Final Comments

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Brothers and sisters, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for in fact I have written to you quite briefly.

I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been released. If he arrives soon, I will come with him to see you.

Greet all your leaders and all the Lord’s people. Those from Italy send you their greetings.

Grace be with you all.

Hebrews 13:22-25

We don’t know for sure who wrote this letter to the Jewish Christians of Rome, but we do know why he wrote it. He was concerned for the people there who were having to deal with such a terrible ordeal at the hands of Nero, one of history’s great villains.  These brothers and sisters in Christ had been pushed to the wall and were in danger of losing much more than their lives, so he wrote one of the most amazing letters ever written.

The author gave them a real glimpse of glory, God’s glory through Jesus Christ, and also of  the glory that awaits His followers.  With his continuing message of holding on to what we have in Christ, he hoped to see these people through their ordeal and to come with them to the ultimate glory beyond this earthly vale, that true glory which is forever ours in Christ.

As we read these last few verses, how can we miss the love with which he writes?  Here is a man who is feeling for his flock, here is a man who truly cares about God’s people. Have you noticed that the word “love” is not mentioned in these verses?  Yet it is evident in the emotion behind the words.  This is love in action! This man knew of the suffering in Rome, felt for his people and took up his pen.  He didn’t simply say “I love you,” he showed them his love through his concern, and in the process he gave them the strength to carry on.  Yes, dear reader, we can learn so much from our study of this great letter to the Hebrews!

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A Prayer of Purpose

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Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Hebrews 13:20-21

The author of Hebrews is now in the final part of the letter, and he opens it with a prayer of purpose.  Let’s take a closer look, for it is quite instructive.

Our God is identified as the God of peace, something we might want to keep in mind, and then goes on to an interesting statement that has a way of summarizing the letter. “The blood of the eternal covenant” is a reminder that God has committed Himself to the New Covenant and its promises.  Notice that it was through the blood of the covenant, the superior sacrifice of our superior high priest, that brought Jesus back from the dead; you don’t see that spelled out very often, for usually we see God’s power cited for this.  Think about it: Jesus arose from the grave by the power of an indestructible life, He was raised by the power of God… and now He is brought back by the blood of the covenant.  What does that tell you about His blood?

I don’t know about you, but it strikes me as pretty powerful stuff.  It is the same stuff that all of our hopes are based upon… so what does that tell you about our hope and God’s promise?

“Powerful” is one word I can think of.

Next, Jesus is called “the great shepherd of the sheep,” reminding us that He is our Lord, our Master.  Here we come into the “what” that the author is praying for: May God “equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him”.  Notice that the author is asking only for things that accomplish God’s will and that please Him. He is not asking anything for himself. This, dear reader, is a prayer of power and purpose.  Jesus told us many times that whatever we ask for in His name will be given to us, but each time He said this, the context was clearly upon doing God’s will.  I have no doubt whatsoever that God answered this prayer directly. Obviously, praying in Jesus’ name is what follows when the author adds, “through Jesus Christ…”

I wonder how often we pray like this: Boldly for God’s purposes to be done and not our own. In power for God’s will in our lives, as opposed for our list of goodies.

Yes indeed, this is a prayer of purpose and power, may all of us pray such prayers!

Leaders

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Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.

Hebrews 13:17

This is a tough verse for me to comment about; I was in church leadership for roughly 20 years, and I doubt I ever once quoted it unless I was teaching Hebrews 13.  We live in cynical times…

Over the years, there have been great leaders in the church; there have also been some who were not so great.  Leaders can suffer from the same issues that everyone else may suffer from. Some may be in leadership for all of the wrong reasons, some may think that being a leader in the church makes them a big shot or an important person, and yes I have met a few like that.  In my experience, many church members are critical of their leaders, no matter what those leaders do, but I must tell you that in my experience, that sort of criticism said much more about the critic than the leader.

This simple verse has two points to it. First is the injunction for us to submit to Biblical authority within the church. Dear reader, if we cannot do this, there will never be unity in our churches. The second is that leaders must understand that they will give an account for their leadership tenure, for it is a heavy responsibility.  It occurs to me that I should say that when I speak of leaders in the church, I refer not to leaders within a denominational structure somewhere, but rather at the local congregational level, and this is because these are the ones this verse refers to, not denominational authorities. I can say this because at the time of writing, there were no denominational structures or authorities.

To be a leader in the church is not for everyone. It means that you become the servant of all. It involves making sacrifices that few will give you credit for, few will ever even know about. It means that you will be unfairly criticized by those you serve, it will result in many sleepless nights and lots of prayers for guidance. In short, it is possibly the most wonderful experience anybody can have on the earth… but it isn’t for most people.

It is a whole lot easier if people complain and criticize less and focus on Jesus Christ more, that’s for sure.

Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon.

Hebrews 13:18-19

Please read these 2 verses carefully, and you will detect a heart that yearns to be with the people of the church, apparently a church in which the author has served as a leader.  In verse 18 it is clear that he fully comprehends the responsibility of leading, the parental love he feels for his people, and in verse 19 you can easily see his longing to return to them in these difficult times of testing through which they are travelling. I can tell you from experience that this is how it “feels” to have been a leader in the church.

Pleasing Sacrifices

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Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Hebrews 13:15-16

Wonderful verses! Our author is wrapping up his exhortations now, thus the “therefore.” A sacrifice of praise; this isn’t really an Old Testament concept as much as it is a recognition of the reality that has come in Christ.  What is left to do but praise Him?!  This is a sacrifice that pleases God…

But there is something of a “catch” in the second part of the sentence. This pleasing sacrifice is the “fruit of lips that openly profess his name.”  Think about those original recipients in Rome during Nero’s persecution.  Wouldn’t it make sense to keep your mouth shut if you were in their situation? Of course it would, there’s no need to invite trouble, tight?

Well dear reader, that’s why the author called it a sacrifice. It was truly a dangerous thing to do.

Fast-forward to the 21st century…  How is it exactly that so many who live in freedom justify not speaking out in praise of Jesus Christ…? Yeah, I know, I’ve heard all of the excuses.

There is another New sacrifice mentioned in verse 16. We must “do good” and “share with others.”  Please take careful note of the word “do.”  As I’ve mentioned previously, the whole faith versus works argument is an argument based entirely on a false premise, for the two are not mutually exclusive.  We don’t earn anything by what we do… clearly!  We “do” because we love.  We love because He first loved us, therefore the “do” part is a response to His love.  Stop fighting it; it has nothing to do with earning something, it is a sacrifice that is pleasing to God.  Seems to me that should be quite enough.

As true as that is, there is more, for in serving others and “doing good” there is an added benefit, we grow closer to Him in relationship when we humble ourselves and put others ahead of ourselves. When the Body of Christ lives this way, the testimony to the world is powerful to say the least, and many more come to receive His love.  You see, dear reader, that is what Christ’s Ambassadors are here to do in this strange and foreign land we call earth.

Do not be carried away…

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Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so. We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat.

Hebrews 13:9-10

As he continues in his exhortations, the Hebrews author now moves into the area of “strange teachings.” This follows from his remarks in verses 7-8 in which he told us to “remember” our leaders who “spoke the word of God to you.” Strange teachings seem to refer to teachings that are at variance with the Truth, that are at variance to the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Very clearly, any teaching the re-imposes the Old Covenant Law onto the New Covenant would count as “strange” indeed! He continues by pointing out that it is better for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, rather than by eating ceremonial foods  which are of “no benefit.”  In trying to follow this, we might keep in mind that Jesus, the Living Word came to us “full of grace and truth.”  He didn’t bring us ceremonial regulations like those contained in the Old Covenant, He brought “grace and truth.”  The reality of grace and truth replaced the ceremonies, feasts and festivals; why put any reliance upon these things now that the New has come? In light of this, it always strikes me as interesting when I think of our special days, special meals and special ceremonies today…

The author underscores this with his comment about the altar that we have, that the Old Covenant priests have no access to; the real one in heaven that they cannot approach, as opposed to the “illustration” in the Temple. And now, the author has set up what comes next:

The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

Hebrews 13:11-14

In this little paragraph, the author makes a comparison between the sacrifice made in the earthly Temple and the fire consuming the sacrifices outside of the earthly camp, with the New Covenant sacrifice outside the city… with our being “strangers” on earth.  In order for us to fully appreciate this, recall that contrast of Covenants: The Old Covenant is an earthly exercise in every respect. It has outward laws, outward sacrifices and outward, physical promises.  It has a physical Temple and a physical earthly nation.  The New Covenant brings the reality of the what was pictured in the physical aspects of the Old Covenant.  We are no longer citizens of an earthly realm, being now citizens of a heavenly Kingdom. We no longer have human priests presenting animal sacrifices in a physical Temple, we have the superior sacrifice of Christ, and we can now present ourselves in the heavenly Temple, in the actual presence of God. With this in mind, let’s look at verses 13-14:

Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

We leave the earthly city and go outside to where Jesus bore our sin and its disgrace in perfect humility, as servants.  We have no city here, for we are not citizens of earth, but citizens of heaven, and we look forward to the day when we will go “home” to our true heavenly home. Think about the impact of this to his original readers, in their trial of persecution.

Now, think about what this means for us…  Only our earthly circumstances are different, the Truth of these things is the same.

Persevere!

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Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.  Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,

“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”
So we say with confidence,

“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?”
Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Hebrews 13:4-8

The Hebrews author continues to wind up his letter to Rome with exhortations, and at first glance this selection seems a little random, almost out of context, in fact.  We’ve been going through the amazing reality of the New Covenant, sweeping through redemption history, coming into the very presence of God… in a context of remaining faithful to the end, even through terrible persecution; even unto death.  Then the author suddenly begins to tell us to respect marriage, be pure, not to love money and to respect our leaders in the faith.  Circle the piece in the picture that doesn’t belong…

But don’t be too hasty!

You could say that these things are mentioned to remind the recipients not to slip into sin, and who could argue with that?  Yet it still doesn’t quite fit in context, does it?  Yes, yes, not slipping into sin is the correct Sunday School answer, but it hardly gets to the point; Sunday School answers usually don’t get to the point!

Remain faithful to the end, even unto death.  Faithful is a covenant term meaning t keep covenant.  Adultery is a violation of the marriage covenant. Have you ever known (or have  been) someone who is involved in an extra marital affair? These things seem to require a web of deceit and deception to keep them going, and there seems to be a certain drive to keep them going.  When the guilty party is found out, there is great carnage in their homes, relationships and in their lives in general. These things take a lot of work and attention, and I can say with great confidence that they do not promote or advance anybody’s relationship with Jesus Christ.  Sexual immorality tends to have the same kinds of attributes even if there is no marital issue involved.  How about the love of money and things?  While this may not always require secrecy, it does require attention and effort; a great deal of it, actually. Does it enhance one’s relationship with our Lord?  Hardly!

The author has been teaching us not to neglect our covenant relationship, he has been encouraging us to remain faithful. Sexual immorality of whatever kind and the love of money are things that can become so all-encompassing in a person’s life that they can easily cause one to slip away from Christ, their faith and even to “fall away” entirely; thus these are not random exhortations at all! The quotations from Deuteronomy 31 and Psalm 118 take the exhortation to the next step, for they remind us that in Christ, we have the help we need to stand firm in our faith, to remain faithful and to persevere. Even the mention of our leaders who stand tall in their faith to teach, encourage and exemplify what it is to live in Christ is there to give us encouragement.  Leaders, this should also remind you of your responsibility to emulate Jesus Christ in everything that you do and say!

As we pause here to reflect, can you see how this all fits together?  It is as though the author is telling us to keep our eyes on Jesus, not to be drawn off track by the temptations of this world, but to persevere through any kind of trial, whether it be a trial of persecution or a trial of temptation so that we can remain faithful to the end. What he is not really doing here is citing mere “violations”, for he is going much deeper than that. He is asking us to consider our innermost priorities, just a Jesus taught in His Sermon on the Mount.

Class Notes for Hebrews 13

Continue in Love

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Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

Hebrews 13:1-3

Chapter 13 is largely made up of exhortations, and from these, we can fill in any blanks we might have in our understanding of chapter 12.  Notice how it begins: “Keep on loving…”  As we saw at the end of the last chapter, this is really what the book is trying to teach us, to keep on doing the things we are supposed to do as Christians, no matter what happens in this life.  Obviously, this should have had a powerful impact on the original recipients of the letter who were having such a rough time in Rome, but let’s not think it doesn’t apply in our time as well.  Loving one another is one of the commands of Jesus that is repeated over and over again in the New Testament, and frankly it deserves more than lip service from us!

Showing hospitality to strangers is another common theme in the New Testament; have you ever wondered about it?  Does it mean showing hospitality to dangerous persons on the run from the police? Does it mean only for other believers?  Different people are led in different ways here… and for the record, I wouldn’t advise harboring fugitives from the law… I can only suggest that we all follow the Lord’s leading in this.  Some, especially those who have the spiritual gift of hospitality, will be led more than others. Certainly, however, those who habitually refuse hospitality might not seem like people who are sharing God’s love very freely.

Taking this verse in a broader cultural context sheds a better light on its meaning.  In that context, it would seem most likely that the author is referring to people who are believers, such as those sent from another church congregation. A travelling preacher or messengers might qualify more than just anyone who looks lost…

Finally, those in prison. I doubt the author is talking about random thieves and other violent criminals. It seems more likely to me that he is referring to people being held in prison for their faith, as were many at the time of his writing. this would fit more clearly into the first verse and its injunction to keep on loving one another.

In short, these three verses are all about sharing the love of Christ with others!