The COVID-19 situation may look gloomy but Pastor Aries Zulkarnain reminded the church last weekend that God is still in control. Preaching from two visions that God gave to the prophet Jeremiah, Pastor Aries taught that God will ensure His promises are fulfilled and He will bring restoration after every crisis.
Over the weekend of Apr 25 and 26, City Harvest Church’s executive pastor Aries Zulkarnain shared what he gleaned from the late Eugene Peterson’s book, Run With The Horses, in a message that brought hope in a season of uncertainty.
As experts are still searching for answers to the current global pandemic, the future may seem dark and uncertain, noted Pastor Aries. “I want to encourage you with the word of God, and pray that it [this word] will lift you up in this season,” he said.
He began his sermon, “Navigating Through Crisis” by reading Jeremiah 1:4-8, where God called Jeremiah to bring a prophecy to the children of Israel who were enslaved, to tell them there was light at the end of the tunnel. After a season of captivity, restoration would come. It was a reminder that one could still experience God’s goodness in a crisis.
Pastor Aries noted that the prophetic is not so much about the prediction of the future, rather, it is God’s way of preparing His people for the future. For every unexpected problem, God already has an adequate solution. He gave the example of John 6:5-6, where Jesus already had the answer to feeding the multitude when he asked the disciples for a solution.
“But like Jeremiah, we always plead our inadequacy,” he said. “We always feel we’re not enough. That’s why there is a big gap between what God called us to do and what we think we can do.”
A number of verses later within the same chapter, Jeremiah was transformed to a faith-charged boy as expressed through his words in Jeremiah 1:17-19. Two specific visions from God had brought about that transformation.
“Visions are God’s Word spoken to His people, and they change one’s perspective, ” the pastor explained. “Sight is what one sees according to one’s own feelings. If we have lived so long on the basis of outward appearances, we will have no feel for inward reality. Train to live by faith and not by sight.”
Pastor Aries went on to expound on two visions Jeremiah the prophet received.
THE VISION OF AN ALMOND ROD
Jeremiah 1:11-12 reads, “The word of the Lord came to me: ‘What do you see, Jeremiah?’ ‘I see the branch of an almond tree,’ I replied. The Lord said to me, ‘You have seen correctly, for I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled.’”
Pastor Aries pointed out God’s wordplay here: the Hebrew word for “almond” is shaqed, which is similar to the word “watching”, shaqad. The almond became a symbol to Jeremiah; whenever he saw the almond tree, he was reminded that God was always watching for His words to be fulfilled.
In Israel, the blossoming of almond flowers is an indication that winter is ending and spring is starting. With this vision of the almond rod, Jeremiah was living in anticipation of the fulfilment of God’s Word. It was a reminder that every crisis has an ending, and every suffering has an expiry date.
Pastor Aries shared, “Practice anticipating hope, rather than slumping in defeat each time you read the news or experience setbacks. Like the Israelites who were in Babylonian captivity for 70 years, we need to be trained to be always full of hope.”
The vision of seeing almond blossoms provides hope, while hearing the promise that God watches His word to fulfil it instills faith. Many believers have hope and faith, but one also need to be skilful in using them to navigate through crises patiently and positively.
God’s words are not mere words, but promises that always lead to fulfilment, the pastor reminded the church. Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV), given by God during the time where the Israelites were in captivity, was a reminder to the people to have faith that His word would never fail them, but would surely come to pass.
THE VISION OF A BOILING POT
Jeremiah 1:13-14 reads, “The word of the Lord came to me again: ‘What do you see?’ The Lord said to me, ‘From the north disaster will be poured out on all who live in the land.’”
The boiling pot and its hot water represented the nation’s enemies and war. This image is scary but the pastor said that behind every pain, there is always a purpose. Similarly, there is an opportunity for every disruption.
“The subject of the vision is negative, but the message is positive!” said Pastor Aries. “The hot water did not come from a vast unending source; it came from a pot which means there is a limit to its capacity. A crisis has a limit and is contained. The effects of evil will be contained.”
The direction stated in these verses was also significant. The “north” is symbolic of the direction of God. This vision given to Jeremiah meant that God was still in control.
“If we are not trained to see visions, we will only be looking at fear. When that fear becomes uncontrollable, we will lose all hope. It takes vision to see that evil and chaos have limitations,” said Pastor Aries.
Referencing Psalm 91:10, Pastor Aries also taught that the verse did not mean that one wouldn’t experience evil, but that the effects of evil will be limited by God.
“The crisis has a name, the pandemic has a name, it’s COVID-19. As long as you can name the crisis, the Bible says, Jesus Christ, His name is above every name,” the pastor said.
The crisis also has an origin, this means that it will also have an end. “And when it finished. God’s glory will be revealed,” the pastor said. He added that the boiling pot vision serves as a reminder that the chaos has its use. “And that God will use this crisis, bring out the best of Him, and the best in us for His glory.”
Without these two visions Jeremiah received, without the ability to live by faith and not by sight, and without skilful living out of faith and hope, one is incapacitated, unable to have a positive response to whatever comes in life.
“We become paralyzed by headlines. But newspapers are footnotes to Scriptures, not the other way round,” declared Pastor Aries. “The meaning of the world is most accurately given to us by God’s Word.”
Those two visions transformed Jeremiah’s mindset and his perspective and outlook on life, even as he went through chaos. Similarly, Christians can take heart in the symbolism of the two visions. The almond rod is a reminder that God will fulfil His promises, and the boiling pot that reveals danger is not catastrophic but limited by God.
Pastor Aries concluded, “When things get out of control, we tend to underestimate God and overestimate evil. The place of restoration comes from a place of worship. Let’s each rebuild our worship altar, and experience an encounter with Jesus, and be trained in our hope and faith. Anticipate that winter has an end and spring is coming!”