Throughout the history of our nation we have gone through difficult times: Wars, the Great Depression, recessions, and many health scares like the one we are experiencing right now. This past week I was talking to one of our seniors who remembered the polio epidemic of the 1950s. In 1952 swimming pools were closed, people were urged to practice social distancing at movie theatres even though they didn’t call it “social distancing, and insurance companies began to sell polio insurance for newborns. Polio is a disease that mainly attacks children under the age of 5. In the 1950s, hospitals set up special units with iron lung machines to keep infected kids alive. In 1952 alone, nearly 60,000 kids were infected with the virus, thousands were paralyzed, and more than 3,000 died in that year alone. And then there are the many other virus epidemics we’ve faced. Do you remember SARS, MERS, Zika, and the swine flu?
Along with these hardships we’ve faced the threat of terrorists. It was April 19, 1995 when a bomb went off in downtown Oklahoma City, at the Murrah Federal Building, that literally shook our city. That same day a call went out over the television, “If there are any pastors who can come downtown to help, please do so.” I went downtown and worked for the next two weeks. Twenty-five years later we still remember the day.
Then, at 8:46 am on September 11, 2001…I don’t need to say another word do I? You already know what I’m about to tell you. Terrorists flew two planes into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, another plane was flown into the Pentagon just outside of Washington D.C., and a fourth plane crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. 2,977 people died.
We’ve been hearing about the coronavirus for some time, but just eleven days ago, on Wednesday, March 11, while many of you were at Chesapeake Arena, the game was cancelled at tipoff because Rudy Gobert tested positive for the virus. Doesn’t that seem like forever ago, and yet it has been only eleven days. Life as we knew it has changed like nothing we’ve ever experienced before. Many people are fearful and anxious because there seems to be no answer to the question, “When will this end?” Rather than roll into panic mode, become paralyzed with fear and anxiety, we should remember Jesus’ words in John 16:33,
33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIVO)
Jesus lets us know that “in Him, in times of trouble, we may have peace.” Do you know that peace that surpasses all understanding? Are you experiencing the presence and assurance of Jesus that provides for us an unexplainable peace right now, in the midst of this present trouble?
Who of you watching online has not experienced trouble at some point in the past? We are all experiencing trouble at this very moment. Here’s something else to consider, “We will face trouble again, and again, and again.” How you and I experience this current crisis will have much to say about how we respond to trouble when it comes our way in the future. This morning I want to give us some insight into how we can see trouble as an opportunity and not an obstacle. I want to use a terrifying experience that Jesus’ disciples went through as the basis for our study this morning. If you will turn with me to Mark 4:35-41 and we’ll read together.
35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” 39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. 40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” 41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:35-41 NIVO)
Jesus and the disciples were going to cross the Sea of Galilee, which is really more like a lake. The Sea of Galilee is 13 miles long and 8 miles wide at its greatest width. The lake sits nestled in the hills of the Galilee which reach an altitude of 1,500 feet above sea level. To the east and northeast are the Golan Heights with peaks taller than 3,000 feet. To the north are the snow-covered Lebanon mountains. Because of its location, there are sudden and violent storms which come up out of nowhere.
One of those violent storms took place while Jesus and His disciples were crossing over to the other side. Mark tells us “a furious squall came up…” The disciples were in a panic, they feared for their lives, just like many of us are in a panic today. They woke Jesus up and said, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” We read that Jesus got up, rebuked the wind, and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” The wind died down and it was completely calm. The surface of the Sea of Galilee became like glass. Jesus then turned to His disciples and asked them, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
These two questions that Jesus put to His disciples are vitally important for you and me, and not just in this current crisis we are facing. “Why are you so afraid?” First of all, why were Jesus’ disciples so afraid? Well, they believed they were all going to drown didn’t they? Water was coming into the boat and the storm was still raging. In their minds they had lost control when the truth of the matter is, they were never in control. When trouble broke out against them they lost sight of Who was in the boat with them.
Now, let’s turn the question back to ourselves. Let’s let Jesus ask us, each and every one of us, “Why are you so afraid?” Are you afraid you are going to get the virus? Are you afraid someone you love is going to get the virus? Are you afraid because you have lost your job, you’ve been furloughed, and you have no idea when you’ll be able to go back to work again? How will you ever pay your bills? Are you a business owner who has had to close your doors, you are losing money every day with no end in sight, and you have families that are depending on you? Have you been to the grocery store this past week and seen the empty shelves? Do the empty shelves cause you to worry that there may come a time when you and your family won’t have enough food to eat? Have you recently retired and the stock market now has you worried because the money you thought you had to live on is no longer there? Oh, I could go on and on, but the question is, “Why are you so afraid?”
Underlying all of our fears is the seeming loss of control. I say “seeming loss” because the fact of the matter is we were never in control. Many of us are quite comfortable living under the illusion that we are in control of our lives. We make big plans, we plot out our course through the next year, five years, and on into retirement…yet the truth of the matter is that we have no idea what tomorrow holds. We don’t think about this fact. We don’t want anyone to remind us of this fact. As a matter of fact, we do everything in our power to push that thought as far away from our thinking as possible and we do it for good reason–the thought that we do not have control of our own lives terrifies us! We have such a need to feel like we are in control, but the problem is this: Our sense of control is an illusion. Tim Keller, in his great book, Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering, writes,
No matter what precautions we take, no matter how well we have put together a good life, no matter how hard we have worked to be healthy, wealthy, comfortable with friends and family, and successful with our career—something will inevitably ruin it. (Timothy Keller, Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering.)
Isn’t that the truth! This present crisis has ruined all of our plans, but that’s the nature of troubles and trials. A couple finds out they’re going to have a baby only to later find out mom has miscarried. A couple, getting ready for retirement, makes big plans about what all they are going to do in their retirement years and then they find out he has cancer and the doctor says he needs to get his affairs in order. And in between the day we are born and the day we die, our trials and tribulations remind us that we are not in control.
The individual troubles of life cause us to worry, they make us anxious, and keep us up at night. When we enter a time of trouble like we are in right now, where the whole world is being interrupted, the anxiety and panic can go through the roof and that is what many of us are experiencing. Jesus gave the people of His day some important counsel and it is equally important for you and me. Jesus said,
31 “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. 34 “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today. (Matthew 6:31-34 NLT)
There’s an interesting contrast in verse 32 that I think goes back to the second question Jesus asked His disciples, “Do you still have no faith?” Jesus said, in Matthew 6:32, that worrying about things dominates the thoughts, the minds, of unbelievers. Then He said, “…your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.” You see, those who are not followers of Jesus have a reason to worry and fret and experience the paralysis of panic, but you and I do not. We’ll talk more about this in a moment. The reason that we do not have to allow fear and anxiety to rule over us is not because we are wiser, more mature, or stronger than unbelievers, but because we have faith that what Jesus was saying is absolutely true…our heavenly Father knows what we need.
The unbeliever on the other hand has no resources outside of themselves and the current authorities and experts who they can lean upon for wisdom. The problem this presents is this: The Mayor, Governor, even the President, the most powerful man in the world, do not have the power to quiet the storm of the coronavirus, much less the storm that is raging inside of so many at this very moment. We’ve all been hearing a lot from Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx during the past few weeks. My admiration for both of them has shot through the roof. They are working tirelessly and doing an incredible job of informing us, but they are limited in what they can do aren’t they? As time has rocked along I’ve heard reporters ask them, “Why didn’t you…?” Both have confessed, “We are living in unprecedented times. We are learning about this virus as we gather information.” What they are telling us is that even though they have impeccable resumes and years of experience…they are not omniscient, they don’t know everything.
You and I, those who have faith, absolute trust in Jesus, we have a resource that both informs us and gives us confidence and peace. I’ve used that word “faith,” but maybe we need to examine it more closely. What is faith? Faith in placing our trust in God and not in ourselves or someone else. Faith is believing the promises of God that we read in God’s Word. Faith is recognizing our total dependence upon God and knowing that He loves us and has promised to care for and provide for His own. Faith is recognizing what God has done for us, in Jesus, what none of us could do for ourselves–He has reconciled us to Himself, He has restored us to a right relationship with Himself–not because we have been so good, but because of what Jesus has done on our behalf by giving His life for us. Faith is hearing Jesus say, “I will never leave you or forsake you,” and believing what He said regardless of how bad things may be at the present time. Faith is believing that just as Jesus calmed the storm which broke out on the Sea of Galilee, He can and will calm every storm we encounter in life. Faith is knowing that we will one day die, but that death has been defeated and Jesus has promised to come back for His own, to wipe every tear from our eyes and carry us to that place where there is no more death, no more pain, no more viruses and no more trials. Do you have faith? Do you believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior? If not, then I pray that you will pray with me at the end of our study today and place your faith in Him.
It is interesting that Jesus’ own disciples, those who had given up everything to follow Him around the Galilee and up to Jerusalem for three years, lacked faith. The story of Jesus calming the storm appears in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Here, in Mark, Jesus says to His disciples, “Do you still have no faith?” In Matthew’s version of the same story, Jesus says to His disciples, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” And in Luke’s version of the same story, Jesus asked His disciples, after He had calmed the storm, “Where is your faith?”
I was studying this verse in the Greek New Testament this past week when I noticed that the word which Mark uses can mean “to have, to hold, to possess, to keep, to have charge of, or to carry.” Did Jesus really mean that the disciples had no faith? I called my friend Dr. Darnell and we had such a great visit, he continues to teach me so much. Let me share with you a little of what I learned.
The disciples had faith. They had proven their love for Jesus time and time again. They left their jobs, their families, and they followed Jesus, they listened to Jesus as He taught them, and they did what He told them to do. Those guys would go on to share the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection in the face of persecution and the threat of death. All of them would die a martyr’s death except for John and he suffered throughout his life because of his commitment to Jesus.
The disciples had faith, but the storm had emptied them of trust in Jesus. They were holding on to faith until the storm came up on the Sea of Galilee and they let loose of their trust in Jesus because of the storm. Oh, I can’t tell you how this spoke to me. I have faith in Jesus. I love Jesus with all of my heart. I really do, but… Oh, how the storms of life can take my focus off of the One I love and trust and cause me such anxiety and stress. Are you with me? Do you know what I’m talking about? Of course you do.
Throughout the day we find ourselves checking our phones to see what the latest news is on the coronavirus. Oh no, the number of infected people in Oklahoma City is on the rise…and our hearts race. On Thursday morning, while I was writing this study I got word that the first death in Oklahoma because of the coronavirus had happened in Tulsa. I’m sure you saw the same news. And our hearts take off once again. You can’t keep one eye on the storm and one eye on Jesus and expect to experience His peace in the midst of the storm.
On Monday I sent out an email letting everyone know that I had made a commitment to begin my day in God’s Word before I checked my phone or the news. I can’t tell you what a difference that has made this past week. Every day there has been that temptation to grab my phone before I grab His Word, but I’m so glad the Lord has kept me true to my commitment because the time I’ve spent reading the Psalms has set the tone for my entire day. I hope you will consider making the same commitment.
You and I are not unlike all of the people we read about in God’s Word. They all experienced fear, anxiety, and the possibility of being paralyzed by panic, but God was there to remind them that fear need not rule over them. My prayer for all of us this past week has been to remind us–God is with us.
In Isaiah 7, we learn about a young king named Ahaz. He learned that the enemy invaders were coming to attack the people of Jerusalem. Isaiah tells us what happened to the people when the word came…
…so the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind. (Isaiah 7:2 NIVO)
The Hebrew word for “shaken” means to “quiver, to totter, or to tremble.” Maybe some of you have been shaken during the past week. If so, then I want to encourage you with what happened next. Isaiah was told by God to go to Ahaz and give him a message. In verse 4, Isaiah tells Ahaz to “be careful.” The Hebrew word means to “watch, observe, or take heed.” He is saying, “Ahaz keep your eyes open and watch.” Next, he tells him, “Keep calm and don’t be afraid.” Then God tells Isaiah to point out that the heads of the invading armies are no match for a Sovereign God. Listen to this:
9 The head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is only Remaliah’s son. If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.'” (Isa. 7:9 NIVO)
“If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.” Isaiah is not telling Ahaz to get tough, pull on his big boy pants, or quit being a wimp. No, not at all, he is telling him to stand firm in his trust in Almighty God. Isaiah then tells Ahaz, “Go ahead, ask God to give you a sign, something visible, tangible, something you can hold onto.” Ahaz refuses so God says, “I’ll give you a sign.”
14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14 NIVO)
N.T. Wright says evidently there was a young woman present when Isaiah had his conversation with King Ahaz and the prophet let the king know she would have a baby as a sign to the king and all of the people of Jerusalem. What would they call the baby? His name would be Immanuel, which means, “God with us.” And when that child was born he would serve as a constant reminder to the king and to all of the people of Jerusalem that they were never alone and would never be alone.
Now, you and I know that this verse has a far greater fulfillment in Jesus, the One who came down from heaven and made His home with us. He can help us in our suffering because He Himself suffered greatly. He not only gave His life for us, but He has promised to never leave us or forsake us. He will never leave you my friend. Do you believe that? Do you have faith that God is with you right now in your living room? Do you have faith that God will provide for you through this and every trial you will ever face in life? I can say that the vast majority of you who are studying God’s Word with me this morning will not die because of the coronavirus, but you will face many trials in life. Will you cling to your faith in our Sovereign God and know, not feel, but know that He is able to give you peace in all of the storms you face in life?
Just two weeks ago, who would have ever imagined every school, theater, and church closed? Public gatherings being banned. Who could imagine the workforce in nearly every business in Oklahoma City demoralized by a virus? I want you to imagine something more with me this morning. What if our Mayor got sick and became so ill he had to resign? What if we had 179 deaths in just one months time? Eighteen deaths in a twenty-four hour period. What if things were so bad that our nurses working in all of our hospitals had to work 48 hour shifts because the number of people coming to the hospital were so many? What if churches were called upon to set up makeshift hospitals in their gyms and basements? And what if all of our businesses and churches had to remain closed for an entire month? What if, when it was all said and done, our state health commissioner said, “One of the greatest obstacles…was the slowness of the general public in realizing the extreme seriousness of the situation.” What if, in the end 7,500 Oklahomans died and more than 100,000 of our citizens had gotten sick? We don’t need to ask “what if.” Everything I have just shared with you has already happened. It took place in 1918 in Oklahoma with the Spanish Flu.
Life, as the citizens of Oklahoma City and the state of Oklahoma knew it, changed dramatically, but we are still here. Oklahoma City and the people of our state are still here. They pulled together, they did what had to be done to help one another, they sought strength and comfort from the Lord, and God made a way for them just as He is now making a way for us. Will you trust Him?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
March 22, 2020