Hebrews (Part 11) – Keep the Faith
The author of Hebrews wrote this letter to Roman Jews who were struggling. They were shallow Christians who were veering back toward the Judaism that they had formerly left in order to embrace Christ. The author argued that Christ is better than the priestly system of the old covenant. They also learned that Christ and the New Covenant is superior to the old covenant in that Christ effected what the old covenant only pictured. The trap for the Roman Jews was that they were looking for something ostensible to define their religion and let their minds rest on as indicative of their relationship with God and hope in his promises. In the climax to the book, the author argued that the material is not the basis of our hope. Faith is the substance. Faith is the evidence of that which we as yet do not see. Then in a beautiful mosaic, the author took the Roman Jews through a quick whirl of history to demonstrate that in each case in which God commended his people, he did so not on the basis of some ostensible activity performed, but rather on the basis of faith. And in chapter 12, the author told these Jews (and us) to look to Jesus, to endure discipline, to strive for peace, to live holy, and to come before God with confidence. Our God is a consuming fire who will shake the heavens and earth, allowing only the kingdom of God to remain.
Chapters 11 and 12 are tremendous highlights to the book. After studying those chapters, we have, indeed, passed through the climax of the letter. We should now have complete understanding as to the purpose for the book. It is an exhortation to faithfulness—faithfulness to the faith, our Christianity, our relationship with God. Coming off that high, we may have a tendency to skim over chapter 13. It is, after all, the last chapter. The author is probably just providing some final closing exhortations to wrap things up. But that kind of mindset will draw us away from the author’s intent. We are not yet done.
We learned in chapter 11 of the paramount importance of faith in God’s plan that existed from the very beginning after the fall and continues into the New Covenant. In chapter 12, we understand our responsibility to lift our heads and hold tightly to our faith. In chapter 13, the author begins a discussion of the importance of supporting the community of believers in each other’s faith. That is the call in verse 1—“let brotherly love continue.” The next several statements seem disjointed without this understanding of community support in faith. Verse 2 calls for hospitality to strangers, not so that we might get the chance to entertain angels, but rather because the entertaining of angels shows God’s commendation of faithfulness just as God’s commendation came because of the faith of those listed in chapter 11. We should (verse 3) remember those in prison and those being tortured, not merely to offer a brief prayer on their behalf, but to provide them with encouragement for their faith. Likewise, the instructions to avoid immorality and money lust are not merely good things to do, but they fit the thrust of the passage in that both are attacks against supporting the faith of our community.
The example of marriage faithfulness is especially appropriate because the maintenance of that bond indicates faithful commitment on many levels. Certainly marriage is a picture of the relational union with our God. It is also the strongest, most intimate relational bond we enjoy on earth. Violence against that does tremendous damage to the support of faith that we should be giving within that bond. Additionally, the one unfaithful in marriage has destroyed any ministry of faithful exhortation he or she has to be given in the Christian community.
From exhortation to support each other in faith, the author turns to discuss our leaders but still in the context of faithfulness. The Bible never tells us that anyone has spiritual authority over us except our God. That is very much the message of the book of Galatians. Direct access to God exists for everyone without a hierarchy either to approach God OR from God to speak to us. However, we do have leaders. These leaders exist, not to dictate life choices, but to be examples and exhorters of the message of true Christianity. Thus, we remember our leaders, as verse 7 tells us, so that we may “imitate their faith.” Jesus Christ, verse 8 goes on to say, “is the same yesterday and today and forever.” That is not a statement of unchangeableness in his deity, but rather an exhortation to consider his faithfulness. He was and is always faithful. Just so should we, then, be faithful as we keep “looking to Jesus” (12:2). The next few verses go on to exhort us not to be drawn away to perversions of the Gospel message. Faithfulness to that message requires maintaining a separation from the old covenant Judaism that the Roman Jews had left behind. The example that the author uses is meeting Christ “outside the camp” or outside that old covenantal system. That’s where we meet Christ.
Verse 17 directly urges the letter recipients to obey their leaders. Again, we cannot pluck this statement out of its context. The author was familiar with these Roman Jews and their leaders. The author has exhorted them throughout this book to hold to the purity of the New Covenant Gospel. Therefore, the author urges them to follow the exhortation of their leaders to return to the same things the author has preached through this epistle—be faithful to Christ and his covenant. That must be the message of all Christian leaders (it is their responsibility of shepherding watchcare for which they will be held in account), and all Christians must obey—not because the leaders have an authority over them, but because this is the message of Christ.
To close the letter, in verse 20, the author gives a benediction. The benediction incorporates ideas presented throughout the epistle: God is a God of peace; Jesus is high priest through his resurrection; the blood of Christ provides for an eternal covenant; and in him (through faith in him) we will be pleasing in his sight.
The last verses provide greetings. From these we learn the author will be visiting the letter recipients. Since the author may travel with Timothy who was in Ephesus (and recently released from prison), we know the letter originates there. Greeting is given to those “from Italy,” so we know both the letter and the author will head that way. And then the author ends with the simple, yet beautiful prayer, “Grace be with all of you.”