A few further reflections written in the days if Covid-19
MAGNIFYING THE LORD
Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together!’ [Psalm 34:3]
I wonder what it is that we are currently most preoccupied by, what it is that most fills our minds.
The majority of us, no doubt, will be all too aware of a certain virus that has been getting a lot of airtime recently. In contrast, it is significant how few column inches have been given over to the things of God.
For sure, over the Easter weekend, there was some reporting regarding how churches have responded to the current pandemic but, in terms of what God himself is actually doing, I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that the news channels have been completely silent.
Of course none of us are surprised by this but we too need to guard against making the same mistake as the media and allowing ourselves to think and read more about Coronavirus than we do about God.
The Bible not infrequently talks about magnifying the Lord. But how are we to do this? Are we really called to make God bigger than he already is?
John Piper helpfully guides our thinking when he points out that we can magnify things in two ways – with a microscope and a telescope.
A microscope is used to make something that is small look bigger than it really is. Whilst this has value when examining those things too small for us to see unassisted, this is not the way we should magnify God.
A telescope, on the other hand, brings into view things that, though they may appear small to the naked eye, are actually very big. They enable us to see things as they really are. This is how we should magnify God.
Many see God, if they acknowledge his existence at all, as of little importance in their daily lives. But the truth is very different. By magnifying God, drawing attention to him by the way we speak and act, continuing to trust and hope in Him even in times that are difficult, we play our part in helping others see him as the ‘great big God’ he really is.
The media magnifies the Covid-19 virus as with a microscope, making it all important. It is, of course, of some significance – after all it might, if it pleases God to do so, be the cause of our death. But it is, nonetheless, infinitesimally small, both in size and in significance when compared with God.
God however, the one who, if we do die in the coming weeks, will most certainly raise us to life, is infinitely large. And of infinite significance too. So let’s be preoccupied by him, let’s be ‘looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.’ [Hebrews 12:2].
Because that is the reality. Our Heavenly Father really is far more worthy of our attention, and that of all those with whom we interact, than anything else. Let’s make that apparent today.
So come, ‘magnify the LORD with me and let us exalt his name together!’
John 11:35 is, famously, the shortest verse in the Bible. And yet these two words contain so much that is helpful in these days when daily we are told of far too many people dying. Here are just three things we can learn.
1. Jesus is somebody who cares. He weeps for the death of his friend Lazarus and, no doubt, at the sadness his loss has caused all those who also loved him. Jesus weeps with those who weep’ [Romans 12:15]. It’s good to know that our God is not a remote deity who lacks compassion but a loving Heavenly Father who comes alongside us in our sadness. Jesus, I believe, still weeps, daily at the news of all those who have died of Coronavirus.
2. Jesus’ tears reassure us that it’s right for us to weep too, that Christianity isn’t a religion of the stiff upper lip in which grief is dismissed with insensitive assertions that ‘all things work together for the good’ [Romans 8:28] even though that is gloriously true for those who love God and are called according to his purpose. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13 Paul writes in order that his readers ‘may not grieve as others do who have no hope.’ With these words he says we are to grieve, but that we should grieve hopefully. No doubt Jesus knew as he wept that he would soon raise Lazarus back to life. He grieved, but not as one who had no hope. As the Covid-19 death toll climbs we should weep, but weep with hope. Because there will be better days.
3. As Jesus weeps, not only did he know that he would raise Lazarus, but that he himself would soon die. He knew that his raising of Lazarus from the dead would be the act which would provoke those who opposed him so vehemently to start making their plans to put him to death. [John 11:53]. Their hardness of heart must also have saddened Jesus and, quite possibly, added to his tears. Jesus knew that the cost of raising Lazarus to life would be his own death. But it wasn’t just the cost of raising Lazarus to life that was paid for the day that Jesus was crucified. It was the price that had to be paid to guarantee our own resurrection too, even if that death occurs during this current pandemic.
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” [John 11:25]. This is wonderfully true, and it is this truth that will enable us to grieve hopefully, sustaining us, not only when those we love die but also as we approach our own death too.
Regardless of the cause of death, Coronavirus or cancer, old age or accident, there will still be a place for tears, our own, those who love us, and, if John 11:35 teaches us anything, those of Jesus too. But these tears will come to an end – because Jesus wept that we might know eternal joy – he died that we might have everlasting life.
ON NOT NEGLECTING TO GATHER TOGETHER
One of the distinctive aspects of Christianity is the belief that, after death, we have more to look forward to than a merely spiritual existence.
To know that there will be a bodily resurrection, that, like Jesus himself, we will be made up of flesh and blood after we too are raised from the dead, is, in these days of social isolation, very good news. Because don’t we all miss that real life contact with others.
Whilst Skype, Zoom and the rest of the internet’s many ways of meeting virtually have their merits, merits for which we can all be grateful for allowing the degree of interaction they do, such interaction is, nonetheless, not the same as meeting together physically.
When one is finding life difficult it is good to know that someone is thinking about you, but it is better still to have someone physically with you, someone who is, literally, there for you. Similarly, whilst lovers who are separated may draw comfort from the letters they send each other, so much more precious, on account of their tangibility, than emails, bits of paper are nonetheless a poor substitute for being together in person.
In order for relationships to be all that they are supposed to be, there needs to be physical contact. That’s why we kiss, a physical act of love as well as a sign of that love. Even more so, the act of marriage, that sign and seal of the covenant relationship by which the Bible tells us two people unite to become one flesh, is an intensely physical act which cannot be undertaken whilst apart.
Which is why we must not get too used to virtual church. During the current lock down, most churches are currently offering some form of online service. This is a good and valuable endeavour, one which can offer much in difficult circumstances. But we must not mistake it for real church.
Real church, functioning as it should, involves the physical gathering together of God’s people. It’s not something that can be properly done apart. Like lovers who make weekly phone calls to one another, we should long to meet again on a Sunday morning, to know the intimacy that comes when we gather together as the body of Christ.
That’s why Hebrews 10:25 warns us to not neglect meeting together. Though we may not be able to do so at present, we should find ourselves missing that fellowship and eagerly looking forward to the day when we will once more be together. We should be longing to gather round the Lord’s table again, to participate in the physical act of the Lord’s supper. Breaking bread together and sharing the cup with one another, is a physical act. It is as we eat and drink the tangible that we experience the sign and seal of God’s love for us and together know intimate communion with Christ.
We were created to be in physical relationship with one another. No wonder then the depth of grief we feel when we are bereaved. But when we die, or when one who we love is taken, we can be comforted by the knowledge that the pain of separation that we will then feel so intensely, will be but temporary. One day we will be reunited and be able to physically hold one another once more.
‘Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. [1 Corinthians 15:51-52]
Our eternal future does not consist of our floating around in some disembodied form of ourselves. Ours will not be some virtual existence, a simulation of what we know today, On the contrary, what will be will be more real than what we currently experience. Though, at present, our outer self is daily wasting away [2 Corinthians 4:16], when we are raised Jesus Christ ‘will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body’ [Philippians 3:21]. We will have new bodies, bodies that are better than those we have at present and which, by virtue of their imperishability, will remain so for ever.
Just as when the current restrictions now preventing our meeting together are lifted, so too the restrictions imposed by death will only be temporarily. We will fellowship together once more. And so we look forward even now to gathering together, ‘a great multitude that no one [can] number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages’ [Revelation 7:9]
And what is more, not only will we be together, we will, on that great day, stand before the Lamb. We will forever be together with the Lord. [1 Thessalonians 4:17].
Though the lockdown restrictions are now gradually beginning to be eased, it’s going to be a while longer before they are lifted completely. We’re just going to have to be patient.
What an encouragement it is then to read Psalm 40, especially for those who, despite knowing they are saved, continue to find life a struggle. Because, whilst it is a psalm of King David and, therefore, one that serves to point us forward to Christ, it is also a psalm that reflects our story too.
As Christians, even though we can rejoice that we have been lifted out of the miry pit and had our feet set on a rock (v2), even though we can sing that new song that has been put in our mouth (v3), and even though we are greatly blessed as a result of having put our trust in God (v4), even so, troubles without number still surround us (v12).
That they do so does not question the reality of the salvation that we already have. We have been saved but there is still a need for us to go on being saved. Furthermore God in his sovereignty is sometimes pleased to lovingly send difficulty to those who are his, even those whose walk with Him is the closest. Consider Job. It was precisely because there was ‘none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fear[ed] God and turn[ed] away from evil’ [Job 1:8] that he was singled out as the one that Satan was permitted to torment.
Though, like Job, we may not understand the difficulties we have to face, we can be sure that, because our loving Heavenly Father allows them to come our way, ultimately they are always for our good. And we need not doubt that one day we will know what it is to be fully saved because Jesus Christ is able to ‘save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.’ [Hebrews 7:25] The truth is that, in addition to this pandemic eventually coming to an end, we can be sure that everything that is currently wrong will one day be made forever right. Because poor and needy though we may find ourselves this morning, the Lord still thinks of us (v17). Even as he prays those prayers that still we all so badly need.
And so, despite the difficulties we currently experience and the sadness we continue to know, let us, confident of our future, rejoice and be glad in him today (v16), let us speak of his righteousness, faithfulness and love (v10) and may he be exalted (v14) as we wait patiently for the LORD.
For he will hear our cry (v1).
START SPREADING THE NEWS
One of the factors upon which great store is put by those seeking to advise on how best to manage the current coronavirus pandemic is the so called reproduction number, R. It is a measure of disease transmission that refers to the average number of secondary infections produced by a single infected person. When R is below 1, the number of people infected will reduce whilst, when it is above 1, that number will increase. The current requirement to self isolate when one has symptoms, and practice social distancing when one hasn’t, is an attempt to reduce the value of R and with it the number of coronavirus cases. Another factor is the existence of so called super spreaders, those folk who, for whatever reason, are particularly effective in passing on the virus, infecting more people than most.
Now, whilst none of us wish to be those who spread Covid-19, we should all be those who desire to spread the word of God and ‘infect’ others with the good news of Jesus. Because, compared to merely contracting the coronavirus, it is a far more dangerous thing for us not to hear God speak. Proverbs 29:18 tells us that, ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish’. The nature of the Hebraic parallelism employed in the rest of the verse makes clear that, by ‘vision’, the writer means God’s word, a view that is made clearer still by verses like 1 Samuel 3:1 where we read ‘And the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision’.
When it comes to passing on the gospel, I wonder what the value of R is for us. In the early church it was certainly above 1. In the book of Acts we read that in those days there was a bold proclamation of the gospel. And as a result ‘the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem’ [Acts 6:7].
A big part of the book of Acts is the story of how the word of God spread. We read of how ‘the word of God increased and multiplied’ [Acts 12:24], how ‘the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region’ [Acts 13:49], and of how ‘the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily’. [Acts 19:20]. That same word must continue to spread, to increase and prevail mightily, today.
This week a government minister said that one of the reasons that churches needed to remain closed was because of the concern that the exhalation involved in the singing of hymns posed an increased risk of virus spread. If, then, the exhalation involved as we exalt the Lord as we sing on Sundays can spread the coronavirus, how much more can we spread the gospel if we exalt the Lord as we daily exhale in speech?
‘We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.’ [2 Corinthians 5:20]. What an amazing privilege! When we proclaim the gospel, God is speaking through us. And as we speak, God will, by his Holy Spirit, ensure that his word does not return to him void. ‘For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall [God’s] word be that goes out from [his] mouth; it shall not return to [him] empty, but it shall accomplish that which [he] purpose[s], and shall succeed in the thing for which [he] sent it.’ [Isaiah 55:10-11].
God works by his Spirit through his word. As his word is spoken, God, by his spirit breaths new life into those he is pleased to give it. Just as when ‘the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature’ [Genesis 2:7], so it is ‘with everyone who is born of the Spirit’ [John 3:8]. God breathes new life into those who were dead in their ‘trespasses and sins’ [Ephesians 2:1]. ‘In [Christ] you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit’ [Ephesians 1:13]. If others are to experience the same new birth that Jesus says we all must, then it will be a result of the Holy Spirit bringing it about as the gospel is spoken.
Whether or not somebody ‘catches’ the word is up to the Holy Spirit but we are called to be “contagious’ by exposing others to that word. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were ‘super spreaders’?. But if we are going to be those who ‘infect’ others with the gospel, we are, like those in the early church, going to have to use words because it is through words that Jesus is seen today. His beauty is displayed when we hear his voice, when we read his word or hear it preached. In Corinthians 4:4 Paul tells of how the light of the gospel displays the glory of Christ. Whilst the world says that ‘seeing is believing’, since ‘faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.’ [Romans 10:17], and given that ‘faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen’ [Hebrews 11:1], the truth is that ‘hearing is believing’. ‘We walk by faith, not by sight’ [2 Corinthians 5:7].
So let’s speak so that others might see and walk by faith too. Let’s seek to be highly contagious, to be those super spreaders. And let’s look to get our reproduction number up and pray that we might see ‘the Lord [adding] to [our] number day by day those who [are] being saved.’ [Acts 2:47]
Jesus commissioned us to ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation’ [Mark 16:15].
Let’s start spreading the news,
Let’s be leaving today.
Let’s be a part of it.
For further reflections see ‘Faith in the time of Coronavirus – 1’ by clicking here
For ‘Faith in the time of Coronavirus – 3’ click herehttps://peteaird.org/2020/07/18/faith-in-the-time-of-coronavirus-3/
For ‘Faith in the time of Coronavirus – 4’, click here