The Book of Exodus tells the story of how God called Moses to lead Israel out of slavery in Egypt. But at the very beginning of the book, before the Israelites become slaves, they’re doing quite well for themselves. In Exodus chapter 1, verse 7, we’re told that after Joseph and his brothers died, “the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.”
As we read in the closing chapters of Genesis, the king of Egypt, the Pharaoh, had shown favor to Israel on account of Joseph and the work he had done to save Egypt from the devastating effects of a famine. So the Pharaoh made sure that Joseph and his family prospered.
And why shouldn’t this prosperity continue indefinitely? Why shouldn’t the Israelites be confident in a future based on their relationship to their patriarch Joseph… and their belief that future Egyptian kings would continue to honor Joseph and his memory—and honor the family he brought with him out of Canaan?
Why shouldn’t they?
And yet verse 8 signals an ominous change: “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.”
Suddenly the Israelites were facing an uncertain future. The promise of prosperity that generations of Israelites had taken for granted was exposed as… an illusion. The world they knew, and their lives within it, would soon be turned upside down… all because “there was a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.”
Isn’t there a powerful message in this scripture for us? After all, doesn’t it feel like the world that we knew has suddenly been turned upside down? And now with the governor’s orders for all Georgians to “shelter in place,” even more so!
We have friends right now, for example, who have a new granddaughter. She was born two weeks ago—and they had to welcome her into their lives… standing at the end of their daughter and son-in-law’s driveway, while the parents held the child at the entrance to the garage. So these new grandparents couldn’t hold this beautiful child in their arms! All because of a crisis that literally no one predicted prior to a few months ago.
And like the Israelites in Exodus 1, many of us, I’m sure, can no longer take for granted that the future will work out quite the way we planned.
In a way, that’s perfectly okay. We were never supposed to take the future for granted in the first place. The apostle James warns against doing so in James 4:13-15:
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
Well, chances are, in the wake of this pandemic, none of us is taking for granted what we’re going to be doing in the year ahead. We’ll say, “Lord willing, we’ll do this or that.” But we know that nothing’s guaranteed.
Look, I’m not trying to be alarmist; I’m not suggesting that the sky is falling; as far as I know, this isn’t the beginning of the Great Tribulation. It might be, but the world has had plenty of pandemics and natural disasters before that were at least as bad as this one. Even in our country—the Spanish Flu pandemic beginning in 1918 was very deadly and dangerous. I guess there was a world war going on that distracted us from it—and we didn’t have smartphones to read all the bad news 24/7.
So maybe we haven’t lost all that much at this moment… But even if we’re doing okay right now—financially, with our jobs, with our health—the truth is, most of us have already lost something in this crisis that we valued dearly: We’ve lost at least some of our confidence in the future. Or I should say, we’ve lost or we’re losing our confidence in a future based on anything or anyone other than God himself…
Should I repeat that? We’ve lost or we’re losing our confidence in a future based on anything or anyone other than God himself.
Because chances are, like the Egyptians, at least a part of our confidence in the future was based on worldly treasures—and I’m talking here about perfectly good gifts like a thriving economy, a prosperous career, continued good health, “modern medicine,” the future prosperity of our children, the fulfillment of the “American Dream.” Because we placed our faith in these good things, we believed that “life as we know it” would just… continue… indefinitely… and get incrementally better. I mean, sure, we were bound to suffer a setback here and there. We’d get sick occasionally. There’d be a recession. But for the most part life would continue without any major interruption.
But we were wrong, because COVID-19 has proven to be a major interruption to all of our lives! One headline I read this past week said that this crisis is the biggest one that our country has faced since World War II. Maybe so.
Well, if we haven’t lost our confidence in a future based on these worldly treasures, our confidence has at least been been badly shaken… down to its foundations. And that, let me humbly suggest, may not be a bad thing.
Here’s an illustration of what I mean…
In 1689 the city of Windsor, England, commissioned famed architect Sir Christopher Wren, who designed St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, to design a new town hall for the city. And so Wren completed his design—except there was one small problem.
You see, the city fathers wanted their meeting rooms to be above a “corn market”—an open space for farmers and others to display and sell their products. But when they inspected the new building they were worried. Wren had used a new technique for supporting the floor below the meeting space and ceiling above the corn market—a technique that required no pillars, except on the edges of the market space.
Do you get the picture? Imagine a vast room: a ceiling, with meeting rooms on the floor above… lots of people walking on top of it. That’s a lot of weight on that ceiling! How could this building support all that weight without pillars holding it up? What would stop the ceiling from collapsing on top of the people in the corn market below? And killing people? To the city fathers and others, it seemed obvious that the ceiling of the corn market would soon fall unless… they supported it with pillars!
So the city fathers insisted that Wren add four pillars in the middle of the corn market to support the floor of their meeting rooms above.
And Wren hated the idea! It would not only ruin the aesthetics of the room… But even more, it was just completely unnecessary! Who knows more about designing a sound building? Christopher Wren… or a bunch of amateurs like these city fathers?
Reluctantly, however, Wren gave in. He added the pillars as they requested!
But Christopher Wren got the last laugh. Years after the celebrated corn market building was dedicated, the ceiling needed to be re-painted. When workers built scaffolding to reach the ceiling they noticed something: Those four pillars, which the city fathers insisted were necessary to support the weight of the ceiling, didn’t quite touch the ceiling… Wren left a tiny gap, maybe an inch or less, between the ceiling and the pillars… unnoticeable to the people on the floor below… It was his way of telling the skeptics that they were wrong… that they were placing their confidence, their faith, their hope, in the wrong thing or person.
It was as if Wren were saying, “Don’t base your confidence in these phony pillars, these false supports; they won’t keep you safe and secure… Trust in the master architect. He knows what he’s doing!”
Well… I hope you can see the application to today’s crisis. By all means, we should be confident in the future. But let’s use this present crisis to make sure that our confidence is based on the right thing… or should I say, the right Person.
That right person is, of course, Jesus.
Jesus himself tells a story about good and bad architecture—about buildings that stand and fall—in the last section of his Sermon on the Mount:
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.
Listen… You don’t need me to tell you that, in the face of this crisis, rain is falling, floods are rising, and winds are blowing and beating. Whether we let this storm destroy us, however, depends on one thing… our loyalty and allegiance to Jesus, our one true King.
Because make no mistake: every detail about the first eleven verses of Matthew chapter 21 is meant to communicate that Jesus is king. This Triumphal Entry is the description of a coronation. That’s the meaning of throwing cloaks and palm branches in Jesus’ path. That’s the meaning of the quotation from Zechariah 9:9: “Behold, your king is coming to you…” That’s the meaning of the crowds shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David… Hosanna in the highest.” They’re welcoming Jesus as the greatest, most powerful king of all—the Messiah—who isn’t just king over Israel, but over all the world.
The truth is, the people in the crowd shouting Hosanna can’t even imagine how powerful this king is. Let me share two verses that describe Jesus’ power:
And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:17. In him all things hold together.
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. Hebrews 1:3. He upholds the universe by the word of his power.
Do you get the picture? If not, consider this:
If the distance between the Earth and the sun—ninety-three million miles—was no more than the thickness of a sheet of paper, then the distance from the Earth to the nearest star would be a stack of papers seventy feet high; the diameter of the Milky Way would be a stack of paper over three hundred miles high. Keep in mind that there are more galaxies in the universe than we can number. There are more, it seems, than dust specks in the air or grains of sand on the seashores.
Now, if Jesus Christ our king holds all this together with just a “word of his power”—according to Hebrews 1:3—do you suppose that maybe, just maybe,our King Jesus is powerful enough to help us through this present crisis? Do you suppose that somehow COVID-19 is really no match for our King Jesus? And since our king was not caught off guard or surprised by this crisis, don’t you think that he’s able to use it for the good of his beloved sons and daughters through faith in him?
Listen: I know that a lot of you are afraid right now. [Spiritual warfare… we have an unseen enemy that’s not COVID-19; a much more dangerous unseen enemy is the devil! Fear is his strongest weapon right now. The devil wants to tell you there’s a new king over our land, and that king is fear… don’t you believe it!] And if you’re a Christian you know up here [point to head] that Jesus is king, yet it seems right now you’re letting fear sit on her throne… Repent… ask the Lord for the grace, for the power to change!
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name
On Christ the solid rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground is sinking sand.
If you’re already a Christian I’m inviting you to step out of the sinking sand of your faith in worldly treasures and to stand instead on the solid rock of Jesus Christ and his Word! You’ll be safe there!
But if you’re not already a Christian, or maybe you were at one time, but now you’re not so sure, my invitation is different…
The people in today’s scripture were shouting, “Hosanna,” which literally means “O Lord, save us!” It comes from Psalm 118. Is it okay to ask our king to save us from COVID-19? Of course it is! Jesus encourages us throughout the gospels to pray bold and miraculous prayers like that.
But please… let’s not miss the big picture. The safest, healthiest, longest life in this world is the most infinitesimal blip of time when compared to eternity. Our King Jesus came riding into Jerusalem on a baby donkey to save us not for this short span of our lives in this world but for eternity!
And… I would be remiss if I didn’t give you a warning: Jesus came the first time riding a baby donkey. Yet Revelation warns us—using figurative, poetic language—that when Jesus comes a second time, he’ll be riding a white horse—a warhorse. And…
The one sitting on [this white horse] is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God… From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations… He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
Friends, you do not want to meet Jesus riding on the white horse unless you’ve first met Jesus riding on the baby donkey. The time between Christ’s first coming and his second—this time right now—is a time of mercy, forgiveness, and grace. It is the only time that we have to meet the king riding on a donkey—and to receive his gift of mercy, forgiveness, and grace. Please use this time wisely. Please make Jesus king of your life right now.
And if you’re ready to do that, reach out to me by email at email@example.com.