26th March 2020
“And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.” – Isaiah 25:7-8
The Story we’re part of
It’s important to know what story you are part of.
When I was a youth leader in Bradford, we took some time teaching through the great story of the Bible. I introduced a game to help illustrate the need to know our story and where we fit in it.
We would each start by writing a well-known story in 3 parts:
The Character – What they did – Why
Frodo – Took the ring to Mordor – To defeat the evil Lord Sauron
I would then gather all the stories in their parts, mix them around in a hat and pull them out at random, until they looked something like this:
Winnie the Pooh – Took the ring to Mordor – To find true love
We had a lot of fun trying to picture the stories that came out of the hat, but can you imagine how scared and confused poor Pooh bear would be? Thrown into a world he doesn’t understand, trying to avoid orcs and goblins, in the hope of achieving something that is both alien to him and to the world that he’s in.
And yet this is the position that so many people find themselves in today. As the Coronavirus sweeps across the UK and the nations of the world, it is easy to feel lost and confused. But as we look at scripture, at what the bible tells us is happening, we’re met with hope and we’re empowered to pray.
A Fallen World and the Great Sickness
We live in a world where sickness is pervasive. In Isaiah death is described as a veil and a shroud that covers the whole earth. Although the Coronavirus is new to us, death and disease are not. COVID-19 hasn’t introduced something new, but what it has done is make us much more aware of the presence and the pain of sickness. It’s uncomfortable and it feels wrong.
The Bible tells us that the reason sickness and death feel wrong is because they are! This is not how the world is meant to be. The reason we long for healing and restoration is because we need it, not only in our bodies but right down to the core of who we are.
In Genesis we find that sickness, and the pain that we see in the world today, is a result of our turning away from the God who gives life. We disobeyed the order that God gave and so all the world was thrown into disorder.
“cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life” – Gen 3:17
So much so that even the very beginning of life, childbearing, that incredible life-giving moment, is shrouded by death and pain.
“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing: in pain you shall bring forth children.” – Genesis 3:16
Prophets and Promise
This is not where our story ends. Right the way through the Old Testament we see God promise again and again “This is not how it will always be!” The promise is given, one day someone will come who will fix this broken world:
“And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.”
– Isaiah 25:7-8
And how will he do it? By carrying the weight of our sin and sicknesses upon himself.
“But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” – Isaiah 53:5
Jesus – The One Who Rescues
When Jesus arrives on the scene Matthew immediately makes the connection, he sees Jesus healing the sick (Matt 8:16-17), miraculously and amazingly, and quotes the promise from Isaiah 53. “Here he is!” Matthew cries, “He’s the one who’s come to bear our sicknesses and our sins!”
Jesus begins his work in Luke’s gospel by reading a similar promise from Isaiah:
“He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. – Luke 4:17-21
Jesus makes his statement very clearly; he’s the one that we’ve all been waiting for. In a world full of bad news, he’s the one who’s come to bring good news. He’s going to set us free from the pain of sickness and the guilt of disobedience and sin, and he will have the final word over death. We aren’t waiting for anyone else to come along and save us – no one else can!
The hill of the cross was the mountain upon which the shroud of death was pulled away. There Jesus was able to say, “It is finished!” God has kept his promises; sin and death have been swallowed up, healing and forgiveness have exploded onto the scene! Some people may ask, “Why doesn’t God do something about this sickness?” We look at Jesus’ victory on the cross and say, “He has!”
The Church: Sharing in Jesus’ Mission
And Jesus goes further, not only does he bring healing, he calls those who follow him to be healers too. After having seen Jesus cleansing lepers (Matt 8:1-4), raising the dead (Matt 9:25), healing the blind (Matt 9:27-31) and casting out demons (9:32-34) the disciples are told to go and do the same!
“And proclaim as you go ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons” - Matthew 10:7-8
This is amazing, suddenly, we’re not just watching Jesus bring life and healing, freedom and forgiveness, we share in that mission. In fact, as Jesus is commissioning what will become the Church at the end of his ministry, he makes this astonishing claim:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” - John 14:12
As the people of God, we live with this promise and expectation. It’s exactly what we see happening throughout Acts. As the church grows and the gospel is preached, healing and freedom come. This remains true. In our current crisis we are encouraged to lift up prayers of healing.
Looking ahead – Happily Ever After
And yet, we still see sickness in the world, we still feel the aches, the pains and the groans that came as a result of the fall (Rom 8:18-25). We still feel a deep longing to see everything that Jesus won on the cross fully revealed. But the Bible doesn’t shy away from our current suffering, as though it were an awkward truth or an anomaly to overlook. No, Jesus’ work in bringing healing means that now, even our sufferings and sicknesses become part of the process!
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self his being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. – 2 Cor. 4:16-18
We’re encouraged to look ahead, in hope, to the full and final completion of the work of Jesus. We will see (Rev 22:2) the healing of the nations! One day all sickness will be healed, all evil, all sin will be defeated, and we will be completely restored and revived. We will be set free from the pains of a fallen world and we will see God!
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. – Rev. 22:1-5
The Bible ends with Jesus’ promise to return soon and the Church, filled with the Holy Spirit, shouting with joy and expectation, “Amen! Come Lord Jesus!” Our “happily ever after” has been assured, it’s a done deal.