Black Saturday: Warnings from Australia’s Savage Fires
By Pastor Hal Mayer
Welcome to Keep the Faith Ministry. Thank you for joining us once again. I pray that the Lord is blessing you and your family, as you are preparing for the coming of Jesus. This world is not attractive to anyone who loves Jesus and we long for our home in heaven. May God bless you as you listen to this month’s special sermon. I have postponed the sermon I was planning for this month because of the importance and timeliness of the message you will hear.
The horrific fires that roared through one of the most beautiful regions of Australia with break neck speed and devastating ferocity in February 2009 have spoken in a powerful way to me. Most people didn’t think of the prophetic implications of the havoc and devastation as more than a million acres were destroyed by the spectacular fires. But they are both a powerful warning and a symbol of the impending destruction coming upon this wicked world. We truly live in perilous times.
As we begin, let me say that this message is very graphic, so use your discretion particularly with young children. Let me read a scripture. It is found in Deuteronomy 32:20-24. Listen to these very interesting words. “And he said, I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end shall be: for they are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith:”
I wonder if many of the people of this world are froward, which means to be perverse or brazenly corrupt. How many people ignore the claims of God on their lives and just live as sinfully as if they were in the beautiful valley of Sodom? They brazenly defy the God of heaven. His judgments mean nothing to them. Even many of God’s own people rebel and have no fear of His wrath. The leaders of God’s people continue to lead them in ways which God has forbidden. They preach smooth things to them. They do not warn them of their danger. The warnings of God to our rebellious hearts must be taken seriously dear friends. We need to see that the signs of the times are warning us of the wrath of God to come. Similar to the firestorm that consumed Sodom, the unexpected fires in Australia are a modern admonition to all of us. While we don’t know the spiritual condition of those that lost their lives in the fires in Australia last February, the power of nature under stress reminds us of God’s warning that one day the judgments of God will fall on all those that have turned from God and His truth.
I’ll read on from Deuteronomy, “They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God;…” Are people today living as if there is no God? Or have they put their affections on earthly things and replaced God. Do they think there is no day of reckoning? Do they pursue only evil continually as it was in the days of Noah?
Reading on; “For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains.” Do you think this scripture is a warning? God is saying here that He will light a fire and destroy the earth and the wicked with it.
Moses goes on. “I will heap mischiefs upon them; I will spend mine arrows upon them. They shall be burnt with hunger, and devoured with burning heat, and with bitter destruction:…”
These verses graphically depict how God will have to deal with those who turn from His mercies and go after strange Gods. God will not be silent forever. He will one day rise up and consume the wicked. But we don’t like to hear about the Day of Judgment. We don’t like to hear that God will punish. We only want to hear smooth things and most pastors, in almost every church obligingly do what is expected of them. They are trained in the seminaries that it is too controversial to preach the warnings of God’s word against sin. They are taught that they are not to frighten the people by explaining the punishment of the wicked. They have mostly, with a few notable exceptions, become dumb dogs that will not bark, teaching only about the cross, love and unity.
Do I sound like I’m being critical of church leaders? Brothers and sisters, it is not I, but God who says these things. Let me read it to you. Isaiah 56:10 says that “His watchmen are blind: they are all ignorant, they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber.” Ellen White even takes it further. She says in volume two of the Testimonies to the Church, page 337 that “Men and women are in the last hours of probation, and yet are careless and stupid, and ministers have no power to arouse them; they are asleep themselves. Sleeping preachers preaching to a sleeping people!”
Does this describe the conditions of today? While not all pastors are dumb dogs, how often people have said to me how they wish that they could hear the plain cutting truths for this time. Listen to this from the first volume of Testimonies for the Church, page 321. ”In this fearful time, just before Christ is to come the second time, God’s faithful preachers will have to bear a still more pointed testimony than was borne by John the Baptist. A responsible, important work is before them; and those who speak smooth things, God will not acknowledge as His shepherds. A fearful woe is upon them.”
What does “a still more pointed testimony” mean? That’s pretty serious my friends. I don’t want to be like one of those dumb dogs that will not bark. So I hope your ears and heart are open as we study. And may I say to the pastors that are listening to this message, please let God inspire you to take up the warning message if you haven’t done so already, and fearlessly preach the message in love that the people need to hear. Don’t be afraid to use the Spirit of Prophecy in the pulpit in conjunction with the Bible. Don’t ignore any of the messages that God has sent in spite of what it might cost you.
Now to our message for today… Listen to this interesting statement from the pen of God’s messenger to the Remnant. It is found in Last Day Events, page 111. “The Lord gives warnings to the inhabitants of the earth, as in the Chicago fire and the fires in Melbourne, London, and the city of New York. That’s Manuscript 127, 1897. Apparently, this is not the first time there have been fires in the populated area around Melbourne, Australia. This was written a little over 110 years ago. But no one living today would remember those fires. There have been many bushfires since then, but none of them have been as serious as the one on February 7.
Let us turn our attention to Victoria, Australia, February 7, 2009. Perhaps one of the most attractive places in all of Australia is the forest and the mountains to the east and northeast of Melbourne in the Murrindindi Shire and to the east beyond in the Yarra Ranges. Over the years, many small towns and villages have sprung up in and around the forest area. Healesville, Narbethong, Marysville, Buxton, Kinglake, Whittlesea, Flowerdale, Churchill and other villages and hamlets are located in some of the most rich and beautiful forest areas you could possibly imagine.
The Black Spur highway leading from Healesville to Narbethong and Marysville was a gorgeous drive with tall eucalyptus trees, known as Mountain Ash, standing up straight as needles, towering more than 40 meters or 100 feet above the forest floor. Huge tree ferns covered the rest of the forest floor right up to the edges of the road with their enormous fronds bowing gracefully from their tops adding their lush green density to the astonishing beauty of the forest. I have driven through the black spur many times when I have been in Australia, and every time, I have admired the beauty and graciousness of this place. Its alluring beauty takes my mind to our heavenly home and the beauty we will behold there. Pure white Cockatoos with their yellow cock feathers, parrots with their red and blue wings and the laughing kookaburra all made this beautiful place their home. Kangaroos, Wallabies, koalas, wombats, flying foxes and countless other species lived in the hills and small mountains of this area.
The state of Victoria had been having severe drought conditions for a decade. In fact the region was in the grip of the worst drought in a century. Everything was tinder dry. February is summertime in Australia and the summer heat can quite normally approach 40 degrees Celsius, or over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, or even more. But on Sabbath, February 7, temperatures had soared to a record high of over 46 degrees Celsius, or nearly 115 degrees Fahrenheit. Only a week before the fires, more than 200 hundred elderly and sick had died from the excessive heat of more than 43 degrees Celsius, or more than 110 degrees Fahrenheit for three days in a row. The mortuaries were full. Everything was heat stressed. Even the public utilities left tens of thousands of homes without electricity, while tens of thousands of rail passengers were disrupted as over 200 trains a day were cancelled due to the heat stress. People were told not to go out in the heat if they could avoid it.
Fire danger in Australia is measured using a rating system called the McArthur Forest Fire Danger Index. A “high” degree of danger is a rating of between 12 and 15. A danger rating of 50 or more is considered an “extreme fire danger day.” A rating of 100 was the baseline assigned to the most devastating fires that burned on Black Friday, 1939. But on Sabbath February 7, the rating in Victoria reached unprecedented levels of 120 to 190. A dry, strong wind, while offering some relief to the koalas, wallabies, kangaroos and the human inhabitants of the eucalyptus forest, was gusting at times to over 100 kilometers or 60 miles an hour. These extreme conditions combined to create the ideal circumstances for the perfect firestorm; fires whose “ferocity, pace and breadth made them impossible to fight effectively,” wrote the Australian CBS News.
Most people living in that area did not fully understand their danger, even though there had been warnings that conditions were very dangerous. They had lived in these forests for many years. Though Australia regularly has bushfires, they rarely endanger towns and villages. In 1983 there had been serious fires that had killed 47 people, but that seemed so long ago. Perhaps some at least, trusted that the government warning system, their personal fire plans and the volunteer fire departments would prevent any fires from coming into their towns or would protect their homes, or at least give them enough warning to escape.
In any case, the residents of these towns and villages were used to the dangers in these parts, and tended to minimize their risk. They recognized the threat of fire, but they never imagined that a huge, terrifying inferno, bigger than they had ever heard of could sweep through their villages like an enormous tornado destroying their beautiful homes, thriving businesses, and quaint villages and towns. “No one, it seems,” wrote the Timesonline of London, “was prepared for the reality of the wildfires in Victoria… A common thread in some of the most devastated towns and hamlets was that not one had time to react between seeing fire on the horizon, or hearing that it was on the way, and their house exploding. In some cases only minutes would separate the urgent official warnings… and flames sweeping through the main street.” In some cases, they “didn’t even hear a siren or see a fire truck.”
There are spiritual lessons here. Preparation is more than just following a set of practical details. It involves preparation of the heart so that you can escape danger at a moment’s notice. That’s also the way it is with sin. When Satan comes with temptations, we must be ready to flee instantly.
Human nature resists the idea of danger. We naturally want to minimize or put it off into the far distant future. We even think that though it happens to others it won’t happen to us. We do not like to think that a catastrophe could happen now, or very soon. We often put off preparation, and when the disaster comes, we are caught unprepared. The Bible says that the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night. This is the way it is in our Christian life. We think that our lives will continue until we are old and die of old age. We don’t give much thought to the idea that our earthly probation could end today, instantly. Moreover, we don’t seem to place a high valuation on God’s judgments against the wicked.
Most of the people in Kinglake, Marysville and Narbethong and the nearby towns and villages were enjoying the weekend. It was business as usual with hardly a thought that this day would be any different than any other lazy Saturday. They were not thinking that shortly they would be desperately fighting for their lives and property against a savage and unrelenting foe. They had no idea that they were about to be consumed by an overwhelming force that was so big and so hot that within minutes it could reduce homes and businesses to ashes. “Jon Faine, an ABC radio compere, said there is no doubt people misunderstood how serious the situation was… ‘Never before did [public instructions to] implement your fire plans mean their town was about to be obliterated in a couple of minutes,’ he said…”
Thousands of families scattered across the mountains and bush north and east of Melbourne woke up on Black Saturday, as February 7 has been designated, to a hot but a beautiful day. The blue sky was glorious and the day promised to be a fine one.
In central Melbourne however, there is a building in which is housed the Integrated Emergency Control Centre, nicknamed the “war room.” Inside officials from multiple agencies coordinate the defense of the state of Victoria against fire and other threats. Several of the men in charge had a strange foreboding of dread. The forecasted weather called for thunderstorms and that meant lightening and fire activity. They were concerned about a fire in the Bunyip forest to the East of Melbourne, but it was not very threatening. These veteran officials were completely unprepared for what Victoria would face that day. By lunch time, there had not been much trouble and they began to relax and hope that the day would pass without serious trouble. How wrong they were. They knew that the latter part of the day was the most dangerous part. But the 60 people or so in the “war room” that early afternoon had no idea that the deadly fire that would do the most damage ever in Victoria’s history had already started. Something had sparked a small fire on a hilltop paddock at about 11.30 am 60 miles north of Melbourne in the East Kilmore area, and was gaining larger and larger proportions every second.
“In the nearby community of Wandong, former CFA firefighter Chris Isbister says he witnessed the moment when this little fire grew fangs. ‘Me and my mate headed up the highway to check it out and we saw it go into the pine plantation and get really big… We watched the actual fire roll down one hill and up another,’ Isbister says. ‘The wind was so unbelievably strong, we had to hold on to fences to stand upright…’ The East Kilmore fire swept through growing rapidly in size and in speed. It was being pushed by mighty wind gusts towards the communities of Kinglake and St Andrews.
But the coordinators in the “war room” did not know what had happened, or that the East Kilmore fire was growing quickly and speeding on its way to the towns and villages downwind. When they learned about the East Kilmore fire, these experienced men knew that it was a dangerous place for a fire. It was difficult to fight fires there and there were large communities downwind. But even so, they had no idea that they were dealing with a gigantic fire that was beyond their comprehension. “The combination of steep hills – which can double fire speed – with howling winds and temperatures in the mid-40s – were turning the Kilmore fire into a monster,” wrote The Australian. Some families in the area had no warning as the fire snuck up on them from the valleys below incinerating their homes in a matter of minutes and engulfing them in the inferno.
As the wind whipped the flames from one treetop to another, they shot up high in the sky 50 meters or 165 feet or more, in a spectacular and unstoppable wall of blazing, racing fire. On the ground the forest floor supported the fire in the trees. The eucalyptus trees shed their bark, filling the forest floor with dry tinder which ignited and quickly spread the fire on the ground. Thick black smoke billowed skyward. Flaming tree limbs from exploding trees flew like fireballs ahead of the fire, igniting everything around them. Burning embers, pushed by the strong wind started spot fires 10-15 kilometers or 6-9 miles ahead of the onrushing fire, which also quickly turned into huge infernos. These in turn sent out more embers and started more spot fires, wiping out any time to think, strategize, and in many cases escape. These new fires quickly joined together becoming part of an enormous monster that burned more than 12,500 hectares or 30,000 acres an hour.
Normally fires travel relatively slowly and there is time to plan. But on this day the fires traveled at a breathtaking speed. One news account said that the fire went at “freight-train pace.” Reports from various sources indicate that the speed of these fires could well have been up to 50-100 Kilometers, or 30-60 miles an hour depending on the location. The canyons around Kinglake accelerated the fire to maximum speed. Both Marysville and Kinglake were wiped out in less than an hour.
The public warning system was inadequate for this type of fire. Because of the size and speed, the warnings lagged behind the reality on the ground. Many people never heard or saw any warning until they saw the wall of fire bearing down on them and on their homes. The people of Kinglake never heard the radio warnings. The announcements weren’t even made until their town lay in ashes. “The old [official] advice leaving it to individuals to decide whether to stay on their property or escape assumed that they had hours to decide.”
In Strathewen, a few miles on, firefighters had to withdraw when they saw the behemoth bearing down on them. They could see that they had no possibility of defending the town. “At least 30 people left in the town had no chance. They died, huddled together in their baths, in cellars, on the cricket oval and in their cars as the fire roared over them at 4.20pm.”
Quickly the fire spread as huge swaths of land were consumed by the rapidly advancing flames. The main inferno was a wall of fire more than 50 kilometers, or 30 miles wide. Pictures of the fire show flames leaping more than six times the height of the trees, or nearly 120 meters, or 400 feet in the air. The heat was so intense that some houses seemed to explode from the heat and then burned in minutes.
“’Hell in all its fury has visited the good people of Victoria…’ Said Kevin Rudd, Australia’s prime minister. ‘Fire holds a great terror for us all – its power, its speed, its roar, its relentless destruction, its capricious shifts in course, its want of mercy,’ he told Parliament” later.
At St. Andrews, the fire destroyed the town in a matter of minutes. Then it headed for Kinglake with 3000 residents. Still there were no warnings, no fire trucks, no sirens. The fire trucks were already working on other fires and could not help Kinglake. “Almost no one in Kinglake had more than a few minutes to realise the fire was almost upon them.” Confusion reigned. “With a darkening sky and a thunderous roar signalling the approach of the fire, many panicked and took to the road in their cars. For most, this was a fatal decision. The smoke moved ahead of the fire, blinding drivers. Cars collided into each other.” People were incinerated as they fled their ruined vehicles. In a matter of minutes the whole town was ablaze.
Benjamin Banks tried to drive out of Kinglake. He says his car was “hit by a wall of flame that almost tipped it over. The heat melted his car window, causing molten glass to drip onto his hand and also his tyres, forcing him to drive on the screeching metal rims.”
The fire kept going to one village then another. Then it turned northeast and more towns and villages were in its path.
There was another fire that started in a sawmill and ran parallel to the East Kilmore fire. It too quickly got out of hand. First it took small farms. Then it moved in on the towns and villages and ripped through houses, businesses and other buildings. The wind whipped the fire into a fury that kept it advancing at breakneck speed. One reporter said: “It comes at you like a runaway train.” Another person said, “One minute you are preparing. The next you are fighting for your home… Then you are fighting for your life.”
“The fire that began at the old Murrindindi sawmill near Yea earlier on Saturday,” wrote The Age, “destroyed the hamlet of Narbethong and then Marysville, house by house, street by street. In an hour, Marysville was no more. [Almost] every public building including the police station, post office, telephone exchange and much-loved guest houses and a hotel, had been destroyed… There were similar scenes and stories at Kinglake, at Churchill in West Gippsland and at Bendigo.”
Within 24 hours over 2000 homes and a total of 3500 structures were reduced to a tangled mess of smoking rubble and twisted iron. Many thousands more were damaged. Over 7500 people were left homeless as the roaring wall of flame left little but ashes in its wake. Such huge fires need a lot of oxygen. A friend of mine who is an eyewitness, said that the dust on the ground 3 miles away was sucked up into the air about 10 meters or 30 feet or more as the insatiable fire sucked up as much oxygen as it could get. Just imagine how the firefighters must have vainly tried to hold back the ravaging monster. Airplanes and helicopters tried to douse the fires with waterbombs, but it was almost useless. Over 450,000 hectares, or over one million acres were destroyed in a matter of hours by the East Kilmore and other fires. That is larger than the size of the state of Rhode Island, and almost the size of Delaware. It is more than 25 times the size of Washington, DC.
But the greatest tragedy is that at least 210 people were killed in the fires, literally burned alive, even while many of them were trying to escape the flames in their cars. Around 500 people were injured and a few are still missing. This is a powerful warning. People stood by helplessly as their farms, their cattle, sheep and horses were destroyed in the fury of the flames, which was greatly strengthened by the oil in the eucalyptus trees and the gusty wind that fanned the blaze into a gut-wrenching tsunami of heat and fire.
Some of the 80 people that were in the hospital with serious burns to over more than 30% of their bodies were not expected to survive. “Many have burns to their feet and hands inflicted as they ran or crawled through fire to escape,” wrote the Melbourne Age.
“It’s like a bombblast,” said firefighter Drew Adamson. He stood and watched his own home burn to the ground after saving someone else’s. He, along with most of his colleagues, were overcome with exhaustion after battling fires for days on end. More than 10,000 fire fighters from all over the world were flown into Victoria to battle the fires.
The tales of some of the survivors are nothing short of awesome. “Huddled under a dampened blanket as Australia’s deadly bushfires roared over her head ‘like a jet engine,’ Sonja Parkinson was convinced she and [her] infant son Sam would die… ‘I thought we were going to die,’ she told The Australian newspaper, explaining how she ran for her life as her home in Australia’s southeastern Victoria state was engulfed. ‘The two front rooms were ablaze. I couldn’t see. It was black. We went down to the creek and we hid,’ she said. A shallow puddle proved to be their salvation, as Parkinson doused a blanket and awaited their fate. “We had a blanket over us in the creek and we huddled with the dog and two neighbours and two lyrebirds. It was shallow, a summer creek, but there was just enough water, a puddle. We sat in a muddy puddle under a wet blanket and the fire went [right over] us.’
Further to the east, near Healesville, teenager Rhys Sund used a tiny tractor and trailer to save his sister Rhiannon and a group of frightened women and children from an isolated farmhouse in the path of the firestorm. ‘I’m so proud of the young bloke,’ the 19-year-old’s father Mark told Melbourne’s Age newspaper. “He cut down the fences in his way and went in.”
“Swimming pools, dams and even puddles became last-resort refuges for residents desperate to escape the flames, which sent showers of burning embers raining on homes.”
“’It is a fiery hailstorm from hell driving relentlessly at you,’ said Gary Hughs who barely escaped with his life. ‘The wind and the driving embers explore, like claws of a predator, every tiny gap in the house.’”
“Christine Halls and her family ran for their lives when flames bore down on their Kinglake home, barely able to see in the thick smoke. ‘It was just terrifying,’ she said. ‘They say a bushfire sounds like a freight train coming, but it sounded like a freight train as big as the entire space you could see, the entire horizon. It was that much noise and force. The sound was incredible.’”
Try to imagine yourself in the shoes of a family who experienced Black Saturday. Let’s say you live on the outskirts of Marysville, a small, sleepy town with about 500 homes. You are not a Sabbath keeper, so you are doing your normal Saturday routine, perhaps doing the laundry, fixing something on your car, or about to take a leisurely nap in the living room of your home. Suddenly you look up and notice that the sky seems very strange, almost like a storm is coming, but it has a glow that instantly warns you that something isn’t right. Black confetti is falling on your yard. Then you realize that the eerie light is smoke backlit by flames. It’s a wildfire! It’s a huge wall of flames! And it is bearing down on you and your family with incredible ferocity.
Your brain suddenly registers the horrible reality like an electric shock. You have no time to lose; but in the confusion and panic you don’t know what to do, or what to think! You run inside and call your family. You notice your pets sleeping in the corner of the room. Quickly you hustle them all into the car.
The burning smell outside is almost overwhelming. The noise sounds like a huge truck rumbling down the road toward you under full power. The hot, dry wind is howling through the trees. Then the black confetti ash turns to burning, smoking embers. This fire is close, too close! You grab a hose and start watering down everything you can, but there isn’t enough water pressure to do any good.
The phone rings and it is a relative wanting to know if your family is alright. Your throat is dry and you can barely speak, “The forest is on fire!” you manage to stammer. “Don’t panic,” they say… “You’ll be alright, but get out of there!”
Back outside you freeze as a huge fireball, the size of a garden tractor hurtles through the air into the tall eucalyptus trees at the edge of the field next to the house and they explode into flames, crackling and spitting and lighting everything around in a blazing conflagration. The hot wind whips the flames from one tree top to another. Fear grips you, as you realize that your entire property is about to be consumed. A knot in your stomach tightens as it dawns on you that you are in mortal danger. “Keep calm, keep calm,” you tell yourself.
Then on the other side of the house there is another explosion. Your family quickly helps you pack water, towels and food and throw them into the car, and you leave the driveway. But it’s too late. As you turn down the road, the fire has overtaken you. The trees, grass and bush all around you is ablaze, and the searing heat is overwhelming. “Look out,” says your 13 year old daughter, as more fireballs careen dangerously through the air toward your car.
Suddenly, a fireman appears and orders you to turn back. “It’s too dangerous that way!” He says. “Go back! Go back!” Panic rises in your throat! Sweat is streaming down your face. Where will you go!
Then suddenly you remember that you have only one hope. The swimming pool! The children had been playing in it earlier in the day. It may be your only chance to survive now. You turn the car around and race back to your now burning home, grab the towels, the dogs, the cat, and within seconds the whole lot of you jump down into the swimming pool. Falling embers sizzle as they hit the water. You cover your heads with wet towels as the blazing inferno races overhead. You had never thought of your pool as a life insurance policy. But you are safe.
Twenty minutes later the fire has passed, you climb out of the pool to survey the damage. Nothing is left of your home, your car, the barn, the workshop, the shed; nothing but smoking ashes, melted metal, a dirty swimming pool, your pets and the wet clothes on your body. The ground sizzles under your wet shoes. You carry the animals as you walk in a daze, hardly comprehending what has just happened. You have just been through the most dangerous and deadly wildfire in Australian history and you were literally seconds from losing your lives. Your whole family stands in stunned silence. You begin to shake as you realize how close you were to being consumed. You huddle together as tears freely flow down your cheeks. It’s over, but now you have to pick up and start your lives over again. Has God spared you? Why? Perhaps He has a purpose for your life.
You see, my friends, because the fire was moving so fast, most of the people in its path had little if any warning. One minute there was peace and tranquility, and the next, panic and confusion. Some people stayed to protect their earthly possessions. Some fled just in time to escape, and some delayed and were consumed in their homes or in their cars as they tried to flee.
One faithful Adventist family was bushwalking near the summit of one of the nearby mountains Sabbath afternoon with some of the health guests of Highwood College and Health Center, an Adventist self-supporting institution established less than a mile from Narbethong and about 8 miles from Marysville. When they received a mobile or cell phone call telling them of the oncoming fires, they looked up into the sky and saw what looked like the smoke of a nuclear bomb. They quickly returned to their cars and fled down the mountain and passed through Marysville just minutes before the fire destroyed the town. They didn’t even have time to collect their most important belongings from their house which was consumed in the flames. All they had left was their cars, the clothes on their backs and their bibles. Nevertheless, God’s protection of them was nothing short of miraculous. A few minutes later and they would have been caught up in the maelstrom and burned alive.
What happened in the Victoria fires is described in the book Maranatha, page 37. “Fires will break out unexpectedly, and no human effort will be able to quench them. The palaces of earth will be swept away in the fury of the flames.” Perhaps we would not classify all those homes as palaces, though many of them were quite beautiful. But compared to the way most of the population of the world actually lives, they would certainly qualify.
The following warning from God’s last day messenger is also pertinent. It is from Fundamentals of Christian Education, page 356-357. “There will soon be a sudden change in God’s dealings. The world in its perversity is being visited by casualties,—by floods, storms, fires, earthquakes, famines, wars, and bloodshed. The Lord is slow to anger, and great in power; yet He will not at all acquit the wicked. ‘The Lord hath His way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of His feet.’ O that men might understand the patience and longsuffering of God! He is putting under restraint His own attributes. His omnipotent power is under the control of Omnipotence. O that men would understand that God refuses to be wearied out with the world’s perversity, and still holds out the hope of forgiveness even to the most undeserving! But His forbearance will not always continue. Who is prepared for the sudden change that will take place in God’s dealing with sinful men? Who will be prepared to escape the punishment that will certainly fall upon transgressors?”
Imagine the terror of trying to escape the Victoria fires, or the desperate agony of those overtaken by the flames, when they suddenly realized that they had no hope of escape, that the fire had overtaken them and that they would be burned alive. What shock and horror! What agony! Friends, this is the terror that the wicked will feel under the wrath of God. This is a solemn warning to all of us that God will not always strive with man. The day of God is coming when millions will experience the same overwhelming fear and terror. “We hear now of earthquakes in divers places,” wrote Ellen White in Testimonies to Ministers, page 444, “of fires, of tempests, of disasters by sea and land, of pestilence, of famine. What weight do these signs have upon you? This is only the beginning of what shall be. The description of the day of God is given through John the Revelator. The cry of the terror-stricken myriads has fallen upon the ear of John. ‘The great day of His wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?’ The apostle himself was awed and overwhelmed.”
The fires in Victoria are only a small token, my friends, of what it will be like in the Day of the Lord.
Desire of Ages, page 636 says, “Everything in the world is in agitation. The signs of the times are ominous. Coming events cast their shadows before. The Spirit of God is withdrawing from the earth, and calamity follows calamity by sea and by land. There are tempests, earthquakes, fires, floods, murders of every grade. Who can read the future? Where is security? There is assurance in nothing that is human or earthly.”
Perhaps one of the most signal providences of God was the protection He provided to Highwood College and Health Centre. Nestled in this beautiful area is a small self-supporting Adventist institution run by dedicated Adventist Christians. As the fires blasted through Narbethong and Marysville, Highwood was in danger of being overwhelmed. Gary, a staff member, checked the Maroondah highway, the only road going through there, to see if he could get past the danger, but it was impossible. Burning bark from exploding trees fell on his van as he neared Narbethong. So he turned back to campus and prepared with about 20 others to fight the fires, perhaps in vain. Just as the fire was within 2 kilometers or about 1 mile from Highwood, the wind changed two hundred degrees according to personal reports, pushing the fire back on itself and saved the institution. It was as if the angels wafted their wings over the campus and blew the fire in the opposite direction.
During the fires, with smoke all around them, a patch of clear blue sky stayed over head as a token of God’s protection over their property. The wall of flames had come to within 300 metres, or less than 1000 feet from the forest immediately to the Northeast of Highwood and burned to the edge of the highway, but it did not cross the road. Less than 8 miles away in Narbethong and Marysville, there was heavy loss of life and property.
Psalms 29:7 says “The voice of the Lord divideth the flames of fire.” While the raging and unquenchable fires warn us of God’s judgments, His protection of His faithful souls reminds us that if we are faithful to do His will, He will preserve. “Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked,” says psalm 91:8.
Though the fires burned all around them, Highwood is still nestled in a beautiful valley, and from campus one can hardly notice any scorched forests. The fires burned on the other side of the ridges and hills around them, and to the North, it left a buffer of forest to protect even the beauty of the place. “It is like a shining island of green in a wilderness of black wasteland,” said the school principal Darren Higgins.
Here is another statement from Manuscript Release no. 127, 1897. “The Lord had given evidence that by His power He could in one short hour dissolve the whole frame of nature. He can turn things upside down, and destroy the things that man has built up in his most firm and substantial manner. . . .In fires, in floods, in earthquakes, in the fury of the great deep, in calamities by sea and by land, the warning is given that God’s Spirit will not always strive with men.”
And from Signs of the Times, December 15, 1881 we read: “In every age, God’s judgments have been visited upon the earth because men transgressed His law. What, then, have we to expect as we behold the wickedness which prevails at the present day? An ungrateful people, forgetful of God’s care, His long forbearance, and His unnumbered blessings, are showing contempt for His holy law. Many of the acknowledged leaders in the church and in the nation, break, and teach others to break that law, as sacred to God as His own throne and name. It is time for the Lord himself to assert His authority in the earth. And He is doing this, by fires, by floods, by tempests. He removes His protecting, providential care, and visits His judgments upon the children of men.”
Manuscript Releases, Volume 18, page 57 and 58 says. “Everything has been moving on just as the Lord has revealed in prophecy that it would. Something great and decisive is soon to take place, else no flesh would be saved. The character of God will not be compromised. Under the wrath of God universal desolation will soon reach all parts of the known world. There have been lightnings and earthquakes, fires and floods, calamities by sea and by land; but who reads these warnings? What impression is made upon the world? What change in their attitude is seen?
No more than was seen in the inhabitants of the Noachic world. The people are just as ardent today in their games, in the horse racing, in their love of amusement, as were the antediluvians, who “knew not until the flood came, and took them all away.” They had heaven-sent warnings, but refused to listen. By their attitude they declared, “We want not Thy way, O God; we want our own way, our own will.”
My friends, Jeremiah 4:4 says “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: lest my fury come forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings.
This is an important appeal to us brothers and sisters. We are living in the last days when all around us is “only evil continually,” much like in the days of Noah. The fires in Australia are a reminder that we are living on borrowed time, and that the mercy of God will not linger forever. Don’t you want your life to be hid in Christ when His wrath is poured out without mercy upon a rebellious and unrepentant world? Don’t you want to be free of your sins so that you can walk with Christ in the new earth?
The world is in rebellion. Listen to this statement from Manuscript Releases, vol. 3, page 315. “The times in which we live are times of great depravity and crime of every degree. Why?—because men whom God has blessed and favored have reduced His holy law to a dead letter, making void the law of God by the traditions and inventions of the man of sin. A more-than-common contempt is put upon the commandments of God, while the representative men of the Colonies have exalted the first day of the week to be observed by all men. They would have men bow down and worship it, as did Nebuchadnezzar when he exalted the golden image in the plains of Dura. When wickedness comes to this pass, it is fast reaching its height. Well may the prayer go forth from the people of God, calling for His interference, ‘It is time for Thee, Lord, to work: for they have made void Thy law.’”—Ms 127, 1897.
Do you think we are coming close to the time when the whole world will have made void the law of God? From the same volume three of Manuscript Releases, page 305 we read: “Let us turn our attention away from unimportant things, and give ourselves to God. We scarcely dream of the destroying angels that already are permitted to bring disaster and destruction in their path.—Letter 54, 1906. The fires are a warning that the end is near.
We don’t know whether the angels of God or the angels of Satan were the ones responsible for the dangerous conditions and the fires in Victoria. The book Great Controversy, page 614, indicates that it could have been either. “The same destructive power exercised by holy angels when God commands, will be exercised by evil angels when He permits. There are forces now ready, and only waiting the divine permission, to spread desolation everywhere.” Either way, my friends, I’m thankful that God is the One in control.
Now is the time, my friends, to prepare; not tomorrow, not next week, not next month. You have no time to lose. You can’t play fast and loose with your life if you want to get ready for the coming crisis and to meet Jesus in the clouds of glory. If you are not the kind of Christian that you know Jesus wants you to be, get on your knees and pray earnestly that God will open your eyes and show you how to overcome your sins and live in Christ.
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