Well hello, everybody. It’s great to be able to bring to you this last chapter in the Book of Hebrews. Perhaps you chuckled as you read v. 22 – “I have written to you quite briefly”. This sermon, or “word of exhortation” as v. 22 puts it, has taken us 3 months to work through and would take well over an hour for us to read out loud.
It would certainly breach our 33-minute sermon length cap. But it’s been wonderfully rich hasn’t it. My soul has certainly been ministered to as we’ve spent time in the Book. So let’s pray again that the Holy Spirit would be at work in amazing ways as we open up this final chapter.
Well Christmas is almost upon us and it will soon be time for Anna and I to enjoy one of our annual Christmas traditions – watching It’s a Wonderful Life. Give me a nod if you’ve seen it.
It’s a Frank Capra classic, released a year after the end of WWII to warm people’s hearts. It tells the story of George Bailey a small town boy who grew up in Bedford Falls, New York State. He dreams of going to college and travelling the world but just before he’s due to set off on a round-the-world trip, his father dies. And, he chooses to remain in Bedford Falls to take over his father’s business helping people buy homes.
George marries, has kids but struggles to be satisfied. All of his dreams - remain - just that. Then one snowy Christmas Eve, following a series of disasters which look like they’re going to land him in jail, George ends up on a bridge – hanging over the side – about to jump.
Cheery Christmas movie isn’t it!
I think sometimes we can feel a bit like George Bailey. Looking back over our life and seeing only missed opportunities; dreams that remain unfulfilled.
Our culture tells us that we need to make something of our lives; achieve something; leave a
We need to have a wonderful life: a life of success, achievement, happiness, wealth, prosperity.
Well, as we’ve been working through the Book of Hebrews we’ve seen the repeated theme that Jesus is Better. Those words or something similar are found no less than 13 times in the Book. Jesus is a better word, he’s better than the angels; he brings a better humanity. He’s a better priest, who offers a better sacrifice, under a better covenant that brings a better hope. And now today, we’re going to see how Jesus brings a better life to believers.
Four things I want us to see about that life from Hebrews 13.
1. A Life of Love – vv. 1-4
Firstly, it’s a life of love – vv. 1-4.
Our writer has just been speaking about how we are united with believers from all over the world and all ages in the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem – v. 22 of chapter 12
Now in v. 1 of chapter 13 he reminds us that they are family. “Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters”. The Christian life is a life of love and it begins right here in City Church. We are family.
It’s been said that parents are only as happy as their least happy child. When a child hurts their parents hurt.
The same should be true for us. We are one body, one family. That means we should rejoice when one another rejoices and mourn when one another mourns. A life of love begins with loving one another as family – here at City Church.
But it includes welcoming strangers as well. Look at v. 2: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers”.
First century inns were infamous. They were grotty little places: dirty, seedy and expensive. So our writer wants his readers to open up their homes to Christian travellers. And he gives a biblical ground for it – because in so doing some have welcomed angels without knowing it.
He’s probably referring to Genesis 18 where Abraham fed and cared for three men not realising they were angels. And we must do the same. Now it’s possible that we will unintentionally welcome angels of a heavenly kind when we have people round for dinner; but that word angel doesn’t require that; the word “angel” simply means messenger from God.
Around two years ago now, a Chinese professor and his daughter attended the City Church Nativity at New Islington Free School. It was the first interaction he’d ever had with Christians but he really enjoyed it. And so he came back the next Sunday and the one after that.
Over time, he got to know the church family here at City. A number of us had him and his family round to our homes for food, to watch the footie; and a week before he headed back to China he professed faith in Christ. He is now an angel – a messenger of God - back in China.
So we must love those already at City Church. We must love visitors and newcomers as they arrive.
And thirdly, we must love those who will probably never set foot in City Church – prisoners. Back in chapter 10, the writer spoke about the Hebrews suffering alongside those in prison. He’s talking about Christians in jail for their faith.
Now thankfully, that’s not a reality for Christians in this country – not yet at least – but it is for thousands of Christians around the world.
And we need to remember that they are family – brothers and sisters. Absent from sight must not mean absent from mind. We must love them. Suffer with them. How will we do that?
Well we need to be praying for persecuted family. Researching Wang Yi - the pastor I spoke about a couple of Sundays ago. Working out how to encourage him; how to campaign for his release. If you don’t know about persecuted brothers and sisters around the world, why don’t you sign up to the Open Doors newsletter? It will help you find out more and understand how you can “remember them as if you were together with them in prison”.
In verse 4, our writer switches from love for prisoners to love in marriage.
The words “I love you” have become cheap. Three words used to get someone into bed and then move on in the morning.
But our writer wants us to know that love is a covenant commitment not simply a feeling. It’s saying “till death us do part”. Marriage is to be honoured. The solemn commitments husbands and wives make are to be kept. That’s love.
And you know sex is the glue of marriage; the seal that binds the commitment. People sometimes think Christians have a low view of sex. That we’re prudes and need to lighten up.
But actually we have an extraordinarily high view of sex. We think it’s amazing. An incredible gift from God - to cement love within the mutual commitment of marriage. But that’s why it must never be cheapened. Treated as a mere commodity to satisfy bodily urges.
All sexual activity must be reserved for marriage between one man and one woman. That’s it’s proper place. To seek sexual stimulation of any sort before or outside of marriage is like diving into a swimming pool with an Iphone 8 in your pocket. It will ruin it.
The better life is a life of love.
2. A Life of Contentment – vv. 5-6
Secondly, it’s a life of contentment. Look at v. 5: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have”.
We live in a materialistic society where status is measured by what you own: what car you drive, where you live, what sort of holidays you go on.
We need to be on our guard against love of money. Notice it’s not money itself which is the problem. Money is good. It enables us to exchange things and mutually benefit. Without money we would only be able to barter – my sheep for your X Box game.
Money is a good thing. But love of money is incredibly dangerous. It will leave us forever wanting more and forever discontent with what we have.
The Christian writer GK Chesterton once said: ““There are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.”
Look at the second half of verse. Our writer gives us the reason we should be content with what we have:
“Because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you’”.
Contentedness means being satisfied with what we’ve got. And if you’re a Christian you’ve got something incredible and you can never lose it – you’ve got God.
Listen, whether you’re a billionaire or a beggar you will end life in the same way – in a 7ft by 2ft box. Money provides no real security.
The only thing that cannot be lost. The only thing that will give you true contentment is the God who will never leave you nor forsake you.
I was listening to a talk recently by Daniel Akin who is president of Southeastern Baptist Seminary in the United States. He told the story of his wife Charlotte.
She was born into the home of alcoholic parents and when she was seven they divorced. After bouncing around from one home to another at the age of 9 she was placed in the Georgia Baptist Children’s home where she would live until she was 18. During those years she never saw her mother. The last time she saw her mother, as a 9-year-old girl, she was sitting on a bench outside the house in the porch. Her mother came out, slapped her in the face and said: “All this is your fault!” She walked into the house and she would not see her mother again until she was 18. Her Dad came to visit her a few times in the first few months she was in the home but then stopped coming and she did not see him again until after she’d got married.
But God was still in control in all this and when she was about 11 years old she put her trust in Jesus. Now, Daniel says. If you were to talk to my wife and ask her: “Charlotte, when you got saved, what was the most wonderful part of being saved? Was it knowing that all of your sins have been forgiven?” And she would say: “No, that’s great but it’s not the most wonderful thing to me”. And you would say: “Well, is it knowing that when you die you will go to be with the Lord in the joy of heaven?” And she would say: “Well that’s very wonderful too but, no, that wasn’t the most wonderful”. And if you were to press and say: “So, I don’t know where else to go. What was the most wonderful thing about being saved?” And she would say to you: “The most wonderful thing for me when I got saved was that I got a new Daddy. And my new daddy promised me in His Word that he would never leave me and he would never forsake me. And he has always kept his Word.”
I’m not sure what you’re struggling with today. What has failed you. Perhaps it’s money. Maybe it’s your health. Perhaps it’s your spouse. Or a parent. Or a friend. Whatever it is, there is one who has promised “I will never leave you nor forsake you”. And he enables you to say, verse 6: “The Lord is my helper. I will not be afraid.” God will not let you down.
If we understand that, if we embrace that glorious truth, then the Christian life will be a life of contentment.
3. A Life of being Led – vv. 7-9, 17-19
Thirdly it’s a life of being led. That’s a surprising one isn’t it.
In our current political climate, authority and leadership are treated with real suspicion. Leaders are just in it for what they can get out of.
And there’s an assumption that all of us should really be leaders. We should lead our own lives. The sovereign self.
But the author of Hebrews has a very different view of things. Look at v. 7:
“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.”
That word translated “outcome” there can refer to the sum total of a person’s lifetime accomplishments; so it seems that our writer wants his readers to remember leaders who have died – who have been martyred for their faith. And in particular he wants them to remember the way that they lived and the faith they had.
This is so important. We tend to think of leaders as dynamic, charismatic people. Type A personalities who draw a crowd and achieve great things.
But look at v. 7, what Christian leaders are to do: “Speak the word of God to you”. That’s Christian leadership. My authority; the authority of the elders of City Church is only in as far as we speak the Word of God to you in our words and actions.
And that means pointing you to Christ.
You see, verse 9 is a deliberate foil to verse 7. Verse 7 Remember your leaders; and verse 9 don’t be carried away by false teachers who peddle strange teachings.
The Christian life can be hard. At times we doubt. We get discouraged. We don’t understand why things happen. Why the battle with sin is so hard. And when we feel that way, it can be tempting to look for a silver bullet – a quick answer to solve all our problems.
Verse 9 says don’t. Just turn back to the same Word those faithful teachers taught you. Verse 8: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever.”
We don’t move on from Christ. He’s what we needed in the past – he died to take the punishment for our sin. He’s what we need in the present – he sits at the Father’s right hand pleading for us and equipping us to live for Him. And he’s what we need in the future. He will return in power to bring us to share in his eternal joy.
In v. 17, the focus shifts from leaders of the past to leaders in the present and the instruction is to have confidence in them and submit to their authority.
Remember this is their authority as those who teach and apply the truth about Jesus.
Can I speak to the members of City Church for a moment? If you’re a visitor just bear me with on this – it will just be a couple of minutes.
Members, you know we’ve been through a really tough week as a church. A week of pain and heartbreak as we’ve worked through a really sad and difficult situation.
The weight of doing that has been really lifted for me by the wisdom and godliness of the leaders I have the privilege of serving alongside. They have sought to apply the Bible to a really complex situation knowing, verse 17, that they will need to give an account before God for those they watch over. I have been blessed this week in a life of being led by my fellow church leaders.
And I have been blessed by you too. End of verse 17. You have made my work a joy in so many ways. The notes we’ve been sent, the words of encouragement. I think of the members who bought Anna and I a night away in the Lake District one summer. The member who gave both Matt and I gifts for our sabbaticals. You have been such a blessing to us. And I think of those of you who have grown so much in your time at City Church. It warms our hearts; makes our work of joy.
Please pray for us – v. 18. We are weak and fallible men. We lead because we know that the better life in Christ is a life of being led and pointed daily to Jesus. But we need God’s help. And we need your prayers.
4. A Life with Jesus – vv. 10-16, 20-21
As we close, let’s go back to those verses we skipped over – vv. 10-16. And let’s go back to the film It’s a Wonderful Life. George Bailey is stood precariously on the bridge peering down into the icy depths, about to jump. His family are back home praying. And in answer to their prayers an angel, Clarence, is sent to stop George from jumping.
And Clarence is allowed use whatever means necessary. The strategy he opts for is giving George a brief glimpse into what life would have been like had he never been born.
The old pharmacist in town would have been locked up in jail because George wouldn’t have been there to spot the mistake which would have poisoned a patient.
George’s brother, Harry would have drowned in a terrible accident because George wouldn’t have been there to save him.
The town would have been taken over by the ruthless property investor Henry Potter because George wouldn’t have been there to stick up for the people.
George realises that he’s had a wonderful life because the world would be a far worse place had he never lived.
That’s the way we’re tempted to think: “I’ve lived a good life if I’ve left my mark on the world. If people have benefited from my being here.”
But, you know, that’s not the mark of a wonderful life – a better life – not according to Hebrews 13. As we’ve seen as we’ve been working through the Book, the original readers of Hebrews were tempted to give up on Jesus – to go back to their Jewish roots and traditions. In the words of v. 10, they were tempted to go back to the tabernacle – the place where the high priest carried the blood of animals – v.11. There, they could find respectability. There, they could find comfort and familiarity.
But our writer tells us that comfort and familiarity and respect – those are not the marks of a Wonderful Life – a Better life. No, Jesus suffered outside the gates of Jerusalem – v. 12 – that’s where he was crucified. And so Christians must step out of their comfort zones too. Verse 13 – we must go to him outside the camp – bearing the disgrace he bore. That’s what a wonderful life looks like.
Listen, if you’re a Christian here today and you want to work out whether you have a wonderful life, don’t imagine what your life would be like if you had never lived.
Imagine what your life would have been like if Jesus had never lived. If you cut him out of your life. That’s what the Hebrews were tempted to do.
Well if you did that, you wouldn’t know love. Not true love. The love that led him to lay down his life so that your sins could be forgiven and you could be welcomed into his loving arms.
You wouldn’t know contentment. Not true contentment. Yes, you’d chase after pleasure in money, sex, success. But those things would fail you. Only Jesus opens the way to the one who says: “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you”. And he did that by hanging on a cross and crying out himself: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”.
Without Jesus, you wouldn’t know what it is to be led – I mean truly led not by Matt or Pete or I – but by the great shepherd himself v. 20 – who always knows what is best for your life and lay down his life for you.
All that I and your earthly leaders do is point you to him. So that you and me and all of us might –v. 15 – continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise.
That my friends is a better life – a wonderful life – a life with Jesus.
Let me close with the words of the Benediction in vv. 20-21:
“Now may the God of peace who through the blood of the eternal covenant bought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”