Cancer, Corona and Christ
I am going to start today’s message asking you to make a difficult choice. I am going to show two pictures from our family album and ask you to choose your favourite one. Both are happy pictures and hence I have titled one of them as “A Happy Picture” and the other one as “Another Happy Picture”. Please vote for your favourite picture, online, based on the instructions.
Our three year old Foster Grand Daughter, Arvi, refuses to accept that the second photograph (Another Happy Picture) is ours. She says it is some other uncle and aunty. She does not want to accept the fact we could have been in this condition. But I am going to tell you the story behind that picture. I do have a story behind the first picture too (A Happy Picture), but I will tell that story another time.
It was 29th of October 2014. Leslie and I went through several mixed reactions when the biopsy report confirmed that Leslie had cancer. We needed to get several things planned as soon as possible. There was additional tests to be done, there was oncologists to be finalised, surgeons to be identified, treatment schedule to be finalised etc etc. More than anything else, we needed to strengthen ourselves to handle the emotional pressure that this put both of us in. And to top it all, I was scheduled to travel on the 31st of October, to Chennai to be the resource person for a three day retreat of the Methodist Youth Fellowship from Indira Nagar Methodist Church, Bangalore. The retreat was planned at a resort near Mahabalipuram. My first reaction was to call the organisers and inform them that I cannot make it. The organisers were heartbroken, because they had no plan B, and the retreat would have been a wash out if I did not join them. And they had incurred significant amount of expenses towards the same. But for me the first priority was to get the treatment plan for Leslie finalised, and hence I made up my mind to not go and let the organisers manage the crisis that they have at hand. When Leslie heard about this, she asked me to change my decision. When Leslie asks me to do something I always listen, you know that.. But jokes aside , this time her argument was solid and I could not find any counter arguments for that. I quote her. “A few days are not going to matter in the beginning of the treatment. I know that the “Big C will ultimately conquer the small c”. I am sure that all of you know that the Big C she referred to was Christ. That was a convincing argument, and bottom-line I went for the retreat, returned, made the treatment plans, went through whole cycle of the surgery , the chemotherapy, the radiotherapy and all the associated problems. The second picture you saw (Another Happy Picture) is from the Chemotherapy period.
Let me repeat Leslie’s statement. “The Big C will conquer the small c”. And she held on to that belief throughout the treatment period. Several people have told me that they never met such a cheerful Cancer patient. Actually several of my friends pulled my leg saying that I looked more like a patient during those periods than she did. She went in to the operation theater singing hymns, came out of the operation theater singing hymns, and endured the painful side effects of the Chemotherapy. What kept her going was her belief that “the Big C will conquer the small c”. And at the end of it all she confidently could say that the “Big C indeed did conquer the small c”. Praise be to God.
I think about this and ask myself. Can we say the same thing about the current c, the corona virus? Do we believe that it is indeed a small c compared to the Big C, that is Christ? Will Christ conquer the Corona Virus? If so why has He not done it yet? Why is it still raging? Why are believers being infected with it along with unbelievers? Why are even Christian Doctors get infected with the virus and even die? You all heard about the most recent incident of a Christian Doctor who died of COVID and the troubles that took place regarding his burial. Why does such things happen? The bottom-line question is, where is Christ in this situation?
We may not have answers to all the questions here. But we do have a definite affirmative answer to one question. Is Christ in control of the situation?. Absolutely. Because our God has absolute sovereignty over everything. I repeat everything. Job Learned it the hard way. Job 42:2 (NKJV) 2 "I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. Paul confirms this Ephesians 1:11 (NKJV) 11 In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will. It is all things, not somethings, it is according to His will, not according to anyone else’s will. So the question whether God is in control of the Corona Virus is purely rhetorical. Bible tells us that He governs wind (Luke 8:25), lightning (Job 36:32), snow (Ps. 147:16), frogs (Ex. 8:1–15), gnats (Ex. 8:16–19), flies (Ex. 8:20–32), locusts (Ex. 10:1–20), quail (Ex. 16:6–8), worms (Jonah 4:7), fish (Jonah 2:10), sparrows (Matt. 10:29), grass (Ps. 147:8), plants (Jonah 4:6), famine (Ps. 105:16), the sun (Josh. 10:12–13), prison doors (Acts 5:19), blindness (Ex. 4:11; Luke 18:42), deafness (Ex. 4:11; Mark 7:37), paralysis (Luke 5:24–25), fever (Matt. 8:15), every disease (Matt. 4:23), travel plans (James 4:13–15), the hearts of kings (Prov. 21:1; Dan. 2:21), nations (Ps. 33:10), murderers (Acts 4:27–28), spiritual deadness (Eph. 2:4–5), donkeys, waves, the list can go on and on. He governs all , and all of them do his sovereign will.
So the next question could be, What is God doing during this COVID19 situation. The simplest answer is “ a million things that we do not know”. This answer is based on the following scriptures. Psalm 40:5 (NLT2) 5 O LORD my God, you have performed many wonders for us. Your plans for us are too numerous to list. You have no equal. If I tried to recite all your wonderful deeds, I would never come to the end of them. Or Romans 11:33 (NKJV) 33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! . Yes, He is doing a million things that we do not know about. But surely that does not mean that He has not revealed His will to us, it does not mean that He has not spoken to us. Paul is not telling us to close the Bible and go make up your own reality. He speaks to us today through His scriptures and His son Jesus Christ. Ephesians 1:5-9 (NKJV) 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved. 7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, 9 having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself. He has made His will for us clear through Jesus Christ His son. Ephesians 3:3-4 (NKJV) 3 how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, 4 by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ),. Paul is telling us that by reading we can understand the mystery of God revealed through Christ. So let us dig a little deeper into “What is God doing through the COVID19 Pandemic?”. In the most recent book Corona Virus and Christ, the Author John Piper lists 6 paths to follow for answers to this question. In the interest of time I am going to briefly look at just two of them here. Lord willing, we will pick up the other four some other time.
The first answer might be unpalatable for many of us this morning. The unpalatable truth is the fact that God is painting a picture of the moral ugliness of sin, through Corona Virus and all similar calamities. When God created the world, everything was perfect, but the fall changed all that. Romans 5:12 (NKJV) 12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned-- . And we might add, continue sinning. The world is broken, with all its beauty intertwined with sicknesses and poverty and calamities and accidents and deaths and murders and rapes and communal riots and what nots. Some of us might say, but aren’t the calamities and sicknesses from Satan? The answer to that question is this. Satan is real, he is here, he is present, and he likes our sufferings, there is no doubt about it. But remember, he is on a leash. He is restricted. He is under the sovereignty of God. It is God who decides the extent of damage that Satan can do. So this is what God is doing through COVID19. He is shouting out to humanity, wake up, this is what it will be like, if you continue to sin against God. You cry out when physical illness hits you. You shiver when death stares at you in close quarters. But you remain insensitive when moral sin abounds. It cannot be. This is God’s clarion call for us to turn away from our sinful lives and accept the salvation that is offered through Christ.
An associated uncomfortable question is “Why are Christians being infected? Why are believers getting COVID19?” For an answer to that let me take you back to the Cancer story that I began this message with. I told you that Chemotherapy is the most painful phase of the cancer treatment. For those of us who are familiar with what Chemotherapy is, we know it is powerful chemicals pumped into one’s body to kill the malignant cells. The problem is, that the chemicals cannot differentiate between good cells and bad cells. It just kills all cells that grow and multiply. Thus chemotherapy destroys the taste buds, it removes all hair, it stops the skin from being regenerated, it kills your immunity. You see the analogy. Sin is exactly like cancer. It starts with one malignant cell which then multiplies and affects the whole body. The treatment is painful and destroys the good cells too. That is exactly why Christians are swept away in Tsunamis, Christians are killed in terrorist attacks. Christians contract Cancer. Christians get Corona Virus. The difference is, for us it is not a punishment, but a purification. Just like the Chemotherapy purifies the body of malignant cells, while killing several good cells. But we need to go through the suffering as others. Romans 8:23 (NKJV) 23 Not only that, but we also who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For believers it is also not the wrath of God because 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 (NKJV) tells us “9 For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. For us believers, it is an affirmation that it is not a condemnation, but a confirmation that whether we contract Corona Virus or not, or whether we live or die, we will live together with Christ, the Big C.
And that brings me to the second answer to the question “ What is God doing during COVID19?” and the answer is this. God is calling us to repent, and accept the grace that has been given to us through Jesus Christ. In Luke 13:1–5: there is this dialogue . There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. The people were asking Jesus why some people are murdered (as it happened to the Galileans at the hands of Pilate) or why some people are killed in natural disasters ( as it happened at Siloam). Jesus’s response is classic. He literally asks them not to compare themselves and see who is a lesser sinner than those who suffered and died. .He clarifies that all of us deserve the same fate. He asks them to redirect the question to themselves and ask instead, “why are we spared?”. Jesus’s answer clarifies to the people that it is only by Grace that they are alive, and not because they were any lesser sinners than those who died. In the current context Jesus is asking us not to analyse the people who have got Corona Virus and seek answer to why they have got it, but to know that if we are spared, it is only by His Grace, and it is time for us to repent and ask forgiveness and seek that grace from Him through Jesus Christ.
So the concluding message of today is this. We have an option of working out the odds of us contracting corona. We can calculate the probability based on where we live, we can calculate the probability of us surviving an infection if it happens based our age, general health conditions, other illnesses that we already have etc., we can certainly work out the odds. That is one choice. The other choice is to trust in Jesus Christ ,the rock. Who tells us 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 (NKJV) “9 For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. Jesus Christ tells is that whether we wake or sleep, whether we are dead or alive, we can live together with Him. Cancer or Corona. Christ is the answer. Of course, we will practice social distancing, of course we will maintain highest levels of personal hygiene, of course we will take all precautions when we step out as and when the lockdown is over. The message this morning is clear, let us not just do the physical activities hoping that it will save us. Let us know that unless we address our hearts, unless we become acutely aware of our sinful nature, unless we learn to depend on God’s grace given through Jesus Christ, our actions will be cosmetic. The message is that it is high time that we saw the seriousness of moral corruption in this pandemic and take individual actions. I encourage you to affirm today as Paul did. We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. (2 Cor. 1:8–9) The afflictions are to make us rely not on ourselves , but on God who raised the Dead. Let us ask the Risen Lord to come into our hearts this morning.
The Big C will conquer the small c. Cancer or Corona, Christ is the answer.
Let us pray.