The Coronavirus is upon us. I regularly monitor and to keep up to date with its progress via a statistics page. It’s a world event. Hardly a country is untouched. President Trump and Prime Minister Johnson have made their pronouncements and promises to end the progress of the virus. I admit that that is eventually what will happen – perhaps. But it won’t be because man has conquered an unseen enemy. It certainly won’t be because of any world leader. The only reason the progress of the virus will be halted is down entirely to the grace of God. That’s right. The Grace of God. Searching for a Vaccine is right and helping to limit its progress is something we all need to do. That’s the responsible thing to do. And we all play our part, however small. There is no inconsistency with the sovereignty and power of God and our acting responsibly.
A friend emailed me the other day and suggested Boris call for the Nation to beseech God to stay his hand in judgment. Will that happen? Unlikely. In the event the virus is stopped, a vaccine found and lives are saved – does that mean people are no longer going to die? No. It simply means people will die by another means. The Bible says in Hebrews 9:27 ‘And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment (the final judgment)…) The message is that we will all die by some means. We die because we are sinners. As sinners we live a fallen world. The Coronavirus shouts that reality to us. Are we listening?
Where did the virus originate? Many speculate the answer to that. I’ve no doubt many Christians will answer by saying the virus has been sent by God as judgment as my friend suggested. Maybe so.
‘There is no question in the Hebrew or NT mind that plagues are part of the judgment God sends to individuals, families, and nations. God himself threatens to send plagues to the Israelites in proportion to their sins (Lv 26:21) and takes full responsibility for the Egyptian plagues (Jos 24:5). The OT plagues demonstrated God’s control over the processes of nature just as do Christ’s miracles in the NT.’
Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Plague. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 2, pp. 1698–1699). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
Is the Coronavirus a judgement from God then. It’s a question we should ask.
If it is a judgment, the Virus is also a mercy.
Psa 101:1 A Psalm of David. ‘I will sing of mercy and judgment: unto thee, O LORD, will I sing. (AV)’
Not only a judgment but a mercy. How can a virus that is killing thousands be a mercy?
“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world….No doubt pain as God’s megaphone is a terrible instrument; it may lead to final and unrepented rebellion. But it gives the only opportunity the bad man can have for amendment. it removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of the rebel soul.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
The mercy is that it causes us to look up. That is to look to God for deliverance. Yet man in rebellion towards his creator will look anywhere rather than look to God for deliverance. The message to ancient Israel comes down the centuries to us in our modern technological proud arrogant age. That message is to repent and call upon The Lord for mercy and salvation.
Eze 18:31 Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel?
Eze 18:32 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.”
It was the message of The Lord Jesus. It’s still his message through his church:
Mar 1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God,
Mar 1:15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
Will you look up. Never mind what others will say. Will you call upon God for salvation through Christ? Will you receive the mercy offered by a Gracious God?
Christians are caught up in the present Coronavirus. We don’t get a free pass. But there’s a difference. Because the gospel ‘…. has been manifested through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2Ti 1:10)….’
Maybe the Virus will eventually disappear. But the concern you have for what will happen when you die will also disappear. But the fact of your own death will not. The abolition of death is only for those whose faith and trust is in The Lord Jesus Christ. Will you trust Christ? Will you repent and believe the Gospel?
On Saturday evening at Ebenezer’s 50th Church anniversary weekend; Dr Eryl Davies gave a most striking illustration on Eph 2:1 ‘And you were dead in the trespasses and sins.’
It went something like this:
‘Some of you,’ he said, ‘have stood over the body of a loved one, maybe you were crying, but no matter how much you wanted that loved one to be alive, they are dead.’
And they stay dead.
It’s an extremely powerful image. I’ve stood over the bodies of several dead loved ones. I can tell you, it’s a sobering experience. So his illustration wasn’t lost on me, or on others.
The point he went on to make is that only the Spirit of God can bring life to the sinner. The Bible speaks very plainly that spiritually by nature we are dead. The problem is that unbelievers think they are very much alive.
The Apostle Paul goes on to say that ‘we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:3)’ That is the position of the person without Christ. All seems well and Christians appear to be the most foolish people on earth. The reality is very different. Unbelievers are described in a variety of ways. Dead, darkened in their understanding, blind, ignorant, hard-hearted and many more. In other words, it’s a hopeless situation. There is no flicker of life.
Those of us that are Christians recognise that description because it describes where we were. (Our redemption is not yet complete. We know we have black hearts.) What happened?
Eph 2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,
Eph 2:5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—
God stepped in. There’s no room for pride or any sense of achievement.
Eph 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
Eph 2:9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
So how does a dead person, a walking dead person, become alive? Well, he certainly doesn’t do it to himself as the above illustration so clearly demonstrates. God does it. God makes us alive and grants the gift of repentance and faith in The Lord Jesus Christ. And He normally works through something similar to what you have just read. That is, the proclamation of the Gospel. This is why it is SO important to be in a church where the Gospel of the grace of a God in Christ is regularly preached.
How can you become alive? Or how can you be saved? Read how this happened to a hardened jailer in the 1st Century.
Act 16:29 And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas.
Act 16:30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
Act 16:31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
Or as Jesus Himself put it:
Mar 1:15 …. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
Dad didn’t say too much about the war. I understand that. But I do wish he’d said more. I should have asked more. When I bought a Poppy this year I said my Dad served in WW2. I was asked if he came through it (WW2) unscathed. He didn’t lose a limb if that’s what was meant. But he did have health issues (bronchial problems) throughout his life because of it. He lost all his teeth as well because of it. I can also remember him having awful nightmares. As a young boy, I would hear him wailing in the night. So no, he didn’t come through it unscathed. And I doubt many, if any, did.
He served in the Reconnaissance Corps and two requirements (apparently) to be in the Corps were intelligence and aggression. I reckon those two characteristics served him (and others) well. The motto of the Corps was ‘Only the enemy in front.‘ Four stories he did tell me were these. No details. He told me how on one occasion a patrol went out but only one person came back. The man that came back was a Christian. I don’t know what that (Christian) meant. But it obviously affected him quite deeply and he never forgot it. Another time he was due to go on a troop ship but for some reason, he didn’t make the boarding. The ship was sunk and everyone on board died. Then he was on his bike (he was a dispatch rider) going from one side to another and had to ride across a ridge. Enemy artillery had targeted the ridge and as he went along shells were exploding behind him but he made it without being hit. One other incident was how he rescued an officer on the back of his bike. No details just the fact of it.
He always bought a Poppy and would watch the Remembrance Day service on TV but never attended any reunions and never joined the Remembrance Day parade. I think it was all too much for him. The memories were so awful. His medals were in a box in the cupboard. But many years later as a Christian, a serving soldier (weapons Instructor) in the Church encouraged him to get his medals mounted and join the Remembrance Day parade. And he did. So thanks Ian Fraser for encouraging him to do that. I was able to watch him march with other WWII veterans. I watched him with pride. I guess I didn’t think too much about it when I was younger but today I’m thankful for his service. And all those that served – many paying the ultimate price. Thank you for your service Dad.
Whichever way you look at it, war is a terrible thing. A necessary thing sometimes maybe, but terrible all the same. As veterans die there’s a renewed realisation, it seems, that we ought not to forget their service and the horror. The war to end all wars (WW1) left the door open to another one. And so conflicts continue around the world. There will be wars, and rumours of wars, until the end said Jesus (Matthew 24:6). And so it is until The Prince of Peace Himself comes to reign.
A New Command
A much more significant event, even than the war, happened to Dad as an older man. I think in his late fifties. This was when his life came under a new command, The Lord Jesus Christ. When the Lord Christ appeared to Joshua,
Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?” (Joshua 5:13-15)
My Dad, by the Grace of God, bowed the knee to Christ. Not an easy thing for him to do as a very self-sufficient man. People say ‘look at all the suffering in the world, I could never become a Christian.’ This is just an excuse to not bow the knee. My Dad saw a lot of suffering. He saw friends blown up and lots of death and destruction first hand. And yet, my Dad came to see that he was a sinner in the sight of God. He came to know the Christ he had rejected for most of his life. My Dad’s favourite hymn was:
‘I have a friend, whose faithful love
is more than all the world to me,
’tis higher than the heights above,
and deeper than the soundless sea;
so old, so new, so strong, so true;
before the earth received its frame,
He loved me – blessed be His Name!
C A Tydeman
You might have seen the following words, or similar, on a War Memorial. But did you know they were from The Bible? ‘Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.’ John 15:13. Jesus laid down His life. But Jesus laid down His life to take it up again. Only Jesus could say this, and then do what He said. ‘No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father (John 10:18).’ He also said in John 10:27 ‘My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.’
Before they died, my Dad and Mum came to know and follow this risen Lord Jesus Christ. Have you?
“You are those who have stayed with me in my trials,” (Luke 22:28)
I remember many years ago as a relatively new Christian reading this verse for the first time and being amazed by it. I’m still amazed when I read it: staggered that such a verse should be in the Bible at all. Think about it, Jesus tells His disciples they have stayed with Him in His trials. Shouldn’t it be the other way round? Isn’t it Jesus that stayed with them! And us!
Think back over the last three years of Jesus’ ministry. The Disciples had been with Jesus and often displayed their foolishness, their proneness to division, their pride and lack of compassion. Added to that, the fact they were often clueless and showed little or no understanding to the amazement of The Lord.
Then immediately after speaking these words to them, Jesus tells Peter that he’s going to betray Him. Even then He tells Peter that He had prayed for him and that his faith would not fail. He even tells Peter when he is restored to strengthen his brothers – the other disciples. Not only was Jesus aware of their past and current failings, but He also knew they would shortly all be running away and that Peter would deny Him three times.
We can be very quick to judge our fellow believers. Sometimes it’s as if we are looking for evidence that a person is not a Christian at all. Well, a Christian would never do that! Or, a real Christian would never say that! Yes, it’s shameful how we can all behave at times, and how judgemental we can be. But The Lord isn’t like that, His compassions they fail not, His mercies are new every morning.
When we fail or deny our Lord, as we surely will in some way or another: When we are restored, strengthen our brothers. Encourage your fellow Christians. Help them to avoid where you fell or help them out of the same mess you were in.
My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back (James 5:19),
let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins (James 5:20).
This is to be Christ-like.
We haven’t just wandered from the truth, by nature we have run after error and falsehood. Yet at measureless cost, Christ has brought us back. The Lord Christ has saved our souls from an eternal death and through His sacrifice on Calvary has covered a multitude of sins by shedding His precious blood!
In another place Jesus says to the disciples, ‘No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you (John 15:15).’ Then there’s that great text in Proverbs 18:24 ‘A man of too many friends comes to ruin,
But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
Then here in Hebrew 2:11 ‘both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren,’. This is the word of God, be encouraged that though we can be ashamed of Jesus, He, is not ashamed to call us friends and brethren.
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).
If you are not a Christian this must seem like sentimental slush. Yet if you were to realise the great love God has for sinners the reality of His great love would be a source of wonderment to you.
Awake, my soul, and rise
Amazed, and yonder see
How hangs the mighty Saviour God
Upon a cursed tree!
William Williams, 1717 – 1791.
Let us look to the friend of sinners, the one who died but is risen from the dead to be a living Saviour. The following was my Dads favourite hymn which we sang at his funeral. What will be sung at yours?
I have a friend whose faithful love
Is more than all the world to me,
‘Tis higher than the heights above,
And deeper than the soundless sea:
So old, so new, so strong, so true;
Before the earth received its frame,
He loved me – Blessed be His Name!
He held the highest place above,
Adored by all the sons of flame,
Yet, such His self-denying love,
He laid aside His crown and came
To seek the lost, and, at the cost
Of heavenly rank and earthly fame,
He sought me – Blessed be His Name!
It was a lonely path He trod,
From every human soul apart,
Known only to Himself and God
Was all the grief that filled His heart:
Yet from the track He turned not back
Till where I lay in want and shame
He found me – Blessed be His Name!
Then dawned at last that day of dread
When, desolate but undismayed,
With wearied frame and thorn-crowned head
He, now forsaken and betrayed,
Went up for me to Calvary,
And dying there in grief and shame
He saved me – Blessed be His Name!
Long as I live my song shall tell
The wonders of His matchless love:
And when at last I rise to dwell
In the bright home prepared above,
My joy shall be His face to see,
And bowing then with loud acclaim,
I’ll praise Him – Blessed be His Name!
C. A Tydeman
Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death (Proverbs 11:4).
In the day of wrath by which is meant either death, which brings us ultimately to that day, or the day itself which will bring to an end this present evil age. When this age passes we enter an eternal and permanent state. For the day of wrath wealth will have no currency, indeed it’s value will be far less than the most accelerated hyper-inflation ever seen. We could also see wealth as not simply currency but also social worth. Wealth and social standing may gain a person entry into the most prestigious celebrations – even Royalty – but in the day of wrath, any currency will fail to have any influence.
A person may be poor but aspire to wealth and yet have none. They think by aspiring to aristocracy or the wealthy, the industrialist or the successful entrepreneur there will be a way of escape. If only I were wealthy? Not so, for we are told wealth is worthless in the day of wrath. See Revelation 6: 15-17.
Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. (V 15)
They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! (V 16)
For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?” (v 16)
The Bible nowhere condemns wealth as intrinsically wicked. There’s nothing wrong with earning money or being wealthy. But there’s no virtue with it. It will not earn favour with The Almighty. By the same token, there’s no virtue to being poor either. The politics of envy is popular in our day and is a form of rebellion towards the providence of a generous God. Back in the 1st Century if as a slave you could be free, so be it. So there’s nothing wrong with changing your position or a promotion. But riches and poverty have to be held in relation to God. Yes, that’s easy to say in the West. I know this. Go and read the parable Jesus told of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) and see where you would rather end up. Riches for that man were worthless. But Lazarus wasn’t saved by being poor but by trusting God, whereas the Rich Man rejected the Word of God.
But righteousness delivers from death. Death is synonymous with wrath ‘for it is given to man once to die and then judgment’ (Heb 9:27). But the text says we are delivered through righteousness. That is, by being righteous. Many understand Christians to be saying ‘we are righteous’ and mean by this ‘look how wonderfully righteous we are’. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth! We aren’t delivered by our own righteousness or by any righteous deeds. We are delivered by what has been called an alien righteousness – that is a righteousness from outside ourselves. We have no internal inherent spark of righteousness. To think otherwise is foolishness. The Bible says quite clearly ‘there is none righteous, no, not one (Rom 3:10)’ The righteousness the text speaks of must come from another. But who, since ‘there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins’ (Ecc 7:20). The Apostle John wept at the thought of no deliverer: ‘and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it (Rev 5:4).
So it isn’t just righteousness but a particular righteousness. The righteousness of a person. This person is The Lord Jesus Christ. It is He that delivers from death, destruction, and despair’.
Immortal honors rest on Jesus’ head;
My God, my portion, and my living bread;
In Him I live, upon Him cast my care;
He saves from death, destruction, and despair.
(Joseph Hart 1773-1844)
And it is only Jesus that is able to deliver from death. Having the righteousness that comes from God isn’t one option that we pick from many – which is often how it’s portrayed even by so-called ministers of religion. The truth is, it’s either the righteousness that God offers or you choose to go it alone. So if you do find yourself in an eternal hell, remember, you’ll be there because that was the choice you made.
Jesus is calling people to Himself. He says ‘come to me and I will give you rest’ (Matt 11:28-30). At the start of His earthly ministry, Jesus said ‘Repent and believe the Gospel’ (Mark 1:15). He also said ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink’ (John 7:37). The Son of God, the one who died and rose, who lives for evermore, the one who has defeated death is the one who calls you to Himself. Do not delay (2 Cor 6:1-2).
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:20).
1. Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore!
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and power.
He is able, He is able, He is able,
He is willing, doubt no more!
2. Let not conscience let you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness he requireth
Is to feel your need of him.
This he gives you, This he gives you, This he gives you:
‘Tis the Spirit’s glimmering beam.
4. Come ye weary, heavy laden,
Bruised and mangled by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.
Not the righteous, Not the righteous, Not the righteous;
Sinners Jesus came to call.
5. Agonizing in the garden,
Lo! your Maker prostrate lies!
On the bloody tree behold Him:
Hear Him cry, before He dies:
“It is finished!” “It is finished!” “It is finished!”
Sinner, will this not suffice?
6. Lo! The incarnate God ascending,
Pleads the merit of His blood;
Venture on Him, venture freely;
Let no other trust intrude.
None but Jesus, None but Jesus, None but Jesus
Can do helpless sinners good.
(Joseph Hart 1773-1844)
Here’s another one from ‘Voices From The Past Vol 1‘ edited by Richard Rushing (BoT). This is from 14th May and taken from the works of John Flavel (Works, 1:176 – 187). If I’m reading it right he’s distilled eleven pages down to one. The result is a beautiful summary of The Gospel that plainly states the terrible situation of the one outside of Christ but the wonderful security to the one in Christ.
‘The curse of the law is the most dreadful thing imaginable…. Nothing can free the soul but Christ’.
And yet the dead sinner cannot see his predicament. Such is the blindness of man in sin. If you brush it of as mere religious dogma and are completely unaffected, please consider your situation. Call upon The Lord that He May have mercy on you.
A recent news feed came through with a heading that said something like ‘Year in Review 2017: Remembering those we lost this year’. Roger Moore and Hugh Hefner were mentioned specifically. It’s always surprising how many celebrities have died each year and how many I’ve not heard of and also how many I didn’t realise had died. It struck me that they used the word lost. It made me think.
I’ve written previously that I’m unhappy about using the phrase ‘lost’ for those that have died in Christ. I’m not happy about those that have died outside of Christ either. But the terrible reality for those that have died without Christ is they are truly lost in every sense of that word. How many of those celebrities are truly lost I have no idea. I’m glad I don’t know but with some (as with non-celebrities) we fear the worst.
There’s a lovely verse in the Bible that says ‘For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost’ (Luke 19:10 ESV). We don’t need Christmas to remind us, that Jesus came, and that He came to seek and to save the lost. There is no specific season to remember the grace of God – we can remember that every day.
Death and sin are the great levelers. The great and the good as well as the poor and the not so good will know these realities. It doesn’t matter how large or small a person’s ‘send-off’ is. Or whether in poor simplicity or with great pomp; they are equally dead just the same. The real question isn’t whether they are lost or not as we simply do not know. The real question is whether you are lost or not. If everyone were to be saved there would be no need for the Son of God to do any seeking. But He came, not only to seek, but to save. The wonder is by the Holy Spirit He is still seeking and saving. That doesn’t sit very well with our modern ‘can do’ independent sensibilities. But it’s something we are familiar with. Recruitment agencies ‘Headhunt’ the best candidates, usually for high-end positions. The Son of God is seeking sinners. That’s the only qualification He’s looking for – a realisation of sinfulness and of lostness.
Thankfully our lostness can be turned into foundness by the saving power of The Lord Christ. Many will know the first verse of John Newton’s hymn ‘Amazing Grace’. But if not, here it is:
Amazing grace! how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch; like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
One of the most well known stories Jesus told is the Prodigal (wasteful) son and how this son went into the far country. But his father looked for his son and eventually embraced him exclaiming, ‘For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate’ (Luke 15:24).
The theme of being lost and being found is a wonderful redemptive theme. Its wonder is found in the reality of what The Lord Jesus Christ has done for sinners. The Prodigal son was aware of his great unworthiness as he fell at the feet of his Father. It’s a great picture of poor lost unworthy sinners coming to Christ for salvation. And it’s to Him, and only to Him, we must come. As the Bible says ‘… there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). No one else has done what Christ has done to redeem sinners, and no one else is mighty to save.
It’s unlikely a celebrity will be reading this, but if you are one, then you too along with the poorest most unlikely sinners may and must flee to Christ. Then trusting only in His great Redeeming work upon the Cross like John Newton, and every other Christian through the ages, you may also be found instead of being lost.
Thirty-Two years we were married and two years ago today my dear Sue passed peacefully into Eternal Glory and into the presence of her Saviour, The Lord Jesus Christ.
I’m thankful over these two years for the support of family and friends, and for the Church where I’m now a member.
The Lord has been very wonderful to me and by His marvellous Grace I raise my Ebenezer and say ‘Hitherto has The Lord helped me’. Doctrine, and by that I mean theology, can often seem dry and aloof. As A. W. Tozer said ‘Doctrine is the highway that leads to God’. My experience, especially over these last two years, is that doctrine is not only alive and vibrant but does indeed lead to God. When I read a Confession of Faith it’s full of God and overflowing with His majesty and grace to sinners. I’ve also found that God brings us through trials in order for us to see that. I thought I knew stuff about God and The Lord Jesus but I realise now I was only scratching the surface.
Agnostics and atheists may well think we are delusional and might even feel a bit sorry for us Christians. The reality is they are the ones that are deluded. Often deluded into worshipping themselves and what could be more delusional than that! While all the time The Lord says ‘look unto me all the ends of the earth and be saved’. What an offer!! Only a fool would turn that down.
Holding someone’s hand while they slip away into eternity isn’t something to be taken lightly. But I knew exactly to where Sue gently slipped away. I don’t know the when or where or means by which I shall enter eternity. But enter it I will. And so will you. Sue entered eternity with a Saviour who is Mighty to Save, as will I, no matter the details. You will enter eternity, but will you die with a Saviour. Will Jesus, the only Saviour for sinners, be your Saviour. O I pray He will be.
On a BBC Radio 5 Live broadcast yesterday, the discussion (phone in) was to do with the dismissal of Sarah Kuteh by the NHS for offering to pray for a patient. Let me set that aside for a moment. But a rather strident Atheist called in and said he would be apoplectic if someone offered to pray for him or his loved one when they were at their lowest. I have some sympathy with that. But what struck me was his claim that believers, Christians in this case, didn’t think Atheists are capable of doing ‘good’. I was glad that another caller attempted to correct him, but the guy was so wound up it probably fell on ears that were at that time unable to hear it. I have heard this claim before. It certainly isn’t something I believe and I’m not aware of ever being taught it either. Let me say now: If Christians say Atheists are incapable of doing good or being nice, those Christians are quite frankly, wrong.
This morning I read the following in Acts. Before I briefly comment on it here’s the passage;
(1) After we were brought safely through, we then learned that the island was called Malta.
(2) The native people showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold.
(3) When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand.
(4) When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.”
(5) He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm.
(6) They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.
(7) Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the chief man of the island, named Publius, who received us and entertained us hospitably for three days.
(8) It happened that the father of Publius lay sick with fever and dysentery. And Paul visited him and prayed, and putting his hands on him healed him.
(9) And when this had taken place, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured.
(10) They also honored us greatly, and when we were about to sail, they put on board whatever we needed.
Notice in verse 2 that Paul records how ‘the native people showed us unusual kindness’. The people of Malta welcomed them all. The people on Malta did not believe in the God of Paul, that is, the ONLY True God, the Christian God. Either way you look at it, from the perspective of Paul these people were at best pagans. And yet he describes them as having shown unusual kindness. Also, notice in verse 7 how ‘Publius… received us and entertained us hospitably for three days’. It seems the people of Malta were kind and hospitable. And Paul records the fact of it. So, I have no idea where people like the ‘phone-in’ Atheist get the idea from that Atheists cannot perform acts of kindness, but it isn’t from the Bible. The fact is, God in His kindness has poured Common Grace into our world and into the lives of the people who live in the world. So much so that I can recognise that there are many many kind people out there that aren’t Christians and can even be full-blown antagonistic Atheists that are hospitable, kind and welcoming. I have experienced kindness from many an Atheist and I’m thankful for it and for them.
What the Atheist cannot do is explain their acts of kindness. Where does this kindness come from? As a Christian, I can explain it. I see works of art, I hear incredible music, read amazing stories, see films that are masterpieces of art and I can explain where it all comes from. And many of these things come from the creative genius of Atheists. Where from? Who decides good and bad in an impersonal uncaring universe? Vlad the impaler? Hitler? Stalin? Polpot? No. There’s a standard. And my dear Atheist friends cannot live in an impersonal uncaring world, and truth be told they wouldn’t want to either. And because of the Common Grace of God; most of the time we don’t live in an uncaring world. And we should all be thankful for that.
I do take the point that dealing with people at their lowest requires great sensitivity. And we can all fail at that. But as for the apoplexy of our Atheist friend at the offer of prayer. What would he rather have? I suppose silence and a gentle squeeze of the arm can do a lot of good. Nothing can stop us praying for people. We don’t always have to tell them we are praying for them as if God needs some psychology to help. But in an Atheist world, the approaching death of a loved one, or a serious illness can honestly be met with a, so what. But who would want that? No one. Only the cruelest of people would say that. And yet, we hear that very thing argued by Atheists. They might argue it, but they can’t live it.
Contrary to what I said above, I do have an idea where the notion comes from. That Atheists can do no good. What has happened is a category error (If I have that right). When it comes to Salvation and doing good to impress God enough to let us into heaven; there isn’t one of that can do that. And I mean No One. The fact that none of us can perform anything, including acts of kindness, meant God Himself had to intervene. We daily see and experience acts of kindness. Atheists can be kind just like anyone else. But their kindness will not get them into heaven. And neither will mine. There’s the category error right there.
So just how did God intervene? Well, this is what Christmas is all about. It’s about God sending a Saviour. I’m sure many an Atheist will be singing about it over Christmas. And some will be glad to sing of God being made incomprehensibly man. Of Jesus being born that man no more may die, of the Incarnate Deity. God entered into history. These things were not done in a corner. They didn’t happen secretly. The Gospels in the New Testament record these events. It’s astonishing, but all we are required to do is place our trust in what God has done – especially in the Cross. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. This Christmas, may you believe and be saved. AMEN.