Today’s reading takes us to Babylon years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Three young Hebrew men are tossed in a furnace for not bowing to the idol made by King Nebuchachnezzar. You probably know this classic story. Most of us learned it as children. Before being tossed in the flames, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego declare one of the greatest statements of faith in Scripture: “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us 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”
That proclamation sealed their fate. All three were bound and thrown into a furnace so hot that their guards were burned to death. That didn’t happen to our Jewish heroes, however. At some point the trio turned into a quartet. When the king looked in the furnace he saw four men walking around unbound and unharmed. He immediately called the three men out and began praising their God.
Nebuchachnezzar decided the fourth man in the fire was an angel. Most biblical scholars, however, believe the fourth man was none other than the pre-incarnate (before taking on human flesh) Son of God. Our Lord may have also showed up as a visitor to Abraham’s home (Genesis 18:1-3), as a man who wrestled with Jacob in the desert (Gen 32:24-25), or the “Commander of the Lord’s Army” who instructed Joshua how to defeat Jericho (Joshua 5:14).
Each “theophany” or visible manifestation of God reveals he was and is intimately involved in the struggles of his people. That is one of the reasons when God’s Son became human; he arrived as a baby – vulnerable and approachable. Someone to whom both unclean shepherds and wealthy stargazers could bow and worship. He was also purposely named “Immanuel,” or God with us (Isaiah 7:14).
As we step into today, let’s remember the fourth man is with us. It’s one thing to say, “Jesus loves me, this I know.” It’s another to deeply believe, “Jesus is with me, so I’ll go.” He is Immanuel, ready to deliver us from the enemy’s hand.
Let’s stand on the promise of “the fourth man:”
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name; You are Mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you.
For I am the Lord your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43: 1-3)