Taught By TrialsSeries: Turbulence
TAUGHT BY TRIALS
Sermon By Terry Siverd - - April 19, 2020 - - Cortland Church of Christ
For many of us these last two months have pumped up our anxiety levels. It' safe to say that
to some degree or another these last few weeks have proven to be A TIME OF TRIAL for all of us.
These trials of which we speak have not been meted out in the same measure to all of us.
For many, this “test” has come in the form of staying home as we continue to practice social distancing. This assignment has really not been all that difficult, although if we listen to ourselves complain one might be inclined to conclude otherwise. In actuality, we have been inconvenienced more than anything else. Our schedules have been interrupted; our plans have been altered; and our lifestyles have undergone adjustments, yet we still have our homes and we are not going hungry. Our deprivations remain minor. For most of us, the restrictions caused by this pandemic have brought aggravation rather than devastation. For the bulk of our church family - - we have been sidelined but we are not really suffering.
Others have found themselves on the front lines, serving as first-responders in a pandemic war zone. While many are asked to hunker down, a number of others are called upon to harden up! Those working in the medical fields have not had the luxury of hiding themselves away. Hundreds of thousands of others are continuing to labor on despite the panic and problems - - truckers keep on trucking goods and grocers keep on stocking the shelves. The communication lines and the supply chains are being kept open by ones working in the midst of potential threats and troubles posed by this virus.
For some, this pandemic has been truly harrowing - - more than just life-threatening, it has proven deadly, with 31K+ of our fellow citizens now succumbing. Many more still are mourning the loss of loved one(s) - - in a surreal environment where of necessity even the grieving process has been significantly curtailed. Still thousands of others find themselves stricken with high anxiety - - especially those who are older and those with underlying health conditions. For some, a mere sniffle or cough triggers worry and alarm.
Based on the news of late, we are optimistic that we may be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
That now infamous “curve” seems to be flattening out and heading downward.
WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS TIME OF TRIAL?
Come the end of April we will have experienced some forty days of trial.
This figure, forty days, surfaces often in the Scriptures. In fact, you might be surprised at how often we encounter references to forty days in the Bible. In the Bible, numbers frequently have symbolical meanings.
In the Old Testament we read of the 12 tribes of Israel and in the New Testament we read of 12 apostles.
In the book of Revelation the number SEVEN takes on a special meaning. The apostle John writes to 7 churches unveiling a book previously closed by 7 seals. The 7th seal is accompanied by a blast of 7 trumpets … and the 7th trumpet heralds 7 deadly plagues. For those of you who might be tempted to interpret John's message in light of our current pandemic, let me assure you that John's apocalypse (unveiling) was focused on first-century events. John qualified his message, which was written to and received by those living in the days leading to the fall of Jerusalem. He wrote specifically of “things soon to take place” (Rev.1:1 & 3). The book of Revelation does not address our current pestilence. John wrote to his first-century audience about things that were “at hand” for them.
Nevertheless, like so much of Scripture, John's words offer timeless lessons on how to handle trials.
Let's think a bit more this morning about the number forty.
In Scripture the number 40 sometimes speaks of a time of testing (a period of “probation”).
Jonah was directed by God to preach to the wicked city of Nineveh. Essentially, God was giving the Assyrians 40 days to “turn or burn” - - to repent or be destroyed. The preaching of Jonah offered salvation for the citizens of Nineveh. Jonah 3:10 records: When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them...
Moses ascended the mountain to receive the 10 commandments. During the 40 days that Moses was on the mountain with God, the children of Israel went astray (Ex.24:18 & 34:28). In another instance, Moses sent out 12 spies into the land of Canaan. Their reconnoitering spanned 40 days (Num.13:25). The Old Testament also tells us that Moses fasted for 40 days (Deut.9:18). Elijah, too, had his 40 days (1Kgs.19:8). In the New Testament, Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by Satan for 40 days & nights (Mt.4:1-2).
Closely related to this idea, the number 40 was often connected with a time of judgment.
Punishment was doled out to the tune of 40 stripes (Deut.25:3 and 2Cor.11:24). Egypt was once made desolate by God for 40 years (Ezk.29:11-12). Moses' life was divided into three periods of 40 years (Acts 7:23 & 30). Eli judged Israel for 40 years (1Sam.4:18). King Saul, King David and King Solomon each reigned for 40 years (Acts 13:21; 2Sam.5:4 & 1Kgs.11:42). On multiple occasions God often granted Israel rest from wars in increments of 40 years (Judg.3:11; 5:31 & 8:28). In the New Testament the time between the cross and the fall of Jerusalem (AD 30-70) spanned 40 years.
In Scripture, the number 40 is also often associated with a time of trials and troubles.
Can you guess how many days Goliath persisted in taunting Israel before he was struck down by the young lad David? You guessed right - - forty days (1Sam.17:16). Because of their unbelief, God made the children of Israel wander in the wilderness for 40 years (Josh.5:6).
The number 40 is also used to refer to a time of ripening or maturity.
The typical gestation period for a human baby is nine months, or more precisely, 40 weeks. In the time following Jesus' resurrection, Acts 1:3 states that: (Jesus) presented Himself alive, after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of 40 days. Perhaps one of the most memorable of all of the “forties”, took place in the days of Noah. It's easy to see a bit of all of the above in this event. It's a testing; it speaks of judgment; it is a time of trial. But it is also a time of ripening. In blotting out the wicked world of Noah's day, God caused it to rain for 40 days and nights (Gen.7:4, 12 & 17). When those days were fulfilled, Noah and his family walked out of the Ark into a whole new world, washed clean of sin by the hand of God.
If the news updates are on target, we are hopefully drawing near the end of a forty-day trial.
How have we responded?
During the 40 days when Moses ascended the mountain to receive the 10 Commandments, the nation of Israel became impatient with Moses (and God). Their lack of trust led them to create an idol (a Golden Calf). I don't need to remind us that God was severely angered by their idolatry.
During the 40 years when the nation of Israel wandered in the wilderness, they became disenchanted. Although Jehovah God provided them with daily bread and meat … guided them by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night … and so much more, they behaved immorally and, as Paul notes, they grumbled and with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness (1Cor.10:5 & 10).
If you think our 40-day trial has been difficult, can you imagine being in Noah's situation? First of all it took about 120 years to build the ark. The faith exemplified on the part of Noah and his household was truly remarkable. Imagine 40 days on the ark, cooped up with all kinds of creatures, big and small. Now add non-stop rain for forty days straight on tumultuous seas with no drammamine. Actually Noah and his family spent a little over a year confined aboard the ark (see my essay*). Think of the constant chores needing done - - days filled with feeding and clean-up. Think of the smells. Jeannie & I walked our dog Bo last week in an isolated cemetery about 15 miles north of our home and the farmer's fields all around the cemetery were being dressed with pig manure. Bo didn't seem to mind it (he seemed to want to roll in it), but it was stifling. Talk about “cabin fever” and “going stir crazy”!! One of the greatest tributes ever given to any man or woman is found in the silence of Scripture: not a single word is recorded concerning God's disapproval of the behavior of Noah and his family throughout their ordeal aboard the ark.
We must guard against being weak people.
During the forty years following Jesus' ministry the early Christians were found themselves facing all manner of trials and tribulations. Sometimes their fears caused them to hunker down in hiding (Acts 12:12). At other times they were driven from their homes and made to be fugitives in foreign lands (Acts 8:4). Even when tortured and imprisoned our first-century brothers and sisters kept their FAITH and their JOY.
So even during this time of trial (unlike anything any of us have ever seen), Let's us not grumble! Let us not turn away from God! Let's us remain faithful and keep our joy in doing so! Let us be the good! In these dark and troubling days, let us continue to be salt and light to those around us.
Dear Heavenly Father,
In these days when we are tempted to be weak and whiny,
help us to stay focused by the strength of Your might.
Help us to not lose our joy. Bless us with unselfish hearts.
Give us the strength to be good and strong in this time of trial.
Through Jesus, who suffered well, we pray. Amen.
* Click on the online resources tab for a related essay, "Confined Aboard".