The captain of a US Navy aircraft carrier, facing a growing outbreak of the coronavirus COVID-19 disease, asked for permission to isolate the bulk of his roughly five thousand crew members on shore. He was asking to take the warship out of service in an effort to save lives.
In a memo to Navy leaders, the captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt said the spread of the disease was accelerating and that removing all but 10 percent of the crew was a “necessary risk” to stop the transmission of the virus. The ship docked in Guam while the US Navy scrambled to determine how best to respond to the extraordinary request as dozens of crew members tested positive.
Captain Brett Crozier stated, “We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset—our Sailors.”1
I agree. We must take care of our sailors and soldiers, even though they recognize that grief and death accompany their job description. A songwriter said, “We are soldiers in the army. We have to fight, although we have to cry. We have to hold up the bloodstained banner. We’ve got to hold it up until we die!”2
I agree. Sailors should not die needlessly, even though the apostle says, “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27).3
But I disagree with the statement that says we are not at war. Coronavirus or no coronavirus, we are in a war. We were in a war before the disease, and we will be in a war after the disease. The question is, are we prepared for war? Are we prepared for trial? Are we prepared for tribulation?
In each of the synoptic gospels—Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8—we find the parable of the sower. A parable is a simple story whose primary purpose is to teach a truth. Anytime the same story appears three times in Scripture, it must be of great significance.
When Jesus teaches by a parable, His main purpose is to hold up a mirror by which we can see the truth. In the parable of the sower, Jesus teaches truth by examining how four types of listeners received God’s Word.
Jesus says that a sower goes out to sow, or plant, seed. The sower wants the seed to spring up and give him a great harvest. As he plants the seed, he throws it on the ground, and the seed falls on four different types of soil.
In soil type number 1, the farmer tosses seed on the ground, but the birds just come by and snatch the seed up.
In soil type number 2, the farmer casts seeds across rocky soil. While the seeds sprout, the hot sun soon causes the plants to shrivel away.
In soil type number 3, the farmer scatters seed on soil among thorns, but the thorns spring up and choke out the young plants.
In soil type number 4, the farmer throws seed on good soil, and when the seed falls, it grows, develops, and produces a great harvest.
I want to deal with soil type two—rocky soil—because it applies to our situation as we deal with the tragedy of a pandemic.
In the rocky soil, the seeds do germinate, but the sun destroys the tender plants. This soil type represents persons with no deep roots. Hearing the Word of God fills them with joy and excitement. But as soon as trials come, they begin looking for a way out. They accept what seems to be good at the moment, but they fail to count the cost of discipleship. We must face up to the reality that when we decide to follow Jesus, there is a price associated with it.
Tragedies ask some difficult questions of us. Is God really a God of love? Why do the innocent suffer? Why do doctors and nurses, who try desperately to save our lives, end up losing their own? Why did my loved one have to die? At the end of the day, survival demands that we get some roots.
When 9/11, the coronavirus pandemic, or a yet-to-come, unknown global crisis strikes, many of us are fearful. We do not know what is next. It’s not enough to detect fear; we must direct it. The psalmist can confidently proclaim, “What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee” (Ps. 56:3). John can positively declare, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear” (1 John 4:18). And Paul can powerfully assert, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7).
As Christians, we know what we were dealing with. The disciples asked Jesus what the signs of His second coming would be. Jesus told them straight, “Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken” (Luke 21:26). Jesus told them directly, “Ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars. . . . For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows” (Matt. 24:6–8).
We are in a war. We’re approaching the heat of the battle. Jesus is soon to come. Why is coronavirus here? It’s a pestilence! Now is not the time for us to get weak. This is what we’ve been preaching about. This is what we’ve been teaching about. This is what we’ve been witnessing about. This is why we’ve been having revivals and evangelistic campaigns. Jesus is soon to come! The days of pleasant preaching are over. Toughen up! We need a Word with some roots.
I love the stories of David and Goliath, Daniel in the lions’ den, and the three Hebrew boys delivered in the fiery furnace. I love the New Testament stories of Jesus. But I also need Daniel 7 and 8. I need to know how to apply the time prophecies of 1,260 days; 42 months; and a time, times, and the dividing of time.
I need to know about the first beast of Revelation 13, about that second beast of Revelation 13 that arises out of the earth around the same time the first beast is losing its power v. 11). I need to know that a beast represents a kingdom or power (Dan. 7:23). And the second beast is a lamblike power in the form of a nation that preaches peace but speaks like a dragon (Rev. 13:11). I need to know that the second beast will force the earth to worship the first beast of Revelation 13 (v. 12). I need to know that the time is coming when we will not be able to buy nor sell (v. 17). I need some roots! Most of all, I need to be deeply rooted in the Word.
Do you realize the times in which we live? Do you recognize what’s happening right before our eyes? That the coronavirus has literally shut down the world? Our economy has crashed. We have closed schools, closed churches, closed sporting events, closed amusement parks, closed cities, and closed states—all within a few weeks.
Ellen White said it best: “We are living in the time of the end. The fast-fulfilling signs of the times declare that the coming of Christ is near at hand. The days in which we live are solemn and important. The Spirit of God is gradually but surely being withdrawn from the earth. Plagues and judgments are already falling upon the despisers of the grace of God. The calamities by land and sea, the unsettled state of society, the alarms of war, are portentous. They forecast approaching events of the greatest magnitude.
“The agencies of evil are combining their forces and consolidating. They are strengthening for the last great crisis. Great changes are soon to take place in our world, and the final movements will be rapid ones.”4
Wake up, my friends. We need some deep roots! Roots that can’t be destroyed. Roots that will nourish our spiritual growth. When I read the Word of God, it must not only inspire my emotions, but it must also challenge my mind. I don’t want a dead church, but I don’t want a dumb one either. I want a living church that is also a learned church—I must feed both my head and my heart. Get some roots!
We are faced with a coronavirus pandemic that has left us in a state of unprecedented desperation. Many are ready to come to Jesus and live right, simply because they are scared. If it’s this pandemic that leads you to greater spiritual thinking, spiritual awareness, and spiritual behavior, praise the Lord. God can use something like this to straighten us up. But do not let it be that as soon as the coronavirus hype wears off, your spirituality fades, and you slip back to whatever you were doing and being before.
God is not for emergency use only. Get some roots, because if you think coronavirus is something, you haven’t seen anything yet. Don’t praise God just when the sun is shining. Do it even when the rain is falling.
Our obedience and praise to God are not about our feelings, because some days you are not going to feel like studying the Word. Or praying. Or singing. Some days you are not going to feel like coming to church. But I rebuke the devil in Jesus’ name when those feelings threaten to overwhelm. “I will bless the LORD at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make her boast in the LORD: the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad. O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together” (Ps. 34:1–3).
Jesus did not go to Calvary because He felt like it. He went to Calvary because He loved you and me. To save you and me. Get some roots in the Word! Coronavirus is here, but God said, “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” (Isa. 41:10). One songwriter said, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” He said, “When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay. On Christ the solid Rock, I stand—All other ground is sinking sand.”5 Get some roots!6
- Gina Harkins, “ ‘Sailors Do Not Need to Die’: Carrier Captain Pleads for Help as Virus Cases Surge,” Military.com, March 31, 2020, https://www.military.com/daily-news/2020/03/31/sai...
- “We Are Soldiers,” in African American Heritage Hymnal (Chicago, IL: GIA Publications, Inc., 2001), #488, https://hymnary.org/text/we_are_soldiers_in_the_army_we_have_to#authority_media_flexscores.
- Scripture is from the King James Version.
- Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9 (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), 11.
- Edward Mote, “The Solid Rock,” in African American Heritage Hymnal, #385, https://hymnary.org/hymn/AAHH2001/385.
- Article adapted from a sermon by Carlton P. Byrd, March 14, 2020, Oakwood University Church, Huntsville, Alabama, United States. Editors.