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What We Are to Do with This Supreme Treasure
(Chapter 10 Verse 19 to Chapter 13 Verse 25)
Hebrews chapter 13 verses 10-14
We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat.
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.
What did those Jewish Christians want with Judaism? Were they looking for visible temples, altars, and sacrifices? Then let them consider what they had now in Christianity. “We have an altar,” the author points out triumphantly. That altar is the cross where Christ sacrificed himself and secured eternal salvation for us. Those who still want to “minister at the tabernacle,” that is, to cling in worship to the old rituals connected with Judaism, have no right to the blessings of the cross. Ceremonial foods mean more to them than God’s grace in Christ.
Once more the author points to Christ and his better sacrifice. Jesus’ cross and his sacrifice on that cross are all that anyone needs. Even the great Old Testament Day of Atonement had foreshadowed this. On that day, as we have already heard earlier in the epistle, the high priest carried into the Most Holy Place the blood of a bullock as offering for his own sins and the blood of a goat as offering for the people’s sins. But on the altar of the cross, the blood from Emmanuel’s veins flowed in a single, satisfactory sacrifice for all sins. On the Day of Atonement, after that animal blood had been sprinkled on the mercy seat, the bodies were burned outside the camp (Leviticus chapter 16 verse 27). That smoldering fire outside the camp reminded Israel of sin’s removal.
What a shadow of Jesus! His cross stood outside the city gate. John chapter 19 verse 20 describes it as “near the city.” The cross itself was a sign of sin’s horribleness, as Galatians chapter 3 verse 13 reminds us, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” That cross outside the city gates speaks of deepest disgrace, but its blessed results are forever. By his blood, unlike the gallons of animal blood shed over the years, people are made holy. Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary’s cross did what those repeated animal sacrifices could never do. It brought people out of a sinful world and into God’s holy family.
Leave such an altar with such a wonderful sacrifice? No, the author instead issues the bold call, “Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.” Judaism has nothing to offer to believers who know about Jesus and his all-sufficient cross. To revert to Judaism would mean to leave the cross and lose its benefits. The break with Judaism was vital, but dangerous. Identifying with Christ in faith would mean also “bearing the disgrace he bore.” Gentiles would persecute them, and fellow Jews would revile them as renegades to the God and faith of their fathers.
But this bold step of faith was well worth it, as the author has argued all along. Ahead lay the heavenly Jerusalem with its inheritance, which 1st Peter chapter 1 verse 4 said “can never perish, spoil or fade.” This is the magnet drawing the believer’s eyes of faith ever upward. Persecution may bruise his back but dare not slow his step. Reproach may bring tears to the eyes but dare not tear those eyes away from heaven’s shores. How foolish to trade in such a treasure for a handful of sand and a moment of safety!
Are 20th-century believers listening? Have we felt the stones of sarcasm and the sharp arrows of ridicule? Have we found out how thin faith’s skin is and how easily it bruises? Have we discovered that the Master knew what he was talking about when he said in Matthew chapter 16 verse 24, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”? Perhaps it is time to recheck our hearts and lives carefully. Perhaps it is time to hear again the author’s urgent call, “Let us, then, go to him outside the camp.”
Hebrews chapter 13 verses 15-16
Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
Those who stand in faith beneath Christ’s cross realize there is no more need for sin offerings. They do, however, feel the need for other offerings. Grateful love compels them to respond with willing thank offerings. Nor will such offerings be limited to set times and specified occasions. They will rather rise continually to God. First, the author mentions the “sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name.” “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks,” Jesus observed in Matthew chapter 12 verse 34. That’s how it is with praise. Praise is the believer’s heart rising with its hallelujahs to a gracious God. You don’t have to pressure praise out of the heart or paste it on the lips. Like fruit it ripens automatically.
Particularly does praise show in bold confession of Jesus’ name. “Look what Jesus has done for me; look what he would do for you,” faith boldly confesses. What a reminder for those who because of persecution were tempted to grow quiet about or even go away from that Savior and what he offered. What a reminder for us who have so much for which to praise him and so many to whom to confess his saving name!
From unashamed confession the author turns to compassionate service. Fruit shows not only on the lips, but in lives. “Do not forget,” the author says, “to do good and to share with others.” “To do good” is general, reminding us that whatever we do for anyone else is to be well done. “To share” is more specific, including tangibles like our money and goods and intangibles like comfort for the sorrowing and concern for the troubled. Words of praise and works of love are sacrifices pleasing to God, but only “through Jesus,” as the author reminds us by placing that telling phrase emphatically at the front of the verse.
Only through Jesus can hearts become grateful hearts. Only through Jesus do grateful hearts become offering hearts. And only through Jesus are the impurities that still cling to the offerings we bring sifted out so that God is well pleased. “I am the vine; you are the branches,” the Savior said similarly in John chapter 15 verse 5, “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
Hebrews chapter 13 verse 17
Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.
In verse 7 the author urged remembrance of past leaders. Now he turns to present leaders and has something to say about them. “Keep on obeying them,” he commands, “keep on submitting to their authority.” Though Scripture says much about spiritual leaders, their qualifications and responsibilities, it has little to say about our reactions to them. So we listen to this verse with extra attention.
We are to obey our leaders, something not difficult to do when we agree with them. We are even to do that which is harder, submitting to their authority when we don’t agree with them. Evidently the spiritual leaders of those Hebrew Christians had remained true teachers and staunch confessors of Christ and were thus deserving of such obedience. We can well imagine that the author was urging his readers to follow their leaders and heed their warnings against forsaking Christ for the supposed safety of Judaism.
Proper reaction to leaders was necessary, for as the author pointed out, “They keep watch over you as men who must give an account.” Like caring shepherds, those leaders kept sleepless vigil over every sheep in the flock, guiding them to the pasture of the Word, guarding them against sin’s danger, gently handling the weak and the wounded, going lovingly after the straying. Each soul was precious to them; for each soul they had to give an account to the Chief Shepherd.
Such awesome responsibility challenges the shepherd, demanding that he give the best he can in every sermon and lesson, every visit and contact. Such serious responsibility also makes demands on every sheep in the flock. When the sheep follow willingly, the shepherd’s task is joyful. When they balk or even disobey, the shepherd’s joy turns into groaning, and forward motion for the flock slows or even stops. “That would be of no advantage to you,” the author warns the flock to which he is writing.
God preserve us from shepherds who watch more for their own fame or finances than for the flock. God preserve us from being sheep who follow only when they feel like it and who obey only when they want to. God give us faithful shepherds and obedient sheep.
Personal instructions and final greetings
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.
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.
The author has rebuked his readers sharply and warned them intensely. But he still considers them God’s children and his own brothers. So he appeals for their continued prayers. “Keep on praying for us,” he urges, desiring their prayers both for himself and for his fellow workers. Particularly does he request their prayers for his speedy restoral to them.
Some force outside his control had taken him away from those Hebrew Christians. Could it have been imprisonment? sickness? another mission? We are not told. But he did greatly desire to be back with them, and they needed his presence, as the contents of his letter have shown.
Also, it appears that some of them were leveling criticism at him and his helpers. Perhaps those who advocated Judaism found it advantageous to criticize the author’s actions and motives. If so, then the author’s reference to a “clear conscience” and a “desire to live honorably in every way” would be explained. Here was a leader who with a clean conscience could wholeheartedly ask his people to pray for him.
Here was also a leader who knew how to pray for his people. Briefly and beautifully he sums up the whole epistle in the form of a fervent prayer for them. In just one sentence he wishes for them all that Christ has to offer. Christianity has the “God of peace.” Yes, he is the great Judge who will shake heaven and earth with his terror, but for us he is the God of our salvation. From him comes the peace that “transcends all understanding” (Philippians chapter 4 verse 7), the peace that restless hearts have to have, the peace of restored fellowship with God.
Vividly and clearly the author once more reminds the readers how God brought about this peace. He points them to “our Lord Jesus,” linking his own faith with that of his readers in the Savior, who was both divine “Lord” and human “Jesus.” This is the Savior that God brought back from the dead through the blood of the eternal covenant. The author has frequently spoken about the “covenant” in his letter, but this is the first time he mentions Christ’s resurrection. Note how closely he connects the two. Christ’s blood, shed on Calvary’s cross, paid sin’s penalty and established God’s covenant of salvation. But that precious blood would have been wasted in Calvary’s dust if Christ had remained in the grave. His resurrection from the dead is living proof that sin has been paid for and heaven opened. The filled cross and the emptied tomb are the seals of our salvation. Such a covenant of grace is eternal, never requiring updating or replacing.
Also, this is the only time the author refers to Jesus as “Shepherd.” The “great” Shepherd he even calls him, because with his death and resurrection, Jesus has earned the highest rank. This Shepherd believers can trust completely, even when persecution strikes. The bleeding Shepherd is one who will lead and feed them till they reach the “springs of living water,” where “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation chapter 7 verse 17).
To the God of peace who had done so much for them in Christ, the author prays, “May [he] . . . equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him.” Doing God’s will and working what is pleasing to God are life’s main concerns. God’s will is that sinners repent and live. God’s will is also that sinners then strive in thankful faith to follow his holy Commandments.
All this sounds so easy and yet is so impossible for man. Only as God equips, only as he plants faith in man’s heart and powers that faith into daily living can man follow. In Philippians chapter 2 verse 13 Paul said the same thing: “It is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” The faith God requires he gives through his grace in Word and sacrament. The fruit he looks for on the tree of faith he also grows through the same grace.
“Through Jesus Christ,” the author reminded his readers one last time. Not through Mosaic covenants and animal sacrifices, but through Jesus Christ does God give pardon, peace, and power. To that perfect Savior belongs all the glory for ever and ever. Heaven’s halls will ring with the eternal song, “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever!” (Revelation chapter 1 verses 5-6). God grant that all past and present readers of this epistle be there to echo faith’s triumphant “Amen.”
Hebrews chapter 13 verses 22-24
Brothers, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written you only a short letter.
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 God’s people. Those from Italy send you their greetings.
His prayer ended, the author pens a conclusion. First, he shows concern about the readers’ reaction to his letter. He has written at some length and yet calls the letter “short” because of the momentous matters it has covered. He has written in a straightforward manner and even sharply at times and yet does not want the readers to rebel. Affectionately now, as to brothers, he appeals for acceptance of his word of exhortation. Like some pastor who in concern has delivered a timely sermon, he desires but one reaction, for believers to accept and follow the truth.
He also had some news for them about Timothy, well-known to them. Timothy had been released either from some prison or some mission and would soon be back with the author. Then together they could come back to the readers. Meanwhile, those receiving this letter were to greet both their leaders and “all God’s people,” an expression common in the early church for believers. “Those from Italy” also sent greetings along with the author. To some this expression seems to indicate believers from Italy now living outside of that country, sending greetings back to their mother church in Rome. From where we cannot say for certain, but believers concerned about one another’s spiritual well-being were sending greetings to fellow believers.
Hebrews chapter 13 verse 25
Grace be with you all.
This final verse, found in various forms in many of the New Testament epistles, is more than our conventional “yours truly” closing. It is a prayer that God’s undeserved favor in Christ Jesus would rest in full upon all the readers. What a fitting close for a letter so filled with the message of that rich grace in Christ!
So ends our journey through one of the deepest and richest books of the New Testament. God grant that our study has reminded us again what a supreme treasure we have in Christ and what we are to do with this supreme treasure.
To him be glory
for ever and ever.
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