I have entitled this message: “To have and to hold; ‘til death do us part.” The source for these thoughts is this a trio of men: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Their true names were Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. As part of an effort to strip these Israelites of their heritage and their hearts, their Babylonian masters gave them heathen names. It is a shame that most of us call them by their Babylonian monikers rather than their God-honoring names. We don’t do that with Daniel, so why do it with them? And remember – in more ways that one – “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold.” According to John Gill, Hananiah means “Whom Jehovah hath favored.” Couldn’t that be your name? Mishael asks the question: “Who is what God is?” or “who is comparable to God?” And Azariah means “Whom Jehovah helps.” Each of these point a finger to Jehovah – something which we should all do. Shadrach on the other hand means “the king” or the “the sun.” Meshach refers to the earth goddess of the Babylonians. And Abed-nego means “servant of the shining fire” and ultimately refers to Lucifer. These are not names which anyone should be proud to wear.
These three men, and we could include Daniel but we purposefully leave him out this morning … These three men refused to bow their knees to the gods of Babylon. They were re-educated, browbeaten, vilified, threatened and cast into the very jaws of death, but they stubbornly, bullishly, and mulishly refused to join the herd of other religious lemmings running to the edge of disaster. They may have been forced to outwardly wear the names of idolatry, but in their hearts and in their homes they were always servants of Jehovah. It is interesting that the young men’s names were changed in Daniel 1:6. And here, when we view their trial through Babylonian eyes, they are called by their Babylonian names. But when Daniel, enlisted their prayers in chapter 2:17, we are told that Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah joined him in prayer. All four young men were known to each other – and to the Lord – by their Hebrew names. Men may call me a lunatic, a fanatic, a schismatic, a religious fundamentalist, or whatever they like. I call myself a Christian, God the Father calls me His child, and the Lord Jesus calls me His brother.
Our church publishes and believes a group of doctrines. Perhaps we need to more clearly define them in order to eliminate any confusion, but still, we have an official doctrinal statement. We assume that our membership agrees to these doctrines, although we know this is not very likely a 100% agreement. We don’t dictate to our members what it is that they have to believe. But everyone should realize that they will hear those doctrines expounded around here from time to time. And they are expected not to teach things contrary to our published doctrinal statement. They may be personally offended once in a while, but the church as a whole will rejoice. We are not trying to dictate what anyone must believe, but at the same we are trying to protect what we, as a body, believe to be the truth.
So we believe in the virgin birth of Christ; His eternal deity, His death, His resurrection and His imminent return. Not only do we believe in a literal Millennial kingdom and a literal seven-year Tribulation, but we also believe in the pre-tribulation return of the Lord to deliver His people from that Tribulation. We believe in the universal and thorough depravity of every human being, and that there is nothing good in any of us, including self-generated faith and repentance. We believe in the eternality of the Lake of Fire, and that the wicked and unbelieving will spend eternity there. We believe that the Bible declares its own divine inspiration, and that it the root of a good education. We know that God directly created the universe in a span of six 24-hour days. We believe that Satan is an actual evil creature, and he has angels at his command, just as does the Lord. We believe that salvation from sin can only come about by the intervention of sovereign, divine grace; that the Lord saves Whom He chooses to save, and that no sinner has even the slightest right to salvation. Furthermore, we believe that salvation is eternal; that eternal life is eternal and that Heaven is eternal. We believe that baptism is by immersion and is valid only under the authority of one of the Lord’s Churches. And we believe that the Lord’s Supper is to be celebrated only by the members of each of God’s churches.
We believe these things with dozens of others, and they combine to define who we are as a church. We assume that the members of this church essentially believe all these things. But … how strong is your faith and what kind of faith do you have? Of course there are billions of people who flatly deny all or most of these things – they are unbelievers. They have their reasons, their excuses and their fears. All of which naturally come out of their depravity and dead spiritual condition. We don’t hate these people for their unbelief, because we were among them before the grace of God touched and quickened our hearts. I don’t detect any hatred in Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael or Azariah toward their captors.
Only slightly higher than outright unbelievers are the ignorant believers. “My mother believed such and such, and my church believes them, so I guess I believe them as well.” Many “beliefs” are worn and tattered because they are nothing but unloved, unexamined hand-me-downs. On the same level as ignorant belief there is circumstantial belief and compromisable belief. “Today I accept the idea of the imminent return of Christ, but if World War III starts tomorrow, I would have to think that we are now in the Tribulation, so it appears that we may have to wait seven years before the return of the Lord.” Or … “I believe in divine creation, but if my biology teacher convinces me that such a thing is impossible, I will be forced believe in evolution.” A faith like these – based on circumstances or circumstantial evidence – aren’t true faith at all. Biblical “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Fluctuating points of “faith” are nothing but opinions, and opinions come or go.
Above such things as these there is an all-pervading faith – a faith of conviction rather than a persuasion. This is the kind of faith to have and hold ‘til death comes along. And if our faith is true then I suppose that not even death can separate us from that faith. The difference between these four kinds of faith can be illustrated in four kinds of coins. There are gold coins, which are the most valuable. Then there are very useful silver alloy coins, followed by various degrees of copper and nickel coins. But at the bottom are wooden and lead coins, which won’t fit into any coin machine in the world.
Let’s use Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah to help us analyze our faith – your faith.
How well does your faith endure under the pressures of the 21st century?
For example there is PEER PRESSURE. I’m not talking about the pressure put on the hull of a boat as it is tied up to a pier. I’m talking about the pressure that our friends, family, co-workers and neighbors put on us to believe and do whatever THEY believe and do. Peter standing at the fire in the courtyard of the High Priest, surrounded by his peers, denied the Lord. By his denial under pressure, Peter proved that this faith was vacillating and circumstantial. Ananias and Sapphira, by their sin, proved that their faith in the omniscience of God was circumstantial. Moses’ brother Aaron, through the pressure of Israel’s unbelievers, was forced to illustrate Jehovah with a calf, when in all likelihood, he really didn’t believe it. But it didn’t matter how many or how strong their neighbors were Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah could not be induced to compromise their faith. When a Christian retreats under pressure from some important doctrine, it indicates that he doesn’t really think it is important. It means that he didn’t have a deep-seated conviction about that thing. He wasn’t really sure that what he believed was really true.
But this is precisely where the rubber meets the road as Christians in a non-Christian world. Every week, week-after-week, we gather here behind closed doors and with tinted glass in our windows. And we preach these things, and we say “amen,” professing to believe these things. We reap the blessings of these doctrines, and we say that our eternity is based on these doctrines. But if these doctrines are not worthy of expression and defense before the unbeliever, are they as important as we say they are? If we hope, or expect, to make any kind of difference in our unbelieving world, then not only must we believe what we believe, we must believe them strongly enough to stand upon them in the face of the world’s ridicule.
Another kind of pressure is FINANCIAL. There are many people in the world whose faith is governed by its effects on their wallets. Some won’t attend a church which teaches or believes in giving to God their tithes and other offerings. Others don’t care what a church believes so long as there are good business contacts there. And then some try to control the faith of a church by threatening to withdraw their finances if the preaching offends their particular faith. But the old saying is NOT true that every man has his price: It doesn’t appear that Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah would have given up their faith for any number of dollars, shekels or lire.
Then we come to what I call the SCIENTIFIC or PSEUDO-INTELLECTUAL PRESSURE. Science has become the sacred cow of our society. Anything that wears the label of “science” has become untouchable – unassailable. At least it is perceived to be unassailable by the non-thinking majority of society. The word “science” covers a multitude of sins including slaughtering babies, to the harvesting of babies. What science says goes; it must be true because a PhD said that it is true. But that is no more true than if a politician said that something is true, because a great many scientists are nothing more than closet, or even puppet, politicians. Science is supposed to be the orderly arrangement of what, at the moment, seem to be the facts. Some scientist say that God doesn’t exist – but to reach that conclusion they ignore more facts than they accept. Some science, so-called, says that a six-day creation is impossible, despite the evidence that it is true. Some scientists focus their attention on supposed “evidence” which suggests that the universe is 6 billion years old, but in the process they ignore evidence which suggests it is only 6 thousand years old. Why is it if a man with four PhD degrees in biology, astrophysics, palenotology and astronomy, and who stands before a congregation declaring that he believes in a literal interpretation of Genesis 1, is somehow stripped of his scientific credentials and labeled rather as a preacher of religion? It is due to the world’s hypocrisy.
A similar pressure is that of apparent intelligence. Before you, I can say that I believe in such-and-such, because the Bible says that it is so. And I can also say that I believe a particular Biblical statement even though I can’t explain it. But why can’t I get away with making the same statement before an hostile crowd? I have an article prepared for the church bulletin which declares that secular “science” is filled with secular faith in inexplicable details, and most of the world shouts “amen” because it comes from science. But we are considered to be fools for saying “amen” when the Bible leaves us without explanation.
The professional football season started last Thursday. I watched the opening of the first game and saw that 9 of the 10 chosen experts predicted that one team would win. That team lost. Despite their erroneous estimations those 10 experts will be back next week making more predictions. The silly world of the sports annalist just illustrates that much of the pseudo-intellectual world is really nothing more than entertainment. Education and intelligence, which are not rooted in God’s revelation, should never be considered wisdom. Remember that it is in the “fear of God” that we find the beginning of wisdom. Never let your faith be eroded by an intellectual who rejects the Bible – he is not a true thinker. Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah were confronted by intellectuals throughout their lives. They were sent to Babylonian university and graduate school in order to turn them into “intellectuals.” But the strength of their faith was not going to be crushed by their pseudo-intellectual professors.
Two other kinds of anti-faith pressure may soon come, in the form of LITIGATION and PRISON. If you were made to look like the delinquent of society, would you change your faith to protect your name? If you were threatened with prison unless you followed the belief system of the majority, would you willingly put your feet into the stocks? If you were told to bow before the image of Nebuchadnezzar or face the burning, fiery furnace would you accept the flames? Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah did face those flames – willingly. Ecclesiastically, those who believe that salvation from sin is God’s eternal plan, are considered to be evil. Those who say that homosexuals cannot be children of God, because they won’t repent of their sin are labeled “homophobic.” And homophobics are fuel for modern furnaces. But it can, and will become, worse. It may some day be illegal to tell a Roman Catholic that he needs to be converted. It may be against the law to tell a Muslim that he is a unbeliever. It will be unlawful to privately tell another person that Mormonism is heresy. And even our children may be indoctrinated into reporting to the authorities that their grandparents made such statement about the poor Mormons, Muslims and Catholics.
I personally don’t really think that prisons are what they ought to be. I think that they ought to be a lot tougher. And yet, I know that they are bad enough that no rational person wants to spend any time in one. But the question is: would I go to jail if there was a law passed that made it illegal to attend our church? We have Christian brothers and sisters in prisons and concentrations camps in countries around the world simply because they believe in many of the essential doctrines in which you believe. They are modern day Hananiahs, Mishaels and Azariahs.
One more pressure which may be leveled against us could be the DEATH SENTENCE. Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah were not only threatened with death, they were effectively executed. Which doctrines do you say that you believe, but you’d deny in order to save your life? Millions of our Baptistic forefathers lost their lives out of stubborn love for the verbally inspired Word of God; would you? Millions were slaughtered by Catholic armies because they refused to bow before a human pope. Millions more were tortured to death because they insisted that salvation is through the grace of God – not baptism. Today, there are Baptists who turn in embarrassment from the doctrine of the scriptural church even when there is no death penalty threatened at all.
Peter had learned a lot by the time he said that “we ought to obey God rather than men.” At that point he implied that we ought to believe and obey God even if death is the result. Jeremiah kept declaring the divinely revealed doctrine of imminent destruction, despite his own near-death in a Jerusalem cesspool. And this he did right up until the destruction of Jerusalem. The prophet Micaiah said, “As the LORD liveth, even what my God saith, that will I speak.” And he spoke the Words of God right up until the moment of his murder. Do you think that Stephen was so blind as not to see the consequences of his open declaration of faith?
Christians should not fear death – it is nothing but the escalator to Heaven. It is activated by God’s sovereign key. But there are millions of professing Christians, who are afraid of death. And as a result they are afraid of the things that they profess to believe because they might endanger them. Because of their fear of death they are afraid to live a normal Christian life. They fear what they profess and can walk away from them, because those things are only segments of their circumstantial faith.
And then there are people like Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah who lived with conviction and faith.
Despite the fact that there are usually teachers involved, convictions are SELF-DETERMINED. It is my job to try to guide you toward the faith once delivered unto the saints. But as Paul said, “We have no dominion over your faith.” To have a conviction about something it must come from within. It must become a part of your character; it cannot be just a part of your wardrobe or your vocabulary. Study, necessarily, is an important part of the formation of conviction. If you haven’t got an idea of why you believe something, it won’t stick with you in the time of testing. At the judgment seat of Christ, I expect to hear that the people of Berea were people of conviction, because they had been students of the Word of God.
Second, convictions are NON-NEGOTIABLE. Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah refused to bend when they first heard the trumpet of the king. Then a second opportunity was given. Some professing Christians would have said there was a God-given second chance to save their lives. But they saw it as a second opportunity to give their testimony of the Lord to the people who denied Him. And that second opportunity came after a short period of religious dialogue. Religious dialogue is nothing but a fancy term for “negotiation.” It is a synonym for “compromise.” But the truth cannot be negotiated or compromised.
Third, convictions CAN NOT BE HIDDEN. Think how obvious those three Hebrew men were, when the trumpets were blown. Everyone else around them fell to the ground in worship – pretended or genuine. But Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah stood out like three giraffes in the desert. A person with convictions is forced by those convictions to stand out and eventually to speak out.
And fourth, convictions become a part of a PERSON’S LIFESTYLE. One of the important themes within the Book of James is: “Don’t tell me, show me.” You say that you have faith, that’s fine for you, but it doesn’t do anything for me. But here let me SHOW you mine; I can prove my faith. Do you believe that “all things work together for good,” then where is your smile? Do you say that Christ is coming again soon, then why are you collecting so many worldly toys? You say that Calvary Independent Baptist Church is the body of Christ in Post Falls, then why aren’t you helping to fill this place with visitors? A person’s convictions can’t be compromised even in his own heart.
Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah were great young men. They knew what they believed; they were captivated by what they believed. They knew that what they believed was true and worth living for in the midst of a truth-denying world. They knew that what they believed was worth dying for. And dying for their faith, made the faithless sit up and take notice.
God honoured the faith and the stand that those young men made for their faith. The Lord always honours this kind of stand. What kind of faith do you have? Would you live and die for your faith in the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ for your sins?