COVID-19 Miniseries

Written by Pastor Chad Seybt

Christ Our Victor In Every Distress – 12 Devotions

Binge – Devotion #12

“See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:15-16

To “binge” is to “indulge in an activity to excess.”  Prior to the age of the internet, the activities most often associated with “binge” were eating food and drinking alcohol.  Some college students might engage in binge drinking at wild parties.  A depressed person might engage in binge eating as a short-term way of coping with their feelings of anxiety and depression.  Nowadays, with movies and television shows readily available at one’s fingertips, a new type of “binge” has arisen: binge watching.  This is the practice of sitting and watching episode after episode of a favorite TV series for hours on end.  Studies have been conducted which suggest, unsurprisingly, such binge watching is detrimental to one’s health, with one of the reasons being that it can interfere with our sleep patterns.

What does this have to do with the coronavirus?  Well, as millions of Americans are quarantined at home, either voluntarily or by government stay-at-home mandate, many are finding much free time on their hands.  As a result, a lot of people resort to binge watching some online streaming service as a way of passing the time.  And what is passing the time, but another way of saying that we’re wasting it.  Perhaps another wonderful blessing of this current pandemic is that it helps reveal to us how much we have busied ourselves in wasting time rather than redeeming the time.

Now, of course, this is not to say that a Christian cannot enjoy a time of rest and relaxation.  But how obsessed has our society become with entertainment!  For many, no longer are vacations a break from their occupation or work; rather their work has become nothing more than the means to their next vacation.  Too often, yes even we Christians, have succumbed to worshiping the false goddesses of amusement and pleasure.  Perhaps this time of home quarantine is a way for God to slow us down, not so that we might fill our days with mindless entertainment, but rather so that we might “redeem the time” using it to re-prioritize our lives and focus on Him and His will for our lives. 

In the book of Acts, there is an account of what one could perhaps call “binge worship” or “binge Bible study.”  (Although, the argument could be made that these are probably not activities one could really “indulge in excess.”)  Here is that account: “Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight.  There were many lamps in the upper room where they were gathered together.  And in a window sat a certain young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep. He was overcome by sleep; and as Paul continued speaking, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead.  But Paul went down, fell on him, and embracing him said, ‘Do not trouble yourselves, for his life is in him.’  Now when he had come up, had broken bread and eaten, and talked a long while, even till daybreak, he departed. And they brought the young man in alive, and they were not a little comforted” (Acts 20:7-12).  

First, we must recognize the obvious, what a powerful demonstration of the power of God’s Word Paul had been preaching to them through the night that Eutychus was raised from the dead!  Further, we are told that they listened to Paul’s teaching until midnight, and it even says that Paul “talked a long while, even till daybreak”!  What a marathon worship service that was!

The point isn’t that the Christian must spend every waking hour of every day in prayer, studying Scripture, at worship service, etc.  Yes, it is true that God wants us to “abide in His Word,” to be constantly studying it and attending to it, but there are other things God expects of us.  He wants us to live out our lives.  He wants us to develop and use the talents He’s given us to help our neighbor and spread the Gospel.  To that end, we would do well to examine ourselves and see how we are spending our time, or rather if we are “redeeming” it.  Sadly, we will find that much of our time is wasted.  For this, of course, the Christian will repent and turn to God for forgiveness.  And when we do, when we look to Jesus we find that He redeemed the time on this earth perfectly, for us, because we never could. . .and then He redeemed us with His holy precious blood on the cross.  

In Psalm 31, David confesses to God, “My times are in Your hand” (Psalm 31:15).  The time we have each day is a gift from God, and He would have us be wise stewards of it.  How will you redeem the time?

Bane and Blessing – Devotion #11

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

As the coronavirus continues to spread, mankind’s sinful nature has been having a heyday during this time of crisis.  There are accounts of people purposefully trying to spread the virus by coughing on people and store goods.  Customers push and fight each other over who products in the grocery stores.  People have been selfishly hoarding essential products and then selling them at much higher prices online.  Such selfish and unnecessary hoarding has made it difficult for the elderly to get their necessary groceries.  Politicians have even taken advantage of this crisis situation in order to score political points, such as by pointing out the failures of others.  Yes, sinners can be quite nasty to each other in times of need.

But as the coronavirus continues to spread, so too do the blessings God brings with it.  As parents and their children work and learn from home, families are spending more time together.  As man-made places of entertainment have shut their doors, people are getting outside and enjoying God’s creation again.  As restaurants are no longer able to provide dine-in options, more are cooking at home, sharing the dinner table together, and eating more healthily.  As hours are cut and people have been laid off, people are having a newfound appreciation for work.  Jobs and occupations that tend to be looked down upon are now being more appreciated.  And there are plenty of examples of neighbors being more neighborly.  

While these blessings just mentioned above may make for more pleasant living here on earth, the greatest blessing brought from this pandemic is that it confronts us with our mortality, causing us to go searching God’s Word for answers.  Just as a smoke detector alerts the inhabitants of a house fire, so too does the fear of death and a sense of helplessness alert the sinner to his impending doom.  When the smoke detector goes off, the family knows it’s time to get out of the burning house.  When the sinner sees his helplessness in the face of death, he is led to look outside of himself for help.  

As our passage above teaches, God can take a great evil and turn it on its head for the greatest good.  Much like how the cross of Jesus, sinners killing God’s own Son, was used to destroy Satan and death itself.  This is what the Christian should keep in mind when it comes to this passage: “all things work together for good.”  The “good” here is not what man sees as good, but rather what God sees as good for man.  And just what does God say is good for man?  God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).  And Jesus said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).  And again, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself” (John 12:32).  

Therefore, blessed and good is that thing (no matter how unpleasant) that draws us ever more closer to our Savior Jesus.  This is why the apostle Paul could write, “Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).  This is why we read of Paul and Silas singing hymns while chained in prison (Acts 16:25).  It’s why the early Christian martyrs could gather together in prayer and praise in the coliseum while waiting to be torn apart by hungry lions.  And it is why we can praise God in the midst of this pandemic.

In the Cross of Christ I glory,

Tow’ring o’er the wrecks of time,

All the light of sacred story

Gathers round its head sublime.

When the woes of life o’ertake me,

Hopes deceive, and fears annoy,

Never shall the Cross forsake me;

Lo, it glows with peace and joy.

Bane and blessing, pain and pleasure,

By the Cross are sanctified;

Peace is there that knows no measure,

Joys that thro’ all time abide.  (The Lutheran Hymnal, #354 vs. 1-2, 4)

Just Breathe – Devotion #10

“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” Genesis 2:7

The story is told of a humorous exchange between an atheist and a Christian.  The atheist spoke at length regarding all the reasons why he didn’t believe in God, and then went on to complain that even if there was a God how He must really dislike humans to let so many evil, wicked things happen down here.  He challenged the Christian asking him how he could possibly believe in a God that just sits by and does nothing, doesn’t provide anything useful.  To which the Christian replied, “Says the one who just breathed air.”  Although humorous, the Christian was making a serious point.  Without air there would be no breathing; without breathing, there would be no living.  And without God, there would be nothing.  “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things” (Acts 17:24-25).

One estimate suggests that on average, a person takes 23,000 breaths each day!  That’s 23,000 times your diaphragm makes it possible for your lungs to inhale and exhale without you even thinking about it.  Of course, we can consciously take a breath, but for the most part breathing is involuntary, meaning an automatic function of our body that God so beautifully designed.  Can you imagine what your day would be like if you had to consciously take 23,000 breaths a day?  That amounts to about 16 breaths every minute!  We couldn’t get much else done!  What a wondrous blessing our lungs and involuntary breathing are from the Lord!

This new coronavirus is a respiratory virus which means it attacks the lungs and makes it very difficult to breathe.  This makes the disease very dangerous for those with decreased lung function, such as the elderly and those who suffer from breathing conditions like asthma.  There have also been concerning reports of scarring on the lungs and decreased lung function from those who fully recover from the disease.  Those who have recovered describe COVID-19 as “getting stepped on by an elephant,” “being repeatedly kicked in the chest,” and “like having glass in your lungs.”  Recovery from such a nasty respiratory virus certainly will give one a better appreciation for their lungs and the simple everyday task of just breathing!

The expression “just breathe” is often used as a way of helping someone to calm down.  Special types of breathing exercises can be very helpful in various different life situations.  For example, “Lamaze breathing” can be particularly helpful for women who are in labor.  Also, “belly breathing” or “deep breathing” can prove useful for those afflicted with anxiety or panic attacks.  Such deep breathing in moments of deep panic sends signals to your nervous system to calm down and relax, and your brain in turn sends this message to the rest of your body.

In a spiritual sense, looking to God’s Word in times of trial can be like deep breathing.  “Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, Like a weaned child with his mother; Like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the Lord From this time forth and forever” (Psalm 131:2-3).  “I am afflicted very much; Revive me, O Lord, according to Your word” (Psalm 119:107).  God’s Word has the power to cut through the panic in our lives and center us in the Gospel, the one thing truly needful in this life and for the next.  Knowing that no matter what happens in this life we have a God who loves us and promises to control all things for the good of His Church, such knowledge calms our weary souls.  

Once, Jesus and His disciples were caught in a raging storm on the Sea of Galilee.  We are told that His disciples were horribly afraid.  And then we’re told what Jesus did about that storm: “Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace, be still!’ And the wind ceased and there was a great calm” (Mark 4:39).  Jesus spoke, “and there was a great calm.”  The word of Jesus has the power to calm any and all storms in life.  This includes the current storm of pandemic caused by this coronavirus.  And it also includes the storm of your sin as Jesus promises you, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).  So, dear Christian, just breathe.  Jesus has you.  Amen.

“I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; For You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8).

Livelihood – Devotion #9

“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Matthew 6:31-34

The closures related to this coronavirus have wreaked havoc on our economy.  At the time of this writing, it is reported that some 3.3 million Americans have filed for unemployment between March 15th and 21st, shattering previous records, and the U.S. Senate just approved a $2 trillion dollar stimulus bill.  With businesses closed around the country, people are scared, wondering where and how they’ll pick up their next job and provide for their families’ livelihood.

Jesus says, “Do not worry. . .For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.”  And Jesus was one who could speak from experience on this matter, Himself having spent 40 days and 40 nights fasting in the wilderness while being tempted by the devil.  But Jesus wasn’t the only One in the Bible to be provided for in a miraculous way.  Just recently, my wife and I were surprised as we relearned that Moses was sustained for 40 days and 40 nights on Mt. Sinai not once, but on two separate occasions! (Deuteronomy 9:18)  And then there’s the miraculous provision of manna God provided for His people for 40 years in the wilderness.  Also in  1 Kings 17, we read how God miraculously provided for His prophet Elijah during a severe drought by having ravens bring food to him in the morning and evening.  In the same chapter, Elijah becomes the house guest of a widow in Zarephath and miraculously, “The bin of flour was not used up, nor did the jar of oil run dry, according to the word of the Lord which He spoke by Elijah” (1 Kings 17:16).  

These are just a few examples.  Of course, the point of all this isn’t that God promises you your own special miracle to provide for you during this time of hardship in which so many are having their employment threatened.  Rather, the point is that God is able and willing to provide for His people, even in the most dire of circumstances.  (There are also times in Scripture in which God provides for His people through natural means and planning.  For example, see God’s provisions through Joseph for the Egyptians and Joseph’s family in Genesis chapters 41-42.)    

The first recorded temptation of Jesus in the wilderness was of the devil suggesting that He should simply use His miraculous power to turn stones into bread, and thereby satiate His great hunger pains.  Do you remember how Jesus responded?  “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4).  That’s a good reminder, isn’t it?  After all, Who is it that makes the food our bodies need to begin with?  And He has seen to it that this earth produces an abundance of food for the billions of people that live here.  This is also why Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”  While it’s true that we don’t want to be careless with the resources God has provided for us, it’s equally true that God provides for us on a day by day basis.  “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”  The God who made you, crafted your body, and gave you soul and spirit, knows every need of your whole being.  And He knows how to provide each and every need according to His good time and pleasure.

From our passage above, it’s interesting to note where Jesus says our livelihood truly rests: “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).  The apostle Paul put it like this to the Romans: “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).  If God sacrificed His own Son to take care of your sins, is He not able to figure out a way to put food on your table?  Praise God that by grace you know the answer!  

Dear Christian, during this time of great economic uncertainty, you can rest assured that your livelihood is in good hands because it’s in God’s hands.

Closures – Devotion #8

“And they went into the ark to Noah, two by two, of all flesh in which is the breath of life. So those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him; and the Lord shut him in.” -Genesis 7:15-16

The Scripture passage above describes how Noah, his family, and the animals were all closed up in the ark prior to the flood.  They were all commanded to enter the ark 7 days prior to the start of the great flood.  The flood lasted for 40 days and 40 nights and destroyed every living thing that walked the earth, both man and animal.  And then, of course, Noah and company remained on the ark while the waters subsided.  All in all, they would have spent somewhere between 364 and 370 days closed up on the ark (depending on how one counts).    

Notice how the passage says that “the Lord shut him in.”  God didn’t seal them up and then forget about them.  Rather, we are told later on in Genesis, “Then God remembered Noah, and every living thing, and all the animals that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters subsided” (Genesis 8:1).  When God shut in Noah and all the rest for that year on the ark, He did it to protect them from the harm of the flood waters and to save their lives.  

In many parts throughout the U.S. (and the world!) many places have been closed in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.  Schools are closed.  Businesses are closed.  In some states, even homes are closed as governors have issued “shelter in place” orders requiring families to stay put unless needing to go out for emergencies, such as purchasing food or for health care reasons.  Even many churches have been closed!  

The explanation for such current closures is that they are to help save lives from infection by the coronavirus, but such conditions are leaving many quite anxious and nervous.  Daily life has been upended.  Many are faced with some difficult challenges and hardships, such as parents facing for the first time the challenge of working full time from home while also homeschooling their children.  Or health care workers who are scrambling to find someone to watch their children as they work the front lines fighting the virus.  These closures are also dealing a large blow to the economy.  Besides all of these things, some fear that such shut downs could potentially lead to looting and rioting if they last for too long.  Others see the closures as a power play, a way to possibly shut down churches for good.  And it’s certainly not beyond the evil cleverness of the devil to scheme for all of such things.

But before we let such fears take over our mind and rob us of hope, let us consider another closure mentioned in the Bible.  “Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, ‘Peace be with you’” (John 20:19).  This event happened on Easter evening.  After His crucifixion, Jesus had been sealed up in His tomb, but the grave could not keep Him closed up for good!  The disciples were closed up “for fear of the Jews,” but that couldn’t keep Jesus from appearing to them with His peace!  The same holds true for you during this confusing and anxious time of shut downs and closures. 

There is one thing that such closures can never close, and that is the Bibles in our homes.  In God’s Word, we discover that such shut downs cannot shut up the heart of the God who loves us.  “The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: ‘Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you’” (Jeremiah 31:3).  Neither can these closures close the eyes of the God who promises to watch over us.  “My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.  He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel Shall neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:2-4).  

As the closures from coronavirus continue, let’s make sure our Bibles remain open, so that our hearts may be filled with the Word of Him who has promised us, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

Quarantine – Devotion #7

“I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people.  Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.” 1 Corinthians 5:9-10

Quarantine.  Definition:  “to separate and restrict the movement of well persons who may have been exposed to a communicable disease to see if they become ill. These people may have been exposed to a disease and do not know it, or they may have the disease but do not show symptoms. Quarantine . . . is used to protect the public by preventing exposure to persons who may be infected” (from the Dept. of Health and Humans Services website).  Viruses need host cells in order to replicate.  The idea behind quarantine is that you can “starve” the virus by reducing the amount of hosts available for its replication and spread.  If no hosts are available, a viral pandemic will peter out and run its course.

When it comes to sin, some Christians believe they can quarantine themselves from it.  Ascetic monks literally “go out of the world,” secluding themselves in monasteries, believing that in so doing they can remove all temptation from their lives.  There have been other sects, or rather cults, who claim the name Christian, but then live in compounds with only like minded “believers,” rarely if ever venturing forth into the world at large.  Holiness groups keep largely to themselves believing that in doing so they can keep themselves pure and spotless from the world’s temptations and thereby “starving” and eradicating sin from their lives.  But as Paul clearly indicates above, God’s will for Christians is not that they leave the world altogether.  Otherwise how else could they be salt and light to the world?

Now, it should be noted that God certainly wants Christians to be on guard against the sinful temptations that come at us from the world.  Just 10 chapters later, Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits’” (1 Corinthians 15:33).  To the Christians living in Rome, Paul wrote, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2).  Clearly then, God wants us to follow His will instead of following the sinful world.  He wants us to become more Christlike as opposed to becoming more worldly.  

When Paul implies above in 1 Corinthians 5 that the Christian should keep company with the sexually immoral, covetous, extortioners, and idolaters of the world, he doesn’t mean that we are to follow in their footsteps, but rather that we are to be His ambassadors to them in our every day interactions with them.  Just as Jesus did when He walked the earth.  He didn’t seclude Himself from sinners (otherwise He never would have come down here!); on the contrary, Jesus met with sinners in order to lovingly and patiently teach them about repentance, heal their diseases, teach them the Gospel, and forgive their sins.

How then can the Christian follow in Christ’s footsteps?  By keeping in God’s Word, especially the Gospel.  You see, at His cross Jesus quarantined the curse of sin, so that it no longer has reign over the one who believes in Him.  Jesus, the sinless one, took the full wrath of God, sin’s curse, so that we would never have to.  “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”)” (Galatians 3:13).  When the Holy Spirit creates faith in the heart of the sinner through the Gospel, He makes him a new creature, one who is able to fight against sin and win!  And this new creature of a Christian which fights against sin instead of chasing after it is indeed a strange creature to the world.

Listen to how the apostle Peter explains it: “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles—when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries.  In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you.  They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.  For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit” (1 Peter 4:1-6).

Many are anxious to see this time of quarantine end for that will mean an end to this time of coronavirus.  Will it last for another week or several weeks?  Several months!?  We cannot say.  Similarly, many are anxious for the time to come when sin will be totally eradicated.  How much longer do we wait for Jesus’ return?  A day or week, month or year?  Another 100 years or 1,000 even!?  Again, we cannot say, but we do know that time will come.  “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.  Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness,  looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?  Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:10-13).  

And we know that in that “new earth in which righteousness dwells” all sin and its effects will be eradicated forever.  For we are told, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).  Until that Day, the cross of Christ is our quarantine, and He sends us out into the world so that others may believe and have salvation in His Name.  “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).  Dear Jesus, may we ever so walk.  Amen!

Social Distancing – Devotion #6

“When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” Luke 5:8

Another precaution that is being urged we take to prevent the spread of the coronavirus is social distancing.  The idea is that in keeping at least six feet from other people the virus will not be able to spread through droplets, such as when a person sneezes or coughs.  Of course, this is a rather difficult and uncomfortable measure to abide by because for the most part humans are social creatures. We crave the social interaction of others.  We appreciate the friendly handshake or the loving squeeze on the shoulder when we are anxious or depressed. It is very difficult for many at this time to refrain from giving or receiving such acts of kindness.  But as difficult as such social distancing from our fellow man is, our text points to a more difficult social distancing that places man far away from God because of his sin.

Simon Peter was a professional fisherman by trade, and he and his coworkers were having a very difficult day at the office.  They had fished all night and had caught not one fish. But then Jesus tells them to cast their nets out once more, and behold, “when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking” (Luke 5:6).  It was after this miracle that Peter says his words above. He recognized at that moment that this was no ordinary man. This was his Lord! Immediately, Peter was both conscious and conscientious about his sins. How could such a sinner as he stand in the presence of one so great!?  

Indeed, this is the effect of man’s sin.  It distances us from God, just as Adam and Eve tried to hide themselves in the garden after they fell into sin.  The prophet Isaiah said it plainly, “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear” (Isaiah  59:2). And yet, how many sinners today are worried about this type of social distancing? How many are pained by the fact that their sins have separated them from God? Peter was aware that his sins made him unworthy to stand before his sinless Lord.  But how? And why?  

This is the importance of the preaching of the Law.  It is through God’s Law that the Holy Spirit convicts the sinner of his sinfulness, of his complete unworthiness to stand before the holy and sinless God.  The sinner needs to understand just how serious his sins are. How he stands to lose not only life itself but even eternal life in heaven on account of those sins.  Then, and only then, will the sinner be ready to hear and welcome the good news of the Gospel. Which is that “now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13).  When this new coronavirus has run its course, and enough people have built up an immunity to it, social distancing will no longer be necessary. In like manner, we who had distanced ourselves away from God on account of our sins have been brought near to Him again by Jesus’ blood.

After Peter said those words to Jesus, acknowledging his own sins and unworthiness, Jesus responded by saying, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men” (Luke 5:10).  Through His Gospel message of forgiveness, Jesus assures you that you need not fear your many sins that distanced you from God because His cross is that bridge that reconciles you to your heavenly Father.  “For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross” (Colossians 1:19-20).  Furthermore, “all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.  Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).  

As the coronavirus pandemic spreads and more people die because of it, many people will consider the deep questions of life as they face their own mortality.  They will want to know how they might “make things right with God.” That is, how they might be reconciled to Him even though they’ve sinned and done many bad things in life.  By giving us the Law and Gospel in His holy Word, the Bible, Jesus has also equipped us to be His “fishers of men.” Dear fellow Christians, let’s go fishing!

Wash Your Hands – Devotion #5

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

One of the precautions we can take to avoid this virus, and many viruses, is to simply wash our hands.  It’s something most people are taught from early on as children, but many today have gotten lazy with this healthy habit.  The CDC informs us that in order for hand washing to be effective, it should be done for 20 seconds with soap and warm water.  But no matter how thoroughly one washes his hands they will pick up more germs throughout the course of the day, and so for hand washing to be effective at preventing disease, it has to be done both thoroughly and frequently.  

For a select group of people, those with obsessive-compulsive disorder, hand washing is a daily, if not hourly obsession.  These poor people have the constant inner compulsion to constantly wash their hands to the point that they can severely damage their skin.  But despite the painful damage inflicted on themselves they continue to wash and wash, fearful that they still haven’t gotten all of the dirt, grime, and germs off.  When it comes to their sin, sinners are much like the obsessive-compulsive hand washer. They become pained in their conscience by some sin they’ve committed, and they wash and wash in the form of good works trying to make up for it.  

One is reminded of a famous scene in Shakespeare’s play Macbeth.  In the scene, Lady Macbeth who is unconsciously wrecked with the guilt of murder, walks about while asleep trying desperately (and unsuccessfully) to wash the blood from her hands while saying, “Out damned spot!”  That is the sinner’s approach to sin. Even in the garden, Adam and Eve tried to sew fig leaves for themselves to cover up the nakedness of the shame of their own sin. But, of course, such “washings” will never do.

In the Old Testament, God prescribed for His people numerous types of ceremonial washings.  In the book of Leviticus which contains God’s civil, moral, and ceremonial laws, the word wash is found 37 times.  So many things required washing: portions of the sacrifices, garments, washing of unclean things and persons for purification purposes, among other things.  Even the priests themselves had to be washed. Whenever the high priest was to come into the Holy Place before God’s presence on the Day of Atonement, he had to first take off all of his clothes, thoroughly wash his body in water, and put on the holy garments, and then upon leaving, he had to take off the holy garments, thoroughly wash his body again, and put on his original clothes.  All of this ceremonial washing of things and people wasn’t for the sake of sanitation and cleanliness however. Rather, it was to remind the people that they were sinners and needed to be thoroughly cleaned to be in the presence of holy God. The reason why they had to repeat it over and over again was to remind them that their own washing was wholly inadequate. This was God’s way of pointing them forward to the washing He would provide through His Messiah.

Our text from 1 Corinthians 6 says that “you were washed.”  The writer to the Hebrews puts it like this, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22).  In the original Greek of this passage, a special verb tense is used to show completed action and abiding results. When God sprinkles us with the atoning blood of Jesus and washes us in the pure water of Baptism, these completed actions have the abiding results of faith and salvation. No more repeating animal sacrifices. No more repeating of the putting on of holy garments. No more repeating of washing of water.  Just as Jesus only had to die once on the cross for all sins, when God washes us, we are clean indeed.  

Sadly, there are many who believe that baptism is man’s work to and for God, but how can this be if this washing is to have abiding results?  As we have seen, man’s washings (such as under the Old Covenant) have to be repeated over and over again. No, God’s washing is a completed action with abiding results just as the prophet Ananias said to Paul at His baptism, “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16).

As we continue in these days of the coronavirus, washing your hands frequently and thoroughly (but not obsessively) can provide some protection.  But when it comes to your sins, no washing you do can ever remove that “damned spot.” Instead, rest in the comfort of God’s promises that “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7), and that as you were baptized you were “buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Colossians 2:12).

There is a fountain filled with blood

Drawn from Immanuel’s veins,

And sinners plunged beneath that flood

Lose all their guilty stains. (The Lutheran Hymnal #157 vs.1)

Sin, disturb my soul no longer:

I am baptized into Christ!

I have comfort even stronger:

Jesus’ cleansing sacrifice.

Should a guilty conscience seize me

Since my Baptism did release me

In a dear forgiving flood,Sprinkling me with Jesus’ blood? (Worship Supplement 2000 #751 vs. 2)

Precautions – Devotion #4

“For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!” Galatians 5:13-15

A question that has come up among sincere Christians during this time is whether or not following the government regulations of self-quarantine is appropriate for the Christian to follow, especially in the area of holding public, in-person worship services.  Does following such precautions as self-quarantine or social distancing reveal a lack of faith or trust in God?  

First, it’s interesting to note that this isn’t the first time Christians have struggled with such a question.  When the bubonic plague was ravaging Europe in the 1500s and made its way into Germany, Martin Luther was asked his opinion on things by the Christians in Silesia through their leader Johann Hess.  Luther replied with an open letter, thinking that perhaps his words may be of some use to other Christians.  

This was part of Luther’s reply:

“When anyone is overcome by horror and repugnance in the presence of a sick person he should take courage and strength in the firm assurance that it is the devil who stirs up such abhorrence, fear, and loathing in his heart.  He is such a bitter, knavish devil that he not only unceasingly tries to slay and kill, but also takes delight in making us deathly afraid, worried, and apprehensive so that we should regard dying as horrible and have no rest or peace all through our life.  And so the devil would excrete us out of this life as he tries to make us despair of God, become unwilling and unprepared to die, and, under the stormy and dark sky of fear and anxiety, make us forget and lose Christ, our light and life, and desert our neighbor in his troubles.  We would sin thereby against God and man; that would be the devil’s glory and delight. . . 

“Others sin on the right hand.  They are much too rash and reckless, tempting God and disregarding everything which might counteract death and the plague.  They disdain the use of medicines; they do not avoid places and persons infected by the plague, but lightheartedly make sport of it and wish to prove how independent they are.  They say that it is God’s punishment; if he wants to protect them he can do so without medicines or our carefulness. This is not trusting God but tempting him. . . 

“It is . . . shameful for a person to pay no heed to his own body and to fail to protect it against the plague the best he is able, and then to infect and poison others who might have remained alive if he had taken care of his body as he should have.  He is thus responsible before God for his neighbor’s death and is a murderer many times over. Indeed, such people behave as though a house were burning in the city and nobody were trying to put the fire out. Instead they give leeway to the flames so that the whole city is consumed, saying that if God so willed, he could save the city without water to quench the fire.

“No, my dear friends, that is no good. . . What else is the epidemic but a fire which instead of consuming wood and straw devours life and body?  You ought to think this way: ‘Very well, by God’s decree the enemy has sent us poison and deadly offal. Therefore 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 infect 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 neighbor 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 and does not tempt God.”

Luther certainly gives a person much to chew on and think about.  But, of course, Luther is not God. At the beginning of his letter, he states, “This we would humbly submit to your judgment and to that of all devout Christians for them, as is proper, to come to their own decision and conclusion.”  

Second, it is of interest to note that in Old Testament times under God’s civil law for His people, He Himself established a time of quarantine and social distancing during times of plague (Leviticus 13).  “Now the leper on whom the sore is, his clothes shall be torn and his head bare; and he shall cover his mustache, and cry, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ He shall be unclean. All the days he has the sore he shall be unclean. He is unclean, and he shall dwell alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp” (Lev. 13:45-46).  

Part of the difficulty for New Testament Christians is that God has not given us such specific directives of what to do during such a pandemic as what is currently facing us.  However, He has given us governments and expects us to honor the government as though we were honoring God Himself (Romans 13). That being said, many of our current federal and state governments, in an effort not to trample on the freedoms outlined in the Constitution, have not mandated (with punishments for disobedience) these precautions, but have only requested willing participation and self-regulation.  That is, they are leaving it up to individual citizens to decide whether or not to abide by these precautions, strongly urging that they do so for the common good. There are many who believe these government sponsored precautions could very well cause more harm than good, affecting the livelihoods of thousands of people. Others believe that these precautions are important for saving precious lives, reasoning that it’s better to be poor and alive rather than dead.  Where should we as Christians stand on such things?  

Well, perhaps Christians should pause and consider whether or not our responses to each other are causing more harm than our response to these government precautions themselves.  Strong opinions abound on both sides. And Satan would love nothing more than to use those strong opinions to put a wedge between faithful Christians. But God’s Word warns us, “If you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!” (Galatians 5:15)  

As Luther pointed out, there are two extremes of sinful weaknesses in regard to plagues: fear/panic or being too rash/reckless.  Individual Christians are struggling with their own sinful flesh against such weaknesses, and they are struggling to decipher the ever changing information and suggested precautions that are coming out on a day to day basis.  We need to fulfill the law of love towards one another and recognize that certain circumstances may allow some Christians to cautiously go forward with continuing to hold public worship services, while under a different set of circumstances other Christians might decide it best not to do so.  In times like these, a Christian can only operate under the best information they have at the moment and make the best decision they can based on their conscience, being open even an hour later to having made the wrong choice. 

These are certainly strange and difficult times in which the Christian lives.  But in spite of all the confusion may we never lose sight of the clarity of the Gospel.  “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).  And may God’s love call us back to the love of which Jesus spoke to His disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).  In these concerning times, let us make sure the world knows we’re still Jesus’ disciples.

Uncertainty – Devotion #3

“Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” Matthew 10:29-31

There has been so much uncertainty involving this new coronavirus.  How exactly did it start? What is the infection rate? What is the mortality rate?  How long should a person stay quarantined? How long will so many things have to stay closed down?  A person can find different answers to these questions depending on where he looks online. It’s enough to leave one’s head spinning!  And it’s enough uncertainty to cause a person to be anxious or even fearful. Will I or a loved one contract the virus? If so, will we be among those who don’t really get very many symptoms at all, or will we suffer from great complications?  As Christians we can take great comfort in this fact: God knows.

Jesus assures you in the passage above that not a single sparrow falls to the ground without God knowing about it, and what’s more, that “the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”  While men anxiously scramble around down here seeking to understand all the questions about this virus, God already knows. He knows the infection rate. He knows the mortality rate. He knows (and cares about!) every person who will be affected by this virus and whose life will be ended by it.  Furthermore, God knows how this pandemic was started as well as precisely when and how it will end.  

And here are some other things God knows.  “O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, And are acquainted with all my ways. . . My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.

And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them” (Psalm 139:1-3, 15-16).  God knows everything about you! He knows where you came from, for He made you. He knows where you are and what you’re doing every minute of every day.  

Now in one sense, the truth that God knows everything about you can be an absolute terror to the sinner.  If God knows everything, then that means He knows exactly and thoroughly all the dark misdeeds you’ve ever done, every foul word that’s come out of your mouth, and every wicked thought that’s come into your heart.  “O God, You know my foolishness; And my sins are not hidden from You” (Psalm 69:5). Oh, how it horrifies the sinner to know that the holy God of heaven knows all of these horrible things about him, and that he will have to answer to God for each and every one of them!  The story is told of a little girl whose teacher had asked her to define the word “friend.” Pondering it silently for a moment, the little girl responded: “A friend is someone who knows you, but likes you anyway.” Despite knowing all of your sins, God still loved you and provided for your salvation.

Who can hide his sins from an all-knowing God?  No one can, but they can be unknown of God. “I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:34).  How can this be? “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).  “To him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5). Through faith in Jesus, God knows you in His Son and His righteousness, and so forgets your sins because Jesus paid the price!  

In our passage above, Jesus says that “you are of more value than many sparrows.”  What is the value God places on you over many sparrows? More than all the copper coins in the world!  “You were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19).  

Because of sin there is and will continue to be much uncertainty in this life.  But with God, nothing is uncertain. Not in the extent He knows you including every one of your sins, and also not in the extent He forgets your sins for the sake of Jesus’ blood and righteousness.  Does your head spin from all of the uncertainty surrounding this coronavirus? God knows, of that you can be certain.

Pandemic – Devotion #2

“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” Romans 5:12

On Wednesday, March 11th, 2020 the World Health Organization classified the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) to be a pandemic.  A pandemic is an outbreak of an infectious disease that infects people rapidly over a large geographic area, such as a whole country or even the world.  Pandemics have been traced throughout recorded history, starting all the way back to the Antonine Plague (165-180 A.D.) which claimed 5 million lives. And many people are familiar with the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1919 which claimed between 40-50 million lives.  An astounding number!  

In the Bible we also read about plagues that infected large numbers of people over a short amount of time.  Usually, these plagues were sent among the Israelites by the Lord Himself as a consequence for a specific act of disobedience by His people, such as for rebellion against God’s chosen leaders Moses and Aaron, or for idolatrous Baal worship and fornication in which some 23,000 Israelites died in a single day!

While we dare not attribute the current coronavirus pandemic to a specific sin, as the Lord Himself often does with the plagues in the Bible, what we can say is that there would be no plagues or pandemics at all if mankind had never sinned.  All the disease, suffering, sorrow, and death we experience in this world is a result of sin.  When we sinned, we ruined God’s perfect, beautiful creation, so that it is all cursed and filled with many harmful things.  God is not to be blamed for the death and destruction that happens on a daily basis. Instead, man quite literally has dug his own grave.  “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). What we find then is that man is constantly faced with a continuous worldwide pandemic: sin.  

Our passage above from Romans 5 points this out quite clearly: “and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.”  And there are other passages. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “They have all turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is none who does good, no, not one” (Psalm 14:3).  Many are taking some rather serious precautions for themselves and their loved ones against infection and death by the coronavirus. And yet, where is the sinner’s careful planning and preparations to avoid the pandemic of his own sin?!  After all, sin has a 100% mortality rate! Where is the sinner’s panic over that virus?  It is true, the thought of death by coronavirus may be scary, but even more true is that “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31)!  How does one even begin to prepare to face such a thing? The truth is we can’t, but thankfully God did!

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).  “Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life” (Romans 5:18).  “And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:2).  “For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself” (Hebrews 10:26-27).  

Notice the words used in these passages: “world,” “all men,” “whole world,” “once for all.”  Just as thoroughly as sin infects all of mankind, so too does the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son cleanse the sin of all people of all time.  The pandemic of man’s sin was no match for Jesus. There’s no sin and no sinner so great that Jesus’ blood has not redeemed, for “where sin abounded, grace abounded much more” (Romans 5:20).  God so loved the world – that includes you!

All mankind fell in Adam’s fall,

One common sin infects us all;

From sire to son the bane descends,

And over all the curse impends.

But Christ, the second Adam, came

To bear our sin and woe and shame,

To be our Life, our Light, our Way,

Our only Hope, our only Stay.

As by one man all mankind fell

And, born in sin, was doomed to hell,

So by one Man, who took our place,

We all received the gift of grace.

The Lutheran Hymnal #369 vs. 1, 4-5

Be Strong and of Good Courage – Devotion #1 

For our first devotion, we’re going to look at the passage from Joshua that is currently getting so much attention online right now.  They are the words of God to faithful Joshua as he was chosen to lead God’s people after the death of Moses. Joshua’s calling was to bring the people over into the Promised Land.  This involved conquering all of those people groups currently living in the land of Canaan. People groups that consisted of hardened warriors, some of which were literal giants, living in heavily fortified cities.  In the sight of man, this was quite the monumental task! But God encourages Joshua with those precious words of promise, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). 

The Lord reminds Joshua that He Himself had chosen and called Joshua to this important task.  As such, God would support His called vessel in that work and see to its accomplishment. Also, the promise of God’s presence must surely have been very encouraging to Joshua as he stood on the banks of the Jordan River looking over the Promised Land and seeing all the various different cities they were to wage war against.  

Through the Gospel, God has called us into His kingdom of grace through faith in our Savior Jesus.  Jesus has conquered our enemies all around: sin, Satan, death. Through His perfect life, He provides us righteousness.  Through His cross, He secures our forgiveness. Through His resurrection, He gives us victory! No matter how we might be affected by the current coronavirus, we have these Gospel promises to cling to for our eternal comfort and security.

By virtue of our calling into the faith to bear the blessed name Christian, we like Joshua have also been chosen and called by God to bear an important blessed work.  He tells us that we are the “light of the world” and the “salt of the earth.” He leaves us here in the midst of such a COVID-19 pandemic to bring the love of Jesus to our neighbors.  And just as with Joshua, we have the promise of God’s presence.  

“And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age‘” (Matthew 28:18-20).

Are you currently at home quarantined?  Be strong and of good courage. God is with you!  Are you one of many who must continue to go into work, exposing yourself to possible infection?  Be strong and of good courage. God is with you! Are you one who must work on the front lines providing help in some fashion to those who are currently sick?  Be strong and of good courage. God is with you! And in the midst of this all, speak to those around you about the God who makes you strong and gives you courage because He is always with you.

I encourage you to read all of Joshua Chapter 1.  As you do, you will see that God encouraged Joshua four different times with those very same words, “Be strong and of good courage.”  The final time God encouraged Joshua by having the people themselves that he would lead speak those words to him. God wants all of His believers to encourage one another by “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19).

May Jesus bless and keep you always.  Amen!