Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.
During persecution, some believers are spared, others go through torture and death. Some wonder why God doesn't deliver all of His people, since He surely could. Today, an answer to a vexing problem we all face as we try to understand God.
From the Moody Church in Chicago, this is Running to Win with Dr. Erwin Lutzer, whose clear teaching helps us make it across the finish line. Today we continue a series on the church in Babylon, unleashing the power of a Spirit-filled witness. Pastor Lutzer, when the state becomes dead, are we to obey whatever we're told to do?
Dave, the answer, of course, is no. Throughout history, Christians have always struggled with the issue of whether or not to obey the state. But the apostles left us an example by saying, we will serve God and we will fear Him and not man. In other words, God always comes first. By the way, there are those, you know, who tell us that we should always obey the government. If you take that point of view, you are making the government God. Only God should be always obeyed.
I've written a book entitled The Church in Babylon, and it contains a chapter entitled When the State Becomes God, as we try to analyze what is happening in our culture and how we must resist it, always remembering we are where we are through God's strength and grace. For a gift of any amount, this book can be yours. Here's what you do. Go to rtwoffer.com.
That's rtwoffer.com, or call us at 1-888-218-9337. Listen carefully, and after the message, I'll repeat this info. But you know, there is a limitation also that God imposes upon Himself when it comes to His power. Why doesn't He deliver everyone? Well, I'll tell you why He doesn't deliver everyone, and that's because of His ultimate hidden purpose that is hidden from us but fully known to Him.
Another case study in this is Jesus Himself. You know, here is Jesus, and was God able to deliver Jesus? Oh my, was God able to deliver Jesus.
Of course. Jesus said there in the garden, could not I call 12 legions of angels, and they'd come and deliver me? Clearly, clearly Jesus could be delivered even without the angels. But I can imagine that all of them were just looking down, and they were hovering over Jesus, and they were just saying, give us the signal so that we can deliver Him.
But they were prevented from it. I think of the words of Jesus to Pilate that I've often pondered when He said to Pilate, and Pilate's saying, you know, don't you know that I have power to crucify you and all those other things? Jesus said there would be no power at all that has been given to you except that which was given to you from above. Pilate, the very breath that you breathe and the words that you speak out of your mouth, all of that is totally dependent upon God's grace and mercy. You have no power at all against me except what God gives you. You see, my friend, God's purposes determine the fact that He does not always exercise His power.
It's often held in abeyance. Could God deliver them? Well, you heard these three men say, our God is able to deliver us.
Absolutely. But if He doesn't, we'll still be faithful unto death. You know, what was God's purpose here? Well, part of the purpose is for Nebuchadnezzar. Did you know that Nebuchadnezzar is going to be in heaven? Isn't that something we're going to say, hey, Nebuchadnezzar, just know that you gave me lots of sermon material.
And I used you as a bad example, but I'm sure glad you made it. Because in subsequent chapters, though he doesn't become a believer here, though he makes a decree that everybody's supposed to be honoring the God of the three guys, in subsequent chapters God humbles him and he makes a proclamation about the God of Israel that just takes your breath away. I believe that that indicates he became a true believer in Israel's God.
So that was part of it. The other part that some people think is God used this one experience as an illustration of how He walks with His people and is able to walk with His people through the fire of affliction, such as the Jews will experience during the tribulation, that God walks with them. The fourth man, of course, is Jesus, no question about that, the angel of the Lord. And so as this story unfolds, God is showing that at any time He wants to deliver His people through the fire, He most assuredly has the resources to do so. But we don't know His hidden purposes.
Can I make a suggestion to you as a pastor from my heart to yours? Let's agree that we are going to stop trying to read God's purposes through an envelope. You know, you've had that experience. You hold up the envelope to the light, and you think to yourself, oh yeah, I notice a few words, but you know, the problem is the light has to come through this way, and the letter is rather thick. But then you see along here, oh yeah, you do catch a phrase, but the problem is you have no context.
And you don't know what's on this side, because this side is all messed up because of the creases of the envelope, but you stand there trying to read it. Long ago, I've stopped predicting what I think God is going to do because He surprised me too many times. And what we need to do is to say our future is in His hands, even when we are wheeled into a hospital for surgery. We do not know the outcome. We do not know, but one thing we know, God is able to deliver, God is able to heal, but if He doesn't, let it be known unto us and to all those who are watching.
Always remember, you don't just suffer for yourself, you suffer for all the people who are watching you. Let it be known that we will not swerve in our faith in the living and the true God. Now how do we nail this down for ourselves, living in America as we do at this point in America's history? I want to give you three nails to put in the wall, so to speak, three lessons that I don't want you to forget. The first lesson is this, that persecution should be expected. Persecution should be expected. You see, whenever a state drifts towards paganism, the curtailment of religious freedom usually goes with it as the state assumes more and more power and more and more laws, and we should expect that, and we should not be overwhelmed by it.
What lies in America's future? Well, I don't know, but you know, this is something to think about. And by the way, if you're here today and you struggle with same-sex attraction, once again, you're welcome here.
The welcome mat at Moody Church is for everyone because God's grace is for all of us as sinners, and that's where we all stand. But notice this, an article in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. Racism, sexism, and homophobia do not fit into any current diagnostic category. The authors propose that those who engage in such behavior display a form of psychopathology deserving of its own category. So this article seeks to find the common denominator to be intolerance. The authors explore the possibility of an intolerant personality disorder, its symptoms, and possible cures. Intolerant personality disorder. Is it possible that the day may come in the future, hope that it's in the very distant future, where intolerant personality disorder becomes an identifiable mental illness, a pathology?
So that if you belong to that and you do not, and you are saying things and expressing your convictions, that the child protective services might be in your home, checking on the children, perhaps taking them from you because you have a pathology called the intolerance personality disorder. You say, well, that's really far-fetched. Yeah, I know it is, but you know, things like that are happening in Europe already. But you know what we need to do? We need to just take a deep breath. Everybody, if you're listening, take a deep breath now, would you please? I have to do it up here because I'm talking, and some of you have to do it there because you're sitting. Let us remember this.
Why is this strange? Peter said these marvelous words, which at one time I knew exactly by memory, but I need to read them now. He is writing to people under the Roman Empire and says, Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you as though something strange were happening to you.
Don't be surprised. But rejoice in so far as you share Christ's sufferings that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed. If you're insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. We could say the fourth man walks with you during those insults, during the persecution, during the false accusations.
God is always with His people, and He will never leave us nor forsake us. So we must welcome it. Fear and anger are not options to the Christian.
And we must be able to be like the early church who considered it a privilege to be identified with Jesus in a culture back then that was anti-Christian and anti the worship of the Roman Empire. So first of all, accept it. Second, and this becomes a little disheartening, most people will bow before the power of the state and its laws. Most people will bow before the power of the state and its laws.
I've been meditating on this this past week and asking myself a question. Three people refuse to bow. We have no idea why Daniel was not there. It's possible he was on a tour somewhere for the king because, and we know of course Daniel would never have bowed because in chapter 6 he has his own opportunity when he prays to Jerusalem three times a day and they tell him to stop doing that and he won't and he gets thrown into the lion's den. So we know that Daniel would certainly have not bowed even as these three guys didn't bow.
But apart from that, I'm asking myself a question. Weren't there 10,000 Jews minimally? Scholars believe there are many more than that that went to Babylon. Where in the world were they?
Well, maybe, you know, they were out on the other side of the plane and nobody saw them. I don't know. I think maybe all the rest decided to bow because they said to themselves, look, this doesn't mean that we can't also worship Jehovah. Furthermore, and this touches my heart, we have children and you know what we'll do? We'll bow the knee but we won't bow our hearts. So God knows we really don't mean it.
And furthermore, we have to be in Babylon so that we're good witnesses to Jehovah. It's pretty hard to be a good witness when you're dead. And so they don't identify and I think that most of them, if not all of them, bowed. You know, there are Christians today who are not so sure how well we would do if we had persecution. There are Christian business people and so forth who eat in a public cafeteria who will not bow their heads even in prayer because they don't want to be identified with Jesus and be thought of as weird. Jesus said, rejoice when your name is cast out as being evil.
We don't like that. So, you know, there are Christians who bow their head and kind of, you know, they're actually rubbing their eyebrows or they're, you know, they're adjusting their napkin, you know, on their knee and so forth. Think of Daniel. He bows and prays three times a day with an open window and they say, you do that and you get the lion's den. Daniel said, I'm not going to surrender my commitment to God.
I will do whatever. You know, Jesus said this. He said, he was ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation. Of him shall also the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory. I've never preached on that text. You know, if I'm around here long enough, I might actually preach a sermon on that sometime.
Imagine that. How will we do when the true persecution comes? That's the question. You know why the others bowed? It's because they feared the furnace more than they feared God. And so they went along with the statism of the day and they bowed. Hate to say it, but few will actually stand. And what's interesting historically is that the ones who do stand, we remember. We don't remember a lot of names in Germany, but we think of Bonhoeffer and Martin, Niemoller, and a lot of others. And there were others too. There were about 700 pastors and priests who went to concentration camps because of their opposition to Hitler. But we remember the heroes and we study them.
The others pass namelessly into history. Young people and others, God is looking for those who are saying, we're going to stand, we're going to identify with Jesus, we're going to take the heat, because after all, he is our Savior, he is our Lord, and God forbid that we should ever be ashamed of him. Now there's a final lesson, and that is this, that the fire that purifies us is the fire that actually frees us.
It sets us free. You notice, and we read the text a moment ago, perhaps too quickly, but do you notice how Nebuchadnezzar just seems to be obsessed with this idea that they had to be bound and thrown into the fire? He says, for example, in verse 20, bind a Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. And these men were bound in their cloaks. I assume they had ropes that were tied around them and their tunics and so forth.
They were bound with their clothes. And then King Nebuchadnezzar is astonished, verse 24. He declared to his counselors, did we not cast three men into the fire? He answered and said, but I see four men unbounded in the fire. There was something that the fire burned off. And what the fire burned off was the ropes that held them bound. And they were freed in the fire. My dear friend, no matter what fiery trial you're passing through, and it may be persecution, that may be around the corner, it may be some other fiery trial when Peter said don't think it's strange if you're in a fiery trial. You can fill in the blank as to what that fiery trial is. But Peter said, rejoice, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. The fourth man shows up and walks with you through the fire.
And you can even be set free because finally you've trusted Him, no matter the outcome. I ask today that this church will be a church that lovingly, winsomely, and without a sense of judgment and, what shall we say, self-judgment. No, that's the wrong word. Self-righteousness.
That's the word I want. God forbid that we should be like that. But with humility and brokenness, we give a loving witness where we are, and we are willing to take the heat for the one who redeemed us. And we're confident that He walks with us through the fire.
And actually sets us free. Chrysostom was a preacher in Istanbul, ancient Constantinople. And he was run out of town, and he got into trouble with the authorities because they didn't like his preaching, yada, yada, yada.
It's a story that's been told 100 times. His people, you know, they took up stones and sticks, and they were going to fight the authorities. But of course they couldn't. You know, you and I can't fight our culture when we have these strong cultural streams.
That is to say, we cannot fight them with our own weapons. We have to throw ourselves on God. But anyway, the people gathered in the church for his last sermon.
After that, he went into exile and died. Let me give you a paragraph of what he said. Numerous are the waves and the great tossing of the sea, but we have no fear of going down, or we stand upon the rock. Let the ocean rage as it will. It is powerless to break the rock.
Let the waves roll. They cannot sink the bark of Jesus. Tell me, what should we fear? Death? For me to live is Christ and to die is gain. Exile? The earth is the Lord's and the fullness of it. Confiscation? A property?
Which was happening in those days. We brought nothing into this world, and it is clear that we can take nothing away with us. I despise what the world fears and hold its good things into vision. I do not fear poverty, nor do I desire riches. I am not afraid of death. I do not pray to live unless it be for your good.
This is why I speak of what is now taking place and exhort you be of good cheer, that when the water comes, the waves do not break the rock but are dissolved into foam. God wins. Whether or not He delivers us, this much is sure we'll go on believing Him, even without a miracle, because we've come to know the living and the true God. Pastor Wiersbe, my predecessor here, said that it's one thing, you know, to be put into the furnace of fire.
It's quite another to be put into the lake of fire. And my friend today, I urge you to believe on Jesus, because He died. He gave His life. He gave Himself for us.
And He even said, this is my body, which is broken. This is my blood. Eat and drink in remembrance of me, because in that act is redemption and the free gift of eternal life to all those who are listening at this moment, and God is working in your heart. Would you reach out and receive that free gift, we pray in Jesus' name. Father, take these words, we pray, to encourage us to give us the strength that we need. And we ask, O Lord, that these three men would be our role models in a world that has lost its way. We love you. We pray that we might represent you well. In Jesus' name, amen. Well, my friend, this is Pastor Lutzer. You and I know that we live in a very confused world. What do you say if a teenager says to you, I'm transgender? What should your response be?
How do we understand this phenomenon? I've written a book entitled The Church in Babylon, and I wrote the book to help us think through these kinds of questions through a biblical lens, but at the same time with a great deal of compassion. My desire has always been to help people, to encourage them, to lead them to the truth, but at the same time to give a loving witness. I believe that this book will be a great blessing to you. It will be a help in understanding the culture and how to navigate the kind of situation that we are in today. Now, for a gift of any amount, this book can be yours.
Ask for the book, The Church in Babylon. Here's what you can do. Go to RTWOffer.com. That's RTWOffer.com, or if you prefer, you can call us at 1-888-218-9337. Now, I'm going to be giving you that info again, giving you time to get a pencil so that you can write this down. You can go to RTWOffer.com or call us at 1-888-218-9337.
As a matter of fact, you can actually pick up the phone and you can call right now. Call 1-888-218-9337. Thanks in advance for helping us because together we are making a difference. We are enabling people, encouraging them, helping them to remember that we are in a race and we are committed to help them make it all the way to the finish line.
You can write to us at Running to Win, 1635 North LaSalle Boulevard, Chicago, IL 60614. The judgment of God can come with a vengeance. For ancient Babylon, that time came when Daniel foretold the doom of Babylon's king. Next time, we turn to Daniel chapter 5 and relive the awful night when a king saw the handwriting on the wall. Thanks for listening. For Dr. Erwin Lutzer, this is Dave McAllister. Running to Win is sponsored by the Moody Church.
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