By Dr. Roger Barrier, Crosswalk.com
COVID-19 is still raging. All over the world, nations are trying to eradicate it. Hopefully, new and successful vaccines are on the way. But I know that we still face an uphill battle. Distributing the vaccine will be incredibly difficult and take time. Does the Bible have anything to say about how to prepare for and survive a pandemic?
Just as persecution threatened first-century Christians, the COVID-19 virus threatens us in the 21st century. In God’s Word, the writer to the Hebrews intentionally focused his book on navigating the rough waters of persecution and suffering. Today I’d like to examine the parallels of the first-century persecution with the advice from Hebrews on how to handle the pandemic we’re facing right now.
In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. (Hebrews 12:4)
Persecution in the first-century church was on the way but had yet to arrive. The “bloodletting” of COVID-19 has already begun.
1. The Most Important Thing of All Is to Be Certain You Are a Christian
If you are not already a Christian, today’s the day to trust Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.
Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest (salvation) still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it (salvation). For we also have had the gospel preached to us just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard it did not combine it with faith. Now just as we who have believed enter that rest. (Hebrews 4:1-3)
The family of a 78-year-old non-Christian prayed for years for Grandpa to become a follower of Jesus. He was in the hospital when his son asked me to stop by one more time and share the gospel with his dad. So, I did. When I finished, he said to me, “Thank you for coming; but I’ve said “no” to Jesus so many times that I couldn’t become a Christian now even if I wanted to.” That broke my heart. He was wrong; Jesus died and rose again for ALL of us, and we can accept His free gift of salvation at any time. But this man had hardened his heart. He refused one last time. Don’t say “no” because you always have … Jesus’ love is real, eternal, and His arms are always open wide.
2. Keep Your Eyes on Jesus!
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despised it shame and sat down at the right hand at the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful man, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart (Hebrews 12:1-3)
Peter was walking on water until he took his eyes off Jesus and sank. Fortunately, Jesus came to his rescue … and He will come to yours when you lift your eyes to Him. Told that he would be set free if he denounced Jesus, Polycarp, the second century Bishop of Antioch, replied, “Eighty-six years I’ve served him. I’m not about to give up on him now. “ The Romans set him on fire. Jesus ushered him into heaven.
3. Keep Going to Church. We Need the Fellowship!
Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-26)
Trying to meet together in-person for church during the COVID-19 quarantine has been very difficult. Fortunately, in our technological age, we can tune in worship services from anywhere. We can also encourage one another through calls, texts, and social media if we make a deliberate effort. We meet together with Les and Marita, our across-the-street neighbors, every Sunday at their house to watch our church’s online worship services. Then, we pray and enjoy lunch together. We follow the rules, social distance, and are all COVID-19 free, praise God!
4. When or If the Pandemic Hits Home Personally, Don’t Get Angry Because Anger Leads to Bitterness.
See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitterroot grows up to cause trouble and defile. (Hebrews 12:15)
I don’t have COVID-19, but I do have Parkinson’s disease. It’s frightening, painful, and progressive. I have to work hard every day to keep my body moving and healthy. I’ve also had to accept that there is no cure. I’ll always have Parkinson’s, and I’ll always have to fight this battle. Occasionally, I find myself wanting to get angry at God. But then I remind myself if there’s ever a time that I need the triumphant power of Jesus Christ, it’s now. He understands my frustration, calms my fears, and gives me the strength I need to survive.
5. Do Your Best to Stand against Depression. Don’t Quit. There’s Always Room for More Hope!
My son, do not make light … and do not lose heart. (Hebrews 12:5)
People look for hope in the present. If we can't find hope in the present, we look to the immediate future. If we can't find hope in the immediate future, we will look to the distant future. If we can't find hope in the distant future, we will place our hope in the next life.
Let me illustrate. African American Spirituals are all based on hope deferred.
Tied up and thrown into the crowded holds of slave ships, slaves had no hope of escaping in the present. So, they looked for hope in the immediate future. Standing on the auction block, they saw their hopes for the immediate future dashed. So, they postponed their hopes to the distant future. Hopefully, one day they would be freed.
As the years went by, they no longer had the future hope that one day they'd be released. So, they turned their hopes to the distant future and began to look toward eternity. Listen to their singing:
"When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound … When the role is called up Yonder … Deep River, my home is over Jordan … I'm gonna ride that chariot in the morning … I'm dwelling in Beulah Land."
It's critical that we draw our hopes for the future into the present where we can enjoy them! I also think of a cemetery as a symbol of our hope for eternity and for the life beyond. We see people weep over gravestones. Some weep, saying "Momma's dead. Thank God for some good times and marvelous memories. How wonderful that we will see her again!" The family leaves the graveside with peace and a smile.
On the other hand, those who have no hope weep at the graveside and are miserable. Their loved one is gone forever.
6. Surrender to Jesus and Find Life and Triumph in Every Circumstance
How much more should we submit to the father of our spirits and live! (Hebrews 12:9)
The key to real living is found only in submitting our lives to Jesus Christ. Whenever He speaks, we listen and obey. Then, and only then, will we experience the life and purpose He has planned for our lives. As my father used to say to my brother and me, “When I say ‘jump’ you ask, “’How high?”’ We trusted him to know what was best for us, and he did.
Finally, This Earth Is Not Our Home. Our Home Is in Heaven
This is our most important motivation for submitting to Jesus!
For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. (Hebrews 13:14)
Hoping in heaven gives us a different perspective on life. Our understanding of the here and now is like observing the underside of an unfinished embroidered pillowcase. The backside is knots and dangling threads that are not yet woven together. The “heaven” side reveals a beautifully crafted masterpiece. Thinking about heaven makes me happy. Think about it, we are going to chow down at the Marriage Feast of the Lamb and not gain an ounce!
Let’s Get Practical Together
1. Remember that eternal life starts now (John 17:3).
We have true victory, thanks to Jesus Christ. It’s time to live in light of eternity.
2. Jesus’s presence fills us with joy and pleasure (Psalm 16:11).
Take a moment to quiet your heart, mute your cell phone and let his love wash over you.
3. Jesus will be glad to see us (Matthew 25:23).
Imagine God’s absolute delight in our celestial arrival! He says, “Well done, good and faithful servant … Come share your Master’s happiness.” Have you spent your life trying to please God and others? You will find forgiveness, grace and rest in heaven (Psalm 103:12); Hebrews 4:10). Imagine Jesus smiling at you, and welcoming you with open arms into heaven, instead of shaking his finger at you in reproof.
4. We will have fulfilling work to do (Revelation 7, 22).
We will not work riddled with fatigue and frustration (the result of the Fall). Instead, we will fulfill all of the potential God placed within us with unlimited resources and energy.
6. Our worship will be unceasing before God’s Throne (Revelation 4:1-11).
All are singing “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” Why don't you take a little time and enjoy worship now: sing, shout, thank and praise God. God’s presence hangs around when we praise!
Well, Blakely, I hope that these insights from the book of Hebrews are helpful in bringing you peace as we endure COVID-19 together.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/dragana991
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his 35-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.
Editor's Note: This Ask Roger article features insights from Roger's daughter, Brie Barrier Wetherbee, a sought-after Bible teacher and conference speaker, author, analyst, and Christian theologian.
Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at [email protected].