[Feb 04]--Water and Fire

Isaiah 43:1-7

            I’ve spent some time on this before, but I have to get it off my chest once again: I really have nothing but contempt for preachers of the “Health and Wealth Gospel.” They teach that every believer has the right to expect perfect health and wonderful financial prosperity. As a result, if you don’t have perfect health or are going through financial problems, there must be something wrong with your faith. In a G-rated blog like this one, I can’t really express how I feel about these. . . never mind.

            The reason I bring them up is because they’re sort of relevant to today’s reading, and it’s one of my favorite passages in Isaiah. Remember, at this point the prophet is addressing the generation who will be carried off into exile in Babylon. They'll be forced to leave behind their land, their possessions, the graves of their loves ones who just died, and everything else they’ve ever known. The Lord at this point is not trying to beat them up over past failures; he’s giving them hope that everything will turn out according to his plan.

            In the midst of all this hardship, he uses his messenger to present a couple of very striking images that stick in my mind. He tells them that although they go through the raging waters, they won’t be overwhelmed. The picture is that of people coming up to a flooding river: They enter it (because they have no choice), and know before they take their first step into the waters that they have no hope of getting to the other side.

            Or consider the image of fire. Someone is forced to walk through the flames, and it’s a sure thing that they’ll be burned to a crisp. Every bit of logic and reason and common sense says that you don’t walk through fire and come out the other side unscathed.

            Of course, if you know your Bible, both of these images might be familiar to you. Moses and his people came to the Red Sea, and everything they knew told them that all hope was lost. And then the Lord spread open the waters in front of them. Or recall Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They were cast into the furnace at full blast, and the ones who tossed them in died from the flames. But they walked around the furnace as if it was a cool Spring day in there.

            But this is why I brought up those charlatans earlier. You need to understand the tension the prophet is talking about here. You will go though the waters. You will go through the flames. Jesus promised us that “in this world you will have trouble.” Did you think he was joking when he said that?

            But if we belong to him, then the waters we enter won’t overwhelm us. The flames will do us no lasting damage. Like Paul, we’re “hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” What’s the defining factor? When we go through horrible experiences, we don’t go through them alone. The reason we’re not overwhelmed and not burned beyond recovery is because he is with us. He never lets his children undergo anything alone. When the world looks in the furnace to watch us burn, they’re surprised that there are four when there are supposed to be three.

            My friend, the Lord Jesus wasn’t joking. You will go through trouble in this world. That’s a given. But remember the second part of that verse from John: Yes, we’ll have trouble in this world, but we can take heart, because he’s overcome the world. And his victory is ours.

Lord Jesus, thank you for being with me. I know that hard days might be ahead, but I don’t have to go through them alone. Never alone.

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