Other than "It is finished", these may be the three most important words in all of Scripture. "But if not...."
There is a false gospel that is being propagated throughout the world. It could only have been concocted in the United States. It is known as "the prosperity gospel", or "the health and wealth gospel". It is false, not because I don't agree with it or like it (I don't), but because it contradicts the whole of the Biblical revelation on the nature of God, the ways of God, an understanding of the eternal purposes of God in His Son, and the providential dealings of God with His people. It contradicts the whole of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, and it does so in a way that is not without great consequence to the lives of those who have been duped by it.
The reason it is so dangerous is because it preys on the base, natural longings of people, and if believed leads them down a path of potential disillusionment and shipwreck to their faith, if they in fact have a genuine faith in the Lord Jesus.
Its many adherents have nuanced it in various ways, but its tenants are basically that God wants you happy...all the time. Anything that interferes with that happiness is not from God. Because God wants you happy, He will insure you always have money (especially if you tithe to the guy on TV telling you this), and He will never allow you to "experience more than you can handle" (which includes sickness, tragedy, persecution, any kind of sufferings, and flat tires). That stuff is always from the devil.
The Book of Daniel records the lives of four young men uprooted from their homes and exiled to serve the purposes of a pagan king. I wonder how most kids in our youth groups would handle that. It is a powerful and incredibly important book for our day for many reasons, but maybe none greater than the wisdom and grace these young men exhibited as they were forced to live immersed in a pagan culture that contradicted everything they had been taught to believe and love.
Chapter 3 is mostly known as a child's Sunday school story, ironically, since it has some of the greatest wisdom in all the Bible. We know it well. Three young Jews are thrown into a furnace because they refused to bow their knee to a demonized pagan king's golden image that was either of himself or one of his demon gods. Up to this point, they had mostly gone along with the demands placed upon them, including having their names changed (an attempt to change their identity), and to being schooled in Babylonian education (an attempt to change their thinking and their language). But where they, along with Daniel had drawn the line was in refusing to allow themselves to eat the food of the king and thus defile themselves (an attempt to undermine their faith and to change their affections).
Now three of them again have drawn a line in refusing to worship a false god and break the first commandment of the Law of Moses. And so they said "No, we will not bow down."
The result was the point of the story. The pagan king became so enraged that he ordered them immediately thrown into a furnace heated seven times its normal temperature. And as they feel its intense heat he mockingly asks them, "Who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?"
I don't think it's overstating it to say that in their answer is the very heart of the gospel. It is the revelation of the wisdom of God that is now to be made known to principalities and powers by the church. Their answer may have been what strengthened the Lord Jesus in the garden the night before He was crucified. They began by saying, "Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace and out of your hand." Now listen and notice carefully those of you who are reading this. They believed God was able. They believed God was good. They believed God was for them. They believed they were pleasing to God at that time in their lives (their conscience was clear). They believed God could keep them from entering that furnace if He wished. So far, so good. We can all relate so far. But then, they uttered the three words that set them apart from so many believers today. Three words that speak of a wisdom that the world can never understand. The three words they uttered were some of the greatest words of faith in all of Scripture. "But, if not..." But if not, we will trust Him anyway. But if not, we will submit to His will. But if not, we still won't question His love and faithfulness. But if not, we still won't bow our knee to an idol. Amazingly, God let them be thrown into the furnace. Where does that fit in the pop theology of today? The words must have been echoing throughout eternity. "But if not..."
How many people do we know who feel God has abandoned them, wasn't there for them in their time of need, allowed something to happen that "a good God wouldn't have allowed"? How many question God because they see failures in leaders, parents, or teachers who confess faith in the Lord Jesus? How many instead of wealth and happiness have discovered that following the Lord Jesus costs us everything ultimately, including our right to make sense of it all at times. How many have believed something other than the true gospel that teaches that the goal isn't happiness in this life, but living this life "to the praise of His glorious grace".
Yes, joy is promised, because Jesus has paid the price for my sin and has overcome the powers of darkness in this world. But I still live in this fallen world. And while I do, I trust that He is working all things for my ultimate good and His ultimate glory. In the meantime, we as were Daniel and his three friends, are called to invest ourselves into our cities and pray for their welfare. But also like them, we must not ever bow down.