Coronavirus, The Gospel and Repentence

Coronavirus, the Gospel and Repentance
Jason Lapp
March 24, 2020

Disaster and suffering have a way of reminding us of the things that matter most in life. More importantly, they have a way of reminding us that this life is broken and does not operate the way God intended. God created the world good. The world wasn’t broken in the beginning. Sadly, things took a turn for the worse when Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Maybe you’re wondering right now, “What does that story from thousands of years ago have to do with the pandemic happening in the world today?” My response is simple: Everything! The world is broken because of that moment back in Genesis 3. Before you come down too hard on Adam and Eve, make sure you stop to remind yourself that had you been in that same situation, you would have made the same move. The fall brought about brokenness, pain, suffering, disaster.

But couldn’t God stop it all right now?

He could. But I will contend that the reason he doesn’t stop it all now is because he has better resolutions. The biggest problem with humanity is not suffering or disaster or pain but sin. If God removed all disaster I’m afraid most of us, if not all, would forget him in our comfort. If we experienced no pain, no suffering, no disaster and only comfort, we would be fooled into thinking we don’t need Jesus. But sin would remain. We would spend eternity in hell away from the God of all comfort.

Jesus, in his kindness, tells his followers how to respond to disaster. In Luke 13:1-5, Jesus is told by a crowd of people “about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices” (1). This is obviously a terrible story. It seems these Galileans had gone to make sacrifices but while they were making the sacrifices they were killed by the Romans. Pilate had the blood of these Galileans mixed with the blood of the sacrifices they had offered. It seems to be the worst kind of death. This is clearly a disaster.

Jesus knows why the crowd asks him about the story, so he responds, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered this way” (2)? Disaster and suffering were thought to be a direct result of sin by most in the Jewish culture. In John 9:2 we see this clearly when his disciples ask him about the man born blind. “And the disciples asked Jesus, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’” Therefore, Jesus poses the question asking if this crowd believes these Galileans were worse sinners. He continues by telling another tragic story: “Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem” (4)? Jesus wants to be clear that all suffering and disaster is a result of sin, but it does not always mean that the ones suffering are greater sinners.

This is not just a Jewish culture problem though. We can all fall into this trap. When Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans many people were saying that event was God’s judgment upon that city. Mike McKinley in his commentary on this passage says, “When we see suffering or disaster in our lives or the world around us, we need to resist the urge to draw rapid and unfounded conclusions about God’s purpose in sending it.” It is unwise for us to speculate about why God does certain things that are outside our knowledge while neglecting to fulfill the commands he has called us to obey. No one knows for sure whether Hurricane Katrina was an act of God’s judgment on New Orleans or whether the Coronavirus is an act of God’s judgment on the world. But we do know from this passage that followers of Christ are to call sinners to repentance. Jesus responds to the crowd twice saying, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will likewise perish” (3, 5). Jesus does not want us to waste time with speculation. All have sinned, therefore all need Christ, which means everyone needs to repent. Disaster and suffering remind people that this world is broken. It gives us opportunity to offer hope.

People all over the world are fearful because a disaster like the coronavirus reminds them about death. It reminds them that they are not in control. As followers of Christ, we have the only message to remove all fear. Did you hear that? We have the only message to remove all fear. The coronavirus can be a tool for gospel ministry. Rather than sitting back wondering if this is the end of the world, or if this is God’s judgment on the world, or why certain people get sick, let’s spend our time trying to figure out ways to communicate the loving message of the gospel. Sinners don’t need a cure for the coronavirus first and foremost. The most important cure needed is to believe “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). Sinners need to repent! Sinners need to turn from sin and run to Christ. He is the refuge. He is the hope. He is the cure.

How do we lovingly communicate the gospel?

Jesus continues by telling a parable in verses 6-9 that seems to be disconnected from his call to repentance. A parable is a story that communicates a spiritual truth. This parable is about a fig tree that does not produce fruit for three years. “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none’” (6-7). If you owned a vineyard and had a tree that did not produce anything for three years, what would you do? You would respond the same way this man does when he says, “Cut it down” (7). What is Jesus saying? The same thing John the Baptist was saying when he said, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8).

Every human being is accountable to God. We tend to believe that only Christians are to bear fruit. Christians are to bear fruit, but I think there is confusion over the fact that all humans are to bear fruit. We are all called to worship and serve God. Yet so many reject this calling in order to bear fruit for their own personal kingdom. Everyone is called to bear fruit, but only Christians are given a new heart and can bear fruit in keeping with repentance. Since the call is for everyone to bear fruit, it is easy to see God’s continual patience and mercy toward sinners. The parable continues to show God’s patience toward sinners who reject him when the vinedresser responds, “Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down” (8-9). Another year for a tree that has not produced fruit for three years – this is a patient and merciful owner. This owner is just like the Owner of all his creation. He is patient and merciful desiring for all to repent.

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward YOU not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) “

Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead YOU to repentance.” (Romans 2:4)

God is patient. We, as the Church, need to be urgent with the message of the gospel. Disaster and suffering remind people that this life is fleeting. It gives us opportunities to speak of our merciful God who gives life and breath to all people. If YOU have not repented and trusted in the merciful Savior, I plead with you to repent. Christ is the only hope. If YOU have trusted in Christ for your salvation be prepared to testify of his great patience and mercy to a lost and dying world.

Jason Lapp - Elder


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