20 November 2017

Safety in the storm

Isaiah 32:2 “  a man will be as a hiding place from the wind, and a cover from the tempest, As rivers of water in a dry place, As the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.” NKJV

The book of Isaiah is the Gospel of the Old Testament as Matthew – John are in the NT.  In Isaiah we find a very clear picture of the coming Messiah. In Chapter nine we have those often-quoted words, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given…He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  Then in chapter eleven we have further information given regarding him, “ The Spirit of the Lord will rest upon Him – the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.”   Then you will remember the famous words of chapter 53 which describe in detail the death of Jesus, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering……he was pierced for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.”  You will recall also how our Lord, at the very beginning of His ministry, took to Himself the words of Isaiah, the OT Gospel writer, “The Spirit of the sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.”  Yes, Isaiah is the Matthew, Mark, Luke and John of the Old Testament.  His writings are all about Jesus.  Of course, in Isaiah, He is the One who is still to come, yet,  under the unerring influence of the Holy Spirit, Isaiah describes His birth, His Spirit-filled life and death.  Read Isaiah with your eye on the Saviour. 

This passage from which our text comes is a prophecy about the coming Messiah.  It is part of that larger picture of Him which this prophet gives.  In chapter nine  He is seen as king, in chapter eleven as Spirit-filled; here his humanity is emphasised.  All my life the second verse of this chapter has been written indelibly on my mind, of course in the words of the AV.  And I think the AV takes the crown for its translation of it.  The NIV says each man, indicating that in the Messianic kingdom each man will be righteous, but many commentators believe it is better taken ,as the AV takes it, as speaking of the Messiah Himself,” A Man shall be like a refuge from the wind…….”   I follow that translation.

The destructive forces here are wind and storm which contrast with water and shade in the latter part of the verse. On a visit to Israel some years ago, we visited a centre which specialises in understanding the Bible and we were told that the images of the Bible are usually practical rather than poetic and literary. They speak of practical realities. So here we find that wind and storm speak of the difficulties of life, and water and shade speak forcibly of pleasure and peace.  In the hot burning sun of the Middle East you very soon learn to look for cool shade which is a delight and your life will depend on a plentiful supply of water.  Thus the language of this verse speaks to us of safety in the storm.  Now let us look at –

THE STORMS OF LIFE

At times nature erupts in a terrible storm as happened recently in the earthquake in Japan which has had such terrible consequences.  Even today, the terrible effects of it become known. There are real questions about that which a Christian finds hard to answer.  It is easy to explain the geological movement of tectonic plates and the creation of a tsunami.  It is a different matter to explain why a good and loving God would allow it to happen, with so many lives wrecked and so much destruction. There are things before which we can only stand, not offering trite answers to those in great distress, yet hold on in faith because of what we ourselves  know of God.

Yet people also face storms. In their pastoral work ministers meet people  every week who have encountered stormy weather in life, and as a ship battens down the hatches to fight the storm, sometimes all an individual’s resources must be concentrated to meet the challenge of a sudden storm in life.  It can come in many forms.

The Christian sometimes faces the storm of sin. He was doing quite well as a Christian but then, before he knew what was happening, he had fallen into sin and he felt such a failure.  Peter was like that.  He had promised that he would be the toughest, the best, the most loyal and enduring of all the disciples, when the Master warned him about the coming test.  Yet, in spite of all his boasts and fine words, when the moment came, he fell.  And he felt wretched, felt as if he had let the Master down and that He was a washout, a failure.  He was finished. Judas too was like that.  He sinned and fell.  That Old Testament hero, King David, also faced the storm of sin, for he too was a failure.  There are many Christians who have faced the storm of sin and who inwardly feel like Peter. Some maybe have been no spiritual use for some time because, every time they think of doing something for God, Satan reminds them of their sin. Yet, there is a great difference between Peter and David on the  one hand and Judas on the other, for Peter and David found safety in the storm but Judas went his way to destruction.  Wherein lay the difference?  We shall look at that shortly.

Another of the storms of life is the storm of trouble.  It can come in many forms, sickness, death, bereavement, financial troubles, family troubles, family breakup, trouble in love, trouble in relationships, and sometimes these can be like a storm in one’s life.  All our strength and energy needs to be   summoned to fight it.  Very often the question asked is ‘Why?’  ‘Why do I have to face this storm?’  That question has great power to cause spiritual shipwreck.  A child rebels and causes heartache and parents ask ‘ Why?’ A marriage breaks up and the betrayed spouse asks ‘ Why?’  A loved one dies and the family asks ‘Why?’ These trouble-storms usually come to all of us at some time in life and they have the power to destroy us, to cause us to shrink into ourselves, to become embittered and lonely and utterly lacking in faith.  Yet, we can find safety in the storm.  Job did. He had the severest test of all, for he lost everything except life itself.  He lost family, wealth, home, possessions – everything.  He had just enough life left to be thoroughly miserable at all that had happened to him, and he was thoroughly miserable.  Yet in that storm of trouble he cried out, “Oh that I knew where I might find Him that I might come even to His feet.” The man who says that in the storm of trouble will never be lost; he will find safety in the storm just as Job did.

For others the storm is the storm of temptation.  That can blow up very quickly and, before we know it, we are in the middle of it.  I know several ministers who are no longer in the ministry because they were blown off course in a storm of temptation.  It can take many forms. Alcohol has destroyed more than one good person, and I’m told that many Christians today have an addiction problem. Love of money and comforts have been a snare for some.  Temptation comes in many forms.  With Ananias and Sapphira in Acts, the temptation was perhaps ambition and reputation allied to love of money.  Pride, too, can be the weakness that causes a storm of temptation.  The storm of temptation comes in many forms.

The last storm we face is the storm of death. How quickly that storm can blow up.  There he was, sailing along contentedly with everything under control, just like the rich farmer in the parable, when God said, “Your soul is required of you.”  Before he knew he was in the storm of death.  And it can be a storm. No preparation, nothing to hold on to, familiar faces fading and no hand to hold in the gathering darkness, no hope – the storm of death.

Unbelief ends in despair. H.G. WelIs was an unbeliever. His last book has been described as a scream of despair. Malcolm Muggeridge said of it “ Wells turned his face to the wall, letting off in ‘ ‘Mind At The End of Its Tether’ one last, despairing, whimpering cry which unsaid everything he had ever said or hoped.  Belatedly, he understood that what he had followed as a life-force was, in point of fact a death wish, into which he was glad to sink the little that remained of his own life in the confident expectation of total and final obliteration.” Yet we can all know safety in the storm, in all these storms, even the storm of death.  We turn to that now, but let us go back to our text –  Isaiah 32:2” A man will be like a refuge from the wind and a shelter from the storm.”   There is safety in the storm and it is in ‘a Man,’ the Man who is God.  Let me tease that out a little more.

SAFETY IN THE STORM

There is safety in the will of God.  Some of the storms of life are huge and defy our ability to explain or understand. In the music of Beethoven some things don’t seem to fit, but someone said,”  If Beethoven isn’t sure, who are we to make up his mind for him.”  The same is true in human experience. We wonder why certain things should have a place in God’s plans but who are we to decide what His will should be?   We can only trust His will in the matter.  We see Jesus doing just this in the Garden of Gethsemane when He prayed, “Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done.” That ‘nevertheless ‘ is important. It indicates all the doubts and questionings and grumblings and complaints and frustrations at the storms of life.  It takes them as stated.  The individual can give vent to them and they are part of our struggle with the storm.  But if we are to find safety in the storm we must come to that ‘nevertheless.’   It indicates a point at which the individual says ‘ I’ve had my say and expressed all my feelings but that’s an end of it.  Now, I’m going to trust myself to God’s will.  He knows best.’  I can tell you I’ve seen that happen a thousand times.  I can remember standing beside a grave in the country and hearing a man who had just buried his child, say,” You cannot fight against the Almighty.”   He meant it sincerely enough, but there are those who do fight against Him and who are unable to come to that ‘ nevertheless.’  Yet, only there do we find safety in the storm, safety in the will of God.  Outside of submission to God’s will  lies only frustration and rebellion and bitterness or a bleak resignation without hope. There’s nothing more bleak than that piece of common philosophy ‘ Whatever will be will be.’  What a difference there is between that and saying, “Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done.”  In that we find safety in the storm.  Corrie Ten Boom, who had been through Ravensbruck concentration camp,  once gave brother Andrew, the bible smuggler, a piece of advice. She said, “Remember Andrew to look down.” He questioned the ‘down;’ he thought she meant ‘up.’  “ Yes,” she said, “Keep looking down on this world from God’s standpoint.”  In that there is safety in the storm.

If we do that, then we in all probability  will also find safety in the presence of God, because when we accept His will, then He comes to us.  In Psalm 32:7 the Psalmist said,” You are my hiding place,” and so many have found it to be true in the storms of life.  I called with a man in hospital.  He told me he had had a very difficult time the night before and that morning.  He said he had  felt he was going to die, but immediately he assured me that he was ready and was unafraid.  The Lord was with Him.  The world thinks our faith is unreal.  If unbelievers could come with me on my rounds they would see how real it is in the big storms of life. The Lord promised,” “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  And he keeps His promises.  In His presence we find safety in the storms.  The old hymn said,

O all embracing mercy, Thou ever open door;

    What should we do without Thee,

    When heart and eyes run o’er?

A story comes from the time of the first world war when so many men died at the front.  A party was held in London and some young officers were there who were about to be transferred to the front.  In the midst of all the light hearted fun one young man stood up and said,” soon we are to be transferred to the front, possibly to die.  Will somebody tell us what we are to do?”  Suddenly there was silence.  A young woman walked to the piano and began to sing those lovely words to Mendelssohn’s music, “O rest in the Lord, wait patiently for Him.”  That was the perfect answer. There is safety in the storm in the presence of God.  Rest in the Lord.

It follows that there is safety in the storm in the peace of God.  When God comes, He brings His peace, and there is safety in the storm, even in the storm that is not going to have a happy outcome, when we find the peace of God.  I visited a man  who was going through not a storm but a tornado, and you could almost touch the peace about him.  Yes, it works and those who most descry our Christian faith as unreal will one day need it when the storm breaks over their head. God’s word saysYou will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.”  There is a peace in the midst of the storm when the Lord is there.

Now let us go back to the beginning.  There are many storms in life –  of sin, trouble, temptation, death.  Our text says ,” A man will be like a refuge from the wind and a shelter from the storm.”  The man is the Messiah, Jesus.  There is safety in the storm, in His will, in His presence and in His peace.  Trust in Him.

Sidlow McFarland