Pestilence in Our midst
PESTILENCE IN OUR MIDST
Psalm 91:1-6; 14-16
You’ve probably never heard of William (Bill) MacDonald (12/7/1917-12/25/2007). I wished I had personally known him. Mr. MacDonald was a faithful and committed Christian. He was President of Emmaus Bible College, a teacher, Plymouth Brethren theologian and prolific author of over “84” published books. He is also the author of The Believer’s Bible Commentary. A humble man, he refused to accept royalties for his books but established a fund for translating his Bible Commentary into foreign languages.
It is no easy task writing a Bible Commentary. I can tell you writing is hard work filled with long hours of editing and rewriting. We can thank the Lord for such a focused and faithful soul but the reason I mention Mr. MacDonald is his testimony. I was inspired by the story he told, so will you, how God saved him from the pestilencethat “walks in darkness (91:6).” Like the thousands who have been attacked by the Covid-19 virus, Bill tells his story of how he almost perished with diphtheria.
Bill was born in Leominster, Massachusetts. In 1922, in the Western Hebrides, as a 5-year-old child, Bill was dying of diphtheria. Diphtheria is called a children’s plaque. It is a serious bacterial infection that affects the mucus membranes of the throat and nose. Like the Covid-19 virus, it spreads easily from one person to the next and the afflicted need to be quarantined. Today, we have antitoxins and antibiotics to combatdiphtheria. The danger of this pestilenceis a thick mucus membrane that forms across his throat causing breathing to becomeincreasingly difficult. Although a vaccine was developed in 1921, it would not be widely used until the early 1930’s.
Young Bill didn’t have that vaccine.
There was no remedy, only a mother’s prayer.
No hope, except for God.
The little boy was at death’s door.
The end was near as his mother turned her back so she would not see her baby boy take his last breath. At that very moment there was a knock at the door. It was her brother-n-law from a nearby village. God works in mysterious ways. He had come with a message, a word of hope.
He said, “I’ve just come to tell you that you don’t have to worry about William. He is going to recover, and one day God is going to save his soul.”
“Whatever makes you say that” Bill’s mother asked?
He then explained that while sitting at his fire reading Psalms 91, God distinctly spoke to him through the last three verses, which he repeated:
“Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name.He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I willdeliver him, and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him, and shew him my salvation (Psalm 91:14-16).”
Years later, Mr. MacDonald said: “I was that boy. God delivered me from death that night; He saved my soul thirteen years later, and He has satisfied me with long life. So, you will understand why I refer to Psalm 91 as “My Psalm.” It was a night of danger for William (Bill) MacDonald, butthe power of God’s love overcame the pestilence.
Psalm 91 addresses the dangers of lifeand the remedy. There is a sure answer, a divine response, an unworldly deliverance from the dangers of life. We would know this deliverance, if we looked up. In times of desperation, we need to know “...from whence cometh our help, (Psalm 121:1),” it comes from above. Bill knew of this help, this Remedy, and it was life changing.
Our friend, the Psalmist, warned us of the inherent calamities of life. Life is indeed dangerous, too dangerous without divine reliance. Most understand that danger is ever-present, “How could they not?” The 24-hour news channels will not allow us to forget and perhaps we shouldn’t forget. Nevertheless, the one thing a lost world always forgets, if they ever knew, is that the life meaded out to us would be intolerable without God. We really do need GOD! Life from the beginning can be defined as unsafe, unstable, and unjust. At any moment, what we consider heaven on earth could turn to hell. History is our reminder this is so! “In the world you shall have tribulation...,” Jesus warned. He would know. He was “heaven on earth,” who became our hell. That’s what divine LOVE does, it says hate me, hurt me, hang me, but I willstill love you! God’s love is power, the power to save. In a dangerous world, never doubt you and I need saving.
Life, the Psalmist cautioned, is perilous, it’s dangerous, but the remedy, the safeguard, is God’s love (1John 4:8). He is by nature loving, gracious, and merciful. God intensely cares about the troubles and the dangers that assault us. It is an intensely personal matter with God that we suffer, particularly when you understand the suffering of God’s beloved Son. In vv.2-3, we read, “...He is my refuge and my fortress: MY GOD; in him will I trust. Surely he shall deliver thee...”
Why would the LORD want us to know this, if he didn’t care, if He didn’t love us? Why dangle a false hope, an untrue love, an uncaring heart that HE will deliver us, if not genuinely true?
It must be true!
It needs to be true!
It is true!
No, but God speaks from his Word authenticating his personal involvement in our life struggles saying, “Casting all you care upon HIM; for he cares for you (1Peter 5:7).” Peter loved Jesus, loved Him more than his own life. In the end, this wicked world killed Peter. Jesus warned Peter, it would (John 21:18-19). Did that mean God didn’t care? Does it mean when Jesus was crucified, God didn’t care? No, a thousand times, ─ “No.” As the Psalmist pointed out, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints (Psalm 116:15).” Death for the child of God, whatever form it may take, is final deliverance from the worst pestilence of all, ─ “SIN.” Sin is the reason humanity dies (Gen.2:7; Ezekiel 18:4; Romans 3:23). If GOD in His great LOVE would provide a remedy for our sins, a pestilence like Covid-19 should be no problem. Indeed! The World Health Organization tells us that 56 million people die each year, which is an average of 153,424 people each day. Now that’s a plaque!
So, colloquially speaking, “Stuff happens.”
It’s not “if”, but “when,” you will suffer misfortune.
A dangerous life will test the solidity of the human spirit.
From his historic perspective, the Psalmist identified these dangers as hidden traps, terrors at night, arrows by day, stumbling over rocks, and poisonous snakes.
“Hidden traps” are unexpected calamities. You wake up. Start your day. All is well. The sky is blue, the sun is bright, the birds are singing. It’s good to be alive. Then it happens, “An unexpected misfortune of life.”
“Terrors at night,” warn of the thief, the murderer, and those who work mischief under the cloak of darkness; they are terrorist, who terrorize their communities, the world...the criminal class. Human nature, wicked as it is, can never be underestimated. The criminal class is always among us. We know this, which is why, of lately, there was a run on gun buying. The headline reads, “Coronavirus Has Inspired a Run on Guns in Los Angeles.” Toilet paper and hand sanitizer are not the only things caught-up in panic buying. People know the criminal class will be busy. They are the terrors by night!
“Arrows by day,” references the plots and evil slander of the wicked. We hear so much today about Fake News! It really is a shame. Our President deals with this every single day. Often, you will hear him tell a journalist, “You should be ashamed of yourself.” The Russian hoax and impeachment plot are the arrows by day. It’s not just the President. “Arrows by day,” come to all. It’s ingrained in sinful human nature to slander and plot.
“Stumbling over rocks and poisonous snakes,” is a reference to the devil and his temptations. In Matthew 4:6-7, the devil tempted the Lord Jesus saying, “And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” Of course, poisonous snakes are the symbol for the devil and his demonic army. So, there is this spiritual danger in the midst of us.
Having identified these dangers, I single out the danger of exotic pestilences and deadly plagues. The Psalmist warned, “Surely he shall deliver thee...from the noisome pestilence... the pestilence thatwalketh in darkness...neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling(vv.3,6,10).” Alongside this danger, is the warning not to allow FEAR to compound the threat. We read, “Thou shalt not be afraid...for the pestilence that walketh in darkness...(vv.5-6).” Here again, we refer to vv.1-3, where we are reminded, “He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust. Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence (vv.2-3).” Fear has the power to cancel our trust and faith in God’s love and His power to deliver. Fear breeds doubt in the mind and hardness of heart. We need to remember, “...God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of POWER, and of LOVE, and of a SOUND MIND (2Timothy 1:7).”
I speak of the sort of fear generated by leaving God out of our strategy to combat the pestilence. A fear that compels a sound plan, is compassionate, responsible, and applicable to the threat, I think is a good fear. The PLAN, our President has orchestrated has not left GOD out of the resolving of this plague. To his credit, President Trump called for a National Day of Prayer on March 15th. As I said in our last message, “Times That Try Men’s Soul,” God’s people should pause for prayer and supplication to God three times a day. Desiring deliverance, seeking deliverance, and receiving deliverance is to robustly intercede God as our refuge and trust HIMin times of trouble (vv.1-2). Not half-hearted prayers, but a personal conversational prayer asking the LORD to shower the nation with the power of His LOVE.
There is power in God’s LOVE.
It is a healing LOVE.
God’s LOVE will respond to our prayers.
Our political leadership, our pastoral leadership, and people of faith must beseech the Great GOD of Heaven and Earth to show His LOVE. It’s important that we love God, too. Love is always a two-way street. Again, we hear from the Psalmist: “Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish by the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their TRUST in HIM (2:12).” Loving God means loving His Son!
It would be a good thing for own church family to go on our Facebook Website and post how God has loved you. Tell us how you trust and love the Blessed Son of God. Tell us how God’s love has brought healing in your life. During this time of troubles, unprecedented trouble, a national crisis, I’m sure others struggling with fear would be comforted; perhaps, many would be even compelled to seek God and begin their own prayer vigilance.
Praying shows we love God!
Praying is our need to love God!
Praying unleashes the power of God’s love!
Presently, pestilence and plague have descended upon the earth. The Coronavirus is highly contagious and causes severe respiratory issues. As I write (3/21 @ 9:30 AM), there are 19,823 Coronavirus cases in the United States, 276 deaths, and 147 recoveries. The pestilence has sickened 277,300 people worldwide and as of Saturday morning (3/21), at least 11,759 people has succumbed.
We need not complicate the divine remedy. God’s LOVE is power. Sin, of course, blinds us to the love of God. The Covid-19 virus is bad, but it’s not the worst. The worst pestilence is sin, which has only one remedy, the blood of the Son of God (Matthew 26:28). We need God to love us because there is healing in God’s love; His love inspires us to embrace Psalm 91 along with its message of the power of God’s love to protect us against the “pestilence that walks in darkness.”
Remember! There is never a time when we cannot trust in God’s Word to deliver from the worst calamities or find deliverance in the power of His all-consuming love that ever flows toward us as a mighty torrent. What did the Psalmist say of the LORD in v.14? He said, “Because he hath set his love upon me...”
So, with this “pestilence in the midst,” how should be respond to the danger? Allow me to respond in three ways:
In vv.14-16, God said, “I will” six times.
Did you catch that?
Six times God said not to worry, I willbe personally involved in championing the defeat of pestilence. What did the LORD promise? God promised these six things:
“I will lift you up.”
“I will respond to your prayers.”
“I will be with you.”
“I will deliver you.”
“I will give you extended life.”
Our distress and hopelessness in the face of overwhelming odds is something our Mighty God takes personal, as the personal pronoun “I” suggest. He well knows, we are frail creatures of dust besieged from the right and the left with every conceivable danger. In times of trouble, be it global, national, or personal, God’s love toward the world, our nation, me and you, is always personal.
How could it be otherwise?
His relationship with man has always been one-on-one.
As Hebrews alerts us “personal” means God has, “...spoken unto us by His Son... (1:2).” God became one of us, “How much more can you be personal?” We ought to think about that!
God takes our troubles personal because His love is personal. “For God so loved the world...,” Jesus said (John 3:16). So, in this time of global and national crisis, as the dreaded pestilence stalks prey, let us fall on the mercies of God. Let’s get personal with our Maker, his name is Jesus!Let’s renew our acquaintance, acknowledge He is GOD (Emmanuel), and not doubt His WORD, “I will lift you up. I will respond to your prayers. I will be with you. I will deliver you. I will give you extended life.”
Making America Great economically is a good thing. Who doesn’t like a strong economy? However, Making America Greatspiritually, is the far better thing. If I were speaking to the President, it would certainly be a humble moment, but I would discuss with him, something he already knows: no nation attains greatness, without acknowledgment of Almighty God. He is a personal God, who cares for us, loves us, and desires to make a way of escape from the pestilence that walks in darkness. “In God We Trust,” is a personal relationship.
In the pestilence, we should see space for repentance, look up, and reestablish that America is, “One Nation Under God.” God is not silent. He has spoken in his Word to us and HE has said, “I will.”
Look at vv.14-15: “Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name. He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him.”
In our troubles, whatever they may be, if we petition our God, call on Him, get personal, a first name basis (“...because he has known my name...”), the divine response is, “I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him.” Isaiah reminds us, “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: (59:1).” So, we have the promise, God will be with us, we won’t be alone and on our own; and he will deliver us from the pestilence.
The thought came to me that we’re throwing a lot of money at the pestilence. I’m not saying we shouldn’t, that’s for others to say. Trusting in money is one thing and trusting in God is another. My position is, “Pragmatism is okay, but not to the exclusion of petitioning God for his decisive deliverance. At every briefing given to the American people, we shouldhave a Godly man, or woman, asking, beseeching, pleading with our God for His divine response. After all, he did say, “I have a Name. I am the Almighty. Call on Me. I will answer! I will be with you. I will DELIVER you!”
We can trust ourselves, our money, our plans, ─or we can TRUST God. My money is on the “Divine Response.”
V.16, reads, “With long life will I satisfy him, and shew him my salvation.” Long life, a happy life, and liberty is assured those whose God is known by name and trusted. Our founders understood these three great needs. They wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their CREATOR with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
What is God’s unworldly assurance if we trust HIM?
Long life, “...that among these are LIFE...”
Satisfy him, “...The pursuit of HAPPINESS.”
My salvation, “...LIBERTY...”
Here’s the “wonder and glory” of a people whose GOD is the Lord God of Heaven and earth: He will grant unworldly assurances, unalienable rights, to that nation, that people, who love Him, know Him, call upon Him by Name, and trust in HIM alone for the deliverance from the dangers of life.
Why would He do that?
Because as the Psalmist said, “He is my refuge and my fortress: MY GOD; in him will I trust. Surely he shall deliver thee...from the noisome pestilence...Thou shalt not be afraid...for the pestilence that walketh in darkness...”
So, with this “pestilence in the midst,” how should we respond to the danger? Alongside the pragmatic response, let us be sure not to neglect trust in the sure Word of God, pray for a divine response, and expect an unworldly deliverance from the Hand of Almighty God. To ask and not expect is self-defeating. We are told in scripture:
“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraids not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that waves is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways (James 1:5-8).”
There’s the key! “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.” It might be said that God doesn’t suffer fools well (Psalm 14:1).” That being the case, in times of danger, when pestilence spreads with impunity, let’s claim Psalm 91, live in it, study it, and believe God for his “I Will” deliverance!
Dear Lord, our God & Savior,
There is a grievous plague in the midst of us. Many have fallen and many more suffer. Our weak arm of flesh can only do so much, but your hand is not shortened that it cannot save; neither you ear heavy, that it cannot hear. Deliver us, O Lord and we will be saved. We pray our families, church family, friends, and neighbors for the same deliverance. We ask, LORD, that you show our nation your love, mercy, and grace. Forgive us of the evil we do. We confess, we are far from thee in word and deed. Help us, a prodigal people, to come to our senses and return to truly being “One Nation Under God.”
In the Name of Jesus, we claim Your Word in Psalm 91. Help us, O Lord. Though we be totally unworthy, as truant children we call upon Thy Holy Name for the deliverance we need. Bless Your Holy Name, O God. -In Jesus Name, Amen!
In the Name of Christ Jesus,