Hebrews 11. Part 25. Pandemic.
This is the holiest week of remembrance for followers of Christ. In the Lord’s providence, we’re also in our second month of social distancing to control the COVID-19 virus. We face life-and-death situations. Additionally, our nation is in conflict over what’s most important — the recovery of our economy to avoid a great depression or continued social distancing in an attempt to prevent more deaths. Can we do both simultaneously? Emotions are high, impacting our discernment.
As of Friday night, around 508,000 Americans have been sickened by this virus, and around 19,000 have died. Each day that I’ve worked on this post, approximately one thousand more people have died, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, and the number has accelerated the past two days. These facts have been sobering. These lives are all significant. When I began to work on this post, 6,000 had died, but now . . .
If we keep on social distancing, it was predicted that approximately 200,000 people would die. According to Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx that number would go up to 2,000,000 if we lifted restrictions. However, others said these calculations were flawed, and they had the data to prove it. All week, it seemed impossible to know.
And then mid-week, numbers were released stating that deaths are now expected to be fewer, perhaps near 60,000 total (Martha McCallum, 4/9/20, 6:40 p.m.), because our nation’s attempt at social distancing and other measures is working (Fauci, Birx). The CDC also issued back-to-work instructions for essential workers (New York Times, April 8, 2020).
We hope and pray that these decreases continue and that these changes for essential workers don’t set us back, bringing more deaths and greater confusion. “These are the times that try men’s souls” (Thomas Paine).
Can the Lord take care of us in this situation? Can we live as people of faith in a world turned upside by a pandemic? How does the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ impact this tragedy?Can the Lord take care of us? Can we live as people of faith in a world turned upside by a pandemic? How does the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ impact this tragedy? #COVID19 Click To Tweet
This turmoil prompts us to assess our faith, probing to discern where we stand with God and why our emotions are so rattled. Some days of our confinement, I’ve felt like I’ve lost my mind. Hebrews was written to give the recipients confidence in the Savior, to assure them of the goodness of God, and to remind them of the promises of eternal life and of Christ’s return, so that they would not fear as they faced possible death at the hands of the Emperor Nero.
We need these truths, too. They were just like us. They made mistakes, they waffled in their convictions, they made worldly choices, they argued with one another, and they were afraid. All of their lessons are entirely relatable.
Now is the time to be confident in our God. Nothing about him ever changes, no matter the statistics of this pandemic. Now is the time to persevere, to endure, “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus is the source of our endurance and of our kindness, as tempers begin to fray, irritability begins to grow, and uncertainty increases. We cannot always trust our nation’s leaders, but Jesus we can trust. Always. Confidence in our Savior, fixing our hope on him, empowers us for this challenge.Now is the time to be confident in our God. Nothing about him ever changes. Now is the time to persevere, to endure, "fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2). #COVID19 Click To Tweet We cannot always trust our nation's leaders, but Jesus we can trust. Always. Confidence in our Savior, fixing our hope on him, empowers us for this challenge. #WhenIAmAfraid #COVID19 Click To Tweet
Paul, writing from a Roman prison, expressed what it looks like to rely on Christ for strength and enablement:
“I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:20-21 NIV).
“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27 NIV).
Like the first-century recipients, we need these reminders:
“So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. By faith the people of old received their commendation” (Hebrews 10:35-36, 39 NIV).We need these reminders: "Do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised" (Heb.10:35-36) Click To Tweet
The faith and confidence in God displayed by the earliest men and women, the “people of old,” is why the Lord is eternally pleased with them and speaks well of them here. Their faith showed in their actions. So, what exactly is faith? The Holy Spirit, the Author of Scripture, defines it:
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. . . By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. . .Without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:1, 3, 6 ESV).
The ESV Study Bible adds depth to this definition, using the original language: “Faith consists of persistent hope in the promises of God. . .By defining faith as ‘assurance’ and ‘conviction,’ the author indicates that biblical faith is not a vague hope grounded in imaginary, wishful thinking. Instead, faith is a settled confidence that something in the future — something that is not yet seen but is promised by God — will actually come to pass because God will bring it about. Thus biblical faith is not blind trust in the face of contrary evidence, not an unknowable ‘leap in the dark,’ rather, biblical faith is a confident trust in the eternal God who is all-powerful, infinitely wise, eternally trustworthy — the God who has revealed himself in his word and in the person of Jesus Christ, whose promises have been proven true from generation to generation, and who will ‘never leave nor forsake’ his own.”Faith is a confident trust in God who is all-powerful, infinitely wise, eternally trustworthy, the God who has revealed himself in his word and in the person of Jesus Christ, whose promises have proven true" Click To Tweet
Assurance in Jesus Christ is essential in this pandemic, as it was for the original recipients of this letter. Trust and confidence in God has been necessary for believers from the beginning of time. We have these promises of God’s love to sustain us in hard times:
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For Your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39 NIV).
God’s promises are true. Nothing can separate us from him. He will see us through every hardship. He will carry us through whatever life or death brings. We will see him and enter his presence on the other side.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. . . In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. . . In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will. . . And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:3-4, 7-8a, 11, 13-14 NIV).
This is what we have in Christ. We were deliberately sought by God, who works everything out in conformity with the purpose of his will. Everything. Though the world feels out of control to us, to God, it is not.We were deliberately sought by God, who works everything out in conformity with the purpose of his will. Everything. Though the world feels out of control to us, to God, it is not. Click To Tweet
Our confidence is in Jesus. Through his death, resurrection, and ascension, he obtained eternal security for us. When we place our faith in him, we are marked by his Holy Spirit, who convicts and encourages us toward growth, interceding for us. The Spirit’s presence in us guarantees and verifies our salvation. Nothing in life or in death can ever separate us from God.
Jesus Messiah is so significant to human history that from the earliest days, God foretold his coming. Right at the beginning, two men of ancient times even provided a picture or illustration of Christ and what he would accomplish. Like Jesus, these believers left the earth prematurely, yet both went into God’s presence.
“By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks” (Hebrews 11:4 ESV).
Jesus described Abel’s blood as “righteous…the blood of innocent Abel” (Matthew 23:35). Abel’s blood speaks to remind us that when sin is committed, and blood is shed, justice is required. Jesus’ righteous blood and his perfect life brought that justice. On the cross, he suffered and died, carrying our weight of sin and covering our many sins with his own blood. His death on the cross provided the only possible acceptable sacrifice to gain forgiveness for those who trust in him.
By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God” (Hebrews 11:5 ESV).
Like Enoch, Jesus was commended as pleasing to God: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11 ESV). God simply took Enoch to heaven. When Jesus’ mission was complete, this also occurred to him. “After he (Jesus) said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight” (Acts 1:9 NIV).
In Hebrews 11, God recorded examples of what true faith looks like. None of the people listed were perfect. So how did these, the most ancient of believers, show such rock-solid confidence in God? And, how can we?
In the beginning, in the earliest days of humanity, evil came into the world, tempting our ancestors, breaking our fellowship with God as we chose to ignore God’s instructions, and thus producing damage in our intimacy with God that still exists today.
But a promise was given. The people of old, Adam and Eve, were standing there when God cursed the serpent. They heard what God said to their tempter, and they heard God promise the One who would save us from our sins. Adam and Eve told their children, who told their children, and so on.
We know this, not only because Moses and the scribes recorded it, but because vestiges of this event and these words occurred in various forms in every ancient culture of humanity that scattered across the earth. Creation, temptation, chaos wrecking the earth’s tranquility, a flood, and a hero/savior were universal stories. These events occurred. Historically they are supported by many oral traditions. (See The History of the Ancient World, Susan Wise Bauer, Chapter Two, copyright 2007, W.W. Norton).
14 So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,
“Cursed are you above all livestock
and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
and you will eat dust
all the days of your life.
And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
HE WILL CRUSH YOUR HEAD, AND YOU WILL STRIKE HIS HEEL” (Genesis 3:14-15 NIV).
When all looked as if it had been lost, this was the promise God gave. There was hope. The evildoer would be crushed. A Deliverer would come. No one knew when this would happen, but God had promised.
Next, God singled out a family, the human lineage of the One who would crush the serpent’s head by conquering sin and death, God’s own Son. Jesus Christ is fully man from a human lineage and yet also fully God with a pure and incorruptible nature.
Next week, we’ll begin examining Jesus’ family tree, but in this holy week, we consider the cost to God the Son as he submitted to the plan of redemption decided upon before the foundation of the world, even before time began.
Jesus was tested and tried in the days leading up to his crucifixion and then during his passion. He overcame, living a life without sin, submitting to the Father, suffering, dying so that we could one day live, and rising from the dead. And thus, Jesus crushed the serpent’s head and fulfilled his mission.
In this fallen world, suffering is a norm and a necessity. The people who comprised Jesus’ family tree went through times of testing and trial, and so do we. Their faith was tested, and so is ours. As always, God’s purposes are kind.
This pandemic causes us to poke and to prod at our places of doubt, to discuss these with the Lord, to sift through them with his help, to examine our hearts, and to arrive here: “Not my will, but Your will be done.”This pandemic causes us to poke and to prod at our places of doubt, to discuss these with the Lord, to sift through them with his help, to examine our hearts, and to arrive here: "Not my will, but Your will be done." Click To Tweet
Trials teach us to yield to the Lord and to recognize the holiness of his nature, the vastness of his love for us, the power of his omnipotence, and yet the depth of his kindness and compassion. These awaken a yearning for our Savior, an awareness of our deep need for his presence.
The goodness of God inspires our trust. Are we leaning on the Lord and his promises in this current struggle? Are we examining our hearts and picking apart our places of doubt? Are we asking the Lord for the faith to live bravely and with kindness in this difficult time?
“Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).
This is often our prayer. Our faith is tested by the unknown. We are often uncertain. Our actions falter and emotions may be erratic, but God had this prayer recorded for such a time as this. Ask him for help with unbelief. I do every single day when my emotions betray inner turmoil that I’m unable to identify. The Lord is with us, never leaving us, never forsaking us. He will give us the faith we need.
“Return to me,” says the LORD Almighty, “and I will return to you” (Zechariah 1:3b NIV).
How are you doing in this time of testing? Are you in need of prayer?