Adam’s sin allowed death to enter the world. Our original parents were first to taste the warmth of life, and also first to feel the coldness of death. Before the fall there was no disease, no coughing, fevers, convulsions, or death. But death brought sickness when it arrived, and now sickness accounts for the most deaths each year around the world.
Every cough is a reminder of our fallen world, every sickness is a reminder of our inevitable death, and all who will every sin, get sick or die need a Savior. So each new wave of diseases and death is actually an advertisement showing how desperately we all need a Savior.
Reminders of our Greatest Need:
Well the reminders are mushrooming. If you have watched, read, or listened to the news reports in the past few weeks you know that the Swine Flu has been widely discussed. But whether or not anything big comes of this new strain of Influenza, just the discussions have been very interesting to us who know and believe God's Word.
Whatever the next course global viruses take, all who know Jesus Christ should use disease and death to increase our longing for heaven. Paul tells us in I Corinthians 15:53, “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality”. Our next destination is final and it is a place where there is neither death nor disease. All tears, all pain, and every pathogen will be defeated and Christ will make us eternally free to worship and serve Him.
To bring world news under the lens of the Scriptures, we have come this evening to the next sign Jesus gave when He described how to recognize the End of Days. It is the:
#7: The Sign of
As we open to Matthew 24:7, Jesus is describing another element of what the Earth would be like at His Coming. Each of the other six elements given in God's Word (Global: Travel, Knowledge Explosion, Disaster Awareness, Communications, Commerce, and Apostasy) are actually trends that become full blown, global realities during what is known in God's Word the Bible as the End of Days.
After examining the first six of the ten biggest trends that are clearly described in the Scriptures, we have come to the seventh, which may be described as “Global Pestilences”. Listen to Christ's ominous warning:
Matthew 24:7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.
Now turn to the inspired ending of human history, when the Lord is reeling in the rebellious planet look at Revelation 6 with me.
The rider on the pale horse begins his deadly ride at some point during the Tribulation, and before his ride is over, a quarter of the population of mankind will be dead, from either war, famine or 'the beasts of the earth'.
The word translated 'beasts' is 'therion' in Greek, and means a 'venomous beast'.
We should seriously listen to Christ's chilling words that sound so much like the news reports of recent days. Please stand as we read the future:
Revelation 6:7-8 When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come and see.” 8 So I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth.
Could it be that we are seeing the days that lead up to the release of The Four Horsemen, the start of the coming Global Graveyards, the advent of deadly Flu, Pandemics, and the End of days?
Just to remember where we are, we are tracking the description Jesus gave for us of what the Earth looked like at the very end. Jesus actually explained that the generation that sees “all these things” (Luke 21:28) begin to happen, is the final generation. What things did He refer to?
The Signs of the
End of Days
#1: The Sign of Global Travel (Daniel 12:4 many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.”)
# 2: The Sign of a Global Explosion of Information (Daniel 12:4b many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.”)
#3: The Sign of Global Disaster Awareness (Luke 21:25-26 “And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; 26 men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
#4: The Sign of Global Communication (Revelation 11:9-10 Then those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will see their dead bodies three-and-a-half days, and not allow their dead bodies to be put into graves. 10 And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.)
#5: The Sign of Global Commerce: Digitalized Money, Global Tracking and Positioning (Revelation 13:16-17 He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, 17 and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.)
#6: The Sign of Global Apostasy, Demonism, and Hatred of Christianity (I Timothy 4:1-2 Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron)
#7: The Sign of Global Pestilences (Matthew 24:7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.)
This evening we see on the horizon the world Jesus described in Matthew 24 and Revelation 6.
Tonight, all of the trends Jesus described are visible, they have begun, and as obedient believers we must look up. To go through the lead up to the Final Holocaust heading this way means as we saw last time, that believers will experience greater and greater persecutions.
The Pale Horseman
Jesus described a time coming when one out of every four people will die, some through the ravages of war, others by starvation, and amazingly many others by the ‘beasts of the earth’.
Revelation 6:7-8 When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come and see.”8 So I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth.
With the breaking of this seal, one-fourth of the population of the world is going to die in the wake of a pale green (Greek chloros as in chlorine) horse.
Death may refer to pestilences. Think for a moment of the vast legions of deadly agents surrounding us each day:
• TB: once thought conquered has reemerged in highly resistant strains that have even known to piggyback with HIV to be contagious in an airborne infection.
• STAPH: causing a fifth of the hospital systems two million infections a year has just shown up as staphylococcus aureus which is resistant to vancomycin, the final gun in the antibiotic arsenal. At present 60 to 80,000 die of staph annually but if aureus comes out it is so deadly the numbers will skyrocket.
• EBOLA: with a mortality rate of 90% + in less than a week, ebola is horrible. The body bleeds as the infected individual convulses and splashes deadly contaminated blood in every direction. There is no known cure, no treatment, infact no awareness of how it is transmitted. Chilling to say the least if it started in a populated area.
• BIOLOGICAL WARFARE: anthrax is a cheaply produced poor man’s atom bomb. Once infected the area is persistently a problem for decades. If Berlin had been hit with anthrax in WWII it would still be uninhabitable today! An interesting NY TIMES article reminds us about the testimony on record in Washington, DC from the most senior defector from the Soviet era germ-warfare program. Soviet officials concluded that China had suffered a serious accident at one of its secret plants for developing biological weapons, causing two major epidemics. Spy satellites peering down at China found what seemed to be a large biological-weapons laboratory and plant near a remote site for testing nuclear warheads, he wrote. Intelligence agents then found evidence that two epidemics of hemorrhagic fever swept the region in the late 1980s. The area had never previously known such diseases, which cause profuse bleeding and death.
• YURSINIA PESTIS: or to us non-doctor types bubonic plague is (rod-shaped, non-motile, non-sporulating, gram-negative, aerobic bacterium) in other words it killed tens of millions of Europeans in the Middle Ages and it is being cultivated in terrorist counties laboratories this morning! Black Death as it was called in the 1400’s goes from rats to fleas to humans to hemorrhages, to suffocation and/or general toxemia.
• BOTULINUM TOXIN: this is one of the most powerful poison known to man. Nausea, diarrhea, dizziness, repiratory paralysis and death . . . all from a cultured bacteria called clostridium botulinum, that anyone can grow in a home lab with $10,000 worth of equipment in a room 15 feet square. Just over 20 years ago (1986) Ma Anan Sheela confessed to growing and spreading trillions salmonella bacteria in four restaurant salad bars of Oregon as a biological terrorist. 750 people became seriously ill in that one town! Up until 40 years ago there was no way anyone could kill one-fourth of the world. Today “beasts of the earth” are multiplying by the trillions in laboratories boiling in the cauldron of hatred in the Middle East; and before long, they will spill out into the deadliest hour of the world. So deadly are these beasts that Jesus said in Mark 13:20 “And unless the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake, whom He chose, He shortened the days.”
When the Pale Horseman
Rode through in 1918
But rather than speculate on the future, just remember the past. Just less than a century ago was the pandemic of 1918, which still remains a mystery to this day. It began with a relatively mild initial assault on March 4, when the first reported case occurred at Camp Funston, Kansas.
Within four months, the virus had traversed the globe. The flu sickened millions but killed relatively few, and in the tumult of World War I, the first wave seemed pretty mundane.
No one knew it at the time, of course, but flu viruses are notoriously unstable–“genetically volatile,” as one researcher puts it. Set one flu virus beside another, and the two may trade genes, a process called re-assortment. If this re-assortment produces a virus that closely resembles one of its parents, it is said to have undergone antigenic drift. On rare occasions, this scrambling can be dramatic. The virus becomes a kind of Frankenstein virus so different from existing strains that the human body has no immunity to it.
But, in August 1918, the mild virus apparently re-assorted into something positively deadly. Outbreaks caused by the new variant exploded almost simultaneously in three far-flung locations: France, Sierra Leone and Boston.
The flu struck with a ferocity that shocked doctors, who feared this strange new pathogen might be an airborne version of the Black Death. The virus rocketed to the farthest points of the globe.
From September 1918 through March 1919, it killed 33,387 people in New York City, just over 1% of the city’s population. In some Alaskan villages, the death toll topped 50%; in one, Teller Mission (now Brevig Mission), 85% were dead within a week.
One of the great mysteries of 1918 centers on: who was killed by the virus. Even ordinary flu will cause deaths among the very young, the very old and people with a weakened immune system. The 1918 virus did kill within these groups, but it seemed to have a special passion for the young and hardy, ages 25 to 34, those typically most able
to weather the flu.
Is the Pale Horseman
Here is a summary for us who are not medical doctors of what is happening around us.
A pestilence (that’s the Biblical, old fashioned term), or pandemic (new term same thing) must have three characteristics: novelty, mobility, and lethality.
Writing in The Atlantic in 2005, Michael Specter called influenza "Nature's Bioterrorist." As Specter explains, "A pandemic is the viral equivalent of a perfect storm. There are three essential conditions, which rarely converge, and they are impossible to predict. But the requirements are clear.
1. Novelty: A new flu virus must emerge from the animal reservoirs that have always produced and harbored such viruses--one that has never infected human beings and therefore one to which no person would have antibodies.
2. Lethality: Second, the virus has to actually make humans sick (most don't).
3. Mobility: Finally, it must be able to spread efficiently--through coughing, sneezing, or a handshake."
In other words to have a deadly pandemic the disease must spread rapidly and kill widely. So when we see a lethal pathogen that mutates into a widely spread population, the results are catastrophic. So, by using those markers, we can rate the record of pathogens past and present.
1. The Avian H5N1 Flu that has been around since 1997, that is very, very lethal (it kills 61% of all who contract it) but not very mobile (only 421 got it but only 164 of the 421 survived). So it is lethal and nearly immobile.
2. The SARS of 2003 (severe, acute, respiratory syndrome) is very lethal (kills 17% of all who get it), and mobile (it spread to 1,755 people killing 299).
3. The Spanish H1N1 Flu of 1918 was not very lethal (it only kills 2 ½% of those infected); but it was very, very mobile killing over 50 million people in 8 months!
Now, imagine a virus as mobile as the Spanish Flu (it was contracted by over 450 million people that is one in four or 25% of all humans); but that kills at a lethal rate of SARS (8 billion/4 = 2 billion x 17% = 340 MILLION would die, or as lethal as Avian H5N1 Flu (8 billion/4 = 2 billion x 61% = 1.32 BILLION) deaths!
History teaches that the influenza virus mutates to cause worldwide spread about twice a century, on average. But scientists have yet to figure out what causes the mutations, when they will occur and what makes certain viruses more lethal than others.
So we have mobility and lethality, but what about novelty?
CDC researchers are calling the current H1N1 Swine Flu strain a triple re-assortant because it has genetic elements of bird, pig and human influenzas. Most viruses of this type seen in North America contain familiar combinations of genes, the researchers said. The swine flu virus contains sets of genes, which had never been seen outside of Asia before.
So with the perfect storm of a Pale Horseman’s deadly rise on the horizon, what should be the response of believers?
“Martin Luther (1483-1546), was no stranger to sickness . He taught his congregation to use medical means, but to place trust in God alone. "Rather you should go on in simple faith, and when you are in danger and trouble, you should use whatever means you can, lest you tempt God. But if you find that these means, which God has created to dispel danger or sickness, supply neither the desired help or the remedy, then cast your care and your life on God and commit yourself to the direction of His wisdom and goodness."
Luther ministered in a time of plague and epidemic. He provided a model of the pastor who never leaves his people. He also urged his people never to leave the sick. In 1527 the Bubonic Plague came to Wittenberg. Luther sent his students home, but he stayed to minister to his congregation and the city. He called for others with responsibility, especially pastors, to do the same. Cowardice in ministry is a denial of Christ, Luther warned, for "whoever wants to serve Christ in person would surely serve his neighbor as well."
In the end, sickness points to sin and sin points to our need for Christ. All true ministers of Christ know that sickness and death point to our need for a Savior. Even as Christians seek to minister to the physical needs of the sick, the spiritual need is even more urgent. Each tiny germ shows us our need for the Gospel. Every cough is a reminder of coming judgment. Our confidence is placed only in the ministry of the Christ our Physician, "who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases." [Psalm 103:3]
Christians will, sooner or later, be called upon to show the love of Christ in the midst of sickness. Perhaps we will minister out of Christ's love in a time of swine flu. If so, we do well to remember Luther's summary of the best prescription in the face of disease: "My best prescription is written John 3:16. 'God so loved the world.' This is the best I have."
We Have Four
Choices to Make
1. GOD HAS GIVEN TO US THE CONCLUSION TO HUMAN HISTORY—THE BIBLE! Trust Him completely. If people are the only investment that lasts.... invest heavily in disciple making.
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. 11 Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? 13 Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. 14 Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; 15 and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, 16 as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures. 17 You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; 18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.
2. GOD HAS GIVEN TO US A JOB TO DO FOR HIM WHILE HE IS AWAY—SOULWINNING! Therefore, obey Him now. If you haven’t started to give out the good news, start today. Note the joy that never ends from taking people with you to Heaven as we learn about in I Thessalonians 2:19-20!
For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? 20 For you are our glory and joy.
3. GOD HAS GIVEN TO US A WAY TO STAY IN TOUCH WITH HIM—TIME IN THE WORD! If you haven’t started listening regularly to the Voice of God why not start daily contact with Him through His Word and prayer today! Remember Christ's reminder to all of us in Matthew 4:4.
4 But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”
4. GOD HAS GIVEN TO US A MEANS TO START AN INVESTMENT ACCOUNT IN HEAVEN—SACRIFICIAL GIVING! Give systematically, proportionately, and sacrificially to support Christ's church. God has indicated that He wants us to be “rich towards” Him in Luke 12:13-21!
13 Then one from the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14 But He said to him, “Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?” 15 And He said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” 16 Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. 17 And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ 18 So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ 21 “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”