All this week, we've been looking at the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace and why King Nebuchadnezzar only called three men out of the fire when he clearly saw four. Did he miss his chance to meet the Living God?
We've considered three theories about what kept Nebuchadnezzar from calling out the fourth man - that he might have been scared of what this very powerful God would do to him, that he might not have thought about it or thought the faithful men to be sufficient, or that he might not have believe that this God who was actively rescuing His people would respond to a person. These remain three reasons why many today still do not call God out of the fire - the world and the faithful alike.
But there remains another elephant in the room, or in the story, and that is a possibility that seems to have never crossed Nebuchadnezzar's mind at all: he never seems to consider calling only the fourth man out of the fire. He never goes after God to the neglect of the people.
This is important, and it gives us a couple of considerations. First, it might be so simple as to say that at the moment you realize God loves these three men, you feel a bit of an obligation to love them, too. Or to at least not do them harm. When you start to think there might be something special about them (even if it turns out that something special is about their God and not really about them), that kind of elevates them in your mind and you sort of want to take care of them. So it's possible that Nebuchadnezzar thought he was pleasing this son of the gods by calling these three men out of the fire, and it might have been an act of worship.
But what's even more important here is that even in the unbelieving, even in the unfaithful, even in the man to whom this God was a stranger, there was never a consideration to separate this God from His people. There was not a single thought in Nebuchadnezzar's mind that he could call this God out of the fire and leave these three men in there. It wasn't an option.
There's a notion today that you can have the Christian God without having His church. That you don't have to be part of a fellowship to be a Christian. That it's perfectly okay - even maybe that it's 'good' - to go it alone.
That's a lie.
God, as we know Him, isn't God without His people. (Of course, He's still God, but it was He who decided to stake His reputation on His relationships, to make Himself known through covenant.) There is just so much you can't know about God without His people.
You can't know His mercy until you see His people experience it. You can't know His grace until it's poured out. You can't know His compassion until you see Him comfort an aching soul. You can't know His love until you see it holding the broken together.
God's people are His living witness. It is through the lives and testimonies of others that we see God at work in the world and can come to know and trust Him in our own lives. It's in the multitude of examples in the human bodies all around us that we see proof again and again that God is who He says He is. That He shows us who He is. It's when you see someone walk out of the fire not even smelling like smoke that you understand something essential about this God. A lot of things essential about this God.
And so, if you don't call the three men out of the fire, you can't call out the fourth.