According to Reuters, the deadly, brain-damaging Nipah virus has “found a way to leap from bats to humans.” Pragya Yadav, the lead scientist on Nipah at India’s National Institute of Virology, warns: “Nobody is safe. . . . It will take no time for a disease outbreak to reach anywhere in the world because of international travel and trade.”
The CDC reports that death occurs in 40 to 70 percent of those infected by the virus. Nipah is being reported in Bangladesh and India at present, but as we learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, whose origins are still being studied, what happens to any of us can affect all of us.
This is true for our bodies and for our souls.
“The beginning and cause and end of every evil”
Our tour group returned from Israel yesterday. On our long flight from Tel Aviv to the US, I spent some time reflecting on a passage I discovered recently in the Book of Wisdom, an apocryphal book not included in Protestant Bibles. In reading through it, I found a statement that surprised me: “The worship of idols not to be named is the beginning and cause and end of every evil” (Wisdom 14:27, RSV).
An idol is anyone or anything that takes precedence over God in our lives. How could such sin be so foundational to “every evil”? The writer explains: “Their worshippers either rave in exultation, or prophesy lies, or live unrighteously, or readily commit perjury” (v. 28). Why do they do this? “Because they trust in lifeless idols they swear wicked oaths and expect to suffer no harm” (v. 29, my emphasis).
This is true to life. When we give anyone or anything precedence over God, we do so with the implicit assumption that we will “suffer no harm” as a result. We are tempted to believe that the reward sin promises will outweigh its costs, if any. We then choose popular opinion over biblical morality, doing what we want rather than what God wants.
We might say that we believe in, worship, and serve God, but if we do not fear his judgment when we reject his word and will, in what practical sense is this true? If I claim to believe in the rule of law but break the law without fear of arrest and imprisonment, how true is my claim?
What happens when we eat forbidden fruit
Why is such idolatry so dangerous? Here is the point that especially struck me: “It is not in the power of the things by which people swear, but the just penalty for those who sin, that always pursues the transgression of the unrighteous” (Wisdom 14:31, my emphasis).
As we noted yesterday, God’s judgment against our sins is certain. But sins also bring their own consequences. The “just penalty” for them “always pursues” those who commit them.
Infidelity destroys marriages; pornography damages the brains of those who consume it. When we eat “forbidden fruit,” its inherent poison sickens us. You can mark it down as an inexorable law of the universe: sin “always pursues the transgression of the unrighteous.”
Four steps to freedom
How can we escape this cycle of sin and its disastrous consequences? Consider four simple but transforming steps.
Come to Christ, for he alone can change your heart. Scripture is clear: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, my emphasis). Name your temptation and ask Christ to empower you to refuse it (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:13). If you have fallen, name your sin and ask him to forgive it (1 John 1:9).
Come to him now: “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). One day will be your last day in this world. I cannot promise that it is today, but I cannot promise that it is not.
Ask the Spirit to use you to bring others to Jesus. The job of the Holy Spirit is to “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). Human words cannot convict or convert human hearts. However, “the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). He can and will use our words to bring those we influence to God.
Speak biblical truth to the issues we face. God asks us, “Is not my word like fire, declares the Lᴏʀᴅ, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29). In his wilderness temptations, Jesus turned each time to Scripture. In preaching at Pentecost, Peter repetitively quoted Scripture. In his preaching and epistles, Paul did the same. They knew what we need to know: God promises that his word “shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).
From remote African tribes to Cambridge
Billy Graham shared this remarkable story on today’s theme:
“One time I was preaching in Africa to a small group of tribal people. I had been told that they had heard very little about the gospel, and I wanted to bring a basic, straightforward gospel message they could understand. So I preached on John 3:16 as simply as I knew how. Trying to explain John 3:16, I used every illustration I could think of that would help make the message clear. Afterward—by the work of the Spirit—several people indicated that they wanted to receive Christ.
“The next Sunday I was to preach at the parish church of Great St. Mary’s at Cambridge University in England, and I thought, ‘I’m going to try something. I am going to preach the same simple sermon at Cambridge that I preached to the people in Africa.’ And I did. That Sunday many students in the congregation came to know Christ as Lord and Savior.”
Dr. Graham concluded: “Human hearts are the same the world over—in rebellion against God, suffering from the disease of sin, and dying . . . until they discover the simple (and yet profound) truth of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ.”
When last was your life changed by the love of Christ?
With whom will you share his love today?