How can we refuse to bow like Daniel’s friends? How can we as the Church in exile stand strong and share the love of Christ?
I was reading about and thinking about dandelions the other day. I want to warn y’all, what I’m about to say is a little controversial and some of you may disagree. But, I think dandelions are cool. And actually pretty.
Dandelions, and this may not surprise you, have one of the longest flowering seasons of any plant. And, did you know, every part of the dandelion is useful? The root, leaves, and the flower. They can be used for food, medicine, and dye for coloring.
Dandelions have had quite an impact and have actually helped a lot of people. Birds, insects, and butterflies consume the nectar or seed of dandelion. Dandelions can be used to make wine and used as a substitute for coffee.
There have been times when dandelions have been appreciated for what they are, but that is not the season we’re in right now in America. We’re in the season of trying to kill dandelions and we spend a lot of money collectively on pesticides to do so.
But, as we know, dandelions are very resilient.[i]
In some ways, church history parallels the history of the dandelion. The church has had its season when it’s been celebrated. When people have seen the benefits of the church. The church, however, has also had its seasons when people have wanted to kill the church, even willing to use pesticides.[ii]
The Church in America is in exile. And more and more that is being made empirically clear. Of course, theologically it’s always been clear.
The book of Daniel has a lot to teach the Church in exile. How can we stand tall and bright like a dandelion when the whole world bows?
How can we be like dandelions? How can we be like Daniel and his friends? How can we stand when many want to cut us down? How can we adapt and even populate and grow in this often hostile climate? (Timothy Keller has some very helpful thoughts on that question here)
How are we, as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, to be faithful in a faithless world? Answering these questions is one of the main purposes of the book of Daniel.[iii]
How can we refuse to bow like Daniel’s friends?
Romans 15:4 tells us that “whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction.” Daniel has a lot to instruct us about living in exile. We’ll particularly be considering Daniel chapter 3 here.
In Daniel 3 we see the King, Nebuchadnezzar, sets up a huge idol. It’s ironic because God, the true King, is the one who sets up kings. We see 8 times in Daniel chapter 3 that the king “set up” the idol (Dan. 3:1-3, 5, 7, 12, 15, 18). But in Daniel 2:21 we see that it is God, the real King, that sets up kings:
“He changes times and seasons;
He removes kings and sets up kings;
He gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those who have understanding.”
So, the first lesson for us if we are to stand is to see that it is God, the true Lord, who is Sovereign.
Second, we must see the prevalence of idolatry.
We may not see actual idols all over in America, but they are there. The truth is: an idol is most massive and mighty when never mentioned. Satan, the father of lies, would like to cover our eyes to our culture of idolatry. We’ll continue to bow if we don’t know we’re bowing.
So, we must see that idolatry is the cultural air we are breathing. We are not immune. We are not untouched. Idolatry is not just out there. It is very often in our own hearts. Therefore, we must search and destroy every idol in operation in our hearts.
What even is idolatry? The New City Catechism says, “Idolatry is trusting in created things rather than the Creator for our hope and happiness, significance and security.”
Four questions to help you find your idols:
- What brings negative emotional responses?
- Where do you put your hope when things go well and when things go wrong?
- Who do you compare yourself to?
- How have you turned good things into ultimate things?
Third, be present to bless.
Notice Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse to comply with idolatrous practice but they aren’t wholesale against Babylon. They worked hard in the government and were a blessing to Babylon. That’s us too. We need to “come out of Babylon” as it says in Revelation 18:4. But, that means we need to not partake of Babylon’s value system. We’re not to partake of the sins of the world as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5:10, we are not to leave the world.
We’re in Babylon, to bless Babylon. We have different values than Babylon but were not to always just bash Babylon or the Babylonians.
Fourth, die rather than partake in idolatry.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are explicitly commanded to bow an idol, which is a clear violation of the 2nd of the 10 Commandments (Ex. 20:4-6). Listen to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s response: “Be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (v. 18).
They were willing to die rather than take part in idolatry. Very often I’m afraid we might be closer to the opposite of that. We’re more than willing to die for our idolatry.
We, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, should die rather than partake in idolatry. As it says 1 Corinthians 10:14, “Dear friends, flee from idolatry”!
Fifth, we may face various fires.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego faced literal fire and each remained strong in the Lord. You have or will face fire as well—mockery, judgment, or various other obstacles—but as Christians, we can stand because we know Jesus stands with us.
We can stand when we stand in Him. We can refuse to bow, when we bow to Him.
Further, our fellowship with Christ is often nearest and dearest in the furnace of affliction; I suppose that is because all distractions are burned away. In those moments we can know, deeply know, the One who matters most.
But, sixth, no matter what we face, we know God is with us.
Over and over we may be cut down but because of Christ’s sacrifice, we can stand tall like a dandelion; strong, resilient, and bright. And point to the One who is the One True Lord of the universe.
Dear Christian brothers and sisters, remember: God doesn’t promise that He will necessarily keep His people from the fire. But, He does promise that He will be with His people in the flame (Ex. 3:12; Is. 43:2; Matt. 28:18-20; Heb. 13:5; 1 Pet. 4:12-14). Ultimately we see Christ faced the ultimate fire so no matter the fire we face, we can face it with hope. We can face it standing on His promises. God’s promise to be with us finds its fullest fulfillment in Jesus, who is Immanuel—God with us.
How should we respond to the God who is with us through the fire and through the flame? How should we respond to Jesus who waded into the fire of affliction? How should we respond to the One who went through the furnace of the wrath of God completely alone? How should we respond who did all that for us?
We should bow to Him in reverent submission and we should lovingly share the news with “all the peoples, nations, and languages” that He alone is worthy of our worship.
Remember dear brothers and sisters, today the world says bow to every idol, but on the last day everyone—every tribe, language, nation, and tongue—will bow to Christ the King (Phil. 2:10-11).
Let’s bow now. Let’s bow in reverent submission. Jesus is worthy of our worship—of all worship!
So, as you drive around or mow and see dandelions, think about God’s sustaining and persevering power that He gives. He is with us no matter what we face! So, we can stand like resilient dandelions, unbending, pointing to the Creator who alone is worthy of worship.
[i] Most of this was taken from Jen Kerr.
[ii] And actually, in the world today, each of those things is a reality simultaneously depending on where you are. We just happen to live in a place and time in America where “dandelions” seem to be less and less popular.
[iii] The narrations in the book of Daniel of God’s power in the midst of severe opposition serve an important purpose: the encouragement of exiles.
*Photo by Amy Earl