It was Boris Johnson that did it. Not because I am a fan of his; not because I am an enemy of his. But because Mr. Johnson is a world leader, when I learned that the British Prime Minister had been diagnosed with COVID-19 and was subsequently placed in ICU, I realized afresh that no amount of wealth or privilege can protect us from COVID-19. COVID-19 is no respecter of persons.

Of course, I knew this before then. For months we have been hearing about those infected with this coronavirus: teachers and homeless people; garbage collectors and news anchors; cashiers at grocery stores and medical personnel. People of all ages, ethnicities, races, socioeconomic classes, and walks of life continue to be infected. COVID-19 is no respecter of persons.

In early March we learned that Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson had contracted COVID-19 while filming in Australia. At that point, just over a month ago, we still weren’t completely aware of just how easily and quickly this virus is able to spread. But now we know. And now we feel afraid. And now we wonder when it will all come to an end. COVID-19 is no respecter of persons.

I’ve repeatedly said—and felt—and prayed for this moment in history. There is nothing quite like a pandemic to remind us of the need we all have to live our lives intentionally before God who made us. But those of us who know God not only as our Creator but also as our heavenly Father—through Jesus, his Son, and by his Holy Spirit who seals and indwells us—aren’t spared the suffering of seeing such widespread devastation. Of seeing that COVID-19 is no respecter of persons.

This pandemic is a poignant reminder of the need we all have to live as God in Christ made us to live. We were given life that we might know and love God with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strength; and we were given life that we might know and love our neighbor as ourselves. But what happens when a pandemic keeps us from expressing our love for neighbor? What happens when a pandemic demands that we isolate ourselves as an expression of that love for others—and as protection for ourselves? What do we do when that isolation leaves us feeling forsaken from the Christ we love? The answer, at least in part, lies in knowing that this is why he came. He came to conquer all evil, suffering, sin, and even death itself. COVID-19 is why Christ, eternal Son of God, came to earth in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. For as we near the end of Holy Week, we remember that:

It was during Holy Week that he was acknowledged as King by thousands upon thousands who waved palms before him;

It was during Holy Week that he washed his disciples’ feet;

It was during Holy Week that he enjoyed his final supper with his disciples;

It was during Holy Week that one of those disciples left that supper to betray him;

It was during Holy Week that he agonized in the Garden of Gethsemane praying that heartbreaking prayer, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will;”

It was during Holy Week that he was beaten. And spat upon. And mocked. And nailed to the cross. He was taunted with words that (as Elizabeth Goudge has observed) turned out to be the great truth about redemption: “He saved others but he cannot save himself;”

It was during Holy Week that while on that cross, in the depth of his suffering, we hear his piercing question to his Father in heaven: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus understands what it means to feel forsaken. And this is why he came. COVID-19 is why God in Christ came. He came not to condemn the world but that the world through him might be saved from sin—and from the Devil and all his evil—and from all suffering—and from death itself.

The Hosannas people cried on that first Palm Sunday acknowledged this—Hosanna means “O, Save!” “Save, now!”;

Jesus’ very name acknowledges this—“Jesus” is the Greek form of Joshua, which means “the Lord Saves;”

John the Baptist acknowledged this—“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!;”

An angel acknowledged this when he said to Joseph, who had not yet known Mary, his betrothed, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Even at the time of his wondrous and miraculous birth, the shadow of the cross was ever upon our dear Jesus, our Savior and LORD.

And it’s true. Had he chosen to save himself he couldn’t have saved us. For the only means for our salvation to be accomplished was by his taking upon himself our sin and punishment that we might receive his righteousness and thereby not be eternally forsaken from God. COVID-19 is why God in Christ came.

Thanks be to God! — thanks be to Christ Jesus, our Lord! — that he chose to drink the cup of the cross and receive the judgment of sin upon himself that was our due;

Thanks be to God! — thanks be to Christ Jesus, our Lord! —that he chose to drink the cup of the cross that Satan might be defeated;

Thanks be to God! — thanks be to Christ Jesus, our Lord! — that he chose to drink the cup of the cross that death might lose its sting;

Thanks be to God! — thanks be to Christ Jesus, our Lord! — that he chose to save others rather than himself. As he told the disciples on the Road to Emmaus after he rose from death: “Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?”

Thanks be to God! — thanks be to Christ Jesus, our Lord! — that “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Dear brothers and sisters, Jesus knew why he had to be forsaken—but not forgotten—by God. Jesus was forsaken for a purpose:

And that purpose was to save those he had made in his very image;

That purpose was to return the world to the good state in which he made it by destroying Satan and all evil that seeks to destroy it;

That purpose was to atone for the sins, to cover with his own death on the cross, all of the evil that occurred when we first turned away from him;

That purpose was that we might once again come to know the God for whom we were created.

Yes, the suffering of Jesus Christ was for a purpose. And that purpose was to save us. For God’s Suffering Servant—Jesus Christ, Jesus the Messiah—took our place, became our substitute, and took upon himself the punishment we deserved—that we might be given the eternal life only he can provide.

As we await our final redemption, if you are feeling forsaken—and forgotten—and frightened, remember you are neither forsaken nor forgotten. Remind yourself: COVID-19 is why God in Christ came. Therefore let us turn to him. And tell him our hurt. And share with him our isolation. And confess our sin to him. And confess our need for him. And pray his mercy upon this world he has made.

Dear hearts, in this Holy Week that has left us unable to love and encourage one another in person, I close with these words of encouragement from 1 Peter 5:7–11: Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. [And all of God’s people said:] Amen!

 

 

And so I want to return to Jesus’ encounter with the disciples on the Road to Emmaus. For in addition to teaching these lucky disciples how all of the Old Testament Scriptures, from Moses on through to the Prophets point to him, Jesus who at this time had conquered and risen from death also said to these disciples, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?[1]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”[2]

, “what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.”[3]

As the author of Hebrews states, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”[4]

by the end of his life “there were many who were appalled at him” and “his appearance was…disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness” (52:14). Keep in mind that before he died, Jesus was flogged,[5] severely beaten with a whip until bloody; he was spat upon; he was mocked with a crown of thorns on his head; and finally he was crucified, left on a cross, hanging between two common criminals, to die. Yet even from the beginning of his earthly life, what drew people to Jesus wasn’t his physical appearance for “he had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,” Isaiah tells us, “nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (53:2b). So even prior to his flogging, we may not have been drawn to Jesus’ physical appearance or even noticed him had we met him along the road.

Jesus’ suffering wasn’t without purpose. The reason he suffered was for us. “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering” (53:4a).[6] Jesus’ suffering was corporate. He experienced the cumulative pain and suffering that belonged to us. Listen to these descriptions from Isaiah, fulfilled in Jesus’ life:

He “was pierced for our transgressions,

he was crushed for our iniquities” (53:5a).

“He was oppressed and afflicted,yet he did not open his mouth;

he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,

and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (53:7).

He “was cut off from the land of the living” (53:8b)

and “was assigned a grave with the wickedthough he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth” (53:9).[7]

Jesus’ suffering was the suffering of an innocent man. But what is perhaps even harder to grasp, the suffering of this wise, humble, innocent, Servant was by God’s design.[8] In Isaiah 53:10 we read, “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer.”

in verse 5 of chapter 53 we’re told that the Servant “was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;” But the verse goes on to state that “the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Similarly at the end of verse 8 we’re told “for the transgression of my people he was punished.” And, finally, in verse 11: “by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.”

Isaiah reminds us that “All we like sheep have gone astray” Therefore “the LORD has laid on him [God’s servant] the iniquity of us all” (53:6). If we fast forward to the time of the New Testament, the apostle Paul picks up on this point when he states “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”[9] What an extraordinary—and perfect—expression of God’s Suffering Servant—of Jesus Christ, Jesus the Messiah—taking our place, becoming our substitute, taking upon himself the punishment we deserve—that we might be given the eternal life only he can provide.

And so I want to return to Jesus’ encounter with the disciples on the Road to Emmaus. For in addition to teaching these lucky disciples how all of the Old Testament Scriptures, from Moses on through to the Prophets point to him, Jesus who at this time had conquered and risen from death also said to these disciples, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?[10] Jesus knew why he had to be forsaken—but not forgotten—by God. For Jesus was forsaken for a purpose. And that purpose was to save the world he had created. That purpose was to return the world to the good state in which it had been made by destroying Satan and all evil. That purpose was to atone for the sins, to cover with his own death on the cross, all of the evil that occurred when we first turned away from him. That purpose was that we might once again come to know the God for whom we were created.

Yet the suffering of Christ was for a purpose. And that purpose was to save us. As Elizabeth Goudge has so eloquently stated, those who tormented our Lord while he hung on the cross by mockingly saying, “He saved others; himself he cannot save” had, in fact, unwittingly spoken “the great truth about redemption.”[11] That the Man of Sorrows could not save himself is the great truth of redemption because had Jesus saved himself, he could not have saved us.

Yet our kind Jesus chose to suffer. Our kind Jesus chose to die. Our kind Jesus chose to take upon himself all of our sin; all of our indifference to him and the ways in which we take him for granted. Our kind Jesus chose to die in the place of any and all who come to him that he might save us.

This is why Christ Jesus, the Man of Sorrows, chose to suffer and die. He could not save himself because he chose, instead, to save you and me.

 

[1] Luke 24:25–26.

[2] 4 Gospel Accounts: Matthew 21:1–11; Mark 11:1–9; John 12:12–19;Luke 19:28–44

[3] Matthew 1:20–21.

[4] Hebrews 12:2b.

[5] John 19:1ff; Mark 14:65ff; Luke 22:63ff; Matthew 27:26ff.

[6] Matthew 8:14–17: 14 When Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. 15 He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him. 16 When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.”

 

[7] Matthew 27:57–60: 57 As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. 58 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. 59 Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb.

[8] Acts 2:23: 22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

[9] John 1:29, 36: 29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”

[10] Luke 24:25–26.

[11] Elizabeth Goudge, God So Loved the World, New York: Coward-McCann, Inc., p. 278. See Matthew 27:38–44: 38 Two rebels were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” 41 In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. 42 “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.; Mark 15:27–32: 27 They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. [28] 29 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!” 31 In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! 32 Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.