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Hebrews 13:7-25: A Closing Call to Follow Christ Print E-mail
Sunday, 12 March 2017

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Jesus is better than anything or anyone else in all of creation. From the opening of the letter of Hebrews to our passage this morning, the author has argued for the superiority of Jesus. He is better than angels, better than Moses, and better than Joshua. He is the better rest, the better High Priest, and the better sacrifice. His covenant is better than the old for the access it provides to the presence of God is better. Faith in Him is better than the passing pleasures of this world and the glory of Mount Zion is better than the glory of Mount Sinai. His Kingdom cannot be shaken. The author of Hebrews has written all of this to show us that Jesus is better. No one compares to Him. I pray that we have all seen this glorious truth clearly in our study of this book.

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Our passage this morning is the close of the letter or sermon that we call the book of Hebrews. As with most New Testament letters, the author is wrapping things up in these verses and offering some final appeals and final greetings to the original readers. The structure of the main part of the passage (v. 7-19) can be broken up in this way: instructions concerning leaders (v. 7-9, 17-19), which surrounds a final command to keep following Christ (v. 10-16). In our time together this morning, I want to look first at the instructions concerning leaders and then come back and focus on the final exhortations concerning Jesus. We will then close with the authorís blessing and plea at the end of the book. So then, what does the author say about leaders?

Remember, respect, and pray for your leaders (v. 7-9, 17-19)

The first instructions concerning leaders is found in verses 7-9. Look at verse 7 with me. The author tells us to imitate the faith of those who have finished the course. I think he is talking about former leaders who have past away in these verses. It seems the first generation of leaders for this Church had died. They were the ones who spoke the word of God to them. They were the ones who taught them about Jesus and all that He did for them at the cross. They were their fathers in the faith. The author instructs his original readers to imitate their faith.

Notice that he does not necessarily tell them to imitate all of their actions, although I am sure that many of their actions were worthy of imitation. Rather, the author points them to their faith. Like the saints of old in chapter 11, the author wants them to see the impact of faith on their lives and imitate that. No leader is perfect and so no one deserves complete imitation (except Christ), but we can learn from the faith of those who have finished their races well. I often mention my love for Christian biography, in particular, biographies of pastors who have gone before me. I am so encouraged by how they fought the fight of faith and finished well. We have so many good examples of faithful leaders and we should remember them and imitate them.

We should not decide to move on from the faith that they practiced. Look at verses 8-9. The original readers were tempted to go on to something else other than faith in Jesus. As we have seen before and as we will see in verses 10-16, they were tempted to go back to Judaism. But the author reminds them of an important truth about Jesus: He never changes. The faith given to them by their fathers is the same faith that they need today, for Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Since He never changes, then our faith never needs to move on or go beyond what is revealed in His Word.

After making a final plea about not going back to Judaism and continuing to follow Jesus, which we will look at in a moment, the author gives some further instructions concerning leaders in verses 17-19. Look at verse 17 with me. I have said before that this verse humbles me every time I read it. The gravity of the task of leaders in the church is spelled out with these words: for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. I will have to give an account for my ministry here at Trinity. I will have to answer to the Lord for how I have watched over the souls under my care. I cannot help but tremble at such a thought. Of course, I will not answer for your choices, but I will give an account for how I sought to encourage you and build you up in the faith. It is a weighty task that can only be carried out by the strength and provision of the Lord.

And how are you to respond to such oversight? The author of Hebrews tells you to obey your leaders and submit to them. I admit that it seems kind of self serving to preach that to you this morning. But if we keep in mind all that the author is saying, then we see that it is not. This is not a blanket command for you to do everything I say or leaders in the church say. This is a call for you to submit and obey those who are keeping watch over you and pointing you to follow the Great High Priest. That may mean warning at times, for we have seen that in the letter. It will mean instruction from the Word as we have seen. And it will encouragement in the faith. When a pastor or minister is laboring in these ways to oversee you, then it is actually to your eternal benefit to obey and submit to them. They will find great joy in the labor and you will be encouraged in the faith.

One way that you can help your leaders is by praying for them. Look at verses 18-19. It could be that the author of Hebrews was actually in trouble with the authorities or even in prison when he wrote this letter. Thus, he is asking for prayers that he will continue to be faithful and honorable even in the face of difficulty and that he will be restored to you the sooner. He could simply be asking for prayers for his continued ministry. Either way, he asks for prayer because he knows that he needs the help of the Lord. We saw last Sunday night that Paul asked for prayer because he knew that he needed the Lordís help as well (see 2 Corinthians 1:11). Leaders are desperate for the prayers of the people. It is said that there were a room full of people praying in the basement of the Metropolitan Tabernacle every time Spurgeon preached. They werenít praying because he was such a good preacher (although he was), they were praying because he was in desperate need for the Lordís blessing. I plead with you for your prayers and I thank for the many times you have told me that you are praying for me and my family!

Suffer with Christ as the better sacrifice (v. 10-16)

In the midst of these commands concerning leaders, the author of Hebrews once again points to the superiority of Jesus. Look at verse 10 with me. The teachers mentioned in verse 9 that the author told his readers to avoid were apparently trying to get the people to return to their former religious customs, which involved food and sacrifices. But the author of Hebrews reminds them that what they have in Christ is better than anything Judaism had to offer.

To further support this point, he goes on to show how Jesusí work on the cross sanctifies His people. Look at verses 11-12. Under the Old Covenant, the high priest would make sacrifices on the day of atonement that involved removing the bodies of the animals and burning them outside the camp. In the same way, Jesus died outside the camp when He was killed outside the city of Jerusalem on the hill of Golgotha. And He did this to sanctify the people through his own blood. As the author has already argued, Jesusí sacrifice of Himself was once for all and it was able to purify and save those who turn from their sins and trust in Him. He made full atonement through His death and resurrection, meaning no further sacrifice was necessary. Thus, His sacrifice was better. So why would they want to return to these other sacrifices?

How should the readers respond to the sacrifice of Christ? The author tells us in verses 13-16. Look at verses 13-14. First, we should respond to the suffering of Christ by embracing suffering in our own lives. We are to go outside the camp and bear reproach with Christ. For the Israelites, going outside the camp always meant bearing reproach. The author of Hebrews is telling his readers that should accept the reproach that comes from following Jesus. His original readers were facing persecution and difficulty, which is why some of them wanted to return to Judaism. But the author is encouraging them to suffer with Christ. Why? Because our lasting joy is not found in this life but in the one to come. Our lasting home is not the earth. We are just pilgrims making our way to the city that is to come, where we will have perfect joy in Christ. Why trade in eternal joy for temporary pleasure?

Look at verses 15-16. Not only should we suffer with Christ, second, we should offer up sacrifices of praise and share what we have with those in need. The sacrifice required for our forgiveness has been made by Christ. Because of that, we get the privilege of offering up our lives as sacrifices of praise to God. Such a life includes caring for the needs of others, as we have already seen with the call to show hospitality and not love money (13:1-6). Christ has offered the better sacrifice. He has done what we could do by offering Himself in our place at the cross. And we know that His sacrifice is enough because He sat down at the right hand of God. In light of that, we are to live lives of praise to Him and never give up following hard after our Savior.

The author closes the book with a blessing and a plea. Look at the blessing in verses 20-21. The author prays that God will equip them with everything they need to do His will. What a great prayer for us to pray as well. May the Lord give us all that we need to have enduring faith in Jesus, the One that God brought back from the dead. Look at the final plea in verses 22-25. He pleads with them to bear with my word of exhortation. The author uses sermon language to describe his brief letter, which is why many refer to it as a sermon. He pleads with them here to heed it and keep following after Jesus. If you are here this morning and have never trusted in Christ, then I pray that God will help you see that Christ is better than anything this world has to offer. May you turn from your sins and trust in His sacrifice at the cross for your forgiveness. And for the followers of Christ, my prayer for us is that God will equip us with all we need to keep following hard after Jesus. I encourage you, tell Him what you need for that. Do you need help overcoming doubt and unbelief? Then ask for that. Do you need help overcoming a particular sin? Ask Him for that. Do you need strength to live a life of praise for Him? Then ask Him. May the Lord indeed equip us with everything we need to keep following Christ. Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Saturday, 08 April 2017 )

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