Our morning daily readings from Tabletalk by my wife and me (we read alternative paragraphs) have been taking us through the letters to the Thessalonians, and this week we read 2 Thessalonians chapter 2 and verse 2 (that is an easy verse to remember with all those 2’s) and Paul says there that he does not want us Christians to be ‘shaken in mind or alarmed.’ But that is the emotional condition of much of the world in the year of our Lord 2020. So, knowing how contagious are the fears of the world for the people of God, I have chosen to draw your attention to this well known verse in Amos 3 and verse 6 “Is a trumpet blown in a city and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city unless the LORD has done it?” I want you to look at the coronavirus pandemic as the Lord Almighty, our Creator and Defender, our Redeemer and Friend, is seeing it. I want you to be sure of this truth, that he is totally in control of this all-embracive crisis. He is its orchestrator and we are to trust him and be at peace. What the Lord is doing, and why he is doing it, nobody knows now, but we shall know that too hereafter.
I had a letter this week from my friend Andrew Swanson a missionary in Cyprus, and he is facing the same social problems we are facing, everything is closed down and no churches are allowed to hold their meetings. There is a spirit of fear and perplexity over the whole island. But he writes of the local pharmacy where the entire staff are members of the church, earnest Christians. It is one of the few places that has to remain open and many Cypriots are going there. He says, “The three members of staff are all believers and they are able by the very calmness of their spirit to point a panicking public to hope.” They are not “shaken in mind or alarmed”. I believe that that emotional state is sinful, as much a sin as to steal or to lie or not to love your neighbour. I want us all, like those Cypriot believers, to have a calm spirit and point our panicking neighbours to the Sovereign God who is totally in control of this situation. I read in the Radio Times this week a remark of Paul McCartney about his late partner and co-singer and fellow song writer John Lennon. Paul said, “When I think of John now, it’s the little things I remember, all the inconsequential things, not the big ones.” So we are to have a spirit of peace and trust through this time, displaying this attitude in many little things which, without our knowing it, will touch our family and neighbours and co-workers.
See our text: “Does disaster come to a city unless the LORD has done it?” An alternative translation is ‘calamity’, while the Authorised Version famously translates it as ‘evil.’ Plenty of trumpets of warning have been blown in London in recent days. We are hearing the word ‘lockdown’ which the government does not use or like, but the word reflects these calamitous weeks and our possible futures, not for Londoners alone but for all of Europe especially Italy and then all over the world. There is a plague that has brought the whole planet to its knees, a plague that is created by a tiny invisible coronavirus that is everywhere, and the result is that fabulously wealthy and handsome film stars and football managers and wives of presidents and members of the cabinet and millionaires are struck down, along with tens of thousands of ordinary folk throughout the cosmos. We are just at the beginning of this pandemic and people everywhere are afraid. “How are we going to survive?” Even scientists and medical men and women are fearful. Plagues and epidemics are nothing new, but the actual response of the country to Covid-19 is uncharted territory. As Christians we are all affected by the decrees of the government. We are perplexed and restrained. So where is the Lord today? We do need him.
Amos, the spokesman for the only Creator God there is, spoke over 700 years before Jesus Christ. He preached at a time when the people of Damascus in Syria thought they had their own god and that he looked after them and their god was the one who punished them when they were wicked. This god is the one who brought calamities and disasters and evil into Syria. They believed that Israel had their own god and he looked after Israel and he chastised the disobedient Israelites with disasters. But Amos here is warning Syria that Amos’ Lord and God was Jehovah the Creator, the only God there is and he was the one who was going to judge Syria (in chapter 1 and verses 3,4 and 5).
Then the people of Gaza believed that they also had their own god that would look after them or punish them, but Amos spoke to them also and he told them that it was the Lord Jehovah who would send fire from heaven and destroy Gaza and her strongholds (Amos 1:6-8). Then see how the prophecy carries on and addresses the peoples of Tyre (v.9), and of Edom (v.11), and of Ammon (v.13) and Moab (Ch.2:v.1) and they all thought that the idols in their cities would take care of them or punish them with disasters, but God says to them through Amos that he alone is the one who would send the fires of judgment on them all (Amos 1:9-2:3), not their own idols who are nothings at all. Those idols do not bring the disasters but Jehovah God does.
Then something shocking is said, because Amos next turns to Judah (the people of God) and to Israel (the people of God) and he tells them that Jehovah the Lord of hosts was going to send disasters and calamities on them too (from Amos 2:4 until the end of the book), that is, on his own chosen covenant people, on these kingdoms who thought they were safe God’s planned disasters would fall. They imagined that because Jehovah, the one living God, was their shepherd and saviour and sovereign protector they could sin with impunity. But God speaks to Judah and he says, “I will send a fire upon Judah and it shall devour the strongholds of Jerusalem” (Amos 2:5) and to Israel he says, “Behold I will press you down in your place as a cart full of sheaves presses down. Flight shall perish from the swift, and the strong shall not retain his strength nor shall the mighty save his life . . .and he who is stout of heart among the mighty shall flee away naked in that day” (Amos 2:23,24 & 25). It sounds like what the coronavirus can sometimes achieve doesn’t it?
Amos was blowing the warning trumpets that said that judgment was on its way, and the sound of the ram’s horns awakened the people to their plight, telling them very plainly that God is angry with the wicked every day. The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the ungodliness and the unrighteousness of men. “What of Jesus?” you ask. “Did gentle Jesus meek and mild believe that God was a God who judged his people?” I tell you that when the incarnate God, the Lord Christ, lived in this world that he cried against the old covenant people of God, against Chorazin and he cried against Bethsaida, and he cried against Jerusalem, warning them of the wrath to come. He cried his woes and wept his tears for what would happen to them. “Woe to you!” he declared to those communities.
He spoke against the church at Laodicea (in what today is Turkey), his own Gentile believers who professed to believe in him, and he said to them, “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15&16). The trumpets of the warning of immanent judgment coming upon both the world and upon the professing church were sounded out clearly by God the Son. The apostle Peter tells us that the spirit of Christ was in Amos and in all the prophets and they were prophesying by the coming Messiah about us in these last days.
So when disasters came to those cities, even to cities that refused to believe in and obey Jehovah and operated in terms of other gods and idols, or who spent their lives serving no god at all, then where did their disasters come from? Not from their gods. Our text answers that question, “Does disaster come to a city unless the LORD has done it?” (Amos 3:6). Plagues, and viruses, and famines, and locusts, and forest fires, tsunamis, and storms, and drought, and wars must all ultimately come from the living God in whom men live and move and have their being and yet they’re rejecting him. Those cities of Syria and Ammon and Gaza with their temples and idols had no independent existence, isolated from the Almighty. Viruses are not entities who arouse themselves and decide, “Right we will smite Europe.” They are merely rods or flames in the hands of God. Calamities that affect us don’t come about by chance or by bad luck. Ultimately you must always go to the great First Cause for everything, to the God who has the whole world in his hands, who works all things according to the counsel of his own will, who determines when sparrows fall and viruses spread.
Of course the world is full of disasters. It is a groaning creation since the fall of man. By man sin entered the world and death by sin – not by God - and so death passed upon all men for all have sinned. There was a time when there was no disease, and no killing viruses, and the first man did not die. God and man walked and talked together. The evolutionist does not believe this. He believes that from the beginning, for ever and ever, it has been nature raw in tooth and claw killing and being killed. The evolutionist believes that this is how it has always been, but more than that, in his melancholy he believes that this is how it will always be, that there is no God who intervenes, all you will always have for ever and ever is man battling with death until the earth is a cold lifeless rock sailing through a dead cosmos. This, the evolutionist believes, is how it is going to be. But the Scripture is full of hope. It says that God made things upright and perfect but the first man, our federal head, was given free will and he rebelled and fell and pulled down mankind with him, and so there are plagues and death in our world and it will be like this until the last day when God will intervene again in our world and he will regenerate all things righteously. A new heavens and a new earth.
Of course there are secondary reasons why the world is a groaning world. There are undoubtedly statistics that show that temperatures have never been so high as in the past few years. There are new dangers and disasters. There are also new weapons of mass destruction. There are movements that rise and they want to dominate the world and their foot soldiers will knife and shoot and bomb and kill all they consider to be their enemies.
God is permitting this but God will restrain them. He will not allow the world to become a hell. He will frustrate and check the schemes of wicked men who rebel against him. But he also chastises rebellious blaspheming men and brings disasters to sinners, to individuals, and families, and churches, and cities, and nations, and continents. And that is the evident history of the 20th century and the 21st too. There is no peace for the wicked.
Yet at the same time he does not take away from us our full responsibility for what we do. He holds us to account. He does not make us puppets; he is not merely a puppet master. We bring disasters on ourselves, but he is bringing the very same disasters on us. Let me give your three illustrations of this.
1. GOD BRINGS DISASTER ON JOSEPH.
Joseph came from a very dysfunctional family. There were four mothers to the twelve half brothers. There were favourite wives and favourite sons and inevitably there was jealousy and friction. This grew and festered to a terrible disaster when Joseph’s brothers, all sons of the same father, hated him and decided to kill him. Fratricide! Just like the first born child of Adam and Eve, Cain, murdered his brother Abel. But the brothers changed their minds when a caravan of slave traders going to Egypt went by that very hour and instead of killing him his brothers made money from his sale. Who did this disastrous evil action? Who decided to sell him? Many of the brothers did. It was their scheming responsibility. That is one absolutely true answer. But there is another true answer to this question as to who did this evil. God did this disaster. Listen to these words spoken by Joseph to his brothers many years later. Genesis 45 and verse 5 and again the same words repeated in verse 7 “God sent me before you!” They were doing the will of God is selling Joseph into slavery and breaking their father’s heart. But even more powerfully in Genesis 50 and verse 20, Joseph’s words, “And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” He does not say “but God used it for good” nor does Joseph say, that “God overcame it for good.” There were two powerful intentions here in this statement of Joseph, the intention of his wicked brother meaning to do him great harm, and the intention of God meaning to work by the same actions to bring good and life and deliverance out of it. It was 100% the resolution of wicked man, and 100% the resolution of holy God. 100% plus 100% equals 100%. Calamity in the city was caused by the folly of fallen man. Wickedness in that city was also caused by the wisdom of the omnipotent God.
You know the tendency people have when there is a calamity in a family to say to the parent, “Now don’t blame God for this.” As though God was not there when it happened, as though God was helpless to do anything there, wringing his hands in frustration. What a grieving parent wants to know is that God was there, God was present in the party when drugs were distributed. God was there when the man lost control of the speeding car and it hit that person. Men mean it for evil but God means it for good. Does disaster come unless the LORD has done it? No it does not. God does it still today in London in the inconvenience, in the sick room, in the virus.
2.GOD BRINGS DISASTER ON JOB.
You know what happened as the devil grew frustrated and angry at the righteousness of Job and he challenged God telling him that it was because of his riches and health that Job served God. So God removed some protection from Job and in a day a band of outlaws took all his children’s possessions and killed his employees. Then God permitted a great wind to blow the house down upon the entire family at a celebration and killed all his children and employees except for one man. The wind can only blow when and how God decrees. God today in this year 2020 has allowed Covid-19 to spread throughout the world and thousands die. What do godless men deserve? We have forfeited every right to claim riches and long life and heaven because of our sinning. It is millions of cruel rebels refusing to leave the broad way that God has to deal with! A great city is a great sin. Men will not have Jesus Christ to rule over them.
Then God permitted an unusual virus to strike down Job, and he not only had lost his family and possessions but he lost his health too. Yet he said to his wife, “Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10). “We will accept this virus as coming to me from God” he told her sternly. So where does adversity come from? From the fall of man and men’s individual wickedness? Yes! But Job says that calamity also comes from the Lord. Of course we know that behind the calamity is something else, there is the god of this world, the enemy of our souls, the devil himself whom God allows to try and test us so far and then no further. God does not and cannot sin, nor does he tempt us to sin. That is the work of Satan, but God uses our trials to strengthen and purify us and make us long for heaven.
3.GOD BRINGS DISASTER ON HIS SON JESUS CHRIST.
We know why our Lord was crucified, the Pharisees hated him and his teaching, Judas betrayed him, the high priests bribed witnesses to lie, Pilate was afraid he would lose his power and was a cheap coward. So Romans and Jews together put Christ to death. It was 100% the act of evil and greedy weaklings. But it was also Almighty God who put his Son Jesus on the cross wasn’t it? The prophet Isaiah in chapter 53 presents us with almost a photograph of Golgotha, and in that inspired Scripture he describes Christ as “smitten by God and afflicted” (Isa. 53:4), not smitten by the priests and the Roman soldiers alone. Isaiah says in that same chapter “It pleased the Lord to bruise him. He has put him to grief” (Isa. 53:10). Not just Judas causing Jesus such grief, it was also 100% God. And on the day of Pentecost when Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and his preaching was so blessed by God that 3000 men were converted this is what Peter told them about our Lord, “Him being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken and by lawless hands, have crucified and slain” (Acts 2:23). That wickedness was 100% the action of evil men and 100% the action of Almighty God.
We know that without the shedding of blood there is no remission for our sins. We know that the blood of cows or goats or sheep can’t cleanse us from our guilt and that in the Old Testament those sacrifices were only pictures, types and foretastes of Jesus Christ the Lamb of God who would take away not just the sin of the Jewish nation but of the world. God was showing this and prophesying this in the Old Testament, and whatever God decrees in eternity men will desire to do in time. So they all cried “Crucify him!” And they did kill him, but it was God who put him on the cross and bruised him. That was the plan of God that we might go at last to heaven saved by his precious blood.
So there are these three examples of God being very involved in the calamities and disasters and wickednesses that affect each city and every one of us. Nothing happens merely by chance. Nothing happens because God was looking the other way while the devil stepped in and tossed out a horrible virus, frustrating a God who was helpless to stop it. God is in total sovereign control when our congregations are able to gather together, and he is still in control when our churches are forbidden to meet to prevent us spreading this pesky virus. Always this same God of providence gives us his peace and it keeps our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Our ‘hearts’, that dispositional complex out of which come all the issues of life, and our ‘minds’, our thinking and understanding, our rationality and our judgments. We are at peace because we know that God is going to work the virus (as all other providences) for our growing Christ-likeness. So we have a peace that passes all understanding in the midst of the little inconveniences of the present time. We live in the age of Alzheimer’s, and cancer, and heart disease, and terrorists with knives and bombs. Your body may be restrained and compelled to live at home for some months, but there is no need for your heart and mind to be restrained. There is no need to be whimpering, or complaining, and bearing a long face. The living God is your Shepherd and Friend. We know we are going to die and we have put our trust in the one who says that he is the Resurrection and the Life. We are preparing to meet our God.
USES OF THIS TRUTH OF THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD.
Pray for the authorities running our countries and cities. Pray for the over-worked staff treating the sick, especially the women who are working night and day in care homes. Pray for the men, women, and children who have been infected with Covid-19, for the people afraid to leave their homes, for those living in tough areas of London where there are more gangs and knife crimes. Pray for those at high risk with other illnesses. Pray for the elderly. Pray that the Lord would protect us all and keep us that we won’t dump our frustrations on our church leaders. Pray to our Father in heaven, that he might show us his mercy. Pray also for the Lord Jesus to return, that he might come back to take us to our Father’s house that he is preparing for us, a place with no viruses, no tears, no death, no mourning, crying or pain where Jesus Christ is smiling at us, close to us, for ever.