As the Lord would have it, I developed a cough yesterday. As a result, I decided that, given the topic and the times, I ought to pull myself from the game, and so the sermon below will not be preached at this time. Pastor Toby will be filling in for me.
The City of Moscow has prohibited gatherings of more than 10 people, and as of yet there is no exemption for religious gatherings. So this is what we have decided to do. A skeleton crew will be conducting a service tomorrow morning at 8 am Pacific which will be recorded on video. As soon as the video is ready for upload, we will do so, and I will post a link here. The entire service will be recorded, but those of you who have visited here will notice that the Lord’s Supper will be missing. We usually celebrate the Supper every week, but are leaving that out because this will not be a true gathering of God’s people, but is rather a makeshift.
When we find ourselves in any kind of serious trouble, the direction we instinctively turn reveals the location of our gods. And the answer we receive back reveals whether our gods are actually there or not. And of course unless they are the living God, the Father of our Lord Jesus, they are in fact not there. This causes problems because false gods always means false salvation.
“And said, If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the Lord that healeth thee” (Ex. 15:26).
“He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty . . . There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.” (Ps. 91: 1, 10).
Summary of the Texts
Earlier in this chapter from Exodus, the people of Israel had just been celebrating their deliverance from Egypt in the great Red Sea miracle. Three days later they came to the waters of Marah, which were bitter and undrinkable. Moses made the waters sweet by throwing a particular tree into the water, and then he made a statute or ordinance for them, whereby (it says) he tested them. And then he gave them the words of our text, which begin with a series of conditionals. If they diligently hearkened to the voice of God, if they did what was right in His sight, if they paid close attention to His commandments, and obeyed His statutes, then what? Then the diseases of Egypt, which were commonplace enough there to be called by that name, would not be visited upon Israel. We see here that God’s governance of the world is personal. These things are entirely in His hand. The world is not governed by deaf, dumb and blind microbes (Ex. 15:26).
Notice also that afflictions are given to us, along with God’s statutes, in order to test us. This testing should not be thought of as a mere poking, but rather as the kind of occasion where you are sitting at the desk of affliction, writing in answers with the pencil of the promises.
In the text from Psalm 91, we see that the Almighty casts a shadow, and in that shadow is a secret place, a hiding place. The person who resorts there is one who must dwell there, he must abide there. And the shadow that is cast is cast by the great Rock, who is Christ. In that resting place, the plague will not come near you.
But the Covenant is Not a Vending Machine
One of the things we have to do as we trust in God for the things of this life—and we were instructed to pray for our daily bread, were we not?—is learn how to think in covenantal categories. Prayer is not a palm full of coins, and the promises of God are not a vending machine. Remember the message on Ps. 116 and answered prayer. Answers to prayer are not automatic, but answers to prayer are genuine. The promises of protection are not made out of inflexible wood, but they are made of something. They mean something.
When we say that we are not into the “health and wealth” stuff, as we are not, what we mean to say is that we lean against the idea that blessings for believers are automatic, and that all you need to do is say the magic incantations. But it should be equally emphasized that we are not praying in the opposite direction—as though we were to be somehow praying for sickness and poverty. The promises of protection, and the promises of answered prayer, do not work the way the law of gravity works. But they do work. God gave them for a reason.
We should be wanting to live lives in this life that are under the blessing of God. And this includes trusting Him for protection in times of panic, and in times of plague. We should be trusting Him for more than invisible spiritual blessings. We should be trusting Him for more than a good time in the sweet by and by.
Fear and Faith
Everyone here was already going to die, and so that information is not new information. But when a crisis like COVID-19 arises, we can see that the reflex reaction of a number of people is that of fear. The problem is not so much that we are going to die, it is that we deserve to die. But perfect love casts out fear, because fear has to do with punishment (1 John 4:18).
“The wicked flee when no man pursueth: But the righteous are bold as a lion.”
Prov. 28:1 (KJV)
But notice that the word there is bold, not reckless, or brash, or foolhardy. You don’t get to say that the Lord is your “help and stay” in the time of the plague and so you are going to go out with some of your rowdy friends and lick some banisters.
The fear of God is, among other things, a prudent frame of mind. “A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself; But the simple pass on, and are punished” (Prov. 27:12).
Shouldn’t Preachers Stay in Their Lane?
Now when I urge the people of God not to panic, and not to give way to fear, and not to surrender to anxiety and worry, some might reply — and frequently do reply — that I have no training in epidemiology, which is true enough, and so I don’t really have the ethos to be telling everybody to calm down. Calm down yourself.
But think of this in terms of overlapping categories. I am no student of viruses, a fact cheerfully acknowledged. I am, however, a student of the Word, and a student of people. I have been studying people for fifty years. If I were in a crowded theater, and someone yelled fire, and people started to stampede, I would know what was going on. I wouldn’t need to be a fireman, I wouldn’t need to see the fire, I wouldn’t have to have a plan for putting the fire out. I would be making my observations as a student of people. It is the same here.
When you are fearful, one of the first things that happens is that you make irrational decisions. You start to flail, as the governor of California has done. We don’t want to find, when all is said and done, that the fire in the trash can was quickly put out, and 25 people died in the stampede. None of this denies the reality of fire, the danger of fire, or the seriousness of fire. Fires in theaters are bad. But people frequently react to things that are genuinely bad (as the COVID virus is) in ways that are singularly unhelpful. But you are Christians. You are Christians who believe in the sovereignty of God. You dwell in the hiding place. Live like you dwell there.
Back to our text. If we “diligently hearkened” to the voice of God . . . but who has done that? If we “did what was right in His sight”. . . but who has done that? If we “paid close attention” to His commands . . . but who has done that? If we have “obeyed His statutes” . . . but who has done that?
The answer of the gospel is the Lord Jesus perfectly fulfilled every last one of those conditions. He was perfectly obedient, and that perfect obedience is imputed to us. This includes the perfect obedience of His sinless life, and the perfect obedience that was offered up to God on the bloody cross. All of that obedience is imputed to you. And with what consequence?
“But he was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: The chastisement of our peace was upon him; And with his stripes we are healed.”
Isaiah 53:5 (KJV)
“Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.”
1 Peter 2:24 (KJV)
But we, in the grip of a modern and very secular way of thinking, automatically apply this to some kind of spiritual healing in the 17th dimension somewhere, some tucked-away invisible place where the claims of Christ cannot be falsified by any scoffing unbelievers. Now of course this includes spiritual healing . . .
But notice how Matthew treats a quotation from this same chapter.
“When the even was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.”
Matt. 8:16–17 (KJV)
You are the people of God in Christ. You have come to Him through faith in Christ. Realize then, that He loves you, all of you. He does not think of your body as a tattered carrying case for your soul, that soul being the only thing He cares about. He loves you, and He loves your body. He cares for you. Cast all your anxieties on Him for He cares for you (1 Pet. 5:7).