Faith in the time of Coronavirus – 4

ON BEING BUSY

‘So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.’

Psalm 90:12

I won’t keep you, I know you’re busy, probably increasingly so. But busyness isn’t a new problem. Back in 1660 Blaise Pascal wrote:

‘I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room’.

Pascal says, we are all too busy to be happy. But interestingly he asked the question as to why we are busy and came up with the answer that we keep ourselves busy to distract ourselves from the fact that we are ultimately going to die. He writes:

‘Despite [his] afflictions man wants to be happy…But how shall he go about it? The best thing would be to make himself immortal, but as he cannot do that, he has decided to stop thinking about it.’

But if some are busy distracting themselves in an attempt to forget that they will someday die, others, just as foolishly, are busy spending their lives trying to avoid death at any cost. I see it in my work as a doctor and currently we are all now seeing it as we continue to try to cope with Covid- 19. And we are getting ourselves into all kinds of trouble as a result.

Because an unhealthy and excessive fear of death enslaves us. Whilst it is perhaps only human to be anxious at the prospect of death, only ever acting is ways that reduce our chance of dying serves only to make us less humane. Furthermore, slavishly submitting to a new set of rules, as well as failing to keep us safe forever, will succeed only in making the lives that we do have less worth living.

So if it is foolish to try to forget that we will die and detrimental to obsess over it constantly in the hope that it can be avoided, what should we do about death?

The answer is to listen to Psalm 90 and in particular hear verse 12 urging us to recognise the shortness of our lives – if we want to have a heart of wisdom that is. For the wise do not pretend that death doesn’t exist or that it can be avoided but look to the one who can save us, not from death, but through it.

Only by taking refuge in the one who has ‘been our dwelling place through all generations’ can we be free from the fear of death. Only by acknowledging the reality of God’s anger towards sinners and our need of the salvation that is found in Christ alone can we be made glad ‘for as many years as we have seen trouble’. Only by finding satisfaction in the ‘unfailing love’ of the one who is ‘from everlasting to everlasting’ may we ‘sing for joy and be glad all our days’.

Praise God that all these things are possible because of Jesus, the one in whom we have a certain hope. Jesus said “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. [John 11:25-26]. Jesus did not come back from the dead after a brief visit there only to have to return at some later date. Rather he defeated death by passing through it and emerging safely on the other side. Our hope then should be that though we die, yet shall we live, that we are, as I say, saved, not from death, but through death, by living and believing in the one who has gone before us.

Therein lies freedom that will last.

Therein lies life in all its fullness.

Therein lies the favour of the Lord our God that rests on us.

Therefore, in the light of these things, if we are busy may it be that we are busy ‘serving God, in the strength that he supplies’. May he thus establish the work of all our hands ‘in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.’ [1 Peter 4:11]


ON WHY WE SHOULD HAVE CONFIDENCE THA5 GOD WILL KEEP HIS PROMISES

God is working his purposes out as year succeeds to year – including this year despite how abnormal and unexpected 2020 it turning out to be.

God frequently works outside expected norms. What could be more unexpected, what could be more abnormal, than his saving of wretched sinners through the death of his son on a cruel Roman cross.

But Christ crucified, though seemingly foolishness to us is in fact the power of God and the wisdom of God. [1 Corinthians 1:14). We need to remember that we are surprised by God only to the extent that we have a wrong idea of what is normal. The problem lies with us. It is we who are abnormal, we who are, because of our sinfulness, prone to act in ways contrary to how we should be expected to live.

We too easily forget about grace and mercy. God never surprises himself by the way he acts. Thousands of years before it happened the death of the Messiah was prophesied as the means by which he would one day save sinners.

Though it frequently does, that a gracious and merciful God should keep his promises should not be something that surprises us. That he does is something only to be expected. Even so, there are those who will ask, ‘What evidence is there that God will, in the future, deliver on all his promises? How can we be sure?’

This is a valid question and one that is important for us to be able to answer since it asks why we should have faith in God. Christian faith is all about believing that what God says is true, trusting that, however improbable it may sometimes seem, God is in control and what he says will happen will one day come to pass. If we cannot answer how we can be sure that he will keep his promises, ours is a blind faith, one that is not based on solid foundations. Peter urges us to be ‘prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks [us] for a reason for the hope that is in [us]’ [1 Peter 3:15]. Since ‘faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen’ [Hebrews 11:1], if we are to have any assurance at all, it is all the more important that we have solid reasons for our faith when what we do see seems only to be that things are going badly wrong.

So, in no particular order, here are some of my reasons why we can trust God.

  1. Past record. When God has made promises in the past he has kept them. He promised as far back as the garden of Eden that one day a Messiah would come who would bruise Satan’s head even as his own heel was bruised [Genesis 3:15]. This promise was kept in the coming of Jesus Christ. And throughout the Old Testament there are countless other promises made in the form of prophecies about Jesus. These include that he would be born of a virgin in the town of Bethlehem, that he would be betrayed by a friend and sold for thirty pieces of silver, that he would be struck and spat upon, pierced through the hands, feet and side, that not one of his bones would be broken, that lots would be cast for his clothing and that he would be resurrected on the third day. The fact that all these promises were kept assures us that we can trust what God will keep all that he promises.
  2. God’s nature. Because God is by nature good and true, it is impossible to think of anything more certain than his word. It is not possible for the God who defines what is true to lie, or the God who defines what is good to break a promise. ‘For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.’ [Hebrews 6:13-20]
  3. God is omnipotent, all powerful, and as such, unlike us he never makes a promise he is unable to fulfil because of any limitation in himself. The answer to the rhetorical question of Genesis 18:14, ‘Is anything too hard for the LORD?’ is a categorical No!’
    Likewise God is omniscient, all knowing and so, unlike us, he never makes a promise without fully appreciating all that there is to know and thus is never surprised by circumstances which might prevent him acting in the way he has said he will.
  4. God is God and there is no other, He is God and there is is none like him. He declares ‘the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ [Isaiah 46:10]. There is therefore a sense in which, when he makes a promise he is declaring what will be, and he says these things from the position of someone who already knows what will be. As such his promises are declaring what he knows will be and are thus utterly dependable.
  5. God’s word creates what it commands. His word is powerful. When God said ‘Let there be light’ there was light. He spoke and what he spoke came into existence. When Jesus said to the storm ‘Be still’ the storm was stilled, when he said to Lazarus, ‘Come out’ the dead man came out. Creation has no option to obey what God demands. If God speaks it happens, therefore if God speaks his words are bound to come true.
  6. Ultimately we can trust God’s promises because of the resurrection of Jesus, the evidence for which is undeniable. The God who can raise from the dead the one whom he sent to die for us is revealed to be a powerful God of love, one who can be trusted to fulfil all the wonderful promises he has made to us because he is good enough and strong enough to do so. All God’s promises ‘find their “Yes” in Jesus Christ’ [1 Corinthians 1:20]. His promises are therefore sure for ‘the word of God is not bound’ [2 Timothy 2:8], not even by any limitations in us for even ‘if we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself.’ [2 Timothy 2:13].

There are no doubt many other evidences that our God will deliver on all his promises but these are at least a few that can give us great confidence, even in the midst of a global pandemic, will not fail to bring about what he says he will.

We can indeed look forward with eager expectation to the time when the great promise of the gospel will be fulfilled. As the old hymn puts it well, ‘God is working his purposes out as year succeeds to year’, and were we to sing it now we could do so confidently for, since it is based on another of God’s promises [Habakkuk 2:14], it is undoubtedly true that ‘nearer and nearer draws the time, the time that shall surely be, when the earth shall be filled with the glory of God, as the waters cover the sea.’

Personally I can’t wait.


ON BATTLING SIN

And so the battle against Covid-19 goes on. But there is a still more important war that we must fight.

Recently I have been reading the book of Joshua and I have been challenged as to how we can understand the narrative as a picture of our own spiritual growth and fight against sin.

John Owen wrote:

‘Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.’

We must take our battle with sin seriously. As we read in Joshua 11 it will not be easy. For us it will be a lifelong battle but, since ‘he who began a good work in [us] will bring it to completion on the day of Jesus Christ’ [Philippians 1:6], it is a battle that we know will surely be won.

So in one sense the battle goes on but in another it is already over because it was won for us at the cross. Just as the Israelites had to fight for the land that God said he had already given them, so too we fight for a righteousness that has already been provided for us is Christ.

‘And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.’ [Colossians 2:13-15]

I couldn’t help think of these verses when I read of how Joshua made a public spectacle of the kings he had triumphed over. After killing them he put them to open shame by putting their bodies on poles for all to see.

Paradoxically the death of Christ, the true King, secures the victory over all that opposes God. This king, however, does not stay dead. Three days later he rises again and then goes on to ascend, not just to heaven, but to a throne, one from which he still reigns today.

At the cross sin was utterly defeated and our forgiveness was secured – a forgiveness that brings us peace. That peace is not just a peaceful easy feeling that we experience in our spirits as a result of knowing that we are safe in our Saviour’s care – it is more than that. It is peace with God that means our warfare is over. As Isaiah prophesied,

‘Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins’ [Isaiah 40:1-2]

After Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the LORD had spoken to Moses, we read that ‘the land had rest from war’. – Joshua 11:23.

This is a rest we too can know in Christ. Because Jesus said:

‘Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. – Matthew 11:28

In Joshua 23:14, as Joshua nears the end of his life he makes this wonderful statement to the people of Israel.

‘Not one word has failed of all the good things that the LORD your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed (v14)’

It is a statement that will hold true for all God’s people forever.

It Joshua 23, the people are urged by their departing leader to behave well. This is ‘after the LORD had given rest to Israel from all their surrounding enemies’ (v1). The people have been given rest but there is much they must still do.

They must, Joshua tells them, be ‘very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left’ (v8). They must be ‘very careful, therefore, to love the LORD [their) God’

So must we.

In Christ we have an assurance of salvation, at the cross the war has been won. But there are still battles to be fought and we have to fight them. Even so, as for the people of Israel, it is the LORD who fights for us.

‘You have seen all that the LORD your God has done to all these nations for your sake, for it is the LORD your God who has fought for you.’ (v3)

‘The LORD your God will push them back before you and drive them out of your sight. And you shall possess their land, just as the LORD your God promised you.’ (v5)

‘For the LORD has driven out before you great and strong nations. And as for you, no man has been able to stand before you to this day. One man of you puts to flight a thousand, since it is the LORD your God who fights for you, just as he promised you.’ (v9-10)

What an encouragement to keep on keeping on knowing that God is fighting for us and that ‘if God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?’ [Romans 8:31-32]. But far from generating in us an attitude of ‘let go and let God’, such confidence should stimulate us to renewed Holy Spirit inspired action and ever greater efforts at being ever more obedient to our loving Heavenly Father.

Confident that he will keep all of his promises, including the one that assures us that he will complete the good work he has begun in us [Philippians 1:16] we should ‘work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in [us], both to will and to work for his good pleasure.’ [Philippians 2:12-13]

As one who, though safe in Christ, still has a long way to God before I am transformed into the image of Jesus, it is my prayer that this will be true of me.


For ‘Faith in the time of Coronavirus’, click https://peteaird.org/2020/04/06/faith-in-the-time-of-coronavirus/here

For ‘Faith in the time of Coronavirus – 2’, click https://peteaird.org/2020/05/19/faith-in-the-time-of-coronavirus-2/here

For ‘Faith in the time of Coronavirus – 3’ click here

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