Wednesday, September 7, 2016
“When You Walk through Fire You Shall Not Be Burned” (Isaiah 43:1-7)
“When you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” This is the Lord’s promise to his people. You heard it in the reading from Isaiah 43: “When you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”
“But, but, Pastor,” you say. “There it says that if we go through fire we will not be burned. But here we are at Doris’s funeral, and she went through a fire, that terrible house fire of a month ago, and she was burned. Burned very badly, airlifted to the hospital, and she was there for a whole month, and she ended up dying. So how can you say, how can God say, ‘When you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you’? That didn’t seem to work for Doris.”
Well, yeah, you’re right. That fire did end up killing Doris. The flame did seem to consume her. So did God’s promise fail? Did God somehow forget about Doris? The Lord remembered Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, when they were kept safe in the fiery furnace, but I guess the Lord loved them more than he loved Doris. Is that it?
No. I’m here to tell you today that the Lord did not forget about Doris. The Lord did not love Doris any less. The Lord did not make a promise that he failed to keep. That has never happened, and will never happen, that the Lord fails to keep his promises. And so this promise of God in Isaiah 43 was absolutely true for Doris, and, dear friends, his promise is absolutely true for you as well: “When You Walk through Fire You Shall Not Be Burned.”
How so? How can this be true? Well, let’s read on a little bit: “For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life.” You see, the Lord has given someone in return for us. He has given someone in exchange for our life. And that is our Savior Jesus Christ. “For God so loved the world,” for God so loved Doris, for God so loved you, “that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Jesus Christ, the Son of God in the flesh–he is our ransom, he is our redemption. Jesus is the reason that Doris did not perish as a result of that house fire. She did not perish; she will not die eternally. Rather, she has, even now, eternal life.
What Jesus did for Doris and for us on the cross of Calvary has rescued us from the flames of hell. Jesus has snatched us out of that fire. By his death on the cross, Christ Jesus died the Big Death in our place. He took all our sins in his body and suffered the judgment that we deserve. And because he is righteous, his holy precious blood cleanses us from all our sins. Now we are at peace with God. Christ has saved us, rescued us, from eternal death.
And because he lives, we shall live also. Christ’s resurrection on Easter Day guarantees our resurrection on the Last Day, the day when Christ returns. He will raise up our dead bodies to be new and glorious, no longer burdened with burns or wheelchairs or oxygen tanks or any other disability. This is the sure hope of the resurrection that awaits all who trust in Christ.
And that was Doris. She trusted in Christ Jesus her Savior. Even in a wheelchair, even breathing from an oxygen tank, she would come barreling down Benham Street in that chariot of hers, in order to get to church, so she could hear the life-giving gospel of Christ and receive his very body and blood for her salvation. This was the faith that animated her life.
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. . . . When you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” You see, the Lord had called Doris by name. It happened when God’s servant placed God’s name on her in the waters of Holy Baptism and said, “Doris, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” That was the Lord placing his claim on Doris, taking her as his own dear child. And the Lord was true to his baptismal covenant with Doris, staying with her through all the ups and downs of her life–and there were plenty of both. “Fear not, for I am with you,” the Lord says. “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”
The Lord’s promise gave Doris life. Now I want to amplify this point by way of two object lessons, if you will. And Doris herself supplied the objects. You see, since I was her pastor, Doris would give me a gift every year, usually at the Ladies’ Guild Christmas party.
One year she gave me this little figurine depicting Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. We heard about that in the reading from John 4. There Jesus tells this woman: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water. . . . Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” So when Doris gave me this gift, she was thinking of that unsurpassed gift of God, namely, the living water that Jesus freely gives. It is the thirst-quenching, life-giving, living water of eternal life that only Jesus can supply. Doris herself had received that gift, and by giving me this figurine she was reminding me of the joy that this living water had given us both.
The second object lesson: This beautiful mantelpiece of the lion and the lamb. Doris gave it to me at the Christmas party last December. And you heard about the lion and the lamb lying down together in the reading from Isaiah 11. It’s a description of the peaceable kingdom that Christ would establish, when natural hostilities would be no more. Rather, life and peace will reign throughout Christ’s kingdom. “They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” Dear friends, by his death and resurrection, Christ Jesus has established this peaceable kingdom, and it will come to its consummation when Christ returns and we will experience this joyful life in all its fullness. This symbol of the lion and the lamb lying down together in peace reminds us of this hope we have in Christ, and that’s why Doris gave it to me. Thank you, Doris. Thank you, Lord!
Brothers and sisters in Christ, the message today is clear: The Lord has not forgotten his promise. It is good for Doris. It is good for you. The Lord says to each one of us today: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. . . . When you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”