Hebrews 13(18–25)


This is my twenty-first sermon in this series of sermons on the book of Hebrews and today we’ve reached the end of the book.

From the very beginning of the book, the writer has been trying to persuade his readers to persevere in the faith and not to return to the old covenant religion of the Old Testament. It seems they were being tempted to give up their faith in Christ because of persecution and to return to their old religion. And so, the writer was trying to persuade them not to give up the faith, but to persevere in it, because what they have in Christ is so much better than what their old religion has to offer them.

And so, do you remember way back to the beginning of the book? The writer made the point that the Lord Jesus is better than the Old Testament prophets and the angels, through whom God revealed himself in the past. He’s better than they are because he’s the Eternal Son of God in whom God has spoken his final and definitive word. And though Moses was the great leader of God’s people in the past who led out of Egypt and through the wilderness towards the Promised Land, the Lord Jesus is better than Moses, because Moses was only ever a servant in God’s house, whereas the Lord Jesus is a son over God’s house. And then there’s Joshua. Joshua was great because he took over from Moses and led the people through the Jordan and into the Promised Land. But the Lord Jesus is better than Joshua, because Joshua could only give the people a kind of temporary rest in the land of Canaan, where the Lord Jesus leads all of God’s people into God’s eternal and never-ending rest in the new heavens and earth.

And then there were the Levitical priests, who served God in the tabernacle and temple and who offered sacrifices to God on behalf of the people. But the Lord Jesus is better than those priests, because they served in an earthly temple, which was only a copy of the true temple; and the Lord Jesus is our great high priest who has gone on our behalf into the true, heavenly temple, where he represents us before the Father. And the Levitical priests could only offer animal sacrifices to God, which could never take away the sins of the people. But the Lord Jesus offered himself as the perfect, once-for-all sacrifice to take away our sins forever. And all of those Levitical priests died and each one was replaced, but the Lord Jesus lives forever and he therefore intercedes for us forever. And the Levitical priests were associated with the old covenant, which the people broke, whereas the Lord Jesus established the new covenant in his blood. And by that everlasting covenant God promises to remember our sins no more.

And so, throughout the book, the writer has been trying to persuade his readers that the Lord Jesus is far, far, far better than what they were going back to. So, why go back to the old covenant religion of the Old Testament, when what they have in Christ is so much better? And why would we ever give up our faith in Christ, when what we have in Christ is everything we need for the forgiveness of our sins and for eternal life in the presence of God?

And throughout the book, the writer has been exhorting his readers not to give up their faith. So, we must pay more careful attention to what we have heard about Christ, so that we don’t drift away from him. Fix your thoughts on Jesus. See to it that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. Encourage one another daily. Since the promise of entering God’s rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter God’s rest. And so on. Throughout the book, the writer exhorts his readers to persevere. Press on. Keep going. Don’t give up.

And then, in chapter 11, he listed all these people from the Old Testament who believed God’s promises and who kept believing God’s promises. They did not give up, but they persevered, because they believed God’s promises and they were looking beyond the suffering and disappointments of this world; and they were longing for a better country, a heavenly one, the new heavens and earth where all of God’s people will live with God forever. So, follow their example of persevering faith. And follow the example of the Lord Jesus, who endured all kinds of suffering in this life because of the joy of sitting at his Father’s side in heaven above. And so, follow his example. Keep going. Endure all things now, because of the joy that God has set before you of eternal life in his presence.

And then, do you remember the middle section of chapter 12? The writer explained that suffering in this life does not happen by chance, but it happens because of the will of our Heavenly Father, who loves us and who uses our suffering and our troubles and trial for good, because this is the way he disciplines us and builds us up in the faith. He disciplines us for our good that we may share in his holiness. And while no discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful, nevertheless it produces something good in our lives. And so, persevere. Press on. Keep going.

And the final part of chapter 12 was about how we have already come by faith to God who is in heaven above. So, we’ve come to God and we’ve come to the angels and saints in glory and to the church around the world, whose members are known in heaven above. And we’ve come to Christ, the mediator of the new covenant established by his blood which speaks to us of forgiveness. In the past, the people were told to stay away from God. But now, through faith in Christ, we have already come to God in heaven above; and the life we live here on earth is lived before his presence. And so, since we live before the face of God, we must be be thankful and we must serve him acceptably and with reverence and awe, doing his will here on earth.

And so, that’s a summary of what we’ve been learning from this book. And today we come to the final verses. Let me deal first of all with his closing words in verses 22 to 25; and then we’ll come back to verse 18 to 21 where he first asks his readers to pray for him before he then prays for them.

Verses 22 to 25

Let’s turn to verse 22 where he addresses his readers as brothers. Or, brothers and sisters. It’s a reminder — isn’t it? — that we’re brothers and sisters in the Lord, because by faith in Christ, we’re adopted into God’s family and he becomes our Heavenly Father and we become his children. And therefore all believers are brothers and sisters — siblings — in the Lord. And so, we’re to love one another and care for one another, because we’re members together of the same family, a family which stretches across the world, and a family which stretches across time, because our family existed before us and our family will exist after us. We’re all part of this everlasting, worldwide family.

And the writer asks his readers to bear with his word of exhortation, because he’s written them only a short letter. It may be a short letter to him, but it’s one of the longest letters we have in the New Testament. But it is shorter than it might have been, because back in chapter 9 he started to describe the layout of the tabernacle, and all the objects and furniture which was kept in it. But then he stopped himself and said they we cannot discuss these things in detail now. So, the letter would have been longer if he had discussed those things in detail. And in chapter 11, when he was listing the Old Testament believers, he said that he did not have time to tell us about Gideon and Barak and so on. He only had time to mention their names. And so, his letter would have been longer if he has done more than merely mention them by name. And so, while this is a long letter, it’s shorter than it might have been.

But he also calls it a ‘word of exhortation’, which was a phrase which was normally used for preaching. For instance, in Acts 13 Paul and his companions came to Pisidian Antioch and they went along to the synagogue on the Sabbath Day. And after the reading of God’s word, the rulers of the synagogue turned to Paul and his companions and asked them if they had a ‘word of exhortation’ for the congregation. In other words: ‘Will you preach the sermon today?’

And so, the letter to the Hebrews is a kind of sermon, which the writer wrote down and sent to his readers for them to read. So, if you imagine if we were still under lockdown and were unable to meet in person. And imagine there was no internet to stream the services to you. I suppose I could print out my sermons and post them to you. That’s what the writer of this letter has done. He’s written his sermon down and posted it to his readers.

And then he adds this little note about Timothy. He wants his readers to know that Timothy has been released. We don’t know for sure, but we assume this is the same Timothy who appears in the book of Acts as one of Paul’s co-workers in the gospel. And Paul’s letters which we know as 1 and 2 Timothy are addressed to Timothy, who was ministering to the church in Ephesus. And do you remember the impression we got of Timothy from the two letters Paul wrote to him? He was Timid Timothy, because he seemed to be a little afraid and anxious of some of the people in the congregation who were making his work difficult. But look what happened to Timid Timothy. He ended up in prison. And presumably he ended up in prison because of his commitment to Christ and his faithfulness to the gospel. So, even though he may have been timid, he found strength from the Lord to enable him to stand firm in the faith even though it meant suffering and imprisonment. That’s what God does with us. He is our strength and our shield and when we are weak, he upholds us and he helps us. And so, Timid Timothy was imprisoned. But now he’s been released. And the writer says that if Timothy arrives soon, then the two of them will come together to see the recipients of this letter.

And then he greets all their leaders and all God’s people. The leaders, as I said last week, are the elders: the teaching elder and the ruling elders. Greet them and greet the people. And those from Italy also send their greetings. We don’t know who those from Italy were, but presumably wherever the writer was writing from — and we don’t know where he was or even who he was — there were some believers from Italy with him. And so, those Italians added their greeting to his own.

And he concludes the letter with ‘Grace be with you all.’ We all need God’s grace to be with us, because God’s grace is his gracious help. We need his gracious help to stand firm in the faith and to obey him and to grow as believers. And so, every day we must look to him and rely on him for his help and strength. And, of course, it’s by God’s grace that we are saved in the first place, because none of us deserves to receive the forgiveness of our sins or the gift of eternal life. We don’t deserve it. What we deserve from God is condemnation and punishment for a lifetime of sin and rebellion. But God is gracious and merciful and instead of treating us as our sins deserve, he freely and graciously pardons us for the sake of Christ who paid for our sins with his life. And so, by grace we are saved. And by God’s grace, we’re enabled to persevere and grow in the faith.

Verses 18 and 19

And while ‘Grace be with you all’ is the end of the letter, it’s not the end of my sermon, because we still have verses 19 to 21 to consider.

In verse 19 he asks his readers to pray for us. He probably means, ‘pray for me’. And he adds that he’s sure that he has a clear conscience and desires to live honourably in every way. And he then goes on to say in verse 20 he wants them to pray that he may be restored to them soon. We don’t know exactly what’s been going on, but it seems he’s been detained from seeing them. Perhaps he’s been imprisoned and is writing this from prison, but he’s hopeful that he’ll be released just as Timothy was. Or perhaps he was detained for another reason. The fact that he mentions his clear conscience suggests that he had been accused falsely of something. So, even though he’d been put in prison or detained in some other way, his conscience is clear. He’d done nothing wrong and nothing to deserve imprisonment. He’s always tried to live honourably. So, his conscience is clear, even though he has enemies who are accusing him. And he asks the readers to pray for his release.

And his request for prayer to the Lord is a reminder to us that we depend on the Lord and must seek his help for ourselves and for our fellow believers. This, of course, ties in with our need of God’s grace. Because we need God’s grace for forgiveness and for perseverance, then we must continually look to him for his gracious help for ourselves and for one another. Those who are proud and think they don’t need God’s help will not pray to the Father nor will not ask others to pray for them. But those who are humble and who know their own weakness will seek the Father’s help and will ask their brothers and sisters in the Lord to pray for them as well.

Verses 20 and 21

And having asked his readers to pray for him, he goes on in verses 20 and 21 to record his prayer for them.

His prayer begins with an invocation, by which he names God as the God of peace who has brought Christ back from the dead. And then we have the petition itself which is twofold: that God will equip you with everything good for doing his will; and that God will work in us what is pleasing to him. And his prayer ends with a doxology or a word of praise to God through Jesus Christ.

And so, he addresses his prayer to the God of peace. God is the God of peace, because he’s the one who has made a lasting peace between us by his Son Jesus Christ. By nature or by birth we were God’s enemies, because by birth we’re sinners who are liable to God’s wrath and curse in this life and in the next. But God sent his Only Begotten Son into the world to pay for our sins with his life and to establish a lasting peace between us, so that whoever believes is no longer under God’s wrath and curse. God is no longer our enemy, but he’s our Heavenly Father who loves us and who fills our lives with good things to enjoy. And even when he sends trouble into our lives, he sends it for our good to discipline us and to make us more holy.

And so, he’s the God of peace, because he has made peace between us by his Son. And he’s the one who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus. The Saviour gave up his life to pay for our sins. He died to give us life. But God did not abandon him to the grave and did not leave him to suffer death forever, because God raised him from the dead. He brought him back to life. He resurrected Christ from the dead to live forever.

And our writer tells us that he brought him back from the dead through the blood of the eternal covenant. When he refers to the eternal covenant, he’s referring to the new covenant, isn’t he? That’s the covenant which he’s been writing about and which was associated with Christ, because Christ established it in his blood, which he shed on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. And the writer calls it the eternal covenant to make clear that it will never be superseded. The old covenant, the covenant which God made with his people at Mount Sinai in the days of Moses, was replaced. It was always intended to make do; and to be for the time being only. It was a temporary covenant which was in force until Christ came to establish the new covenant. But the new covenant is eternal. It’s everlasting. It won’t be superseded. It won’t be replaced. It’s not as if God will introduce another new covenant some time in the future and will declare Christ’s covenant to be outdated. No, it will never be replaced and the promises which it contains will never be replaced.

By this eternal covenant, God promised to give us a new heart to love him like never before. He promised to write his laws on our hearts to help us to keep his commands like never before. And he promised to remember our sins no more. And he promised to be our God and to take us as his people. And he promised it would be an everlasting covenant. And so, it will never be superseded. It will never be replaced. It will never come to an end.

And when the writer says that the God of peace brought the Lord Jesus back from the dead through the blood of the covenant, he means that the new covenant in Christ’s blood was the reason why God raised him from the dead. Since Christ had done everything necessary to establish the new covenant, God was willing to raise him from the dead and to exalt him to the highest place. Instead of abandoning him to the grave, he lifted him from the grave to heaven above, where God has seated him in the place of glory and honour.

And so, the God of peace brought the Lord Jesus back from the dead. And the writer describes the Lord Jesus as the great Shepherd of the sheep. He’s the good Shepherd who knows his sheep by name. He’s the good Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep. He’s the good Shepherd who calls his people to follow him and he promises to watch over us and to protect us from our enemies and to deliver us from trouble and to provide us with all that we need while he leads us along the narrow path which leads eventually to everlasting life in the presence of God. And there, in the presence of God, he will lead us to springs of living water. He’s the good Shepherd. He’s the great Shepherd.

And having named God as the God of peace, the writer makes his request to God. He asks God to equip his readers with everything good for doing God’s will; and to work in us what is pleasing to God. So, he’s asking God to provide his readers with every good thing they need so that they’ll be able to do God’s will here on earth. And he’s asking God to work in his readers and to produce in them what is pleasing to God.

At the end of chapter 12, he called on us to serve God acceptably with reverence and awe, because we live our life here on earth before the presence of God. And since we live before the presence of God, then we’re to serve him acceptably. We’re to seek to do his will. We’re to do what is pleasing in his sight.

But how are we to do that? How can we serve God acceptably and in a manner that pleases him? Only by depending on him. That’s why the writer turns to God in prayer. He knows we need God’s help to serve him acceptably. He knows we need God’s help to do God’s will and to please him. We can’t manage on our own, because we’re sinners. And so, we need to rely on God’s help. If we’re to do any good in this world, we need God’s help to do it. If we’re to please God in this world, we need God to work in us and to produce in us whatever good he requires.

This is similar to what Paul said in Philippians 2, isn’t it? Do you remember? He said that it is God who works in us to will and to act according to his good purpose. God works in us to make us willing to do his will. And God works in us to make us able to do his will. That was Paul’s point. And the writer to the Hebrews is making a similar point when he prays for his readers, asking God to equip us with everything we need to do God’s will and to produce in us what is pleasing to God. We are dependent on God. We must rely on him. We need to seek his help in order to do his will.

And do you know what this means? It means none of us can boast. None of us can boast and there is no room for pride in the Christian life, because whatever good we manage to accomplish, whatever good thing we do, whatever good thought we have, whatever good inclination we have, has been produced in us by God. It did not come from us, because we’re sinners. It came from God who produces in us whatever is pleasing in him. And so, there’s no room for anyone to stand up and to stick out his chest and to boast about some good thing he has done. He cannot boast, because the only reason he wanted to do any good in the first place, was because of God who worked in his life and overcame his natural sinfulness and enabled him to do what is good.

And so, we have no grounds for boasting. And instead, when we manage to do any good, we should be very humble about it, because we couldn’t have done it without God. And we should be very grateful that God was pleased to work in us, when we did nothing to deserve his help. And so, we should be humble. And we should be thankful. And this should also drive us all to our knees to ask the Lord to equip us all with everything good for doing his will and to produce in us what is pleasing in his sight. Take away our natural inclination to sin and enable us to do your will here on earth.

I’m reminded of John Stott, who once wrote how he used to pray every day for God to produce more and more of the fruit of the Spirit in his life. More love, because by nature I’m not loving. More joy, because by nature I’m not joyful. More peace, because by nature I’m not peaceful. More patience, because by nature I’m not patient. More kindness, because by nature I’m not kind. More goodness, because by nature I’m not good. More faithfulness, because by nature I’m not faithful. More gentleness, because by nature I’m not gentle. More self-control, because by nature I’m not self-controlled. I’m none of these things by nature; and so I need to rely on the Lord to make me like this. And so, we should get down on our knees and ask the Lord to equip us and to work in us.

And the writer’s prayer ends with a doxology or a word of praise to God. So, to God be the glory through Jesus Christ. And all the glory belongs to him, doesn’t it? He’s the one who sent his Only Begotten Son into the world to be our great High Priest and to establish the new and everlasting covenant by his blood, shed on the cross, when he offered himsel as the once-for-all perfect sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins, so that we might come to God through him. And so, God deserves the glory for our salvation.

And he deserves the glory for whatever good we’re able to do in this world, because he equips us and works in us by his Spirit.

And when we come into God’s eternal rest in the new heavens and earth, we’ll join together with the angels and with all the saints and we’ll give glory and honour and praise to God forever and forever.