2 Kings 6 describes how the king of Syria was warring against Israel, but God kept telling the prophet Elisha the battle plans of the Syrian army. Frustrated with this, the Syrian king sent a “great army” to seize the prophet, and during the night the army surrounded the city where Elisha was staying. When Elisha’s servant came out in the morning, he was shocked and horrified to see the great army surrounding them! But Elisha calmed his servant and asked the Lord to open the servant’s eyes to the unseen reality around them. Suddenly the servant could see that “the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” The Lord went on to miraculously end the war without bloodshed on either side!
As I write this, New York has just experienced at least four days in the past week where the daily death toll from COVID-19 was over 700 people per day! Add that to the thirty-nine tornados that killed thirty some people this past weekend and it would seem as if our country is under attack! Like Elisha, we need a miracle from the Lord, but like Elisha’s servant, there are important unseen realities around us which most of us are blind to. Like Elisha’s servant we can’t see just how powerfully the Lord is working behind the scenes to orchestrate our salvation.
For many of us here in the United States, especially young Americans, we have been blind to our own mortality. The death total statistics are always about someone else, in another part of the world; right? Yet, the reality is, that even before COVID-19, each of us daily face potentially life-threatening circumstances; be it driving your car down the street or the case of the flu my son had a month ago. It just so happened that we were used to those things so our level of concern for them was much less, maybe even apathetic. I recently saw some statistics that cited that the flu is estimated to sicken some 4.1 million people in the US, causing as many as 60,000 deaths this year! (similar to the current projections for deaths in the US from the corona virus). Each year in the US over 38,000 people die in automobile accidents and an additional 4.4 million are injured. In 2018, some 67,367 people in the US died from drug overdoses, and each year over 88,000 alcohol related deaths occur! In 2017 over 862,000 babies lost their lives to abortion here in this country! Clearly, pain, suffering, and death were a big part of our world before the pandemic, but again, many of us were blind to the suffering around us and to the fact that we could actually become one of these statistics. Yes, COVID-19 is a big deal, but there are many other tragedies around the world that deserve our concern and prayers as well. Every one of these deaths is a tragedy, and every single person touched by these tragedies is someone God deeply cares about. The reality is that we all are frail creatures, and that the distance between this life and eternity is never very far from any of us. There are powers of evil in this world that would like to destroy us (for more on this, see my blog post “The Real War”). The good news though, is that we have a God that cares for us.
This brings us to the thing Elisha’s servant was blind to- God’s sovereignty over this world and his protection in our lives. We rush around consumed in our busy lives, and we have no clue just how often the hand of God has rescued us from physical danger! Some of us recall a time when a car swerved in front of us and we just missed a bad accident. Others recall stupid things done as kids, (jumping from roof to roof, sword fighting with sticks, etc.), and how these episodes could have ended. But there also are many things we never see: like the salmonella on the eggs we had for breakfast. Fortunately for us, God in his providence made sure we were taught to cook food properly and wash our hands. Then think of how many times over the years that you came into contact with the flu, but did not come down with the flu; or maybe you did come down with the flu, but God used the immune system he put in you to eliminate the virus quickly.
In Matthew 10:26-31 Jesus explains why those of us who love the Lord should have no fear. Part of the reason is because God knows us and our situation perfectly, and that there is never a moment in our lives when he is not in control. Verse 29 points out that not one small common sparrow is allowed to fall to the ground or die without God’s permission. Verse 30 explains that God knows every detail about us, even the ones we can’t know about ourselves, like how many hairs are on our head. You see, God is infinite in knowledge and power. He sees everything. He knows everything. He is in control of everything, even when this world seems out of control to us.
He knows whether you have contacted any COVID-19 virus today. He sees the exact moment the first virus enters a respiratory cell and pirates the cellular machinery to produce more COVID-19. He directs the dendritic cell to take up the virus particles, to present them to the T-lymphocytes. He is in the release of cytokines that cause inflammatory cells of all types to flood into the tissue where the virus is replicating. God was the one who directed just the right type of lymphocytes to be created within you when you were still in your mother’s womb that you would need in 2020. God foreknew at that time the exact type of lymphocyte you needed produce just the right antibody or develop into just the right cytotoxic T- cell line to help your body rid itself of COVID-19. God stored those unique lymphocytes in your immune system’s repertoire of cells for replication at just the right moment. This is because God foreknew before you were born that you would encounter COVID-19 in 2020 (Psalm 139:16), and he made plans to protect you. (stay tuned for another blog post detailing the amazing wonders God built into our immune systems)
God is always there with you in the battle, whether you are struggling against illness, whether you are struggling to pay your bills, or whether you are struggling to find hope in the future. Like the fiery army in the hills around Elisa, God has an unseen army fighting for you today, be it immune cells or angels! (note Psalm 91:11)
But there is a battle beyond the physical, beyond the clash of immune cell and virus, beyond the struggle for breath in our lungs; it is the struggle for the life or death of the human soul! This unseen battle is the most important reality of all! This is the reality on which God is focused. This is the reality, that all of us have sinned (Romans 3:23). Sin is simply rebelling against God and disobeying him. The Bible is clear that the punishment for sin is death (Romans 6:23). Sin results in eternal separation from God in a place called Hell! (Luke 16:19-31; Revelation 21:8; Matthew 25:41).
But God is so merciful, his love is so great, that even while we still lived as his enemies, God took the punishment for our sins so that we could live! (Ephesians 2:4-5; Romans 5:8) This is the story of Easter which we just celebrated this past weekend; this is the truth which brings us overwhelming hope in the midst of a deadly threat like the corona virus. It is the reality that the all-knowing, all-powerful, sovereign Creator of the universe stepped out of heaven, into human flesh as the man Jesus Christ and then willingly let himself be tortured to death in order to pay the penalty for our sin! Jesus didn’t stay dead, but triumphantly rose from the dead that first Easter! That is why Jesus could say in John 16:33 “… in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart: I have overcome the world!” If you could see the skies opened to the unseen reality of heaven, you would see the Lord Jesus sitting on the throne beckoning us to come to him for salvation, “so that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, express in his kindness to us..” (Ephesians 2:7)
The Bible is filled with comforting promises written to give us hope, joy, and courage in the midst of such a time as the COVID-19 pandemic. Just listen to the words of Psalm 91:2-9
“I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked. If you make the Most High your dwelling- even the Lord, who is my refuge…”
But note the qualifier- “If you make the Most High your dwelling..” God’s salvation is a gift, but we must receive it. We must come to Jesus in repentance (admitting your sin, asking for God’s forgiveness, and asking for his help in turning away from your sin) and then put your trust in Jesus. If our thoughts dwell on Jesus, on his love, on his power, on what he has done for you, then the Lord will be your “refuge and fortress.” You will see and experience the peace and power of the Lord in your life; even if this is the day he has determined to bring you home to experience the full extent of his love with him in heaven.
God is in complete control during this pandemic. We can’t know all the reasons for his allowing it to happen, for only God sees all the unseen realities in this world around us (Deuteronomy 29:29). But for some of us, God is using COVID-19 to open our eyes to our own mortality, to our need for the Lord’s salvation. For what good is it if a man is healed of COVID-19, gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? (Mark 8:36) “Today, if you hear [God’s] voice don’t harden your heart..) (Hebrews 3:7-8), run to him! Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you more than you can imagine! (1Peter 5:7)
For those of you who are mourning, who are grieving great loss; know that Jesus understands your pain better than anyone else, and he is grieving with you (John 11:33-36) For God is “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received form God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
Those of us at Grace Baptist Church are praying for you; and if you need someone to talk to, please give us a call.