Merry Christmas! We celebrate Emmanuel, God with us. We had a sermon on this at church last Sunday, though it wasn’t initially apparent to me that it was a Christmas sermon.
The text was Daniel 3:24-25, about the three young Jewish slaves who are thrown into the fire because they refuse to bow down to a statue when the king tells them to, but they come out unscathed, and in the fire with them there is a fourth person. The title of the sermon was ‘Faith in trials’.
The preacher opened by listing a stack of times when God’s consuming fire appears in the Bible: from the burning swords in Genesis 3, to the burning bush in Exodus 4, to the pillar of fire in Numbers, to Elijah on Mt Carmel, to the imagery in Revelation. When you encounter trials, even fire, God may be present there too. In fact, God brings trials to people in order to test them, so he can use them. In a western context this sounds cruel or consequentialist, but in a fear/power context it says, “When you go through hardships, this is not because God has abandoned you; actually it’s a sign of God’s involvement with you.”
He then took a long detour into talking about the sin of people in the congregation. He warned young people that just one night could mean you contract AIDS and ruin your life forever, for example. You cannot use grace as a license, he said; grace is the context for repentance. So you must continue to resist the idols in your life. You may think you cannot resist but these other gods are not more powerful than the one true God. You may feel they are, but when you have nothing left, are at the end of your capacity, then he is able. And He is with you.
At this point, the preacher directly addressed the idea of fear. He said, knowing Jesus’ presence means you do not have to be afraid – a refrain Jesus used over and over again with his disciples. You need not be afraid of loneliness because you have a friend. You are not bound by your sins, because he forgives them. You don’t need to fear death because he has conquered death. You need not fear your business failing because it lives or dies by his hand alone, because he gives power. God says he will provide all our needs.
We do not know what tomorrow holds, but we do know who holds it.
Don’t look at the mountain, look at your master.
And as you do, you become a witness to those around, who like Nebuchadnezzar will say, “Who will save you out of the fire?” and as you are delivered, “Who is that in the fire with you?”
- the Seed of humans (Genesis)
- the great High Priest (Leviticus)
- the pillar of cloud/fire (Numbers)
- the Rock, Tower, Shield (Psalms)
- the Lion of Judah (Isaiah)
- the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world (John)
- the Alpha and Omega (Revelation)
- the Healer, Miracle Worker
- the Saviour
This is Emmanuel, God with us.
He will never leave you or forsake you. This is the champion of Calvary, the Chief Shepherd and Physician. He is Father to the orphan, the friend who will never forsake you, my Saviour, and the King of all.
This is Emmanuel for a fear/power context: trials are a sign of God’s presence, not his abandonment, and God is with us in the trials, empowering us.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.