The readings today made it really difficult to decide which one to talk about. We have the priestly blessing in Number 6, one of my favorite Bible passages in Proverbs 3, and Jesus’ words in Luke 17 which fit perfectly with our current situation. Being the sort of person who is terrible at making decisions like this I am going to have to do two thoughts today.
Proverbs 3:5-6 is what life is all about, especially right now – how to deal with our shared experience and the events happening all around us. This chapter is quoted in reference to our Lord Jesus Christ in Luke 2:52 which says, “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man”, words taken from Proverbs 3:4 – “so you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man.” What brings this about is what it says in verse 3 – “write them on the tablet of your heart”, that is, the teaching and commandments of God (v.1). Jesus, of course, exemplified this and showed the word was written on his heart when he used the teaching and commandments of God in Deuteronomy to overcome his wilderness temptations. Look at the three quotations Jesus made, two from Deuteronomy 6 and one from Deuteronomy 8. Then look at the context and marvel at the mind of Christ and how applicable those quotations were. Jesus didn’t just pluck verses out of thin air; he deeply understood the principles behind the passages that came to mind, the passages of scripture that were written on his heart. In fact, the bookends of those three quotations also form the bookends of the first section of Proverbs 3. Just as Proverbs 3 starts with the exhortation to write the word of God on our hearts, so does the beginning of Deuteronomy 6 – “these words that I command you today shall be on your heart” (v.6). Then, just after the third of Jesus’ quotations in Deuteronomy 8 it says “as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you” (v.5), which is also what it says at the end of the section we’re looking at in Proverbs 3:11-12 – “My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights”. In between there are three couplets of verses that are the answer to the three wilderness temptations. Verses 5 and 6 are the answer to the first temptation – turning stones into bread – which is the lust of the flesh. Instead of trusting in the flesh “Trust in the LORD with all your heart” (v.5). Then, in answer to the temptation when Jesus saw all the kingdoms of the world – the lust of the eyes – we have the answer in verses 7-8 – “Be not wise in your own eyes”. Finally, the answer to the pride of life, when Jesus was tempted to throw himself from the pinnacle of the temple. Instead of honoring self we should “Honor the LORD with your wealth” (v.9).
My natural reaction to the pandemic has reminded me how powerful the lust of the flesh is. I get this horrible scrunchy feeling inside when I think about the virus and everything associated with it. My natural desires don’t react according to faith and I can’t control my anxious thoughts and feeling worried and on edge all the time. Jesus’ body also threatened to betray him when he fasted in the wilderness and the stones must have started to look like loaves of bread and his natural fleshly desires were crying out to him to do something about it. But the answer is to “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (v.5). That is the bottom line. Yahweh is our safety net through all the turmoil caused by current events. My own understanding plays tricks on me and says, “what if I get the virus, or one of my family members, or someone in the ecclesia. What if it’s a bad case?” and I worry and fret about it. The answer to that is to stop leaning on my own understanding and trust in God. Let’s say the worst-case scenario plays out. By trusting in God, I am submitting to His will and if it is His will that the virus catches up with us then so be it – God knows best. If we acknowledge him in all our ways (verse 6) then “he will make straight your paths”. He will direct us in the right way. He’s not caught off guard by the pandemic and scrambling to figure out a solution for his children. He will lead us down the right path and we have nothing to fear. Our bodies betray us, but we really have absolutely nothing to be anxious about. All God wants us to do is trust Him. Trust his plan for the world and trust his plan for us, our families and our ecclesias. God knows the very hairs of our heads and he won’t let anything bad happen to us that isn’t for our eternal good.
I find it intriguing that Jesus gave two different answers to the question the Pharisees posed to him in Luke 17. They asked him “when the kingdom of God would come” and he gave them a very short answer in verse 21. But then he turned to his disciples and addressed them and gave them a much longer answer stretching from verse 22 to 37. Let’s try to figure out why he gave different responses to the different groups by looking at the longer response first.
With everything that is going on the question of when the kingdom will come is probably right at the forefront of a lot of our minds right now. But there’s a warning in these verses because Jesus exhorts us not to be led astray by false signs – “’Look, here!’ or ‘Look, here!’” (v.23). Jesus says, “Do not go out or follow them” (v.23). The pandemic might be a sign of the closeness of Christ’s return. But it might not be. In fact, what Jesus says next might suggest that when he does return life will just be chugging along as normal. It’s that passage about his return being like it was in the days of Noah and Lot, when society was “eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage” (v.27) and “eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building” (v.28). That sounds like people will be living their normal lives, oblivious to the fact that their world is about to come to an end. However, the various prophecies that speak about Christ’s return are very ambiguous regarding the order of events. Some passages speak about war and commotion, like in the Olivet prophecy. While this passage suggests it’s going to be a time of peace, security and normality. I think that ambiguity is designed. If the Bible said “Jesus will return when a virus causing COVID-19 wreaks havoc across the globe” then it wouldn’t promote faith. Knowing human nature, we’d just wait until that eventuality happened and then try to get our act together. But Jesus tells us we need to get our act together now and be prepared for his return at any moment. In fact, the return of Christ, if you think about it, is no longer away for each of us than the day of our death. If we were to die unexpectedly our next waking moment would be at the return of Christ.
It might be that we’ve already gone through the “marrying, eating, buying” etc. phase and what we’re experiencing now is getting the world finally ready for our Lord’s return. We don’t know but what we do know is we ought to “Remember Lot’s wife” (v.32). If we find ourselves over worrying that the pandemic will put an end to our secure finances, or that Jesus’ return is so close that I won’t be able to get married/have kids/buy that house/go on that vacation, then we need to remember Lot’s wife. God is going to bring fire on this earth that will make the coronavirus look like nothing at all. All that this world holds dear will be burned up so let’s make sure we don’t have Lot’s Wife Syndrome and learn through this short period of isolation what is truly valuable and make sure we and our households are ready for Christ’s return.
So, what about that much shorter answer Jesus gave to the Pharisees? His answer “the kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed” (v.20) seems to contradict all the things he then mentions to his disciples, which are very much to do with observation, including “as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky” (v.24). Why does Jesus give one answer to one group and a completely different answer to the other? The clue is in who these two groups were. The problem with the Pharisees is that they couldn’t see what was standing right in front of them. Jesus also said to them, “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (v.21). The Pharisees’ religion was such that their focus on what the kingdom of God was all about was all wrong. They missed the most important element of the kingdom, the king who will rule and bring about God’s righteousness and peace. And he was standing right there in front of them. And it’s easy for us to be Pharisaical about things too. We can get so excited about the kingdom, looking at the signs of the times, wondering whether what we are observing now is a portent for Christ’s return, that we entirely miss the point. The kingdom is about what Christ is all about. It’s about what he demonstrated, in his words and actions, his teaching and healing miracles, his attitude of mind, humility and trust in God’s way being the right way. So, let’s not get so caught up in the signs of the times that we miss the wood for the trees. We’re meant to be living kingdom minded lives right now, as if the kingdom is in our midst at this very moment. It’s not something we’re just waiting for, it’s something we’re meant to be urging towards by our manner of life and attitude of mind.
What all of that also means is that when this is all over and the pandemic is a thing of the past, and if our Lord hasn’t returned, our heightened awareness of our Lord’s soon return shouldn’t be replaced by settling down to eat, drink, buy and sell. It’s easy to hope for the Kingdom right now. Let’s make sure we keep that hope burning even when things return to normal.
Simi Hills, CA