Mark records the following narrative:
“On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?'” Mark 4:35-40
They had just left the crowd, the roaring waves of people that were always present wherever Jesus was. He had been teaching all that day, and the evening had come upon them, when He said to them, “Let’s go to the other side”, that is, the other side of the Sea of Galilee. And so, they got in the boat, and went on their way.
The sea can be a very dangerous place; weather that seems so stable on land, seems to change in only a matter of moments when one is on the waves. How many stories of shipwrecks due to a sudden storm litter our history as they litter the floor of the sea! It was precisely one of these storms that arose while the disciples and their Teacher were making their way to the other side of the water. The winds were howling about them. Waves were crashing into the boat, filling it with water. The end seemed nigh in this roaring fury. It is no wonder that the sea in Scripture is often used as a symbol of chaos! How swiftly did the Galilean evening become a hellish night!
In the midst of all of this, we have Mark’s aside: “But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion.” With the chaos of the sea seemingly bursting through its bounds, and soon to overtake any poor soul upon it, Jesus, no doubt tired from a long day of teaching and interacting with the crowds, was catching some shut-eye in the stern of the boat.
The disciples, noticing the silence of their Teacher, turned to Him and woke Him. And they uttered a question that is so often uttered by human beings who don’t understand how God can be so calm while the world around us seems so chaotic: “Do you not care that we are perishing?”
When we consider the epidemic of the coronavirus and its swift spread throughout the world, perhaps we are tempted to ask the Lord, “Do you not care that we are perishing?” With our eyes on the crashing waves around us, it is easy for us to become more focused on the problem before our eyes than it is for us to focus on Immanuel, the God Who is with us in the midst of the storm. We throw ourselves into trying to keep our tiny bark from capsizing, exerting all of our power and know-how into saving ourselves… but water keeps pouring in and all seems lost. In fear we begin to panic, and forgetting everything that God has taught us of His steadfast love and the providential preservation of His people, we begin to think and behave as if we are doomed.
Panic is unbecoming a beloved child of God. In this epidemic, has anything come upon us that has not come upon Christians throughout history? Consult the long and storied history of the church and you will find faithful believers entrusting themselves to God in the midst of plagues that make the coronavirus look like a case of the sniffles. We come from a long line of people who, recognizing their own weakness, sought refuge in God’s providential care, and acted out of faith in God’s promises, not out of a reaction to a perceived threat. They recognized the chaos of the fallen world, and in the sinking sand found Christ still the Solid Rock.
We must trust in God’s promises to His people in the midst of the waves of coronavirus. How still the inner man becomes, though the outer man is rocked about on the sea, when we hear again our Lord say, “I am with you always, to the end of the age”! (Matt. 28:20). Our courage rises above these world-shaking assaults when we remember that our God has not forsaken us – He is for us, and “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31). How small a thing is coronavirus when compared to the infinite glorious power of the God Who loves us! At best, coronavirus can take our lives; we will die, as is appointed to every human being since the fall, whether it be of coronavirus or old age. But our Savior, the One Whom we in our panic faithlessly accuse of not caring, is Himself the Resurrection and the Life! Hear Him say to your soul, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26).
What do we mean singing all of these hymns about God’s help when, at the first sign of trouble, we panic and listen to the cacophony of the world telling us that all is lost? “After all,” they proclaim, “coronavirus can kill you.” A very many things can kill me; I am a frail creature! But nothing can kill me without the express permission of my sovereign God. The Rock of Ages has indeed cleft for me, and I am hidden in Him; no evil will befall me! Even if I get sick and die, I will live. “Be still, my soul, the Lord is on thy side!” I sing, because when my heart rises in panicked waves, the promises of my Lord command, “Peace! Be still!” “And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.”
I do not propose that we throw caution to the wind; use wisdom, for wisdom is the gift of God! (James 1:5). But, if you belong to Christ, do not behave like the faithless world. Don’t abandon caution, yes; but don’t abandon your faith, either! Fear will make you a slave to every tossing of the wave; but faith in Christ sets you free to know that, whatever comes, no matter how bad it appears, you are ultimately, eternally safe in Him. Pray that He would still your souls by His Word during this tumultuous time, and that He would add iron to your backbone, that in the midst of everyone losing their heads, you would keep yours to the glory of God!
It is likely that we will all be touched by this epidemic in some way. Will your reaction magnify the size of the waves, or will your faith manifest the loving care of your God?
Concerning our response as a church to the governor’s suggestion that we refrain from having services on Sunday, it is important that we, as stated above, throw neither caution nor faith to the wind. We will faithfully continue to have Lord’s Day morning service, joining together in worship of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ! However, we also seek to implement God’s gift of wisdom to prevent those who are especially susceptible to this virus from being exposed to it.
- If you are ill, and are showing symptoms of the coronavirus, please seek medical attention right away.
- Likewise, if you are ill, do not risk exposing others to possible contamination. We ask that you would please stay home until you have been cleared by medical professionals to interact with other people.
- If you are particularly susceptible to the coronavirus (namely, over the age of 60 or suffering from a chronic medical condition), the decision is left to you whether or not to come to Sunday worship. If you decide not to do so, please redeem the time by worshiping at home; I will post my sermon manuscripts on this blog the Monday after so you can keep up. Also, feel free to call me if you have a prayer need or desire a home visit.
- We will be cancelling the evening service for now.
- Pertaining to the morning service itself – we will forego our normal practice of handshaking, and instead of passing the plate at the offering, our ushers will be stationed at the back of the church at the end of the service for you to drop your offering in the plate on your way out of the church.
- Please be sure to maintain common courtesy practices (i.e., cover your cough, wash your hands, etc.)
- Also, educate yourself concerning the virus, rather than listening to secondhand hearsay. I found this article helpful: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/what-we-know-coronavirus/