Except for the
creation of the earth and Jesus' death and resurrection, the events
covered in this lesson are the most important that have ever taken
place in earth's history. They are just ahead! The Bible calls it
"the end." More and more people are looking forward, with
deepening apprehension, to some unexplainable cataclysmic event
that seems to be lurking in the darkness ready to engulf the world.
This world is
growing old. The environmentalists keep us informed of the spreading
dangers of acid rain and dying lakes, where nothing can grow or
live. The all-important ozone layer that protects Planet Earth from
life-destroying ultraviolet radiation and insulates it from becoming
too hot or too cold is being constantly eroded because of air pollution.
Even a four-degree difference in earth's overall temperature would
cause a worldwide catastrophe. If the earth should heat up four
degrees it would melt the polar icecaps, raising the water level
of the ocean and flooding out large portions of the earth. If the
average worldwide temperature dropped four degrees, the polar icecaps
would increase in size until they covered large portions of even
the United States.
Nature is suffering
from the diseases that man has inflicted upon her in his careless
quest to please himself. Disease in animals from water pollution,
air pollution, and the artificial confinement of commercial birds
and animals, is spiraling. Cancer is epidemic in many species.
Our very resources
are being used and abused faster than nature can recover. In the
near future, such fundamental commodities as just plain drinking
water in many overpopulated areas may be depleted.
Then there is
the constant threat of nuclear accident or war which, like Damocles'
sword, hangs perilously poised over the skyline of civilization.
Dr. Charles Urey, a nuclear physicist, put it this way, "I
am a frightened man. All scientists I know are frightened men, frightened
for their lives, and frightened for your life."
experts the world over are concerned. All the indicators, from every
branch of science and social interest, points to inevitable trouble
and disaster. Take the world's population growth for example. In
1900, there were 1.5 billion people. Today there are over 4 billion
people. And by 2000, there will be between 7 and 8 billion people
competing with each other for food and space. Today 618 million
people in India, out of a total population of 640 million, are malnourished.
Already over half the world is without adequate nourishment. And
today's already burdensome population is supposed to double again
in the next 35 years. That spells trouble.
Dr. Paul Ehrlich, of Stanford University, declared, "The race
between population growth and food production has already been lost.
. . . Hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death
unless pollution, thermonuclear war, or some other agent kills them
first." For developing nations acquiring nuclear weaponry,
the potential of utilizing nuclear warfare to supply their food
needs is an increasing reality.
is another trouble spot in the world today. Between 1960 and 1980,
serious crime more than tripled in America, with no end in sight.
A recent poll, taken during a time of extreme economic insecurity,
showed that, even during stock-market uncertainty, crime was the
average American's number one concern. With social restraints broken
down, the concern of many is what would happen in the cities of
America should a real crisis, such as a food shortage or near-total
energy depletion hit? It took only a few hours of electrical failure
and blackout in New York City some years ago for looting and violence
to take control of the streets and that was merely for the luxuries
of life by people who were well fed and clothed. What would happen
if food production was limited or transportation interrupted and
people were without the prospects of food or water? Would today's
Tension on the
international level is another troubled area. National leaders walk
a tightrope knowing that one wrong move could set off a world war
that could, without divine intervention, destroy the earth. The
power of life and death is at the disposal of the whim and fancy
of mere man.
time and opportunity, it seems inevitable that somewhere, sometime,
some crazed maniac will push a button or set off a chain of events
which will lead to worldwide destruction of both the environment
and the population. The Bible says that in the last days some men
would seek to "destroy the earth" (Revelation 11:18).
But, at the
critical moment, the Bible also says that God is going to rescue
those who have made Him their refuge. The promise of the Lord is
"A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your
right hand; but it shall not come near you" (Psalm 91:7). God
is going to rescue His people.
a word! Hope is embodied in it a desperate hope when doom seems
inevitable. Rescue! We all need it, for even if this earth continues
forever, all of us are steadily walking an unvarying path toward
a grave unless someone, somewhere intervenes.
Between A Fire and the Deep Blue Sea
The story has
been told of a thrilling rescue by sea of thousands of people from
the burning city of Smyrna. They were refugees, chased there from
their homes by the fleeing Greek army.
The year was
1922. The world was still wracked with pain from the wars that had
ripped apart homes and lands. The Turkish city of Smyrna had been
given to the Greeks as a reward for their participation in the war.
The Greek army had moved into Smyrna and pushed inland. Feelings
ran high. Turkish citizens were not interested in having the Greeks
run their government. Unwilling to submit to the new occupation,
they rallied under the leadership of Ataturk in a daring drive for
The Greeks were
confident of victory. They pushed steadily toward the heart of the
country when suddenly they retreated before Ataturk. They burned
and pillaged their way back to Smyrna.
In their wild
retreat, they forced their own countrymen as well as the Armenians
to abandon their homes and flee to the coast. Every road to the
sea was choked with refugees. As the Greek soldiers reached the
coast, in their haste to reach safety, they simply took ship and
sailed away leaving their own people as refugees, defenseless, to
make out as best they could.
was a burning inferno. The great mass of refugees pushed toward
the sea to escape the flames.
A young American,
Asa Jennings, and his family were among those seeking to escape
the flames. He had been sent a few weeks earlier by the Y.M.C.A.
to that troubled city to study what might be done to smooth relations
between the Turks, Armenians, Greeks, and Jews living there. Asa
Jennings put his little family aboard an American destroyer and
went back to see what he could do for the refugees. Somehow, he
arranged for food to be sent in. But this suffering mass of humanity,
caught between the fire and the sea, needed more than food. They
As Asa Jennings
pondered over how to get ships for these desperate people, he learned
that the twenty Greek ships that had carried the Greek soldiers
away to safety were anchored at Mytilene, an island not far away.
What a providence! Immediately he went to Mytilene, certain that
here was the answer. Surely Greek ships would be willing to save
Greek people. To his amazement, General Frankos, in charge of transports,
responded with an indifferent caution and indecision.
would not give up. Seeing an American ship, the U.S.S. Mississippi,
at anchor, he rowed out through the early morning mist to board
her. He was determined to go over the head of General Frankos and
make contact directly with the Greek government in Athens.
captain of the ship of the plight of the stranded Greek refugees
on the shores of burning Smyrna, he asked that a code message be
sent to Athens, requesting that all ships in the waters about Smyrna
be placed at his disposal. It was four o'clock in the morning.
A message came
back, "Who are you?"
A natural question.
Jennings had been in that part of the world only about a month,
and no one had ever heard of him.
He sent word
back, "I am in charge of American relief at Mytilene."
He didn't bother to explain that he was in charge only by virtue
of being the only American there.
General Frankos in caution. The cabinet would have to decide. The
Cabinet was not in session. The Cabinet would meet in the morning.
What protection would be given the ships? Would American destroyers
accompany them? Did that mean that American destroyers would protect
the ships if the Turks should try to take them? And so it went.
four in the afternoon, Jenning's patience was exhausted. Boldly
he wired an ultimatum to the Greek government. If he did not receive
a favorable reply by six o'clock, he would wire openly, without
code letting all the world know that the Greek government had refused
to rescue its own people from certain death.
It worked. Shortly
before six o'clock a message came through: ALL SHIPS IN AEGEAN PLACED
YOUR COMMAND. REMOVE REFUGEES SMYRNA.
Those ten words
meant life for many thousands. They also meant that a young, unknown
American had just been made an Admiral of the Greek navy.
he asked the captains of the twenty ships to be ready to leave for
Smyrna by midnight. At that hour the ships were in place. Asa Jennings,
aboard the lead ship, ordered the Greek flag run down and an American
flag flown in its place with a signal that meant "Follow me."
He mounted the bridge and ordered full steam ahead.
Try to picture
that scene. As the stately ships moved forward, on the horizon could
be seen the smoke arising from the burning city. Then the charred
remains came into view. Imagine the feelings as Jennings and those
Greek sailors gazed at the blackened skeletons of those once prestigious
buildings. The skyline looked haunted, deserted, depressing. Now
the shoreline can be seen, a black border of human beings in sharp
contrast against the waters. No sign that they are still living
can be seen, but Jennings knew that it was a border of 300,000 sufferers
waiting, hoping, praying as they had done every moment for days
for ships, ships, ships.
As the ships
moved closer, and the shore spread out before him, it seemed as
if every face was turned toward them, and every arm outstretched
to bring them in. It seemed that the whole shore moved out to grasp
them. The air was filled with the cries of those thousands cries
of such joy that the sound pierced to the very marrow of his bones.
No need to tell them what those ships were for. They had scanned
the watery horizon for days, longing, hoping, looking wistfully
for ships. No one need explain that here was help, that here was
life and safety.
had he been so thankful, so truly happy, as on that early morning
when he realized that at last and thank God in time he had been
able to bring hope, and a new life, to those despairing thousands.
What a thrilling
rescue! An answer to their desperate hope, saving them from certain
doom. Friends, we too are waiting for a rescue. A rescue from a
convulsing, troubled planet. A planet where fear rules, a planet
where death reigns. A planet where frantic, frightened, frustrated
men will soon cry, "Stop the world! I want to get off!"
see the suffering billions on this earth? Does anyone hear the silent
cry for help? Does anyone feel the desperate hope for rescue? Does
anyone care? Is help on the way?
Good news, friends,
God has an answer! He has scheduled a great rescue not from the
sea, but from the sky. Paul describes it this way: "For the
Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice
of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ
shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught
up together with Him in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air:
and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (I Thessalonians 4:16,17).
however, will be taking that rescue trip. Another story, another
attempt at rescue over the waters comes to mind.
An elderly gentleman
lived alone on his farm. He had lived there all of his life. His
home was dear to him. There was nothing special, or fancy about
it, except that it was his. Each room, each wall, each window carried
memories that were precious to him.
From that old
homestead he had watched the seasons come and go year after year.
It was a secure place. Wind storms had swept through the town, but
his home was safe. Tornadoes had touched nearby farms, but somehow
his house escaped. Drought had dried up water supplies at times
through the years, but still, with his well, he had always managed.
He had become familiar with the quirks of nature and was not afraid
of her. Floods had come and gone, but through the decades none had
ever reached to the top of the first doorstep.
One spring the
rains were heavier than usual. The river rose. Grandpa kept an eye
on it, wondering where it would peak this year. He had watched this
scene many times through the years. As it deepened, he may have
worried a little over the crops in the lower field hoping he wouldn't
As he looked
out over the fields and across the river, he could see neighbors
leaving their homes. Too bad, he thought. It's too bad that people
build so low that their homes get ruined with every little flood.
Turning on his radio, he heard the warnings for all people living
in his area to evacuate. Unconcerned, he turned it off and went
on with his chores.
A knock came
at the door. Opening it he found his granddaughter. "Grandpa,"
she said excitedly, "there's going to be a big flood, and we
have come to get you! Come, get in the car with us, hurry."
as he looked into the big eyes full of wonder. "Listen, sweetheart,"
he said, "don't you worry about your old Gramps, he's going
to be just fine. No flood ever bothered this old house, and it ain't
going to this time, either."
The little girl
hesitated, then turned and left. "Mommy, he doesn't want to
come," she reported.
afraid of that," Mother sighed. "Well, I'll go see if
I can change his mind."
Soon she was
back at the car. "It's no use, he just won't come. He's sure
nothing will ever happen to the old home place." With an anxious
heart she drove away. The river continued to rise. Warnings by radio
to evacuate increased in intensity, but Grandpa was sure the water
would never get deep enough to endanger him.
Grandpa's decision to the officials asking them to help if the water
got too deep. Soberly shaking their heads they said, "We'll
see what we can do, Ma'am, but with an angry river like that, we
can't promise anything."
As the water
deepened, a small boat was dispatched to search for stranded people.
Valiantly, the men struggled against the wind and rain. The angry
water sucked and swirled and threatened to toss them out and wash
them downstream with the logs and debris they were tensely dodging.
reached the tiny island on which Grandpa's house now stood. Instead
of the grateful thanks they expected, an irritated voice answered
their knock. "Can't you leave me alone?" he challenged.
"I'll stay here as long as I wish. Haven't you ever seen a
flood before? This river's been like this before, and I'm perfectly
safe. Now, be gone." The bewildered men finally left. Grandpa
had just refused his last chance at rescue.
That night brought
a record-breaking flood. The morning light revealed the tragedy
of Grandpa's decision. The house was gone. Only the foundations
remained after the waters went down.
Friend, do you
want to be rescued? Do you see the danger and feel the need? Today,
every person is going to be rescued or destroyed but it is not up
to chance as it was for the people of Smyrna. Like Grandpa, each
of us has been warned in time and has been provided a chance to
years ago, millions of people were in need of a rescue. Again a
ship was needed to take them safely. God provided the ship through
the hard work of Noah and his family, but a strange thing happened.
No one would board the ship. What was the problem? They didn't know
they were in danger. Like Grandpa, they refused to believe that
they needed to be rescued. Warning after warning came, but the warnings
were scoffed at. Thus only eight people boarded that ship and were
saved. Genesis 6 through 9 tells of that sad account.
"As the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son
of Man be" (Matthew 24:37). Today's lesson is about the greatest
rescue of all ages. Are you ready for it? Are we? You can be, but
first, you must go to Calvary and receive a cleansed heart, a changed
heart. A heart that daily surrenders to Jesus so that the word pardon
can be written by your name with the blood of the Lord Jesus. May
God bless you as you seek to be one of those who accept this last
From your friends
at Steps to Life
between the Fire and the Deep Blue Sea" was adapted from "Airlift,"
by George E. Vandeman, The Cry of a Lonely Planet, copyright 1983,
Pacific Press Publishing Association. Used by permission.