“It is an old saying, ‘Repentance is never too late;’ but it is a true saying, ‘Repentance is never too soon.’” –Henry Smith
During this time of coronavirus, what are you waiting for or hoping for? Are you looking forward to the time you can gather with other believers to worship again? Are you waiting for the routines of your daily lives to return to normal? Are you waiting for the economy to restart and the financial markets to rebound? Are you looking forward to returning to Costco so you can stock up on toilet paper? There are many things that one hopes to see during a time of pandemic and tragedy due to unforeseen events.
There are at least a couple of amazing passages in the Scripture that highlight what the Lord is concerned with during a time of tragedy and a day of disease. The first passage is from Revelation chapter nine. In these verses, John describes the tremendous plagues that he sees visited upon mankind. The significant thing about these verses is not some attempt to fit them into an eschatological scheme (like postmillennialism or dispensationalism) but rather note the concern of the Lord in these verses. What does he lead the apostle John, by the Holy Spirit, to record?
“By these three plagues, a third of mankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths… 20 The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, 21 nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.” (Revelation 9:18, 20-21, ESV)
The emphasis on the passage is on the patience of God to look for repentance and the persistence of humanity to remain in their idolatry. The plagues and judgments come, and though the consequences are extremely severe, mankind does not repent. The leading message of John the Baptist was repent. Jesus arrived on the scene and opened his ministry by preaching repentance. And in Revelation, with the coming of the Lord Jesus seeming very imminent, God is still patiently examining the world to see if any will repent. Jesus emphasized this need to repent as well and while it was one of the hallmarks of his ministry, there is one episode that may be especially pertinent right now. The following exchange is recorded only in the Gospel of Luke:
There were some present at that very time who told him [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5, ESV)
Jesus continues his ministry message on the necessity of repentance. While some in the crowd were keen to discuss tragedies, judgments, and comparisons that attempted to determine who the really “big” sinners were, Jesus turned the focus toward the spiritual jeopardy and need of his current audience. They must repent or perish. The notes in the ESV Study Bible are helpful, “Jesus’ rhetorical question reflects a popular view that tragedies and physical ailments were due to personal sin (see John 9:2), but his answer ‘No’ denies any such connection in this case.”
Jesus’ concern was not to enter into some lengthy philosophical discussion of the tragedy of the tower falling but rather to urge his hearers to examine themselves and to repent. With coronavirus in the news, we would be wise not to think of it as some sort of judgment upon the nations or sick individuals but rather pray in the direction that the Lord is emphasizing—that a season of repentance from sin and idolatry would be birthed in the church and the world. Have a blessed week and we will be in touch soon, through phone calls, emails, texting, Marco Polo, Zoom, The Pastors’ Roundtable, and perhaps, even carrier pigeon!
Love in Christ,