With the massive hurricane that devastated the Caribbean and the Virgin Islands before sweeping through the State of Florida and into Georgia over the weekend, people are asking, ‘Why?’ While it is important to ask questions about climate change and human responsibility, we must not lose sight of Jesus’ words about things we should expect before his final return.
In Luke 21:25f we read: “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken”.
Earlier Jesus had responded to questions about unexpected events with: “…Those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did” (Luke 13:4f).
The Bible urges us to be alert to the realities of the world and our need to heed God’s wisdom found in his Word. CS Lewis once spoke of suffering as ‘God’s megaphone’ – awakening us to God and our need to turn to him.
It is not insignificant that Psalm 95, which begins with a call to worship with thanksgiving and joy, gives way to a warning. In verses 6 & 7 we read: O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.
God wants us to enjoy a personal, intimate relationship with him. Yet how easy it is to forget this. When life is comfortable we can drift away from God – we put aside Bible reading; prayer is spasmodic; church attendance irregular and we lose the joy of a daily walk with the Lord. When life gets tough, how often we blame God.
No wonder Psalm 95 concludes with a postscript: Listen Up! In verses 7,8 & 11 we read: O that today you would listen to his voice! Harden not your hearts as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness…
At the very point when we might want to dance and shout, the psalm takes a solemn turn. Why?
The psalm-writer wants us to reflect on the nature of true worship. Outwardly we might seem worshipful, but our real self remains unchanged towards God and towards God’s people.
Massah and Meribah were places that marked the bookends of Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness (Numbers 20:2-13; Exodus 17:1-7). Both at the beginning and the end of this time Israel forgot God’s astonishing goodness and mercy as he brought his people out of slavery in Egypt.
Tragically Israel doubted God’s promise and power. When the going got tough in the desert, they faltered and complained bitterly: ‘We were better off as slaves in Egypt’.
In the New Testament, the writer of Hebrews quotes Psalm 95. Hebrews reveals that God through a master-stroke has opened up a new and perfect way for forgiveness and eternal life through the once-and-for-all perfect sacrifice of his Son, Jesus Christ. Yet even we forget, who have been bought and bound to God by the perfect Savior, Jesus Christ.
It is in this context that Hebrews quotes Psalm 95. At the time of Moses, God’s people hardened their hearts. Even though they tasted the blessing of release from captivity in Egypt, they turned away from him. But, the writer of Hebrews urges, don’t give up. Don’t have a hard heart.
Yet how often we let other things become more important to us than Christ: family, work, possessions; the enjoyments of life. We need to urge one another on to keep following him.
It’s one of the reasons we need church. We need to remind one another of God’s promises. We need to stir one another up to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. We need to pray for one another, support one another, encourage one another.
Sometimes we don’t feel the need for church. Church may be disappointing at times. Still, go! If God’s rest is so important, then go, even for the sake of your neighbor. The Psalmist understood how important it is. The writer of Hebrews understood it even more.
How much more should we, who now have God’s promises more fully developed, heed the warnings of the storms of life and stop to refresh our relationship with God.
‘Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart, lest you, your son or daughter, or your neighbors, miss out’. To know God through a true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is to have life.