What about Ebola?
When I was in the fourth grade, I lived in constant terror of the Soviet Union because my teacher, Mr. Miller, knew that nuclear war was going to happen any day. In November of my fourth-grade year, The Day After was televised on ABC. Mr. Miller told us that we were to watch that film about a nuclear attack on Lawrence, Kansas. It so happened that my principal sat in the pew in front of us at church. Mom and Dad had a few discussions with him about Mr. Miller and The Day After. Nope. I wasn’t allowed to watch, but that didn’t keep Mr. Miller from discussing it at length the day after the movie aired.
General Secretary Yuri Andropov died in February 1984. We watched television coverage in the classroom. Mr. Miller told us that each General Secretary was worse than the last, and it wasn’t going to be long before the whole world was a nuclear wasteland. I lived in constant fear.
The other night we came home from the gospel meeting and RJ turned the TV on. The remote was there by my recliner, but I wasn’t really paying any attention. The TV was on FoxNews from where I watched TV that morning, and Megan Kelly was discussing Ebola and how that disease is rapidly spreading. Wil was rapidly becoming quite concerned, and I passed the remote to somebody and said, “Please change this.”
Maybe you’ve been quite concerned, too. The media are making Ebola sound as if that virus will spread through every corner of the United States–Of course, the more frightened people are the more viewers or readers they’ll have. Maybe Ebola doesn’t frighten you, but you may realize that because of your age death cannot be all that far off. You may have children that might be susceptible to the flu, and you know how horrible some strains can be. You see how people are turning away from God, and you fear persecution which is likely to come.
What can we do in the face of Ebola or other threats to life or health? We remember this truth: “God is bigger than Ebola!” There could not be a clearer message in the Book of Daniel. Daniel is cast into a den of lions because he prays to the Lord; the Lord shuts the mouths of those lions. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s image. Those three youths, therefore, were cast into a fiery furnace, and they lived to tell it. Obviously, it would have been easy to refuse to bow to Nebuchadnezzar’s idol knowing that you would not die in that furnace. However, I really don’t think that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego knew they’d live through that furnace. Notice what they say in Daniel 3:16-18. They know God would deliver them from the king’s hand (but, they don’t say it would be a physical deliverance). At verse 18, they seem to indicate that they might very well die by refusing the king’s command.
The New Testament teaches that God is able to do great things. When Mary wondered how she could bear a Child while still a virgin, Gabriel said, “With God nothing will be impossible” (Lk 1:37). When the disciples wondered how a rich man could enter the kingdom of heaven, Jesus says, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt 19:26). Ephesians 3:20-21.
Let’s think about ways that “God is bigger than Ebola!”
God will not allow death to harm His people. We’ve already mentioned Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego as folks whom od miraculously delivered from death. But, there are a host of folks in Scripture who died for doing right.
- Abel, the first person to die in this fallen world, was murdered because he offered acceptable worship.
- “They conspired against him [Zechariah, the prophet, the son of Jehoiada], and at the command of the king they stoned him with stones in the court of the house of the LORD” (2 Chron 24:21).
- Jesus Himself died upon a cross.
- James was beheaded, Stephen was stoned, and Antipas was Jesus’ “faithful witness” (Rev 2:13).
However, physical death is not the end of the story. Notice what Jesus says: John 11:25-26. “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Phil 1:23, ESV).
Because death cannot harm us, we have no reason for anxiety in the face of death. Jesus came to “release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb 2:15). Jesus says, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matt 10:28).
In times of anxiety, it’s important to remember that death cannot harm us. I don’t mean to imply in any way that death is good. Death is an enemy of God (1 Cor 15:26). Death separates us from those we love.
I can remember when the doctor thought I had Lou Gehrig’s. Obviously, I was worried about my young family, but I was also worried about dying that way–it would be a horrendous way to die. The being dead part did not bother me (the Bible says that’s pretty awesome), but getting that way was frightening.
God blesses His people in death. I’ve already said that death is an enemy of God. I believe as you read Genesis 1-3 that God never intended for man to die; the tree of life was in the Garden. I think His plan was for us to live in that Garden and then be taken to heaven like Enoch or Elijah, but that’s simply my opinion.
While death is God’s enemy, God takes care of His people when they die. “Precious in the sight of the LORD Is the death of His saints” (Ps 116:15). Remember the rich man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31). The beggar “was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom” (Lk 16:22). I love that Lazarus was carried by the angels. That says God cares for me when I die, and He makes sure I’m well cared for. That also says I’m not alone when I die; angels are right there. Dad’s sister died not terribly long ago. Aunt Thelma did not have an easy time on this earth. She was never to be married and have children. She always said that we three nephews were as close as she’d ever come to having children of her own. She had breast cancer that was discovered at a very late stage. She was able to beat the cancer. Yet, the treatments put her in a wheelchair and eventually into a nursing home. Dad called early one morning to tell me that Aunt Thelma wasn’t going to live through the day, and that he and Mom were on their way to Indiana to be with her. Tammy had already left for work, but I texted her, and I told both of the boys. I get the boys to school, and I’m turning into the gym when Dad calls to say that Thelma had died. That hurt me to the core. It hurt that Thelma had died, but not nearly like knowing that her brother, sister-in-law, and nephews weren’t there. There were cousins and others there. Those cousins are some of the best people on this earth the way they cared for Thelma and my grandparents. I just didn’t want Thelma to die alone; nobody should die alone. Jesus says that I am not alone when I die, regardless of who might physically be in that room or car or wherever. Lazarus was comforted–He had a miserable life, but in the Paradise of God, he was well cared for.
“‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them’” (Rev 14:13).
God allows death because of sin. Our whole natural world is impacted because sin has entered the world. You may remember that during last year’s race for lieutenant governor Ralph Northam ran attack ads on E. W. Jackson. Jackson had written a book in which he said, “It is the principle of sin, rebellion against God and His truth which has brought about birth defects and other destructive natural occurrences.” Northam ran an ad with a woman holding a child blasting Jackson for that statement. In my opinion, Jackson was dumb to put truth that way. In my opinion, I believe that we need to make truth as appealing as possible; you attract more flies with honey than vinegar. You cannot change one word of truth, but we package as gently and kindly as possible. My own health issues are the result of bad genes I inherited at conception.
Sin has brought every evil thing into this world. Genesis 3:16-19. “Just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom 5:12).
All men are susceptible to illness, suffering, and dying because sin is in this world. We often hear the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” In my own struggles, there is a statement that helps me keep focused: “In all of human history, only one time has something bad happened to a good person. And, He volunteered for it.”
God’s Son suffered for us. Isaiah 53:3-12. “To this [suffering for your faith] you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Pet 2:21).
In my own struggles, it’s very helpful to be able to focus on One who suffered far worse than I shall ever suffer, and to know that He suffered because of and for me. We talk sometimes about how horrible the crucifixion was physically. In my understanding, the physical suffering was nothing like the anguish of the Lord’s bearing all our sins on His shoulders.
“God is bigger than Ebola!” Therefore:
We pray. There’s Epaphroditus (Phil 2:25-30). That’s a strange case: Paul doesn’t expressly say that prayer was given for Epaphroditus, but that seems evident from reading the text. It’s a strange case because Paul, an apostle, apparently couldn’t heal Epaphroditus. I believe that goes back to the idea that miracles would confirm the word.“The LORD will strengthen him on his bed of illness; You will sustain him on his sickbed” (Ps 41:3). “O LORD my God, I cried out to You, And You healed me” (Ps 30:2).
A few years ago for the span of about a month, every step I took brought excruciating pain. I put off talking to the doctor about pain medication, because I didn’t want a narcotic. He laughed and said that narcotics wouldn’t help me anyway. However, before I started taking Neurontin, I would mumble “O, God” with every step. Tammy and the boys heard me, and my wife was ready to rip my head off for using the Lord’s name in vain and doing so in front of my kids. I looked at Tammy and the boys sitting there with a look of shock, and I said, “I’m praying every step. I will not make it if God doesn’t help.”
We dare never forget the power of prayer!
We show compassion. Those who struggle with illness need a great deal of compassion and concern. Obviously, were one of us to be infected with Ebola (and I seriously doubt that’s even in the realm of possibilities), we could pray and help the family, but there wouldn’t be anything else we could do. However, that doesn’t change the fact that the sick need cared for.Jesus taught us to show compassion for the sick. That was how He lived (Mk 1:29-34). That’s how He taught us to live (Matt 25:34-40).
We seize teachable moments. I believe that’s the message of Deuteronomy 6:7; you teach your children all the time in different ways.While the news media hype Ebola to boost their checking accounts, I believe there are many things we can teach our friends and neighbors. We can emphasize the sovereignty of God, i.e. God is in control. We can emphasize that dying in Christ is a blessing. We can emphasize the need to be ready to meet the Lord. What if you met the Lord this evening? Are you prepared to stand in His presence? Do you need to come to Jesus this very night?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Dale Ridge church of Christ in Roanoke, Virginia.