Facing Hard Truths and Finding Freedom

Facing Hard Truths and Finding Freedom

In a crisis like COVID-19 Christians should be facing hard truths, not burying their heads in spiritual sand. Only in this way can real freedom be found.

Transcript

Good morning [email protected]! Our Bible reading this morning is taken from  Ephesians 1: 3-14.

Ephesians 1: 3-14

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us[a] for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him 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, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”

COVID-19: The Hard Numbers

Here in South Africa, just before our President announced the state of disaster, the rate of infection was doubling every day. We went from 1 case to 150 in less than 3 weeks. By the time you see this, of course, that number would have risen. For us the great concern, the great unknown, is what the impact of COVID-19 will be in a country with a struggling health care system and with a high number of people living in poverty or with compromised immune systems.

Socio-Economic Consequences of Lockdown

In some ways, there’s an even bigger concern. There is a danger behind the danger. I’m talking about the socio-economic consequences of this virus. Of course, much of this is speculation. The Lord can do whatever he chooses and we must never lose sight of that. But if there is relatively widespread infection, and an extended State of Disaster to cope with that infection, then a serious socio-economic impact seems inevitable.

In fact we’ve seen evidence of this already. In the week 9-15 March the JSE lost 15% of its value. 15%. On Monday 16th of March, it lost another 7%. And then on Wednesday another 6%. Our bond prices which measure the global appetite for lending money to our government, have dropped to levels last seen in 2008. And all of this has all been described as “panic selling” related to COVID-19.

At least one prominent economist is talking about a global recession of the nature and scale last seen in the 1970’s. And all of this comes to a South African economy that has already been in recession for the past 6 months.

People are Fearful

What this economic babble means for me and for you is that businesses are gonna close. People will lose their jobs and households will suffer. So, the average South African is scared. We see it around us, its palpable: panic selling on the JSE. Panic buying in Checkers. It’s scary.

It feels a lot like we are standing on a beach, watching a wave that’s started forming kilometres out to sea, and it’s been steadily approaching, steadily rising. And now it stands above us. High and dark. Ominous. Enormous. And we know exactly where it’s going to break. Or it feels like the wind is blowing and the storm is raging and the storm waters are rising. And it’s really only a matter of time before those storm waters are lapping at the kitchen door.

Now why, you ask, are you giving us the doomsday diagnosis? Why the fear mongering? Why did you get us to download this when we could have gone onto NEWS24 and seen exactly the same thing for a lot less data?

Facing the Hard Truth

I will tell you why. Because the first duty of a Christian in a crisis is to face up to the truth. It is to look evil square in the eye. The Christian doesn’t bury her head in the sand and call it “being spiritual”. The disciple of Jesus isn’t a false optimist. Our salvation isn’t in the power of positive thinking. We are not going to get through this by tapping into the good energy in the universe. That’s about as good as blowing hot air up your nose with a hair dryer to prevent contracting the virus. It’s an actual thing.  People are recommending that because heat supposedly kills the virus. I mean it boggles the mind.

One thing’s for sure, blissful ignorance doesn’t kill the virus or the fear. Blind optimism doesn’t kill the virus or the fear. It just magnifies the power of both. So let’s rather be Christian and press deeper into the truth.

Where did COVID-19 Really Start?

Where did this all start? Well if you ask Zimbabwe’s Defence Minister “Coronavirus is the work of god punishing countries who imposed sanctions on us”. Coronavirus is God punishing the West. I mean, what do you do with that? Let’s start with the West.  Is this a punishment on the West? The only little problem with that thesis is China. The virus started in China;  China has the highest number of infections. China has the highest number of deaths. And the last time I checked China was an important patron for Zanu-PF. So not only is the minister’s statement a complete mess geographically, but it’s also a disaster politically. Targeting the West doesn’t work.

Is COVID-19 God’s Judgement?

What about the statement that this virus is an act of God’s judgement? If it is, who is God judging? Who is to blame Where did the virus start? Well that one’s easy enough. So let’s do our basic forensic pathology. It started three months ago, in China, in a province called Hubei, in a city called Wuhan, with the interaction of human beings and bats or pangolins, or both. Simple enough. But Christians won’t settle for simple – that’s just too superficial. We know we have to go deeper.

We know that this started much earlier, thousands of years ago, in ancient Mesopotamia,  in a temple garden called Eden, with the interaction of human beings and a snake. When you walk out on God like Adam did, and you leave the garden of his loving presence,  what you encounter outside, east of Eden, is a world of deadly danger.

We Live in a Dangerous World

Jonathon Edwards described it like this: “It is no security to wicked men for one moment, that there are no visible means of death at hand. It is no security to a natural man, that he is now in health… The unseen, unthought of ways and means of persons going suddenly out of the world are innumerable and inconceivable. Unconverted men walk over the pit of hell on a rotten covering, and there are innumerable places in this covering so weak that they will not bear their weight, and these places are not seen. The arrows of death fly unseen at noon-day; the sharpest sight cannot discern them.”

This world is a deadly, dangerous place. It always is sometimes we just can’t see it.

The Coronavirus is just one symptom of an underlying condition, a deeper disease. A disease called sin. The global infection rate of this disease is 100%. The global death rate of this disease is 100%. You see, with respect to the defence minister, identity politics is not going to help us here. The problem isn’t this group or that group. This a fundamentally human problem and it’s for all of us. We have no-one to blame but ourselves. Christians face up to that truth.

Time to Count our Blessings

Okay, but now what? Now that we’ve counted the possible toll of this evil, what next? Well I am going to ask that we spend the rest of our time counting our blessings. Not because the Sunday school song says that we should. Not because we want to be heavenly-minded when the world is falling apart. You know – ostriches go down into the sand, and Christians go up into the clouds!

We don’t count our blessings because it’s a pious way of distracting us from real life. Our blessings are not a distraction, they are the very thing that is going to get us through. They are the very means by which we overcome this evil and every evil.

5 Blessings to Cling To

So let’s consider them. Let’s count them. There is no better place to go if you want to count your blessings than Ephesians chapter 1. Ephesians 1: 3. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” This is the great blessing passage, and in the rest of it we have an absolute catalogue of God’s blessings.

But with the time and data available to us, I am going to give you just 5. 5 blessings from God to cling to, to mediate on, to pray through. 5 blessings to sustain us in the days and weeks and months and years ahead.

These are the blessings:

  1. A full recovery
  2. A place in the family
  3. A purpose in life
  4. A hope for the future
  5. A rock on which to stand

A Full Recovery

First blessing: a full recovery. It comes immediately in verse 4. So we have in verse 3 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” “That we should be holy and blameless before him.”

What we see in verse 4 is a full recovery – a full recovery – from the condition of sin. Sin is what we got from Adam. In his guilt he was separated from God. But Christ reverses all  of that. Christ is not guilty! He is holy and blameless. He is not separated from God. He lives forever in the presence of his Father.

Christ is like the vaccine. As long as we have him, full health is ours. We may not experience full health right now, but it is a certainty.

Christ is like the vaccine. As long as we have him, full health is ours. We may not experience full health right now, but it is a certainty. We may still be weak, but the fever has broken. The way to truly count this blessing is to consider the alternative. The alternative is to die in your guilt with eternal separation as your only prospect. And let me add that that is true whether you believe in hell or not. It is true whether you believe in hell or not. For the atheist, death means extinction.

It means stepping into the void. It is eternal separation from everything you’ve ever known and loved. It’s the final acknowledgement, in the words of Ernest Hemmingway, that  “Life is just a dirty trick, a short journey from nothingness to nothingness.” What a profound blessing that we are clean and blameless and in the presence of our God forever. And forever starts right now.

A Place in the Family

Second blessing: a place in the Family. Verses 5 and 6. “In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons and daughters through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” We are adopted into the family of God.

Three things we can say about our place in the family from these verses. Our place in the family is motivated by love; “in love he predestined us,” It is anchored in the will of God; “according to the purpose of his will.” It comes to us by grace; “to the praise of his glorious grace.”

You put these three together: The love of God, the will of God, the grace of God, and what you have is rock solid security.

You put these three together: The love of God, the will of God, the grace of God, and what you have is rock solid security. Your place in the family could not be more secure because it is anchored in God and not in you. Remember, God’s love is love for his enemies. It’s enemy love. So it’s utterly unconditional. His will is the will of God Almighty. And His will is that you are in the family! Who is gonna cross his will? If God is for you, who can be against you?

His grace means that your place in the family is pure gift. If you can’t do anything to earn it, well then you can’t do anything to lose it. Your place in the family is not dependent on an entrance exam or an annual review. God’s love, God’s will, God’s grace, mean that you are secure in the family. It is rock solid. In a world gripped by insecurity, you are secure. In a world where the foundations of society are proving to be quicksand, you are standing on a rock.

Let me just say the obvious (or maybe it’s not so obvious to some of us). Being in the family means that you have a Father who loves you dearly. He knew you when you were still in your mother’s womb. He knows the number of hairs on your head. He knows every single fear in your heart. And he will never forsake you. Being in the family also means that you have brothers and sisters. They are not perfect. They just as scared as you are. But we are in this together. No-one needs to face this thing alone.

A Purpose in Life

Third blessing: a purpose in life. Read with me – halfway through verse 9. I hope you have your Bible open. Church at home we still believe in Bibles and having them open!

“The Father” halfway through verse 9 “The father has a purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” The purpose of all of history is to place everything under the dominion of King Jesus. That’s the purpose of all of history, including the year 2020. 2020 isn’t and anomaly. An outlier. It didn’t get away. The Father is placing everything under the authority of his Son. That’s the plan.

2020 isn’t and anomaly. An outlier. It didn’t get away. The Father is placing everything under the authority of his Son. That’s the plan.

Do you think, for one moment, that the Coronavirus is going to stop him? My friends, do not underestimate our God. If you are tempted to think he can’t do it or he’s lost control, remember the cross. Remember that cross. He took the greatest evil ever perpetrated, and he turned it into humanity’s greatest good – our finest hour. It seemed on the surface of things like we had killed God. It doesn’t get more evil than that. That is the depths of evil. It seemed like evil and chaos had won. But God used that cross to save us from death and secure order and peace forever. Do you think a virus can stop him?

We have such great comfort in the plans and purposes of God. They are such a blessing to us. Imagine the alternative? Imagine the alternative? If there is no God, then there is no purpose. The only thing… if there is no purpose, think about this, not only do we have to endure the physical pain of suffering and death, but also the psychological torture of knowing that it was all for nothing! It counts for nothing! Our pain and suffering was meaningless. It was arbitrary, it was random.

On the contrary, we have the enormous blessing of knowing the purposes of God to exalt King Jesus. And we don’t just know it, we participate in it! Our privilege is to align our purposes with the purposes of God. Our plans with the plans of God. He has invited us in to his plans and purposes. It is blessing upon blessing upon blessing.

Hope for the Future

Fourth blessing: hope for the future. Hope for the future. Verse 11 “In him we have obtained an inheritance” and skip ahead to verse 13 “In him you also, … were sealed” back half of verse 13 “with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”

In Him you have an inheritance. Verse 14: The Holy Spirit is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it. You have an inheritance. Do you know what it is? It’s the universe! You are going to be in charge of the universe: Kings and Queens with Christ. And there’s more – as if there could be more! There is more. You will be in charge of a universe free from corruption and chaos. In that universe there will be no sickness or death or crying or pain. Every tear will have been wiped away. I don’t think we can even begin to imagine what that means.

You have an inheritance. Do you know what it is? It’s the universe!

But we know it’s ours, and we get a little taste of it – just a little taste of it – now. How? Through the Holy Spirit. He is the deposit guaranteeing our inheritance. All the blessings we’ve mentioned:  Recovery, Family, Purpose – we taste them now as the Spirit lives and works in our midst. And that taste is the deposit guaranteeing the full down payment. It’s a taste. It’s the taste, it’s the entrée. And the entrée guarantees the full banquet. The entrée means the main course is still to come. The main course is on its way.

My friends, look back over your life. Just take a moment to reflect. If you have tasted any of the benefits of knowing Christ – just think back over your life – if you have tasted any of those benefits, the benefits of knowing Jesus, let them remind you that the fullness of God’s blessings are coming. They are coming. Nothing can stop them from coming. They are guaranteed. And that should fill all of us with hope, even in these difficult times.

A Rock on Which to Stand

Fifth and final blessing: a rock on which to stand. This blessing is the blessing that holds all other blessings together. Verse 7: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” We have been rescued from the disease of sin. We have God’s forgiveness – it is ours. And it’s a gift – all of it. It’s a gift; its grace.

Every blessing in the heavenly places comes to us in Christ, and he is the crown of them all.

These blessings, the ones mentioned in verse 7, are like every other blessing mentioned in Ephesians 1. They come to us “in Him.” They come to us through his blood. ‘He’ is Jesus Christ. There are more than 10 references to him in just 11 verses. Every blessing in the heavenly places comes to us in Christ, and he is the crown of them all. He is the high ground to which we flee when wave is about to break. He is the rock on which we build a house that can survive the storm. He is the reason this too will pass.

And so I encourage you this morning, put your trust in Him. He will give you the resources you need to carry on.

Those are our blessings:

  1. A full recovery
  2. A place in the family
  3. A purpose in life
  4. A hope for the future
  5. A rock on which to stand

My hope, is that as you’ve been reminded of these blessings,  your fears have subsided, and your hope has risen. Just a little! Just enough to help you take the next step in following Jesus. That’s all we are called to. Taking the next step.

Practical Benefits of Pressing into the Truth

We close with these three practical benefits of fixing your eyes on Jesus in this way. Three freedoms.

Freedom from Panic

First, we are free from giving ourselves to panic. We don’t surrender to panic. It’s a marvel. The great symbol of panic in our culture at the moment – believe it or not – is toilet paper. What’s with the toilet paper? This isn’t a stomach flu! It’s not as if there are gonna be rivers of snot running down the streets. Unless you want to be buried with a pack of 36 – I just don’t get it!

We are not Australian. We are Christian (I’m just kidding, my Australian friends will forgive me). But the point is this: we don’t need to participate in the panic. Because at its heart it is nothing but frenzied self-preservation driven by fear. And that is not the mark of a Christian.

At its heart panic is frenzied self-preservation driven by fear. And that is not the mark of a Christian.

Granted, all of us feel anxious. All of us are tempted in that direction. We are not above it. We are not above panic buying. But here’s a practical suggestion. The next time you feel the anxiety rising within in you, count your blessings. Count these five blessings. Recite them. You can remember them easily, each one of them, just with a single word: Recovery, Family, Purpose, Hope, Rock. Recovery, Family, Purpose, Hope, Rock. Remind yourself what each one of those words means. And when you do that you are telling the Gospel. You are reminding yourself of the blessings we have in Christ, and therein lies the peace. That is the only place you’ll find it. The only place we will find peace in this storm is in Christ Jesus.

Don’t Obsess Over the Statistics

Another practical suggestion. Don’t let Corona statistics be the last thing you look at every night, and the first thing you look at in the morning. Don’t obsess over them. Take it as a given: these numbers are going to rise and they are going to rise fast. Barring a miraculous act of God, which of course is possible. But barring a miraculous act of God they are gonna rise, and they are gonna rise fast.

We don’t need to be aware of every additional case. OK let’s just leave that to the WHO. You don’t need to fixate on that ticker. You must not index your anxiety to those rising numbers – it will ruin you. As I said as a Christian you don’t stick your head in the sand, but you don’t stick your head in the oven either. We enjoy every blessing in Christ. And those blessings are secure. And so we don’t need to surrender to panic, we don’t need to. We have every reason not to.

As a Christian you don’t stick your head in the sand, but you don’t stick your head in the oven either.

Freedom to Love Others

Second freedom: we are free to love others. When we are under the kind of pressure that we are under right now, our inclination is to collapse in on ourselves. To focus in on ourselves; to introspect.

My wife reminded me this past week that its only been a year since Hurricane Ida smashed into KZN, in Zimbabwe, in Mozambique, in Malawi. Leaving upwards of 3 million people either dead or destitute. Those people are long forgotten. We are busy staring at statistics and  scrumming old ladies in aisle 3 to get the last bottle of hand sanitiser. They don’t have access to potable water.

Now I’m not saying this to guilt us. I’m saying it because there are still so many, many, many opportunities for us to love and serve our neighbours – without being reckless.

Christians across the centuries have been famous for their love in times of crisis. Let’s not be the generation that lets the family down.

In fourth century, Roman Emperor Julian complained in a letter to his pagan high priest and this is what he wrote. He wrote: “It is disgraceful that, … these impious Christians support not only their own poor but ours as well!” Christians across the centuries have been famous for their love in times of crisis. Let’s not be the generation that lets the family down.

I know we have to be sensible. I know it’s not loving to recklessly pass on this disease. I know all the qualifications. Let’s just make sure we are not hiding behind them. Because we can be wise and still be loving. There is no trade-off between wisdom and love. We can be wise and we can still be loving; outward looking. Sensitive to service opportunities. One practical way to do this is to invite someone from your neighbourhood to [email protected] next Sunday. You are gonna be gathering in your home. They are lonely. They are scared – just like you are. They need the gospel. And because they are hunkered down, just like you are hunkered down in yours, there is very little health risk. Especially if you follow the normal precautions.

Combining Wisdom and Love

Martin Luther gave this advice during the Black Plague. I’m sure you’ve read it in recent days. It’s been doing the rounds on Christian WhatsApp groups. But it so beautifully captures what I’m trying to describe.

This is what he writes to a Pastor friend of his. “I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me. And so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbour needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy…”

That’s the freedom we have to be both wise and loving at the same time. And it comes from our blessings in Christ.

Freedom to Praise God

Final freedom, and with this we close. You are free to praise God. For the past 30 minutes I’ve been talking about the Coronavirus and that’s the conclusion: “praise God”.  I mean How can that even be possible?

Well, if Ephesians 1 is teaching us anything, that’s what its teaching. “Praise God” is the headline in this whole passage. Look at verse 3 again: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” That’s the banner over the whole thing. “Praise God!” The Father plans our blessing. The Son secures our blessing. The Spirit brings that blessing into our lives. These blessings are the reason we can face today with hope instead of fear. And so we praise God. We praise Him. And praising God is intensely practical, because it’s all of life.

Won’t you pray with me.

Closing Prayer

Our loving heavenly Father, we praise you for every blessing we have in Christ Jesus. Thank you that that the fever of sin has broken. Thank you for family, for purpose, for hope and for a sure place to stand. Help us reflect on our blessings and our freedom not to panic. Our freedom to love others even now, and our freedom to witness to you as we praise your precious name. Please Lord have mercy on this world. Restrain the Coronavirus. Heal the sick. Comfort the mourning and the fearful. Guide our leaders. And turn this terrible evil to good. We pray these things trusting in your power and your goodness.

Amen.

The first duty of a Christian in a crisis is to face up to the truth. It is to look evil square in the eye. The Christian doesn’t bury her head in the sand and call it “being spiritual”. The disciple of Jesus isn’t a false optimist. Our salvation isn’t in the power of positive thinking. We are not going to get through this by tapping into the good energy in the universe. That’s about as good as blowing hot air up your nose with a hair dryer to prevent contracting the virus. People are mistakenly recommending this because heat supposedly kills the virus. It boggles the mind.

One thing’s for sure, blissful ignorance doesn’t kill the virus or the fear. Blind optimism doesn’t kill the virus or the fear. It just magnifies the power of both. So let’s rather be Christian and press deeper into the truth.

Facing Hard Truths

Where did this all start? COVID-19 started three months ago, in China, in a province called Hubei, in a city called Wuhan, with the interaction of human beings and bats or pangolins, or both. Simple enough. But Christians won’t settle for simple – that’s just too superficial. We know we have to go deeper.

We know that this started much earlier, thousands of years ago, in ancient Mesopotamia, in a temple garden called Eden, with the interaction of human beings and a snake (Genesis 3:1-6). When you walk out on God like Adam did, and you leave the garden of his loving presence,  what you encounter outside, east of Eden, is a world of deadly danger.

Coronavirus is just one symptom of an underlying condition: a disease called sin. The global infection rate of this disease is 100%. The global death rate of this disease is 100%

The Coronavirus is just one symptom of an underlying condition, a deeper disease. A disease called sin. The global infection rate of this disease is 100%. The global death rate of this disease is 100%. This a fundamentally human problem and it’s for all of us. We have no-one to blame but ourselves. Christians face up to that truth.

Counting our Blessings

Okay, but now what? Now that we’ve counted the possible toll of this evil, what next? Well I am going to ask that we spend the rest of our time counting our blessings. Not because the Sunday school song says that we should. Not because we want to be heavenly-minded when the world is falling apart. You know – ostriches go down into the sand, and Christians go up into the clouds!

Our blessings are not a distraction, they are the very thing that is going to get us through.

We don’t count our blessings because it’s a pious way of distracting us from real life and facing up to hard truths. Our blessings are not a distraction, they are the very thing that is going to get us through. They are the very means by which we overcome this evil and every evil.

Ephesians 1: 3-14 gives us 5 blessings from God to cling to, to mediate on, to pray through. 5 blessings to sustain us in the days and weeks and months and years ahead.

These are the blessings unpacked in the sermon:

  1. A full recovery
  2. A place in the family
  3. A purpose in life
  4. A hope for the future
  5. A rock on which to stand

Finding Freedom

My hope, is that as you’ve been reminded of these blessings, your fears have subsided, and your hope has risen. Just a little! Just enough to help you take the next step in following Jesus. That’s all we are called to. Taking the next step. We close with these three practical benefits of fixing your eyes on Jesus in this way: Freedom from panic and anxiety. Freedom to love others. Freedom to praise God.

For a full transcript of this sermon ‘Facing Hard Truths and Finding Freedom’ please click the toggle button above.

 

Text: Ephesians 1: 3-14

Date preached: 22 March 2020

Location: Christ Church Midrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

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