The Champion and the ChildrenRev. Michael Calvert, Ph.D., March 29, 2020
Part of the Hebrews series.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,
As you know, we will not be able to meet together for worship this Sunday, or on April 5. Beyond that, the Session is awaiting the recommendations of our State Health Department as to future meetings of the congregation.
As I talk with our people during the week, there is a common refrain that finds its way into virtually every conversation: ‘I’ve never seen anything like this before!’
I’ve also been very interested in what is being said about this virus, especially by Church leaders who want to speak of this pandemic in more theological/spiritual terms. Again, there seems to be a common refrain that characterizes every article or online post about the spiritual implications of COVID-19: ‘We must offer hope and comfort to the world in a time like this.’
Well, while we admit that this is a very good thing to say, I’ve been wondering of late if it’s all that the Church needs to say to the world.
Of Mass-Murders and Falling Towers
Look, for example, at the following words from Jesus, recorded in Luke 13:1-5–
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Here, our Lord refers to two disasters, or tragedies. First, Pilate had murderously slaughtered some Galilean peasants while they were worshipping in Jerusalem. And then, there was a disaster in Siloam (inside the walled city of Jerusalem) when a tower suddenly fell down, crushing 18 people to death. Now, it would pay us great dividends to look at how our Lord interpreted these events, and what He said to the crowds that followed Him.
Twice our Savior’s reply is, “ unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” The first tragedy was a mass murder. The second was a terrible accident. But the reply of our Lord is precisely the same for both. People have died, some by the hands of a wicked ruler, and others seemingly by chance. But the lesson from these twin tragedies is the same: “ repent” or “ perish”!
What we don’t find here is Jesus offering ‘hope and comfort’ to the world. Rather, in view of these terrible things, He sounds a dire warning.
So, what do we make of this? What do we take from this episode in the life of our Lord as we converse with people all around us regarding the deeper significance of the virus that is sweeping our world?
Following the trajectory of our Lord’s reply, as well as the overall thrust of Scripture, it would seem that there are two ways to view the tragic events of our day:
One, this nasty virus, and the death and havoc it is bringing down upon us, is a foreshadowing, and a gracious warning, of a greater disaster that awaits the world. The author of Hebrews puts it most succinctly: “ it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).The only way to be prepared for this awful day, and to escape the eternal death this day will surely bring, is to “ repent.”
Two, then for those who do trust in Christ, we find even in our pains and sufferings the presence and power of our Lord and Champion! It is we, and we alone, who find ‘hope and comfort’ in the middle of this disaster! After all, it was our Incarnate Lord Jesus who came to us that “ he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:14-15).
So, what then, do we say to the world today?
Well, we tell them the whole truth, just as Jesus did! Rather than arguing about what we should call this virus, whether the “Chinese Virus,” “Wuhan Virus,” or simply “COVID-19,” we must first recognize it as “our virus.”
Like all disasters and tragedies, both moral evils (mass murder and the like) and natural evils (like towers falling by accident), we have brought this one down upon ourselves as well. The inexorable law of God stands unchallenged, “ the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), and even now, “ the wrath of God is [being] revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18).
The profound words of Dr. Helmut Thielicke come to mind:
“ in all the fateful guilt that hovers over the world, its continents and seas, my guilt is a part of it too. What I see there is my own heart blown up to gigantic, global proportions . . . . [and] what I see there in global proportions must only remind me of my own ‘Babylonian heart’ . . . . I am the one who needs forgiveness, and the sanitation of the world must begin with me” ( Our Heavenly Father: Sermons on the Lord’s Prayer, 104-105).
To the lost world we say, ‘Repent, for a greater disaster is coming! Yet, in this present moment there is the grace of time to turn away from sin, and to come running to the Savior who has defeated the powers of death and hell! And then, and only then, will you find comfort and hope in the One who is King and Lord of all.’
And then, to one another, to other brothers and sisters in Christ, we say, ‘Take courage, for our Champion has defeated all hellish powers. We are more than conquerors in Him! There is no fear in His love. Even if we suffer and die, we yet live in our resurrected King! We have His peace to guard our hearts and minds! Let us hold fast our confession of faith in Him alone!’
Our sermon for this coming Lord’s Day will be taken from Hebrews 2:14-16, the passage I referred to above. And like last week, we will be providing a worship guide for you to make use of as you view the message on Sunday.