Lent 3: The Word of Truth amid Coronavirus

by Rev. Brian J. Thorson
Lesson: Jeremiah 26:1-15

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jeremiah had a most difficult task. He was raised up by God to call God’s people to repentance. The people, however, figured they didn’t need to repent of anything. They figured that their lineage was all they needed. That is, because they are descendants of Abraham, all is well for themselves and their households.

So when God ordered Jeremiah to tell the people that their sins and their sinful choices are leading to their destruction, the people were not pleased. They found for themselves other, seemingly godly men who told them what they wanted to hear. And so they rejected the word of Jeremiah and accepted the word of the nice-sounding false prophets.

God told Jeremiah, “Do not hold back a word.” That is not easy to do. Faithful pastors who have not held back a word have been beaten and even martyred. In our church body, many pastors who “do not hold back a word” are given substantial pay cuts or are driven out of their parishes.

When pastors call on people to repent, they are often met with disgust and anger. When sinners are told of their condition leading to death, rather than being cut to the heart and seeking to repent and receive Christ’s forgiveness, they are often angered at the messenger and take it out on him, not realizing their real problem is not with the messenger but with God.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we should never seek after preachers who will hold back a word from God or tell us what we are hoping to hear when we know God’s word says otherwise. For they are hirelings or the false prophets that led Israel into destruction in Jeremiah’s day.

You see, God instructed Jeremiah to warn God’s people of their upcoming destruction if they will not listen to God and follow His Word. Instead of being concerned of their impending doom, the Israelites decided that Jeremiah must go. The priests and prophets and people laid hold of Jeremiah, saying, “You shall die!”

In the same way, when Jesus faithfully preached the Word, the Scribes and Pharisees sought to kill Him. They got their wish on Good Friday. But despite their evil intentions, God worked good in their lust for blood. For Jesus atoned for the sins of the world and rose from the grave, granting us the gift of life and salvation.

When our nation was attacked on September 11, many who weren’t known as church goers went to church. They were looking for hope in the midst of so much uncertainty. Faithful churches delivered, providing that comfort and hope that comes from Christ our Savior. Some pastors were willing to declare that the tragic events of September 11 were ways in which God is calling our nation to repentance—that this is an act of judgment for our rank unfaithfulness and wayward ways as a nation.

That did not go over so well. Many don’t want to hear that some events could be an act of God’s judgment. Many don’t want to be called to repentance. It’s like when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. Many loved pointing fingers at them, saying, “That city had it coming with all their immorality.” They didn’t look at that tragic event as affecting us all; they looked at it as a judgment of God not on us but on “those” people.

How should we understand this coronavirus? Is it a judgment of God? A chance of nature? Simply a work of the devil? Let me offer you some words of God.

First, all tragic events are calls to repentance. Remember, Jonah had to go through the streets of Nineveh announcing that their city will be overthrown in 40 days if they don’t repent. Thankfully, they repented, and their city was spared destruction. In Jeremiah’s day, he was calling on God’s people to repent and turn from their sinful ways to avoid the destruction that already took place with their Jewish neighbors to the north. You see, Assyria had captured the Northern Kingdom and deported many of the residents. And now Babylon was knocking on the borders of the Southern Kingdom. Jeremiah told them to repent or they will be destroyed. While some do listen, many did not. God fulfilled His threat. The Babylonians conquered the city and left it in ruins.

Wouldn’t it have been so much better if the people would have heeded the voice of Jeremiah and repented?

When there’s a tsunami, we should view that as a sign from God that all of us need to engage in repentance. When a volcano erupts or a city is hit by a tornado, we should repent. When the flu breaks out, we should repent. We plead guilty of our sin. We take refuge in Christ and His Word.

After all, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it!”

Why is all this repentance necessary? Because we are sinners. We have fallen short of the glory of God. Our natural desire is toward evil lusts and inclinations. We are born without the love of God or the fear of God. And so, the sinful flesh must be continually crucified through repentance and faith.

So yes, God is certainly calling us to turn from our wayward ways—our rank unbelief and immorality—and turn to our Lord.

The second thing to consider with respect to the coronavirus is that this shows how little we feeble humans really know and it shows us all the more that we must not rely on ourselves and our own wisdom but on the Lord. When the people of Israel believed in the Lord and followed His teachings, God promised grace upon grace and abundant blessings. But if they did not, they will face much harm. God is the source of all good things. He made this world and all that is in it. He promises to take care of His own—all the way to life everlasting. So instead of relying on ourselves, we rely on Him. Our faith clings to Jesus, not to ourselves or other people. Our faith is in Christ. He is our Good Shepherd. He laid down His life for us. He rose from the grave to give us life. He will get us through this.

The third thing to consider is that this is a call from God to pray. Because we cannot fix everything ourselves, we need to take our concerns to God in prayer. As Christians, we call out to Lord for help, for He will hear us in time of need and deliver us. So instead of panicking about losing investments or not having enough toilet paper to last you the next 36 months, take time to pray. For God teaches you to pray and promises to hear you.

The fourth thing to remember is our Lord’s own words in today’s Gospel. “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” This is not a time to quit church or abstain from the Sacrament. You need God’s Word all the more. You need what He offers you in His Word. You need the comfort only He gives. You need your Savior.

Fifth, this is yet another sign from God that Jesus is returning for judgment. We don’t know when, but He teaches us to always be ready. He could come back today. Or it could be thousands of years.  

Finally, the Church is strengthened during affliction and trial. God is refining us and teaching us to depend on Him. It is written in 1 Peter 1, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (v. 6-7).

No matter how bad things may get—no matter how restrictive our society may become to prevent the spread of the disease—no matter how many people are directly impacted by the virus, we still have hope. For our Lord is still in charge. He had a plan and purpose for everything. Remember the promise of God: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

In Jeremiah’s day, the city was destroyed, but God spared Jeremiah’s life. And God preserved a remnant and they rebuilt Jerusalem. Out of this remnant came the Messiah, who was born to bear the world’s sin, go to the cross, shed His innocent Blood and take away the sin of the world. Jesus defeated sin, death, and the devil! He is the victor and grants us the victory! Sin is conquered.

Our sin is forgiven. Jesus replaces our sin with His righteousness.

Death is swallowed up in victory. Jesus lives. All who abide in Him shall live. To live is Christ and to die is gain. God now uses death to take us to be with Him in Paradise. When our bodies are placed in the grave, they are being tucked in for a temporary rest until the great day of the resurrection of all flesh.

Satan has no power over us. As the Baptized, we belong to our Lord. Satan will rage and chafe and throw as many fiery darts at us as he can, but he will not prevail. God’s holy angels are keeping watch over us. God is for us. Jesus defeated Satan. We belong to our Lord.

Jeremiah understood all of this. That’s why he could so boldly stand before the people and tell them the very words from God they did not want to hear. He did not fear what man could do to him. He knew that even if they should take his life, he would still be blessed. For He would be with His Lord.

The same is true for us. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Nothing. And remember these words of Jesus: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27) and “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting.  Amen