience. The testimony and rescue of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego is one of the most thrilling in all of Scriptural testimony.
Add to that Moses' prevailing victory over the clutches of Pharaoh and the subsequent parting of the Red Sea, Gideon's water-pitcher-lamp-light victory over the Midianites, David's taking down of Goliath, Daniel's night-long vigil with ravenous lions in the den.
In their case, the 3 Hebrews who refused to bow and worship Nebuchadnezzar's image not only were rescued from incineration, but prevailed in their testimony and were promoted to an even higher position in the Babylonian administration. Wow! So...
Those who follow Jesus today, in this age, could wonder, "Should I take an obedient stand as a Christian when the stakes are high, will the Lord dramatically rescue me (at the critical moment) as well?"
Certainly, our reading in the New Testament might encourage such an expectation. In Luke's account of the early church, Peter was miraculously released from prison as the Lord responded to the prayers of the church (cf. Acts 12). Years later, Paul and Silas were similarly rescued (Acts 16); in fact, Paul experienced a number of dramatic deliverances (from wreckages at sea, from a poisonous snake bite, etc.).
But, on the other hand, other New Testament Christians who took similar stands in faith were not rescued, if we mean by "rescue" that they continued to live and prevail in this life. Stephen, preaching with power to the Jewish council, was stoned to death (Acts 7). Before his conversion, Paul (then Saul) dragged off many new Jesus-followers, imprisoning them, perhaps even seeing some of them executed (Acts 9). James (the brother of John), an early Jerusalem church leader, suffered execution by King Herod (Acts 12).
THOSE WHO BY FAITH WALK WITH GOD
Year later, writing to Jewish Christians who were suffering terribly for their faith and obedience, the author of Hebrews reminded them that those who "walk by faith" often have different experiences in this life. "...through faith (some) conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight, women received back their dead by resurrection..." (Hebrews 11:33-35a, ESV).
Sounds good so far!
But then, the Spirit prompts the author to continue: "[through faith] some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated -- of whom the world was not worthy -- wandering about in deserts and mountains and in dens and caves of the earth" (Hebrews 11:35b-38, ESV).
The Spirit's point? Hebrews 11:39-40 (ESV) And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.
Wow again! You mean to tell us that the great saints of the past, who finished well, have their full reward "on hold" until I finish my run by faith with Jesus? (cf. Hebrews 12:1-3) That's a bit sobering.
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT?
What the Holy Spirit tells us in the New Testament is important. It must shape our expectations when reading about the dramatic rescues the courageous and faith-filled experienced in the Old Testament.
First, like them, God calls us to worship and obey Him regardless of a guaranteed outcome in this life. The expectations of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, which they shared with King Nebuchadnezzar, should be ours. Listen carefully to them: 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. But if not..." (Daniel 3:17-18a, ESV).
These three had confidence their God could rescue them, and even confidence that in the moment, they fully expected that He would. But they also knew that God might not choose, in the moment, not to rescue them in this life. Had God chosen to allow them to be incinerated in the furnace, they were confident still of deliverance. They would "dwell in the house of the Lord forever" (cf. Psalm 23:6).
God can dramatically rescue those who stand in faith and conviction. That's always an option at His disposal. Church history is replete with many examples that He did...and still does.
But NOT always. As explained in Hebrews 11, it is God's will for some of His faithful to conquer kingdoms and escape the edge of the sword, while it is His will for others of His faithful to be tortured and sawn in two. The world is not worthy of such faithful who pay that price...but they are welcomed home in honor and joy.
Second, sometimes God's "rescue" is our future "resurrection" in power and victory with Christ Jesus, at his return. It is interesting, again, that the writer of the letter to the Hebrews tells us that God (the Father) heard his Son's "loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence" (Hebrews 5:7).
Wait a minute? If Jesus was "heard," didn't Jesus die? How did the Father "save him from death"? Jesus was delivered from death through His resurrection, after his physical crucifixion.
This is our faith-expectation as well. Our ultimate deliverance from the power of sin and death will happen AT our resurrection. We are not looking for ultimate reward and rescue in this life. We are looking forward, in hope, to our release into eternal life through our resurrection, promised to us because our own Lord, having experienced the cross first, was then awarded the crown when raised to life.
BOTTOM LINE - here is that of which we can be confident. Our God deserves our worship and obedience, no matter what. Dramatic rescue or no. We can stand in any situation and say, "My God is able to deliver me, and He will. Now...or when He chooses in the future. But it doesn't matter. I trust Him with my life, and I will obey Him with my heart and my actions. He can choose when my reward will come. Of this I am supremely confident."
Just like the 3 Hebrews. May their tribe increase.