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Don't Tempt the LORD! - Shepherd of Hope

“It has been said, ‘You shall not tempt the LORD your God.’” – Luke 4:12

 

We are in the middle of a pandemic. The Corona-COVID19-Wuhan-Chinese virus is at the top of the headlines. Infections are rising. We are learning new facts about this virus and its effects each day. Despite our president, his staff and experts acting with urgency, the virus seems to continue to spread. As a result, we are being instructed to have minimal interpersonal contact with others. At first, we were told to refrain from gatherings of 500, then 250, then 50, and the latest is that we should not gather in groups of more than 10. Schools, colleges, conferences, political rallies and social gatherings are being closed and cancelled. Restaurants, gyms, and anywhere that people come into contact with each other are being shut down. Even professional sports are putting the kibosh on their games. (You know things are serious when the religion of our age, sports, is closing its arena doors.)

But what about the churches? Should we close our doors? Should we cancel services? Is that something we should even consider? I’ve seen some churches be quick to close their doors. I don’t know if that was out of fear, a willingness to comply with government instructions or concern for the people of their flock. Maybe it’s one or the other or a little bit of all of that. Other churches are minimizing the seriousness of the virus. They are presenting themselves as staunch and defiant pillars of faith. They are up to and in danger of crossing the line of disregard for the health of the people of their flock and those associated with them. But what about the church, should she close her doors? I think the proper and prudent answer is somewhere in the middle.

There’s a psalm in the Old Testament which provides us with promises of protection. It’s a wonderful psalm that has provided a great amount of comfort and courage in threatening times such as the one we are experiencing right now. The psalm I am referring to is Psalm 91.

Psalm 91 (NKJV)

1     He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High

Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.

2     I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress;

My God, in Him I will trust.”

3     Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler

And from the perilous pestilence.

4     He shall cover you with His feathers,

And under His wings you shall take refuge;

His truth shall be your shield and buckler.

5     You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,

Nor of the arrow that flies by day,

6     Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,

Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.

7     A thousand may fall at your side,

And ten thousand at your right hand;

But it shall not come near you.

8     Only with your eyes shall you look,

And see the reward of the wicked.

9     Because you have made the Lord, who is my refuge,

Even the Most High, your dwelling place,

10   No evil shall befall you,

Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling;

11   For He shall give His angels charge over you,

To keep you in all your ways.

12   In their hands they shall bear you up,

Lest you dash your foot against a stone.

13   You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra,

The young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot.

14   “Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him;

I will set him on high, because he has known My name.

15   He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him;

I will be with him in trouble;

I will deliver him and honor him.

16   With long life I will satisfy him,

And show him My salvation.”

 

I’d like to draw your attention to the portion of this psalm which promises protection from “pestilence” and “plague.” “Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the perilous pestilence” (91:3). “You shall not be afraid of. . . the pestilence that walks in darkness,” (91:5-6). “No evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your dwelling; for He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways” (91:10-11). These are promises offered by God to the one who “has set his love upon Me” (91:14).

Some would say based on this psalm, that churches should “trust God,” and stay open, no matter what! If God in this psalm says He will protect us from pestilences and plagues, then why should we even consider closing our churches? Isn’t that a lapse and lack of faith in Him and His word?

I mean, look at what verse thirteen says. “You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra, the young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot.” Should we take God up on that promise? There are churches in West Virginia that look at the close of the gospel of Mark and use it to justify handling rattle snakes as a sign of faith. Jesus did say, “They will take up serpents; , , it will by no means hurt them” (Mark 16:18). So, they take up serpents in their services. And sometimes they get bitten. [1] Sometimes they die.[2] Why is that?

You know, there’s another example of someone who used Psalm 91 to try and justify jumping off a building. And what’s more, it’s recorded in scripture. The incident took place in the beginning of the gospels. It was during the wilderness temptations of Jesus. The person using this psalm to justify jumping off of a building, was Satan! The passage reads:

Luke 4:9–13 (NKJV)

Then he brought Him to Jerusalem, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here. 10 For it is written:

‘He shall give His angels charge over you,

To keep you,’

11 and,

‘In their hands they shall bear you up,

Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’”

12 And Jesus answered and said to him, “It has been said, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’”

13 Now when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time.

 

Now notice two things here.

First, notice Jesus’ response. Jesus rejected the idea of jumping off the pinnacle of the Temple. He countered Satan’s temptation by saying, “You shall not tempt the LORD your God.” Jesus countered the devil’s deliberate misinterpretation of God’s word with a proper hermeneutic. Jesus forcefully responded to the devilish attempt at deception by saying its wrong to presumptively try and arm twist God to protect you by putting yourself in danger. It’s wrong to test God. It’s wrong to test God to see if He really is faithful. God is not into cheap displays of His protection. God is not into cheap displays period. That is something the church today needs to understand.

There may not be Jolo Snake handlers in many churches, but there’s a lot of literal smoke and mirrors and cheap tinsel that reflects poorly on ministry and deflects glory from God. That’s something for the church today to ponder. That’s for another study. But its something to ponder here. Why church, are we doing what we are doing? Is it to glorify God? Is it to put His faithfulness to the test? Is it to puff out our spiritual chest and exhibit our faith? Or is it to do what God has ordained and directed us to do?

Second, notice the devil’s temptations didn’t end there. Satan continues to take scripture out of context. He continues to misuse and manipulate scripture to try and get people to act in ways that at worst lead to death, and at best discredit themselves and the name of Jesus. That’s what we see in those who would take Psalm 91 and its promises of protection and tempt the LORD to protect them by acting in reckless unscripturally sound ways. That has devilish consequences. That defaces the bride of Christ and misrepresents the Divine.

But pastor, what about those promises? Is God true? Can He be trusted? Will He protect us like Psalm 91 and other portions of scripture indicate? Yes, He will. Absolutely God will protect us. I’ve experienced numerous times when God’s hand has protected me. I’m sure if you reflected on your life, you’d be able to say that too. But God will not promise to protect those who act frivolously and presumptively with His word. God will not be tempted!

So when will God protect us? God will protect us when we are walking in His will and ways. As long as we are in the will of God and walking in the ways He has prescribed, He will protect us. Paul is a perfect example of this. In Acts, Paul had just been spared by God through a terrible storm at sea. He had been shipwrecked and had to swim ashore. But once ashore, while gathering some sticks to make a fire, Paul was bitten by a viper. It says, “the viper came out because of the heart, and fastened on his hand” (Acts 28:3). The account continues:

Acts 28:4–6 (NKJV) –

So when the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he has escaped the sea, yet justice does not allow to live.” But he shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. However, they were expecting that he would swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But after they had looked for a long time and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.

I’m sure Paul straightened out those who thought him a god as a result of how God protected him from the viper’s bite. But Paul was protected for two reasons.

First, Paul was protected because He was in God’s will and plan. Paul was going where God wanted him to go. Earlier in Acts the Lord Jesus told Paul, while he was being persecuted and plotted against, and his life was being put in danger, “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome” (Acts 23:11). When you are following God’s plan and walking in His will, you are impregnable. God protects us as long as we are a part of His plan and walking in His will.

Second, Paul was protected because God still had work for Him to do. Paul made it to Rome (Acts 28:17-31). It’s believed he came before Nero and shared the gospel to him. It’s also believed that Nero, having heard, but rejecting the gospel, went mad and set Rome ablaze and then blamed Christians for his deed which resulted in a great persecution of the saints. [3] Tradition tells us, after this, Paul was executed by beheading. Paul’s work was completed. Therefore, God’s protection removed and Paul entered into the presence fo the LORD. God protects us as long as we are a part of His plans. We live to serve Him. Paul’s attitude to this was, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). As long as we are a part of God’s plans, His protection is upon us.

We see this truth in others of the Bible. Joseph was protected from his brothers (Genesis 37-50). Moses was protected from Pharaoh (Exodus 1-14). David was protected from Saul (1 Samuel 18-31). Esther survived the king of Persia as she was a part of God’s plans to protect His people (Esther 5). Job, while experiencing great illness and hardship, but survived because he was part of God’s plans (Job 1-2 and 3-42). Daniel was protected in the lion’s den (Daniel 6). Pretty much all of the prophets of the Old Testament were persecuted but all survived as long as they were a part of God’s plans. In the New Testament Jesus protected the Apostles in storms (e.g. Matthew 14; Mark 6; John 6).

But it should also be added, that sometimes it is part of God’s plan to suffer. Peter, one who tradition tells us was crucified upside down in Rome for his faith, wrote, “Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:19). Sometimes it is God’s will to suffer, to die.

So, what about it pastor, should churches close their doors during this viral apocalypse?

Get informed. Well, yes and no. I think we have to prayerfully get informed. The Bible says, “Every prudent man acts with knowledge, but a fool lays open his folly” (Proverbs 13:16). It says, “The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way, but the folly of fools is deceit” (Proverbs 14:8). It also says, “the simple believes every word, but he prudent considers well his steps.” (Proverbs 14:15).

Don’t tempt the Lord. Whatever decision we make we need to ask, “Am I tempting the Lord with my decision?” Are we taking an undue risk, one that is unnecessary? Are we looking out for the best interests of the people who will be affected? For instance, would it be more prudent to close services to the public and broadcast teaching on radio, online or YouTube? That’s what we have decided to do. At my church we have prayerfully decided to cancel services and provide edifying Bible teaching through various social media. Whatever you decide to do, make sure you arrived at your decision prayerfully, wisely, following the Spirit and the word of God as much as possible. Do that, and its not likely you’ll be tempting God with your decision.

With the advent of social media and the ability to electronically broadcast Bible teachings, we have a viable and effective alternative to putting people at risk by coaxing them to come to services. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing like face to face fellowship. And we should never neglect the gathering of the fellowship (e.g. Hebrews 10:24-25). But encouraging people to stay out of physical circulation while encouraging them to tune in to edifying teaching on social media platforms is a good and God-provided alternative.

Whether or not you choose to have public services, to keep open or close your church doors, that’s a decision each pastor and their church leaders have to make. I think we should all take in as much data on this virus as we can. I think we should prayerfully weigh positive and negative consequences. I think we should err on the side of caution. I think we should prayerfully follow the leading of the Holy Spirit whatever decision we make. If we don’t, we could discredit and defame the Holy Name of the LORD. If we do, we will bring glory to the Holy Name of our Lord. Pray. Keep others in mind. Pray for wisdom. Pray for God’s leading. Pray for God’s will for you and your church.

Jesus said at one point, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes” (Matthew 11:25). We, as God’s children and the disciples of Jesus, have a greater “wisdom” and “knowledge” than those in the world. Jesus went on to say in this passage:

Matthew 11:28–30 (NKJV)

28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

That’s the best thing to do in all of this, whether we keep our doors open, or feel led of the Lord to close them. Whatever we do, we need to come to Jesus. The Lord will lead us in different ways dependent upon His will and our circumstances. The doors He opens can’t be shut. The doors He shuts, can’t be opened (e.g. Revelation 3:7-8). Just make sure you keep the door of your heart and the heart of your church, open to Jesus

Revelation 3:20 (NKJV)

20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.

Whether at home or church, open the door to Jesus. And remember:

“Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him;

I will set him on high, because he has known My name.

15   He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him;

I will be with him in trouble;

I will deliver him and honor him.

16   With long life I will satisfy him,

And show him My salvation.”

That’s true wherever we are. God bless us. God guide us. God use us to bring glory to His Holy Name. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

 

[1] https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=what%27s+wrong+with+the+jolo+snake+handlers&&view=detail&mid=4FB0A80A15AEE8A11CD54FB0A80A15AEE8A11CD5&rvsmid=E127B4A3DC70CBEF67A5E127B4A3DC70CBEF67A5&FORM=VDRVRV

[2] In 1955, George Went Hensley, the founder of modern snake handling in the Appalachian Mountains, died after being bitten by a rattlesnake during a service in Altha, Florida. [7] [55] [56] In 1961, Columbia Chafin Hagerman died after being bitten by a timber rattlesnake during a service at the Church of the Lord Jesus, Jolo, West Virginia . https://www.bing.com/search?q=jollo+snake+handlers+who+died&src=IE-SearchBox&FORM=IESR4S&pc=EUPP_UF03 And others – https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=jollo+snake+handlers+who+died&view=detail&mid=55FC3FB2929E501D9AB155FC3FB2929E501D9AB1&FORM=VIRE

[3] https://biblehub.com/library/pamphilius/church_history/chapter_xxv_the_persecution_under_nero.htm

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