Iron Shoes: God’s Promise for Every New Year
Deuteronomy 33:25“The bolts of your gates will be iron and bronze, and your strength will equal your days” (NIV).
“Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and as thy days, so shall thy strength be” (KJV).
You will immediately notice a difference in the way the New International Version and the King James Version translate this verse. It has to do with a Hebrew word that can be translated more than one way. Although the symbolism is different, the final meaning in either case is the same. For this message, I am going to follow the King James Version, which speaks of “iron shoes” for a rocky road.
As we stand on the brink of a new year, we wonder what the future holds. Most of us probably approach a milestone like this with a combination of excitement and a bit of apprehension. We’re excited about what 2000 might mean for us, and for the same reason we’re aware of possible peril, danger, and difficulty. Certainly both reactions are appropriate. After all, we have just passed through the most tumultuous century in human history. It included two world wars, the rise and fall of Communism, the advent of radio, television, the telephone, computers, and the Internet. One hundred years ago the automobile and the airplane were just being invented. Today we send satellites to explore the universe. Because of the communications revolution, the world has truly become a global village. Through the magic of the Internet, you can push a button and send an e-mail that will go from your computer to a computer in a village in India in less than 30 seconds.
85 Years in Oak Park
These are truly amazing times. And how will our church respond to all that is before us? Each year we choose a theme and a theme verse. As I prayed about our theme for 2000, the Lord laid a verse on my heart several months ago. It comes from the New American Standard translation of Hosea 6:3, “Let us press on to know the Lord.” That’s always a good word but it seemed like a message from heaven for this moment in the history of Calvary Memorial Church. Today we begin our 85th consecutive year of ministry in Oak Park. From a tiny beginning in 1915 we have experienced God’s faithfulness across the decades. But even though we have been here for 85 years, we must say clearly that we have not arrived and our journey is not yet ended. We are not 85 years old but 85 years young with much ground left to conquer for the Lord. Therefore, our challenge is to press on in every area to know the Lord. This is no time to retire, no time to give up, and certainly no time to bask in our own glory (as if we had any).
No, this is a time for us to move “Forward by Faith.” That’s the theme that goes with Hosea 6:3. For the tenth straight year, Soo Ai Kudo designed our banners that hang in the sanctuary behind the platform. This year the banners are filled with powerful symbolism. The banner on the left pictures waves in the ocean a few minutes before sunrise. The waves have not yet crested because the shoreline is some distance away. The banner on the right shows the waves breaking just as the sun is coming up. If you look closely, you can see that the waves are stirring up all sorts of aquatic life that is beginning to float to the surface. The background color is called “Millennium Blue” and on many of the patchwork sections you will find “2000” embossed. The whole impact is one of motion, progress, and the light of Christ bringing life to the nations.
“We Might Begin by Saying God”
As we consider the meaning of this moment in history, all the pundits are offering their answers. One of the best comes from the Manchester (NH) Union-Leader in an editorial yesterday:
What is one to say about the end of a century, especially when it signals, popularly if not technically, the start of a new millennium?
We might begin by saying God.
It has struck us how little His name and that of His son have been mentioned in all the hoopla, hype, and headlines about this event, given that it is based on a calendar that counts the years since Christ’s birth.
People looking back on this period might be excused for thinking that some extra-worldly entity called Y2K, rather than the Creator, was at the center of Western man’s spiritual attention. They might be right.
As far as we have come technologically and materially, we seem to have drifted remarkably from a belief in moral right and wrong. Even as our Presidents and Presidential candidates speak more and more of the spiritual, it is easy to feel that they preach more than they practice. Perhaps the new century will turn that around.
I love that one line: “We might begin by saying God.” Indeed, that is always the best place for any of us to begin. If ever there were a time for us to “begin by saying God,” now is that time. Amidst all the self-congratulations that we hear around the world, let us remember that without the Lord, the world would have ended long ago. We owe everything to the good hand of God who has led us this far. Only by his grace can we go on from here.
Back to the Cross
I think it is most fitting that we celebrated the Lord’s Supper as part of this first worship service of the new century. It reminds us that at the heart of our faith is a marvelous work of God. We often talk about the gospel but we forget what it means. The Lord’s Supper brings us back to the cross of Christ where the Son of God died for our sins. We go back to the table again and again lest we forget the awful cost of our salvation. Every time we are tempted to think that somehow we have done something to deserve God’s favor, or when we begin to get impressed with who we are or what we’ve done, this table teaches us that everything we have depends on the Lord. As the Bible says, if any man boasts, let him boast in the Lord.
The Lord’s Supper also teaches us that our faith deals with the hardest reality of all—the fact of death. No other faith has the answer to death that is found in Jesus Christ. For the gospel is not just that Christ died, but that on the third day he rose from the dead. This is important because death comes eventually to all of us. Over the years I have done my share of funerals and it never gets any easier. But thanks be to God, there is an answer that comes from the Lord Jesus Christ: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26).
Because of Christ we enter the New Year, the New Decade, the New Century, and the New Millennium, with the same confidence we have always had. No one knows what the future holds, but we know who holds the future. That alone is enough.
Iron Shoes for Rough Roads
So I come to my text, which is a much-beloved promise of God. It was actually a prophecy given by Moses to the tribe of Asher just before his death. By God’s choice this tribe was being given land on the seacoast north of modern-day Haifa, extending into what we today call southern Lebanon. Asher’s land was fruitful and mountainous. To the people who lived in hilly terrain, God promises “iron shoes” for the roads they must travel.
From this we may take a very simple application. Every new year is the beginning of a new journey. How will we fare? What will the road be like? Will our way be rough or easy? Our text suggests that we may have some rough road to travel before the year is done. If the way is to be flower strewn, velvet slippers will do. And if all we’re going to do in 2000 is sit and watch television, we don’t need iron shoes. Thick socks will do just fine. But if we plan to travel rocky roads, we need good footwear. As coaches like to say, No pain, no gain. No guts, no glory. No struggle, no growth.
I am not a prophet but I am sure we will all walk on rocky roads before this year is done. There are no silk slippers on the road to heaven. We need iron shoes because the road is hard, the way difficult, the path sometimes treacherous.
God gives great promises because the road itself is difficult, steep, and hard to climb. “Your shoes will be of iron and brass” means “The road ahead will be rocky and dangerous.”
As we start the new year, God’s word to his people is clear: “Forward, March!” And the good news is this: What God demands, he supplies. When he puts his people on a hard road, he gives them iron shoes for the journey.
As Thy Days
Then there is the last part of the verse—a promise of great provision: “As thy days, so shall thy strength be.” Note that it is “days” not “day.” This means three things. First, God will give strength for each individual day in the year ahead. Second, God will give strength for every kind of day we may face. Some days are filled with joy, light, and happiness; others with sadness, tears, frustration, pain, and heartache. Whatever each day brings, there will be strength enough to meet it. Third, God will give strength to all our days until the end of our days. We will run out of days before we run out of God’s strength. The more days, the more strength God gives.
Will you have hard days? Fear not. Your strength will equal your days.
Will you have days of sickness? Fear not. Your strength will equal your days.
Will you have days of doubt and confusion? Fear not. Your strength will equal your days.
Just for a moment think about your three greatest worries as you enter this new year. What are they? What things occupy your mind and heart in these opening days of 2000? Deuteronomy 33:25 assures us that no matter what happens, God’s strength will always equal the days that are ahead.
This is especially a promise for the passing of the years. At the age of 47 I find this promise means more to me than it did 20 years ago. When you are young, you feel strong and able to take on the world. In your 20s, you think you’ve got the world by the tail on a downhill slide. In your 30s, you can work for hours and not feel tired. But in your 40s your body starts sending you unexpected messages. You aren’t as strong as you used to be, your energy doesn’t last as long, your stamina seems to disappear quickly. And the parts of your body that seemed invincible are now beginning to show signs of wear and tear.
And what will it be like in your 50s or 60s or 70s? It is the same for all of us, even if we exercise every day and take a handful of vitamin supplements. In this life we all wear out eventually. And that is precisely where this promise becomes so significant. We discover with the passing of time that God’s strength is more than enough for everything we face. So even though we grow older, our faith grows, our hope grows, our love grows, our zeal grows, and our patience grows. As God helps us, we find more and more of what we need.
And when the moment comes to leave this life, we find the strength we need to make that final journey. We go from God to God, from life to life, from strength to strength, from joy to joy, from love to love, from God by faith to God by sight, and from Christ within to Christ enthroned in heaven.
So our faces will be lit with joy as we approach the end. This week a friend spoke to me about his grandmother who died a few days ago at the age of 100. To use a biblical phrase, she died “old and full of years.” She was ready to meet the Lord because home was no longer this earth. Home was in heaven. My friend told me that in the last several years she would drift off to sleep and then wake up disappointed that she was still on the earth.
This week I found myself meditating on Proverbs 4:18: “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” Here is a parable for the Christian life. When we start our journey with Christ, he provides “iron shoes” because the road from earth to heaven is filled with “many dangers, toils and snares.” In the beginning there is light enough for each step we take. As we walk with the Lord, the light grows brighter and brighter until the light shines so brightly that we simply walk from earth to heaven. I sometimes wonder if believers even realize they have died. I think (though I can’t prove this) that death for the Christian is only an earthly event, that we simply pass through the portal into the light of God’s presence and we don’t even realize what happened until we are standing in the presence of the Lord.
In his sermon on this text, Alexander MacLaren points out that this promise will still be true in heaven. On earth time wears everything away and we finally die. Because we are mortal, time is our enemy. But in eternity time will be our friend because there we are immortal. In heaven time will only add to the luster of God’s grace. One writer says that the oldest angels look the youngest because they have been in God’s presence the longest. What a pleasant thought that is. In heaven the passing of a 1000 years will make us younger, more vigorous because we are more filled with God’s glory.
Strength for the New Year
“As thy days, so shall thy strength be.” What does this suggest for us at the start of a new year? It means that God’s strength will be there when we need it—and not before. We will never find a day when God’s strength is lacking. We will have strength as long as our days last. Therefore, we need not look anxiously ahead. In happy days filled with sunlight, we may not need much strength, but when hard times come, we will find that the divine reservoir is more than enough to meet our needs.
And think who it is who promises such a blessing to us. It is …
The one who made us.
The one who appoints our days.
The one who loved us from eternity.
The one whose love will never fail.
The one whose resources are unlimited.
The one who gave himself for us.
If such a God has made such a promise, we may be sure that he will keep his promise completely. I love to remind myself that he is the God who goes before his people. Many times we tend to limit our thinking to the fact that God’s presence goes with us as we go through life. That’s true, but it’s only part of the story. He’s not only with us now, he’s already way up the road ahead of us.
Think about it this way: While we struggle with the problems of today, God is hard at work providing solutions for the things we are going to face tomorrow. He’s already there, working creatively in situations we have yet to face, preparing them for us and us for them.
He’s Way Ahead of Us!
Or to say it another way: While we’re living in Tuesday, he’s clearing the road for us on Friday. Or to say it yet another way: God is already at work providing solutions for problems we don’t even know we have yet! Are you worried about next week? Forget it. He’s already there. How about June or September? Don’t sweat it. He’s already there. What about that crucial meeting next week? Sleep well. He’s already there. What about that tough decision that looms ahead of you? Fear not. He’s already there.
It would be enough if God simply walked with you through the events of life. But he does much more than that. He goes ahead of you, clearing the way, arranging the details of life, so that when you get there, you can have confidence that God has already been there before you.
That’s why this promise is true: “As thy days, so shall thy strength be.” While you are slogging your way through this week, God is already in February stockpiling the strength you need so that when you get there, you’ve got what you need. And plenty more besides.
Here are some practical lessons we should take from this verse:
Take each day as it comes.
Don’t try to force the future. Let God lead.
Do not be full of anxious care.
Do each day what God gives you to do.
Rejoice in the Lord always.
Run to the Cross!
I close with this thought. God will not put you in an unbearable situation in 2000. But he may put you in a situation that seems unbearable so that you will turn to Him. Remember that God does not give his strength in advance but only when needed. Each day this year you will have what you need. We may therefore go forth into the new year with confidence, hope, and joy.
Ray Stedman points out that the chief mark of the Christian ought to be the absence of fear and the presence of joy. He goes on to say that the Christian is a person who is …
Continually cheerful, and
Constantly in trouble.
Most of us have that last part down pat. When we are fearless and cheerful even in the midst of our daily troubles, then the world will take us seriously because the world simply cannot live this way. It is the presence of joy and the absence of fear that convinces others that we truly know the Lord.
Over a hundred years ago a preacher ended his sermon on this text with these words: “Christ’s feet were pierced with nails that we might have iron shoes for the road. We cannot succeed this year without Christ but with him by our side we can face whatever may come with confidence and with joy.”
How true that is. And in the end we come back to the Lord Jesus and back to the cross. Let me end this first sermon of the new century with the words I have said many times before:
If you are tired of your sin, run to the cross.
If you want a new start in life, run to the cross.
If you need hope and encouragement, run to the cross.
If you want to meet Jesus, run to the cross.
Happy New Year to everyone who reads these words. The Captain of our Salvation has called us to join his army. Brothers and sisters, it’s time to put on your iron shoes! The day of march has come. The cry comes from the front, “Forward by faith.” And off we go, adventuring into this new year. May God help us to press on to know the Lord in 2000. Amen.
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