Hebrews 13: Closing Exhortations

Hebrews 13: Closing Exhortations

Please turn with me to Hebrews, chapter 13. 

This morning we finally come to the end of the book of Hebrews, the last sermon in our series, the last chapter in the book. It’s been a great spring, digging deep into this magnificent work! 

Hebrews is written to Christians in the first century who had converted from Judaism: the Law of Moses in the Old Covenant. These new believers were under pressure from their community, friends and family and neighbors who do not believe that Jesus is the Messiah spoken of in the Old Covenant. They were being pressured to come back to the old covenant sacrificial system. To give up on their following of the teachings of Jesus. 

And the author has been explaining to them that there is nothing to go back to. The only way that their sins can be taken away is through Jesus! The old covenant sacrifice, the law of Moses, never took away sin, its purpose was only ever to point to the coming Messiah, Jesus, and now that it had done that, the Covenant was finished.

We see that this New Covenant forms a New Community. The author encourages these Hebrew Christians who have been kicked out of their communities, that they are now part of a new family!  In our last chapter, he exhorts Christians that in these new communities they are to: “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14 ESV), and that “…since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful. By it, we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28-29 CSB). 

Today in Chapter 13, we are going to see that he closes his sermons with a rapid-fire list of exhortations — sermon application points — commands that teach us how to live in peace and holiness in our New Covenant Community. 

I’ll go through each of the 8, explain a bit about what we’re looking at in each, and how we should apply these points in our life. Let’s dive in.

1. Love one another

The first exhortation acts as a header over all the rest. And it is “The New Commandment” that Jesus gave his disciples in the upper room before He was crucified: “Love one another.”

Let brotherly love continue. Don’t neglect to show hospitality, for by doing this some have welcomed angels as guests without knowing it. 

Hebrews 13:1-2

We are to love one another in the church, and we are also to love strangers. That is the meaning of “hospitality” – showing love to strangers. This isn’t about having wine and cheese get togethers like social media shows you. It is about opening your home and your world to strangers and newcomers and making space for them. 

Our “hospitality team” at church is all about making sure that visitors are welcomed, seen, known, and cared for. Many of you who are new here have gotten to experience that first hand. I’m grateful to my brothers and sisters who are lending their gift to make sure this important ministry happens. 

2. Remember Prisoners

Remember those in prison, as though you were in prison with them, and the mistreated, as though you yourselves were suffering bodily. 

Hebrews 13:3

Related to brotherly love for those in the church, and hospitality to newcomers to the church, is making sure that those who are persecuted and imprisoned for their faith are not forgotten. 

Here in the United States we are pretty well insulated from this reality. Almost no one (I want to say zero people who are otherwise law-abiding citizens) are ever arrested solely because of their Christian faith. 

I will say there is a growing “mistreatment” here that can come in the form of cultural exclusion from some opportunities (jobs, political appointments, etc) when you are an outspoken, practicing Christian. 

But some of you here come from other countries where imprisonment and persecution and mistreatment are more immediate realities. And our job here where it is comfortable is to remember, pray for, and do what we can to support fellow Christian believers who are currently suffering simply because of their faith.

3. Honor God’s Design for Marriage and Sex

Marriage is to be honored by all and the marriage bed kept undefiled, because God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterers. 

Hebrews 13:4

One area that we are to stand out in from the rest of the world as a Christian community is in the area of sexual ethics. We are to hold Biblical marriage—between one man, and one woman, for one lifetime—in high esteem.

And we are to keep the marriage bed undefiled. This and other places in the Bible is where we find the prohibition on any sexual activity prior to, or outside the bonds of covenant marriage. 

Jesus taught that this includes our thought lives as well as the actual physical act. It includes any form of pornography, including mainstream movies and TV series that aren’t “labeled” pornography but do contain depictions of nudity and sexual activity. The warning with this exhortation shows how serious this is.  Many of us would be well served by cancelling most streaming services.

4. Be Content With What You Have 

Keep your life free from the love of moneyBe satisfied with what you have, for he himself has said, I will never leave you or abandon you. Therefore, we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? 

Hebrews 13:5-6

This exhortation addresses anxiety around money and possessions. This is as much about wishing you had more, as it is about pride in what you do have. The Bible’s teaching about “financial peace” is not found in your possessions, your bank account, or how much savings you have available, but rather it is about finding peace in God who promises to provide in all situations.

5. Remember Those Who Built Into You

Remember your leaders who have spoken God’s word to you. As you carefully observe the outcome of their lives, imitate their faith. 

Hebrews 13:7

Here and in verse 17, the preacher mentions your leaders. Here in verse 7, he is calling them to remember past leaders. The founders of the church. The apostles, evangelists, and pastors who started the community. Calling back to their faithfulness.

For us this calls to mind all the great Christians who have gone before us. From the apostles who gave us the scriptures, to the great theologians and martyrs through the centuries. One of the ways we obey this command is to be well familiar with the Scriptures that the apostles wrote us! Another is to read old books by great heroes of the faith. Another is to follow the pattern of those who have been influential in your faith life and spiritual journey. 

Interlude / Reminder

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. 

Hebrews 13:9

This is a motto, a creed, ties all this together.

Jesus was the ultimate leader whose example we are to consider and follow. Some men and women we have considered influential pillars of the faith in our past have eventually let us down haven’t they? The outcome of their life was not positive, and in those cases it is good and right to rethink the influences they had on your spiritual walk. 

But Jesus is not like that. He set the ultimate example for us, and he is still alive, leading us from the throne in heaven, and he will never let us down, because he never changes.

6. Reject Strange Teachings

This is not about weird theology, but ideas that are alien to Jesus’s teaching.

Don’t be led astray by various kinds of strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be established by grace and not by food regulations, since those who observe them have not benefited. We have an altar from which those who worship at the tabernacle do not have a right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the most holy place by the high priest as a sin offering are burned outside the camp. 

Therefore, Jesus also suffered outside the gate, so that he might sanctify the people by his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing his disgrace. For we do not have an enduring city here; instead, we seek the one to come. 

Hebrews 13:10-14

He refers to the sacrificial system and the food laws of the old covenant ad “strange teachings”—flipping the tables on the accusation of the Jews to the Christians at the time that Jesus brought a strange new teaching. Jesus didn’t bring a strange teaching; the insistence on observing the old covenant regulations after they had served their purpose is the strange teaching!

“We do not have a city here…”  God’s people are bound for the New Jerusalem, the one that will not be shaken. One not part of this creation, but the one that will come at the second coming of Christ, when He sets up the New Heaven and New Earth with the New Jerusalem, where we will finally dwell with him for eternity!

7. Make the Right Sacrifices

Therefore, through him let us continually offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Don’t neglect to do what is good and to share, for God is pleased with such sacrifices. 

Hebrews 13:15-16

Since the old covenant system of sacrifices has fulfilled its purpose, we have a new sacrifice to offer: Love for God and neighbor. The first and second great commandments!  These are the sacrifices God has always primarily desired, and what he wants from his people today.

8. Follow Your Spiritual Leaders

Obey your leaders and submit to them, since they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you. 

Pray for us, for we are convinced that we have a clear conscience, wanting to conduct ourselves honorably in everything. And I urge you all the more to pray that I may be restored to you very soon. 

Hebrews 13:17-19

The word for “obey” = has the root word “pathos”, persuasiveness, and its opposite is apathy. Gives the sense of the word, listening carefully to your leaders in the church, allowing yourself to be persuaded to action, vs. apathy to the teaching/leadership. Not doing your own thing, off on your own, according to your own terms, not caring where the leadership is directing. But working together with your brothers and sisters under the oversight of your leaders.

There is a tie with verse 7, for church leaders, it is as we minister the word of God that you are to be persuadable. Our jurisdiction as church leaders is limited to leading you to obey the commands of the scriptures, and following along as we seek to faithfully carry out the mission of the church in light of the scriptures.

Also notice that the exhortation is to obey your “leaders” (plural) – everywhere the New Testament speaks of church leadership, it refers to a group of leaders, not one individual. So you are not to “obey” every command of an individual elder, but rather, when the elder team is leading in a direction, that is when you are to be “persuaded” to follow along. 

Application question: have you placed yourself under the authority and direction of the leaders of the church, as the book of Hebrews commands you? Do you do this gladly? Without grumbling and complaining and gossiping?

Benediction and Closing

And finally we come to the end of the letter. 

Now may the God of peace, who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus—the great Shepherd of the sheep—through the blood of the everlasting covenant, equip you with everything good to do his will, working in us what is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. 

Amen. 

Brothers and sisters, I urge you to receive this message of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly. Be aware that our brother Timothy has been released. If he comes soon enough, he will be with me when I see you. Greet all your leaders and all the saints. Those who are from Italy send you greetings.

Grace be with you all.

Hebrews 13:20-25

The great pastoral benediction that we often use at the close of our services on Sunday morning. 

We also see the personal greetings the preacher sends at the end of this letter. This author knew the people he was writing to, and he was separated from them, and expected to see them soon. He knew them personally and cared for them deeply.  Deeply enough to share hard truth and warning with them. 

When you reread the book of Hebrews from now on, which I hope you do with some frequency, , do not read it as coming from a lofty, holier-than-thou, religious superstar, but from a friend. One in the trenches of life with you. One who cares for you deeply and wants to see you thrive in your faith. 

Passages like today’s chapter, with heavy and repeated commands, could have the effect of laying a heavy burden on our soul if we take it seriously. If we aren’t “apathetic” to what is being taught. Most all of us in this room have violated, neglected, or fallen short of some or all of these commands, and perhaps repeatedly.

But here’s the gospel: the way of life described in chapter 13 is not the thing that saves us or makes us right with God.  Rather, this is the life we are called to out of gratitude for our high priest Jesus, who made us right with God, who has “worked in us what is pleasing in his sight.”

The message of Hebrews is that because we have such a great high priest, we can draw near to his throne of grace with boldness, for help in our time of need. We can be forgiven from our failures to live up to the high calling we have in him, and through him, we can find the strength and motivation we need to keep going in this life of peace and holiness. 

Let’s pray.