The entire world is currently in the grip of a pandemic infection from COVID-19 – more commonly known as Corona Virus. Because the virus spreads readily from person to person, and can be lethal – particularly for the elderly, persons with chronic respiratory illnesses, and those with suppressed immune systems – panic stricken people are living in fear, and often acting irrationally. Others have greedily seized the opportunity to prey upon people’s ignorance, superstition, and fear to make a quick buck or two out of the crisis.
Since the infection is spread through inhalation of airborne particles generated when infected persons cough or sneeze, governments and health organizations from the United Nations World Health Organization to municipal governments and community health clinics are recommending people avoid personal contact as much as possible until the current pandemic has run its course. Schools have been closed. Sporting events, concerts, business conventions, and similar large gatherings have been delayed or cancelled altogether. Airline travel has been drastically curtailed, and other means of mass transit are virtually riderless. Gatherings of more than a handful of individuals have been banned in many jurisdictions, and are strongly discouraged in others.
In response, most churches have severely curtailed church services and other ministries or suspended them altogether for the duration of the crisis. Churches with the required technical resources have begun conducting “virtual” worship services via the Internet in place of physically gathering together for worship in the church facility. For Christians, being unable to gather together to worship our LORD Jesus is particularly heartbreaking. Not only do we Christians yearn for the personal physical touch of fellow believers, we also believe that when we gather to worship and pray together, God fulfills a miraculous promise we find in His Holy Word – the Bible…
19“Again I [Jesus] say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”Matthew 18:19-20
Furthermore, the pandemic may very likely continue through the upcoming Holy Week that culminates on Easter Sunday when Christians around the globe gather to celebrate the resurrection of our LORD and Savior Jesus. We know that Easter Sunday celebrations represent possibly the best opportunity we have all year long to share the Good News of Jesus’ Gospel with those in our families and communities who desperately need to hear it.
All of these considerations have been weighing heavily this past week on the heart of Brian Hopkins – pastor of Mt. Freedom Baptist Church in Mountain Rest, SC. This little church doesn’t have the capability to live stream services over the Internet. Furthermore, not holding services would mean that perhaps someone in our community who might have heard the Gospel preached there and through that word have been born again into a saving relationship with the LORD Jesus would miss that opportunity. As Pastor Brian struggled with these things in his heart, God gave him an inspiration – Why not have a “drive-in” church service? So this Sunday March 22, 2020 Mt. Freedom Baptist Church did just that. Although the morning was brisk and damp with the threat of rain, we gathered together in the parking lot of the church building, for worship and prayer together in obedience to God’s Word while still maintaining the “social distancing” recommendations of community health officials.
Song leader Jacky Wooten set up his portable audio system on the church building’s front porch. Pastor Brian selected a few traditional worship songs familiar to the congregation, so we could sing along despite the lack of hymnals or song lyric projection. Then Pastor Brian delivered a message from God’s Word quite appropriate for the times. The message scripture was…
“if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.2 Chronicles 7:14
In times of crisis, when people are fearfully seeking comfort from God’s Word, this little chestnut is frequently trotted out in pulpits throughout Christendom. For the most part, the context of the passage – King Solomon’s prayer and God’s answer to it at the dedication of the first temple in Jerusalem – is simply ignored in favor of providing a hopeful message for fearful people. Furthermore, most of these messages tend to focus on God’s promises to hear, forgive, and heal while minimizing or simply ignoring His call for us to humble ourselves, pray, and repent of sin. But in his usual passionate and honest style, Pastor Brian made a full and effective exposition of the passage with a heavy emphasis on its relevance to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As he always does, Pastor Brian was faithful to share that Gospel message, emphasizing that today is the only “acceptable day of salvation.”
Now just for the record, here’s the Gospel message once again…
- There is an eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing God who created all things and is present everywhere at all times. The Bible makes no explanation of this, assuming that everyone already knows that God always was and always will be.
- God created the universe we know – time, space, energy, and matter – out of nothing by the power of His Word alone. He literally spoke the universe into existence. (Genesis 1 & 2, John 1:1-5)
- God created mankind in His own image out of the dust of the earth. Just as God Himself is an eternal trinity of persons – Father, Son Jesus, and Holy Spirit – so mankind is eternal, being a trinity of body, soul, and spirit. (Genesis 1:26-31)
- God created us for fellowship with Him to love Him just as He loves us. But being the very essence of love Himself, God recognized that love must be a choice. Not even God Himself can force someone to love. In order for mankind to love God, He needed to give us the power to choose not to love and serve Him if we so wished.
- If our choice to love and obey God was to be truly free, we needed to have an alternative. God therefore created the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and gave Adam the command to never eat its fruit. (Genesis 2:16-17)
- Adam and Eve rebelled against God’s command, ate of the forbidden tree, and thereby introduced death, suffering, disease, decay, war, and every other form of what we now collectively call “evil” into God’s hitherto perfect creation. (Genesis 3, Romans 6:23)
- Since mankind’s fall into sin in the Garden of Eden all of us have been sinners by nature and by thought, word, and deed. Our sin has separated us from God because in His perfect holiness, God cannot dwell in the presence of sin. God defines for us exactly what He means by sin in His Word – The Bible. (Romans 3:23, Psalm 14, Psalm 53, Exodus 20:1-17)
- Our rightful punishment for sin is death. (Romans 6:23, Genesis 2:17)
- Since God desires fellowship with mankind in mutual love, He made a way for sinful man to be reconciled to Himself through a substitutionary sacrifice. God Himself became a man – Jesus of Nazareth – and dwelt among us, living the perfectly sinless life which we could not. He was therefore able to take upon Himself the sins of all mankind, suffering the punishment of death on the cross in our place. (John 1:9-14, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Isaiah 53)
- Jesus was crucified, died on the cross, and was buried, but being God He did not remain in the grave. On the third day He rose again by the power of His own Spirit, and was seen by many. (Mark 16:1-13, Matthew 28:1-8, Luke 24:1-12, John 20:1-10 , 1 Corinthians 15:1-8)
- Jesus promised that we too may partake of His resurrection into eternal life in His glorious presence simply by believing in His resurrection. The only things we need to do to claim this reward are believe in His resurrection, surrender the lordship of our hearts to Him, and make confession of our belief aloud. (John 3:16-17, John 11:25, Romans 10:8-13)
- There is no other way for people to obtain eternal life than belief in this Gospel and confession of our faith. (John 14:6, Acts 4:8-12)