Monday, August 27, 2012

Seeing Jesus in the Furnace

As shown in the video of last week's post Jesus is all over the Old Testament. And it's not just in the fulfillment of prophecies. While I understand that there may not be universal agreement on this, I'm convinced that there are numerous occasions throughout the Old Testament in which Jesus appeared in a pre-incarnate form (i.e. Christophany) - often under the title "angel of the Lord". Now this doesn't mean every time this figure appears it is Jesus but there are certain clues it is the pre-incarnate Christ in that this angel does not reveal his name (Ge 32:39), receives worship without prohibition (Nu 22:31), speaks in the first person as if he is God (Ge 22:12), and those who see him actually believed they were seeing God (Jg 13:22)

Perhaps what is most encouraging about these unique appearances is that these encounters nearly always occurred the during the darkest and loneliest moments of a broken person's life. What is also notable is that these sacred moments were often a pivotal inflection point which propelled forward God's redemptive plan. From this we can also conclude that our pain and suffering is never wasted. It is in life's darkest and loneliest moments when we often see Jesus face to face and it is often through that intense trial God carries out His greater purpose in and through our lives. I'll go over several examples of this over the next few weeks but I want to focus on one of the more obvious ones today.

When Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to bow to King Nebuchadnezzar's golden image they were cast into the fiery furnace (Dan 3). They weren't even certain if God would save them, but they were certain they were not going to compromise their faith. God then does something amazing. He does not save them from the furnace - He saves them through it - they were not singed nor did their hair smell of smoke. But what is most remarkable is that a fourth person appeared in the midst of the flames. Who was this person and why was he there?
He answered and said, "But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods."
Do you ever wonder what was going through the minds of those three young men as they were being bound and thrown into the furnace? No one knows for certain but in my "sanctified imagination" I think the words of the prophet Isaiah, written about 200 years earlier, came to their young Hebrew minds:
Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. -Isaiah 43:1-2
I believe Isaiah's powerful promise was literally fulfilled for them in that fiery furnace. Jesus was with them. They did walk through the fire. They were not burned.

We all have or will endure fiery furnaces of our own. The heat may be incredibly intense but we are told not to fear, not because God will make the flames absent but because God will make His Son present. As Psalms 23 says, "though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil..."  Why? "...for" (Ps 23:4). Thank you for being there Jesus...even when I don't see you. 
The angel of the Lord is ever watching over those who have fear of Him, to keep them safe. -Psalm 34:7


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