It was a phone call that brought sheer terror to me. I will never forget it. Wakened in the middle of the night, I heard my oldest daughter, Kasey, crying, “Our house is on fire!” My immediate response was, “Is everybody out?” Thankfully, they were. As soon as we could throw on some clothes, my wife and I were speeding down the road to the scene.
It was tough to see the house in such shape. The fire was basically out by the time we got there, but much of what was inside was ruined by smoke, and the water used to extinguish the flames. But stuff can be replaced—our precious family could not. So, in our tears, there were still thanks that they had escaped.
There is a fire that is even more fearful than anything that can be kindled in this world. That is the fire of hell—the punishment of the wicked for all eternity. Jesus said, “Don't fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28 HCSB)
How can we escape? Is there a way to be fireproof? Isaiah addresses this in chapter thirty three of his prophecy.
He begins with THE REASONS WE NEED TO BE FIREPROOF (v.1-14).
The first reason is GOD’S PURE CHARACTER.
“The peoples flee at the thunderous noise; the nations scatter when You rise in Your majesty. Your spoil will be gathered as locusts are gathered; people will swarm over it like an infestation of locusts. The Lord is exalted, for He dwells on high; He has filled
with justice and
righteousness.” (v.3-5) Zion
The prophet warns that God is coming in judgment. His character is utterly holy. He is just and righteous. His character is far and above any other—exalted to the pinnacle of perfect purity. Being absolutely just, he must judge wickedness. The nature of fire is to purify—to consume all that will burn. Of Him, it is said, “for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:29)
The following reason relates to the first: MAN’S PERISHABLE CHARACTER.
“’You will conceive chaff; you will give birth to stubble. Your breath is fire that will consume you. The peoples will be burned to ashes, like thorns cut down and burned in a fire. You who are far off, hear what I have done; you who are near, know My strength.’
The sinners in
are afraid; trembling seizes the ungodly: ‘Who among us can dwell with a consuming fire? Who among us can dwell with ever-burning flames?’”
One cannot blame the fire for burning, for that is its nature. The fault is with that which cannot endure the flames. That is the perishable quality of our nature. We are chaff and stubble—highly flammable. All the thoughts we conceive and the acts we birth are combustible. No wonder Scripture always associates the reality of hell’s fire with a response of fear. The house of the human condition is burning down around us—how can we get out?
The gracious God has provided a way! Isaiah lists THE REQUIREMENTS WE MEET TO BE FIREPROOF (v.15).
The desperate cry is expressed:
“The sinners in
are afraid; trembling seizes the ungodly: ‘Who among us can dwell with a consuming fire? Who among us can dwell
with ever-burning flames?" (v.14) Zion
The answer is expounded:
“The one who lives righteously and speaks rightly, who refuses gain from extortion, whose hand never takes a bribe, who stops his ears from listening to murderous plots and shuts his eyes to avoid endorsing evil…” (v.15).
It is important to note that this is the fruit of faithfulness which is evidence of the root of faith. Salvation cannot be a work we do, it must be a work God does.
“Lord, be gracious to us! We wait for You. Be our strength every morning and our salvation in time of trouble.” (v.2)
“The Lord is exalted, for He dwells on high; He has filled
with justice and righteousness.” (v.5) Zion
“There will be times of security for you—a storehouse of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge. The fear of the Lord is
treasure.” (v.6) Zion
“For the Lord is our Judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our King. He will save us.” (v.22)
“and none there will say, ‘I am sick.’ The people who dwell there will be forgiven [their] iniquity.” (v.24)
Salvation is of the Lord. It is His gracious activity. It is His strength that lifts us out of sin and secures us for heaven. We are justified by faith and made righteous with God’s own righteousness. He heals our sin-sick soul. Forgiveness is given by Him.
To think that we can make our perishable nature fit for the fire of Judgment Day is folly. That would take a miracle where the coal that burns could be transformed into a diamond that endures—and that is what God alone can do!
You can tell a difference between chaff and gold, between coal and gems. Label straw with the word, “sapphire” and that does not change its nature. It still can’t survive the fire—the profession will burn up with the perishable. Isaiah points this out. If there is real regeneration—and God fireproofs us—then there is real repentance—and the quality of our life has changed. As has been said, “We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.” (Martin Luther)
Here is an “asbestos anatomy” we might say. “The one who lives righteously…” (v.15a)
OUR MOUTH, “speaks rightly…” (v.15b). That which comes out of the bucket of our speech is drawn from the well of our soul. Consider this contrast:
“Brood of vipers! How can you speak good things when you are evil? For the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.” (Matthew 12:34 HCSB)
“The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom; his tongue speaks what is just. The instruction of his God is in his heart; his steps do not falter.” (Psalm 37:30-31)
Words can be empty and profession can be false, but listen to a person long enough—and it discloses their values and virtues—or lack, thereof. Thus, Jesus said, “A good man produces good things from his storeroom of good, and an evil man produces evil things from his storeroom of evil. I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless word they speak. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned." (Matthew 12:35-37)
OUR HANDS, “who refuses gain from extortion, whose hand never takes a bribe…” (v.15c). Covetousness in the heart is indicated by contamination on the hands. Scripture warns that covetousness is idolatry. One who has a heart inflamed by greed and hands grasping for gain will be consumed in the fire—they disclose they worship a false god and not the Living God.
Christ told us we have to choose, “No one can be a slave of two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot be slaves of God and of money.” (Matt.6:24)
OUR EARS, “who stops his ears from listening to murderous plots…” (v.15d). Our ears are a gateway into our heart. What we open them to and entertain is what we embrace. The author of Proverbs warns of those who listen to the harlot named Folly whose invitation brings us to hell, and entreats us to instead listen to Lady Wisdom whose call leads us to life (read Proverbs 9).
OUR EYES, “and shuts his eyes to avoid endorsing evil…” (v.15e). This is the other portal into our soul. What we look at we long for. This is why Jesus warned that the lustful look was tantamount to adultery. We are warned not to look at the sparkling wine in the cup, lest we desire to consume it and be drunk. A focus on the material ignites a flame of desire that will consume us. The focus of our eyes shows the direction of our steps.
When I go to the doctor for my physical, he tells me, “Open your mouth and stick out your tongue.” He also looks at my hands—and the color of my fingernails in particular. He shines a light in my ears and my eyes. These are a window into my physical condition. When God, the Great Physician examines you, what is the state of your soul?
Remember, our works are not what saves us, but that if we are saved there ought to be evidence. The root of Christ in us produces the fruit of Christ-likeness.
If we are transformed by the grace of God, there will be THE RESULTS WE SEE IN BEING FIREPROOF (v.16-24). We do not have to dread standing before God and His consuming fire, but can delight in what awaits us!
PROMOTION, “he will dwell on the heights…” (v.16a). We can seek to exalt ourselves on earth, as Lucifer tried to exalt himself in heaven, only to be cast down with him into hell, or we can humble ourselves before God, and He will exalt us. Quite a promotion!
PROTECTION, “his refuge will be the rocky fortresses…” (v.16b). We can rest our hopes on the sands of this world or on the solid Rock of Christ by hearing and heeding His Word.
PROVISION, “his food provided, his water assured.” (v.16c) To eat the bread of this world alone is to hunger for eternity. To drink of the well of this world is to thirst again, and thirst forever in a waterless place, longing for a mere drop to cool our tongue in the flames. Oh, but to feed on Christ, the Bread of Heaven is to be nourished forever! To drink of Christ, the Water of Life is to find a perpetual satisfaction of the thirst of our soul!
“Your eyes will see the King in His beauty; you will see a vast land. Your mind will meditate on the [past] terror: ‘Where is the accountant? Where is the tribute collector? Where is the one who spied out our defenses?’ You will no longer see the barbarians, a people whose speech is difficult to comprehend—who stammer in a language that is not understood. Look at
, the city of our
festival times. Your eyes will see Zion ,
a peaceful pasture, a tent that does not wander;
its tent pegs will not be pulled up nor will any of its cords be loosened. For the majestic One,
our Lord, will be there, a place of rivers and
broad streams where ships that are rowed will
not go, and majestic vessels will not pass.”
Now we see through a darkened glass, but one day faith will become sight! We are going to see the King! We will see the glory of that
! Heavenly City
“For the Lord is our Judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our King. He will save us. Your ropes are slack; they cannot hold the base of the mast or spread out the flag. Then abundant spoil will be divided, the lame will plunder it, and none there will say, "I am sick." The people who dwell there will be forgiven [their] iniquity.” (v.22-24)
Saved! No sorrow, no suffering, so sin—none of this world’s woes—all that is burned up and gone. All that remains is what is of eternal worth. There will be riches, rigor and righteousness.
You don’t want to miss heaven for the world!
Jesus underscored that:
“And if your hand causes your downfall, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and go to hell-the unquenchable fire, where
Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.
Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.
And if your foot causes your downfall, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and be thrown into hell- the unquenchable fire, where Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.
And if your eye causes your downfall, gouge it out. It is better for you to enter the
with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, kingdom of God
Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” (Mark 9:43-48 HCSB)
Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” (Mark 9:43-48 HCSB)
Ponder the second century martyr, Polycarp—a disciple of the Apostle John and pastor of the church at
The law was to vow allegiance to Caesar as Lord or be burned at the stake. He refused to renounce Christ when so threatened. His answer was:
“For eighty and six years have I been his servant, and he has done me no wrong, and how can I blaspheme my King who saved me?"
As the authorities stressed the severity of his punishment, he replied, “You threaten with the fire that burns for a time, and is quickly quenched, for you do not know the fire which awaits the wicked in the judgment to come and in everlasting punishment. But why are you waiting? Come, do what you will."
When they placed him at the stake and were ready to nail him to it, that he might not flee, Polycarp courageously spoke, “Leave me thus, for He who gives me power to endure the fire, will grant me to remain in the flames unmoved even without the security you will give by the nails."
According to “The Martyrdom of Polycarp,” the story climaxes:
1 So they did not nail him, but bound him, and he put his hands behind him and was bound, as a noble ram out of a great flock, for an oblation, a whole burnt offering made ready and acceptable to God; and he looked up to heaven and said: "O Lord God Almighty, Father of thy beloved and blessed Child, Jesus Christ, through Whom we have received full knowledge of thee, the God of Angels and powers, and of all creation, and of the whole family of the righteous, who live before thee! 2 I bless thee, that Thou hast granted me this day and hour, that I may share, among the number of the martyrs, in the cup of thy Christ, for the Resurrection to everlasting life, both of soul and body in the immortality of the Holy Spirit. And may I, today, be received among them before Thee, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, as Thou, the God who lies not and is truth, hast prepared beforehand, and shown forth, and fulfilled. 3 For this reason I also praise Thee for all things, I bless Thee, I glorify Thee through the everlasting and heavenly high Priest, Jesus Christ, thy beloved Child, through whom be glory to Thee with him and the Holy Spirit, both now and for the ages that are to come, Amen." (translated by
) Kirsopp Lake
Polycarp was fireproof!