Summary: When confronted with a choice, we know what Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah chose. Are we a church of Hananiahs, Mishaels, and Azariahs? I pray to God we never have to find out … but if we do, I hope and pray the choice is clear.
Somewhere in the world … right now as I am speaking to you … a Christian has a gun pointed at their head because of what they believe. Somewhere in the world someone is going to lose their head or their life today because they refuse to give up their faith or deny Jesus Christ. Right now, as we are worshipping and praising Jesus … right out in the open without fear … some of our sisters and brothers in Christ are sitting in jail or being tortured because the police somehow found out that they were holding a Bible study in their home.
That used to sound so distant and unreal … something that was happening in some far-off country … but now it’s moving much closer to home. We have groups in our own country who are pulling down statutes and destroying historical sites and they have made it clear that churches and religious places are next. They’ve already attacked and vandalized an historic church in Washington, DC.
I’m not trying to sound like an alarmist, but we are dealing with a possible new reality … one that I never dreamed of happening here in the United States … which reveals something about me and my complacency. So far, being a Christian hasn’t really cost me very much … not really. Becoming a Christian was a decision that didn’t carry much danger … a little ridicule … a little ostracization, maybe … but not much in the way of actual sacrifice or the possible risk to life or limb. But … if these people carry out their threats … first it’s just statues and stained-glass windows … next it’s the actual church buildings themselves … and then it’s us. I pray to God that it never comes to that, but I also confess that I’ve gotten very comfortable with being a Christian because there hasn’t been any real risk in being a Christian to me personally. How many times have I heard Jesus say that His followers would be reviled and persecuted because of their faith and belief in Him? “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). How many times did He tells His disciples that they would be betrayed “even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name” (Luke 21:16-17). How many times did Jesus try to warn His disciples about the cost of following Him? Honestly, how many times have you or I had to truly consider the cost of following Him?
As your pastor, I feel a responsibility … a duty … to follow Jesus’ example and be up front and honest about the realities of being a follower of Jesus Christ with you. We have been blessed … very, very blessed so far … but one day it maybe you or me staring down the barrel of gun for what we believe. One day the politically correct police may do more that just mock us and or deride us or silence us on TV or Facebook or Twitter of YouTube. One day it may be illegal for us to carry a Bible around or hold Bible studies in our homes. One day we may have to ask ourselves: “Will I bend the knee to public pressure or will I stand tall and put it all on the line for what I believe?”
As I said, Jesus and the Bible are pretty clear about his. Becoming a Christian … standing up for what we believe … can have dire … even life-threatening … consequences. “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?” Jesus is asking you … asking me … and He gives us the answer … “No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three” (Luke 12:51-52).
Hananiah … Mishael … Azariah never thought that the Temple … the House of God … would ever be destroyed. That Jeru-salem … the city of God’s shalom … God’s peace …. would ever be reduced to rubble. They never thought that they would be led away in chains and forced to be slaves and servants in Babylon. They never thought that they would lose everything … their families … their homes … their friends … even their names … names give to them by their families … names that held special meaning for them … names that described their connection to the great God of Israel. Hananiah’s name meant “Jehovah was gracious.” Mishael’s name meant “God is our resemblance.” Azariah’s name meant “God is my helper.”
You see, for centuries it had been the custom of captors to change the names of their slaves as a way of disconnecting them from their past … their history … their heritage … and their hope of ever seeing their family or their home again. This was dramatically illustrated in the book and television series “Roots” when Kunta Kinte refused to change his name to “Toby” and why it was so important to his slave master that he did. When we don’t know our history, we lose our sense of connection to our past … to our families … to our traditions … our heritage … our homeland … when we lose those things, we lose hope. Think about how degraded and powerless you would feel if someone with authority came along and just took your name away and gave you another … zap! Just like that … whether you wanted them to or not.