The first coronavirus death in the US occurred on Saturday, the second last night. Both patients were in Washington state and had underlying health conditions.
Two dozen new cases of the virus were reported over the weekend, bringing the total in the US to eighty-nine, up from sixty-five on Friday night.
As I will explain today, this is an unprecedented challenge to our nation and world. And it is therefore an unprecedented opportunity for the gospel.
The challenge on three levels
This virus presents a global challenge unprecedented in my lifetime, because it shows the following three facts to be true.
One: Wealth cannot protect us.
The stock market just finished its worst week since the Great Recession of 2008, losing $3.6 trillion in value. According to one analyst, this crash “may have created a once in a lifetime buying opportunity.” By contrast, a CDC official warned that “disruption to everyday life may be severe” as the virus spreads in the US. If people are afraid to see other people, imagine the impact on churches, schools, offices, manufacturing, and retail.
Two: Medical science cannot stop the virus (so far).
A Harvard professor warns that “if a pandemic happens, 40 to 70 percent of people worldwide are likely to be infected in the coming year.” On the other hand, some think the virus will burn itself out in the summer heat. A middle position is that it becomes like the seasonal flu, only with a higher mortality rate.
Three: The epidemic knows no borders.
The World Health Organization warns that the virus could soon reach every nation in the world. Countries with communist governments, Muslim leaders, and democratic republics alike are susceptible.
The opportunity for the gospel
Not in my lifetime have we seen such a holistic threat.
Hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes affect specific cities and regions. Ebola was localized as well. The Great Recession affected different countries in different ways and was not a medical emergency.
So far as we know at present, this is a disease anyone can get. And it is therefore a disease everyone can get. We cannot depend on our wealth, current medical knowledge, or political structures to protect us.
As a result, the coronavirus is showing us what we should have known all along: we are mortals in desperate need of God. The virus is not changing the mortality rate—it is making it more real. We need God’s protection in the present and his saving grace for eternity.
One way God wants to redeem this pandemic is by using it to turn us to himself.
Three ways to model Jesus’ compassion
To focus on a person in the New Testament with symptoms like the coronavirus, let’s consider a story in Mark 1. After Jesus taught in the Capernaum synagogue and healed a demoniac, “immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John” (v. 29).
But there was a problem: “Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her” (v. 30). Luke the physician tells us that it was a “high” fever, distinguishing it from the milder kind that was more treatable in their day (Luke 4:38).
Jesus’ response was so typical of him: “He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up” (Mark 1:31a). The Greek says that he “stood over her” and took her hand, helping her out of the bed. As a result, “the fever left her, and she began to serve them” (v. 31b).
From this event we learn three relevant facts:
One: Anyone can get sick. Peter’s family would seem to be immune from illness if anyone is. Her illness reminds us not to blame the suffering for their suffering. If the virus strikes someone you know in coming days, remember Peter’s mother-in-law.
Two: We need to pray for the sick. Our text tells us that “immediately they told him about her.” Are you praying for coronavirus patients in China? In Iran? In the US?
Three: Those whom God serves should serve others. This patient’s immediate response was that “she began to serve them.” She used her restored capacities to “pay forward” the grace she had received. In the same way, when we show compassion to the sick, we demonstrate the reality and relevance of our faith and of our Lord’s love.
What “fever” do you have?
You may not get the coronavirus and may not know anyone who does. But you have a “fever” of some kind. And you know someone who is physically, emotionally, or spiritually ill.
This unprecedented threat is an unprecedented opportunity for the gospel. In coming days and weeks, let’s answer the call to the glory of God.
What “fever” do you have today?
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