PEER PRESSURE (LESSON 3)
Usually we give in to peer pressure from our friends and from the world in order to fit in with certain people and to feel like we belong. Usually we voluntarily behave certain ways in order to get along with people and blend in with the crowd. You usually have a choice of how you will act. If you decide to do your own thing, you might get laughed at or talked about or shunned, but you probably won't get killed.
But what if you faced a situation where your only choices were either go along with the crowd and live, or stand up for your Christian faith and die? Would you be able to stand tall for Christ, or would you give in to the pressure and turn your back on your Savior?
Well, tonight we are going to talk about three teenage young men who had to make that very decision. We're going to read the story of some young men named Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah found in the book of Daniel, and we're going to see how they handled a most extreme form of peer pressure.
To give you a little background on these three young men, they were from a place called Judah. The place where they lived was captured by the Babylonian Empire, which was ruled by a king named Nebuchadnezzar. The king sent out an order that he wanted some of the young men from Judah who were smart and quick to learn and handsome brought to his palace so that they could be trained up to serve him. They were taken prisoner. They were taught the language and history of Babylon, and after three years they were taken into the king's service. Now, let's read about it in Daniel 1:2-7.
As you just read, one of the first things Nebuchadnezzar had done to the young men was he changed their names. I think he did that to try to break their spirit and distance them from their upbringing. Shadrach's original name was Hananiah, which meant, "The Lord is gracious." But the king changed his name to "Shadrach," which means "I am fearful of the god." Meshach's original name was Mishael, which meant, "Who is what God is?" or "No one is as great as God." The king changed his name to "Meshach," which means, "I am of little account." Abed-Nego's original name was Azariah, which means, "The Lord has helped me." The king changed his name to a name which means "Servant of the god Nebo."
And the devil and this world try to do the same thing to us. The world maybe doesn't change your name, but it will try to separate you from the relationship you have with God. The world will try to change you into something different than what God created you to be. The world wants you to forget about God. And just like these young men were taken from their home and from their beliefs, Satan will try to separate you from God a little at a time. Like we've said before, he will start by putting the idea in your head that you don't really need to go to church or that you should neglect reading the Bible. Satan wants you to be defenseless and vulnerable.
Now, back to the Bible. Let's read again something else that the king tried to do to the young men to mold them into what he wanted them to become.Read Daniel 1:5, 8-16.
Now, you might think what is the big deal? Why wouldn't they eat the food and drink the wine? But they told the king's chief that they wouldn't defile their bodies in that way. And the reason they didn't want to eat the food is probably because they knew that it was meat that had been dedicated to false gods. And they probably didn't want to drink the wine because they wanted to remain clear-headed and not have anything weaken their minds or cloud their judgment. They didn't want to compromise their beliefs in any area.
Even though to us this might sound like something small, as Christians we should know that if we don't stand for Christ in the small things, then we are only fooling ourselves if we think we will persevere and be able to stand when really put to the test. Don't you know that the devil is always trying to get you to lower your guard? And the devil is smart. He knows he cannot outright trick you. He's not going to say, "Hey, why don't you become an alcoholic." No. He starts off with, "Why don't you just take a sip of beer just to taste it. What's the harm?" He will say, "Everybody's doing it. It's `in' to get high."
Have you ever done something that maybe got you in trouble and when someone asked you why you did it, your answer was "Well, everybody else was doing it." Then the person responded, "If everybody jumps off a cliff, are you going to do it, too?" Lots of times we use "Everybody is doing it" as a reason to explain or excuse our behavior, but as Christians we are not supposed to be like everybody else. We are supposed to stand out from the crowd. Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego from the very beginning showed that they weren't interested in being like everybody else.
And what about you? Wouldn't you rather be special and unique and blessed by God instead of being just another face in the crowd? In the Bible, we read that even the king could see that these three young men were unique and that they were the best men around.Read Daniel 1:18-20.
So the young men lived in the king's palace and held very high positions of authority. But now the real pressure is about to come. There came a time when King Nebuchadnezzar had an image of gold made of himself that was 90 feet high and 9 feet wide. And he sent word to all of the chief officials to come to a dedication ceremony to see his great statue. Then an order was given that as soon as they heard the music, they were all to fall down and worship the image of gold that the king had set up. And if anyone did not fall down and worship his statue as a god, they would immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.Read Daniel 3:4-7.
Can you imagine what that scene looked like? There are hundreds, maybe even thousands of people gathered to pay worship to the king and his image. And the music is played and everyone drops except these three young who love the true and living God that we serve. They refuse to bow to an idol. Let's see what happened next.Read Daniel 3:8-18.
As you can see, these young men had a lot to lose. They were in positions of power, living in an opulent atmosphere. To not bow meant they would lose all of that and possibly their lives. But they were willing to trust that God would see them through this. They knew that it is better to burn for a few minutes and die for being obedient to God than to burn for eternity, which is what the people who bowed to the idol faced. They knew that with God on their side, they would be victorious either way. If God saved them from the fire, good, or if they died and got to be with their Heavenly Father in heaven, that was fine, too. But they would not worship the gold image.
Some people think that God always has to save them. Maybe He will and maybe He won't, but either way you should have the kind of faith and contentment that comes from knowing that God will be with you through whatever is going on in your life. God is good whether He heals your body or not. God is good whether you get released tomorrow or you have to be locked up for some time. He's good if he answers your prayers today or next year or even ten years from now.
Well, back to the boys.Read Daniel 3:19-30.
Here we see that God works in many different ways. God could have done something to the king and kept the young men from having to walk through the fire, but instead He chose to stand with them right in the middle of it and protect them. Sometimes God wants us to face hardships in our life because He knows that it helps to build us up and ultimately strengthens our faith. Isaiah 43:2 reads, "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior."
So if any of you in the past have wondered why God hasn't answered your prayers and changed your circumstances and gotten you out of here, instead be thankful that you have God to comfort you, and ask Him to open your eyes that you might see the lessons He would have you learn. 1 Peter 1:6-7 reads "In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith -- of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire -- may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed."
In closing, I have a question for you guys: How many of you would die for Christ? If the pressure was on and you had the choice of bowing down and turning your back on God or facing death, could you be like Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego? And for those of you who said you would die, here's another important question: Will you live for Christ? I think in a way it is easier to die a quick death for your faith than it is to live every day for Christ, to not go along with the crowd, but to stand up and live your life so that people see Christ living in you. A lot of us have asked Christ to come into our lives to be our Savior, and that's great, but there has to come a time when you ask him to also be your Lord. That means you surrender your life to Him.
And in the end, people will respect you more if you stand up for what you believe in. We read how after all was said and done, the king respected the boys and promoted them. God can do that. He will turn things around to where even your enemies will be at peace with you. The way to reach people isn't by coming down to their level. It is by holding your head up high and standing your ground. Later in the Book of Daniel, King Nebuchadnezzar is further humbled by God and ultimately ends up recognizing God as the one and only true living God, and he praises Him. (Found in Daniel 4:34-37.) And who first introduced him to God? Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego.
And we, too, can play a part in introducing our unsaved friends to the one true living God when they see us live lives that honor God and when we refuse to bow down to peer pressure.