"But if not...."
“Nebuchadnezzar spake and said unto them, Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, do not ye serve my gods, nor worship the golden image which I have set up? Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made; well: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands? Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.”
We could spend a lifetime on the passage of Scripture above but let’s focus today on just one little phrase within it: "But if not". These three men had a clear choice: they could go along with the crowd in committing the wicked sin of idolatry or they could follow God and possibly suffer the severest of earthly consequences as a result. They knew that God would deliver them out of the hand of the wicked king one way or another but they also knew that God might choose to deliver them through death rather than from death. They determined to obey God and leave the method of deliverance in his hands. Many times God asks us to walk an obedient path that is contrary to our natural desires. How we respond in these circumstances reveals how much we love him and are willing to trust him. Let's look at some other examples of this….
“Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish.”
Esther was in a similar situation. She was about to go to the king to make a request that would save all of the Jews from extermination. She knew that what she was about to do was in God’s will but she also knew that it could cost her her life. Putting her life on the line was not something that appealed to her human nature (to say the least) but she followed God anyway.
The Apostle Paul
“And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
II Corinthians 12:7-9
Paul had a physical ailment that “buffeted” him. This was no small discomfort to him and he therefore asked God three times for deliverance from it. But God’s answer to Paul in this case was “no”. It is good to learn early that God is under no obligation to deliver us from life’s difficulties and troubles. When he chooses to allow us to experience these things it is always for our good and his glory. Let us recognize this (as Paul did). Note also that when we don’t know God’s will, we should pray for such things until an answer is given to us.
“And saith unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death: tarry ye here, and watch. And he went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.”
In the Lord Jesus Christ himself we find the ultimate example of acceptance of God’s will regardless of whether it is in opposition to our own desires. This requires careful explanation to avoid misunderstanding. The battle that Jesus fought in the garden that day was unique because he is uniquely God. World War II pales in comparison to it. He is the sinless, spotless Lamb of God and also the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Unlike us, he could not be tempted with sin as we are because there is nothing within him that is attracted to sin. What was this “cup” that his father had given him to drink? It was the sin of the world. Jesus Christ hates sin with a perfect hatred. Can we imagine how abhorrent it was to Jesus Christ to take upon himself all that was completely contrary to his holy nature? Even to “become sin for us” as the Bible says that he did? I don’t have the ability to scratch the surface of this. Does not his willingness to drink every drop in this “cup” speak of his love for us?
Jesus Christ (God himself) said the ultimate “but if not” that day.
What about you and me?
His grace is sufficient.