December 9, 2008

Safe from the fire

A man who survived an airplane crash later explained that he saw a fireball coming toward him down the aisle of the cabin. At that moment remembered a verse of Scripture where God promises to protect His people from fire. He said the verse aloud. The next thing he remembered was standing outside the burning plane away from the fire and without any burns to himself.

God has the power to protect. The story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego demonstrate how He delivered them in a fiery furnace. The heat was so intense that it killed the men who tossed them in, but these three were not harmed. In fact, the King who condemned them peered into the furnace and said, “I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God” (Daniel 3:25).

This is similar to Sir Ernest Shackleton’s experience when he and his two-man crew were forced to slide down the steep icy slope of a mountain. When they made it to the bottom, they could not speak a word, but later shared with one another the same question: “Where was the fourth man?” Each one sensed the presence of another man during that mile-high, hair-raising episode. (From Endurance, W.W. Norton & Co. New York, 1931)

Isaiah 43:1-2 says, “But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel: ‘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.’”

I could speculate that these events and these promises of protection are about here and now. God did this and said this so His people would know He is keeping them safe. However, Christians have died by floods and fire. Did they forget that God promised His protection? Perhaps it was not their time to die? Or is there another reason for these examples and for those promises?

In the Bible, floods and fire are associated with judgment. In Genesis, God looked at the wickedness multiplying on the earth. He saw Noah as the only one who was faithful to Him. So God judged the earth with water and everyone perished except this one man, his family, and enough animals for sacrifice and to repopulate the earth.

After the flood, God created the rainbow to remind us that He will never judge the earth again by water. The next time will be a judgment of fire. Is that literal? Will the earth burn up? Will it be the end result of global warming, as some fear? Or will it be an act of God that cannot be explained any other way? Whatever it is, the Bible says this world will be destroyed by fire and replaced by a new earth.

Yet some, like the man in the burning airplane, will know the literal side of these promises in Isaiah. They will experience deliverance from a disaster like a flood or a fire. Others will not. I can, however, be certain of one thing; all who are redeemed and have been called into the family of God will never experience the fires of His judgment. He will judge our works to see if they had eternal value or if they were useless, but we ourselves “will be saved, ye so as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:15).

I am not afraid of God’s judgment. Christ bore my sin and suffered the wrath of God in my place. Because He says to me, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are mine,” I am confident that fire will not touch me and like the man in the crash, I will find myself safe outside of the flames, and like Daniel’s friends and Ernest Shackleton, I will find myself in the presence of that fourth Man.

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