We’re moving into the final chapter of this amazing letter, and the author begins to give some practical applications to his readers. He is encouraging them to walk worthily of the calling they have received, rather than to be like the pigs in the proverb who, having been washed, return to their wallowing in the mud.
LOOKING BACK (July 3, 2022 – Hebrews 12:18-29)
In his final and climactic argument to his readers, the author gives a dramatic illustration of the Old Covenant versus the New. He wants by every possible means to keep them from turning away from Christ and going back to law-keeping in an attempt to gain right standing with God. We saw the following points in this passage:
- THE MOUNTAIN OF TERROR IN THE LAW (v18-21). The modern conception of God as weak, benign and perhaps even indifferent is far from the truth. He is an all-powerful, awesomely holy being, a consuming fire in terms of His relationship to sin. The writer takes us back to Mount Sinai, where the law was given, to show this. God’s appearance on that mountain made even Moses tremble with fear. This Mount represents the place where the original readers were thinking of returning – a place of bondage where sinners lose themselves in the futile attempt to get right with God by keeping laws – whether God’s laws or their own. God demands perfection, and no amount of polluted efforts on our part can get us there. Thankfully, the writer indicates that this is NOT the mountain his readers approached when they came to Christ!
- THE MOUNTAIN OF JOY IN THE GOSPEL (v22-24). In contrast with the terror of Sinai, the gospel is pictured as another mountain – Zion – where Jesus, Who kept the law for His people, died on the cross to receive the punishment they deserved. Here, right standing with God is not based on what we do but on what Jesus did. This is freedom – and the language used to describe this place is celebratory – everlastingly joyful!
- A FINAL WARNING OF JUDGMENT (v25-27). The gloom and darkness, the shaking and threat of judgment at Sinai are meant to make us run to the cross – to abandon the filthy rags of our “righteousness” and be wrapped in the robes of Jesus’ merits. This is especially the case as another shaking is coming where only Zion and its residents will remain and everything based in this world will be destroyed.
How should we live in the light of these things?
- We should REPENT from any tendency we have to justify ourselves before God based on our own efforts.
- We should FEEL GRATITUDE (as believers) that the kingdom we have come to in Christ (His kingdom) is unshakable. It will remain when everything earthly and temporal is wiped away.
- OFFER WORSHIP. We should exalt our God and His Son. We should accept Him as He is wonderfully portrayed to us in the Word – both as a consuming fire to everything and everyone unholy and sinful but also as an everlastingly loving and kind Father to those who rest on Christ’s work alone for their standing in His presence.
LOOKING FORWARD (Hebrews 13:1-6)
13:1 Let brotherly love continue. This is an exhortation to those among the readers who knew the Lord – because only believers can love one another in the ways that are indicated in the following verses. Love is the primary fruit of the Holy Spirit in the heart of a believer, and this love must abide (continue) eternally in all those Jesus redeemed and filled with the Spirit. Considering the circumstances of these troubled believers he is writing to, the author selects a few examples of areas where they have particular opportunity to let their light (and love) shine:
2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. We need to be careful not to misunderstand what is meant by “hospitality” here. It isn’t simply a matter of opening our homes to provide for the needs of brothers and sisters in the church. In one word in the Greek, the concept of stranger (or foreigner) and friendship (or love) is combined. If you have heard the word, “xenophobia” (derived from Greek and meaning dislike of foreigners), the word in this passage is effectively the opposite – “xenophilia” (an attraction to foreign peoples, cultures, or customs). This is a challenge to us in this day and age, when we can be reluctant to put ourselves out even to supply the needs of brothers and sisters in the church – let alone to seek to bless complete strangers with a portion of what the Lord has given us to steward! And yet, there is clear blessing for those who will be kind and generous to strangers. Both Abraham and Lot (Genesis 18 and 19) went out of their way to offer provision and protection to strangers who happened their way. But these were actually angels of God, and one of those whom Abraham welcomed was the Son of God Himself!
3 Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Our union with Christ and with our brothers and sisters is such that “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (1 Cor 12:26). Furthermore, in ministering to our brothers and sisters in need, we minister in reality to Jesus Himself: “‘I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see… you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:36-40). Again, these words challenge us, don’t they? Do we feel the bonds that the Lord has forged between us and our brothers and sisters as keenly as we should? Are we ready to relieve their needs even when it may cost us, and even when we may have to identify publicly with them and with Jesus, their Lord and ours?
Both of these injunctions challenge us to be free with the gifts and the possessions with which the Lord has blessed us ourselves. The next two will warn us against coveting those blessings that the Lord has given to others.
4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Marriage, and the state of being married to another, is to be highly prized by everyone. Jesus told us that we shouldn’t be in the business of separating those whom God has joined in marriage. This is exactly what happens, though, when we give in to temptation and covetousness, defiling the sanctity of marriage either by conducting sexually immoral acts outside of a marriage relationship. If both parties are unmarried, this is promiscuity; if one or both parties are married to others, this is adultery. Both behaviors are offenses to God, in that they do not honor a very special relationship He established for a man and a woman to enjoy. Surely this challenges us today, where as a society we prize marriage less and less, seeing it as antiquated and irrelevant, and unnecessarily restrictive to our enjoyment. Note that marriage isn’t supposed to be appreciated and prized by some small group of believers, leaving others free to hold different but still acceptable views. Marriage is to be highly prized by ALL. God still sees sexual immorality and adultery as very serious sins!
5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”
Lastly, we are not to covet money and the future acquisition of wealth, but to value all that the Lord has blessed us with today. We need to realize that we are vastly wealthy in spiritual terms in Christ. Our Lord could not have been more generous to us than He has – since He has blessed us with His own intimate and eternal presence! Matthew Henry puts it so well in his commentary:
“God has said, I will never leave you, nor forsake you, v. 5, 6. This was said to Joshua (ch. 1:5), but belongs to all the faithful servants of God. Old-Testament promises may be applied to New-Testament saints. This promise contains the sum and substance of all the promises. I will never, no, never leave thee, nor ever forsake thee. Here are no fewer than five negatives heaped together, to confirm the promise; the true believer shall have the gracious presence of God with him in life, at death, and forever.”
This, then, is the kind of love that needs to abide with us as believers. In each case we are challenged not to be like those whose citizenship is in this world, but to live as those who are looking for a city whose architect and builder is God!