Final Words – The First Reason Jesus Came


Hebrews 13

Reader:  Diana Harcus

The letters in the New Testament were written with a purpose in mind. We need to understand that they weren’t random scribbles put down by a Christian writer or apostle for no particular reason. The letters were not idle doodling, a simple jotting down onto a piece of papyrus paper of unrelated, purposeless thoughts. When I was in university, I was a good student in that I took notes of what was being taught, but I was always amazed to see other people daydreaming, just drawing pictures or putting down obscure, meaningless words onto paper. The letters of the New Testament were purposefully written by their authors. Actually,  the letter written by the half-brother of Jesus, Jude, doesn’t state who he was writing to, but his letter, other than Hebrews, was the only letter that wasn’t specific in its opening verses as to its recipients. The other half-brother of Jesus who wrote in the New Testament, James, said at the start of his letter that he was writing to “the 12 tribes scattered among the nations”, so to Jewish or Hebrew Christians. The apostle Paul’s letters see him stating in his opening salutations that he was writing to a specific church, such as in Rome, or to an individual such as Titus. The apostle John’s 3 letters, as were Peter’s 2 letters, were written to specific people, we can read. Again, the Letter to the Hebrews which we have been preaching through in a sermon series that concludes today, doesn’t say in its opening verses who the letter was directed to but once you start reading it, it is evident that it was intended for a specific group, that being Jewish or Hebrew Christians. It was later given the moniker “Hebrews” by the early church. Really, Hebrews isn’t much of a letter. It is not very sweet or endearing. More, it is a sermon. The only personal information in it that would indicate it is a letter comes at the very end of its final chapter, chapter 13:

Brothers and sisters, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for in fact I have written to you quite briefly. (Hebrews 13:22)

I smile at the words, “I have written to you quite briefly” for other than Romans and 1st Corinthians, Hebrews is the longest of the 21 letters in the New Testament. My Aunt Adele was famous in our family for her letters. After 60-or-so pages of cursive writing, first in lines across the page, then up and down the sides of the page, and finally back in between the original lines, with arrows pointing the direction for her readers to follow, my beloved aunt would conclude with an apology that she had not written more. We always wondered what more she could have written. Hebrews reminds me of her letters. What the author was accurate in stating was that his letter was a “word of exhortation” for throughout the letter he is exhorting, encouraging, challenging his readers to abandon the false teachings they had recently started to adhere to, and to return to living only for Jesus, in accordance with what their leaders had originally taught them. It is evident that Hebrews was written between 64-69 A.D. How do we know that? Well, concerning the last possible date of 69 A.D., this letter is filled with references to the sacrificial system which was then occurring in the Temple in Jerusalem. Because the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., a decisive blow to Jews everywhere, one from which they have still not recovered, and because there is no mention of that decisive event in Hebrews this letter had to have been written before the Temple was destroyed, meaning that the destruction of the Temple was still to come, a future event. Concerning the earlier date, that of 64 A.D., the clue to that date is found in the next verse:

I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been released. If he arrives soon, I will come with him to see you. (Hebrews 13:23)

You possibly remember that the Book of Acts concluded with Paul in jail. That happened in 63 A.D. so when Luke finished writing Acts, Paul had been imprisoned for his faith, but not Timothy. He had not yet been arrested for his faith. That would be a future event, past the end time of Acts. Thus, Timothy’s arrest must have come after Acts was completed, or after 63 A.D., meaning 64 A.D. or later, but before 70 A.D. and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. I know you have tossed and turned in your beds at night wondering about the dating of the writing of Hebrews!

In any case, the Hebrews the author was writing to knew about Timothy’s imprisonment for the faith and the author is writing, in part, to reassure them that Timothy had been released and was fine. We will later read in verse 19 that the author hoped to be “restored” to them, so it is apparent that the recipients of Hebrews knew both Timothy and him. We read that he was in Italy when writing.

Greet all your leaders and all the Lord’s people. Those from Italy send you their greetings. (Hebrews 13:24)

The author then ends with the customary Christian greeting in the letters of that era, with a reminder of God’s grace, that saving gift given to us in Jesus.

Grace be with you all. (Hebrews 13:25)

Now, how I approach my reading of any book or letter in the Bible is by asking, “Why? Why was it written in the first place?” The author of Hebrews doesn’t state why he wrote his letter, however, so we have to make an educated guess as to that. My guess is that the leaders of the Hebrews had either come to him or written to him, and after having told him about the false teachings and the lack of faithful Christian living that had subsequently taken hold in the Hebrew Christian community, the author to the Hebrew Christians. Like the apostle Paul did in his letters, this author wrote in response to what he had heard, in an attempt to help get things back on track. In chapters 1–9, he kicked right in, correcting those teachings which had diminished the importance and uniqueness of Jesus while elevating the importance of angels, certain priests, as well as Temple sacrificial practices. He wrote, saying, “Uh, uh. Jesus is better/greater than any angels, or priests, even the Temple sacrificial system.” Jesus, contrary to the false teachings the Hebrews had embraced, was far superior to anyone and anything. In chapters 10-13, the author then focused on what living as a faithful Christian means: trusting in God to take you through problems, suffering or persecution. In chapter 13, the author responded with final thoughts on a bevy of six topics that he had already been asked to comment on.

Going verse by verse, first, the author reminds the community to love each other. In Chapter 10 we previously saw that because the false teachings they had embraced that they were not spending enough time with one another and that their love for one another had decreased.

He then, went on, in verse two, to remind them about Abraham, earlier mentioned in chapter 11, and the memorable scene in Abraham’s life where he entertained angels unaware of who they had been. Abraham had been sitting at the entrance to the tent he lived in when three men arrived. Abraham and his wife Sarah leapt into action and provided food and water to those three strangers. Good for them that they did for those three strangers were actually angels sent to them by God. So, the author of Hebrews advises us to be likewise hospitable to everyone for you never know when they might just be angels sent to you by God.

In verse three, he then instructs his readers to remember their fellow believers who had been imprisoned due to persecution, having already reminded them in chapter 10 that they had also served time in prison for their faith, so they were not to neglect those serving time now. He didn’t want them to be thankful that they were in any way superior to those in prison at that time.

Fourth, he warned his readers to do the right and pure things in marriage.

And, in verse five, with regards to the love of money, the author wrote them to guard their hearts. Marriage and the love of money being, of course, two areas in life in which believers can so easily fall, especially if they have been led astray by strange or false teachings.

In verse six, the author concluded his rapid-fire responses to questions asked of him by reminding his readers again about the uniqueness of Jesus.

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So, we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Hebrews 13:1-6)

Some years ago, I read about a group of botanists who were exploring remote regions of the Alp Mountains in search of new species of flowers. Through binoculars, they noticed a flower of such rarity and beauty that its value to science could be incalculable, but it lay deep in a ravine with cliffs on both sides. To get to the flower someone would have to be lowered over the cliff on a rope. A curious young boy was watching nearby, and the botanists told him they would pay him well if he would agree to be lowered over the cliff to retrieve the flower below. The boy took one long look down the steep, dizzying depths and said, “I’ll be back in a minute.” A short time later he returned, followed by a gray-haired man. Approaching the botanists, the boy said, “I’ll go over that cliff and get that flower for you if this man holds the rope. He’s my dad.” That was the relationship with God that the writer of Hebrews wanted his readers – and that includes us – to have. God will never leave you nor drop you. Do we trust Him in that way?

Going on, and understanding that the leaders of the Hebrew Christian community had asked the author to write to the Hebrews, we find two verses that support my claim that this letter was written in response to the leaders asking for the author’s help and advice. In these two verses, he puts in a good word for the leaders, his attempt to support, build up, and back up the leaders of the Hebrew Christian community.

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. (Hebrews 13:7)

Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you. (Hebrews 13:17)

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard modern-day pastors harangue their congregations with these two verses. But we 21st century preachers have no permission in Hebrews to do such things. Pastors should understand that respect from the people in churches must be earned, not demanded. The author of Hebrews originally was defending the leaders of the community who had been vilified and whose authority and teachings had been thrown out by those of false teachers. So,

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. (Hebrews 13:7)

What were some of their teachings that were the “word of God”? Here’s one:

         Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)

Consultant Frank Delano is well-known for advising his rich corporate clients, “You can’t do business in the 21st century with a 20th-century name. You need a name that is really universal with no limitations.” And so various companies have changed their names in response to such advice. “Research in Motion” became “BlackBerry”, “Facebook” became “Meta”, “Qwikster” became “Netflix”, the “Philip Morris” cigarette company became “Altria”, and so on. The results have been mixed but one thing is constant: there are complaints from customers who are having trouble recognizing their formerly beloved corporation, and questioning what those companies now stand for or represent. Throughout the ages, Christians have known and worshiped a Saviour who has not changed his name nor his nature. Jesus says about himself, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:17) His brand and name have not changed. Jesus never changes. He is the same, “yesterday, today, and forever.” We don’t know exactly what those false teachers had been saying about Jesus with their “strange” teachings, but the writer is clear and unequivocal: Jesus is trustworthy. Thus, for sake of clarity about Jesus and in order to build up the leaders of the Hebrew Christian community, the author of Hebrews unequivocally states:

Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. (Hebrews 13:9a)

Another strange teaching, apparently, was that the eating of certain ceremonial foods had significant spiritual benefit. Another was that going to the Temple to offer to God the blood of animals was what the Hebrews needed to be doing as believers. But the only sacrifice that has lasting value is the one Jesus made on a cross outside the city walls of Jerusalem. So, if the Hebrews wanted to be making sacrifices, the best one they could give was from their mouths, a sacrifice of praise to Jesus, a thing that would shut down the false teachers and their adherents. That would take courage and would mean no ego or pride preventing them from saying the truthful and right things about Jesus. Through him alone, after all, if why God has grace towards us.

It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so. 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. Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise — the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (Hebrews 13:9b-16)

A man touring rural Eastern Asia saw a boy pulling a crude plough while an old man behind him held the handles of the plough and guided it through the rice paddies while the boy pulled. The visitor commented to his guide, “I suppose they are poor.” “Yes,” said his guide. “When their church was built, they wanted to give something to help but they had no money. So, they sold their only ox. This spring they are pulling the plow and working the paddies themselves.” The tourist was deeply challenged by their sacrificial gift and changed his life, as a result.

Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you. (Hebrews 13:17)

The writer of Hebrews had a prayer request for himself and for those with him:

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. (Hebrews 13:18,19)

Now, the benediction verses we have been closing all our recent sermons with:

Now 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. (Hebrews 13:20,21)

In conclusion, I will leave you with four thoughts. 1. What kind of God do we serve? He is not the God who causes problems or turmoil. He is the God of peace.

2. How does God bring us peace? He did it on the cross of Jesus. We moderns don’t like talking about the blood of Jesus, but blood is where one’s life is. An individual bringing the blood of a sacrificed animal did so with the understanding that blood was the most valuable thing that a person could offer to God. The blood sacrifice made would act as an atonement for sin, in order to satisfy God that sins had been taken care of. That would please God. But, when Jesus, God’s Son, offered his own blood as an atonement for our sin, there was nothing more valuable to God than that. He accepted Jesus’ sacrifice and, as a result of Jesus declaring that his sacrifice paid the price for the sins of every human being, we can be at peace with God, having gained access into His presence unashamed, with total confidence that He accepts us. This is called “salvation”. Jesus came to earth at Christmas to save us, the New Testament teaches us.

3. What is our relationship with Jesus like? He is our “Good Shepherd”, and we are his “sheep”. In other words, he looks after us, protects us, feeds us, cleans us, tends to our wounds, and heals us. There is no better relationship for us to have with him. Let there be no arrogant pride in us or foolish talk that we can do things on our own, live life without him. We need him. He is there for us.

4. Why does Jesus, our Good Shepherd, do that for us “we his sheep”? It is so we can thrive in our lives, equipped “with everything good for doing his will”, and doing things that will be “pleasing to Him”, to God. God did not simply make us and then, like a clockmaker, go away, leaving us to our own fate. No, God, through Jesus, remains vitally involved in our lives, actively at work. That is a peace-giving and pleasing and rest-bringing thought. So, in closing, be very careful about your thoughts, do not accept the “strange” or false teachings that are out there attacking Christianity and diminishing Jesus, but follow the teachings of the New Testament, instead. Let us honour Jesus and give God the glory for the fact of Jesus came to save us and that, because of God, we can walk a victorious life in Jesus. Amen.

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