Cities of Refuge

Scripture: Isaiah 32:2, 1 John 1:9
Is Christianity easy or hard? Does it take a strong will to have victory? Can God save moral weaklings? The only way to find salvation is through faith and grace. You are received when you come. You cannot go through penance or probation. Neither can you go by feelings. You must take hold of God's promises by believing Him. The Old Testament Cities of Refuge give us a picture of being inside Christ and being safe.
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It has been well said that the religion of many people is like a headache, they have no desire to lose their head, but it hurts them to keep it. This leads to the question, Is Christianity hard or easy? Or put another way, Is Christianity possible only to those who have a strong will, or can even moral weaklings "hold out" and "hold on"? A third way of asking the question is to inquire, "Does salvation depend mostly upon God's doing or mine?"

In seeking for the answer to these questions today, I'd like to read a text which formed the basis for one of D. L. Moody's most famous sermons. Isaiah 32:2: "And a MAN shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land." When you read that word, "MAN," I hope you will spell it with a capital "M." Let me read it again: "And a MAN shall be as an hiding peace from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land." There is a picture of Jesus Christ, how He would come to this world and shepherd and keep His people. A Man shall be as an hiding from the tempest, a covert in time of storm. An individual finds himself out in the storm and must flee somewhere for protection and hiding. If you are willing to flee to Jesus, you will find shelter from the tempest raging all about you.

First of all, I wish to emphasize that the matter of salvation, the matter of peace in the life, is not a matter of penance and probation. Jesus never asked His followers to go through penance, nor did He ever deal with them mistrustingly. Go through the sacred records, and you will find how God dealt with men in days gone by. That is the only way to be sure of how God deals with men today. The one way to find salvation is through faith and acceptance. There is never a case where God asked a man to go through penance and afflict his body, or where God held a man off. The moment you come, you have salvation. God does not say, "I know you are sincere and a truth-seeker all right, and if you prove yourself in a month's time, you will be accepted." No. Finding salvation is instantaneous and not a matter of going through penance or probation.

Listen to the invitation of the Bible, I John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Bring your sins to Jesus, my friend. That is what it says, He wants to forgive your past; He longs to take your sins. All Jesus asks you to bring is your old life. My friends, your old life, your old ways, all the evil in your life, bring to the foot of the cross and with no exception Jesus will give salvation.

But another says, "That isn't the point in my case. I confessed my sins to God and asked Him to forgive them, but after I asked, I didn't feel a bit different. I still had that awful overwhelming feeling of regret and burden of past sins." Please put this down. Let it be burned in your heart, salvation is not a matter of feeling, it is a matter of faith. Let me repeat it. Salvation is not a matter of feeling, it is a matter of faith. If we confess our sins, He forgives and cleanses those sins. But you say, "I can't forget them." God says, "I will cleanse you from all unrighteousness." Take hope in God's word. These promises are written for you. The devil is the one who would tempt you and taunt you with past sins. Away with feelings! Let faith water the heart and lighten the life.

But some insist they must have a feeling; they ought to feel different. If you are going to go by feelings, you will have one kind of Christian experience at six in the morning, another kind at ten in the morning, another kind at noon, when you are hungry, another kind at two and another at five. Why, our feelings go up and down. Religion is not a matter of feeling, but a matter of faith. Jesus holds out these promises to you. Don't let Satan fool you. Jesus had you in mind when He offered salvation so freely.

Noah prepared an ark, not for himself, but for every soul living in the world at that time. But you say, "There was not enough room in the ark for everyone." If the world had accepted Noah's warning, there would have been a big enough revival to have prepared a big enough ark to have cared for every soul who would enter. Noah prepared that ark. He got it all ready; he built it up on the mountainside. The throng cheered and mocked. The day finally came when God was about to close the door. Here comes a repentant soul out of that multitude who has made his decision that he is going in the ark of safety. Now he is outside and longs to step over the threshold of that door. The moment he takes that step he is a saved man. A moment ago he was a lost soul; he stepped into the ark and is saved. It would make no difference if he were just outside that door or 100 miles away; as long as he was outside the ark, he was a lost man. You may be very close to the church; you may have relatives who are members; but if you are not inside, if you have one foot inside and one foot outside, you are still a lost man. To step over the line is instant salvation.

I think of that man, Lot, living in that wicked city of Sodom. He was climbing in politics; he was a success as far as this life was concerned. But the judgments of God were about to fall. God sent angels to tell Lot to flee for his life, He got his wife and daughters and tried to escape. The angels took them by the arm in order to move them a little faster. The Bible picture is very dramatic. Picture it again today. As they made their way across the plains, the words of the angel ringing in their ears: "Sodom is going to be consumed, we are going to rain fire and brimstone on this wicked city." Lot was a lost man as long as he was in the vale of Sodom. Genesis 19:23 tells us that when Lot entered into Zoar, the sun was just rising. Just as he put his foot inside Zoar, he glanced up and saw the sun rising. Out there in the valley Lot was a lost man, we know so because his wife lost out. But Lot didn't stop there, he kept right on with his two daughters; and as he stepped over the city limit sign into the town of Zoar, God began to rain down fire and brimstone and literally consumed that valley.

Lot was in a lost condition, my friends, until he took that step and went over the line to safety. It wasn't his feelings that saved him, for he felt pretty bad in Zoar; but he was saved instantly upon completely obeying the commands of God. When God talked things over with him, he didn't have the Bible to read, Lot was simple enough to believe that when God says a certain thing, you should believe it, not change it. Lot thought that when God said this, that is what you should do. He hated to do it; it seemed like one of the most impossible things for Lot to leave all that he had and go to Zoar, but he went out through the valley and did what God told him to do, and the experience meant his salvation.

Suppose I am on a sinking ship which is going down in the terror of a storm at sea. I rush here and rush there for help. The captain says there is no safety. But I say, "Captain, can't you do something to save it? Can't you cut off the compartments?" He says, "I have done everything I can, but the ship is going to sink." "But what are we going to do?" The Captain says, "I am telling you for the tenth time, get into one of the life boats." But I still plead, "But Captain, here I am, I just don't feel that the ship is going to go down." "If you want to be saved, man, get into the life boat." I stand there and linger. I don't want to get down there and cut all ties from that big ship which feels so safe. But I finally take my stand and decide I'll pay any price; it dawns on me that the ship is actually going down out of sight, and about that time I take a last minute spring into a life boat, the ropes are cut and it surges down into the ocean, soon to be picked up by a rescue ship. I'm not saved through any goodness of my own, nor through feelings, but because I throw myself through faith upon the mercies of the life boat. In the same way I am saved through faith in Christ.

A little child in Egypt is lying in his bed. The angel has said "I will pass over you when I see the blood on the door post." Those who had applied the blood to the door post would be safe when the death angel passed over. The child's life hung on the condition of blood being applied to the door post. If there was no blood on the door post, the child was without hope. One moment the child, the first born, is lost, without hope; then the father takes that lamb, catches that blood which flowed for his sins, and applies it to the door post of his house. The moment that blood was applied, it meant instantaneous salvation to that first born child. In the same way we must allow the Holy Spirit to take the blood of Jesus Christ and apply it to our hearts and save us through faith in Him.

When the children of Israel entered the promised land, God made some special arrangements to protect people who accidently killed another person. We read about it in Numbers 35:15. "These six cities shall be a refuge, both for the children of Israel, and for the stranger, and for the sojourner among them: that everyone that killeth any person unawares may flee thither." And also from Deuteronomy 19:3, "Thou shalt prepare thee a way, and divide the coasts of thy land, which the Lord thy God giveth thee to inherit, into three parts, that every slayer may flee thither."

When God built up the commonwealth of Israel, He made the plan that all through the land there should be provided cities of refuge which could be reached quickly from any part of the kingdom. These were not provided just for the Jews, they were just as much for the strangers as for the Israelites; it says so. The cities of refuge were for everyone. Let us take one as an example today and show how the cities worked. Let us take the one down at Hebron. Let us imagine over on the side away from the city a man is working in the woods. All of a sudden, while he is chopping down a tree, his axe flies off the handle and hits a man working next to him, mortally wounding him. He is terrified. Nearby is a relative working who is watching and he becomes angry and springs at the man and says, "I will get even with you because you took my brother's life." The man flees; he flees for his life to the city of refuge. He starts running as fast as he can. He knows it is only 10 or 15 miles; the cities were arranged that they might be reached easily. All his life is given over now to making that city of refuge, that is all that counts; he is making a run for his life. He is in a lost condition, until he can reach that city of refuge. The highways were always kept repaired and open to the city of refuge. That was God's instruction, "Make thy way clear so that he that runneth may read." The signs were plain enough so anyone could see them. So the poor man runs on, he watches the signs, and the road is perfectly clear, as it always is to the foot of the cross. He becomes weaker and weaker, and feels that he must stop. He looks back and there in the valley he sees the avenger of blood pursuing him. He prays, "Lord, give me strength again." The enemy is catching up with him, trying to overtake him before he reaches that ark of safety, that city of refuge. His breath begins to come heavy, but a surge of power comes down upon him as he can now hear the breathing of the man who is bringing death to him. He must run, run, run and get to salvation, and he makes one last desperate effort as he almost feels the grasp of his pursuer. And in his desperation, with those watching cheering him on as he approaches the city, he finally falls across the threshold of that city and is safe inside of Hebron away from the avenger of death. Out there he was a lost man. Inside he is safe.

The devil haunts your footsteps; he is always on the trail of those who flee to Jesus for refuge in time of storm. To linger is to lose, to step over the line is to find peace and safety. There is a MAN and He "shall be an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest...the shadow of a great rock in a weary land."

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