Concern for the thousands of lives impacted by the Ebola crisis should be viewed by evangelical Christians through a gospel lens. The gospel’s power and transformative impact does not begin and end with a “plan of salvation,” but rather provides the necessary worldview through which all issues, including the outbreak of a deadly virus, are to be processed. Here are three simple ways the gospel helps transform our response as Christians to Ebola.
1. The Gospel shows us the power of the disease.
The horrendous, raging disease known as Ebola is a disturbing reminder of the effects of sin in a fallen, cursed world. At the moment when Adam disobeyed the clear command of God in Genesis 3, chaos and death rushed into our world and into our lives. From that moment, things are not as they should be. Things are not as they will be. But for now, the deepest, darkest, most wretched recesses of men’s hearts and minds have spread all manner of violence, selfishness, deceit, and death – so that as Jeremiah 17:9 reminds us, “the heart is deceitful above all things and is desperately sick.” These “noetic effects” of sin lie in parallel with the physical effects of sin on our planet, including the crumbling of foundations due to earthquakes, the destruction of cities due to hurricanes, and the loss of life due to disease. The gospel, then, understands the source of a spreading virus called Ebola that is impacting thousands of lives and stirring up fear in millions more. This is the result of sin doing what sin does – spreading quickly and impacting all.
That is why Ebola is a concern for Christians. Not primarily because we are in fear of contracting it ourselves, but because mothers and fathers are being told they can’t pick up their Ebola infected daughter. Because the screams of grief are heard overnight through the infected areas of western Africa. Because the death toll, and the number of the infected, are rising and rising quickly. Our concern is not simply based on our interest in what might happen in North America, but is based on the gospel, which looks at the faces of those men and women and children who are created in God’s image and says to them, “I’m in this with you. I know the power of infection. I love you.”
As the gospel reminds us of the source and power of the disease, it also places the focus back on our own hearts. Has the disease of your soul known as sin been cured by the cross of Jesus? Are you continuing to spread the effects of your depraved heart both in your own life and in the lives of others? That is our starting place. The sin of our heart. When we better understand that, we can better understand the power of the Ebola virus.
2. The gospel shows us the example of the cross.
When we think of the torment of the cross of Jesus Christ, we can’t help but think of the physical pain involved, and indeed we should. Movies such as “The Passion of the Christ” are designed to make us look away with broken hearts at the physical torment of our Lord. As important as Christ’s pain is for understanding the depths of his love for us, we must not neglect what actually happened to Jesus in the midst of his physically pain. The cross is a picture of the most brutal and deadly contracting of a disease in human history. And the unthinkable part is this – it was contracted willingly and for joy. As Christ hung between heaven and earth, the disgusting, filthy, deadly disease known as sin became Jesus’ own. It was as if he knew of a tub filled with the collective sweat of Ebola victims and Jesus decided to take a bath. Reflect again on the power of 2 Corinthians 5:21 – “For our sake he made him to become sin who knew no sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of Christ.”
The example of the cross does not and must not move us to irresponsible behavior – that is to say that Jesus’ intentional contracting of the most deadly of diseases should not be interpreted as a sign for us to willingly go into Ebola infected areas with no precautions so that we will “be more like Jesus and his cross.” No, the message of the cross is one of salvation. Thus, its power is to not only save us from our own infection of sin, but to direct us to love and aid those who remain infected – by both sin and by disease.
With that example of the cross before we us, we must then consider how –
3. The gospel demands an obedience to the Great Commission
The Great Commission is not qualified by our safety nor is it qualified by our recklessness. We do not seek out harm in our obedience to make disciples of all nations. We do not seek out death. And yet, we do not relent when both harm and death are realities before us. This is what Paul means when he says in verse 15 that we do not any longer live for ourselves, but for Christ who for our sake died and was raised. To no longer live for ourselves carries a weight much greater than just simply letting someone in front of you at the grocery store line or buying someone’s Starbucks coffee. Those are wonderful things and Christ-honoring, but a denial of self is just that – a transformation of the heart whereby our love for neighbor across the street and across the seas will lead us to action in ways that the secular world would call “narcissistic.” Why, they will ask, would we want what is happening “over there” and what “those people” are dying from to have even a chance of finding its way to America? “Over there.” “Those people.” You can see how fast a fear of this virus and a worldview outside the gospel will turn us into the Pharisee of Luke 18 – “Thank you God that I’m not like that other person” or perhaps, “Thank you God that Americans aren’t like those Africans.”
A gospel response to Ebola will push back against the temptation to endorse a position of American nationalism. This is not the time when we as American evangelical Christians draw a line in the sand and declare the superiority of Americans over and above our African neighbors. Obviously, at the same time, a love for our American neighbors equally means we do not want to put anyone at risk right here on our own soil. And so, we ask God for wisdom as we faithfully pursue the Great Commission with a spiritual and physical concern for all people in all places, including both Africa and America. Again, the gospel reminds us that God as creator King has created all people in all countries on all continents in His image. Every life is a precious reminder of the life God has given and the worth he has bestowed on humanity.
What then should we do?
-We begin by thanking God for becoming a disease, a curse, for our sake and salvation.
-We turn quickly to the Lord in times of panic and fear to be reminded that grace for the day will always come.
-We resist any notion of relenting in our sacred effort of making disciples of all nations.
-We trust the sovereignty of God to bring about all things for His glory and our good.
-We support our leadership, especially medical leadership, in this time of concern and determine to be slow to accuse them of incompetence, of covering up, and of lying.
-We pray together as a church, knowing that even the gates of hell cannot stand against her. And certainly not a deadly virus.
Is it OK to be concerned? Yes. Is it OK to ask questions? Yes. It is OK to panic because of fear? No. These are the times when Christians are called to be Christians and put the gospel in front of the way we think and act. We are counted among the redeemed…a status we enjoy only because a certain Savior willingly became a curse for us. And because he became that curse, we can stand firm and remain calm in the middle of a spreading curse…including Ebola.
*this was preached on Sunday evening, October 26, 2014 at Graefeburg Baptist Church.
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