Embracing a Fate of Fire

Dateline Afghanistan

This week the Associated Press reported some positive news from Afghanistan about a Christian named Sayed Mussa:

An Afghan man who was jailed for nine months for converting to Christianity has been released after an intense campaign by international diplomatic missions and Christian activists, an official said Friday.1

Sadly, just being released from jail isn't that great news in a country where many adhere to the view that says those who convert from Islam…who "apostatize"…deserve death. Dead is dead whether it is at the hands of officials or vigilantes…and there is a good chance a successful vigilante would be seen as a hero. (If you aren't convinced of that, just think of lawyers in January throwing rose petals at the feet of the bodyguard who killed the Pakistani governor he was supposed to be protecting because that man had come out against blasphemy law; that and the 500 Muslim clerics who lauded the murderer.2)

However, a bit later in the AP article there is even better news:

[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]

The [International Christian Concern] said they received a call from a U.S. official in Kabul on Monday confirming that Mussa had been released and was safely out of Afghanistan.3

I would argue, however, that Sayed's release and escape to a safer country isn't the greatest news from the AP piece. Instead, it is the power the Holy Spirit had in his life:

In a Feb. 13 letter, disclosed by International Christian Concern, Mussa said representatives of the U.S. and Italian embassies in Kabul visited him in the detention center and offered him asylum. Mussa wrote that after the foreigners left the room, three Afghan officials told him he would be released within 24 hours if he signed a statement saying he regretted his conversion to Christianity. Mussa refused.

“I laughed and replied, 'I can't deny my savior's name,'” Mussa wrote in the letter. “I am 100 percent ready to die.”4

He laughed and replied, "I can't deny my savior's name. I am 100 percent ready to die."

Sayed said that before he knew he was going to be released…and after being imprisoned for his faith nine months in harsh conditions, including being beaten by guards, assaulted (and raped) by a couple of other prisoners, and not seeing his wife and six children for months since danger forced them to flee Afghanistan.5

He laughed and replied, "I can't deny my savior's name. I am 100 percent ready to die."

If you don't mind me sounding like a televangelist…

Can I get an "Amen!" to that!

When the Rubber Meets the Road

I'm sure that "rubber meets the road" opportunity for Sayed was only one of many where he could have avoided immediate and future pain by doing a "simple" thing.

Just recant your faith in Jesus and all will be well…

Ahhh…but it really isn't that simple if you are truly adopted into God's family. Sayed was changed…and nothing could get him to deny the One who changed him.

Favorite Scriptures

Joshua

Some of my favorite scriptures are when the Bible documents people, like Sayed, who confidently stand-up for the faith, whether under duress or not. One that comes quickly to mind records the words of Joshua, the man who faithfully followed the Lord in leading the Israelites into the Promised Land. Who can forget these words from such a great saint not to long before our Father called him home at the ripe old age of 110?:

15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD" (Joshua 24:15).

"But for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

Can I get an "Amen!" to that too?!

"I can't deny my savior's name. I am 100 percent ready to die."

David and Goliath

Perhaps one of the most famous stories in the Bible is that of David and Goliath. Very few children will get through a proper Sunday school curriculum without hearing about the boy with a rock and slingshot and a boasting enemy giant. What stands out to me is the confidence David shows in the face of such a daunting fight…and in the midst of a bunch of other "scaredy-cats" adults:

All the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him and were much afraid (1 Samuel 17:24).

However, David was not "much afraid":

31 When the words that David spoke were heard, they repeated them before Saul, and he sent for him. 32 And David said to Saul, "Let no man's heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine." 33 And Saul said to David, "You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth." 34 But David said to Saul, "Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, 35 I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. 36 Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God." 37 And David said, "The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine." And Saul said to David, "Go, and the LORD be with you!" (1 Samuel 17:31-37).

"The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine."

Can I get an "Amen!" to that?!

"But for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

"I can't deny my savior's name. I am 100 percent ready to die."

Peter and John

One might argue that Joshua, about to comfortably pass away, and Daniel, who was choosing to put his life at risk, don't have much in common with Sayed. I would argue that they all shared trust and confidence in the Lord…but to bring things back to the persecution side of the equation, let's head to the New Testament and join Peter and John. The two had been been arrested by the authorities who were "greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead" (Acts 4:2). The following day, after they witnessed to "the rulers and scribes gathered in Jerusalem" (Acts 4:5)…the leaders men were scratching their heads as to what to do with the unruly disciples:

"What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name." 18 So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:16-20).

"Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak what we have seen and heard."

Can I get an "Amen!" to that?!

"The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine."

"But for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

"I can't deny my savior's name. I am 100 percent ready to die."

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego

We could continue to mine the Bible for other great stories where men and women stood up for the faith…but the last case I want to share today may be my favorite.

Nebuchadnezzar was a pretty smart king…you don't build up a nation as large as his and have an average or low IQ. However, egos have a strange way of making us gullible when someone strokes it…and after he first made the mistake of creating a 90 foot gold statue of himself and telling people to worship it, the Chaldeans took advantage of his self-importance and set-up the Jews…who they knew wouldn't bow down to an idol, no matter how large or otherwise impressive it was.

Just think of it…90 feet high and 9 feet wide…and all gold!

The tattle-tail Chaldeans reminded Nebuchadnezzar that he commanded that anyone who did not "fall down and worship shall be cast into a burning fiery furnace" (Daniel 3:12)…and then told the king with a big head that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were refusing to do just that. Nebuchadnezzar…"in a furious rage" (Daniel 3:14) brought them before him and gave them one more chance live:

But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?"

16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up" (Daniel 3:15b-18).

"But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up."

Can I get an "Amen!" to that?!

"Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak what we have seen and heard."

"The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine."

"But for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

"I can't deny my savior's name. I am 100 percent ready to die."

Embrace the Fire

Now you know where the title of this sermon comes from. When faced with a "simple" way of avoiding sure death, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego embraced the fire…and just like we can celebrate the release of Sayed, we can praise God that those three survived the flames that were so hot that they killed the soldiers who threw them into the furnace (Nebuchadnezzar was so angry "he ordered the furnace heated seven times more than it was usually heated" (Daniel 3:19)).

Not everyone who embraces the fire is as lucky as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego…whether it is recorded in the pages of Scripture or not. For that matter, it is the work of one such man…William Tyndale…that may be most responsible for the fact that we can read of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego's faithfulness and heroism in English. Tyndale's heresy was to have the audacity of translating Scripture into English so the common man could read it. The Christian History Magazine describes his end:

A strong chain hung from the top, and a noose of hemp was threaded through a hole in the upright. …The prisoner was brought in and a final appeal was made that he should recant.

Tyndale stood immovable, his keen eyes gazing toward the common people. A silence fell over the crowd as they watched the prisoner's lean form and thin, tired face; his lips moved with a final impassioned prayer that echoed around the place of execution: "Lord, open the king of England's eyes."

His feet were bound to the stake, the iron chain fastened around his neck, and the hemp noose was placed at his throat. …

Piles of brushwood and logs were heaped around him. The executioner came up behind the stake and with all his force snapped down upon the noose. Within seconds Tyndale was strangled.

The attorney stepped forward, placed a lighted torch to the tinder, and the great men and commoners sat back to watch the fire burn.6

Yesterday when I read the words, "Lord, open the king of England's eyes"…tears came to mine…and I'm not sure why. Perhaps it was because in less than a year Henry VIII would okay the printing of an English Bible which was, in great measure, Tyndale's.7 Or maybe it is because, just like Jesus on the cross, Tyndale showed more concern for others than himself.

Or maybe my subconscious realized that as someone who whinges about the pain I have days after bowling a few too many frames of 10-pin that…when given the opportunity to embrace the flames…I might be unlikely to say:

  • "Lord, open the king of England's eyes."
  • "But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up."
  • "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak what we have seen and heard."
  • "The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine."
  • "But for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."
  • "I can't deny my savior's name. I am 100 percent ready to die."

It's easy to embrace the flames when they are only theoretical…far more difficult when they are only a match strike away…

Tyndale embraced the flames. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego embraced the flames. Peter and John embraced the flames. David embraced the flames. Joshua embraced the flames.

Sayed Mussa embraced the flames. Millions of others around the world are embracing the flames daily.

Jesus embraced the flames.

Lord, open my eyes.

Lord, open this congregation's eyes.

Lord, give us the strength to embrace the flames so that others' eyes will be opened.

Footnotes

1Voght, H., & Schreck, A. (2011, February 25). Jailed Christian convert is freed in Afghanistan. The Washington Post. Retrieved February 26, 2011, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/25/AR2011022501007.html
2Brulliard, K. (2011, January 5). Salman Taseer assassination points to Pakistani extremists' mounting power. The Washington Post. Retrieved February 26, 2011, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/04/AR2011010400955.html
3Voght, H., & Schreck, A.
4Ibid.
5Rivera, R. (2011, February). Christian Convert's Case Shows Limits of Afghan Rights. The New York Times. Retrieved February 26, 2011, from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/06/world/asia/06mussa.html
6Christian History Magazine-Issue 16: William Tyndale: Early Reformer & Bible Translator. 1987. Worcester, PA: Christian History Institute.
7Wegner, P. (1999). The Journey from Texts to Translations, 287. Grand Rapids: BridgePoint.


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