Faithlife Sermons

How Should Christians Respond to A National Crisis?

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Justin Taylor described how The bubonic plague or black death devastated Europe from the 14th to 16th centuries. The plague came out of China in around 1347 and killed 1/4 of Europe. The mortality rate ranged from 30 to 90 percent. In 1527 Martin Luther wrote “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague.” When the plague hit Wittenberg, many of the citizens fled. Luther himself was ordered to flee by the prince. Luther’s pamphlet that leaders should remain to help their people. They were to be like the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep (Jn. 10:11). Fear of death had been replaced by Christ’s defeat of death. Therefore, Christians should labor to hear “I was sick and you cared for me” (Matt. 25:36).
The third century also saw a plague in the Roman Empire. As many as 5000 people died every day and this went on for years. An ancient Christian named Dionysius wrote:
Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead . . . The best of our brothers lost their lives in this manner, a number of presbyters, deacons, and laymen winning high commendation so that death in this form, the result of great piety and strong faith, seems in every way the equal of martyrdom.”
Clearly, their focus was on ministry rather than self-preservation. The non-Christians followed an opposite pattern. Dionysius said, “At the first onset of the disease, they pushed the sufferers away and fled from the dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treated unburied corpses as dirt, hoping thereby to avert the spread and contagion of the fatal disease…”

A FAMINE AROSE

Acts 11:27-28 records the prophetic announcement that a famine would arise. This famine took place during the days of the emperor Claudius. In fact, there were several famines recorded during the time of Claudius (A.D. 41-54). The papyri record high grain prices around A.D. 46. There was also a grain shortage which led to Claudius being mobbed in the streets around A.D. 51. This particular famine was probably around A.D. 46.
The early church had faced difficult situations before. In Acts 6 the Hellenist widows were neglected in the daily rationing of food. In order to care for the widows, the apostles instructed the church to choose men who could handle that ministry. In Acts 15 a doctrinal question had arisen and the church gathered to answer the question based on Scripture and what God had done.
There will always be problems. Some of these problems will be great and some will be easily forgotten. No matter the size of the problem, God’s people should always respond in a Christlike way for God’s glory. This usually involves sacrifice, organization, and focus. The famine which arose in Acts 11 was surely a horrible experience for the church, but it also provided opportunities for the church to serve.

CHRISTIANS STEPPED UP

The Christians did not run away from the famine. We can’t run from our troubles. Acts 11:29-30 records “the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.” There was a problem, and Christians were part of the answer.
The gathering of funds for that relief effort dominates the rest of the book of Acts. This fund-raising is also prominent in the 1 & 2 Corinthians. There are several things that need to be noted about this gift. First, it was to relieve the poor brethren in Jerusalem. This relief effort helped to prompt Christians to give on every first day of the week as God commanded in 1 Corinthians 16. At that time, the major purpose for the collection was for the support of poor brethren in Jerusalem. This is a most worthy cause. Some have argued, based on this, that church funds can only be given to saints. However, they do not limit the “saints only” doctrine to “saints in Jerusalem only.” The Bible does not give us a specific list of things that our contribution is to be used to accomplish. We are given commands to be benevolent, to be evangelistic, to assemble together, and to love one another. It seems appropriate to use these funds to accomplish all the commands which God has given his people.
We also note that these funds were gathered and distributed by Barnabas and Saul. This group of men went around to various individuals and congregations to gather funds for the relief effort. Some argue that we should not form groups to gather funds and distribute them outside the local congregation. However, this is exactly what happened in Acts 11:30. Barnabas and Saul were, in a way, the first Churches of Christ Disaster Relief program. This group, which grew over time, brought the money to the local eldership in Jerusalem so that they could distribute the funds. It is likely that this would have been more than one eldership since it is most likely that there would have been more than one congregation meeting in Jerusalem at that time.
This was no easy mission for Paul. In Acts 24:17 he summarized “after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings.” When Paul was discovered, he was in the temple and had gone through purification rights to be in the temple. Surely, he was not bringing the funds to Christians only. He brought he funds his group had collected to those of the nation of Israel.
This benevolence mission displayed the close relationship the church was purposed to enjoy and display. William Larkin wrote:
Their liberality is holistic in two ways. First, it extends beyond spiritual concern—“we will pray that God provides for you in your affliction”—to practical physical aid. Hence the collection is labeled a “service” (diakonia; Acts 6:1; 12:25; Rom 15:31; 2 Cor 8:4). Second, this interchurch relief involves the receiving church serving the sending church—a mixed Jewish and Gentile congregation serving a Jewish assembly. Such unity is based on the conviction that the church is a body greater than any single congregation within any culture.
The benevolent mission teaches us how we should love one another with God’s love. It shows us that the physical divisions, which appear large in our sinful world, really are nothing to be considered. All that matters is “faith working through love.

CHRISTIANS ARE STILL STEPPING UP

Christians still do tons of great things in the world today. Even though the government, originally by Christian influence, has taken on the responsibility of caring for the weakest among us, Christians cannot abandon this post. Paul’s words to the Corinthians are equally applicable to us. The Spirit says to us, “Now concerting the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come” (1 Cor. 16:1-2).
The second exhortation should also move us to compassionate action. Paul saw firsthand the needs of the church and the blessing the church could be. Through the Spirit, Paul wrote:
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us (2 Cor. 8:1-5).
Christians, there are still opportunities for us to step up.
Many of you did step up to help with the tornado relief efforts last week. We, here at Lomax, gathered over $10,000 to relieve those who had been afflicted. Each weak, the hungry are fed, lonely people are visited, and sick are cared for by loving Christians. This is excellent. This is for God.

HOW CAN CHRISTIANS STEP UP TO THE CORONAVIRUS?

We are in something of uncharted territory for most of us. We weren’t around during the plague. We are good at rushing to a problem, but we aren’t really sure what to do with the coronavirus because we need to stay away from one another. Providentially, we stand at an excellent place in history to be able to be miles away but still in one another’s living rooms. Many of our universities are now meeting exclusively online. Many people are working online.
We will continue to gather for worship physically in this place. That togetherness is a major aspect of communion. In fact, togetherness, is the definition of communion. At the same time, we want to limit physical exposure while increasing our virtual presence. Thankfully, God has given us means to to this by telephone, Facebook, email, and our other apps which help us stay connected.
Aside from staying connected to one another, I pray you will stay connected with our Father. James wrote, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven” (Js. 5:13-15). These verses direct us, primarily, to elders making home visits to the sick and the sick discussing their physical situation as well as their spiritual situation. They are guaranteed spiritual health. Continue to pray. God is still sovereign. Trust him. Rely on him. Go to him.

FINALLY

Go to Jesus. Eight centuries before the incarnation, Isaiah wrote from the Spirit, “and with his wounds we are healed” (Is. 53:5). This refers not only to our spiritual suffering but to our physical suffering as well. Jesus did not just redeem a part of his people. Jesus redeemed all of us. He was raised bodily, not just spiritually. We will be raised bodily just as he was.
Christian, run to Jesus. He is our hope. He is our only hope. He is our life and our healing. He is the Great Physician and he makes house calls. Behold, he stands at the door and knocks. Let him in.
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