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AUDIO and TEXT of Sermon Preached 2/3/13- "Disliked Doing Right"

click here to download AUDIO

 

Sermon Preached by

The Rev. Fulton Porter, III

February 3, 2013

The Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany

St. Thomas Church, Chicago

Luke 4:21-30

 

Disliked Doing Right

 

 

In the name the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us[a] 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.” (Daniel 3:16-18)

 

When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way. (Luke 4:29 30)

 

 

 

One of the most frustrating experiences that we may encounter as Christians occurs when we find ourselves being persecuted, ostracized, in trouble, or suffering when we are trying to do the right thing.  We can't help but ask, "Why?" After all, if we are doing the right thing, God ought to make our road easier than what it is and shield or protect us from those who would do us harm.

Why are the evil allowed to give the good so much hell?

 

I cannot and would not even dare to try to answer all of the questions about the suffering of the righteous at the hands of the wicked. But there are several things I would suggest you remember when you have to face persecution for doing the right thing.  First, when you stand for the right thing there will be things you naturally are against and people you naturally oppose based upon who you are, what you believe in, and what you stand for. The haters of Jesus who would kill him because of his truth telling and biting criticism and the Nebuchadnezzars of our lives still build monuments to their limited and temporary power. They demand that if you love them, are loyal to them, want to get along with them, or be their friend, or if you want to advance your career or save your job or your benefits, then you must bow down and worship them, sleep with them, kiss up to them, or support them in what you know is wrong.  If you have standards or convictions about what is right or wrong, if your soul and your integrity mean something to you, if your self-respect is not negotiable, if your faith and your religion have said to you "this far and no farther," then some things you will be against and some people you will oppose.  Life will demand that you take a stand and make choices about what you will live for and what you will fall for. You cannot simply mind your own business, try to get along with everybody, hope that people will respect what you believe and leave you alone and let you get by with a trouble-free existence or a minimum of interference. Like Jesus, when you tell the truth, some folk will try to throw you off the cliff.

 

Everyday life will demand that we take stands. Everyday life and the devil will test us to see how far they can push us, how much we will bend, if we will break, and how much we are willing to take. When there is moral warfare going on, when there is warfare for the souls of men and women, boys and girls, there are no safe and secure positions of neutrality. You either have to vote yes or no—abstentions not allowed.  At some point we have to take a stand. When you decide to take a stand on anything you will discover two things. First, taking stands by their very nature mean that some things and people you "ain't for."  To stand for something is to stand against some things.  Some ask, "Why can't we all just get along?" Because we ain't all for the same things.

 

Second, when we take a stand we discover that there are consequences for our taking a stand.

In today's texts, Jesus paid the price for taking a stand, his critics tried to kill him. Nebuchadnezzar found out that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to worship Nebuchadnezzar's god not because he observed them himself but because others who were doing the bowing told on them. They had seen how Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were advancing and resented them for being as blessed as they were. And so instead of trying to learn the secret of their success and emulate it—that would have been the right thing—they chose to try to destroy them.

 

When you do right, God will bless you. God will prepare a table for you in the presence of your enemies. And people will resent your being blessed. So instead of watching what you do and trying to emulate it, they choose to persecute you. Instead of trying to tithe as you do and instead of actively serving the Lord as you do, they choose to lie on you. Instead of saying "Praise God" as you do, rather than "Look at what I did" like they do, they choose to undermine you.  Instead of taking time to come to church because God's Word tells us to, they choose to plot against you.

 Instead of seeking God's will first, in prayer and the studying of God's Word—as you do—they choose to report you to your boss, I mean Nebuchadnezzar.

 

You wonder why you are being persecuted when you stand for right?  Some people resent your being blessed as you are. People only resent you when you have something or have something going for you, and are prospering in ways that they cannot understand.  So if you are being persecuted when you are doing right, that's a sign that you are being blessed and the demons are frustrated. Demons wouldn't be after you if you didn't have something that they didn't have.

The only way a demon is going to like you is when you don't have anything or when you're suffering.  With every blessing from God, demons will hit at you. I'd rather have the Lord's blessings and a demon's anger, instead of a demon's approval while the Lord withdraws the Lord's blessing hand.  I don't know about you, but I've decided demons can get as angry as they want, swell up with jealousy as much as they want, spread as many lies and rumors as they want— I'm going to enjoy my blessings. For if you are doing the right thing, demons cannot stop God's blessings from coming your way. When they close one door, God will open up another.

 

When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stood for the right they were persecuted by a king who did something they were obligated to oppose, and by others who were jealous of their blessings. But let us observe their answer to their persecutors:  O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up. (Daniel 3:16-18)

 

Their answer indicated two things. First, an unswerving faith in what they knew was right, no matter what the consequences.  When facing persecution for doing right you have to be prepared to go all the way with right. Like Job, you have to be prepared to say, "Though he slay me, yet shall I trust him."  Right is the right thing to do not because you will always win. Right is the right thing to do because it is right.

 

Their answer revealed that they were prepared to do some furnace time. Every great soul who has ever amounted to anything or done anything worthwhile has had to spend some time in the furnace. Sometimes the furnace is physical as it was for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, or a cross as it was for Jesus Christ, or as it was with the apostle Paul who had a physical thorn in his flesh. Sometimes, like Joseph, jealousy will sell us out and lies will imprison us, but every life does some furnace time.

 

Sometimes the furnace takes the form of death of loved, but everybody has some furnace time.

Sometimes, like Jeremiah, we find ourselves being lowered into a pit of despair, but every life has to spend some time in the furnace. Sometimes, like Job, we may lose health and wealth, we may lose everything we've acquired and have to start all over again, but every life has to spend some time in the furnace.  Sometimes, like Daniel, we may find ourselves in a lion's den surrounded by enemies, but every life has to spend some time in the furnace.  Sometimes, like David, we may find ourselves falsely accused by insecure people who hound us day after day and week after week, but every life has to spend some time in the furnace.  Sometimes, like John the Baptist, we may find ourselves wondering if our living is in vain when the place we find ourselves after standing for right begins to close in upon us, but every life has to spend some time in the furnace.

Sometimes, like Jesus on Calvary, we may find ourselves not only led to his dying cliff but crucified and buried, but every life has to spend some time in the furnace.  So when things get really hot for you, just know that it's furnace time. It's furnace time.

 

What was God's response to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego's stand?  When sufficient time was spent in the furnace, Nebuchadnezzar rushed in to behold the fate of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. I imagine that he stared hard, blinked, and looked again. Then he turned to his counselors in disbelief and asked, "Was it not three men that we threw bound into the fire?"

They answered the king, "True, O king." He replied, "But I see four men unbound, walking in the middle of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the fourth has the appearance of a god" (Daniel 3:24-25).  That is why right is worth standing for, because when you stand for right, you do not stand by yourself, God stands with you. Jesus, the captain of the Lord's host, fights with you, and the Holy Spirit is like wind in your furnace.

 

Note that Nebuchadnezzar saw the person walking with them. It doesn't say that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego saw their visitor or that their visitor said anything to them. Sometimes when you are in the furnace, you may not see God or hear God speak, but God is still with you.

How do you know?  Because you are surviving in a furnace that was supposed to destroy you.

You're walking around in the traps where enemies thought they had you bound. You're walking through that mess that was supposed to stop you. You're walking through those lies that were supposed to discredit you.  You're being blessed in the very fire that should have consumed you.

 

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego walked out of the furnace. Jesus walked on through the midst of his persecutors and not only that, he got up out of the grave.  Beloved, be encouraged today. You are walking through your furnace.

 

Amen.

 

 

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