By Simon ManchesterSunday 17 Jan 2021Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 17 minutes
We come to the last chapter in the book of Hebrews.
I don’t know if you know the story of the missionary who’s overseas and he looked at his window one day, and he sees a beggar shuffling around in the street with nothing. The missionary grabs an envelope, puts $20 in and writes across the envelope the words, “Don’t despair,” and throws it out the window near the beggar. The beggar picks it up and shuffles away. The next day the beggar is at the door with a roll of money which she hands over to the missionary, and the missionary says, “No, no, no. That was a gift. That was a gift.” And the beggar says, “No, sir. This is your share. Don’t despair came in at 60 to one.”
I tell you that partly so that you won’t despair about the last chapter but partly so that you will know that this chapter is actually as valuable and as exponentially treasure field as any part of Hebrews.
This is a treat to finish this morning. To help you to see why this is a climactic chapter and not an anti-climactic chapter, I want to try and explain very carefully and quickly where we’ve gone and why we’ve come to this particular Sunday morning.
The back story
So we’ve been following Hebrews for 13 weeks, it’s a pretty meaty letter. We’ve seen that the writer is writing to the original readers and to us today, and to all who read the letter so that they and we will recognise the greatness of Jesus, the goodness of Jesus, and we’ll put our trust in his words and his work. Even though there are many pressures inside us and there are many pressures outside us not to do that. He’s exhorting us to keep trusting Jesus.
If you read the book of Hebrews and see the way Jesus is described as the son of God, you see the work that he’s done and how he’s taken up all the threads of the Old Testament. The attempt of the Old Testament to put a system in place which would bring a relationship between God and us. Jesus has taken all of those Old Testament loose ends, and he’s perfected them in his life, and his death. And when you get that, when you see the significance of it, you find that you’ve got the key to life. You’ve got the key to eternal life, and you won’t throw it away. Although some people, the writer is conscious of are getting ready to throw it away. And so he’s writing to them to say, “Don’t throw away this eternal key.”
We come to chapter 13, and if you were listening as it was read, there’s kind of a spray of instructions. Things like:
- stay loving
- beware the love of money
- help your leaders
- endure suffering, and some wonderful promises in chapter 13, “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.”
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, forever. But we’ll be tempted I think this morning to say to ourselves, you know, this was an interesting series, Hebrews. We went through some complicated chapters, kind of got to grips with them. And now we’ve come to chapter 13 and the preacher this morning is going to give us just a whole series of instructions.
I don’t need to worry about whether you remember all these because this chapter is the work that God does through his people by the gospel. Once the gospel has got into you and new life is flowing through you, what we see in Hebrews chapter 13 is the fruit of that new life, and God works it.
Of course, it’s written, and, of course, we can read this, and we can heed it. But when you walk with Jesus, this is the sort of life that is lead. And so you and I don’t have to panic about whether we remember all the details of Hebrew 13. But when we walk with Jesus, virtually what’s in Hebrews 13 is going to flow.
If this letter was written to Jews, what do you think would be the great climax of chapter 13? I suspect the great climax would be;
- do you have your temple in place?
- have you got your altar set up?
- have you employed your priest?
- are they doing their sacrifices?
The writer says by the fact that Jesus has come and has died, and has risen, and you, almost everybody here this morning has believed that. And you have received him, and there was a new life which is moving through you.
The writer says, Now, go out. Go out and live your life in your home and your work, and your street, and wherever you go and be a living sacrifice. So the whole of the Old Testament and New Testament has shifted.
As the Old Testament which said, “Come in,” now says to the believers, “Get out, go out.” And that’s why this is a climactic chapter because chapter 13 is describing the life that you will live out as you leave this building.
I’m going to try and underline this as we go, but I wanna point out to you that this is the fruit of faith. This is the product of the gospel. This is the life of Jesus being lived out in his people. So if you want to know where the Christianity is irrelevant, and many people today think it is, or whether Christianity is entirely transforming, read the Hebrews 13 and you’ll see what God can do in people.
And if you read Hebrews 13 and you don’t think that what God can do in people is significant, I’d be shocked because the pagan world can’t produce what’s in Hebrews 13, although it would like to. And God is doing it. He’s doing it through his son.
“Keep loving each other as brothers.” You notice what the writer says, “Keep doing it, it’s happening.” You don’t need to begin to do this, it’s happening.
Literally, he says, “Let brotherly love,” you know the word for brotherly love in the Greek? Philadelphia.
“Let brotherly love remain.” The first priority in your human relationships is to the family of God. You’ll discover as you read the letters of the New Testament, the family of God in a way take priority of the family which is our human family. Because our human families are a subset of the family of God and we must demonstrate to the world that we’re a part of the family of God. And that’s why if like the world, we give absolute priority to our human families, and not the family of God, we reinforce what the world thinks. But we’re in the family of God, that’s why we’ve got to somehow demonstrate the family of God is precious.
Our little family is a subset of the great family of God. Then he says, verse two, “Don’t forget to entertain strangers. And remember,” verse three, “those who imprison.”
So when a stranger comes in your love goes over to them. And when you think of the person who can’t come in because they’re imprisoned, or they are shut in, especially the believer, your love thinks about how to reach them. That’s what the church does. God has made you new, he’s given you a new life and a new love, and when somebody new comes in you try to love them. And when somebody can’t come in, you try to love them.
After this meeting today you probably don’t realise this, but there’s going to be some hospitality going on in various homes, and people are going to be invited. And I keep hearing that new people are being invited to people’s homes, let it keep going. It’s a wonderful example of the love of Christ. I’m encouraged by the people in this family who think about the people who can’t get here. The people who’ve got ministries, to people behind bars, and the people who’ve got ministries to people who are shut-ins. It’s just a wonderful thing that to those of you who are conscious of people who can’t get here and your love goes out to them. And you’ve worked out how to call them or how to send something or how to ring them or how to visit. “Let that love continue,” says the writer.
In turning to the human family, he mentions two classic dangers; one is unfaithfulness what a killer unfaithfulness is in the family and greed. What a killer greed can be in the family. And he says on the subject of unfaithfulness, “This is something God will judge.”
So if there’s anybody who thinks, I can be a Christian and I can be unfaithful, immoral, let me tell you that God will judge you. So we only really got two options, one is to take your unfaithfulness to Jesus and ask him to forgive you and transform you, and help you. Or keep it to yourself, and he will judge you. You can’t get away with it.
And then he says greed. Greed carries an appeal, and the appeal is a very loving appeal, it goes like this. “God won’t leave you. God won’t forsake you.” So don’t fall for the delusion that your money, if you could get plenty of it would make you stable and secure, as if your money could be your refuge and your strength. Your money won’t be your refuge and your strength. It will fail you but God is your refuge and your strength, he will not leave you or forsake you.
Friends, we need to demonstrate that our refuge and strength is God, and not our success and our money. A leader in America called David Bryant wrote that he was providing hospitality for a Hindu girl on one occasion.
This Hindu girl was witnessing to this American family about her Hindu god and how the Hindu god looked after her and blessed her, and provided everything for her. But David Bryant said that he and his wife took this Hindu girl out to dinner one night, they went to another Christian family, and they were hoping that the Christian family would help them in their witness to the Hindu girl. But when they got to this Christian family, the Christian family started to sing the praises of their new house and how wonderful it was. And how they’ve done this extension and how great it was, and how blessed they were. And David Bryant said this girl was caught between this Hindu god that blesses, she thinks, and this Christian god who blesses well, take your pick.
We need to be very thoughtful and recognise that our real blessings of God and we’ve got to communicate that somehow. So we don’t reinforce in people the false idea that the real priorities are passing things. Now, when Christianity is being lived out, that’s what the writer says, love and faithfulness will flow.
“Remember your leaders”
“Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
“Avoid bad leaders.”
I think what the writer is saying is that he wants his readers to value bible leaders. And if they disappear and inevitably they will, Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and so he is your sufficiency. Don’t turn away to a leader who’ll stop telling you that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
It looks very simple on paper, doesn’t it? Be thankful for a good leader. Jesus is the same. Watch out for bad leaders. It looks very simple but actually, church in every century can be quite faithful and fruitful in one decade. You go back to the same church a decade later; it’s confusing, dangerous, and sometimes completely toxic.
There are churches in this country; there are churches in this city that have gone from fruitful to fruitless very quickly. And look at the classic contrast which is in verse nine, “We need,” says the writer, “grace. We don’t need ceremonial foods. We don’t need somebody who’s telling us ritual. We need someone who’s telling us about the grace of God.” Verse ten, “We have an altar.” I hope there’s nobody here in this building who honestly thinks that in this building we have an altar. I hope there’s nobody here who thinks that behind me is an altar. What is behind me according to the Bible and the prayer book is a table.
It’s not a very good table because it’s very hard to see that, but it’s a table. And it’s a table because if we could sit at it, we would get some bread and some wine, and we would remember the altar. And the altar, the last and the final altar was set up 2,000 years ago outside the city of Jerusalem, and it was built with two planks. And on it was placed a sacrifice called Jesus. And when he called out it’s finished, the sacrifice was done, the final altar was finished. And we are the people today who can look back to that cross and say, “That’s where my sins were carried away. That’s where the door into God’s family opened. That’s where my security for heaven is found. That is my hope for the future.”
“We have an altar,” says the writer. And it prompts the writer in verses 11 to 16 to say two incredible things about sacrifices.
First, he says, “Don’t be ashamed to identify with the one called Jesus who was sacrificed.” Especially if you live in a suburb like I do, where people are impressed by successful things. And it’s much easier, isn’t it, if it were possible for us to try, and talk about successful things?
But, friends, the watching world is not that impressed with the church and our successes are no match for the successes of the world. What we need to do is to recognise that when Jesus died, he turned all real values right way up. We need to stop being ashamed of the disgrace of Jesus, who when he died in the cross, actually put everything right, and paid for sin, and opened the door.
We need to try our best to say to people, “Actually, you know, I could tell you about my feeble successes, but I’ve pinned my hopes on somebody who was publicly disgraced. And I’ve pinned my hopes on Jesus who was publicly disgraced because, in his disgrace, he opened up all the successes that matter.” And we’ve got to think that, we’ve got to somehow communicate that. That’s what the writer says, don’t be ashamed to identify with the sacrifice of Jesus. And the second thing he says under the heading of sacrifices is, “You can offer some sacrifices but look at what the sacrifices are,” verse 15, “they are sacrifices of praise and gratitude and appreciation.”
I strongly suspect that this has got a lot more to do than just the songs that we sing here on Sunday, “Greatest They Are.” Greatest that opportunity is to praise God with a song. Our praises have got to be more than from 10 to 11 on a Sunday morning. Our praises have got to be the continual thanksgiving and the continual appreciation for a good and faithful God hour by hour, giving us more than what we probably grasp. And I suspect that our thanksgiving spills over because according to verse 16, it goes into care for people. I’ve received so much, let me pass things on. So the gospel rock drops into the pool of our lives and the ring spread out wherever we go.
Another fruit of gospel living, verse 17 to 19, is how you help your leaders. You remember verse seven? Some leaders need to be remembered because they have come and gone, we’re very grateful for them. Some leaders need to be, verse 17, obeyed. It’s a very exciting subject for me this morning, and I may spend the next couple of hours just unpacking how this might work. But it is interesting this through, please think with me. You imagine that you’re one of these converted Jews and you’re used to dealing with the priest. Now, you’re dealing with a preacher. What’s the shift that takes place as you move from a priest to a preacher? Well, a priest in a sense is a holy man.
You go to him, and he does holy things for you, and then you depart. A preacher confronts you with the word of God; it may be to comfort you, it may be to challenge you. If you’re in your bed in hospital and a priest comes to see you, I presume that a priest may do holy things. He may give you forgiveness; he may give you communion. But if a preacher comes to visit you, the preacher may challenge you with the word of God or comfort you with the word of God. And it’s an interesting thing to work out what you’ll do with a preacher. Well, now, the word “obey” in verse 17 is not the same word in the New Testament that you use for the word for children to obey parents or for servants to obey masters. This is a different word, and it means “be persuaded,” which I guess means by the word.
The word “to submit” is not the same word that you use in Ephesians 5 of Christians submitting to one another or a wife to her husband. The word means yield, surrender, which I presume is to the word. So when the word comes to you, your business is really with the word. It’s not to heed the man, as if the man who says things has the authority, his authority is the word. But it’s not to dismiss what the man says because he says the word. And you and I need to be wise and careful therefore in how we, what does he say, get persuaded and yield to the word. You may not also realise that pastors are not private individuals but keep watch and give account one day to God, that’s what it says here in verses 17 to 19.
The little phrase, “they keep watch,” literally in the Greek is “they chase sleep.” Why do pastors chase sleep? Well, because real pastors get concerned for people to the point of sleepless care. And sometimes some grief and sometimes some distress, and often much joy and gratitude, and appreciation. But it is possible for a pastor to lie awake in the middle of the night and think things like this. Who’s going to be looking after that single mother now? Who’s going to help that bereaved person to cope? What’s happened to the person who’s disappeared and dropped out? Why is this particular person going so badly in 2011 but was going so well in 2010?
How am I going to get this person who loves material things interested in spiritual things? Why does one person love the word and one person missed the word? What can we do for the man who’s out of work, long time out of work? Who’s supporting the family that’s got about 45 battles going on? Why is that particular person so low at the moment? Why is that particular person so proud? What can we do for people who love their work more than they love Jesus Christ? And as the faces go passed maybe for you, they do for me; you can lie awake and chase sleep. And the writer also says that one day pastors will give an account. So I will come face to face with Jesus, and I’ll explain to him what I said and what I did, and what I didn’t do, and I’ll give an account.
No wonder verse 17 says, “Make their joy, make their work a joy, not a burden.” One of my friends who is a pastor said that this section is saying to the congregation, “What you should all be doing is making me a happy pastor.” So, think about that, that’s your job. Your job is to make me a really happy pastor. And apart from being persuaded by the word and yielding to the word, the writer says in verse 18, “Pray for us. Your pastor is feeble, pray for him. Your pastor is often frustrating, pray for him. Your pastor is often fine, pray for him. Work on his joy.”
Now, the last verse is 20 to 25 or what I will call final matters, and I summarised it in 30 seconds. The writer finishes by saying, “May God work in us what pleases Him,” which is what I’ve been saying all along. “And he’ll do it,” verse 21, “for his glory and he’ll do it,” verse 25, “by His grace.” And the whole of the Christian life is summed up as grace to glory, very appropriate for the Hebrews and very appropriate for us as well this morning.
So, friends, this chapter is not just a checklist, it’s the fruit of Christ that works in us. And as I finish this morning, I want to remind you of what God rejoices in. This is what God rejoices in. He rejoices to see people hear the gospel, and receive it, and recognise how great is His son and how wonderful is the work of Jesus on the cross. But he also rejoices to see the new life flow through you. And He longs to see that life flow into all the normal paths of your life.
I had a friend who I worked with in the U.K. and he used to say occasionally that he was quite appalled when little boys turned into choir boys. He said there was nothing worst than seeing a little boy suddenly dressing up with a frill around his neck and wobbling things that he didn’t understand or probably believe anyway. And he used to say that what that little boy should do is get up and go out and play football like a normal boy. And it was a very nice corrective, I think, to the strange idea that Christianity is odd. But Christianity is meant to make you normal.
Christ is the most normal person in the world. He understands the car that you drive home in, he understands what your house is like, he understands your family, he understands you’re shopping this week, he understands your struggles, he understands what’s going on on your television, he understands what your work complexities are, he knows the whole stretch of your life in every single detail. And he’s asking us to go out and be his normal people. That’s our real calling, and that is our great joy. And so we do need to gather, hear the word of God, sing His praise, strengthen one another, but then we go out to be normal servants of Christ. And that’s why the old church services used to have at the end what they called a dismissal.
Go into the world. And John famously said what this meant was it’s notice to have had you come and visit for a while. Now get out and go and be yourselves. With a faithful God who will help you in all your departments and he will give you grace, and he’ll take you to glory.
Our Father, we thank you again this morning for giving your son and for his death on the cross so that we might have new life by faith in him. And we pray that you’d help us to live this new life today as we head back to our houses. As we try to interact with family and friends, as we head off to work, as we mix with neighbours, as we make decisions, as we enjoy your creation. We pray that you would so wonderfully work through us by your grace and for your glory that we would be a faithful, joyful, and fruitful people. We ask it in Jesus name. Amen.