I have to admit that it is getting to the point where I cannot remember the last conversation I had where there was no mention of the coronavirus or COVID-19. What strange times we are living in where the conversation in my peer group has gone away from sports to talk of a pandemic. Weird. In December, in a far-away land, China battled with a virus that, if you are like me, you never thought would ever come here. It had a
SARS feel to it and we all felt quite safe over here in North America. But since then, this virus has spread to more than 115 nations, has infected nearly 367,000 people and has claimed just over 16,000 victims; that is as of this afternoon according to Johns Hopkins University. In Canada, things only seem to be ramping up and us isolated as Manitoba seems to be, we are not immune; our confirmed and presumptive cases have reached 20 as of this morning. We may not have the number of cases that Ontario or BC has nor are they appearing at the same rate, but we are all feeling the effects. Businesses shut down, schools closed, people working from home, people off work entirely. We have new ideas taking center stage in our collective mind like - self-isolation and social distancing.
It has all made us a bit crazy as a nation - never in my life did I think that toilet paper would be more valuable than Apple stock or that people would be hoarding hand sanitizer like it was the most precious material on earth. We are even getting suspicious of each other in ways we never were before. When we do emerge from quarantine in our houses and we are forced to move around where other people are, don’t we all look at each other w/ quite a bit of suspicion? We think to ourselves - “He doesn’t look so good, I better get away from him.” Or “She just scratched her throat. She must be infected. Run away!” When you think about it we are living in some crazy times and we are thinking some crazy thoughts. Zombieland this is not… but it kinda feels like it sometimes.
Thinking about our current situation has drawn me to a number of passages in Scripture. I want to reflect on one of them today and get to at least another one in the near future. The passage I want to talk about today is Isaiah 6:1-7.
Let me set the context of the passage, explain a bit of what is going on in these 7 verses, although nothing like a full commentary, and then draw a few lessons from it which I think will encourage and challenge us in our current climate.
If you want to know what kind of king Uzziah was and where he took Israel under his reign, you can head back into 2 Chronicles 26 for those details. At this point, the detail we need to know about Uzziah is that, from an earthly perspective, he was a good king who sat on the throne for over 50 years. He had a lengthy reign in which Israel prospered. It was a time of peace and prosperity for the nation as it enjoyed military success, the expansion of the armed forces, and undertook many building projects.
Uzziah’s death marked the end of an era for Israel and it would have thrown the nation into upheaval. When a King dies who has reigned for so long and so successfully (from the world’s eyes) the dangers come forward immediately. The economy wavers for no one knows what the next king’s policies will be. Political strife begins as the powers w/in government battle for control of the next king who will sit on the highest seat in the land. Outside enemies see Israel in a state of flux and may decide that this time of upheaval is the perfect time to attack. It is during times like this that the structures of society can crumble. It is during times like these that dark clouds of uncertainty can hang over an entire nation.
Sounds a bit like our time, doesn’t it? Our leaders haven’t died and if they did we probably wouldn’t feel the same pressures that ancient Israel, but it sure feels like the world has spun off its axis. We are living in uncertain times. Grocery stores are picked over and look like something out of the 1930’s. We are told to stay home as much as possible and if we do go out we are not supposed to get w/in 6 feet of each other and to definitely not gather in groups. Our economy is waffling on the edge of collapse. The borders are closed. Our kids are home from school. Our leaders don’t really seem to know what they are doing since they have never had to lead through anything like this before. The media has gone insane. Memes have taken over the internet. And worst of all no sports - no hockey, no basketball, no baseball, so soccer, probably no Olympics!!!
It does make you wonder. Where is God?
It was in the context of upheaval and uncertainty in the nation of Israel that God revealed Himself to the prophet Isaiah. He was worshiping in the temple one day when his vision was lifted beyond the familiar surroundings of the man-made temple and he was ushered into the presence of God. During the craziest and most uncertain of times for Israel, Isaiah’s eyes were drawn away from the dead earthly king to the true Sovereign King. It is a vision that has much to teach us, especially in the crazy times in which we find ourselves. Let me highlight just three things.
First, God is in control even when everything seems to be out of control. Where is God? He is sitting on his throne. Two important aspects of the early part of this vision. First, God is sitting. Not pacing. Not anxiously seeking counsel. Not rocking back and forth in anxious anticipation of what may happen to his people now that the king has died. No. He is just sitting there. Why? B/c God is in complete control of everything that is going on. The world is not falling apart. It is completely under his control. All is at peace in heaven and God is in control even though it may not look like it on earth. Second, God sits on his throne. This is the place of authority and strength and might. The throne indicates the right that God has to rule the world. We do not have to worry that God is not in control or that he might not know what he is doing. God is sitting on his throne. It is high and lifted up. No opposing authority can challenge his rule. No situation can surprise him. No other power can cause him to change his perfect sovereign plan. What an encouraging picture for Isaiah and for us! The sovereign Lord of creation sitting calmly on his throne working out his plan. As the psalmist says (46) “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.” Or we could take this psalm into our time and paraphrase it like this. “Therefore I will not fear, though my savings have nearly been wiped out, though I am unemployed, though I am sick in body, though I can’t find any toilet paper, though my life has been turned upside down, though I worry about the future. I will not fear, for God is my refuge and strength.” We might not know what is going on, but God does and that is our only place of refuge when the whole world seems to be crumbling around us.
Second, God is near to us. Notice v 3. We are told that his glory fills the whole earth. God is not only in complete control and sovereign and reigning from his throne in heaven, but he is also with us. He is transcendent and immanent. He is transcendent in majesty and near to his creatures. This gives God’s sovereignty a personal touch. God is not so transcendent that he is out of touch w/ what we are going through. He is not so far above us in his heavenly place that he is immune to our needs. Not at all! He knows what we need before we need it. He knows our struggles and our pain and our worries and our apprehensiveness about the future. He invites us to share these things w/ him. To find the solutions to these things in him. And, to faithfully submit all of them to his sovereignty and to his plan as he seeks his own glory in us and in our world in ways that we cannot understand.
Third, our biggest need isn’t our physical health or financial health; it is our spiritual health that truly matters. As imp’t as jobs, physical health, savings, and toilet paper are, they pale in comparison to our ultimate need. As Isaiah sees God he also hears the angels around the throne saying “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts.” This is a problem for Isaiah and for us. Holiness means many things, but the one that confronts Isaiah most clearly here is that God is completely separate from sin; he cannot be in its presence w/out judging it and pouring out his wrath against it. This means that Isaiah must die. Isaiah himself recognizes this. He declares, “Woe is me! For I am lost.” But God is gracious to Isaiah. He sends an angel to him to cleanse him by touching his mouth w/ a lump of coal taken from the altar of sacrifice and in so doing guilt is removed and his sin atoned. Like Isaiah, we need the grace of God and an atoning sacrifice to take away our sin more than we need anything else.
Praise be to God that he has provided this for us. Romans 5:6-8, tells us that “while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. One will scarcely die for a righteous person, though perhaps for a good person one would dare to die. But God demonstrates his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” This is our truest and most immediate need - full atonement in the blood of Jesus X who takes away the sin of the world. Through faith in Christ, we receive justification from the guilt of sin, cleansing from the power of sin, propitiation from God’s wrath against sin. In Christ, we find redemption, deliverance, and hope.
The coronavirus sucks. The upheaval it has caused and will cause is real and its effects are difficult. We don’t know where things will go and when it all will end. But don’t lose hope and don’t lose sight of your true need. God is sitting on his throne. He is in control. God is also near to you. He loves you and desires to hear all of your struggles and doubts. And most of all God has provided the solution to your greatest need - a Savior, Jesus X who is received by faith.
Soli deo gloria