19/4/2020 [Thematic Message 97] www.lifechurchmissions.com
Why Did Calamity Come? When Will Calamity End? <Mt 24:5, 9, 21-22; Rev 14:14-20>
Prelude: When a person encounters suffering, he will definitely ask two questions: (1) What is the cause of suffering? (2) When will the suffering end? In particular, when a global calamity strikes, these two questions will be in the minds of people. As the novel coronavirus spreads, more and more people get infected and die from the virus, the medical facilities of various countries are in crisis, the economy continues to greatly decline, the question people continue to ask is where exactly did the virus originate from? Is it from man? Or from bat to man? Everyone makes various speculations here. However, as people gradually accept their fate as well as the fact of the virus, the question people ask is how long will it take for the pandemic to end? Indeed, humans are created differently from animals. Regardless of the suffering animals are in, they do not look for the cause and the end. But the creation of humans has a beginning and an end, so people also seek to know the cause and the end when looking at things. Not only with this virus, no matter what kind of suffering we encounter in our lives, we also seek the cause, and at the same time anticipate the end of the problem. For example, those who have gone through broken marriages would have constantly asked themselves why the marriage reached that stage. Whose fault was it? What caused it? In addition, those in this situation would constantly ask themselves how long it would take to get out of such pain. Therefore, "Where does the problem come from? When does the problem end?" are answers we all seek in our suffering. But one of the biggest problems when we are separated from God is that we cannot fully know the cause of the problem and when it will end. Apart from God, no one can fully grasp all things and time. We can only guess the cause or predict when it may end. In this situation of the novel coronavirus, we see that people can know almost everything - how many people die each day, how harmful the virus is, how the virus harms the human body, and the decision-making of different countries, etc. But the only thing humans cannot unravel fully is the cause of the problem and when it will end. If humans can do so, it is no longer a problem. But the fact is, we can only know the process within the problem and the many consequences of that problem. In particular, when we see more and more negative consequences, but cannot understand the cause of the problem and the way to solve it, we will fall into greater fear and helplessness. We may even make wrong explanations because of fear and helplessness, or convey fake news and information. In fact, God does not hide the real cause and conclusion from man. God Himself is the answer to the beginning and the end. After man is separated from God, God in His righteousness, executes judgment on the world, hence the world has various sufferings. But at the same time, God in His loving kindness, also extends His salvation to the world. Therefore, in the history of mankind, various calamities came about after the fall of man, calamities such as floods, wars, plagues, famine, etc., continue to happen but God did not allow these calamities to destroy humans. On the contrary, He continues to preserve mankind, giving them the opportunity to repent. But in the midst of the start and end to every calamity, we must see a few very important truths: (1) Even if the people of this world have great power, they cannot solve the problems stemmed from sin. Whether it is Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Greece, Rome, etc., all of them were defeated and failed. The most powerful regime in the world, the most renowned doctor, the most intelligent philosopher, the most devout religious man cannot resolve the problem of sin and its consequences; (2) those who belong to the Lord come quickly before God, and the church becomes more and more purified. Biblical history tells us that God's people turning toward God and church revival did not happen in days of prosperity in the world, but in days of suffering. Whether it was the Israelites who were slaves in Egypt, Judah who was in captivity, or the martyrdom of Stephen among the early church believers, they were all revived during suffering; (3) non-believers in suffering become more and more hardened in heart. <Rev 9:20-21> says, “The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood---idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts.” Therefore, we should not be surprised. Whenever the world goes through some suffering, those who do not rely on God yet temporarily stand out among the crowd will become more hardened. They will have greater daring resolution to entice the world. But the people of God become more and more humble, and put their hope in the Lord’s glorious appearance. Therefore, we can say that God allows calamities to serve three functions. The first is the function to prove (to prove that people of this world cannot solve the problems of the world); the second is the function to save quickly (to save the remaining people of God); the third is the function to judge swiftly (to eventually give the ultimate judgement to the unbelieving world when they have reached the fullness of their sins).
1. Global calamity certainly has spiritual cause and God-determined timing
* When the pandemic hits the whole world, the carnal man will first seek scientific cause. Of course, we do not rule out scientific cause, but the cause of all causes is not the virus visible to the human eyes nor can any conclusion be reached simply by finding patient zero. Sometimes, it is still a mystery concerning who infects who. Exactly how many people are infected is also a mystery. Scientists today are still studying who will be infected, as well as, who has higher potential to spread the virus. Certainly, we Christians believe in science, but we all the more believe in the spiritual cause behind it. Thus, when Lord Jesus said that at the end times, the false messiah will come, nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, there will be famines and earthquakes in various places, such that the love of man will grow cold, this is not merely about one event. This is also not merely hearing what religious experts, seismologists, military experts or psychologists have to say. Because the causes they talk about are not the most correct or complete cause. All these happen because of the most important cause, which is what Lord Jesus said, “This world opposes my name (many will come in my name, you will be hated by all nations because of me).” <Mt 24:5,9> All these tribulations increase because behind them, the forces that oppose Christ’s name are rising up. Therefore, we know that the greatest sin of mankind is not murder, arson, adultery, or violence, etc., but opposing God, even displacing God and His truth with modern science, civilization and culture. This is utterly evil in the eyes of God.
* Furthermore, when we explore spiritual cause, we must all the more understand that spiritual problem is certainly related to physical problems, so that people can understand the principle of reaping what one has sown. Indeed, the spiritual (human sin) will surely bring about practical consequences (presently, it is COVID-19). This is also in line with the principle of God’s people facing consequences after they sinned. Just as Israel worshipped idols, thus they were bound by idols. They depended on the Gentiles, so they were taken captive by the Gentiles. When COVID-19 came, two things that keep affecting people are: (1) man is unable to guard against the virus which cannot be seen directly by the naked eye. When humans believe more and more in science and place their hopes in the success, prosperity, global achievements which can be seen by the naked eye, because of this unseen virus now, humans are getting infected very quickly; (2) humans have no choice but to sadly accept social distancing. Since the 21st century, we continue to see less and less human contact because of the bondage by Internet. Because of the virus, we now completely cannot be engaged in face-to-face contact. Indeed, sinning in the spirit will certainly bring about consequences in the flesh.
* Everyone likes to know when things will happen and when problems will end. However, God does not allow man to know the specific timing He has set in His sovereignty. This is because God’s perfect will is to use time to lead a person to live a God-fearing life. If man always wants to know the end outcome, then he will neglect the process, and will not care about walking with God during the process. Indeed, when God created humans, God gave man the sense of time, such that he has yesterday, today and tomorrow. What he learnt from yesterday will make him wiser today, his hope for tomorrow will make him more diligent today. Here, we learn how to fear and obey God in the today of eternity. Then, when facing the current pandemic, we must not keep saying this is “unprecedented tribulation”, and magnify the tribulation brought by COVID-19. History tells us that worse pandemics had hit mankind, and there were wars which had more casualties. If we keep magnifying this tribulation, we will become self-centred fools. Furthermore, if we lose hope because we face certain difficulties now, we will lose strength today to fulfil what the Lord wants us to complete, and we will gradually become a lazy person or someone who just waits helplessly for his doom. When God hides His determined timing from us, He mainly wants us to learn how to seek and follow Him today. Perhaps we may say that when troubles come, we feel terrible, so how can we move forward? The Lord has one promise for us in the great tribulation of the end times, “for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened <Mt 24:22>. How is it shortened? Are 3 months considered shortened? Is one year considered shortened? Are 5 years considered shortened? When the Spanish flu broke out, it took away almost 22 million lives globally. When that pandemic came, people also exercised social distancing. Schools, churches, public places, etc, were all closed. At that time, everyone was afraid of being in contact with one another, it was only until 1922 that people started to restore faith to meet again. Just a short while after the first world war ended, people were hit by such a deadly influenza. Such pandemic brings about two spiritual significances: first, humans will have deeper sense of the reality of death; second, the family unit will be greatly strengthened, such that more churches will be established in people’s homes. In today’s fast-paced society, we see that because human life span is getting longer and medical facilities are getting better, people are increasingly desensitized toward the reality of death, thus they also despise the gospel message which can save human souls. Moreover, people are getting busier and gradually treat church simply as a weekend activity. Christian parents also do not bear the responsibility of teaching their children spiritually, but only let church Sunday School teachers handle the next generation’s faith and their understanding toward God. When God wants to change this culture, He must use time to pull out what is corrupted and plant what is healthy. This is also why suffering comes with the important factor of time.
2. Believers must know how to “walk with God” in this spiritual cause and God-determined timing
* If we walk with God in this crisis moment, we will find strength, instead of lose strength, in this global calamity. Because we live in the blessed today, we can hope for a glorious tomorrow.
1）Put our hope in the Lord’s work instead of human promises
* The Lord said that the one who stands firm to the end will be saved <Mt 24:13>. We Christians do not endure like people of the world who endure without hope. Because their hope is placed in national leaders and improvements in the situation, or in the end of the pandemic. However, because Christians know that this sinful world continues to groan in pains of childbirth <Ro 8:22>, thus their hope does not lie in the end of the pandemic, but in the returning of the Lord’s lost people and the purification of the Lord’s church. Even if we hope this virus can quickly go away, in every waiting moment, we should fix our eyes on the redemptive message which the Lord wants to tell the people of the world at this time. Our hope is our prayers and the driving force for our endurance. If our hope is not right, we will lose our drive to live as the situation gets more and more bleak. In fact, when facing a dimmer prospect, man must find a way in which he can walk.
2）Try to break free from the spiritual causes that directly bring about this pandemic
(1) Church – Revival and judgment both begin with the Lord’s church. When God takes away the external colours of the church, it is for the church to restore true substance. Thus, church leaders must reflect deeply, “What is the gospel?” Then spend time to meditate on and study God’s word, and impart God’s word properly through videos to the sheep whom God has entrusted them. In that way, after this pandemic is over, we will see the Lord’s sheep grow spiritually, they will also know how to discern true and false teachings, and they will also crave solid food rather than milk in their pursuit of the Lord’s word.
(2) Individual – When God let us break away from the busy pace, let us spend more time to draw close to God, read the Bible, pray, listen to messages (especially systematic messages). Indeed, because believers nowadays are busy, they already do not like to quiet down to study and meditate on God’s word. When they listen to God’s word, it is like “consuming fast-food”, wanting to grasp some key concepts in the shortest time. But because they do not spend time to listen or think more deeply, they cannot build up the ideology in Christ. If we miss this opportunity during this partial precautionary measure, it will be such a pity!
(3) Family – The family must restore the altar, living by the will the Lord has set for the family. What God determines for a family is that each member can live out the roles God sets for them and obey God’s command of loving one another. In a country which keeps prospering, what continues to be weakened is the family unit. By right, parents should be involved in children’s lives, but because of busyness, they often hand their children over to handphones, television, teachers, etc. Think about it, how can a family not have time to eat or exercise together? How can parents lose the authority to influence their children? This is the moment in which we believers must be corrected.
(4) Society – Believers must start to think about their relationship with the society. If we are clear about the truth of “the Lord’s second coming”, we will also at the same time sense that believers in this era are no longer so proactive in spreading the gospel. This is mainly because the society has been brought into an ethos dominated by postmodernism, such that if we talk about the Christian faith, or mention our stand on opposing abortion and homosexuality, we will be refuted by atheists or socialists. Christians also compromise with such ethos, gradually becoming modern Christians who “go with the flow”. However, the Lord said that this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. In the end times, how many modern believers will be earnest because of this verse, such that they will evangelise in season and out of season? This pandemic is to make us reflect in this area. If we do not evangelise to people around us in the current calamity, when do we have to wait till before we do evangelise?
3）Those who are fulfilling the will of God will see the days of tribulation being shortened
* God does not tell us when the pandemic will end, but He promised that those days will be cut short. This also includes all our sufferings. If a mother worries every day because of her disobedient child, she will realise that the wait for her child to grow sensible is very long. Today, it is the same, if we do not live by the will of God, we will feel that this pandemic precautionary measure is taking too long. But if we keep fulfilling the Lord’s perfect will, we will realise that the days of waiting are in fact the days of answers. Perhaps in this pandemic, if we spend time well with our family members, even if there are conflicts, we can discover that God is using this process to fulfil our prayers for our family members. Perhaps we will have more time to communicate with our spouse, or in our friction with our children, we can understand them better. Furthermore, those who always evangelise in this pandemic will also discover how great the potential of the Internet world is. Rather than making use of this to surf meaningless news, or watch certain dramas, it is better to use it to edify many people.
3. Great calamities in the world will bring about swift reaping and judgment <Rev 14:14-20>
1) Reaping in the great tribulation
* COVID-19 may not be the greatest calamity, but when this global pandemic is upon us, we must have the mindset of reaping. It is not for us to reap, but the Lord Himself will be reaping. In the midst of the situation, He must be saving His remaining people swiftly. Therefore, <Rev 14:14-15> speaks about Him holding a sickle. The angels also said, “The time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.” Here, “has come” has two meanings. First, it is the “ultimate time has come” (the second coming of the Lord). Second, it is the “has come” that is happening today (moments in the history of salvation when many of God’s people will come to repentance). How do we know the harvest is ripe? That is when God’s people are feeling helpless and harassed, leading them to thirst for the true Word. When is such a time? Is it when the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of the great prostitute’s adulteries <Rev 17:2>? Is it when the great prostitute is brought to ruin, naked and burnt with fire <Rev 17:16>? Therefore, who are the most important people in the pandemic? Not doctors, scientists or the world’s political leaders, but those who triumph with the Lamb, that is, His called, chosen and faithful followers <Rev 17:14>.
2) Judgment in the great tribulation
* <Rev 14:18> refers to grapes that are so ripe such that the grape juice is almost oozing out. This is the state of human sin reaching its full measure. These grapes have to be thrown into the winepress. The grape juice flows out like blood from the winepress of God’s wrath. This depicts that they have to endure severe judgment. Therefore, every time there is a global judgment, some people will humble down and turn to God. Others will become more prideful, believing they can rely on themselves to overcome all the problems. Such people will surely be near to the ultimate judgment. Believers need not feel indignant, as these people will reap what they have sown. However, those who know the will of the Lord will triumph with the Lamb. Therefore, in this pandemic, let us not lose our direction. Instead, especially in the end times, we must work with the Lord and participate in His reaping work.