Last week, as I got ready to preach a sermon on the story of Shadrack, Meshack and Abendego from Daniel 3, I realized how prone I am to read the Bible with a religious understanding instead of a Gospel understanding. (By religion I mean: what we SHOULD DO FOR God. By Gospel I mean: what Jesus HAS DONE FOR us.) My natural tendency in reading the story of Shadrack, Meshack and Abendego was to see these three guys as “heroes of the faith” who are examples for us to follow. They were strong in their devotion to God even in the face of persecution – we SHOULD be as well. But that is a religious motivation because it focuses on what we SHOULD do instead of what Jesus HAS DONE.
As I considered the story some more, I realized that it isn’t pointing us to Shadrack, Meshack, and Abendego as examples to follow religiously. This story is pointing us to Jesus who joined them in the fire, loosed their bonds, and delivered them. A few hundred years later, Jesus would come again for the purpose of delivering His people. Like Shadrack, Meshack and Abendego, Jesus would be mocked and reviled. He would be bound and brought before a ruler and unjustly sentenced to death. But unlike Shadrack, Meschack and Abendego, Jesus would not deliver himself from death. Instead, his death became the one way we could be free from the bonds of sin and judgment. Shadrack, Meshack and Abendego are heroic in the story, but they aren’t the heroes of the story. Christ is – He always is.
I can’t tell you how freeing it was to see the Gospel instead of religion in the story of Shadrack, Meshack and Abendego. When I look religiously at Biblical characters as examples of what I SHOULD DO, I find myself bound by shame or pride. Shame when I don’t live as I SHOULD. Pride when I do live as I SHOULD. But when I see the Gospel – what Jesus HAS DONE - in the stories of Scripture, I find peace and freedom because there is no longer any reason for shame or pride. Jesus has conquered both in his life, death, and resurrection. Religion binds us to shame or pride because it gives us examples to emulate so that we can try to gain God’s blessing. The Gospel frees us from shame or pride because it gives us Jesus as our substitute so we can HAVE God’s blessing.
One of the best resources I use for helping me to avoid the trap of reading the Bible religiously is my kid’s Jesus Storybook Bible. Words from the first chapter echo in my mind,:
“Now, some people think the Bible is a list of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. The Bible certainly does have some rules in it. They show you how life works best. But the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing. It’s about God and what he has done. Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy. The Bible does have some heroes in it, but most of the people in the Bible aren’t heroes at all. They make some big mistakes (sometimes on purpose). They get afraid and run away. At times, they’re downright mean.
No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne – everything – to rescue the one he loves. It’s like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life! You see the best thing about this Story is – it’s true! There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.