"What I'm Looking For"#88-07
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on October 18, 2020
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Daniel 3
"I have climbed the highest mountains. I have run through the fields, only to be with you. I have run, I have crawled, I have scaled these city walls, only to be with you, only to be with you. But I still haven't found what I'm looking for. I have kissed honey lips, felt the healing fingertips. It burned like fire, this burning desire. I have spoke with the tongues of angels. I have held the hand of the devil. It was warm in the night. I was cold as a stone. But I still haven't found what I'm looking for. I believe in the kingdom come, then all the colors will bleed into one, bleed into one. Yes, I'm still running. You broke the bonds, you loosed the chains, you carried the cross of my shame, of my shame. You know I believe it. But I still haven't found what I'm looking for."
It's been called an expression of deep spiritual longing: the lyrics from that song from the Irish rock band, U2. Supposedly, the title was based on lyrics from a Bob Dylan song. Dylan wrote, "You'll find out when you reach the top. When you reach the top, you're at the bottom." That's how it goes, right? You think you're at the top, whatever that means—the top of your game, the top of the charts, on top of the world. Have you found what you're looking for? I have found something that I want to share with you. I found it in an ancient book.
It's about the happenings of some young people who lived two and a half millennia ago. And it seems like they found what they were looking for, because they were willing to give up everything for it. It's in the Old Testament, in the book of Daniel, chapter 3, and the events occurred in the ancient city of Babylon. Babylon is located in what is now modern-day Iraq. And the ancient city of Babylon was built on the site of that even more ancient city of Babel, the one with the tower that almost reached the top, built by people who still hadn't found what they were looking for. Centuries later, after the tower crumbled, the king who restored the city to its former greatness was a man named Nebuchadnezzar. He was a military general who had become the ruler of a great empire that he led from his capital city, Babylon. People who visited Babylon in Nebuchadnezzar's day marveled at what he had made of it, with its hanging gardens and its city walls that were said to be as thick as a tennis court is long and as high as the Statue of Liberty's torch.
Babylon was a marvel of the ancient world, and this is where the story of these young people unfolds. It's about three young men who were born in the land of Judea, Jewish men. Their birth names were Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, but they were taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar's army and brought to Babylon to serve him, and there in Babylon, they were given different names. Their birth names had been given to honor the God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but they were given Babylonian names to honor the Babylonian gods, to show that they belonged to Babylon. So Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah became Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They did well in Babylon. They even were promoted to prominent positions in the Babylonian government, but that's not what they were looking for. And this is their story.
Now Nebuchadnezzar built a statue, nine feet wide and ninety feet high, and he set it up in the niche of the wall of the city, in the province of Babylon. Then he summoned all the senators, the prefects, governors, advisors, treasurers, judges, magistrates, provincial officials, all of them to come to the dedication of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. So the senators, prefects, governors, advisors, treasurers, judges, magistrates, and all the other provincial officials assembled for the dedication of the statue, and they stood before the statue King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Then the herald loudly proclaimed, "To you, O peoples, nations, men of every language, it is said when you hear the sound of the horns, the flutes, the harps, the strings, the drums, and all kinds of music, you will fall down and worship this statue of gold King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Anyone who does not bow down and worship will immediately be thrown into a flaming furnace of fire."
So all the peoples, when they heard the sound of the horns, the flute, the harp, the lyre, the strings, and all kinds of music, peoples of every nation and language, they bowed down and worshiped the statue of gold King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. At that time, some Babylonian men came forward to accuse the men from Judea. "Your majesty, may you live forever. You yourself have given a decree that anyone who hears the sound of the horn, the flute, the lyre, the strings, the harp, drums, and all kinds of music must bow down and worship this statue of gold that you have set up and anyone who does not bow down and worship will immediately be thrown into a flaming fiery furnace. Now, there are some men from Judea whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who pay no attention to you, your majesty. Your gods, they do not serve. The statue of gold that you have set up, they do not worship."
Then Nebuchadnezzar, filled with rage, summoned Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and they stood before him and he said to them, "Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, my gods you do not serve? And the statue of gold that I set up, you do not worship? Now, when you hear the sound of the horn, the flute, the lyre, the strings, harps, and drums, and all kinds of music, if you are ready to bow down and worship the statue I made, very good. But if you will not, immediately you will be thrown into a blazing fiery furnace. Then what God will be able to save you from my hand?" And Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the flaming furnace of fire, the God whom we serve is able to save us, but even if He does not, we want you to know, your majesty, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the image of gold that you set up."
Then Nebuchadnezzar, furious with rage, his expression changed. The image of his face changed towards Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and he commanded that the furnace be heated seven times hotter than usual, and ordered the strongest men of his army to bind up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and throw them into the blazing fiery furnace, and so these three men, still wearing their robes, their turbans, their trousers, and other clothing were bound up to be thrown into the fiery furnace. And the king's command was so urgent, and the furnace was so excessively hot that the men who carried them up were killed by the flames, and so these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing fiery furnace.
Then King Nebuchadnezzar was startled, and he stood up and he said to his advisors, "Didn't we throw three men into the fire, tied up?" And they said, "Certainly, your majesty." And he said, "But I see four men walking around, unbound, unharmed, and one of them looks like a son of the gods." Then Nebuchadnezzar approached the opening of the furnace, and he shouted: "Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the most high God, come here! Come out!" And Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out of the furnace, and all the royal officials and all the senators, prefects, governors, and royal officials gathered around them, and they saw that the fire had no power over their bodies. The hairs of their head were not even singed; their clothing was not charred; there was not even the smell of fire on them. Then Nebuchadnezzar said, "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who sent His messenger and saved His servants who trusted in Him, and He changed the king's command. They were willing to give up their lives rather than to serve any other god except their own God. Therefore, I decree that any people of any nation or language who says anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego will be cut into pieces and their houses turned into piles of rubble, because no god is able to save in this way." And Nebuchadnezzar promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon. The word of the Lord, Daniel 3.
I've never been faced with that kind of choice, at least under that kind of pressure, to choose between either keeping faith with God or keeping hold of my fleeting, frail, mortal life—or maybe I have. Maybe all of us have in a smaller, less dramatic, more subtle way. We've all been asked to testify, to give a witness to what it is that we're looking for. Our words and actions, our silence and inaction, our lives send a message to those around us. Whether we're doing it consciously or not, we're always sending messages to the people watching us. This is what I value. This is what I'm looking for.
Sometimes people don't give a clear witness. Their words say, "I value this," but their actions say otherwise. And what do you pay more attention to? To what is said or to what is done? And if what they say doesn't match with what they do and what they do doesn't match with what they say, then what do you say about that witness? They're unreliable. They're not going to help you find what you're looking for. Every one of us is a witness for something or someone, and sometimes you find a truly reliable witness. In the Christian tradition, we call them "martyrs." Now you might've heard that a martyr is someone who gives up their life for the faith, and yes, that's part of it, but it's more about giving a witness. Martyr comes from the Greek word that means witness, and you get a really clear witness when someone is forced to make a choice. You can either stand with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or bow to something else. And the martyr knows—if I choose this mortal life over the God who gives true life, I still won't find what I'm looking for. It will be warm for a night, but it'll leave me cold as a stone. And the martyr prays, "But Lord, if I suffer the loss of all things for You, if I lose myself for You, I will be found in You, to be known by You and loved by You, only to be with You." A Christian shouldn't have it as their goal to die for the faith. We are not trying to make ourselves to become martyrs, but we do need a martyr.
We need a witness who can show us what we've all been looking for. We need one who has climbed the mountain, who's run the field, who's scaled the wall, and walked in the fire with us. We need Jesus, the Son of God, born in the land of Judea. In the book of Revelation, Jesus is called "the faithful and the true witness." He is the witness. He's the martyr, the One who will bring you through the fire, through the fire of the Day of Judgment, and it will have no power over your body. Not even the smell of it will be on you, and He will bring you into the kingdom where all the colors bleed into one.
Jesus is the One that you've been looking for. The song that I shared earlier has been called an expression of spiritual longing. The guitarist of the band said that it's a "gospel." In an interview, he said, "It might not sound like a gospel, but that's what it is if you listen to the lyric." If you listen to Jesus, the faithful witness. Hear Him say to you, I broke the bonds, I loosed the chains, I carried the cross of your shame only to be with you.
Would you pray to Him with me? Lord Jesus, by Your death, You have become our witness, to bring us to the Father. By Your resurrection and Your Spirit, make us Your witnesses to bring others to You, only to be with You. Amen.
Reflections for October 18, 2020
Title: What I'm Looking For
Mark Eischer: Today's text from the book of Daniel is also the basis for this week's discussion on our podcast, "Speaking of Jesus." And here's part of what they said.
Mike Zeigler: I had a good customer service experience online the other day. And I wanted to tell people about it, because it was so good. We testify, we give a witness, for things that are important to us. In a specifically Christian sense, we use this word "martyr." And normally, it means someone who died for the faith. But if you know, the word martyr is a Greek word that means witness. So why do you think it made sense for people to call those who gave their lives for the faith to call them witnesses, to call them martyrs?
Jessica Bordeleau: Well, everybody could see their faith. They didn't just hear about it or know that they had faith. But they could see it because they just died for it. So the people around, like Paul was saying, I was a person witnessing that this was real. Because their faith was real to them; they died for it, and I saw it. So they're bearing witness to what's the most important thing to them.
Peter Kirby: I think being killed for Christ's sake is always preceded by your witness to Him. So if you think about those historic people who were martyred in the more widely understood sense, it was always that they were being told to give a witness to their faith in Christ. Or they were being told to do something that they refused to do because they had faith in the one true God. And that was what was, then, causing the problems with the authorities at that time.
Mike Zeigler: What else? Why do you think it made sense to make that the word that we use for people who gave up their lives for their confession of Christ?
Sarah Mullen: It's kind of a make it or break it moment in my mind. It forces you to testify, to say, "Yes, I believe in this thing so much that, yeah, go ahead and throw me in a furnace." Then you have to say, "Give reason—give a testimony as to why you believe."
Mike Zeigler: And that action becomes a witness. Like Jessica was saying, it certifies it in some sense. We've been listening to the book of Daniel, and we're in chapter 3 now. And it's a well-known story, probably one of the best known stories in the Bible, I'd say. What do you get to know more deeply about this God revealed, witnessed to, in this chapter?
Peter Kirby: I said that God is able to protect His servants from persecution and death, if it is His will. And in this case, He does. And they testify to that, that they're not going to bow down to these false gods. They're going to continue to serve the true God, even if it costs them their life. But they testify that God is able to protect them. And He does in this case in a miraculous way. That's what's so shocking to Nebuchadnezzar. Because even the guys who walk them up there to the edge of the furnace died because it was so hot. And yet, these guys are in the fire, and they're not singed at all. They don't smell like it. And we know from the biblical accounts in Acts, like Stephen, James, there were people who were allowed to die in their testimony to the Lord. And throughout Christian history, last 2,000 years, the same. We know of many who have been martyred for their faith. So sometimes, it is in God's plan to allow people to die, giving a witness. But there are other cases where He can use miracles to preserve their lives as well.
Mike Zeigler: In your travels around the world, have you had a chance to talk to people who've been faced with this kind of choice?
Peter Kirby: Absolutely. Yeah. In Turkey, for instance, in 2008, Easter time, there were three Christians who were martyred there. And I have a friend in Turkey who was there. He actually alerted the police that these guys had taken him captive in a Christian publishing house, and were killing them. And so, the police came and surrounded and caught all of the perpetrators of that crime. So talking to people who were eyewitnesses of those who were giving up their life.
Mike Zeigler: How do you hear good news in this for you? And then, what do you want to say to people?
Peter Kirby: It gives me courage to stand on my convictions. I follow God. I follow Jesus Christ. And it gives me courage to see these men stand for their faith. And so, I can do the same. If I face persecution or ridicule for being a Christian, it encourages me to also be courageous and be willing to stand for what I believe in and not fear, not be afraid of what it's going to do to my reputation, or even physically. We have a lot of things that we could be anxious about, even COVID-19, that we're in now. But our lives are preserved beyond that. I'm loved by a God who's not subject to death and can preserve the relationship even beyond and through death.
Sarah Mullen: That's the good news that I'm hearing from this story too, is that God can save me and God can save you from the fire, even if you burn. And whether you come out of the fire or not, smelling like smoke at all, or whether you come out, you do get burned, that God will save you regardless of what happens in the furnace.
Jessica Bordeleau: Yeah. That's the best news in the story for me too, because it's so practical. I can apply it to my life right away. Because bad things are going to happen to me, awful things might happen to me. I will die. But that doesn't mean that God is not with me. God promises me life, but He doesn't promise it to me forever here, in the way that I think it will be. There are martyrs, they died. Well, God, where are You? You said, You'd always be with me. How did this martyr die? But then in Revelation, doesn't John say like "Who are those people in the white robes, right by the altar, right by the throne?" He's like, all those are the martyrs, those are the people who died for Me, right by God, right by His throne. They're right with Him. And so, even though these awful bad things will happen to all of us, it doesn't mean that God's not there. He's taken care of us in a way that we might not get right now. But in that eternal perspective, like you were saying, that they're right by the altar; they're right by the throne of God. They're with Him, just maybe not in the way that we thought.
Peter Kirby: "Who shall separate us from the love of God?" Trouble, persecution, hardship. No, none of these things can separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Romans 8.
Mike Zeigler: Well, I think it goes back to that eternal perspective, to know that there's life outside of this little game. We call this thing "mortal life." What—70, 80, 90 years at best. And if you keep it in perspective, that it's a game, and we want to play it well. But there's a bigger life outside of this little mortal life that we live now.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Holy God, We Praise Your Name" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)