Coronavirus: What is God saying?
Well welcome to our first Sunday morning service together. We are in extraordinary circumstances and unprecedented times and none of us expected that we would be in this position. But God has seen fit that we should be isolated in our homes and we should be together hearing God’s word, praying in our own homes and encouraging one another. My hope is that during this time in fact fellowship will be increased rather than decreased as we really look out for one another. Now it is Mother’s Day so I do want to wish all the mothers a very, very happy day. Some of you may be distanced from your mothers, but one in spirit today though physically far apart. It’s the Lord’s Day for our encouragement, for our blessing, and our rest and a day when God speaks to us.
The message today is going to be very different. It’s going to be about corona virus. What does the Bible have to say about this? What is God saying to us through the corona virus? So we are not going through Luke’s gospel verse by verse as we would normally do today. But we are going to look at a number of passages.
Let’s seek God’s face in prayer.
Prayer No. 1 (below)
“Eternal God in Heaven as we come into Your Presence in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Name that is above every name, We thank you for the wonderful truth that one day every knee in heaven and on earth and under the earth will bow to Him. We recognise Lord that You are Sovereign and that You are God. We thank you that we can say this morning that the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. Lord though we may be in times of confusion, times of fear and uncertainty, we thank You O Lord in heaven that we have this huge, massive certainty that our God reigns. We thank You that He is our Rock. We thank you that we can also say that all may change but Jesus never, Glory to His name! Thank you that He is the same yesterday, today and forever. And we thank you that our lives are hid together in Christ. We thank You that in Him we are One, and we are safe under the everlasting wings of God. And Eternal God as we come before You this morning we thank you that we are One. You are our Refuge and strength."
Prayer No. 2 (audio only)
Now let us read the Word of God.
Read Psalm 46:1-11
"God is our refuge and Strength, a very present help in time of trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed and the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea…"
Now as we come to this subject corona virus, what is God saying to us? We need to reflect on the extent of it. It’s quite remarkable really. I am recording this on Friday and to date we have been told already that 182 out of 192 nations of the earth have been infected with this virus. That means that over 90% of the world’s countries. God is Sovereign. He is Lord, He has ordained this. It is His will. What is God saying to us? Millions of people are fearful. China has gone through a very difficult time locking down so many of its cities. Now the same is true in Italy. In California 40 million people are now in lock down. What is God saying? The world economy is being turned upside down and many peoples hearts are failing them for fear.
Well I want to turn you to 2 Old Testament passages, the First one is from 1 Kings 8:37-40 and then 2 Chronicles Chapter 7. Now these are Old Testament passages given to Old Testament people who were under the old covenant, a different covenant to us. God is speaking to His people Israel. Yet there are principles that apply to us, applications which are very pertinent for us.
In the first passage in 1 Kings ch 8 v 37-40 King Solomon is praying. The temple has been dedicated. He is remembering Mount Sinai where God made a covenant with His people and they promised to follow Him His statutes, regulations and laws. God had promised to Old Testament Israel that if they obeyed Him He would pour out blessings upon their land. They would have increased sheepfolds, increased cattle, grapes on the vine and God would not withhold rain from them. Quite the contrary He would bless them. They would be freed from many sicknesses. In all sorts of physical ways God promised to bless their land. But the covenant was this: If they broke God’s commands ,if they did not keep their side of the covenant, if they disobeyed His statutes and laws then God said to them, that in time He would send war instead of peace, sickness instead of health, He would send plague and He would judge them until they had repented again. So Solomon is remembering the covenant that was made at Sinai with these promises of blessings for obedience and warnings of curse for disobedience. And in his prayer Solomon calls upon God, that if God’s people find themselves in a state of disobedience where the curses have now fallen upon them, that if they come back to Him and pray in His temple then would not God forgive them - He would. He would bless them that they would fear His name again. And so he comes in prayer to God reminding Him of His covenant promises and bringing them to Him. This is what he says;
“When there is famine in the land, pestilence or blight or mildew, locusts or grasshoppers; when their enemy besieges them in the land of their cities; whatever plague or whatever sickness there is; 38 whatever prayer, whatever supplication is made by anyone, or by all Your people Israel, when each one knows the plague of his own heart, and spreads out his hands toward this temple: 39 then hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and forgive, and act, and give to everyone according to all his ways, whose heart You know (for You alone know the hearts of all the sons of men), 40 that they may fear You all the days that they live in the land which You gave to our fathers. 1 Kings 8:37-40
Do you see what Solomon is saying here? He says; “Lord if we find ourselves under Your judgement but if we turn back and You alone know our hearts and if You see that we are coming with sincerity to You and we repent and confess and turn to this temple and seek Your face in heaven ,then Lord forgive and act and restore that we might fear Your name.”
And then in 2 Chronicles 7:13-14 we have some similar verses and these are very well known, but I want to remind you of them. The Lord says this; “When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people, if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
What a glorious promise. God has said no matter what state His people find themselves in, if they come to Him, in true repentance of sin, seeking His face, humbling themselves (for our greatest need is to be humble in the Presence of God the problem is our own pride, but if we come in that way humbling ourselves) then for them, it meant that God would take away the curses and heal their land as a nation.
Well what about us ? Now I want to turn you to the book of James Ch 4:7-10 We are not promised that if we seek God’s face God will take away corona virus. But we are promised that if we humble ourselves as God’s people under the mighty hand of God that as God’s people He will lift us up and He will draw near to us. If we confess our sins to one another there will be healing of relationships and blessing.
“Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you, Cleanse your hands you sinners; and purify your hearts you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” James 4:7-10
Brothers and sisters, James was writing at a time when there was much exploitation going on .The rich were exploiting the poor. He was writing to a people who had let their tongues run away with themselves. There was an awful lot of gossip. And so James in his little letter addresses the sins of God’s people. He addresses the sin of the tongue, he addresses the sin of materialism, he addresses the sin of gossip. He addresses the sin of partiality and of favouritism. He tells them that their religion must be true….. true religion is to visit the orphan and widow in their distress and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. He talks about a faith that must be accompanied by works for faith without works is dead. And so it is a clarion call to repentance amongst God’s people. And the wonderful truth is that if we humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. He will lift us up. I wonder if we are double-minded in any way? Do we say we love God and His word, do we say we love Him and yet practise known sin, are unrepentant of our ways?
The second passage is from James ch 5:16-18 . The apostle says this; “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.”
This is glorious. Here is Elijah – a man just like us, with a nature just like ours. He had the same propensities to sin like us, the same frailties that you and I experience, yet he was a righteous man. He trusted in God and followed him and was fervent in prayer and God in His goodness and His mercy listened to these fervent prayers. God shut up the heavens for three and a half years in answer to his prayers and then opened the heavens again and it rained in answer to his prayers.
Do you see that the context of this verse is “church relationships”? Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you might be healed. You know if there are grievances, if there are upsets, if there are things that are hindering you relationship with God and your fellowship with your fellow believer, the Lord has said to put it right, don’t wait, and He has also said to then seek Him in prayer. You see the corona virus is putting us into our homes. Now when we are in our homes the pattern of life changes. The rhythm of life alters. That means we have time to reflect. We don’t just go on in the same normal routine of life, going from activity to activity. This is a time to take stock and a time if needed, when we can know real spiritual healing amongst us. I must do that and you must do that. We must all examine ourselves, take stock of where we are spiritually, then cast ourselves on the Lord who has promised to do great and mighty things.
So we have looked at 2 Old Testament passages and we have looked at James and the principle is this. God’s people when you are in a fix, God’s people when you are going through trying times. God’s people when His hand is heavy upon you and upon the church. Well come back to him and humble yourself and He will lift You up. God is certainly speaking to the church.
But what is God saying to the world? It is certainly a wake-up call. As human beings we prop up ourselves on different things. Many prop themselves up on their own finances – and what has happened? Well this corona virus - this microscopic organism- is causing economic chaos. The pound fell to its lowest point since 1985. Stock markets are plummeting throughout the world. There is no longer financial security and some are facing redundancy. We are learning that we cannot rely on money. Then there is that other god – there is the god of materialism and wealth. But there is the god of health- God is also dealing with this. Do we trust in our ability to diet and exercise and look after ourselves, the NHS, and doctors and nurses and medicines assuming that we will just carry on until old age? Well this pandemic is teaching us that health is not guaranteed and this pandemic is saying to trust in God alone. It is saying to put away our idols of health and wealth and prosperity. Turn to God the only constant. And then there is leisure and pleasure, So many people live for the pleasures of this world. No longer can we go to the cinema or to the theatre. Football matches are all cancelled, Euro 2020 is postponed and so we could go on. Where will we find our pleasure and our happiness? Will we find it in God alone?
Great fear has taken hold of many. My wife was outside of Aldi and heard one woman saying that she will need to see a counsellor once all this is over, her mental health is so bad. There are many who are tremendously fearful because all the props of health, wealth and prosperity are being taken away. But I want to encourage you to. It is our opportunity as Christians to point people to God. There are some servants of God who are being given great opportunities. I have told some of you about the Italian pastor who has been preaching from his block of flats to his neighbours and they were on their balconies and listening! People who would never normally go to an evangelical church. That is extraordinary. People normally would not listen and yet due to this crisis they have a listening ear. Then there is a man called Jeremy Marshall who has been a city banker for many years. Howard and Kath know him and how he has supported many people and mission organisations over the years. But now he has terminal cancer. He is seeking to reach out to his city banker friends and lawyers. He had organised some meetings for them to introduce the book he has written. He assumed because of coronavirus that the meetings would be cancelled, But no – they are going to listen to this Christian man who was once among them via the internet to. So we can pray for him.
We can pray for the cities and kingdoms of this world. Do you remember Abraham. He was deeply burdened for Sodom and Gomorrah. He said Lord if there are 50 if there are 40 Lord spare it..if there are 10 Lord spare the city for the sake of the righteous, have mercy! And we can pray in that way, “Lord your judgements are falling but Lord have mercy.” So through personal testimony, through witness, and prayer we can look to God. How Abraham prayed and interceded for others!
What is God saying about the return of the Lord Jesus Christ? If you are a Bible scholar you know that the last times are the time between Christ’s ascension right up to his second coming. But the Bible speaks about the last days of the last days. Listen to the words of our Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 24:6-8. “You will hear of wars and rumours of wars. See that you are not troubled, for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginnings of sorrows.”
So my beloved friends we are called to read the signs of the times, to consider what is happening, to look up. Listen to Jesus’s words to his disciples in Luke 21:28 “Now when these things begin to happen look up and lift up your heads because your redemption draws near.” When these things begin to happen, lift up your heads for the return of Christ is imminent. Yes no man knows the day or the hour. And He will come as a thief in the night. We know the sky will light up with His glory from east to west like lightning when He comes. We as God’s people are called to be ready, we are called to work whilst it is day. We are called to be like those 5 wise virgins with our lamps burning, reading the signs of the times, expectantly waiting the return of our Saviour. Oh that that would be true of you and for me. It is not easy in the normal and new routine of life but let us consider Christ and think much of Him and His return.
Well think about it. It is quite remarkable that God has used a microscopic virus, a tiny virus, invisible to the naked eye to shake up the financial systems of this world and the hearts of men and women. But we remember as Christians that we are receiving an unshakeable kingdom. All around may give way. But our feet are firm on the Rock, the Lord Jesus Christ. God is a refuge for us a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be removed and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth.” “Be still and know that I am God.”
Remember that prayer of Solomon that I cited at the beginning in 1 Kings chapter 8. His desire was that men would come to fear the name of the Lord. God is sending corona virus surely so that we as His people might fear His name, repenting of sin calling upon Him and having our assurance in Him strengthened. He is surely sending the corona virus to shake the world that people everywhere might seek His face. Now may we truly be bold, loving and attractive. May the holiness of our lives point others to Christ. May we truly be good neighbours to those around us.
Billy Graham was once asked what God was doing in the world. His response was this, “Don’t you think that God has abdicated His throne – he has not! He is still on the throne, and those of us who have put our trust in Him have put our trust in Him alone. I don’t put my trust in Washington. I don’t put my trust in the United Nations I don’t put my trust in myself or my money. I put my trust in Jesus Christ. When everything else fails and shatters He is there.” Can you say that also? God is shaking the nations. May it be that you have an unshakeable faith.
Remind yourself of this truth that the Dutch prime minister Abraham Kaiper once said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”….. “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” Not one microbe of this organism shall enter your body except by the permission of God. God is in control of the corona virus. He is Sovereign over all, we trust in Him. Isaiah says this, “Do not fear for I am with you. I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you with my righteous hand.” Yes, “if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will hear their land.” Yes let us seek His face in repentance and prayer but let us also have this unshakeable confidence in God alone that He will never leave us. He is with us at this time. “I will lift up my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.”
Brothers and sisters let us pray.
Concluding Prayer (Audio Only)
Very kind thanks to Jenny Love, who has typed out the sermon notes!