Hebrews 13, Part 35.
The situation is grim. The readers expect to die. Hearts are buffeted and fearful. Throughout the Letter to the Hebrews, the author has written words that hold these readers together with truth, moving them seamlessly from theme to theme of comfort during hardship, giving them hope by reminding them of all Jesus has done for them.
Who knew how applicable this letter would be?
Who knew that . . .
- A pandemic caused by a novel coronavirus would sweep the globe.
- Nationwide peaceful protests would march through our streets bringing attention to the unjust treatment of Black Americans.
- Riots and violence would erupt in many of our cities.
- The South would be hard hit by a Category 4 hurricane.
- The Pacific states and Colorado would again erupt in wildfires.
- My family and many others, maybe your family, would encounter multiple tragedies.
Who knew? God knew.
The Lord superintends each situation for our good and for his glory, just as he did for these first-century Christians in their own treacherous situations. Therefore, I know that I’m studying Hebrews again for a reason. This letter has spoken to me repeatedly during this difficult time.
In Chapter 13 of Hebrews, things get personal. The author of a New Testament letter is typically revealed in the opening greetings, as well as by their vocabulary and quality of writing. Within the final instructions, we learn more about the relationship between author and recipients.
Only God knows who wrote this letter. The author’s brief conversion story in Hebrews 2:1-4 is clearly not Paul’s, nor is the style. This letter is a literary work that was carefully constructed, and it was written in the most elegant Greek used in the New Testament. It’s unique tone causes it to stand alone. The author may have written only this.
Addressed to Jewish believers who are suffering hardships so severe that they are considering abandoning Christianity to return to Judaism, the author is clearly a friend and a leader, though now not with them in person.
What do you say when your dearest friends will likely die before you can see them again?
What do you say when you expect this outcome for yourself as well? We find in the final chapter these kind and uplifting words:
- v. 5, “He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
- v. 6, “The Lord is my Helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”
- v. 9, “It is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace.”
In the language of the New Testament, word for word, the promise Jesus makes is, “I will never ever leave you nor never ever forsake you.” Five words of negation are stated in a row. The Lord won’t EVER abandon, desert, leave in the lurch, leave behind, nor forsake them, and the same is true of us as believers.Jesus promises, "I will never ever leave you nor never ever forsake you." Five words of negation. The Lord won't EVER abandon, desert, leave in the lurch, leave behind, nor forsake us as believers. Heb.13:5 Click To Tweet
I sat over these words, allowing them to wash and to heal me before I began writing, for these words are anchored in Jesus, and these past months have been incredibly hard. He is our only hope in every situation, and certainly during this hard time, as he was for them. The Word of God is personal and applicable.
The recipients were homeless. The government had taken away their homes, for they refused to worship Caesar. Their faithfulness to Christ cost them everything. Their only wealth was portable, and yet the author says:
“Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, FOR he said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you,’ SO we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear, what can man do to me?'” (Hebrews 13:5-6 ESV).
Post hurricane, the victims of those horrific winds carry their most precious items. In the region hardest hit by Hurricane Laura, homes were ripped to shreds, as if a bomb had exploded. The items grabbed up would be those significant and dearest possessions — baby and family pictures, money on hand, IDs, insurance policies. It would be difficult not to love those items.
The portable wealth of these transient Jewish believers would likewise be dear. Money wasn’t paper then. It was heavy coinage, gold, silver, and jewelry, along with spices, oils, and other possessions of value.
How would you keep from cherishing those items when they stand between you and starvation or lack of a place to sleep at night? Those things stand between you and death. They will eventually run out.
And so, the author, who had probably likewise been upended and is well known, dear, and trusted by these transient believers, reminds them of Jesus repeatedly and anchors them, for they are uprooted. As they grasp for someone and something to hold onto, the author instructs them:
“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. . . Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:7, 17, ESV, commands in red here).
If you’ve ever been relocated in haste, have moved numerous times, or have left a place after a long residence, you know the gaping hole sensation of having lost your roots, of maybe having lost your very self.
And so, the author reminds them that they’ve got good examples right in front of them and not to forget it: “See those leaders, consider their lifestyle, imitate their faith, obey their instructions.” Complaining and bickering won’t help, whereas joy and harmony among God’s people will.
That will keep them going for now. Everything we do in our lives demonstrates our faith or lack thereof. When we’re uprooted, simply going through the motions and imitating those who are living rightly helps us to get our feet back on the ground. But there is more, for this is followed by…
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them” (Hebrews 13:8-9 ESV).
These displaced believers apparently were tempted to return to the dietary restrictions of their Jewish heritage, though other dietary laws may have also played a part. The early church at large and Paul addressed this in Acts 15, Romans 14, Colossians 2, and elsewhere. The disciple/associate of Paul who likely wrote this letter, would have known the nuances.
These believers have lost everything because they follow Jesus. They probably wonder if they would be better off returning to Jewish observances, for Judaism was accepted by the Roman government, whereas Christianity was not. It would certainly be tempting if living in a hastily thrown together shelter with crying children and a pregnant wife.
Strengthened means to “to make firm or reliable, so as to warrant security and inspire confidence.” Therefore, the author directs them away from dietary laws and to the strength of God’s grace — the absolutely free lovingkindness of God that flows from the vast abundance of his welcoming and loving heart. This supply of help, mercy, and kindness never runs out.
Like them, when we first turn to Christ or encounter hardship because of it, we may wonder if our old life was easier. But, the author’s emphasis on grace and on Jesus himself turns the readers back again and again.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. He never ever leaves us nor never ever forsakes us. Therefore, do not be led astray.
The heart isn’t strengthened by special foods, nor it is built up by diverse and strange customs or teachings of any and every kind.
No, the heart is strengthened by Jesus Christ. He’s the one who puts us back together when everything falls apart. He’s the only solid ground.
And so, these promises ground them, and us. “Yesterday, today, and forever” contains no gaps. It’s time moving forward in complete continuity with no spaces that are not covered by Jesus’ never changing, never altering, always present reality. When used together like this, it’s a formal, continual, neverending, and incredibly extravagant promise of his faithfulness.Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. When these statements of time are used together, it's a formal, continual, never-ending, and incredibly extravagant promise of his faithfulness. Click To Tweet "Yesterday, today, and forever" contains no gaps. It's time moving forward in complete continuity with no spaces that are not covered by Jesus' never changing, never altering, always present reality. Click To Tweet
In other words, you can ALWAYS lean hard on Jesus. He will ALWAYS be right there with you. He will NEVER leave you, for that is impossible. Even if you don’t feel his presence, he is ALWAYS there.You can ALWAYS lean hard on Jesus. He will ALWAYS be right there with you. He will NEVER leave you, for that is impossible. Even if you don't feel his presence, he is ALWAYS there. Click To Tweet
His nearness and this promise has carried me through this pandemic and all of these trials. Nothing else can, because I love him and trust him entirely, for he loved me enough to die for me. The same is true for you.
How has the nearness of Jesus gotten you through the hard times in this past year? How have you leaned on him?
How has he made himself obviously near and dear and present to you? Or, for you, has this been a time of discouragement when he has felt far away, even though he is not?