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).
Although the symbolism is different, the final meaning in either case is the same. For this message, I am going to follow the KJV, 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 2013 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 100 years in human history. It included 2 world wars, the rise and fall of Communism, the advent of radio, television, the telephone, computers and the Internet. 100 years ago the car 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.
These are truly amazing times. How will our church respond to all that is before us? Hosea 6: 3 - “Let us press on to know the Lord.” Even though we have been here for 30 years, we must say clearly that we have not arrived and our journey is not yet ended. We have 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 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.”
“We Might Begin by Saying God”
As far as we have come technologically and materially, we seem to have drifted remarkably from a belief in moral right and wrong. 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. 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 celebrate the Lord’s Supper as part of this first worship service of the New Year. It reminds us that at the heart of our faith is a marvellous 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 favour, 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 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.
1. 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? We may have some rough roads to travel before the year is done. If the way is strewn with flowers, velvet slippers will do. If all we’re going to do in 2013 is sit and watch TV, 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 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!” 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...”
The last part of the verse - A promise of great provision: “As thy days, so shall thy strength be.” This means 3 things – 1. God will give strength for each individual day in the year ahead. 2. 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. 3. 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.
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 3 greatest worries as you enter this New Year. What are they? What things occupy your mind and heart in these opening days of 2013? 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 58 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. 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. The parts of your body that seemed invincible are now beginning to show signs of wear and tear.
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 vitamins. In this life we all wear out eventually. 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.
When the moment comes to leave this life, we find the strength we need to make that final journey. We go 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.
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 think that death for the Christian is only an earthly event, that we simply pass through the door into the light of God’s presence and we don’t even realise what happened until we are standing in the presence of the Lord.
2. 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!
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. 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.
Practical lessons –
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.
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.