NOTES on Hebrews
13:1-14 (click here for study)
The writer of Hebrews begins the conclusion of his missive. He has reminded his readers that the bondage into which they were born no longer holds them. The glorious freedom and security of the gospel of Jesus Christ has released them from the rituals and despair of their past. The hold of the past on the Hebrews, however, was powerful. Their greatest temptation lay not in paganism and self-indulgent living. Rather, their greatest temptation lay in the seduction of the Jewish structure and tangible rituals which they had believed defined holiness. This letter reminded them that their salvation did not lie in their good works and observances. Jesus was better than every part of their Mosaic covenant with God. Jesus had fulfilled that old covenant and established a new one, and it was full of better promises!
In this concluding chapter the author summarizes how his readers' lives will look as they live in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. He begins by reminding them to "keep on loving each other as brothers." As followers of Jesus, they are children of God and brothers of Christ. Those who share their trust in Jesus are their brothers and sisters. Jesus radically redefined family when he said, " 'Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?' Pointing to his disciples, he said, 'Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.' " (Matthew 12:48-50) The author here emphasizes that Christ-followers have a familial obligation to each other that transcends blood and social status.
In Jesus, our family consists of those who share our trust in Christ. This tie with other believers does not negate our obligations to our own families, but it does place us in a new position of accountability and responsibility to our fellow Christ-followers. This unity in the Spirit also provides us a completely new source of fellowship and support.
Caring For the Brother
The writer's second admonition to the Hebrews is, "Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it."
The New Testament is full of commands to practice hospitality and to provide for the brothers. (see Romans 12:13; 1 Timothy 3:2; 5:9-10; Titus 1:7-8; 1 Peter 4:8-9; 3 John 5-8) In the Old Testament, people such as Abraham, Gideon, and Manoah also showed hospitality to visitors whom they finally recognized as the angel of the Lord. Practicing hospitality breaks down the barriers of awkwardness between people. When we share our home and our table with others, we make ourselves vulnerable to them in a way not possible by casual contact. Such sharing says, in effect, "I want to know you better, and I am willing to invest my time and resources in you in order to know who you are and to allow you to know me."
When we extend ourselves to others as Christ-followers, we are giving Jesus the opportunity to glorify himself through us to those we entertain. When we are in Christ, everything, even entertaining, becomes redefined. Instead of entertaining being the occasion to display our good taste and well-appointed homes, it becomes an opportunity for Jesus to use us as his hands and his heart to those in our homes.
Related to entertaining strangers is the ongoing command to "Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering." When we are part of the Body of Christ, we share spiritually in their sufferings. We are all connected in the Holy Spirit, and what happens to one affects us all. Our fellow believers, even if they are separated from us by continents and oceans, need our support and prayers and financial assistance. We are no longer merely physical beings; as Christ-followers we have entered eternity and have become spiritually alive. Our calling is to pray for one another and to bring physical relief when possible to our brothers in need. We must no longer think of ourselves as defined by our circumstances. We are defined by Jesus, and our new, born-again reality includes being literally part of the fellowship of believers suffering persecution. The body of which we are part is compromised when some of it is suffering. We contribute to our own health and the health of the work of Christ on earth when we remember and assist our brothers and sisters in need.
On Marriage and Contentment
The letter continues with an exhortation to honor marriage and a reminder that God will judge sexual impurity. Marriage is a shadow of Jesus' relationship with his people when he comes back for them. God glorifies himself through marriages that honor their commitments and through husbands and wives who respect and love each other. The Holy Spirit sanctifies each person in whom he dwells, and when He dwells in the partners in a marriage, that relationship becomes a true temple of God. If a Christ-follower dishonors marriage, he dishonors God and defiles the temple of the Holy Spirit.
The writer segues from his talk about sexual purity to this command, "Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.' "
This admonition echoes Paul's words in other epistles. "People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap," he says in 1 Timothy 6:9-10, "and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs."
The desire to acquire money and the reality of having it bring consuming concerns. Subliminal discontent marks a person driven by a desire to acquire or manage his or her money. Money is part of the physical reality of living on earth in perishable bodies in created surroundings. It is concrete and essential, and it can consume the attention of our natural minds.
When a person becomes a Christ-follower he begins to notice a conflict between managing his resources and trusting God for what he needs. God's desire for Christ-followers and their money is, in many ways, counter-intuitive to good logic. On the one hand, we are told to pay what we owe. "Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor." (Romans 13:7)
On the other hand, we are to give God our financial concerns and needs and trust him to supply what we need rather than spending our energy devising plans for making, guarding, and increasing our money. In his radical Sermon on the Mount in which He redefined holy living as the Jews knew it, Jesus said this about material concerns: "So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or "What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
When we are born again, Jesus redeems even our finances. He does not always directly bring us the money for our obligations and needs. Sometimes he brings people into our lives who provide for needs we cannot afford. Sometimes he interrupts our careers and brings us new work that provides what we need. Sometimes he helps us resolve outstanding obligations, even at the cost of experiencing financial crisis in the process. Sometimes he reverses our financial situations so he can show us his love in new ways. Always, however, when we submit our finances and obligations and desires to God, he brings resolution and peace. God's way of dealing with our finances always changes the way we experience him. When he provides he brings us to a place of greater faith and trust. With God directing our purchases and payments, we discover that we cannot call anything our own. What we have is directly from our Father's hands and belongs to him. He merely places us as his stewards to care for his gifts.
When God directs our finances and the material parts of our lives, we discover that the only thing we actually have is him. He is our security; he is our reward. He provides what we need, and he provides for the work he brings us. When we discover that the only thing of which we can be certain is Jesus, our hearts begin to be content. With Jesus directing our lives and providing for our needs, we no longer have to worry about the future. We no longer have to scramble to provide for ourselves. He will take care of us better than we could imagine to care for ourselves. And when God provides for us, we discover we cannot take credit for our clever purchases and decisions. We can only raise our hearts and hands to him and praise him for his amazing love.
The writer admonishes his readers to "remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you." He is reminding them to not to forget what they were taught when they were converted from Judaism to Christianity. This passage suggests that those leaders were now dead, because the writer continues, "Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." He is telling his readers not to stray from the pure gospel they had learned. He's asking them to reflect on the faith and confidence their teachers displayed and to stay true to the lives they have embraced as Christ-followers. Nothing about the gospel will change with time, he's saying in effect. "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever."
The author directly warns the Hebrews to stay grounded in orthodox doctrine. "Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by ceremonial foods" His readers would likely be most tempted by the seductions of their past Jewish traditions. Those rituals and observances that were linked intimately with the promised Messiah brought with them a feeling of security and specialness. The Jewish ceremonies had been God's mark on the Jews, His mark of chosenness and holiness. The temptation was strong, especially when Judaizers were around, to re-embrace many of those old observances that had carried such powerful shadows of the coming Jesus.
But Jesus has come! The Hebrews now had a living Messiah, and they no longer needed the shadows. This passage urges them not to give in to the temptation to rely on their works and "holy" deeds. They have received the finished work of Jesus, and they are now secure in his heart forever. They no longer need the rituals of shadow. In fact, those rituals would draw them back from their vital relationship with the Living Christ. The rituals instead of the presence of Jesus would fill their hearts and minds.
Christ-followers face many kinds of deception and twisted doctrine. Paul's epistle to the Galatians was similar in intent to the letter to the Hebrews. The difference was the Galatians had not been Jews. They were Gentiles, but the Judaizers were attempting to persuade them to adopt Jewish laws and rituals. Paul forcefully warned the Galatians not to be seduced by "another doctrine" or bound by a "yoke of slavery" to the law. (Galatians 1:6-9; 5:1-6)
In his letter to the Ephesians Paul reminded them that they were no longer infants, "tossed and blown by every wind of teaching." He reminded them not to be drawn in by the cunning and craftiness of men's scheming. (Ephesians 4:14) He warned the Colossians against "hollow and deceptive philosophy" that depended upon human traditions and the principles of the world instead of Christ. He warned them against "false humility", the "worship of angels", and regulations against touching and handling "unclean" things. Such regulations, he said, appear to be wise with their "self-imposed worship," their "false humility," and their "harsh treatment of the body." They do not, however, have the power to restrain sensual indulgence. Only the gospel of Jesus has that power! (Colossians 2:8, 13-23)
To the Corinthians, citizens of a worldly and metropolitan city, Paul warned against the "wisdom of this world". The wisdom of Christ, which is foolishness to the world, is the only wisdom with the power to yield a meaningful and victorious life. (1 Corinthians 3:18-23)
Follow Jesus Outside the Camp
The reason the Hebrews can be completely confident in resisting "new light" or changes in doctrine is that "we have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat." The altar they had and we have is the cross on Calvary. Our sacrifice of atonement died on that cross. The Jews who clung to their ceremonies and their priesthood had refused their perfect sacrifice, and they could not participate in the atonement that flowed from that altar.
Levitical law had not allowed the priests to eat the sacrifices offered for the Jewish Day of Atonement. But, as the book of Hebrews pointed out in chapter 7, we now have a new priesthood-the priesthood of Melchizedek-and our high priest, Jesus, has offered us the Sacrifice of atonement. The Jewish Day of Atonement could not forgive sin. It could only point toward an eventual Atonement that would forever break sin's hold on humanity. The offerings of atonement were not to be eaten because they symbolically carried sin. They were bearing the sins of the people away from the camp of Israel.
When Jesus died on the altar of Calvary, however, he bore the sins of the world in himself. He bled and died from the crushing weight of disconnection from God. Jesus' sacrifice, however, was different from all other sacrifices. God brought Jesus back to life "through the blood of the eternal covenant" (Hebrews 13:20). Jesus' death not only satisfied the curse of sin but also brought life out of death. Jesus' shed blood healed the universal wound of sin. It closed the gap between humanity and God, and it brought not only Jesus back to life but also each person who accepts the incredible sacrifice of the Lord Jesus.
Unlike the Aaronic priests who could not eat the Day of Atonement sacrifices, we, the priests of the living God, participate individually in the true sacrifice of atonement. When we accept Jesus, we accept his death. We literally participate in Jesus' sacrifice and life when we experience the new birth. We symbolically celebrate that spiritual participation by taking communion together.
The bodies of the Day of Atonement sacrifices, which symbolically carried Israel's sin, were burned outside the city gates, this passage continues. As the literal fulfillment of those ceremonial shadows, Jesus died outside the city gates. He carried his cross, endured crucifixion, and died outside the gates of Jerusalem, the city of God's people. He bore humanity's sin outside the city and died. Jesus' bearing the sins outside the city, however, carried even greater significance than removing sin from the people of God.
When Jesus left Jerusalem to die, he established the New Covenant outside Jerusalem. The most powerful and significant event in the history of humanity happened in "unhallowed" territory. Jerusalem, the city of the temple of God, was not the site of the actual Atonement. Jesus atoned for the entire human race in common territory. By dying the second death outside the city, Jesus publicly brought his redemption to all people. No one could look at the crucifixion and consider it a Jewish event. Jesus' death became the "property" of all people. Romans and Jews alike participated in the suffering of Jesus. He died publicly, exposed to the ridicule and grief of all people.
The author concludes this passage with an appeal. "Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come." He is calling his readers to leave behind their Jewish traditions and follow Jesus into the world. They bear his genetic heritage, and like their Savior, they are to leave behind the sacred traditions of their race and become part of Jesus' body, a mystery uncovered only at the death of Christ. Salvation is for everyone, and the Hebrew Christians are to embrace their heritage in Christ rather than their heritage of law. They are to embrace their new Gentile brothers and celebrate Jesus' salvation of the entire world!
God is calling us all, even we who have spent much of our lives trying to live as God's "remnant people", to follow him outside the camp. Jesus spent humanity's most agonizing moments-his death caused by our incurable sin-in a public place of shame and persecution. He did not die secluded by the temple walls or even by the gates of Jerusalem. In his death he embraced the entire world and included them in God's judgment of their condition. He died before all mankind, and he healed the cosmic curse of sin by shedding his blood on the altar of Calvary in view of Jews and Gentiles alike.
Jesus is asking us to surrender any lingering feelings of "specialness". No special knowledge or behavior will endear us to our Savior. Our names are written in his heart by his own blood. He loved us and chose us from the creation of the world, and the only thing we need to do is release our hearts to him. We need to let his love melt our frigid lives and thaw our cold legalism, allowing him to transform us into new people made alive by His Spirit.
Jesus is asking you to allow him to define you by his own standard of love and forgiveness. He is asking you to give up your habits and disciplines of which you feel proud. Jesus is seeking to take you someplace you have never gone: outside the familiar camp and into the reality of his body, those healed by his blood.
Let Jesus show you what holds you back from experiencing the fullness of his freedom and joy. Let the Holy Spirit expose to you the things, both remembered and unremembered, which he wants to transform with his life.
Praise God for bringing Jesus back to life by the blood of the eternal covenant. Praise Jesus for shedding his blood outside the city. Praise the Holy Spirit for mediating eternity in the hearts of all men and women who embrace the Savior!
Praise God from whom all blessings flow!
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Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Revised December 8, 2001.