Grace For The Journey
We are nearing the end of our studies in the Book of Hebrews. We will just have one more passage to look at Monday. We left off yesterday we left off in Hebrews 13 verse 13 looking learning about being content and thankful for Jesus Christ who never leaves us nor forsakes us. There are two approaches to the issue of contentment – what is and what isn’t. The “what is” approach looks for things to be grateful for. The Bible tells us tells us to give thanks “whatever the circumstance.” During tough times, it takes real discipline to identify the good, dwell on it and take the “what is” approach. The “what isn’t” approach focuses on what you wish the circumstance were and not what the circumstance actually is. What happens is sadness and regret pour in the mind as the difference between the ideal and reality is contemplated. The “what is” approach leads us to be saddened by dreams that do not come true, people who do not measure up, and relationships lost. This can lead us to spiral into disappointment and depression. But does not have to be that way! For each of us, difficult times can turn in to joyful times of thanksgiving or a rough time bringing on depression and loneliness. The “what is” approach will help keep joy in the our lives regardless of the circumstances. For the Christian, “what is” is always Jesus and, unlike our circumstances, He never changes, nor does He leave us or forsake us.
So . . .
Focus on what you have in Jesus and be grateful for your family, grateful for your spouse, grateful for your kids and grandkids, grateful to be with them, grateful for what you have and what you can share, grateful for a day to spend time together, to positively influence them, to pray for them, and to love them.
When I first began studying this passage, I had a hard time seeing it as anything other than a series of disjointed statements; no real connectivity from one verse to the next. At first glance it seems like there is just a lot of interesting “stand alone” statements that bear no immediate resemblance to one another, much the way puzzle pieces poured out of a puzzle box look to us, scattered across a coffee table. Each piece has its own identity but there is no immediately obvious connection from one piece to the next . . . No big picture that looks anything like the picture on the cover of the box.
Then, the more I studied, the more I began to see natural connectivity from one verse to the next, verse 7 tying to verse 8, and verse 8 as a bridge to verse 9, and so on. As the study days passed, I began to see a “big picture” emerging from these eight verses. By the end of the week, what was especially surprising to me was . . .
To discover how these eight verses
Actually summarize the entire letter of Hebrews!
Just eight verses and yet a neat and
Succinct exposition of the main themes
We have been studying
Throughout the 13 chapters,
Namely persevering in our faith,
Continuing to run the race,
Our Christian lives, enduring hardships,
With our eyes on Jesus.
My goal today is to teach through this passage and us to see . . .
How this passage
Is a micro-summary
Of the entire letter
And – more importantly
– How we are to live in
light of its teachings.
The first truth the writer brings out is . . .
1) We Learn from the Faithful – Verses 7-8.
Christians learn from the examples of others, especially from our faithful leaders. Our faithful leaders. That is verse 7 says, “Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct.” When I first read this verse, I thought it had to do with pastors and elders in the church, especially when coupled with verse 17, “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.”
Here is a verse that talks about how ministers shepherd the flock and lead the church. They do so as those who “watch out for your souls” and “as those who must give account.” Ministers will give an accounting to God for all they do in ministry. And the writer says, “Let them do so with joy not with grief.” He is saying, follow the lead of your ministers and obey them so that joy resounds throughout the church; do not grieve them so that joy is gone, a condition the writer describes as “unprofitable for you.” Some see verse 17 as going along with verse 7, but I do not think it does. The writer does not say, “Obey” in verse 7 as he does in verse 17. He says “Remember,” which suggests that these particular leaders were no longer around. He is asking them to remember those who have led them, who have “spoken the Word of God to them, those who proclaimed the word of the Gospel to them; those who taught them about Jesus and how to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord.
The writer is calling them to remember them, “considering the outcome of their conduct,” or the “outcome of their lives” – the way their lives turned out and how they lived right on up to the very last day. They were able to do that because of the example of those who they are asked to remember, “whose faith (they) follow.” That phrase sums up all of chapter 11. The writer says in verse 39 of chapter 11, “And all these, obtained a good testimony through faith.”
That is the same idea here in verse 7. There are godly examples who have gone on before us. Faithful leaders. Those whose entire lives are an example of living by faith. They finished the race. They kept the faith. We learn from our faithful leaders. For many of us this includes not just the men and women of faith in the Bible, but others in our memories who have lived out the Gospel before us while they were here, parents, grandparents, etc. They modeled genuine faith in Christ. Remember them. Our faithful leaders.
The second truth the writer bring out to us is . . .
2) Our Faithful Lord – Verse 8.
This is great statement in verse 8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” The Lord is faithful! You can count on Him. He will never let you down. His nature does not change. He is always the same. You can depend upon Him, rest in Him, and trust Him. He does not vary.
Verse 8 appears to be a bridge from the thought in verse 7 to the thought in verse 9. In verse 7 the writer mentions those “who have spoken the Word of God to you,” God’s Word beginning with proclamation of the Gospel. The Gospel does not change, unlike that which is warned against in verse 9, “various and strange doctrines.” Christ’s nature does not change, and neither does Christianity change.
Even in our modern technological world, we have to get software updates on our computer or phone? You have an iPhone, for example, and mobile operating software on your phone is now at its twelfth major release. And after iOS 12 comes out in less than two months you have to update it to iOS 13.1. That is common among things that are imperfect and incomplete.
Christianity needs no updates. It came to us as a complete body of faith 2,000 years ago, “released,” if you like, released perfectly and utterly sufficient. And it remains trustworthy, reliable, applicable, and relevant today. It needs no developers to tweak it or improve upon it. Like Christ Himself, it is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
In Philip Yancey’s book, What’s So Amazing About Grace, Yancey records an amusing anecdote about Billy Graham who certainly believed in the unchanging nature of Jesus Christ. After a trip to Russia at the height of the Cold War, Graham came under fire by many political conservatives who said he had “set the church back 50 years.” When Graham heard that, he lowered his head and replied: “I am deeply ashamed. I have been trying very hard to set the church back 2,000 years!” Jesus Christ, the same yesterday today and forever. We learn from our faithful leaders, our faithful Lord.
The third truth that the writer brings out to us is . . .
3) We Live By Faith – Verses 9-12.
Two sub-points here. How do we live by faith? First . . .
A) By Being Stabilized By Truth – Verse 9a.
The first part of verse 9 states, “Do not be carried about (or carried away) with various and strange doctrines …” The word “carried about,” or carried away pictures someone who is inadequately grounded and loses his footing, as in being carried away by a strong current at sea; loosing your footing, he is swept away. This is a person inadequately grounded in truth and is swept away by the strong current of false teaching. “Various and strange” doctrines are teachings that have been added, wrongly added to the unchanging doctrine of God’s Word. It is being added in an attempt to improve upon the original message, appealing to man’s desire for the new and novel, or some new thing that will make one man wiser than the next. In Acts 17 the Apostle Paul is in Athens preaching the Gospel at the Areopagus in Athens. The Areopagus was a hill where Grecian philosophers gathered regularly. Remember how Luke described the people there? He says in Acts 17:21, “For all the Athenian and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing.” Some new teaching. That statement describes many folks today who are always looking for the newest thing. They are tired of the old and familiar. They do not want to hear about the old, old story nor do they want to live by the truths of the Bible, with its teachings about hell and the exclusivity of salvation in Christ alone. The writer uses the imperative mood here in his warning indicating the seriousness of the issue and the need to obey and stay with God’s Word.
Would you be able to recognize “various and strange doctrines” if you heard them from the pulpit, or read them from a book or online? Would you immediately be able to tell what is strange and unfamiliar and does not belong to the truth? It is often noted that federal agents are trained to recognize counterfeit currency by carefully studying genuine banknotes. They become so familiar with the original that any “various” or “strange” markings on the counterfeit is immediately recognizable as foreign. Agents learn by the fourfold method of “Touching, tilting, looking at and looking through” each note. When a suspected forgery is in the mix, they can immediately tell by touching (the way it feels), tilting (looking for color in a holograph, for example), looking at and looking through the bill (carefully studying and identifying tiny features often missed by counterfeiters).
While there is merit in studying cults and world religions, the Christian’s best use of time is to become so familiar with God’s Word by touching, tilting, looking at, and looking through, that he knows that truth. They know the truth and can immediately spot error, whether that error comes from a teacher, even a much sought-after speaker, or a best-selling book. There is something in the teaching that does not ring true as we read or listen. It has all the markings of a counterfeit.
Christians at every level of growth and experience must continue to study God’s Word by daily studying, studying in small group Bible Study classes, listening to teaching and preaching of the Word, and filling our lives with the truth. Regular familiarity with the Word keeps us grounded and keeps us from being swept away by false teaching. We live by faith; we are stabilized by truth.
Here’s the second sub-point that really is the crux of the passage. Not only are we stabilized by truth, but we are also . . .
B) Strengthened By Grace – Verses 9b-12.
Verse 9 continues by saying, “ … For it is good that the heart be established by grace (strengthened by grace), not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them. Whatever else this phrase means “foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them,” one thing is clear: the writer is saying . . .
That the way to establishes our hearts
Is the way that strengthens our hearts
Which is another way to say,
Becoming strong in your inner spirit
And having the ability to keep going
When the going is tough.
How to we strengthen our hearts? The writer says Christians are strengthened by grace; another way of saying living by faith in Christ and growing in Him; this is the way to become strong; strengthening our hearts.
What does he mean by this statement about foods here? Do not try to strengthen your-self by eating certain foods. I do not think by “foods” he that he is addressing some kind of new diet that was circulating among the people, promising them both physical and emotional benefits. Even today we are told that certain foods can strengthen both body and spirit and so people rave about one diet or another. And they are many, aren’t they? Atkins diet, Crash Diet, Jenny Craig, Mediterranean, Nutrisystem, Slim Fast, or South Beach. Neither do I think he is describing organic foods, gluten free, or fat free foods, or sugar free, caffeine free, antioxidants, soy products, or range-free chickens. Some of those diets may appeal to many of us, especially after Thanksgiving or Christmas week! There is nothing wrong with any of those methods to be and keep healthy. I just do not think the writer has in mind popular diets circulating around Rome or other major cities.
What is he getting at here in verse 9 where he mentions “foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them?” Given the context of the letter, I think he is talking about those believers who had gone back to the Jewish food and dietary laws and restrictions of the old covenant. Remember under the old covenant as described in the Old Testament, God’s people were prohibited from eating certain foods; foods described as “unclean.” There were foods they could not eat and foods they could eat. By the time of the new covenant as described in the New Testament, all foods are considered “clean.”
These Jewish converts to Christianity were facing persecution for their faith and many were tempted to go back to the old ways. And some were trying to find life and meaning with God through observance of the old rules and rituals of the old covenant. The writer is teaching here in verse 9 that the heart is strengthened, or the very essence of a man or woman is made strong, not by Jewish dietary food laws. He says those food laws have not ever profited anyone spiritually. They were given to highlight the special relationship between God and His people, to show the world ere are a people separate from the world. Here are a people who are different, have different ways of living for, and serving, the one true and living God.
Our hearts are not strengthened by
Jewish dietary food restrictions,
But by the grace of God
Through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
That is how a heart is made strong.
Applied to us in our day – the way you strengthen your heart is not by external religious practices – Rules and regulations. The way you strengthen your heart is to see that “the heart is established by grace.”
You want life? You want a heart for God? You want to be strong spiritually and be able to grow spiritually strong, and experience God’s presence and power? It comes by grace, by believing in Christ, and allowing God’s grace to pour in you and through you as you grow in your faith in Jesus Christ. It comes by getting to know Him through prayer, conversations with God throughout the day, reading His Word, hearing from Him in the Bible, worshiping with the Body of Christ, small group study, preaching, musical singing and worship. This is how the heart is “established by grace.” Not by slavishly obeying food laws or other ceremonial laws or sacraments in a mechanical impersonal way that has nothing to do with the grace of God.
We are to live Christ, breathe Christ, talk Christ, and think Jesus Christ – Strengthening our hearts by grace is to live a Christ-intoxicated life.
This truth is expanded upon in the following verse 10, “We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat.” The writer is stressing the difference between the old and new covenant. He is using the term “altar” here in a figurative sense, saying that we Christians have a different kind of altar than the altar under the old covenant tabernacle worship of the Israelites. Our altar is, in essence, the cross of Christ. And, “those who serve the tabernacle,” that is, those priests serving under the old covenant “have no right to eat” at this altar, the altar of Christ. They have no right because they refuse Christ or reject Christ. They do not see that Christ is the fulfillment of the old covenant promises.
The writer has said throughout this letter that all of the things under the old covenant were shadows of, or pointers to, the reality found in Christ, pointing forward to the Christ who would come. Every animal sacrifice offered under the old covenant, whether during the time of the tabernacle or the temple, every animal sacrifice pointed forward to the sacrifice of Christ. When an animal was sacrificed on the altar by a priest, it accomplished a temporary kind of forgiveness, but the blood of bulls and goats itself could never permanently remove sin. These animal sacrifices prepared the people to understand the need for a greater sacrifice to come – the perfect Lamb of God – Jesus – who takes away the sin of the world. While believers under the old covenant did not enjoy as much revelation from God as we enjoy today, they were saved the same way as we are – by grace alone, through faith alone, in the perfect sacrifice to come, Jesus Christ alone.
Anyone who is trying today to live under the old covenant, the old altar, robs himself of the rich “feast” of feeding on Christ at the new altar of the Gospel. That is his point here in verse 10. We have an altar, a better, new testament altar, the altar of the cross of Christ, from which comes life in every sense of the word! Jesus is better than anything or anyone.
Verse 11 states, “For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp.” The author is now comparing the sacrifices of the Day of Atonement and the offering of Jesus Christ. You can read Leviticus 16 later for the background. Leviticus 16 teaches that the high priest was not allowed to eat food from the animals sacrificed on the Day of Atonement. Unlike most of the Old Testament offerings, the remains, or the “bodies of those animals” used in the sin offering were “burned outside the camp.” They were not allowed in the sacred precincts of the camp.
Now watch the connection to verse 1, “Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate.” The writer is saying that Jesus, like the sin offering on the Day of Atonement, “suffered outside the gate.” This is a reference to the cross at Calvary. Jesus carried His cross to Golgotha, outside the city, outside the city gate, where He suffered and died as a sacrificial offering for our sin. And like the sin offering on the Day of Atonement under the old covenant, Jesus was not permitted inside the sacred precincts of the camp. He suffered outside the gate, outside the city of Jerusalem. He died outside the gate. He was buried outside the gate. But . . . Look what Jesus’ suffering accomplished – not a temporary forgiveness of an animal offering, but He suffered, “that He might sanctify the people with His own blood.” What can wash away my sin? What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus – His life and death on our behalf as the perfect, once-for-all atoning sacrifice for our sin. He makes us holy. Not foods. Not animal sacrifices. Jesus Christ.
This is the central theme of the letter!
Jesus is better than anyone or
Anything under the old covenant.
Jesus is better!
Now watch how the writer skillfully connects the theme of Jesus’ better sacrifice to Christian suffering. Jesus “suffered outside the gate,” rejected by those inside the gate, inside the city of Jerusalem. Jesus was treated no better than an unclean animal carcass, not allowed inside the sacred city. Jesus suffered outside the gate. He suffered shame, disgrace, and the reproach of unbelievers. Verse 13 says, “Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach.”
Here’s another main theme of the book of Hebrews.
Do not collapse under suffering.
Do not give-in when
Persecuted for your faith.
Jesus suffered. We will suffer with Him. And the key to getting through the suffering, hardships, difficulties, and persecution is to look forward to the future heavenly rewards that are ours in Christ. We learn from the faithful, we live by faith, and . . .
3) We Look To The Future – Verses 13-14.
The writer shows us we do this in two ways . . .
A) Bearing The Reproach He Endured – Verse 13.
Verse 13 declares, “Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach.” He suffered for us. Why should we not expect to suffer for Him. This is what the hymn-writer is talking about when he says, “My cross I’ll carry till I see Jesus.” He is talking about going forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. He is talking about our expecting reproach this week as a Christian; not being surprised when we are ridiculed for our faith. We bear His reproach. Christianity is not something people immediately and universally accept as true. Why?
Because Christianity strikes at
The center of our pride.
It does not tell us
We are good people and
We can become better.
Christianity tells us we are sinners
And we cannot become better.
That is not a popular message.
That is bad news. Separated from God now and hereafter because of our sin. We should not expect people to immediately run to Christ, run to a faith system that insults their pride, when every other major religion appeals to their pride.
All other religions say, “You can do this. You just need to work at it. Live a good life. Do these things.” It is performance-based. It suggests you can, if you just bear down and push through, you have the strength within you to rise above your circumstances and earn a way into paradise. Christianity says that is bogus. You cannot do it. You are a sinner. And God is holy. Try as you may, you will always sin. You will never consistently “not sin.” If you hope to stand in the presence of a holy and perfect God, you will have to consistently none of us can.
Bad news, right? But . . . And here is the Good News, here is the Gospel! Rather than expecting us to come to Him, God comes to us in Christ, lives a perfect life for which we can get credit, dies a perfect death of substitution in our place, and is risen from the dead as God’s acceptance of what He has done. Jesus took our punishment upon Himself on “the altar,” the altar of the cross outside the gate. If we believe on Him, we feed on Him, we take Him into our lives, we are saved. Good News! But . . .It requires our admitting we are sinners, not as clever as we think we are, not as good as our moms and neighbors tell us we are. No, we are sinners in need of a Savior. When we share that message, we can expect to bear His reproach.
The initial readers of this letter were looking for a way to avoid His reproach. They wanted to remain in God’s favor without the suffering. They wanted the blessings of life under the One True and Living God, but without the bloody, crucified Messiah part. The writer of Hebrews is, in essence, saying: “Not possible.” And furthermore, “Why would you want to turn your back on the very One to whom the entire old covenant points?!” Without Christ there is nothing. All you have is an old covenant religious system that has removed the climax, the very apex of the entire system; like removing the peak of a mountain, or the roof of a house, or the cornerstone of a building. Without Christ, you have nothing!
They were challenged to leave the safety and security of the old covenant ways, their social and emotional attachments to the temple, fellowship, family, all that they were familiar with – leave it and go out, bearing the reproach of Christ – not unlike what the writer says about Moses back in Chapter 11. Remember Hebrews 11:26, where he says Moses esteemed, “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he looked to the reward.”
That is the second sub-point. We look to the future, bearing the reproach He endured and . . .
B) Anticipating The Reward He Secured – Verse 14.
Bearing Christ’s reproach can be a challenge. When faced with persecution, we may be tempted like the folks who read this letter 2,000 years ago, to go back to seemingly easier ways of our lives before Christ. But . . .
The key is not to look back,
But to look ahead –
To look to the future,
Anticipating the reward
Christ has secured!
Verse 14 says, “For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.” Like Abraham, we do not find life in this “city,” a city that does not continue. We look to a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11:10).
That is especially important to remember when you are facing reproach and ridicule for your faith. When ridiculed, do not buckle . . . Go to Jesus outside the gate and identify with Him. Your life is in Him . . . Not in the approval of others!
We are outsiders. We are on the outside. Remember that as Christians. Watch yourself. Our “old man,” the old us, that is still with us, the prideful self does not like to be an outlier, the strange person going against the flow of popular culture. I mean, it is easy in church. We are on the inside and we are among friends. But once we go outside the church building, we find ourselves among the world, where things are less comfortable. We are regarded as being on the “wrong side” of things.
Ladies gathering together for coffee or tea, the conversation turns to risqué television shows or lurid movies, and there is the gentle sound of laughter among the group, and one turns to you and asks, “And what do like?” The guys out back having a break among the water cooler in the fog of cigarette smoke and coarse joking, and someone turns to you and asks, “What do you think?” When you live your faith, and share your faith, you will be an outlier.
When you are at work or school this week, your faith in Christ may come at the cost of being regarded as “out of touch,” outside the popular circle, outside the gate. When it happens, just look to the future; look to the reward Christ secured for you. This world is not our home. There is a world to come for the Christian – a grand and good world to come. For here we have no continuing city, but there we do! A continuing city, continuing into eternity.
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”