Ancient Wisdom for a Modern Plague

You may or may not recall that in my last blog post I wrote about visiting the Last Supper in Milan, Italy. Sean and I were there 6 months ago and we had an amazing trip celebrating our anniversary. In the past few months, as the news has been building about the COVID-19 pandemic, I can barely wrap my mind around the pictures I’m seeing and the grim news stories. I can hardly believe that the places we visited which were vibrant with life and bustling with tourists are now closed, empty, and desolate.

These are challenging and difficult times. Like so many of us, I struggle with my own anxieties and I often fail miserably at trying to be strong for my children when I feel like the events of the world are so overwhelming. But, as Rinus keeps reminding us, “God is still God,” and so I return to the stories that tell us about Him.

Back in January and February, we re-purposed the church gym and decorated it to look like ancient Egypt so that we could transport the kids back in time to the story of Exodus. The kids had so much fun watching God tossing ping pong balls (“hail”) at Pharaoh and hearing the Israelites begging for fish tacos instead of lamb and unleavened bread for their Passover meal. We also saw a lot of really excellent overacting on the part of some fantastic and long-suffering volunteer thespians. In the end, “Moses” led us all up through the back stairwell and we watched the Egyptian army get “destroyed” by blue plastic tablecloths that were decorated with colourful paper fish (the “Red Sea”). While we were teaching this unit we worked hard to tell the kids why stories like these matter and why such an old story has meaning to our modern, comfortable lives. Suddenly, a story of God rescuing his people from slavery and . . . well . . . plagues seems much more relevant. I need to hear and know today that we worship a God who was able to part the Red Sea to deliver the Israelites out of Egypt. It is extra meaningful to me this week that God delivered his people from the angel of death on the night of the Passover. I also need to hear that He told them, when they were at their worst point of doubting and when they were begging to go back to Egypt: “I will fight this battle for you. You need only be still.” It seems that this is exactly what we are being asked to do right now. Be still. Stay home. Pray and see what God is doing. This is hard, though, when we are in the middle of some really tough times, and especially when the situation seems so out of our control.

There is another ancient story that I love, which is recorded in the book of the prophet Daniel. Paraphrasing from Daniel 3, after refusing to worship the image of gold set up by king Nebuchadnezzar, three courageous Hebrews named Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are brought before the King. “Is it true,” asks the King, “that you will not worship my gods or the image of gold that I have set up?” The king tells them that if they refuse they will be thrown “immediately into a blazing furnace . . . then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” It is their response here that I think is so meaningful: “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold that you have set up.”

In the end God did rescue Daniel’s 3 friends (“Rack, Shack, and Benny” for any Veggie Tales lovers out there) but it wasn’t as dramatic as the parting of the Red Sea. He didn’t blast a lightning bolt down on King Nebuchadnezzar or destroy all of Babylon with an earthquake. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were sent into the furnace, and the furnace was so hot that the soldiers who threw them in were killed instantly. When the king looked into the furnace, however, he saw four men walking around instead of three. God had sent a rescuer. A Person. And while he didn’t take away the furnace, he sent someone to walk through it with them.

At times like this we can take comfort in our Rescuer. The new Moses, and the one who walks with us through our darkest times. Approaching Easter, as we think about how we can celebrate in social isolation it seems all the more meaningful that Jesus humbled himself by becoming human and living life in a community of people. It matters that He became our perfect Passover lamb and made atonement for our sins by His death on a Roman Cross. And that the same God who parted the seas and rescued his people so many times in the stories of the Old Testament also raised Him to life on that wonderful Easter morning.

I love these words from the Apostle Peter and I pray that you will find comfort and encouragement as we celebrate the Resurrection on Easter Sunday this year.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy, he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade” (1 Peter 1:3-4).

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