3-22-2020 A Christian Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic
The coronavirus now dominates our lives. It is a full-fledged pandemic. Extreme actions are being taken by governments to contain the spread of this disease. It is driving the stock market down. It is affecting commerce, travel, entertainment, politics, and even sports. You know that it is serious when Americans will close sports events.
The primary concern is not the current sickness and death count; it is the potential devastation this disease could still cause. The influenza pandemic that struck in 1918 affected one-third of the world’s population. That would be 2 ½ billion people in today’s population. It was estimated to have killed between 50 million to as high as 100 million people when the population was far less than it is today. To put that in perspective, the total fatalities in World War II are estimated at 70-85 million. One source said, “This flu [from 1918] killed more people in 24 weeks than the HIV/Aids killed in 24 years.” These statistics explain why governmental responses to the current COVID pandemic are so dramatic.
Even resources for Pastors are now flooded with “helps” for what a church should do. Plenty of godly men and women are talking about this.
The Bible has a lot to say about plagues, and we can draw counsel from the word of God as to how we should respond to the current situation. As Christians, what should we personally do about the current crisis?
Author and Pastor Dr. Richard Tow contributed much to help us work through this biblically, and instead of re-inventing the wheel, I think it would behoove us to work through some of his material this morning:
I. EXERCISE PRUDENCE AND COMMON SENSE
I. EXERCISE PRUDENCE AND COMMON SENSE
When Satan tempted Jesus to jump off the temple, Jesus countered the suggestion by quoting Deut. 6:16. Jesus said, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God” (Luke 4:12).v To force God’s hand by doing something so foolish is to tempt or test God.
G. Campbell Morgan wrote, “The moment we do something to prove God, we are proving that we are not sure of God. Trust never employs tricks to find out whether the one trusted is trustworthy.”vi It is one thing to take a bold step of faith in obedience to God; it is another to initiate the same action for our own purposes as Satan suggested.
When Israel came to Kadesh-Barnea in Numbers 13 God had given them the land (Num. 13:2) and they we told to possess it. When the twelve spies came back from searching out Canaan, Caleb and Joshua insisted that they obey God and boldly enter into Canaan. Doing that would have been an act of faith because God had told them to do it and had promised to be with them. It was an act of unbelief when the nation decided to not trust God and not do what He had told them to do. But the same action became presumption, not faith, when God said they would not enter the Promise Land (Num. 14:22-30), and they tried to do so on their own initiative. That was disastrous (Num. 14:39-45).
In John 8 the Jews picked up stones to throw at Jesus to kill Him. Jesus’s response was interesting. He could have worked a miracle. He could have paralyzed those people. He could have struck them down dead. What did He do? He hid Himself. He slipped through the crowd and got away. John 8:59 says,
So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
We see something similar in Paul’s life when the authorities were trying to arrest him. He did something very practical. In a conversation about humility, Paul told the story including how he escaped. In 2 Corinthians 11:33 he said,
and I was lowered through a window through the wall in a rope-basket, and I escaped his hands.
Surely God could have done something more impressive. No, in this case Paul was to use the practical means available to him.
My point is this: in the absent of a divine command to do otherwise, we simply act with prudence. We do not act in presumption. In other words, we don’t live in the world of “what if’s.” Presumption is driven by subtle pride. Faith acts in humble obedience.
Two extremes should be avoided. One is the presumption that because we’re believers that we should not have to deal with any of this. Belonging to God does not exempt us from the human experience. YHWH will take care of us as we trust and obey Him. But reality is that we are still in mortal bodies. Our complete salvation has not yet arrived. We are looking forward to being clothed with a glorified body. In the meantime, we do some groaning along with the rest of creation (Rom. 8:23). The other extreme is panic. God has not given us the spirit of fear [[2 Timothy 1:7]]
For God has not given us a spirit of cowardice, but of power and love and self-discipline.
“Yeah, but guess what Pastor Josh? I’m afraid!”
Then listen to David’s confidence in Ps 27:1-5:
1 Yahweh is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? Yahweh is the refuge of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? 2 When evildoers drew near against me to eat my flesh— my adversaries and my enemies who drew near to me— they themselves stumbled and fell. 3 Though an army encamp against me, my heart will not fear. Though war arise against me, even in this I will remain confident. 4 One thing I have asked from Yahweh; it I will seek: that I may dwell in the house of Yahweh all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of Yahweh, and to consider his temple. 5 Because he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble. He will conceal me in the hiding place of his tent. He will set me high upon a rock.
If you feel yourself becoming anxious, go to passages like this and let the Holy Spirit bring assurance and comfort to your heart. The fruit of the Spirit is not fear, but faith and peace. [[Isaiah 26:3–4]]
3 You will protect a firm inclination in peace, in peace because he trusts in you. 4 Trust in Yahweh forever, for in Yah, Yahweh you have an everlasting rock.
We do not have to react to problems the same way the world reacts. God is with us. If we will look to Him as our source and protection, we will be fine. Be still, meditate upon Him and fear flees. It is in YHWH we find peace
In the midst of all this, one thing hasn't changed—our human desire to love and to be loved. As more and more people go into self-quarantine and isolation, this emotional need will become even more amplified. So how can we continue to meet the needs of our friends and loved ones during this time?
Here are a few ways we can still show each-other love:
Words of Affirmation: Digital technology is wonderful, but remember you can level up a kind or encouraging word by sending more than a text message or email. Try sending a short video or audio message. Just seeing your face and hearing the inflections in your voice will make your words even more powerful.
Acts of Service: Check in on others frequently—call, message, or text. If you are able, drop off some food or other necessities (practicing social distance, of course) that you may have an excess of. Needs are everywhere, you simply have to reach out to discover them. Don't get overwhelmed into inaction trying to meet everybody's need, just focus on one person and one need at a time.
Gifts: Just like with the “secret sister” system the ladies got going on. You may not have something to offer, but maybe someone you know does. Team up and provide some meaningful gifts to those who could use a little pick-me-up. You'll also find working together as a group will encourage all involved.
Quality Time: During times of isolation and self-quarantine, quality time may look different. Maybe you are not meeting with that friend at the coffee shop, but why not video chat while drinking coffee together. You may not be able to go to the movies, but you could set up a watch party on Netflix using this chrome plug-in: Netflix Party. Grab some popcorn and enjoy a show together.
Physical Touch: Technology has played a crucial role in the midst of this pandemic with many people and organizations offering free videos and content for people stuck at home. Make sure you are taking (and making) time to connect physically with your loved ones and children if you are limited to your house. Give a shoulder rub to your spouse while they work around the home. Cozying up near your children or even grandchildren as you read them a book. Just be mindful to break from the digital routine for some good, old fashioned connection via physical touch.
So EXERCISE PRUDENCE & COMMON SENSE, but we also have to purpose ourselves to SEEK after YHWH
II. SEEK YHWH
II. SEEK YHWH
I don’t care what kind of crisis you might be in, you can always seek after YHWH. Actually, every crisis is a call to seek Jesus! Sometimes events happen as a wake-up call. Israel was God’s chosen people. But at times in their history they would become very slack in their service to Him—sometimes turning to idolatry. Rather than immediately wiping them out for their disobedience, God would send enough trouble to get their attention. Before Jerusalem was captured by Babylon in 586 BC (2 Kings 25:8-17) there were other attacks that should have served as warnings. Eleven years earlier Jerusalem was attacked and King Jehoiachin was taken captive (2 Kings 24:10-12). Eight years prior to that Babylon attacked and took away captives. Daniel was a part of that captivity (Dan. 1:2-6). In between those events was opportunity to repent. God gave enough of a crisis to get their attention, then gave opportunity to seek Him and get things right. Israel failed to seize those opportunities. Why should we care what happened to them? Paul tells us [[1 Cor. 10:11]].
11 Now these things happened to those people as an example, but are written for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages have come.
My greatest concern for our nation is that we would respond to this current crisis with all our resources but fail to seek YHWH. It was comforting to hear President Trump declare Last Sunday as a National Day of Prayer. We should be praying today for God’s wisdom and protection. We should look to the Lord for victory and not assume that we can handle it without Him.
Prior to 1918 the world was boasting about its scientific achievements, especially in the field of medicine. “For over a century, the booming science of medicine had gone from one triumph to another. Researchers had developed vaccines for many diseases: smallpox, anthrax, rabies, diphtheria, meningitis.” The advances in microbiology had led “to the thought of invincibility.” It was in that context that the world was hit with something they were ill-equipped to handle. It was near that time when people were boasting they had built a ship that could not sink. That ship was the Titanic. Proverbs 16:18 .
18 Before destruction comes pride, and before a fall, a haughty spirit.
That principle holds true for nations, just like it does for individuals.
Look at the promise God gave in 2 Chronicles 7:14. We get a better sense of the context for that verse when we read the verse that precedes it.
2 Chronicles 7:13
13 When I hold back the heavens so that there is not rain, and when I command the locust to devour the earth, and if I send disease among my people, 14 then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and will pray and will seek my face and will turn from their evil ways, then I myself shall hear from the heavens and will forgive their sins and heal their land. 15 Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer of this place.
The passage begins with a situation in which trouble has come. In fact, the word translated pestilence in verse 13 could be translated plague. What is the response God is looking for?
(1) We must humble ourselves
(1) We must humble ourselves
It begins with humbling ourselves.
It may sound courageous to stand up to a crisis and say, “We can defeat this!” The influenza of 1918 struck a severe blow to the pride that had developed through scientific discoveries which had been made.In a crisis, we should be humbling ourselves, not boasting in our self-sufficiency. A pandemic should remind us of our mortality and our need for God.
(2) We must pray
(2) We must pray
Phil 4:6-7 instructs us to:
6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
There we’re give the promise of peace if we will do what? pray with thanksgiving; let our requests be made known to God; speak to God out of our dependence upon Him. When the church forsakes her calling to be a House of Prayer, God sends something to turn her back to that. The early church is an example for us. When trouble came, they prayed. Daniel also exemplifies this. When trouble came, he prayed—even when it was illegal. He got his friends to pray with him. As he prayed God worked in his behalf.
I hope we do more than put on masks and wash our hands; I hope we seek the Lord for His solutions. We need His wisdom, His guidance, and His power to work in our behalf. He can turn this for the furtherance of the gospel.
Pray! “Yeah, but pray what?”
Trust in Christ as your personal Savior and Lord.
Seek God for His guidance, protection and favor.
Ask the Lord what He wants us to learn in this trial.
Ask the Lord to bring this country to repentance.
Ask God to give wisdom to our government.
Ask God for a cure.
Ask God to guide our medical research teams, give strength to all caregivers and protect them.
Enable the afflicted to respond to treatment.
Ask God to give you open doors of opportunity to minister to the sick.
(3) We must seek His face
(3) We must seek His face
We must seek right relationship with God. It’s not just that we tell Him what we want. We also submit ourselves to Him and pursue His will.
In 2016 we were facing an assault against our religious liberties. On the front lines were large Christian organizations like Focus on the Family and Hobby Lobby. But most of us realized it would get down to us if something didn’t happen. With a sense of urgency, we prayed. Franklin Graham led prayer meetings at each state capital. God heard our prayers and gave us a reprieve from that oppression. I believe it was a reprieve—an opportunity for the church to start praying instead of entertaining. I believe the future depends far more on what the church does than what the politicians do.
Jesus is walking among the candlesticks as He did in Revelation 2-3, assessing the condition of the church and pronouncing judgement based on what the church does. If a remnant will pray and seek God, He will hear and heal our land.
Did you notice that phrase in 2 Chronicles 7:14?
then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and will pray and will seek my face and will turn from their evil ways, then I myself shall hear from the heavens and will forgive their sins and heal their land.
In answer to prayer He “will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
He can heal the land of unjust judges. He can heal the land of unjust laws. He can heal the land of economic chaos. And He can heal the land of viruses! The danger is that we would look at the coronavirus with purely humanistic eyes. Certainly, compassion for those suffering from the disease should be included in our response. But we must not think in purely humanistic terms; we must not leave God out of the picture. Perhaps God has brought us to the kingdom for such a time as this. Perhaps this world-wide wake-up call is the opportunity of a lifetime. Oh, that multitudes would turn to Him and find, not only temporal help, but eternal salvation. Mark 8:36
For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?
The last condition in 2 Chronicles 7:14
is that we would repent
(4) We Must turn from our evil ways
(4) We Must turn from our evil ways
Your wicked ways may not be the same as mine. But they are all a departure from the commandments of God.
When God struck Egypt with plagues, He was not just dealing with people. He was also striking their gods. It demonstrated the weakness of their idols. God’s judgment devastated Egypt’s economy. As I watch the current impact of the coronavirus, I am amazed at the impact it is having on economies. How much of the world’s commerce is driven by greed? How much confidence are people placing in their retirement accounts and savings? What will they do if the bottom falls out from under all that? Will they trust the Lord? Sometimes God shakes things to bring us back to the basics. That happened at the end of the 1920’s during the depression.
III. TRUST YHWH
III. TRUST YHWH
When we are His child, we are surrounded by God’s protection. And He is able to work all things together for our good. He is able to redeem any situation and turn it toward His purposes. It was a terrible thing that Joseph’s brothers did to him. The intention behind their actions was evil. The suffering that Joseph experienced was real. But God redeemed even that and worked his purposes of salvation. In the end Joseph could say to his brothers [[Genesis 50:20]].
As for you, you planned evil against me, but God planned it for good, in order to do this—to keep many people alive—as it is today.
God is always seeking to save the lost. We trust God for the protection of ourselves and our loved ones, but we also pray for God’s mercy on the lost. He is not willing that any of them perish.
If a crisis causes people to turn to God and receive eternal life, something very good has come out of it. We seek the Lord for His mercy, protection, and healing. At the same time, we know the most important issue for everyone is where that individual will spend eternity.
I was encouraged to read how the Christians in Wuhan China were going out on the streets proclaiming Christ when everyone else was hunkering in and afraid to go out. They are an example for us. I’ve been praying for a great harvest of souls there.
Very often it is in times of trouble that people become more open to hear about God. When those opportunities come, we will, by the grace of God, set aside our own self-preservation and proclaim the gospel to the lost.
When we are in the center of God’s will, there is nothing to fear. Paul was on a mission from God when he was bitten by a viper on the Island of Meilta/Malta . He shook it off in the fire and was not harmed by it (Acts 28:3-5). That supernatural event got the attention of the pagans on that island.
Listen to the assurance we are given in [[Psalm 91:3-11]]
3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler, from the plague of destruction. 4 With his feathers he will cover you, and under his wings you can take refuge. His faithfulness will be a shield and a buckler. 5 You need not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day, 6 or the plague that spreads in the darkness, or the destruction that devastates at noon. 7 A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. 8 You will only look with your eyes, and see the punishment of the wicked. 9 For you, O Yahweh, are my refuge. You have made the Most High your dwelling place. 10 No harm will befall you, and no plague will come near your tent. 11 For he will command his angels concerning you, to watch over you in all your ways.
YHWH, only He is able to shield us if we will look to Him for that protection. God used the first three plagues in Egypt to do a work in His people as well as judge Egypt. But when that work was done, He made a distinction between His people and the Egyptians (Ex. 8:22). He protected His people from the destruction. For the Egyptians those plagues meant destruction. For God’s people they resulted in their redemption. The key factor in the last plague was the blood on the doorposts—a type of the blood of Christ applied to the believer’s heart. When God saw the blood, He passed over His people as a protection, and they were not harmed. [[Ps. 20:7]].
7 Some boast in chariots and others in horses, but we boast in the name of Yahweh, our God.
Make sure the blood of Christ is the boast of your heart. Make sure you have surrendered your life to Him. Make sure you’re walking in the light. Then trust Him to watch over you and even empower you by His Spirit to continue to minister peace and healing to others—especially in such a time as this.
vi G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to Luke, 1931 (Grand Rapids: Revell, 1992) 61.
xi Daniel 9 provides a model on how to pray for God’s intervention. Daniel 10 reveals some of the spiritual dynamics that go on behind the scenes in response to our prayers.
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