How should Christians talk about God’s judgment in the midst of a crisis?
You’ve all seen the stereotype. On a busy street corner in a major city there he stands—a man with long gray hair and a long beard holding a sign that says, “The End Is Near…Repent!” He shouts out verses from the book of Revelation that no one listens to as they hurry by.
At the opposite end, there’s a news talk show that calls three religious leaders after a major disaster: a Jewish Rabbi, a Muslim Imam, and a liberal Bishop so and so. The question is posed: “Is this disaster a judgment from God?” There’s a lot of intelligent banter, but the conclusion is the same: God doesn’t judge because God is love and we should love one another in the midst of the disaster.
Obviously, neither of these are good answers to our question about how Christians should talk about God’s judgment in the midst of a crisis. The first assumes knowledge that only God knows and second ignores knowledge that God has given us.
Let’s work through what the Bible says about God’s judgment and then see how we can apply that in discussions with people wondering about God’s involvement in the current crisis or any personal trial. To begin, we need to see that the Bible clearly teaches that…
I recently read about a liberal preacher who said that we don’t have time to preach about the empty tomb, because there are more important things to preach about!
No true Christian would say that, because Christ’s empty tomb—His resurrection—is the most important thing! The question we want to ponder today is this, ”Why is the resurrection of Jesus Christ important for Christians?”
Last time we were looking at Colossians 2, and this Resurrection Sunday, we’ll return there. Remember that, in his letter to the Colossians, Paul was warning his readers about false teachers who were saying that Christ was not enough. More was necessary: secret knowledge, Old Testament rules and traditions, and even the worship of angels.
Last time we learned that Christ was enough and we are complete in Christ. Now, we are going to pick up where we left off. Turn to Colossians 2. We will only be looking at verses 12-14, but let’s read the verses fore and aft as well.
11 In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: 12 Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. 13 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; 14 Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; 15 And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it. (Colossians 2:11–15)
Turn in your Bible to Colossians 2.
If you were offered, free of charge, a rusty old car or a brand-new SUV, which would you choose?
If you were offered a job that paid minimum wage or a job that paid four times that with benefits, which would you choose?
If you were told that you could shop for an hour in any store and take away whatever you liked, would you choose a second-hand store or an upscale department store?
The answers here are obvious. You would be foolish to settle for the lesser when the greater is available to you.
But so often, we settle for less when it comes to our theology. When it comes to our relationship with Jesus Christ. We have have the riches of Christ available to us, but we settle for the world’s philosophies in many areas of our lives.
In the book of Colossians, Paul is writing to Christians who were in danger of settling for less.
Turn to Psalm 91 in your Bibles. Your Bible might have a heading over Psalm 91 that says something like, “Safety of Abiding in the Presence of God” or “Security of the One Who Trusts in the LORD” or “Assurance of God’s Protection.” This is a psalm that tells us that God will be our refuge, our fortress, our shield, and more.
In short, God will protect us. Let’s read the first four verses to get the flavor of the Psalm—
1 He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: My God; in him will I trust. 3 Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, And from the noisome pestilence. 4 He shall cover thee with his feathers, And under his wings shalt thou trust: His truth shall be thy shield and buckler. (Psalm 91:1–4)
Does this psalm promise us that COVID-19—or anything else, for that matter—will not hurt us if we trust in the Lord?
Work through this Psalm with me now. We’ll see the source of our security and the scope of our security. Then we’ll step back and work on how to correctly read Psalm 91.
The prophet Jeremiah saw the Babylonians come and sweep through his homeland. He saw God’s city—Jerusalem—fall before a foreign invader.
Like us today as we face a virus sweeping our nation, Jeremiah’s world was turned upside down. Shops were closed. Schools were dismissed. Travel forbidden by the new regime. People died.
It was out of this time that Jeremiah wrote the book of Lamentations which, as the name implies, is full of complaints, depressing remarks, and laments. But there is a hopeful gem in the middle of the book where Jeremiah writes:
21 This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. 22 It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. 23 They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:21–23)
What did Jeremiah do to get hope? He focused his mind on the character of God. That’s exactly what we need to do at this time as well! We need to recall to our minds the faithfulness and the goodness of God. That’s what we’ll do in this lesson: let’s recall to our minds the goodness of God, beginning in Exodus 33—
16 And when even was now come, his disciples went down unto the sea, 17 And entered into a ship, and went over the sea toward Capernaum. And it was now dark, and Jesus was not come to them. 18 And the sea arose by reason of a great wind that blew. 19 So when they had rowed about five and twenty or thirty furlongs, they see Jesus walking on the sea, and drawing nigh unto the ship: and they were afraid. 20 But he saith unto them, It is I; be not afraid. 21 Then they willingly received him into the ship: and immediately the ship was at the land whither they went. (John 6:16–21)
Like the disciples on the dark and dangerous sea, we live in a dark and dangerous time. The coronavirus, or COVID-19, is now regarded as a pandemic. Our nation is now under a national emergency.
The coronavirus crisis has people on one side scoffing and saying “Who’s afraid of a little flu?” and people on the other side saying that it’s time for government-run healthcare. It has excited those who love conspiracy theories and panicked many into buying toilet paper.
The coronavirus has caused much fear, and I won’t try to discount it—it’s something to be concerned about.
The passage that we have before us is a difficult one to place in the logical flow of the chapter. It starts with how the Pharisees loved money and ends with divorce and remarriage! How does it all fit together? I struggled with this passage and the connecting theme that I found was: how to be like a Pharisee.
14 And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him. 15 And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God. 16 The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it. 17 And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail. 18 Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery. (Luke 16:14–18)
Let’s look and see how to be like a Pharisee:
13 No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. (Luke 16:13)
Yusuf Ismail, the original “Terrible Turk,” was a wrestling legend even while he was alive in the 1890’s. In his first match, against a champion Frenchmen wrestler, he pinned his opponent in four—four—seconds.
In 1898, he came over to the United States on a tour, where he destroyed opponent after opponent. For this tour, he received a massive sum for the time, $10,000, which he demanded in gold, not cash. He put this 40 or 50 pounds of gold in a belt that he kept strapped around his waist.
On the return voyage to Europe, the ship collided with another ship, taking nearly 600 people down with her, including the Terrible Turk. It is assumed that he was too greedy to remove the heavy weight of gold from his waist, and drowned trying to swim to a lifeboat. (See https://www.eurozine.com/the-life-and-death-of-the-terrible-turk/)
Money is something that can drag us down in many ways…including spiritually. Paul wrote—
10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. (1 Timothy 6:10)
How do we allow money to drag us down like the Terrible Turk was?
Sometimes Jesus’s parables are a tad confusing, and this one is no exception. It appears that Jesus is making a good example out of someone that does a corrupt and dishonest thing. It has bothered some enough that they have speculated that the steward wasn’t actually doing anything that dishonest.
But Jesus wasn’t making a good example of this dishonest man—He doesn’t expect us to copy him in his dishonesty, but Jesus does draw some lessons for us from him. First, we’ll work through the parable of the unjust steward and then look at the two lessons we can learn.
The parable of the two sons show us two kinds of people—the moral stickler and the moral rebel. The elder son is a stickler for the rules. The younger son is, of course, the moral rebel.
The moral stickler looks at the moral rebel and says, “The problem with our nation is you immoral people who don’t respect authority.”
The moral rebel looks at the moral stickler and says, “The real problem is you bigoted, homophobic people. We need to have progressive polices and tolerance in order to really be happy.”
These two patterns of living are followed by everyone to some degree—we have a leaning one way or another.
Some people will even begin one way and, not finding the satisfaction that they thought would be there, slingshot to the other side. There are also those who live the life of a moral stickler on the outside, but maintain the life of a moral rebel in secret. They may even make the news when their life is exposed!
Let’s take a look at these two patterns of living by looking at…