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.
“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.