Biblical Exhortation in a Time of Crisis | Part 1

Return to Intersections Home

The book of Hebrews has long been a source of debate among Christians. It is unknown who the book was written for, or even who wrote it. Even a cursory reading, however, hints at its purpose. The author is clearly worried about some kind of crisis of faith among his recipients and urges them through a variety of arguments to hold fast to the faith they had received.[1]

Our current situation is one that could easily be viewed as creating a “crisis of faith” for those within the church. Throughout the world, the spread of COVID-19 has drastically changed how Christians meet together, worship, and celebrate their faith. The words of Hebrews, then, are very relevant for our current situation.

In Hebrews 10, the author comes to the conclusion of a lengthy argument regarding the sufficiency of Christ and his superiority to the old laws and sacrifices. Starting in verse 19, he then “explicitly states and applies the purpose of that lengthy argument to the present crisis of faith.”[2] This passage states:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (ESV).

Of note here are three exhortations, all begun by the phrase “let us”: (1) “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith”; (2) “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering”; and (3) “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” The astute reader will notice that the three exhortations encompass faith, hope, and love, common themes in the biblical story. How might we apply these three injunctions to the COVID-19 crisis?

The first exhortation is to draw near to God “with a true heart in full assurance of faith.” The previous verses give the reason for this. We have a great high priest in Jesus Christ, who the author has shown throughout the book of Hebrews to be superior to any high priest that came before him. Jesus has torn down the curtain that separates people from God, a reference to the curtain of the temple that separated the Holy of Holies, where the presence of God dwelt, from the rest of the temple. This opening was accomplished through Jesus’ blood, shed for us on the cross, and his subsequent resurrection.

Why does the author of Hebrews refer his readers to these, some of the most basic tenets of our faith? In times of crisis, the basic things are some of the easiest to forget or take for granted. For many, it has become so ingrained that “Jesus is the great high priest and we can approach God personally” that we forget the full import of what that means. At any time, even in times of crisis, we have direct access to God because of Jesus’ death on the cross. It is a simple truth, but one that bears repeating and remembering, especially in the times when we might question where God is and whether he is working.

This is only part of the passage, however. While keeping hold of the core tenets of our faith is certainly important, we are reminded that this should be done “with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” If one of the core tenets of the Christian faith is that Christ has broken down the divide between God and humanity, a closely related one is that part of this process is cleansing us from our sins.[3]

The author of Hebrews reminds us that moments of crisis are a good time to stop and assess our life and our relationship with God. We are to approach God in these times with a clean conscience. If we cannot do that, this is a good time to “get right” before God.

I want to be careful here not to imply that times of crisis, or epidemics specifically, are necessarily a result of God’s judgment on humanity’s lack of repentance. Certainly, sickness, disease, and death are the result of sin. And there are many times in the Bible where plagues and other crises are a result of God’s judgment. However, this is not always the case. Sometimes terrible things happen because we live in a fallen world. Thus, while plagues and times of crisis can call us back to God, we should not assume that our experience of them means there is some unconfessed sin within our lives or in “the church” that needs to be rectified.

Finally, it bears repeating that in times of crisis we are to “draw near” to God. As we have already said, in times of crisis we can be tempted to question where God is and what he is doing. It can be easy to pull away from God, letting fear, doubt, and uncertainty consume us. However, these are the times when we most need to trust God—to draw near to him and trust in his promises. This is the theme of the second exhortation, which I will consider in our next piece.

Continue reading this series: Part 2, Part 3


[1] For example, see Hebrews 2:1–4; 3:12–14; 4:14; 5:11–12; 6:4–11; 10:32–35, 39; 12:25.

[2] Walter A. Elwell, ed., Baker Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1989), 1143.

[3] See Hebrews 12:1–13 for a fuller discussion of this theme within Hebrews.