As he closes his letter, the author paints a picture for his readers of the amazing ministry to which they have been called as members of the Royal Priesthood. He wants their lives to be characterized by sacrifices to God (which implies a cost) in the areas of praise to the Lord and ministry to fellow brothers and sisters.
LOOKING BACK (July 10, 2022 – Hebrews 13:7-14)
We saw that the writer is concerned in these last verses with instructing his readers how to live in the light of all that he has said in this letter. The emphases that we looked at included:
- Submitting to the leaders of the church, even though they will inevitably be flawed. Nevertheless, Christ will increasingly be seen in them and we are to imitate a life of faith that conforms us more and more to the likeness of Jesus, Who is not flawed and Who cannot change.
- To be separate from this world – strengthening our souls by grace and not by worldly things which do not benefit those devoted to them
- Christ, our Sin Offering, died on the cross (an altar in this instance). Although the Old Covenant priests could not eat from their sin offerings, we have been given the right to nourish our souls spiritually on Christ by faith. The writer describes this altar for us in the present tense – “we have an altar”, not “we had an altar”. Therefore we may (and must) still feed our souls on Him and all that His sin offering for us has obtained.
We need to renounce this world and separate ourselves from all that it stands for, identifying ourselves with Jesus and bearing His reproach outside the city. This is all the more important when we remember that we seek a different city than the one that rejected Jesus – the new Jerusalem.
LOOKING FORWARD (Hebrews 13:15-25)
In the closing words of his letter, the writer continues to give instructions on how to live in the light of the gospel truths he has reviewed earlier.
He begins by referring to our priestly office in Christ. He mentioned in verse 12 that through His suffering, Jesus sanctified a people through His blood. One element of this sanctification (or setting apart from the world and setting apart to God) is our priesthood. The writer here particularly focuses on three of the sacrifices we make as New Covenant priests:
- Praise. This is to be made continually and indeed it is an inevitable fruit from the lips of those who publicly profess the name of Jesus.
- Doing good. We are not to neglect (forget) to do this. Paul tells the Galatians not to grow weary of doing good, not to give it up. Indeed, we are to do good to all men and especially those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:9-10).
- Sharing what we have. The writer just told us that we are to be content with what we have (verse 5) and now he tells us to share it (literally, fellowship in it). This, of course, is one specific aspect of doing good. The early church believers were noted for their willingness and desire to share what the Lord had blessed them with (Acts 2:44-45).
Perhaps it goes without saying, but bound up in the idea of sacrifice is the concept of cost. There is real cost to us as believers in offering these kinds of sacrifices in the way indicated. And the more we love Jesus, and are aware of the cost to Him to sanctify us, the more we will desire to offer Him the best and most costly sacrifices we can. Such sacrifices, the writer says, are pleasing to God.
He moves on next to his second injunction in this chapter about how we are to relate to our leaders. Earlier (verse 7) he told us to remember them and to imitate their faith. Here, we are instructed to obey them and submit to them, so that their watch over our souls may be a joy to them, resulting in an advantage to us. The authority of church leaders is real, is instituted by God and operates within the framework of God’s Word. Members of a church need to be conscious of this as they walk with the Lord in their local churches.
Finally, it seems that the writer of the letter is currently in jail and asks for prayer that he might be restored sooner to the people he is writing to. He emphasizes that his conscience is clear, so it seems his detention is related to the gospel he has been proclaiming. This adds an additional power to his appeals throughout the letter for the readers not to abandon Christ and return to the Old Covenant, even though they may face persecution and deprivation as a result. As a leader, he is showing by example how to live out the gospel in hard times, and he knows from experience what he is urging and instructing the readers to do.
The writer closes with a glorious doxology in verses 20-21, in which he asks God to give his readers all that they need to remain true to Him and to be useful in His service. He adds an appeal to them that they should receive and accept everything he has expressed to them in this remarkable letter.