March 31, 2019
So Christianity has been around for a couple thousand years now. But of course, it has its roots in the Jewish religion – Judaism – which goes back a couple thousand years before that. So, thousands of years of a religion – I would gently say the religion – of God revealing Himself to us. You see, if there is a God – and there is – and He created us for His glory, to know and find joy in His glory – and He did – don’t you think He would make Himself known to us? He did. But how do we know we’re right? Not being arrogant – there’s no place for that – true Christianity brings humility – but again, how do we know we have it right? I mean, after all, just within Christianity, forgetting the other world religions, it’s estimated there are over 45,000 Christian denominations in the world. Which one is right? How do we know we have the message right?
As the author of Hebrews gets ready to close his letter, he is concerned about that. Namely, that we get it right. Oh, not perfectly I suppose. Of those 45,000 denominations, many have the basics right. They’ve just gotten off in some of the peripheral issues. Perhaps we have. And so our author reviews some foundational truths, reminding us what really matters. We must get this right. Obviously, as we’ve seen, he’s writing to Jewish believers, and wants to make sure they get it right. That they understand the Christians faith is the fulfillment of all the OT pointed to – and to fall short of that – that is, to return to their roots of Judaism and leave the Christian faith – is to miss it. Is to miss God’s ultimate revelation in His Son. Is to get it wrong. We must get it right. We remember the first few verses of the book:
1 God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways,
2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.
3 And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
And he goes on from there, proving Jesus is indeed God’s ultimate revelation, His very Son – the fulfillment to which all the OT pointed – the One who brought and established the New Covenant. It’s been a great study.
So, to be clear, I’m sure there are things I don’t know or believe rightly. I want to, don’t you? Which is one reason why I read and study and teach the Bible. But the basic, fundamental truths of the Christian faith – the truths about Jesus and the gospel – we must get that right. So again, how do we know? How do we know we haven’t missed it? He tells us – read the text with me – Hebrews 13:7-14.
Did you see? He tells why we can know we’re right – not to be arrogant – but we can know we’re right in what we believe. And that forms our outline:
- The Teaching of Past Faithful Leaders (7)
- The Unchanging Nature of the Teaching (8)
- The Content of the Teaching (9-14) – this is the part we must get right.
Look at verse 7 again, “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result (or the outcome) of their conduct (or way of life – and if they have been faithful), imitate their faith.” That’s kind of interesting – don’t imitate them and their personalities or their work or even their spiritual gifting – but rather, their faith.
Who are these who led them? Most agree these were their first leaders or elders or pastors or missionaries. The word for those who led is used three times in this chapter – here, verse 17, “obey your leaders” and verse 24, “Greet all of your leaders.” It’s a word to speak generally of all leaders – in the military or politics or the community. Of course, when brought into the Christian context – that is, the church – it certainly includes elders or overseers or pastors – but also includes any leader within the local church.
Notice, these leaders are further identified as those who spoke the word of God to you. Which, after all, is the foundation of truth – culminating in the truth of Jesus Christ. You see, when in the first chapter the author spoke of God speaking in these last days through His Son, that’s the NT – the story of Jesus and His work. As God’s people, we are still people of the Bible – it’s not as if Jesus replaced the Bible. No, He’s the fulfillment of all the OT pointed to, as found in the NT. So again, when he says, God has spoken to us through His Son – that doesn’t mean we discard the Bible – far from it. The Bible is completed in the life and revelation of Jesus.
Do you see? So when evangelical leaders say we need to unhitch from the OT, that’s clearly wrong. Jesus Himself said He didn’t come to abolish the Law, but that the Law would be fulfilled in Him. And He said further, not one jot or tittle would pass away until all is fulfilled. So we cannot unhitch from the OT – it is foundational to the New. But, these readers were considering unhitching from the New, and going solely back to the Old – you can’t do that either. They are inseparably joined as God’s complete and full revelation. If you want to know God fully, you find Him here.
This is why we have listed as our first core value – biblical authority. Everything we believe, everything we do, is built on the foundation of the Bible. I would suggest, gently and humbly, that is one difference between us and many of those 45,000 denominations – not all of them – there are lots of really good ones – with whom we share much in common. But some have beliefs and practices not found in the Bible. And frankly, some have gotten these most important truths, wrong. We want to make sure our beliefs and practices can be supported by the Word of God.
Now, when he says, considering the result of their conduct – literally, the end of their life – the implication is these early leaders are now dead – such that, you have seen the whole of their lives – or at least, the end of their lives. Later, in verses 17 and 24, he’ll talk about obeying and greeting living leaders. These, however, are now deceased leaders who were faithful to the end –that’s the point. Therefore, you can imitate their faith. He’s been encouraging them to remain faithful to the end of their lives – to not desert the Christian faith. In chapter 11, look at the past examples of faith – who died, having not received the promises – that is, the coming of Christ and the gospel, the New Covenant. Glance at them, but fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith.
Now he says, glance also at those who example the Christian faith after the coming of Jesus – the fulfillment of the promises, who communicated the Word of God to you, found in the God’s Word, and culminating in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus – the gospel.
So here’s some questions – who is that for you? Who faithfully led you? Your dad, your mom? Your grandparents? Your pastors, your church leaders? If fact, I would suggest if there is not a church leader – that’s what we’re talking about here – if there is not a church leader whose faith you can be encouraged by, then find a church where you can. There are lots of godly, faithful leaders in this church – imitate their faith. And when you go from here – find a church with godly faithful leaders whose faith you can imitate.
So who is it? Your youth leader? The one who led you to faith in Jesus? The one who discipled you? Who is it? Further, who is it you are leading? Who is looking to you for faithful, spiritual encouragement? Lead well, my brothers and sisters. Imitate their faith, and follow them to the grave, faithfully and rightly believing.
But it is true, these leaders in Hebrews had died. Perhaps those who led you have died as well. What now? Is all lost? Oh no. It’s okay, because the object of our faith has remained unchanging, undying. That’s our second point in verse 8. The unchanging nature of the teaching: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. This is not necessarily a verse talking about the eternality or preexistence of Christ, although it implies that. It is true that Jesus has always existed – in eternity past, and in eternity future. Meaning, this verse was true when the author wrote it 2000 years ago, and it is still true today. It was true 4000 years ago, and will be true in another 4000 years. Jesus is unchanging – He is the same. Therefore, here’s the point – even though leaders come and go – Jesus Christ, the object of our faith, is still present – and always will be – the same. He started the letter with that truth:
11 “THEY WILL PERISH, BUT YOU REMAIN; AND THEY ALL WILL BECOME OLD LIKE A GARMENT,
12 AND LIKE A MANTLE YOU WILL ROLL THEM UP; LIKE A GARMENT THEY WILL ALSO BE CHANGED. BUT YOU ARE THE SAME, AND YOUR YEARS WILL NOT COME TO AN END.”
Jesus is the same, and therefore trustworthy. I’ve said it this way many times. People often have objections to Christianity because of some Christian. Some Christian has wronged them, disappointed them, misled them. But the truth is, Christianity is not built on Christians – you haven’t shortened the word enough. Christianity is built on Christ, who is the same, and who will never let you down. Now, even as I say that, this author encourages us to follow faithful leaders. That’s true – inasmuch as they follow Christ. But the goal line is Christ. It is He upon whom we fix our eyes.
Which means, the object of our faith and His finished work – that to which all the OT pointed – is unchanging. The gospel is always true – and always the same. It cannot be changed. This was the message of their now dead leaders. It is the message of their present leaders. It is the message of the church of Jesus Christ today. It never changes. Methods may change. Ministry philosophies may change. But the truth and the message never do. If they do, abandon that sinking ship.
And so, the encouragement is, even as leaders come and go – Jesus and His gospel never will. Tana and I have talked about this. We’ve been here for 22 years, and Lord willing, we’ve got a good decade or so left. But if I go out today and get hit by truck – it won’t matter. Really. There will be others who will fill my shoes – and the shoes of current pastors and elders and leaders – and the gospel will continue. Jesus will build His church, and the very gates of hell will not overcome it. This is a problem, by the way, with celebrity Christianity. Hitching your wagon to some charismatic, popular leader can be problematic. Hitch your wagon to Jesus – He’s the only true celebrity. (as if celebrity Christianity validates the faith)
By the way, I keep saying, Jesus and His gospel – the message of Jesus Christ. Why do I keep saying the gospel, the finished work of Christ? That brings us to point three – the content of the teaching – the part we must get right. You see, it’s not enough to believe in Jesus – you must believe who He is and what He did. Because, there will always be false teachers out there, inspired by the evil one, seeking to pervert the truth of Jesus. Now here, the challenge was the draw to return to Judaism. The author has been arguing over and over – you can’t do that. I’ve been saying, over and over – you cannot depart the Christian faith – you can’t covert to Judaism, or any other religion. You cannot depart the faith – because salvation is found nowhere else.
So, look at verses 9-14, starting with, “Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings…” Stay faithful to the gospel – the message of Jesus Christ, and don’t be carried away by various teachings contrary to the gospel. That’s what strange means – foreign, unheard, different from the message you heard from the beginning found in the Word of God – the message of Jesus. By the way, this was Paul’s concern and the reason he wrote the book of Galatians. They were being impacted by Judaizers, a group of people who said believing in Jesus and keeping the Law of Moses, especially circumcision, was necessary for salvation. They were changing the gospel by adding to it. So Paul writes:
6 I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel;
7 which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.
8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!
9 As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!
Why? Because we must get this part right.
Hebrews goes on, “For it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited.” Okay, that’s a bit confusing, but we must remember the author is encouraging his readers not to return to Judaism – where dietary laws and sacrificial meals were important. But no longer. He had written in chapter 9:
9 …. Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience,
10 since they relate only to food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until a time of reformation.
Until the coming of Christ and the New Covenant. Our hearts, meaning the central sum of who we are (we think of the heart as the center of our emotions, but the Scripture speaks of it as the center of emotions and will – so, our hearts) are to be strengthened by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and all He did for us at the cross. Of course, we remember, grace is getting what we don’t deserve. There’s nothing we do to earn grace, merit grace. It has been provided through Christ and His cross-work.
And please notice, grace not only saves us, it sustains us – it strengthens us day by day. Meaning, we don’t just need God’s grace to be saved – we need it to be strengthened to live the Christian life, every day. That’s why every once in awhile you’ll hear people rightly say, preach the gospel to yourself every day. You can’t live the Christian life without it.
It is the gospel we need – the good news of God’s grace – not a return to the food laws under the Old Covenant and Judaism. Those who were occupied with those food laws were not benefited. He’s been saying that over and over in the book – the Old Covenant never perfected anyone. They were all just types that pointed to fullness in Jesus. So, there was no eternal spiritual benefit to the food laws. I’m always tickled – actually, irritated by those who want Christians to start observing OT food laws. For example, some time ago there was the Hallelujah Diet and then the Maker’s Diet – both diets based on OT food laws. It may be good for you to stay away from certain foods prohibited in the OT – but it is of no spiritual value. So to capitalize on those spiritual terms to sell a book or diet, is not good at all. Besides, I’ll be eating my bacon.
In verses 10 and 11, he makes clear he’s talking about the Old Covenant – and the uselessness of returning there. We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle – the place of the holy of holies and the ark of the covenant – meaning the Old Covenant – we have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. What in the world does that mean? This is metaphorical language. Those who continue in the Old Covenant cannot eat of the altar from which we eat. Again, symbolic language talking about how we partake of the work of Christ through His death and resurrection.
Now, what is this altar? That’s likely referring to the cross of Jesus Christ. Let me explain. You see, an altar was the place of sacrifice. And there, under the Old Covenant, animals were sacrificed, blood was shed. And certain sacrifices allowed those who made the sacrifice to eat. But those who serve there – meaning, continue under that Covenant – cannot partake of the altar from which we partake. And, what was the sacrifice under the New Covenant? Jesus, who was both the priest who offered the sacrifice, and He was the sacrifice itself. And where was that sacrifice offered? On the cross. And so, we partake of that offering, metaphorically. For example, we remember one day Jesus said, if you eat My body and drink My blood, you will have eternal life. Meaning, if you believe in and partake of My sacrifice, you have eternal life.
Now, some have suggested Hebrews is referring here to the Lord’s Supper. But there’s no real indication of that. He’s simply saying, we must partake of the body and blood of Christ – offered on the altar of the cross – in order to partake of Christ. And only those who believe the gospel are able to partake. If you don’t – if you go back to Judaism and its altar and dietary laws – you eat from an altar of which there is no spiritual benefit.
The author now goes back to that Old Covenant sin offering – probably talking about the Day of Atonement, to draw a parallel in the offering of Christ for sin. Look at verse 11, “For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place” – stop right there. When did that happen? On the Day of Atonement – when the High Priest would make sacrifice – first for his own sins, then the sins of the people. He was bring the blood of the sacrifice into the Holy of Holies to sprinkle it on the mercy seat as an offering for sin. But notice, then the bodies of those dead animals, after the blood was shed and sprinkled, was burned outside the camp. That is, outside the Tabernacle and the camp of the tribes around the Tabernacle.
Therefore, verse 12 – that’s in interesting word, therefore. Because those Day of Atonement sacrifices were types pointing to Jesus, therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through the offering of His own blood, also suffered outside the gate. This is the only clear reference to Jesus dying outside the city of Jerusalem. John 19 implies it:
20 Therefore many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin and in Greek.
This is talking about the sign Pilate had written and nailed to the top of the cross which read, Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews. You may remember, the chief priests objected to the sign, saying, He was not the King of the Jews, He just said He was. To which Pilate responded, what I’ve written, I’ve written. And many read the inscription because Jesus was crucified near the city. Meaning, not in the city. Hebrews makes it clear – it was outside the gate, that is, outside the walls of the city. And if you go to Jerusalem today – whether it’s the Catholic site or the Protestant site of crucifixion – both purported sites are outside the city walls of ancient Jerusalem. It would have to be.
So, the author says, like the Old Covenant sacrifices, Jesus was also sacrificed outside the city. This was significant. People or things were discarded outside the city because they were unworthy and unclean. This is where lepers lived, by themselves, outside the camp, where they cried out to those who were clean, unclean. This is where garbage and criminals were cast. It was a place of shame, the place for the unclean.
Further, crucifixions happened outside the city, along roadways so people could see them, because such deaths were reserved for unclean, common criminals – and such horrific, vile deaths could not take place inside the city walls. The point is, for Jewish leadership, Jesus was considered unclean – and He was thrown out, as it were, outside the city gates. And there, He died that He might sanctify, make holy, the people – something the Old Covenant could never do. He had said in chapter 10, “10 By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
And notice, from there, from outside the city where everyone lives life, Jesus bids us come. These readers were tempted to abandon Jesus, and return to the more acceptable community of Israel. But there is not life, there is no hope there. So let us go to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. Taking up our cross – dying to ourselves daily – and following Jesus. Meaning, Jesus is not to be found within Judaism. The city of Jerusalem condemned Him, turned Him over to the Roman authorities, who took Him outside the city, and crucified Him. They killed Him with the most gruesome, horrible, unclean kind of death. On a cross, He was mocked with the most vile kinds of disrespect and disparagement. And from outside the city, He bids us come to Him, and bear, share in His reproach. Meaning, it should not come as a surprise that Christianity is despised – because they despised its Christ.
How can we do that? Live with such reproach? Because of the promise of verse 14, “For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.” The author has held this out to us over and over – we are looking for a city with foundations, meaning it’s unshakeable, whose architect and builder is God. There is coming a time when everything that can be shaken will be shaken – and removed. We are part of a permanent, unshakeable kingdom – the city of God. We must hold on to that promise – we must go to Jesus and bear His reproach. We must get this part right.