Able to Save
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego survived a close encounter with martyrdom. Because they defied the ruling authority, they were scheduled to be thrown into a furnace. But trusting God to honor their faithfulness, they vowed fidelity—even if it cost them their lives. While we know the end of the story (they lived), they had no certainty that they would survive the raging blaze of Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace when they stood up for God. And though they were certain of God’s power and willingness to protect them, they didn’t demand that he save them.
Now consider this story that occurred centuries later: A judge summoned Perpetua, age 26, and commanded her to deny God or face certain death. Perpetua, with a newborn infant, faced a dilemma. North African Christians under Roman rule in A.D. 200 ran the risk of being put to death for openly acknowledging their faith. As her father looked on, urging her to save herself for her child cradled in his arms, still she would not do as she was commanded and sacrifice to idols.
Perpetua held fast in her conviction and faith in the living God. When the wild bull that was released to attack her and another believer failed to kill them, the Romans sent in the gladiators. A terrified young man approached her and made several ineffectual stabs. In a final act of mercy, she steered his sword into the lethal blow and died.
Many Christians face persecution today. At some point many more may have to make the choice to denounce God or risk everything they hold dear, including their lives. And many face such choices now, though with less threatening consequences: We may be ostracized from our families or passed over for promotions. We may be treated unjustly or misunderstood.
Have you ever thought about what you would do if you were faced with dire persecution? Are you willing to risk everything because you are convinced that loving God is worth whatever sacrifices you face? When faced with the choice to remain faithful or cave in to fear, think of the three young men in Babylon and Perpetua in North Africa who counted their own lives as nothing compared to the grace they had been given.
- What kind of persecution do you face for being a Christian? How do you deal with it?
- What would it be like to face dire persecution like so many people around the world today?
- What lessons have you learned from Perpetua and Daniel’s three friends?
“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.
Unbelievers stumbling; believers rejoicing
‘As it is written, Behold I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.’ Romans 9:33
Suggested Further Reading: 1 Peter 2:4–8
Who are they who shall never be ashamed? The answer is general and special. The text says, ‘Whosoever believeth’—that is, any man who ever lived, or ever shall live, who believes in Christ, shall never be ashamed. Whether he has been a gross sinner or a moralist; whether he is learned or illiterate; whether he is a prince or a beggar, it matters not—‘Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.’ Though you may very seldom come to the house of God, yet if you believe in Christ today you shall never be ashamed of him. You who have sat in God’s house for years, and feel yourselves guilty of having rejected Christ, yet if now you trust him you shall not be ashamed. But there is a speciality; it is ‘Whosoever believeth.’ Others shall be ashamed. There must be a real and hearty believing; there must be a simple confidence in the person and work of Jesus: wherever this is, there shall be no shame. One says, ‘But I have such a little faith; I am afraid I shall be confounded.’ No; you come in under the ‘Whosoever’—‘Whosoever believeth,’ though his faith be never so little, ‘shall never be ashamed.’ Another says, ‘But I have so many doubts.’ Still, dear heart, since you believe you shall not be ashamed; all your doubtings and your fearings shall never damn you, for your faith will prevail. ‘But,’ says another, ‘my corruption is so strong; I have come today lamenting because of my imperfections; they have obtained the mastery of my faith, and I have fallen during the week.’ Yes, soul, all fallen as you are, yet if you believe you shall never be ashamed.
For meditation: Whosoever trusts in the Lord Jesus Christ shall not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:15–16), shall not abide in darkness (John 12:46), shall receive forgiveness of sins (Acts 10:43) and shall not be ashamed (Romans 10:11). The opposite will be true of whosoever does not trust in him. Which ‘whosoever’ are you?
Sermon no. 571
22 May (1864)
Steer Clear Of Dead Ends
By Tia McCollors
The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way. – Psalm 37:23
Stop. Yield. No U-Turns Allowed. Road Closed 500 Feet. Detour. Our daily lives are bombarded with signs giving us directions. Even our computers have pop up screens to warn us of potentially dangerous or malicious websites. In most cases all we have to do is keep our eyes open. The same is true in our spiritual lives. Being the caring God that He is, our Heavenly Father gives us signs on our roads to righteousness.
The wise men followed the star to find Jesus, and God set a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night to keep the Israelites headed in the right direction when they left Egypt. Although we may not have those tangible signs from God, He has given us the directions we need completely in His Word. The scriptures assure us of it in 2 Timothy 3:16-17. As we walk worthy of the calling He has given us, stay aware of the words that He’s posted along our path. Trust (Proverbs 3:5-6), Seek (Deuteronomy 4:29), and Believe.
Practical Application: One of the worst feelings is being confused by highway signs when driving at 70 mph. We try to follow our own judgment and also consider the input of our passengers. It’s a recipe for disaster. Following God’s signs for us means we have to eliminate other distractions so we can discern His hand and hear His voice. Sometimes this means turning off the extra voices – friends, the radio, and television – for silence. He’s speaking. Are you listening? His voice will steer us away from dead ends.
Prayer: Lord, help me to eliminate the distractions that speak louder than Your voice. Allow me to see the evidence of Your hand in even the simplest things in life. When life gets confusing, I will stop and ask for directions from You and from the wise counsel you’ve placed in my life. Thank You for Your guidance and instructions. My help comes from You.
Tia McCollors is a wife and mother who loves to encourage women to wear their faith like a designer label. Information about her inspirational novels and devotions can be found at www.tiamccollors.com.
Faith versus Fear
The believer when he is brought into peace with God does not tremble at the thought of God’s power. He does not ask, “Will He plead against me with His great power?” But he says, “No, that very power, once my terror, and fear, is now my refuge and my hope, for He shall put that very power in me. I rejoice that God is Almighty, for He will lend me His omnipotence—’He will put strength into me.'” The very power which would have damned my soul, saves my soul. The very power that would have crushed me, God puts into me, that the work of salvation may be accomplished. No, He will not use it to crush me, but He will put that very strength into me. Dost see there the Mighty One upon His throne? Dread Sovereign, I see Thine awful arm. What, wilt Thou crush the sinner? Wilt Thou utterly destroy him with Thy strength? “No,” saith He, “come hither, child.” And if you go to His almighty throne, “There,” saith He, “that self-same arm which made thee quake, see there, I give it to thee. Go out and live. I have made thee mighty as I am, to do My works; I will put strength into thee. The same strength which would have broken thee to pieces on the wheel shall now be put into thee, that thou mayest do mighty works.”
Now, this great strength sometimes goes out in prayer. Did you ever hear a man pray in whom God had put strength? You have heard some of us poor puny souls pray, I dare say; but have you ever heard a man pray that God had made into a giant? Oh, if you have, you will say it is a mighty thing to hear such a man in supplication. I have seen him as if he had seized the angel, and would pull him down. I have seen him now and then slip in his wrestling; but, like a giant, he has recovered his footing, and seemed, like Jacob, to hurl the angel to the ground. I have marked the man lay hold upon the throne of mercy, and declare, “Lord, I will never let go, except thou bless me.” I have seen him, when heaven’s gates have been apparently barred, go up to them, and say, “Ye gates, open wide in Jesus’ name;” “and I have seen the gates fly open before him, as if the man were God himself; for he is armed with God Almighty’s strength. I have seen that man, in prayer, discover some great mountain in his way; and he prayed it down, until it became a very molehill. He has beaten the hills and made them like chaff by the immensity of his might.
Some of you think I am talking enthusiasm; but such cases have been, and are now. Oh, to have heard Luther pray! Luther, you know, when Melancthon was dying, went to his death-bed, and said, “Melancthon, you shall not die!” “Oh,” said Melancthon, “I must die! It is a world of toil and trouble.” “Melancthon,” said he, “I have need of thee, and God’s cause has need of thee, and as my name is Luther, thou shalt not die!” The physician said he would. Well, down went Luther on his knees, and began to tug at death. Old Death struggled mightily for Melancthon, and he had got him well-nigh on his shoulders. “Drop him,” said Luther, “drop him, I want him.” “No,” said Death, “he is my prey, I will take him!”
“Down with him,” said Luther, “down with him, Death, or I will wrestle with thee!” And he seemed to take hold of the grim monster, and hurl him to the ground; and he came off victorious, like an Orpheus, with his wife, up from the very shades of death; he had delivered Melancthon from death by prayer! “Oh,” say you, “that is an extraordinary case.” No, not one-half so extraordinary as you dream. Men and women have done the same in other cases; have asked a thing of God, and have had it; that have been to the throne, and showed a promise, and said they would not come away without its fulfilment, and have come back from God’s throne conquerors of the Almighty; for prayer moves the arm that moves the world.
“Prayer is the sinew of God,” said one, “it moves His arm;” and so it is. Verily, in prayer, with the strength of the faithful heart, there is a beautiful fulfilment of the text, “He will put strength in me.”
Not only in prayer, but in duty, the man who has great faith in God, and whom God has girded with strength, how gigantic does he become! Have you never read of those great heroes who put to flight whole armies, and scattered kings like the snow on Salmon? Have you never read of those men that were fearless of foes, and stalked onward before all their opposers, as if they would as soon die as live? I read of a case in the old kirk of Scotland, before that King James who wished to force “the black prelacy” upon them. Andrew Melville and some of his associates were deputed to wait upon the king, and as they were going with a scroll ready written, they were warned to take care and return, for their lives were at stake. They paused a moment, and Andrew said, “I am not afraid, thank God, nor feeble-spirited in the cause and message of Christ; come what pleases God to send, our commission shall be executed.” At these words the deputation took courage, and went forward. On reaching the palace, and having obtained an audience, they found his majesty attended by Lennox and Arran, and several other lords, all of whom were English. They presented their remonstrance. Arran lifted it from the table, and glancing over it, he then turned to the ministers, and furiously demanded, “Who dares sign these treasonable articles?” “We dare,” said Andrew Melville, “and will render our lives in the cause.” Having thus spoken, he came forward to the table, took the pen, subscribed his name, and was followed by his brethren. Arran and Lennox were confounded; the king looked on in silence, and the nobles in surprise. Thus did our good forefathers appear before kings, and yet were not ashamed. “The proud had them greatly in derision, yet they declined not from the law of God.” Having thus discharged their duty, after a brief conference, the ministers were permitted to depart in peace. The king trembled more at them than if a whole army had been at his gates; and why was this? It was because God had put His own strength into them to make them masters of their duty. And you have some such in your midst now. Despised they may be; but God has made them like the lion-like men of David, who would go down into the pit in the depth of winter, and take the lion by the throat and slay him. We have some in our churches—but a remnant, I admit—who are not afraid to serve their God, like Abdiel, “faithful amongst the faithless found.” We have some who are superior to the customs of the age, and scorn to bow at mammon’s knee, who will not use the trimming language of too many modern ministers, but stand out for God’s gospel, and the pure white banner of Christ, unstained and unsullied by the doctrines of men. Then are they mighty! Why they are mighty is because God has put strength in them.
“And shall I hold on to the end?” says the believer. Yes, thou wilt, for God’s strength is in thee. “Shall I be able to bear such-and-such a trial?” Yes, thou wilt. Cannot Omnipotence stem the torrent? And Omnipotence is in thee; for, like Ignatius of old, thou art a God-bearer; thou bearest God about with thee. Thy heart is a temple of the Holy Ghost, and thou shalt yet overcome. “But can I ever stand firm in such-and-such an evil day?” Oh, yes you will, for He will put His strength in you!
I was in company, some time ago, with some ministers; one of them observed, “Brother, if there were to be stakes in Smithfield again, I am afraid they would find very few to burn among us.” “Well,” I said, “I do not know anything about how you would burn; but this I know right well, that there never will be any lack of men who are ready to die for Christ.” “Oh!” said he, “but they are not the right sort of men.” “Well,” said I, “but do you think they are the Lord’s children?” “Yes, I believe they are, but they are not the right sort.” “Ah!” said I, “but you would find them the right sort, if they came to the test, every one of them; they have not got burning grace yet. What would be the use of it.” We do not want the grace till the stakes come; but we should have burning grace in burning moments. If now a hundred of us were called to die for Christ, I believe there would not only be found a hundred, but five hundred, that would march to death, and sing all the way. Whenever I find faith, I believe that God will put strength into the man; and I never think anything to be impossible to a man with faith in God, while it is written, “He will put strength in me.”
Cæsar could not swim the Tiber, accoutred as he was; and dost thou hope to swim the Jordan with thy flesh about thee? No, thou wilt sink then, unless Jesus, as Æneas did Anchises, from the flames of Rome, upon his shoulders, lift thee from Jordan, and carry thee across the stream, thou wilt never be able to walk across the river; thou wilt ne’er be able to face that tyrant and smile in his face, unless thou hast something more than mortal. Thou wilt need then to be belted about with the girdle of divinity, or else thy loins will be loosed, and thy strength will fail thee, when thou needst it most. Many a man has ventured to the Jordan in his own strength; but oh! how he has shrieked and howled, when the first wave has touched his feet! But never weakling went to death with God within him, but he found himself mightier than the grave. Go on, Christian, for this is thy promise, “He will put strength in me.”
“Weak, though I am, yet through His might,
I all things can perform.”
Go on; dread not God’s power, but rejoice at this, He will put His strength in you; He will not use His power to crush you.
What God Knew Before Time Began
Jesus tells his disciples that he will be crucified in just a couple of days. At dinner, a woman pours expensive perfume on Jesus’ head. The disciples are stunned. It’s such a waste. Jesus scolds them—she has beautifully prepared him for burial.
Behind the scenes, Judas strikes a deal with the religious leaders to betray Jesus. At the Passover meal commemorating Israel’s exodus from Egypt, Jesus announces a new covenant—which will provide his followers with their exodus from the slave master of sin. He demonstrates it with bread and wine. His body, broken like the bread, will pour out his blood, procuring forgiveness for sin.
After the meal, the group travels to the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus begs his Father to let him pay for sin another way, yet submits. Judas and the temple police arrive, and Jesus is handed over to the religious leaders.
The disciples flee. Jesus is passed from the ruling Jewish council to the Roman governor. Jesus is righteous and innocent; yet through crooked leadership and a frenzied crowd, the heavenly Father’s plan for redemption allows for Jesus to be condemned and crucified like a criminal..
God’s Son is dead.
But not forever. On the third day, in a borrowed tomb that isn’t borrowed for long, God raises Jesus back to life.
The King’s Heart
Centuries before, God had asked another father to put his much-loved son on an altar (see the story of Abraham and Isaac, Genesis 22). That faithful father obeyed. The faithful son had too. As the father raised his hand to bring down the knife to slay his son, God stayed his hand. God provided another sacrifice to take the son’s place.
But this time, on this altar, this Father did not stay his hand. There would be no other sacrifice. The Son is the sacrifice.
God knew that we wouldn’t just need help to live better lives. We would need something so powerful that it would break the curse of sin and death, nullifying Satan’s claim on our souls. God knew this before the foundation of the world. His cure would be Jesus, “the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world” (Revelation 13:8).
Before God said, “Let there be light!” he knew that Jesus would be crucified. That means that the Son knew too—and he chose to come to earth anyway. And he chose to stay on the altar. Because he is just that good.
As Jesus took on the sin of the world, the earth physically responded to the weight of what was happening. The sky darkened and the earth shook.