Pupils at Hartford Church of England High School

St George and the Fiery Furnace

15/08/18

OK, it’s not the usual title for the story of St George, but allow me to explain.

George was a soldier in the Roman army in the latter years of the 3rd and on into the start of the 4th century AD. He rose to the rank of Tribune. In 303AD the Emperor, Dioclectian, ordered that all his soldiers must worship and offer sacrifices to the emperor! Failure to do so would result in execution. George was a Christian and he refused to do this. The emperor offered George several opportunities to change his mind. George refused each one and was executed on 23 April 303AD. (The slaying of the dragon and being patron saint of England relate to another George – a knight from the crusades.)

This story may sound a bit extreme to our ears but behaviour such as this was not unusual for emperors in the ancient world. In ~600BC Nebuchadnezzar, King of the Babylonians, issued a similar decree. He had a gold statue of himself made – 90 feet high. The decree was that whenever anyone heard the sound of many musical instruments they were to bow down and worship the statue. Any who refused would be thrown into a fiery furnace. Three men, Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego, consistently refused to bow down to this statue. They believed that there was only one true God who alone was worthy of worship – the God of the Bible. Their defiance resulted in the furnace being heated seven times hotter than normal. Just before the king had them thrown in he mocked and asked “…what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” Their reply was:

“…the God we serve is able to rescue us from your hand, O king… but even if he does not… we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up!”

What courage and strength of conviction! I will leave you to find out for yourself what happened to them – you can read it in the book of Daniel chapter three in the Old Testament. A similar story is found in the book of Acts in the New Testament. Peter & John were ordered by the religious leaders to stop preaching about Jesus. Peter believed that it was more wrong to disobey God than the repressive religious leaders:

“Judge for yourself whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20)

George, Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego and Peter & John were all peaceful, law-abiding citizens who served their government faithfully, paid their taxes etc until they were asked to do something unreasonable, something that went against their deeply held religious convictions. Then they took a stand knowing they could lose their life as a result of so doing. For them worshipping God was more important than obeying draconian laws.

The same is happening today. Around the world men and women are having their freedom of religion and conscience taken away from them by oppressive governments – Christians are among the most oppressed people. Even in the face of losing jobs/homes, imprisonment and possible death they are resolved to worship and obey God rather than men. What do you make of such people? Do you wonder why they have such conviction and courage? Have you wondered whether the Christian gospel is actually true and a truth worth fighting for… and a truth worth discovering?

 

April 2018