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Responding to the Present Alarm

The alarm is blaring. Men hit snooze, some cover their ears, others panic, aimlessly running around with anxiety. The alarm continues.

The global advent of COVID-19 has arrested the attention of our world. Even those who consider this to be nothing more than fearmongering are unable to ignore this news. It is beyond my calling to comment on the medical side of current illness and its progress. Certainly, I encourage all to observe prudence, love of others, and honor of those in authority—civil, medical, and ecclesiastical. It becomes us to give honor to those above us. But I would like to direct our attention to one greater than all of these.

The alarm that blares is from God. He is overseeing and directing all the details. “Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?” (Amos 3:6). The alarm is picked up by his servant embedded in the soul of each of us. The conscience speaks to us and raises the question, “Are you ready to appear before God?” Even the possibility—much more the reality—of a pandemic sweeping across the globe cannot but prick our conscience in such a way that speaks to us of our own mortality.

Men are shortsighted. Without understating the real impact and hardships associated with a sinking market, the concerns to this point in America have largely been related to self-love. The current alarm has challenged our idols. Our love of wealth and the comfort it has brought us, our lust for entertainment, our independence, getting what we want and when we want it—all of these have suffered a direct blow. Men have grown concerned, frustrated, anxious, and burdened by these temporary impacts. However, these are just the sound waves of the alarm. These are not the danger the alarm sounds.

Others have become concerned with death. Some might say that this is the real matter. Surely it is closer to the point. However, it is to what death issues us that is the greater matter.

Still others, trumpeting their supposed better vantage point, say that all is a false alarm. “Don’t worry,” they say, “this will pass.” Interestingly, this has come largely from so-called conservatives. It is true, without diminishing the potentially catastrophic impact of COVID-19, eventually its impact will lessen. This has been true of the greatest ravages of our world—the various outbreaks of the plague, the most overwhelming wars, the greatest natural disasters to wipe out whole civilizations. Each of them comes to an end. Some will survive, some will even prosper in the midst of such terrors.

However, all will die. The alarm is not the thing to be concerned about, it is the reality to which the alarm directs our attention. Everyone who is alive at this moment, everyone who contracts this illness, everyone who is immune to it, everyone who avoids it—each and every one of us will die. We may escape this illness. We may pass through this life never knowing another health crisis. We may skip through this world with many blessings around us. Yet, at the appointed time, each of us will die.

Thus the alarm blares. It is not the danger. It however warns of the danger—the real crisis. Many such alarms have sounded in the past. Many such alarms will sound in the future. The alarm reminds us of a fact common to every man, woman, boy, and girl. You must give an account of your life to God: “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27).

In light of this alarm, it is profitable to consider several lessons on which we may focus with benefit. While no one will grow in spiritual health by panic or presumption, giving attention to wholesome advice from God’s word would benefit all.

Prepare yourself for the real matter.

While our nation scrambles to stockpile necessary goods to make it a month or two through a potential quarantine, you ought to stockpile necessary goods for entering heaven to the praise of God. These goods are not purchased by our works. They are given freely to all in need who come to Christ. The merit of Christ, his sacrifice and substitutionary atonement, his grace and truth, his fullness to save–these are what we ought to be stockpiling to our souls. While grocery stores, supermarkets, and other suppliers have limits upon their products, Christ limits none of what he offers, but calls upon us to draw from him life for all eternity.

Consider God’s word, in Isaiah 55:1–3:

Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.

The same is promised us directly from the lips of our incarnate Savior: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Let us spend at least as much time purchasing the goods of eternal life without money and without price as we do purchasing the goods of temporal life. Take time to read God’s word and exercise faith upon it.

Prize the Bible.

National and international trials have a way of sobering us for a season. Let that sobriety make us more watchful to search the Scriptures. However, don’t be swept away to the unprofitable searching for dates and signs so common to historical panics. Rather, search the Scriptures to know God, to know sin, to know salvation, to know holiness. Take up the main things. Feed your soul by the daily, regular, and prayerful intake of his wholesome supply of life. “My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips: when I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches” (Ps. 63: 5–6).

Pray for true transformation.

This ought to be true personally and nationally. Anyone with death before them will sober for a season. Our hearts race when we nearly collide with another car. Give it ten minutes, and our hearts return to their normal rate. A drunkard swears off drinking when his body is impacted by his excess. Once the consequence is behind him, he returns to his drunkenness. Many who are concerned at present will return to their idols and comforts in a month or more. For the first time in years, the Sabbath has not witnessed professional sports. Without God’s grace, when this constraint is removed, like a dog to its vomit, our society will return to its sin. There is a window of concern in our nation and world. Pray that the Lord would pour out his Spirit unto the conversion of sinners. The real need is the regenerative work of God.

Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence, as when the melting fire burneth, the fire causeth the waters to boil, to make thy name known to thine adversaries, that the nations may tremble at thy presence! When thou didst terrible things which we looked not for, thou camest down, the mountains flowed down at thy presence (Isa. 64:1–3).

Increase your pursuit of God.

This is needed for believers and unbelievers. Believers will benefit from limiting, if not wholly quitting, their time on social media. At the very least, appoint a limit of time on social media and the intake of news. Imagining your thoughts at the end of your life, which of the following is more likely? “I wish I had spent more time on social media,” or, “I wish I had spent more time on eternal things.” Social media has a place in our lives today, but it ought to have a far more limited place. Instead of scouring the news for updates, scour God’s word for grace, comfort, guidance, promises, commandments, and Christ. Do so individually, do so in your families, do so in public worship. Prioritize the Lord’s ordinances. “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes. The law of thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver” (Psalm 119:71–72). Affliction brings about deepening desire for the Lord and his word. This season of concern ought to multiply our pursuits in secret alone, in private with our families, and in public with our brethren. While the world grasps after its gods, let us worship the true and living God.

Pray for our leaders.

It is a sign of our corruption that Christians are ready to speak so carelessly against elected officials, medical personnel, and prudent measures to prevent the spread of illness. If you happen to disagree with a decision, remember that you are under authority. Wicked men speak against dignitaries. Christians of all people ought to be ready to hold their tongue and honor men who are above us (Rom. 13:1, Titus 3:1, 1 Pet. 2:13–17, and 2 Pet. 2:10). Instead of imprudently speaking against our rulers, speak for them before God. Intercede for them. Who among us can understand how much information is coming at each one: local, state, and federal? Who can realize the number of decisions they have to make that impact hundreds of thousands of people? Yes, wrong decisions will be made, poor directives will be implemented, but do you think your rejoinder on social media will do anything to establish wisdom? You would be far better to close your account with men and open your account with the Lord upon the throne of grace. Pray that our leaders of all political parties would be given wisdom. Pray for favor. Pray for repentance.

Do not speak deridingly of the few that have died.

Yes, some have exaggerated claims. But it is true that some have died. The death of one sinner is to be lamented. Death itself is an invasion brought by sin into the world. Yes, all is under God’s control, but death is the testimony of a rebellion and a shame belonging to men. Let us not mock it. Moreover, it is the solemn severing of the cord of life. A wife will lose her husband. A son will lose his father. A father will lose his daughter. Is any of this worthy of our mocking? Some have, others will, enter eternity by this virus. Instead of mocking the “few” who have died, let us pray that many would be brought to life by the good news of Christ.

Christian, comfort yourself by the knowledge that Christ has conquered the grave for you. I have news for you, Christian: you will die. You cannot escape it. If it is by COVID-19, you will likely die in the next few months. If it is not, you will still die. No amount of handwashing, no amount of social distancing, no exercise of the greatest wisdom can prevent this end. While we have a responsibility to our neighbor in love to implement best practices, let us be sure that this will not prevent the ultimate end. Do not misconstrue this for a reason of carelessness. Such carelessness is sin. However, with the greatest care, you will still die. Consider the following question. How many people died who lived through the outbreak of the black plague? All of them. Every single one. Everyone alive right now will die.

However, Christian, Christ has died. Christ has risen. Your greatest need at this hour is to give glory to him in your secret devotion, family worship, and public worship. How will you do this without comfort and peace? Draw comfort from his death and resurrection. You are to be a beacon of faith, hope, wisdom, holiness, and love in a crazed world. Let the world focus on worldly things. Let the world cultivate anxiety, presumption, carelessness, and disrespect. Let the world cultivate selfishness and callousness toward others in need. You are a citizen of heaven. Live, walk, and speak as one. The only way you can do this is by living by faith in the Son of God. Draw near to him personally; draw near to him in your families; draw near to him with your local church. Rejoice in this, that though you will die, because Christ has died and is risen, you will rise again. Derive comfort from this. Comfort other brethren with this.

But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words (1 Thess. 4:13–18).

By trusting the Lord and walking in him, you will be prepared for that of which the alarm sounds. May the alarm that now sounds awaken you to believing and holy diligence. Redeem the time allotted to you. Serve the Lord with fear. Serve your neighbor in love. Avoid a worldly perspective, and, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). May the Lord bless you to trust him, love him, and serve him the length of your days.