I got a flu shot for Thanksgiving.
I got the flu for Christmas.
It started with a cough on the Thursday after Christmas Day. On Friday morning my sinuses were involved, by Friday afternoon chills and body aches had joined the party, and by Saturday I was down for the count. I barely moved for the next four days. I was good and sick; the kind of sick when you just don’t care. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t get comfortable. I wouldn’t be comforted. I was just flat out miserable, and making my loved ones, my caretakers miserable as well. When my downhill slide finally flattened out and I gradually began to rebound, I began to think about the meaning of being sick.
Christmas is the season of Emmanuel – the celebration of the “God who is with us” (Matthew 1:23/Isaiah 7:14). The author of Hebrews makes the most of this affirmation in his teaching about Christ’s full identification with us in our shared humanity –
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
So, does this mean that Jesus had the flu when He because flesh and dwelt among us? If His ability to “sympathize with our weaknesses” is the result of the fact that in His full humanity, Jesus Christ “in every respect has been tempted/tested as we are,” then I am certainly inclined to think so. In fact, in the prophetic description of His person and work in Isaiah 53:4-5, it was said of the Messiah –
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed.
This text provides me with some basis for thinking that Jesus in the days of His flesh ran a fever and had the chills. In – “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6) – I think I can include the flu. Of course, this is speculative. What I have no doubts about whatsoever is the fact that in the redemption that God has already accomplished in Jesus Christ and is right now in the process applying to our hearts as individuals and to the world in general through the Holy Spirit is the elimination of flu. It’s part of
what’s got to go on that day when God will finally and fully “wipe away every tear from every eye; and there shall be no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain” (Revelation 21:4). Many of my Pentecostal friends want me to believe that if I could just muster up enough faith, that this could be my reality right here and right now. But I am persuaded by Scripture that such an idea is an “unwarranted anticipation” of the future that God has promised. I believe that it will come, that the flu will be done away with once and for all in the redemption of my body in the day of resurrection when Christ returns (Romans 8:18-23). But that’s “not yet.” And this means that we are all going to have weeks like the one that I’ve just come though. Oh, it would be nice if there was a shot that we could take that would solve the problem of the flu, but there’s not, at least not yet. What we’ve got is eschatology – the doctrine of last things.
At a men’s retreat a few years back I was roundly criticized and mocked by a ministerial colleague for teaching a workshop on the different theories of interpretation about what the Bible tells us will occur in the last days. He saw it as a big waste of time. “What good does any of this do when I’m sitting at a hospital bedside or standing at a graveside?” he demanded to know. “It’s spiritual minutia and theological claptrap in the category of ‘how many angels can dance on the head of a pin,’” my colleague insisted, “junk that distracts us and obstructs us from really dealing with the things that matter.” I disagreed with him then, and now.
In I Thessalonians 4:13-18, the Apostle Paul dealt with a pastoral crisis in that community of faith by reviewing with them the things that he told them about the end times when he had been with them planting the church. “We do not want you to be uninformed,” Paul told the Thessalonians, “that you may not grieve as do the rest who have no hope” (4:13). And then, after working through what will happen at the close of the age one more time with them, Paul concluded his excursion into eschatology with the exhortation: “Therefore comfort one another with these words” (4:18). It was an examination of revealed truth and not just an emotional pep talk that spiritually sustained the Thessalonians in their day of trial. Paul didn’t pin their hope up in a vacuum, but instead rooted and grounded it in an affirmation of what God has already done for us in Jesus Christ, and in what He has promised to finish.
In I Corinthians 15, at the end of one of the longest chapters in the New Testament – a chapter all about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and what it means for us when we die and/or when the world ends – Paul ended his eschatological reflections with this charge: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord” (15:58). In other words, the courage and stamina that we need for this world finds its reserves in the promises that God makes about what will happen in the next world. And so, last week when I was down with the flu, the only thing that helped was lots of bed rest, Advil, a decongestant, and eschatology. DBS+