Faithlife Sermons

The Christ of the Crisis

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NOTE:
This is a manuscript, and not a transcript of this message. The actual presentation of the message differed from the manuscript through the leading of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it is possible, and even likely that there is material in this manuscript that was not included in the live presentation and that there was additional material in the live presentation that is not included in this manuscript.
Engagement
Earlier this week I went to Costco to pick up some items that we needed at home. I had heard some rumors about the chaos that I might expect there and sure enough, they were true. That was apparent the moment I turned into the parking lot and had a hard time finding a parking place. And once I finally got inside the place was packed. As expected I was not able to get the toilet paper and paper towels that we actually needed because of the way people have been hoarding those items. So in another week or so, I might to borrow some toilet paper from any of you who have 3 or 4 cases in your garage.
I understand that things have actually gotten worse since then and that some of the Costcos around the state have actually had to close because the number of people in the store exceeded the limits of the fire code. I’ve also noticed crowded conditions and long lines at the grocery store.
Obviously our entire community has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. And we’re certainly trying to be proactive as a church to do what we can to help prevent the spread of that disease. And I’ll be talking about some of the things a little later. But I wanted to take some time to address this situation more pastorally this morning and to discuss how that we should approach this kind of crisis as disciples of Jesus.
I had originally intended to continue our current sermon series on Rhythms of Grace this morning and begin to talk about the rhythm of rest. In fact I finished that message on Thursday and started working on my slides to accompany the sermon. But Friday morning I sensed that I needed to change plans and share this message instead. Lord willing, we’ll pick up with the message on rest next week.
Tension
We really shouldn’t be surprised that those who don’t know Jesus are responding with panic and fear, but as His disciples, our response should be radically different. So I want to use the Bible this morning to help us all understand that there is another, better way for us to respond.
Truth
Go ahead and turn in your Bibles to Acts chapter 16. You’ll find the book of Acts right after the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. You can follow along as I begin reading in verse 16.
[Read Acts 16:16-34]
As Paul and Silas were serving Jesus, they found themselves in quite a crisis, didn’t they? While the crisis they faced was quite different than the one before us today, the way that Paul and Silas respond offer us some great guidance on how we ought to respond not only during this crisis, but also any other time we face one.
Paul and Silas were busy serving Jesus by proclaiming the gospel in Philippi. So when they came across a slave girl that was demonized, they did what they had done on other occasions - they cast out the demon. They did that because they were more concerned about her spiritual condition than about whether or not her owners could make a profit off of her.
The owners of the slave girl were understandably upset and got the crowd to join them in attacking them. Paul and Silas were stripped and beaten and thrown in jail. While this might not seem to be relevant to the current coronavirus situation, there are actually a number of parallels here:
The first thing we see here is that being a disciple of Jesus does not mean that we will always be protected from harm. The coronavirus does not discriminate based on whether or not someone is a disciple of Jesus. So if the outbreak does get worse, that means that some of us in this room will get infected. As we’ve talked about before, Jesus warned us that as His disciples we are not immune to difficulties here on earth.
John 16:33 ESV
33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
We also see that people are by nature selfish and that they will go to great lengths to protect themselves even if that means hurting others. So we really shouldn’t be surprised that people are hoarding things like toilet paper and hand sanitizer. As we’ve said often before, we shouldn’t expect unbelievers to act like believers.
Finally, we see here that when we serve others in the name of Jesus, that ministry may not always be welcomed by others. But, just like Paul and Silas we ought to do it anyway
It’s often said that we can’t control our circumstances, all we can control is how we respond to our circumstances. That was certainly true for Paul and Silas and it’s still true today for us. So let’s see what we can learn from this passage about how to respond when we face a crisis.
Application

WHEN I FACE A CRISIS, I NEED TO CHOOSE:

Worship over worry
Paul and Silas certainly had reason to worry. They were outsiders who had come into the city of Philippi and had crossed paths with one of the wealthy business owners who obviously had a lot of power there. When they were arrested, nobody read them their Miranda rights. They didn’t have an attorney, or even a public defender. So things didn’t look good for them at all.
But instead of worrying they chose to worship. They made a decision to quit focusing on the “what if’s” and start focusing on the “what is”. They couldn’t control their circumstances, but they could control how they responded to them. So they chose to set their mind on the Jesus they did know rather than worry about what they did not know.
Five hundred years ago, Michel de Montaigne famously said:
"My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened."
A couple years ago a study was done that proved that what he said was right. In that study, subjects were asked to write down their worries over a period of time and then to identify which of them actually happened. It turns out that 85% of the things they worried about never happened. And of the 15% that did, the people found they actually handled them better than they expected or that they learned an important life lesson.
While we obviously know much more about the coronavirus today that we did even a few days ago, there is still much that we don’t know. As I’m going to talk about more a little later, it’s actually prudent to begin planning for some of those possibilities, but there is no need to worry about them.
It’s very possible, and even likely that we’ll have more cases here in Arizona. And if that happens, there may come a point where we will have to take some further actions. We might even have to cancel our public gatherings for a time. But in the meantime, for those who are healthy and not at a high risk, the best thing we can do is to keep on worshiping God together.
And even if there comes a time we can’t meet together in person, we can still choose to worship God and give praise to Him. Certainly if Paul and Silas could do that in a jail cell, we can do that wherever we are.
Faith over fear
When Paul and Silas were thrown into prison they didn’t know what was going to happen to them. They were certainly aware that many of their fellow disciples who had found themselves in similar situations had been killed for their faith in Jesus. And so it undoubtedly crossed their minds that could happen to them too. But they refused to be paralyzed by their fear. Instead they chose to trust Jesus and in His ability to control the outcome of their lives.
There is no guarantee that many or even most of us in this room won’t contract this disease at some point. And it’s even possible that some of us could get very sick or even die. But there is still no reason for us to live in fear.
Much of the fear surrounding the coronavirus is really unnecessary. Even for those who are not disciples of Jesus, a lot of the fear would be tempered if people would just base their emotions no facts rather than the other way around. Most of you are probably familiar with some of the statistics that put this current pandemic into perspective.
The latest statistics for the coronavirus show that there have been less than 160,00 cases and less than 6,000 deaths worldwide and about 2,500 cases and 55 deaths here in the United States.
Let’s compare that to some other causes of death, illness or injury:
Every year, 1.25 million people die in car wrecks around the world and another 20-50 million people are injured. Here in the United States over 37,000 people die in crashes each year and over 2 million are injured. Yet nobody stocks up on toilet paper every time they get in their car.
The CDC estimates that 31 million Americans contracted the flu in this past year, with as many as 30,000 people dying from the flu just between October 1, 2019 and February 1 of this year. This is consistent with past years , but as far as I know Costco has never had to close their doors because they were overrun with people stocking up on supplies due to the flu.
But those of us who have faith in Jesus have even less reason to fear. The Bible is full of commands like “Do not fear” and “Do not be afraid”. We can heed those commands because we know who Jesus is. We understand that He has been and will continue to be faithful to us and that He is able to control the outcome of our lives. We know that even if the very worst should happen and we contract coronavirus and die that we will be in the presence of Jesus for eternity.
No wonder the Psalmist could write these words:
Psalm 46:1–2 ESV
1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
God tells us that we don’t need to fear even if the earth gives way. So I think that means that we aren’t to fear over this disease.
Compassion over convenience
Once they had been released from their shackles, I have to believe that Paul and Silas wanted to hightail it out of that prison and get as far away from there just as fast as they could. But they weren’t so focused on their own safety that they couldn’t stop to show compassion to the jailer who rightly feared for his life. And as a result that man and his entire family became disciples of Jesus.
In a sense, they were just following the example of Jesus. Jesus was never too busy or too tired or too focused on His own needs to show compassion to others.
While none of us are happy about the coronavirus, it does present us with one of the best opportunities that we might ever have to be the hands and feet of Jesus and treat others with compassion, even when that might be costly to us.
This crisis has really revealed the profound selfishness that exists in our culture, in some cases even among those who are disciples of Jesus. And to be honest some of those instincts have popped up in my own mind as well.
As we saw a few weeks ago when we looked at Acts 2, the early church was not known for stockpiling food and supplies for themselves while watching others go without. Instead they were generous with what they had and gladly sacrificed to meet the needs of their neighbors.
So please, let us not be the ones who are hoarding toilet paper and paper towels and hand sanitizer, and food. And if we do have some extras on hand, let’s be the ones sharing those things with those who have needs, especially with our unbelieving family and friends. Let’s make sure that we’re the ones running errands for those who are at high risk and might not be able to leave their homes. Let’s be the ones going out of our way to show compassion towards others even when it’s inconvenient or costly.
So what are some concrete steps we can take to put these principles into practice right now.
Action

PRACTICAL STEPS I CAN TAKE

Get accurate information - but don’t overdo it
We need to have accurate information so that we can make wise decisions. But getting too much information can also lead us into the behaviors that we want to avoid.
Recently a team of psychologists did a study on people they called “statistic stalkers” - people who regularly spent time reading statistical information about the coronavirus. That group, which represented about half the population, was much more anxious and fearful. They were much more likely to think that they would personally get the virus than those who who were not stalkers. And they were also much more likely to stock up on supplies and to wear a surgical mask, even though that has not proven to be effective in keeping people from getting the disease.
One of the things we’re doing as a church is to make sure that we’re getting our information from reliable sources like the CDC and the Arizona Department of Health and that we’re making our decisions based on their recommendations and not just on our own biases.
So Facebook is probably not your friend when it comes to making wise, fact-based decisions.
Pray
We know that while Paul and Silas were in jail they were praying as well as worshiping. And even though we aren’t told explicitly here, I have to believe that their fellow disciples were also praying for them.
Years later, while he was imprisoned once again, Paul wrote these words in the letter that he sent to the church in Philippi:
Philippians 4:6–7 ESV
6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
We obviously need to pray all the time, not just when we face a crisis. But this is a time when we need to pray even more that we usually do. That is because prayer is the best tool we have available as an antidote to the fear and anxiety that naturally comes during a crisis.
Take prudent action
Trusting in God does not mean that we shouldn’t take prudent actions based on accurate information. One of the best Biblical examples of that is found in Nehemiah 4. The exiles who had returned to Jerusalem were rebuilding the city walls when they were threatened by some who were opposed to that work. We see their response to that threat in verse 9:
Nehemiah 4:9 ESV
9 And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night.
They trusted in God, as evidenced by their prayers. But they also took the prudent step of setting a guard to protect them.
If we are wise, we will take prudent steps like washing our hands, and having on hand adequate supplies of things like prescription medicines. And it’s probably not even a bad idea to have a couple week’s supply of food and supplies in the event we get quarantined. And if we’re at high risk we ought to take even more caution.
Be a messenger of hope
In moments like these people are often confronted with the reality of death in a way they don’t often think about it. Their appetite for the gospel is heightened to a degree that we might not normally see. The world needs Jesus and you and I know Him.
So let’s make sure that we are the messengers of hope in a world where that is in short supply right now. As I mentioned earlier this might very well be one of the best opportunities we will ever have to share the hope that we have in Jesus. So let’s take advantage of those opportunities.
Seek to serve others
During a time where everyone seems to be obsessed with themselves, we need to do exactly the opposite and look for ways to serve others. I’ve already suggested some ways that we can do that, but there are almost limitless possibilities here. And some of those things are probably going to be costly in terms of our time and our resources. It might even mean that we go without so that others can have what they need.
Inspiration
Undoubtedly were all in some new territory here. And none of us know for sure what is coming down the road. Things might very well get worse before they get better. But in the midst of the unknown, Jesus has called us to live in a way that is distinct from the rest of the world. He is calling on us to worship rather than worry, exercise faith rather than fear and to choose compassion for others over our own convenience. I’m not here this morning to tell you that is going to be easy. But we serve a God who is the Christ of the crisis.
So in the famous words of Rahm Emmanuel, I’m going to urge you this morning to “not let this crisis go to waste”. Let’s make sure we use it for the glory of God.
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