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In a recent press conference, the president said that his desire was to have our country emerge from this crisis in a matter of weeks, not months, and that it was his desire for the churches of our country to be packed out on Easter.
This is a laudable desire on at least two levels, and we should support and applaud it, as I do. But there is something more that still needs to be said about it. Packed churches are better than empty churches, but in themselves are not nearly enough.
“‘The ox knows its owner and the donkey its master’s crib; But Israel does not know, My people do not consider.’ Alas, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a brood of evildoers, Children who are corrupters! They have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked to anger the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away backward” (Isaiah 1:3–4, NKJV).
“Hear the word of the Lord, You rulers of Sodom; Give ear to the law of our God, You people of Gomorrah: ‘To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?’ says the Lord. ‘I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle. I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs or goats. When you come to appear before Me, who has required this from your hand, to trample My courts? Bring no more futile sacrifices; Incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies— I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; They are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them” (Isaiah 1:10–14, NKJV).
Summary of the Text
As Isaiah opens his magisterial book, he immediately confronts the great sinfulness of Israel. But even though they have been greatly compromised, it is a corrupt nation that has kept up the formalities. They have kept up appearances. So Isaiah begins by pulling back the curtain, stating clearly that they have badly strayed. They are a sinful nation. They are laden with iniquity. They are a brood of evil-doers, corrupters. They have forsaken the Lord, and made the Holy One of Israel angry. They have turned away backward (vv. 3-4).
So hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom on the Potomac (v. 10). Listen to the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah on the Hudson (v. 10). What is it to me if the churches are packed out on Easter (v. 11)? Who asked all you people to come in here to trample my courts (v. 12)? Your prayers, your offerings, your songs, your stupid songs are an abomination to me (v. 13). And why? Because God is holy and cannot endure iniquity combined with sacred assembly (v. 13). Our packed churches are a trouble to Him (v. 14), like so much smoke in the eyes.
Amos speaks in much the same way. Away with the noise of your songs (Amos 5:21–23, NKJV). Get them out of my hearing.
The Mystery of Lawlessness
There is such a thing as being hellbent. And when people are hellbent on their sin, God could write His judgments in the sky in big block letters, and they would stare stubbornly down at the ground rather than read such pure words. “And the fifth angel poured out his vial upon the seat of the beast; and his kingdom was full of darkness; and they gnawed their tonguesfor pain, and blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds” (Rev. 16:10–11).
But how does this apply to our text, and to our situation? The 2 trillion stimulus relief bill—quite aside from whether that was a good idea—was held up in part because the secularists wanted it to include relief for Planned Parenthood. And California, which has all non-essential services in lock down, has seen fit to allow pot shops and abortion clinics to remain open as “essential.” You must stay at home unless your job is that essential one of dismembering babies. It is hard to comprehend what is more ghoulish—the fact that they do things like this, or the fact that they think it is not ghoulish.
You may believe that the danger we are confronting is that of the coronavirus. You may believe that the great danger we are confronting is the panicked official over-reaction to the virus. Or you may believe, as I do, that it is a combination of the two, with heavy emphasis on the latter. But if you are a Christian, whatever you believe the threat to be, you must also believe that it is a threat that was delivered to us by the hand of God. “If a trumpet is blown in a city, will not the people be afraid? If there is calamity in a city, will not the Lord have done it?” (Amos 3:6, NKJV).
Now, let us suppose that God lifts His hand from us in His great mercy, and by mid-May things have returned to normal. In mid-May we will be just days away from June, designated as Pride Month, a time of LGBTQ celebrations. Wouldn’t it be better to call it Dog Returning His Vomit Month?
Really? Seriously? Do such rebels really think that a respite would not be the mercy of God? They would much rather think of a much simpler explanation—like God running out of ammunition perhaps? This is like Pharaoh thinking, when the plague of frogs was removed, that Jehovah had somehow run out of frogs. “But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart, and hearkened not unto them; as the Lord had said.” (Ex. 8:15). And though God did not repeat the frogs, it was not because He was out of them. It was because He intended to use the rest of His arsenal.
This is a Godquake
As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, keep your eyes on what He is doing, not on what our grand poohbahs think they are doing. And above all, do not look at what your own fearful heart is doing.
“And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:27–29
Asking God to Do What It Takes
Moral stubbornness is a great mystery. When the United States obliterated Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 with an atomic bomb, it is not often remarked that this one devasting bomb was not sufficient to get the Japanese to surrender. That had to wait for the obliteration of another city, Nagasaki, three days later. Taking this simply as an illustration, what should your prayer in this extraordinary time be? Your prayer should be that God would do what it takes to get us to surrender to Him. We don’t want God to just bomb just one city and then leave us to our corruptions.
“If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the Lord that healeth thee.” Ex. 15:26 (KJV)
Earlier in this chapter from Exodus, the people of Israel had just been celebrating their deliverance from Egypt in the great Red Sea miracle. Three days later they came to the waters of Marah, which were bitter and undrinkable. Moses made the waters sweet by throwing a particular tree into the water, and then he made a statute or ordinance for them, whereby (it says) he tested them. And then he gave them the words of our text, which begin with a series of conditionals. If they diligently hearkened to the voice of God, if they did what was right in His sight, if they paid close attention to His commandments, and obeyed His statutes, then what? Then the diseases of Egypt, which were commonplace enough there to be called by that name, would not be visited upon Israel. We see here that God’s governance of the world is personal. These things are entirely in His hand. The world is not governed by deaf, dumb and blind microbes (Ex. 15:26). Our problem in all this is that we have offended God.
“He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty . . . There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.” Ps. 91: 1, 10 (KJV)
And in this text from Psalm 91, we see that the Almighty casts a shadow, and in that shadow is a secret place, a hiding place. The person who resorts there is one who must dwell there, he must abide there. And the shadow that is cast there is cast by the great Rock, who is Christ. In that resting place, the plague of self-sufficiency and pride will not come near you. Christ drives all of that away.
The Sum of the Matter
So if this Easter simply sees our churches packed with Americans, that by itself would be the greatest disaster out of this long series of disasters. But we should long to see the churches packed out with repentant Americans. When we look at the corruption centers called our state capitals, not to mention our national capital, the problem is not that these people represent us. Our problem, to be pondered deeply, is that they represent us well.
And so if the Lord lifts His hand from us, then our behavior after that point, unlike Pharaoh, must be different. But it will only be different if we have seen Christ in the interim.