Isaiah 53:6

In October of 1347, a Genoese fleet returned from the Black Sea, carrying in her cargo the death sentence for Europe. By the time the ships landed in Messina, Italy, most of the sailors were dead. The few who survived wished they hadn’t. Fever racked their bodies. Festering boils volcanoed on their skin. Authorities ordered the vessels out of the harbor, but it was too late. Flea-infested rats had already scampered down the ropes into the village, and the bubonic dictator had begun her ruthless march across the continent.

The disease followed trade routes northward through Italy into France and the northern nations. By spring it had breached the border of England. Within a short and brutal five years, twenty-five million people, one-third of Europe’s population, had died. And that was just the beginning.

Three centuries later it still raged. As late as 1665 an epidemic left a hundred thousand Londoners dead, taking some seven thousand lives a week until a bitter, yet mercifully cold, winter killed the fleas.

No cure was known. No hope was offered. The healthy quarantined the infected. The infected counted their days.

When you make a list of history’s harshest scourges, rank the Black Plague near the top. It earns a high spot. But not the highest. Call the disease catastrophic, disastrous. But humanity’s deadliest? No. Scripture reserves that title for a darker blight, an older pandemic that by comparison makes the Black Plague seem like a cold sore. No culture avoids, no nation escapes, no person sidesteps the infection of sin.

Blame the bubonic plague on the Yersinia pestis bacterium. Blame the plague of sin on a godless decision. Adam and Eve turned their heads toward the hiss of the snake and for the first time ignored God. Eve did not ask, “God, what do you want?” Adam didn’t suggest, “Let’s consult the Creator.” They acted as if they had no heavenly Father. His will was ignored, and sin, with death on its coattails, entered the world.

Sin sees the world with no God in it.

Where we might think of sin as slip-ups or missteps, God views sin as a godless attitude that leads to godless actions. “All of us have strayed away like sheep. We have left God’s paths to follow our own” (Isaiah 53:6). The sinful mind dismisses God. His counsel goes unconsulted. His opinion, unsolicited. His plan, unconsidered. The sin-infected grant God the same respect middle-schoolers give a substitute teacher. Acknowledged, but not taken seriously.

The lack of God-centeredness leads to self-centeredness. Sin celebrates its middle letter-sIn. It proclaims, “It’s your life, right? Pump your body with drugs, your mind with greed, your nights with pleasure.” The godless lead a me-dominated, childish life, a life of “doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it” (Ephesians 2:3).

God says to love. I choose to hate.

God instructs, “Forgive.” I opt to get even.

God calls for self-control. I promote self-indulgence.

Sin, for a season, quenches thirst. But so does salt water. Given time, the thirst returns, more demanding and demanding more than ever. “Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more” (Ephesians 4:19, emphasis mine).

We pay a high price for such self-obsession. “God isn’t pleased at being ignored” (Romans 8:8). Paul speaks of sinners when he describes those who knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. The result was that their minds became dark and confused. . . .

So God let them go ahead and do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies (Romans 1:21-24).

You’ve seen the chaos. The husband ignoring his wife. The dictator murdering the millions. Grown men seducing the young. The young propositioning the old. When you do what you want, and I do what I want, and no one gives a lick as to what God wants, humanity implodes. The infection of the person leads to the corruption of the populace. As Joseph Alleine wrote: “O miserable man, what a deformed monster has sin made you! God made you ‘little lower than the angels;’ sin has made you little better than the devils.”1 Extract God; expect earthly chaos and, many times worse, expect eternal misery.

God has made it clear. The plague of sin will not cross his shores. Infected souls never walk his streets. “Unjust people who don’t care about God will not be joining in his kingdom. Those who use and abuse each other, use and abuse sex, use and abuse the earth and everything in it, don’t qualify as citizens in God’s kingdom” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). God refuses to compromise the spiritual purity of heaven.

Herein lies the awful fruit of sin. Lead a godless life, and expect a godless eternity. Spend a life telling God to leave you alone, and he will. He’ll grant you an existence “without God and without hope” (Ephesians 2:12). Jesus will “punish those who reject God and who do not obey the Good News about our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from his glorious might” (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9).

Christ keeps no secrets about hell. His description purposely chills the soul:

• A place of darkness (Matthew 8:12)
• A fiery furnace (Matthew 13:42)
• A place where “the worm does not die; the fire is never put out” (Mark 9:48)

Citizens of hell long to die, but cannot. Beg for water, but receive none. They pass into a dawnless night.

So what can we do? If all have been infected and the world is corrupted, to whom do we turn? Or, to re-ask the great question of Scripture: “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 15:30). The answer offered then is the answer offered still: “Put your entire trust in the Master Jesus” (Acts 16:31).

Why Jesus? Why not Muhammad or Moses? Joseph Smith or Buddha? What uniquely qualifies Jesus to safeguard the sin-sick? In a sentence: Christ, the sinless, became sin so that we, the sinners, could die sinless. “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).

Life’s greatest calamity, from God’s perspective, is that people die in sin. In one sentence Christ twice warned, “I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins” (John 8:24). Forget earthquakes or economic depressions. The ultimate disaster is carrying your sins to your casket. Heaven cannot fathom a worse tragedy. And heaven could not offer a greater gift than this one: “Christ . . . never sinned, but he died for sinners that he might bring us safely home to God” (1 Peter 3:18).

What if a miracle worker had done something comparable with the Black Plague? Imagine a man born with bubonic resistance. The bacterium can’t penetrate his system unless he allows it to do so. And, incredibly, he does. He pursues the infected and makes this offer: “Touch my hand. Give me your disease, and receive my health.”

The boil-and-fever-ridden have nothing to lose. They look at his extended hand and reach to touch it. True to the man’s word, bacteria pass from their system into his. But their relief spells his anguish. His skin erupts and his body heaves. And as the healed stand in awe, the disease bearer hobbles away.

Our history books tell no such story. But our Bible does.

He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
Through his bruises we get healed. . . .
GOD has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong
on him, on him. . . .
He took on his own shoulders the sin of the many,
he took up the cause of all the black sheep. (Isaiah 53:5-12)

Christ responds to universal sin with a universal sacrifice, taking on the sins of the entire world. This is Christ’s work for you. But God’s salvation song has two verses. He not only took your place on the cross; he takes his place in your heart. This is the second stanza: Christ’s work in you.
“It is no longer I who live,” Paul explained, “but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

Or as he told one church: “Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). In salvation, God enters the hearts of his Adams and Eves. He permanently places himself within us. What powerful implications this brings. “When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life” (Romans 8:11).

Let me show you how this works. It took three hundred years, but the Black Plague finally reached the quaint village of Eyam, England. George Viccars, a tailor, unpacked a parcel shipped from London. The cloth he’d ordered had arrived. But as he opened and shook it, he released plague-infected fleas. Within four days he was dead, and the village was doomed. The town unselfishly quarantined itself, seeking to protect the region. Other villages deposited food in an open field and left the people of Eyam to die alone. But to everyone’s amazement, many survived. A year later, when outsiders again visited the town, they found half the residents had resisted the disease. How so? They had touched it. Breathed it. One surviving mother had buried six children and her husband in one week. The gravedigger had handled hundreds of diseased corpses yet hadn’t died. Why not? How did they survive?

Lineage. Through DNA studies of descendants, scientists found proof of a disease-blocking gene. The gene garrisoned the white blood cells, preventing the bacteria from gaining entrance. The plague, in other words, could touch people with this gene but not kill them. Hence a subpopulace swam in a sea of infection but emerged untouched. All because they had the right parents.2 What’s the secret for surviving the Black Plague? Pick the right ancestry.

Of course they couldn’t. But by God you can. You can select your spiritual father. You can change your family tree from that of Adam to God. And when you do, he moves in. His resistance becomes your resistance. His Teflon coating becomes yours. Sin affects you, but never infects you. Sin may, and will, touch you, discourage you, and distract you, but it cannot condemn you. Christ is in you, and you are in him, and “there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

Can I urge you to trust this truth? Let your constant prayer be this: “Lord, I receive your work. My sins are pardoned.” Trust the work of God for you. Then trust the presence of Christ in you. Take frequent, refreshing drinks from his well of grace. You need regular reminders that you are not fatally afflicted! Don’t live as though you are.

A few years ago I noticed a tremor in my left thumb. Upon extension, it shook. I immediately imagined the worst. My father died from Lou Gehrig’s disease; my turn was coming. By the time I consulted a doctor, I’d already prepared Denalyn for life as a young widow.

The medical report proved me wrong. No sickness was found. Trace the condition back to caffeine, stress, maybe a family tree, but the doctor informed, “You do not have ALS. You’re in good health.”

Upon hearing the news, I did what you might expect. I began to weep and asked, “How much time do I have left?”

The doctor cocked his head, puzzled.

“Any chance you could help me break the news to my wife?”

Still he didn’t respond. Assuming he was too emotional, I gave him a hug and left.

Stopping at a hospital supply store, I ordered a wheelchair and hospital bed and inquired about home healthcare. I called Denalyn and told her I had some bad news.

Wait a second, you’re thinking. Did you not hear what the doctor told you?

And I’m wondering, Did you not hear what heaven told you?

Christ indwells you! “The blood of Jesus . . . purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Then why the guilt on our faces? Why the regret? Why the shadow of shame? Shouldn’t we live with a smile and a skip and a sparkle in the eye?

That response to the doctor about my trembling thumb? I made it up. Quite honestly, I gave my physician a handshake, smiled at the receptionist, and called Denalyn with the good news. And now, when I see that thumb shake, I chalk it up to an aging body and place my trust in the doctor’s words.

Do the same. For just as my thumb will occasionally tremble, you will occasionally sin. And when you do, remember: sin may touch, but cannot claim you. Christ is in you! Trust his work for you. He took your place on the cross. And trust his work in you. Your heart is his home, and his home is sin free.

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Max serves as senior minister at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, TX.

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Adapted from Come Thirsty: No Heart Too Dry for His Touch by Max Lucado (W Publishing Group, October 2004). For more information on Max Lucado, visit www.maxlucado.com.

1. I. D. E. Thomas, comp., The Golden Treasury of Puritan Quotations (Chicago: Moody, 1975), 266, quoted in Bruce A. Demarest, The Cross and Salvation: The Doctrine of Salvation (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1997), 29.
2. “Secrets of the Dead: Mystery of the Black Death,” Public Broadcasting Service, http://www.pbs.org/wnet/secrets/case_plague/index.html and http://www.pbs.org/wnet/secrets/case_plague/clues.html.

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