Captivated And Captured By Christ: Hebrews 13:15-25 – How We Finish The Race.

Grace For The Journey

We are wrapping up our study through Hebrews.  This is the last message and I always feel a bit sad as we finish a series.  It is like saying goodbye to an old friend.  We will be starting a new study tomorrow, verse-by-verse through the Book of Nehemiah.   The series will be called: REBUILD: TRUSTING GOD TO DO HIS WORK.  We are to trust God to do the work, whether He is doing the work of rebuilding a fractured wall or a fractured soul.  I am looking forward to forward to that study.  But first, we finish the Book of Hebrews.

The key verses of Hebrews are Chapter 12, verses 1 and 2 where the writer refers to the Christian life as a race.  He encourages the Christian throughout the letter to press on as Christians, persevere through hardships, difficulties, and setbacks.  Do not stop!  Keep moving!  Keep running the race!  If you fall, get up and get back in the race.  It is not about how many times you fall.  It is whether you get back up and keep running and finish.  You may have fallen a time or two, but get back up.  Keep running.  Let us run with endurance the race set before us, looking unto Jesus, keep your eyes on Jesus, be “captivated by Christ,” the author and finisher of our faith.  Amen.

We left off at verses 14 last Friday and we talked about the great truth: that while this world is passing away, if we are “in Christ” we have a city that continues on forever.  We are not to fall in love with this world, we are not to give up on Christ when suffering hardship, and we are not to turn our back on Jesus when the going gets tough . . . Keep looking unto Him as you run the race, be captivated by Christ! 

Since the Christian life is a race and since the writer has been dealing with this for some time now, persevering, continuing to live our lives faithfully to the end, faithfully finish the race, running to the finish.

As we run to the Finish Line, here is what we will do.  Three main actions . . .

1) Offer Sacrifices That Are Living – Verses 15-16.

The author mentions the offering of sacrifices in verses 15 and 16. It is clear that he does not have in mind the old sacrifices under the old covenant – quite the contrary!   He is not talking about old dead animal sacrifices but living sacrifices.  This is like the Apostle Paul in Romans 12:1, “I beseech ye therefore by the mercies of God that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”  Living sacrifices.

The sacrifices required under the old covenant, handed down by Moses, were sacrifices that accomplished a kind of temporary forgiveness.  That is why they had to be repeated.  They could not fully or completely atone for sin.  You will recall the writer says in Hebrews 10:4, “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.”

God prepared His people for the coming of the Ultimate Sacrifice, the Lord Jesus Christ.    The animal sacrifices of bulls, goats, and lambs foreshadowed, or pointed forward, to the Greater Sacrifice to come.  As His cousin John the Baptist said when he saw Jesus in John 1:29, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  The writer has been making the point that animal sacrifices are no longer necessary.  Jesus Christ is here!   These are sacrifices that are living in verses 15 and 16:

You can break them down into two main sacrifices, one per verse . . .

Singing in verse 15

And

Sharing in verse 16.

Or more specifically: continual praise and continual generosity. 

First kind of living sacrifice of . . .

1) Continual Praise – Verse 15.

Verse 15 declares, “Therefore by Him let us continually(that is, in contrast to the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ that is not repeated; let us continually…) offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.”  Giving thanks to His name with the fruit of your lips through singing.  Continual praise may be in song or in statement, but it means to proclaim our allegiance to the Lord, to thank Him, to glorify Him.  Rather than pouring out the blood of an animal sacrifice, we pour out our sacrificial praise to God.  Continually.  Even after we leave the worship service.   Continual praise and thanksgiving to God. 

Second kind of living sacrifice of . . .

B)  Continual Generosity – Verse 16.

Verses 16 states, “But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”  It is one thing to say or sing, “Praise the Lord,” it is another thing to give generously in the Lord.  True worship is not just our closing our eyes and feeling good about ourselves in the Lord.  It is that, to be sure, but it is more than that, much more.  Remember that Jesus summed up the entire commands of God by saying we are to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength – AND – Love our neighbor as ourselves.  It is two-directional.  Love vertically up to God, and horizontally out to others.  These things “please God” – These actions bring joy to God!  In the giving we also find joy.  Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive.  More blessed; more joyful.

J Vernon McGee said, “The Lord Jesus is up yonder at the right hand of God—that is where He is as Head of the church—but His feet are down here right where the rubber meets the road.  He wants Christianity to be in shoe leather, and He would like to walk in your shoes.”  How can you “walk this out,” offering the living sacrifice of continual generosity?  By sharing of your treasure, time, and talents.  Bringing our tithe and offering to the Lord.  Tithing ten percent of our paychecks.

Tithing is not a bill. 

Tithing is a blessing. 

It is a worship experience. 

Tithes and gifts given

Through the offering

Are the means by which

God finances the work of ministry.

Generous giving of our treasure, of our time – just spending time with people.  Going to grab a coffee with someone for disciple-making.  Realizing we exist to develop generations of God-glorifying disciples who make disciples in our the community to the continents.”  Generous giving of our treasure, our time,  and our talents – using our talents and abilities to bless others; musical gifts, teaching gifts, like teaching a Bible Study Class, serving, greeting, sharing the gospel this week, showing hospitality to strangers.

As you run to the finish line, offer sacrifices that are living.  Secondly, as you run to the finish line . . .

2) Be Submissive to your Leaders – Verses 17-19.

The writer calls for the church to submit or follow the leadership of their shepherds, pastors, or ministers.  We follow their leadership by . . .  

(A) Obey Them – Verse 17.

Verses 17 says, “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.”  A church without leaders is chaos!  And leading is not always easy.  It is much easier to watch than to lead.  It is easier to be a “backseat driver” or “armchair quarterback,” questioning the decisions or motives of leaders.  The writer says “obey those who rule over you.”  God has called ministers to lead the Body of Christ.  Our church governmental structure is minister-led, deacon-served, committee-operated, and congregation-affirmed.  Minsters lead, the pastor leading as first among equals.  We have got a great ministerial team.  Ministers are those who “watch out for your souls as those who must give account.”  Each of us will give an accounting for our leadership before the Lord Himself.  It is a sobering thing for each minister to consider.  This is one reason why the writer asks for prayer, “Let them do so with joy and not with grief,” literally, “not with groaning.”  Ministry can be demanding and exhausting.  At times ministers are like, “aahhgrrrhh!”  The writer urges the minsters to watch out for your souls with joy and not with “aahhgrrhh!”   The reason he says this is, “for that would be unprofitable to you.”  

Choose to assume the best of the motives of those who lead.  Unless they have violated your trust, follow them.  Unless they have taught heresy, follow them.  They are God’s chosen leaders to minister to and through the Body of Christ.  It does not mean your ministerial staff is perfect.  And everyone said, “Amen!”  By no means is any minister perfect, but neither are you perfect.

Church membership is about connecting to a local church and following the leaders of the church as the church is empowered and equipped for ministry.  Leadership is important.  And so is follow-ship!  Resist the secular American tendency to be only loosely affiliated with a number of organizations, like a self-centered “church-shopper” merely tasting what different churches offer them, like a man picking over items at a buffet, avoiding accountability to members and ministers.

The church is not a buffet of items at a restaurant, items for you to pick over to feed yourself, smiling upon some and frowning upon others.  The church is more like a bunch of servers in the restaurant, where each member is gifted to serve one another in ways that make God smile, because ultimately we all serve Him.

(B) Pray For Them – Verses 18-19.

Verse 18 also says, “Pray for us; for we are confident that we have a good conscience, in all things desiring to live honorably.” I and our ministerial staff appreciate the prayers of our people!   Keep praying for your church’s leadership team.  We need your prayer.  

Included in the exercise of prayer is a desire brought out in verse 19, “But I especially urge you to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner.”  The writer seems to have a close relationship with the Hebrews.  He asks them to pray for them, for the leaders and adds, “that I may be restored to you the sooner.”  The writer most likely had some kind of pastoral relationship with them.  He wishes to see them soon.  

As you run to the finish line, offer sacrifices that are living, be submissive to your leaders, and thirdly . . .

3) Be Strengthened By The Lord – Verses 20-25.

The strengthening that the Lord does in Christians is seen in verses 20 and 21.  The writer is talking about what the God of peace does for us.  The God who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead (verse 20), is the same God who (verse 21 now), “makes us complete in every good work to do His will, working in us what is well pleasing in His sight.”  The phrase “make you complete,” unlike in other places in Hebrews, does not refer to . . .

The completing of our salvation,

But to the equipping of our souls

To live the Christian life as God intends. 

It is God’s providing the strength

We need to run the race.

Verse 20 says, “Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant.”  Verse 20 is the only explicit reference to the resurrection in the entire Book of Hebrews.  It has been implied in previous texts, but this is the first time it is mentioned in an explicit way.  And that is largely because the author’s stress has been on the ascension of Christ and His current work of intercession as He reigns at the right hand of the Father.

The writer references in verse 20 “the blood of the everlasting covenant,” this is the new covenant we studied a few chapters back.  Unlike the old covenant which has run its course, the new covenant is an “everlasting” or “eternal” covenant.  It lasts forever.  It will never become obsolete or need to be replaced or repeated.  Speaking in grammatical terms: what Christ has done for us is not a comma, but a period.  Better still . . . An exclamation mark!

The writer refers to Christ in verse 20 as “that great Shepherd of the sheep.”  It is kind of neat that there are three different references to Jesus Christ as shepherd in the Bible. 

  • Jesus referred to Himself as the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep – John 10. 
  • He is referred to as the personal Shepherd who cares for every area of our lives – Psalm 23.
  • He is referred to as the Great Shepherd who has done all that needs to be done to provide for us, protect us, and bring us home.
  • Jesus is referred to as the Chief Shepherd who returns for the sheep and will give us “the crown of glory that does not fade away”   in 1 Peter 5:4.

The Great Shepherd of he sheep lives and intercedes for the sheep.  Always caring for His sheep, the Eternal Shepherd caring in past, present, and future:

  • As the Good Shepherd He dies for us
  • As the Great Shepherd He lives for us
  • As the Chief Shepherd He returns for us

Past, present, and future, or as the writer put it earlier: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever.”  Amen! 

Verse 21 states, “Make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”  Note again the phrase “make you complete.”  Christ’s work has to do with God’s providing us the strength to do His will.  It is similar to the Bible’s teaching in Philippians 2:12-13 – it is God’s work that makes human work possible. God works in us, strengthening us to live for Him and to do what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ.

The strength to please God

Is provided by God Himself. 

We work, we run, we strive,

We persevere, but we do not

Do it in our own strength. 

Christianity is not a religion

Of self-help or self-effort. 

Christianity is the working out

Of what God works in us. 

God strengthens us to do His will,

Bringing pleasure to Himself

As we run our race.

You would think the writer is done, but he is like every preacher: he has always got something else to say!  Verses 21 to 25 are like a PS in his letter.

Verse 22 says, “And I appeal to you, brethren, bear with the word of exhortation, for I have written to you in few words.”

The phrase “I have written to you in few words” may mean that he had much more he wished to say.  Recall, for example, back in Hebrews chapter 5, verse 11 when he said with reference to Melchizedek, “of whom we have much to say…”  Or, remember when he was describing the glory of the earthly tabernacle in chapter 9, verse 5 where he says, “of these things we cannot now speak in detail.”

Verse 23 begins his postscript, “Know that our brother Timothy has been set free, with whom I shall see you if he comes shortly.”  Timothy is interestingly the only Christian mentioned by name in the entire epistle!  Timothy apparently had been imprisoned, but we are not told where nor why.

In verse 24, the writer greets everyone, “Greet all those who rule over you, and all the saints. Those from Italy greet you.”  The phrase “and all the saints” suggests there were small groups or house churches meeting throughout the city.  That is an inference, to be sure, but why else would the writer say, “Greet” … “all the saints” if not because not all were present at any one time the letter was read?  He also adds the phrase, “those from Italy greet you.”  Given that Rome was where this letter was first known and quoted, most scholars agree that the audience was in Rome and the writer is writing either from some other location in Italy or abroad and is passing along the greetings of their compatriots. 

The writer concludes with a word of grace in verse 25, “Grace be with you all. Amen.”  What a great way to sign off!  Not better way to conclude a heart-felt correspondence that praying that God’s grace, His unearned favor, His rich blessing of favor in Christ, may grace be with you all, amen.  

As we close this study, I do not want to end without inviting you to receive Jesus Christ as the One who is better than anyone or anything.  If you have been clutching to other gods, let go of them in repentance and take Christ!  Remember that the distinct feature of this letter has been the continual lifting up of Christ as the One who is better than anyone or anything.  Jesus is better!  Be captivated by Christ.  Continue to “fix your eyes on Jesus” as you run the race.  It requires constant diligence and effort.  We have to continually re-calibrate and re-focus throughout the day, looking unto Jesus again and again.

It is so easy to fix our gaze elsewhere.  How many times do we pull out our phones and look at them?  Seems like every time we have a break, we pull out your phone and look at it.   Waiting in line – we pull out your phone and look at it.  Even at a stoplight, I have seen people pull out their phone and look at it.  Waiting on your order at a restaurant – Pull out your phone and look at it.  What if . . . Instead of continually looking at our phones all the time – What if we continually looked at Jesus throughout the day?    Waiting in line – We close our eyes and look to Christ.  At a stoplight – Think about and look to Christ.  Throughout the days of the coming week, I encourage you to look to Christ, re-calibrating, re-focusing our lives by looking at Jesus, being captivated by Him.

He is better than anyone or anything!  At the end of the day, and at the end of our lives, all we have is Christ.  Because we have Him we can run the race with endurance, looking unto Jesus who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross for us.  No matter what happens to us – persecution, suffering, setbacks – you can get through anything, because all you have is Christ, and when you have Christ, He is all you need.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

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.”

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