Online Text Sermon - Glorifying God in the Fires, Isaiah ch.24 v.15
|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||Glorifying God in the Fires|
|Text||Isaiah ch.24 v.15 |
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"Wherefore glorify ye the LORD in the fires, even the name of the LORD God of Israel in the isles of the sea" (Isaiah 24, 15).
1. Introduction2. The nature of the Christian life is going through the fires3. Our duty when we go through the fires4. Encouragements for the Lord's people in the fires
Those were the words at the beginning of the verse, "glorify ye the LORD in the fires." Let me say a little to introduce these chapters to you. Chapters 24 - 27 in this prophecy of Isaiah are to be collected together in your mind because they form a section of this book. And we usually refer to these four chapters, 24, 25, 26, and 27, as Isaiah's little apocalypse, his little apocalypse. The word apocalypse is a Greek word meaning revelation. We sometimes correctly refer to the last book of the Bible as the apocalypse. We usually call it Revelation, but apocalypse and Revelation are one and the same. One is Greek and the other is Latin and they both come into the English language. So here we have Isaiah not simply talking about the problems of his own day, and there were many of them, but looking forward in time many centuries and even millenniums right to the end of the world and speaking about things which would have to happen immediately before the end of the world and the judgment day.
Now I must give you a very brief glimpse into this chapter as a whole. I would like to recommend that you study these four chapters that we refer to as the little apocalypse. They are intensely profitable, edifying, and interesting but now what can I say in a few words about these chapters? Well, take verse 1, "Behold, the Lord maketh the earth empty" (Isaiah 24 ,1). And that theme is carried over into the next few verses. God as it were, before everything is finished, God as it were is going to take the earth as it is in His hands and is going to shake it, and shake it, and shake it, until it's all shaken to pieces. He's going to bring the world to nothing again. That is really a reference to all the sad things that are happening in the world - earthquakes, wars, conflicts, famines, diseases. All these evils that we are so familiar with - it's as though He's putting them all together and giving us a tremendous picture of all that's going on in the world. God is going to shake the earth.
By these means governments are going to be overthrown, kingdoms are going to be toppled, great men are going to come to the dust and everything is going to be shaken up. And the effect of that will be great sorrow amongst mankind. That theme comes in verse 7, "The new wine mourneth" (Isaiah 24, 7). "The mirth of tabrets ceaseth" (Isaiah 24, 8). You could put "guitars" there for "tabrets." All these things are going to make man sad. You can see at a glance that that is the theme. Now in verse 13 we have the Lord's people referred to, "When thus it shall be in the midst of the land among the people, there shall be as the shaking of an olive tree, and as the gleaning grapes when the vintage is done. They shall lift up their voice" (Isaiah 24, 13-14). Now this is different, these verses 13 - 15 refer to the Lord's people in the midst of all these trials, in the midst of all these wars and conflicts. The illustration is that of a tree which has huge apples or figs or grapes or something left on it. You know when a great wind shakes a fruit tree in autumn, we've all seen it, the apples are left on the ground but there is still some left on the tree, a few green grapes, he calls them. These have not fallen off the tree. Now these are the Lord's people. In the worst of times in other words the Lord will have a people in this world in the shaking of nations and governments, in civil wars, in conflicts, in earthquakes, in all the rest of it. The Lord will have a people and they will be like the gleaning grapes on the tree. They will lift up their voice. They shall sing for the majesty of the Lord. In verse 15 he says, "Wherefore glorify ye the Lord in the fires" and I shall come back to that text in a moment but just to complete my very rapid and hasty review of the chapter let me take the last few verses. Take verse 20, "The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard" (Isaiah 24, 20). Verse 21, "The Lord shall punish the host of the high ones that are on high" (Isaiah 24, 21). Verse 22, "They shall be gathered together, as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison, and after many days they shall be visited" (Isaiah 24, 22). Now the prison is death and the visit after many days is the judgment day.
So he's telling us that all the wicked in the world and whatever they are when they die they are locked up in the prison and they will be kept in prison over against the day of judgment then they shall be visited and taken out of the prison and they shall face God in that awesome day of judgment. Well that's the general picture. And my text comes in that section that deals with the Lord's people in the midst of all of this. "Glorify ye the Lord in the fires" (Isaiah 24, 15). Now let me explain the meaning of these words. The word "fires" is an illustration. It is a picture of all the trials of the faith of the Lord's people. It is their tribulations where by God in this world exercises them unto obedience. It is the trial of faith which the Lord's people have to go through if they are truly the Lord's people.
2. THE NATURE OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS GOING THROUGH THE FIRES
This is an illustration used again and again in the Word of God. Do you remember how Peter puts it? He said we are not to be surprised at the fiery trial which is to try you as though some strange thing was happening. You know when Christianity becomes cold and dead Christians are so unused to suffering for Christ that they think it is a strange thing for them to have to suffer in this life and they turn up their noses at it. They don't expect to suffer. So that is the failure to understand the Christian life. When the church and the people of God are alive and faithful to Christ, then it is not to be expected, it is not to be surprised that our life consists of trials and fiery trials. You remember also how Psalm 66 puts this, how the Psalmist looks back over the dealings of God over the years and he says we went through fire and through water and thou hast brought us to a wealthy place and then there is the most wonderful passage which you will know in this very prophecy itself. "When thou passest through the waters I will be with thee, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee when though walkest through the fire thou shalt not be burned neither shall the flame kindle upon thee."
Now what I am doing is to prove to you that this is the genuine meaning of these words. The Christian life is portrayed here and everywhere as a life of fires in the sense that trials await us as we go along the pilgrim path. Now this is a very fit and appropriate illustration for two reasons at least. First of all because faith like gold is purified by fire and you would expect that the God who is preparing us for glory and immortality and eternal life would in this world continually be refining our faith as silver and gold is tried in the furnace and in the crucible our fiery afflictions in the case of some of course they did literally have to go through the fire. We meet some in the book of Daniel with the three friends who were put in the furnace and heated seven times hotter than before. But we meet them in Scotland among the Scots were there Patrick Hamilton the proto reformer was literally burned to death in St. Andrews testifying to the truth of the gospel and the lies and hypocrisy of the Roman Catholic Church. Burned to death that neat and saintly scholar burned to death literally and St. Andrews for the love he bore to the truth of God and following him a few years later George Wishart almost on the very same spot so we can see then that this is the Biblical view of the life of the people of God. It was true in the Old Testament. It is true in the New Testament. It's the same experience.Alright, let me give you four brief reasons why if we are genuine Christians We must expect this to be the case, briefly.
(a) THE HATRED OF SATAN
The first one is because of the hatred of Satan. My friends if we are Christians we have escaped from the dungeon of Satan in which we all once were and of course he is furious with us and he will do anything to drag us back again if he can do anything he can do to make our lives a misery. By annoyance, by frustration, by throwing the fiery darts into your soul he'll gladly do. And he's afraid of the Lord's people because his kingdom is one of darkness and he knows that you are full of light and your light endangers his whole grasp upon the world of darkness. He never knows the moment in which God may bless your testimony to a saving of a soul from his dark kingdom. Oh the kindling of gospel fire in a whole community. Well therefore might we expect our lives to be a fiery experience when the Devil will do anything in his power to make our life a misery.
(b) THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE LORD'S PEOPLE AND THE WORLD
But then the second reason is because of the difference between the Lord's people and the world. Now my friends let me put it to you like this; when we are all happy in the world the hypocrite can be just as good a Christian as the believer. The thing which tries the Christian and proves him to be real over against the world is the way we react to our trials. Our Saviour puts it like this in one of His parables. Do you remember how the sower was sowing seed and some fell on stony ground and immediately it sprang up but it had no root? When persecution or tribulation arises that they have on account of the Word, immediately they are offended - they can't take it. When religion is at ease and popular with people, then a lot will join it but when religion is under the cloud and under the cross then only the Lord's true people will follow Him.
(c) WE ARE MARRIED TO CHRIST
A Third reason is this. If we are genuine Christians we are married to Christ. He is the church's Husband and therefore He is our Husband. But in any marriage the wife either suffers with her husband or rejoices with him. In any true marriage the husband and wife have to go through marriage including all the experiences in life together. If he is exalted, she is exalted. If he is a king, she is a queen. If he is a duke, she is a dutchess. Or if they suffer it is impossible for the husband to suffer and not the wife; that's obvious and elemental. So it is with Christ our Lord. Jesus Christ had the most painful fiery experience in this world from the moment He was born all the way through to the moment He died. This world was anything but a place of ease. He was hounded from the moment of His birth to His death. It is not very surprising to hear the apostle Paul say this, that He fills up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in His flesh for His body's sake which is the church. Of course it is a fiery experience that the Lord's people go through here in this world because it was so for the husband and it must be so for the wife.
(d) SUFFERING IS OF THE ESSENCE OF THE CHRISTIAN'S EXPERIENCE
The fourth reason why we must expect it is because suffering is of the essence of the Christian's experience. Now you may think that's going too far but I'll prove it. Listen to the apostle Paul; all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall what? Receive praise from the Lord because they were such noble characters and did such unselfish actions? No, no he doesn't say that. Does he say all that live godly in Christ will have the respect of their fellow men and they will nod their heads at these noble Christians passing by? No, what he does say is this: all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. All that really walk with Christ must go through the fires. Listen to Paul again, if we suffer with Him we shall also reign with Him. Many are the afflictions of the righteous but the Lord delivereth him out of them all. Well I leave it to your consciences whether I'm right or wrong in saying that the Christianity of our day and age has grown very cold; a people that cannot bear to suffer for Christ, can they? People cannot tolerate it. They will cave in and give in and bend and twist so as not to go through the pain. But you and I must tell ourselves that if our Saviour can squirm and wiggle out of trouble as some seem to be capable of doing where would the gospel be, where would the church be, where would the way to heaven be? Our Lord could have avoided the cross but He would not have saved us had He done so. We must be prepared also to take up our cross, must we not? And follow him.
3. OUR DUTY WHEN WE GO THROUGH THE FIRES
Now quickly and secondly the Christians duty while going through these fires is made clear to us. My text says, "Wherefore glorify ye the Lord in the fires." It is always our duty of course to glorify God whether we eat or drink or whatsoever we do. Just a word of explanation of what it means to glorify God. We cannot add to God's glory when we speak about glorifying God. We are not thinking about adding anything to God's glory it's not that He has something which He didn't have before. His glory is infinite and eternal and it is incapable of increasing or diminishing but when we are told in scripture to glorify God, it means to live in a manner which reflects our confidence in the truth and glory of God to live as those who believe in the God of the Bible. In all the situations of life to behave and to react like those who are realizing that God is what He is and what He is to His people especially.
Now looked at like that, this world is in one sense a better place even than heaven. In this sense, that in heaven there is no more suffering and we cannot glorify God in the fires once we get to heaven but we can in this life and in doing so we can lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven; we can increase our bank balance. Now we cannot do that once we die. Once we die our account is settled and the line is drawn in the book; we cannot increase the weight of glory but in this life we can, says Christ. We can lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven and the way to lay up treasure in heaven, of course, is to live like those who love God and who are dedicated to God and His cause and His work and His kingdom and His service. Therefore suffering is sent to us in this world to give us an opportunity to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven. Something which we cannot do, I say, when we get to heaven. Now if we are to do this and to glorify God in the fires there are certain things that we have to understand. I want to mention two or three briefly.
First, we have to understand that all suffering is sent by God, all suffering. There are some people who think of the Christian life like this. They think God sends us the nice things and the devil sends us the nasty things. Now that is a childish way of thinking of our sufferings. God sends us all the good things we have and God sends us all the bad things we have. That we prove it and quoting one or two verses of scripture to prove my point. Listen to Amos "Shall there be evil in a city and the Lord hath not done it?" Did you catch that? "Shall there be evil in the city and the Lord hath not done it?" Now what he means to say is this. All the evil in the world comes from God, and somebody says 'but that's shocking,God doesn't do evil but good.' And I say that you have to understand the scriptures to teach this. That out of the hand of God comes forth good and evil and if we don't look at life like that we are going to be offended when evil comes, but if we look at it like that, then we can say "Blessed by God, He sent me good yesterday, but He sends me evil today. Out of the hand of God come all things even difficult things, trying things." The Lord is sovereign in everything that happens. You remember how Jesus spoke to Pontius Pilate. Pilate said to Him, "Oh you are not talking to me," he says to Jesus, "I have power to crucify you and power to release you." And our Lord said to him, "You could have no power at all over me except that which is given you from above, from God." It was God who had the power to give Jesus into the hand of Pontius Pilate. Did you see it was the Lord's doing?
Take another quotation from Ezekiel 14. Here is an even more profound statement if you like. God said, "If the prophet, (meaning a false prophet), if the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet." Now that sounds very shocking and we say, "Surely, God does not deceive anyone - that would be a sinful thing of God to do." Well, I have to explain it. God never sins and God doesn't drive anyone to commit sin. He doesn't push people to commit sin. How then does God say to us that He deceives the false prophet that is deceived? Like this, when men are wicked or want to do wickedly all that God has to do is to remove His grace from them and their own wickedness will take them down hill into sin. That's what happened to these false prophets. They spoke lies because they wanted to be paid for it. You recall how the prophets of Ahab did that when he was going to war to Ramoth Gilead. All the prophets, was it 400, came and they prophesized good. "Go to war the Lord is with you." And it was all lies. They wanted the king's favour and the king's credit. They wanted popularity. They wanted to be spoken well to. They wanted the smile of the king so they said what the king wanted to hear.
Then there was that other man that they took out of prison in a hurry. The son of Imlah, who's first name is gone, you know what I mean. Anyway he came out of prison and he stood before the king and he told the truth and now said the king, "I knew that man would say that because he never speaks good of me, only evil." And you see now how God works. He gave these prophets over to the corruption of their own hearts. Now that is to teach us that even the sins of man are controlled by God and the wickedness that goes on in this world is supervised, tolerated by God for wise and holy reasons. So we ask ourselves what are the good and wise and holy reasons why the Lord's people have to go through the fires in this life.
Well the first one I give you is this. This is to wean us off the world. We are all very much in love with the world. And God's method of weaning us from the world is to put us through the fires of tribulation so that we become not earthly but heavenly. We all know what it means to wean a little child. When it is very young it is on it's mother's breast and it takes milk but as it gets older it takes more solid food and the transition is called weaning and God weans the weakest child by trials until it becomes strong. It's what a gardener does with seedlings. When the seedling is very small it's in a greenhouse, warm and comfortable and artificially watered and so forth, but when it's ready the gardener takes it and plants it out in the garden to harden it up, as they say, to harden the plant to make it robust and strong to face the weather. That's why God does this to us. He takes us out of the pot plant and plants us in the garden and in so doing the Lord's people go through these trials.
There's another reason I might mention, it is so we might by experience learn the faithfulness of God. There is a big difference in knowing something with your head then knowing it by experience. When a Christian is first converted he would certainly say, "I know God will be faithful and I know God will deliver me from my trials." But you watch that young Christian starting to go through His trials and you see the agony in his soul like Joseph the iron goes into his soul. What is God doing? He is doing something full of love and kindness. He is strengthening the young Christian. He is showing him the faithfulness of God and when you meet a really seasoned Christian person they look back like Job and they marvel at God's deliverance. In experience Job said, "I have been through it and I know the God whose faithful when He has finished with me I shall shine like gold." And that's what Paul says at the end, "The Lord has delivered me out of all my afflictions." He knew by experience and experience is something we need to have plenty of.
So then how do we glorify God as we go through the fires? Well for one thing we must not panic. You know we all panic in a fire even the most powerful beasts of the forest panic in a fire. Have you seen films of a forest fire? You will see lions, tigers, the most fierce animals and it's clear in their eyes that they are most panic stricken. They are running away from the forest flames that are coming towards them. Everything is terrified by fire. Well we as the Lord's people must not panic ever. We must take a grip upon ourselves like the disciples in the boat when the waters threaten to sink the boat and they cried out at our Lord's feet, "Carest thou not that we perish?" What a thing to say to the Son of God. And His question to them was, "Where is your faith?"
Another way to glorify God is by patience. God's ways are perfect. But God does not pay all His bills on a Monday morning. God may take weeks or months or years before He pays men back but He will pay them back every penny will be paid. He will grind everything to fine powder in the end. The mills of God grind slowly but they grind fine and in the meantime good men must wait patiently. Another way to glorify God in the fires is that we must never trust in any arm of flesh. We must look above all men's help. We must look above all the church's help to Christ, to the mighty arm of God. It's a question worth putting to yourself. How do you behave when you go through the fires? I give you three arguments why you should be encouraged to go through the sufferings ordained for you by God.
4. ENCOURAGEMENTS FOR THE LORD'S PEOPLE IN THE FIRES
First, these sufferings identify us as God's true children. These sufferings sift the true from the false. Oh hypocrites look good on a summer's day but you watch until the winter winds blow then you will see there is a difference between the one and the other. The sifting takes place. Psalm 73 shows you that God is often pleased to give more comfort to the wicked in this life than to His own people that is for the trial of their faith. If you want to get your name written with the list of good men and women listed in Hebrews 11 then the way is to glorify God in the fires. Pretty well all of them were in fires of one kind or another.
Second, remember suffering is good for the soul when sanctified by God. One reason why the Free Church of Scotland over a century ago became unsound was because they lived in ivory towers. They lived in their classrooms with students and they had their studies and their learned books and life was so comparatively easy that they could spin their own ideas out of their own bowels instead of keeping to the Word of God. But you watch the Pastor who is in the thick of the fight and the very trials he goes through keep him sound. I remember Ian Murray once saying, "The Puritans were at their best when they were persecuted." You take John Bunyan in prison for twelve years or something, how did he know so much about God and godliness? The answer is God was teaching him through the fires. If you want to be a seasoned Christian than go through the fires which God sends upon you. They will teach you how to pray. They will teach you how to witness. They will give you faith. They will give you much light on Scripture.
As I close, thirdly, the faithful Christian will be rewarded in the world to come. If we suffer with Him we shall also reign with Him. Listen to Christ's words, "You who have followed me," He says to His disciples, "in the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of His glory, you also shall sit on the twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel." So the Apostle Paul at the end of his life says this to Timothy, "Do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord nor of me his prisoner, but be thou partaker of the power of the gospel according to the power of God." I think that's a seasonable word for Christians everywhere today.
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