Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity October 4, 1998
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. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior….”
In the name of the triune God, who does more for us than we could fully describe or possibly know, dear friends in Christ, dear fellow redeemed.
On a cold, winter day, when the sidewalks were covered with ice, a man and his little boy were on their way to church. When they came near a slippery spot, the father said, “You’d better let me hold your hand.” But the boy was feeling rather carefree, with his hands dug deep in his coat pockets. And he kept them there until he slipped and fell. Rather humbled by this experience, he got back on his feet and said, “OK, I’ll hold your hand.” So reaching up, he took his father’s hand with a feeble grip. Soon they came to another slippery place. Down the boy went; his grip on father’s hand had not been strong enough. Once more they resumed their walk. But after a moment’s thought, the boy looked up and said, “You hold my hand, Daddy.” As they went safely on their way, it was the father’s hand that kept the boy from any more tumbles on the ice.
Walking hand in hand with parents will give a child a great sense of security. He feels safe. And he is safe, because dad or mom is there to ward off the danger. But then we grow up. Our parents stop holding our hand. Unfortunately, the difficulties and troubles of life do not disappear; they merely change form. Instead of icy sidewalks and busy streets, we now face accidents and injury, sickness and crime, the loss of income or the loss of a loved one. Do we have to handle these problems alone? Your experience tells you that people will come to your side. But let’s not forget the greater, more reliable safety net that we have. No matter what happens, you can
“It’s my right,” we say. We claim a right to freedom. We claim the right to equal opportunity. We even claim the right to make a better life for ourselves and pursue happiness. But you should know: you’re not going to find those rights spelled out or guaranteed in the Bible. The Constitution might grant them to you, but God never said, “Christian, I want you to be free and happy in this world.” The fact that we do have a comfortable existence with many freedoms and pleasures to enjoy—that is due entirely to the grace of God. It would be a mistake to approach God on the basis of what we deserve. We can’t claim any rights from the Almighty. Everything that we have is a blessing freely given. We could even say that about our problems and our troubles. They become a form of blessing, given to us by a loving God.
Now I’ll be the first to admit: it’s easy to say that and much harder to live it. To see the silver lining in every dark cloud? To remain calm and committed to God’s care in the midst of adversity? To think like the apostle Paul when he said, “I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong”? (2 Cor. 12:10) Can we actually do that? Can we stave off the fear, the worry and the sorrow when the chips are down? Well, not by ourselves we can’t. But let’s remember—God doesn’t say, “Suck it up and be strong.” He says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine.” He says, “Lean on Me in time of trouble.”
Let’s also realize this is the same God who allowed the trouble to happen in the first place. I don’t bring this up to blame God. God cannot be blamed for anything evil. The Lord is not the cause of our troubles. You can put all the blame squarely on sin. When Adam and Eve fell into sin, all the problems that people now face were unleashed into this world. Our life has been invaded by trouble and suffering, because trouble and suffering are the consequences of original sin. God never said that Christians would get a free pass from sickness, pain, famine, or death. We are cursed by the same problems that afflict everyone else. All of our troubles can be traced to the fact that we are sinful people who live in a sinful world.
But that doesn’t mean that God is out of the picture. He doesn’t cause the evil to happen, but He certainly does control it. That’s an important fact to keep in mind. The Lord did not take a vacation and let the devil ruin people’s lives at will. The Lord did not become a helpless bystander, looking on, with no power to intervene. God can veto every trouble that we face. We have no idea how many times God has decided, “I will not let My child catch that disease. I will not let My Christian suffer that injury.” We don’t know all the times that God has sent His angels to keep the danger away. We don’t know, because the danger did not happen.
But what about those times when the Christian does experience a trial of life? Based fully on Scripture, we know for a fact that God will decide, according to His loving wisdom, to let this trouble enter our existence. The Lord doesn’t tell us exactly why. But we know from all the biblical examples that God sets the limits. Consider the case of Job. God and the devil were having a conversation about this fine, outstanding believer. The devil remarked that Job had it too easy. “Take something away, and he’ll curse you for sure.” The devil suggested that Job be tested with trouble and affliction, but God spelled out exactly how far the suffering would go. This agrees with 1 Corinthians, where it says, “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” The Lord determines the difficulty of our test. The Lord decides the type and the amount of affliction that we face. Which has to mean that no trial, no temptation, or suffering will be too strong for us to handle. That is God’s promise.
When tragedy strikes, people will typically react with the question, “Where is God in all of this?” As far as believers are concerned, I can answer that question and so can you. God is right there, lending you His aid and comfort, holding you up, getting you through. When you go through the troubles of life—troubles which God has permitted—you walk with God at your side. He promises to be with you every step of the way.
We need to face the truth. God does not let us off easy. When the adversity comes crashing into your life, like a flash flood or a raging fire, God takes you through it. Not around it. Not over it, but through it. Listen again to verse 2: “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.” There’s a picture from real life. Imagine the flood waters raging down the mountain side, or the fire blazing out of control. Our first instinct is…? We run and get out of the way. We avoid the trouble. But God’s choice of action is …? We’re going in. He takes us into the “flood”; He takes us into the “fire.”
Now you understand this figuratively, right? The flood represents things that overwhelm us. In the case of the Jews, it was the exile—invasion by a foreign army, who hauled the people away to a difficult life in a far away place. For you and me today, it could be a terminal illness, a paralyzing accident, a sudden loss in the family. If we faced the trouble on our own, the shock and the suffering could drive us over the edge. That’s what the devil is hoping to see—you and me doubting our God, you and me losing our faith to fears and worries. But God throws you a life-line. In fact, God becomes your life-line. He is there, walking you through the flood of tragedy. He is there, walking you through the fire of death. I know you can’t see Him. I know you can’t feel Him, since the Lord works behind the scenes. He communicates through words and deeds. God has given you a promise, the same promise that He made to the Jews of old: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” And the same promise that Jesus made to all believers of all time, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
There you have it. God has put His reputation on the line. God has committed Himself to you and me. That is reason enough to trust Him, because God does not lie. But the Lord knows how much we need reassurance. So He gives you another proof of His dependability. You can find it in our text: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine.”
God’s promise to be with us is based on the fact that we belong to Him. It’s based on the fact that He paid a high price to make us His own. When it says that the Lord “redeemed” you, it means that He bought you. You and I were trapped in sin and cursed by death, yet God paid the price to get us out. He offered up His own Son. He had Jesus go through the biggest trouble of all, the trial and trouble of the cross.
That’s the way God works, you see. He doesn’t sidestep the issue or sweep it under the rug. He works through it. Our sins posed a major problem to God. They had to be punished. The death penalty had to be carried out to satisfy God’s justice. But God decided that the people who sinned against Him would be spared. We brought the curse on ourselves, but God put the curse on Christ. That’s the classic example of God using suffering to accomplish good. Jesus suffered, so that we could be forgiven. Jesus died so that we could live. Jesus endured hell so that we could enter heaven. Jesus paid dearly so that we might belong to God.
So the fact remains. I am looking at God’s children. You are people that God has vowed to keep for Himself. He’s not going to lose you. We could lose Him, but He won’t lose us. He will walk us through our troubles and bring us through it all unharmed.
The Lord Jesus is fully aware of your pain and sadness. He knows, even as the book of Hebrews declares, “We do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Jesus experienced poverty, animosity from His people, desertion by His friends, even the loss of a loved one. He saw firsthand the suffering caused by disease and other medical problems. And He Himself suffered the torment of hell. Yes, He knows what we’re going through, because He’s been there. But more importantly, He is still there as your Crutch and your Safety Net. He will keep you from drowning in the sorrow. He will make the sorrow and the pain turn into a blessing.
It’s hard to understand the concept that God uses evil to work out good. We could take up one brief example to illustrate. It is our nature to focus on the world and leave God in the background of our lives. We get caught up in the here and the now and forget about eternity. And many, many times we try to be our own Rock. We try to create our own form of security, only to discover that man-made safety nets have really big holes. When trouble sets into our life, we quickly see how powerless we are. God uses tragedy to expose our weakness and drive us back to Him. God uses trouble to stop your dependence on yourself and strengthen your dependence on Him. Short-term pain will become long-term gain, namely the strengthening of your faith. When you suffer an earthly negative, chances are good, you’re being led to receive a spiritual positive.
Once you understand the way God operates, it helps you adjust your state of mind. Naturally, we’re going to be afraid and troubled. How can we not feel that way with so many things going wrong in this world and so many heartaches in our life? But God has the perfect antidote. He gives you real security. He becomes the reliable safety net. Like the apostle says in Romans, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” That’s a powerful statement. That means that God will give you everything you need. God will see you through every trouble. God will bring you safely to the other side.
His promise to deliver has the ultimate, final fulfillment. The troubles of life might very well come in waves. Our afflictions could linger for a long time. But the end is in sight. Your days of suffering are numbered. God has promised that your time of trouble on this earth will be replaced by endless glory, perfection and joy in His presence in heaven. So let’s hang in there. Let’s hold onto the hand of our heavenly Father. He’s holding onto us. And He won’t let you go! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.