Today is the 20th Sunday of 2020. This is our 10th Sunday out of our sanctuaries, the same number we were in at the beginning of the year. There is an ancient curse, “May you live in interesting times.” Well, we undeniably are living in interesting times and they are definitely starting to feel like a curse. The novelty has certainly worn off this so-called novel coronavirus. You can hear the increasing annoyance and frustration, people chafing under the restraints. We see it on the news with protests and rallies and lawsuits and people defying orders. We are all wanting to resume corporate worship and wondering when that can happen. In the light of this growing angst toward those in authority I want to reflect with you this morning what Scripture has to say about government authority. It is not my intention to whack the beehive, but to give us some clarity and guidance as we seek to manage our thoughts, actions and emotions in these interesting times. Our text this morning is one of the two principle passages in NT on this topic, the other one being Romans 13. I commend both of these to you for your continued study, reflection and prayer.
This is a pretty challenging Mother’s Day for several reasons. For some mothers their children and grandchildren can’t come and visit or have dinner or share the day. For some mothers that would put their health at risk. You have to settle for phone calls and cards. For other mothers it is sort of an opposite problem. They have all the kids are around all the time and the added stress of trying to figure out homework and homeschooling and juggle everything else. I am hearing some stories of real tension and burnout. Rather than have everyone around, you would like a little peace and quiet, a day off from being mom. On top of the home and family concerns come added financial pressures, added relational pressures, and depressing news 24/7. Then there are those who wish they could be moms and those who have lost their moms. To call this Mother’s Day happy might be a stretch. For some there isn’t a lot to be happy about, not much to laugh at. So a sermon with the title, How to Laugh at the Future, comes off sounding rather pie in the sky, especially on Mother’s Day 2020. For some thoughts of the future make us sad or want to cry. And it’s not just moms. All of us have been overtaken by the unknown and this particular version of the unknown has a lot of death associated with it. Life seems more risky now than ever. Covid-19 has created a future that is fearful. How can we laugh at that?
I don’t know how many times I have read this story recorded twice in Scripture as I have read through the Bible, but never have I considered how much there is here for us especially in a time like ours. We have already squeezed a lot of juice out of this story about David and the great pestilence. Today we will pick some more relevant fruit off of this tree. We have already seen how God is in all that happens. God’s anger was kindled against Israel because of her sin and disobedience and idolatry. God incited David through His agent Satan, to take a senseless censes. Rather than count on God, David counted his fighting men. We have seen the result of sin that leads to great suffering and lots of deaths. We have seen the sweeping impact of God’s judgment and talked about the solidarity of suffering we are experiencing in this worldwide virus. That solidarity of suffering really took a huge step forward in our community this week with the cancelation of the fair this August. My heart sank, what a blow to so many kids. Kids have been spared from the virus itself, but not from its effects. Last week we talked about how sin always has consequences and leaders’ sins impact whole nations. But we saw the great blessing and hope that is ours because with our God, mercy wraps around wrath and responds to repentance. David manned up, he did what men do, he took responsibility. Sure, Israel was guilty, sure God brought this upon David and Israel because of Israel’s guilt. But David took all the blame, Lord, lay this all on me. The buck stops here. This is what Jesus did, He stepped up, took responsibility, was willing for God to lay all our sins on Him, to let the shepherd die for all of the sheep rather than all the sheep die. This morning we are switching over to the parallel telling of this story in I Chronicles 21. Here the writer gives us a fuller description of what happens with more details. We will see three incredible results that come out of this great crisis.
I am finding my study of II Samuel to be a fruitful blessing and the more I dig into it the more I am amazed at how relevant and timely it is for us in the midst of this Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, so much so that I realized the end of this chapter which I was going to skip is also timely, so we will take that up next week. I hope you will read and pray over and meditate on this chapter and what God would say to us through it.
History shows us nearly every generation has its defining tragedy, some event that defines and exposes and shapes a nations character and conduct. Just the last century reveals several. The 9/11 Twin Towers terrorist attack, Sept. 11, 2001. The Vietnam War, 60s-70s. The assassination of JFK, November 1963. WWII The Stock Market crash and Great Depression, 1929. The sinking of the Titanic April 14, 1912. Along with events like those, there have also been countless plagues and epidemics. Again, just in the last century there has been the swine flu, the bird flu, Ebola, and the great Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, to which news reports have made many references. As I said last week epidemics and pandemics are not unprecedented. There have been countless plagues and pestilences all through human history. In fact, I dare say there has never been a hundred-year span of time without at least one. Biblical history bears this out. In the Bible the words plague, and pestilence occur over 130 times. The first time is in Genesis 12 when God afflicted Pharaoh’s house with great plagues because he had taken Sarai, Abram’s wife, into his palace, not knowing she was married. Then of course there were the ten great plagues that were visited on another Pharaoh many years later in Egypt, by Moses (Exodus 7-11). The tenth one killed a member of every Egyptian household.
There is a word that has snuck into our vocabulary over the past couple of months. We are hearing this word used a lot lately by politicians, the news media, medical people. In fact, you could almost say that the frequency of the use of this word is unprecedented. That’s the word, unprecedented. And of course, what is being called unprecedented is the Covid-19 pandemic. The word means without precedent, unique, unparalleled, without previous instance. Nothing like it before. Cancelling the CRC Synod meeting is unprecedented in our 160 year history. Now there is some truth to that. None of us in our life time have experienced anything quite like what we are going through now. It has some of the financial implications of the great depression, some of the life restrictions like the rationing and blackouts during WWII, some of the fear of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, some of the long school closures like the blizzard of 1950. But when you put all of that into one event and then spread it all over the globe it can certainly have an unprecedented feel to it. This will go down in history as a recognizable seismic event. One for the history books. One you young people will tell your kids and grandkids. But any student of history will tell you this pandemic is not so unprecedented in human history. There have been countless plagues and pestilences, epidemics and pandemics. Millions of people died in the Spanish flu and in various bubonic plagues and many others. Scripture says there is nothing new under the sun, except one thing, one truly unprecedented event, one event like no other before it or after it. One event without parallel.
Why are we in the garden on Palm Sunday? Remember we have been focusing on Satan’s attacks and lies, first on us by saying “did God really say,” and twisting Scripture. Then we looked at Satan’s attack on Jesus in the three temptations where Satan was again twisting Scripture. Now we are finishing with two other times when Jesus faced serious, strong temptations, last week from Peter telling Jesus He would never suffer as the Son of God. And now this week when the Son of God wrestles in a garden with the temptation to avoid suffering if possible. Human history began in a garden. Human history was completely rewritten in a garden. The first Adam ignored the will of God and results were disastrous. The second Adam sought the will of God and the results were hard but very good. Adam ate of the fruit in the garden and plunged us all into sin and death. Jesus agreed to drink of the cup in the garden and raise us all to holiness and life. In the first garden sin and Satan won and the curse was begun. In the second garden sin and Satan lost and the curse was about to be broken. Adam was put to the test in the garden and failed miserably. Jesus was put to the supreme test of His life and triumphed. We come to one of the most powerfully moving and emotionally charged scenes in the life of Jesus, certainly one of the most human scenes.
Peter makes a stunningly clear and bold confession. You are the Son of God, having the same character and nature and power as God the Father. You are the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one of God who will save His people from their sins. Jesus is exceedingly pleased and praises Peter while at the same time making it clear that anytime a person declares the truth about Jesus they have been enabled to do so by God through His Holy Spirit. Have we made this profession? Can you say this out loud in sincere faith with all your heart? Then know this, that is the hand of the living God in your life. God has touched your heart and opened the blind eyes of a sinner.
Let me remind us where we are in our Lenten series since we took a break from it last week and the week before seems like a two months ago with all we have been going through. We have been looking at Satan’s attack on Jesus through three temptations in the wilderness. After 40 days of fasting, Satan goes straight for Jesus’ stomach and urges him to turn some stones into bread. After all the Son of God has the power and certainly should not have to suffer and go starving. But Jesus answers, “Man shall not live by toilet paper alone, but by the Word of God.” That’s my loose translation of the Greek. But actually it isn’t so far off. We don’t live by what we think we need most, we live by what God says we need most, the substance of His Word. Then Satan decided to tempt Jesus with Scripture and quoted from Psalm 91 to get Jesus to jump off the church steeple and show His glory when a legion of God’s angels rush down to save Him and keep Him from suffering. But Jesus has some better verses about not being tempted to tempt God. So third time is charm, right? Satan pulls out all the stops, loads both barrels, pushes all the chips in. This is the big one.