Final Exhortations

Series: Hebrews

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Mar 10, 1999

Hebrews 13:15-25

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Turn with me to Hebrews 13. Throughout our study of this book, we have stressed that the author’s grand exhortation is that we persevere in the faith, that we not turn our backs on Christ, that we not seek some other mediator, that we do not try and find some other way into fellowship with God.  And here at the end of the book he is continuing that exhortation.  As William Hendriksen has said, his consistent exhortation and argument has been “Jesus is worthy of your faith.  Have faith in Him and do not fall away.”  And so throughout the book, he has been calling for faith and for perseverance.  He wants us to trust in Christ alone and he wants us to continue to trust in Christ alone and he wants us to live our lives in that light.

Now last week we looked at a number of the specific exhortations in Hebrews 13 in the first 14 verses.  You will remember that in verse one the author exhorts us to love our brothers and sisters in Christ.  In verse four we are called to honor marriage by rejecting a low view of marriage and by rejecting immorality in our attitudes and practice regarding marriage.  We also noticed in verses 5 and 6 an exhortation not to love money, not to fall in love with money, but to be content with what the Lord has given us so that we have a right and a proper Christian view of wealth and possessions.  We do not despise wealth that the Lord has given us, because it is a gift from the Lord. But neither do we crave it, neither do we allow it to rule our lives.

We also saw in verse 7 an exhortation that we ought to remember and imitate those faithful teachers who first taught us the truth of the gospel.  And finally we say in verses 8-14 an exhortation to follow Christ no matter what.

So that brings us to the very last verses of this book in Hebrews 13:15-25.  Let’s hear God’s word.  

Hebrews 13:15-25 

“Father, we do thank You for this word and we ask that You would make it profitable to our souls.  So help us to be attentive as we hear it and to see that the way that Spirit speaks to us by the word, even applying it to our own hearts and circumstances. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.” 

Paul makes a staggering claim in II Timothy 3:16-17 when he says “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching and for correction, for reproof, for training in righteousness so that the man of God may be equipped for every good work.”  There are some passages in the Bible where you just wonder if Paul meant all.  Did he really mean every Scripture is inspired and is profitable?

Well, really, tonight’s passage is confirmation that that is true.  For even in the closing words these words which constitute a postscript to the sermon or to the letter that the author of Hebrews has sent to the congregation, even in these closing words we see the mark of inspiration.  We see the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit in these powerful truths for Christian living which are encoded in these final fleeting thoughts in the closing passages of this book.  I’d like for you to see two or three things in these words.  

I. Christians ought to reflect their loyalty to Christ in praise, obedience and prayer.

First in verses 15-19, the author gives the final exhortation of the sermon that he has been preaching to them for the last 13 chapters.  And they could be summarized this way.  That we as Christians ought to reflect our loyalty to Christ.  Remember he has been calling us all along to be loyal to Christ, to have faith in Christ, to continue to believe in Him.  That we ought to reflect that loyalty in our praise, in our obedience, and in our prayer.

Let’s look at those three things for a moment, in verses 15-19.  First notice that he calls us to continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God. He calls on us to worship God from the heart through our lips and our lives.  If you look at verses 15 and 16, you will notice three areas in which he wants us to offer up a sacrifice of praise. 

First he wants us to offer up the sacrifice of praise in our worship. He even hints at what he is getting at was the language that he uses. Look, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.  In the old Levitical system, how did you offer up a thank offering?  With an animal, with a bullock. You went and made a thank offering or you make some other sort of a sacrifice according to the ritual code.  He says, that is not what I am after.  I am not after your making an animal sacrifice, because the whole argument of the book is those sacrifices are obsolete. Christ has been offered up once and for all. He is the only sacrifice that there is and so you offer up a sacrifice which is the fruit of your lips. In other words, it is through worship, praise of God, which comes from a heart which has been changed by the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

But in verse 16 he goes on and says, I want you to offer up another kind of sacrifice too. I want you to offer up the sacrifice of good works.  Do not neglect doing good and (he goes on to say one more thing) sharing. So we are to offer up the praise of sacrifice in worship. We are to offer up the sacrifice of obedience and good works. We are to offer up the sacrifice of sharing or of alms giving as Christian. Giving of the substance that the Lord has given to us for the sake of those in need.

Notice several things about this exhortation in verses 15 and 16. The kind of sacrifice that he is asking us to offer here is only offered through Jesus Christ.  Notice the emphatic placement of two words at the beginning of this sentence ­— through Him.  The only way we can “offer sacrifices” as Christians anymore is through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Worship is only through Christ.  That is acceptable worship is only based on the once-for-all sacrifice that Jesus has made. We don’t come and offer sacrifices that make us right with God.  Even the sacrifices of the Old Testament, he says, were only acceptable because they substituted for the one real sacrifice.  So whatever kind of a sacrifice he is calling us to make now, this is not a sacrifice that makes us right with God, because there is only one kind of sacrifice that makes us right with God; that is the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, he says, whatever He is calling on us to do now, we must do through Christ.  It is accepted in Him alone.

But notice immediately he gives us a hint of the kind of sacrifice he is calling us to here is totally different from the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And it is different from the sacrifices of the Old Testament because we are to offer it continually. Look at his language:  “Let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God.”

So we in the New Covenant are to continually offer up the sacrifice as opposed to the occasional sacrifices of the Old Testament. It might have been only once a year that you would have gone down to offer up a sacrifice under the Levitical Code. But he says this kind of sacrifice, I want you to offer all the time.  And it also stands in contrast to the once-for-all sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.

And then he ends his word play by telling you what kind of a sacrifice he is after.  He is not after an animal offering; he is not after some other kind of ritual that we do.  He says he wants a sacrifice of praise. It is not an animal offering like in the Old Testament, it is not the Mass, it is not the Eucharist, he is asking us to lift up the sacrifice of parse and worship from the heart.  These God-pleasing sacrifices that he asks us to give parallel the two great commandments.  The two great commandments are that we love God and that we love our neighbor.

Notice what he asks us to do. Offer up the sacrifice of the praise of our lips to God and do good and share.  See what he is asking us to do? He is asking us to live our whole lives in worship to God and in love to one another. We are to worship God with our lips and we are to do good and share with others. In fact, what he is calling us to do here is beautifully expressed in Romans 12:1. Paul says “I urge you brethren, by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice acceptable to God which is your spiritual service of worship.” Basically he saying, “I want you to give yourselves as a sacrifice, since Christ has given Himself as a sacrifice that has brought you back into fellowship with Him, with the Lord, with God. I want you to give yourselves back to the Lord as a living sacrifice.” And so he is calling us to a sacrifice of praise and a sacrifice of kind and loving actions towards one another.

F. F. Bruce puts this beautifully.  He says, “Christianity is sacrificial, through and through. It is founded on the one self-offering of Christ. And the offering of His people’s praise and property, their service and their lives, is caught up into the perfection of His acceptable sacrifice and is accepted by Him.” That language is even reflected in our own Confession in Chapter 16 which teaches about good works. 

Obey your elders. So that is the first thing he says here. I want you to offer a sacrifice of praise. Then he says, I want you to obey your elders. I want you to obey your leaders.  Look at his words in verse 17. “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”

So he calls on us to show appropriate respect and submissions to the authority of the leaders that God has given us. Paul told us in Ephesians 4 that one of the gifts that Jesus gave to the church from the right hand of God was officers. He gave the church pastors and teachers, those who would lead in the congregation.  He has given the church elders to lead the congregation. And so this exhortation is an indication of structure in the Lord’s church. Not all of us are equal in authority. The Lord has given us elders who have the spiritual responsibility to answer to God on behalf of the congregation.

And so the reason for the obedience given here is that these leaders will one day have to give an account to the Lord. That is an awesome thought, that one day those officers that the Lord gave to our congregation will stand before Him and give an account for the souls that they gave spiritual oversight to. And the author is saying, I want you, Christian brothers and sisters, to live in light of the fact that one day those men are going to have to give an account for you. So the motivation in this instance is that we remember what our elders are going to have to do one day.  And these leaders are given charge, we are told in this verse, to watch over our souls.  So their authority is not arbitrary.  It is not self-serving; it is for our benefit. Their purpose is to do their best to encourage us to walk with the Lord. So the author says we ought to obey so that that task of giving an account for us will be a joy for them and not a grief. 

Pray for our spiritual leaders. Thirdly in this passage, verses 18 and 19, he urges us to pray for him. Now that request is similar to many of Paul’s requests in his letters.  In Ephesians on several occasions, Paul requests the Ephesian Christians to pray for him.  And even in that hard letter that he had to write to the Corinthians, he appealed to the congregation in Corinth, even in the Book of II Corinthians, to pray for him. In II Cor. 1:11 and 12 and in II Cor. 4:2, even after he as said some pretty hard things, he asks for the Corinthians to pray for him. And so even though the author of Hebrews had been very plain spoken, he had said some hard things to this congregation, he shows them that he loves them and asks for their prayers. Like Paul, he asks for their prayers.

Listen to what Philip Hughes says: “As a genuine Christian friend and mentor should, he has spoken very frankly of the perils which he sees to the spiritual well being in the congregation. And he is sure that he has a clear conscience. That is, that his conduct in relation to them can stand both the scrutiny of men and of God, but the impulse behind his stern admonitions has not been hostility or an authoritarian desire to inflate his own reputation at their expense. He has spoken the truth in love and compassion and that is confirmed by the fact that he appeals for them to pray for them.” The only reason he has spoken many of the hard words that he has had to speak here is because of his love for this congregation. And the very fact that he would say, “Pray for me. Pray for us.” Assuming that he is speaking of a broader circle of pastor-teacher elders who have been involved in ministering to them, the only reason he would make that appeal is a reflection of his love for them. He has a clear conscience.  He has spoken the truth in love. He has told them what he thought he needed to say, but now he wants them to know that he did it because his goal of his conduct was for him to be honorable in his treatment of them and also to do them good. In fact, he makes it clear that he wants to be with them. Look at the very last phrase. He urges them to pray all the more so that he might be restored to you the sooner. He would rather be with them sooner than later. And so he says, “Pray that I will be restored to you sooner rather than later.” He wants to have personal fellowship with them restored and he invites them to join with him in prayer.

So what is the application of all this? In these exhortations which form the last exhortations of his sermon, he asks us to live our lives as a sacrifice of praise in word and deed. He asks us to respect and submit to our elders and he asks us to pray for our ministers. These are his final words of exhortation. 

II. Christians, by the blood of the eternal covenant, experience God’s peace and power.

Then he pronounces a blessing upon us. He prays this prayer of blessing that you see in verses 20 and 21 and I would like for you to look at that benediction. It has seven parts to it and in that seven-part benediction, again we see that it is by the blood of the eternal covenant that we Christians experience God’s peace and power. 

Look at the seven parts of the blessing. “Now the God of peace” ­— that is the invocation. In other words, he is invoking the God of peace to do this blessing. When a minister pronounces a blessing on a congregation, he doesn’t have any power in him to bless you. But he is invoking God’s blessing upon you. He is invoking the Lord to display His grace and mercy and peace. He is invoking the Lord to give His grace to you all. When the author says, “Now the God of peace,” he begins with an invocation.

Secondly, the phrase, “who brought up from the dead, that Great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus Christ our Lord,” that phrase is a phrase of adoration. So you open first with an invocation and then you have a phrase of adoration. It is an adoration of the God of peace. He pauses and he says the God of peace is the One who by His mighty work brought up from the dead that great shepherd of the sheep by the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus Christ our Lord.” This is the God of peace that I am calling on to bless you. He is the One who brought up from the dead our great shepherd.

Thirdly, he prays that that God of peace would equip you to do His will. That phrase is the main petition. So you have an invocation, an adoration, and now the main petition — Invocation, adoration, petition. “May God equip you to do His will.” This is where he is getting. He is praying that God would equip you to be obedient to Him. 

Then he prays, fourthly, working in us that which is well-pleasing in His sight.  This is a supplemental petition to the main petition. In other words, He is further specifying what he is praying here. And we are going to talk about this in just a minute. But he is highlighting that even those things which we do in accordance with God’s will, God’s Spirit is working within us. So our sanctification is not a matter of ourselves pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. It is a process of being sanctified by the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit and committing ourselves to striving after Christ-likeness.

Fifthly, he says through Jesus Christ.  That is the basis of the whole prayer. It is the basis of the petition. The God of peace equip you through Jesus Christ.

Then, sixthly, we see a doxology ­— To whom be glory forever and ever.  Now commentators wrestle over who that refers to.  Is that the God of peace or is that to our Lord Jesus Christ. I think in this passage it is our Lord Jesus Christ who is in view. It is through Jesus Christ to whom be the glory forever and ever.

Finally there is the seventh part of the prayer, the Amen, the so-be-it. The ‘Lord do as we have prayed according to Your will,’ the Amen.

So seven parts to that tiny little benediction, but it is full of grace and power.  Notice what he calls the Lord ­— the God of peace.  It is speaking of the peace of the gospel. I know that commentators disagree on exactly what kind of peace is being spoken of there. The argument is there are some in the congregation who are not at peace with one another, so he is talking about the peace of unity here.  I think he is talking about the peace of the gospel, because it is the peace of the gospel that has reconciled them to God. He directly speaks about the blood of the eternal covenant. That is what forms that bond of peace between us and the Lord as Christ died for our sins and we trusted in Him. He is speaking of the peace of the gospel and reminding us that it is God, the gospel God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has divinely established by Christ on the Cross the peace which we now experience as we trust in Him.

Then he reminds us, of course, in this prayer, of the very basis of the resurrection. This is a very rich thing. We could really do a sermon on it alone. But let me say in passing, this is the only mention of the resurrection in the book of Hebrews. Think about it. Why would there be only one mention of the resurrection in the book of Hebrews?  I can see some liberal saying this is proof that the author of Hebrews didn’t believe in the resurrection.  Wrong. Why is that wrong?  Because the focus of Hebrews is on the ascension of Christ and the present reign of Christ and these happen after the resurrection. So it makes perfect sense that since his focus is now on Christ’s current intercession as He reigns at the right hand of God, that the resurrection itself would not be the main focus of his epistle. But here he testifies that he believes in that resurrection. Indeed, it is the power of the blood of the eternal covenant which has brought again from the dead, that which has resurrected our Great Shepherd of the sheep, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Now there is much truth packed into that little phrase, but it means at least this. That it is by the eternal covenant of redemption between the Father and the Son, that the Son is by right raised from the dead. Remember way back in Hebrews 2:9, the author had said this, “Jesus, because of the suffering of death was crowned with glory and honor.”  So he directly connects what Jesus suffered with His being crowned with glory and honor.

This passage here in Hebrews goes one step further and it says, “Let me tell you what was behind Jesus’ being crowned with glory and honor because of His suffering of death. What was behind that was an eternal agreement between the Father and the Son. That the Son would suffer on behalf of all God’s people and that in light of that suffering, that perfect life of the Lord Jesus Christ, that invincible, enviable sinless life, by right He would be raised again from the dead.  So the author of Hebrews is telling us that it is by the blood of that eternal covenant of redemption that the Lord Jesus Christ is raised from the dead.

Finally, he goes on to pray specifically that God would equip us for holy living, that God’s power would be at work equipping us for good works, and that God’s will would be at work in us that we might do His will.  Do you see the two sides of that?  That God would be at work in us that we might be holy, and that we would desire to be holy doing His will. This is the will of God that we should will what God wills.

You remember what the author of Hebrews had said about the Lord Jesus Christ in Hebrews 10:7, that the Lord Jesus had come and said, “Lo, I have come to do Thy will, O Lord.”  Well, this is the ultimate expression of Christ-likeness to do the will of the Lord. So this prayer here is the prayer that the people of this congregation would be spiritually equipped for every form of good works and thus fulfill God’s will as He operates in them.  It is a beautiful picture of the synergism of sanctification ­— God at work in us, us seeking to do God’s will. Both are at work but it is the power of God that undergirds our ability to do that which is pleasing in His sight.

There is a beautiful phrase from B.F. Westcott. He says, “The work of God makes man’s work possible.”  It is God at work in us that makes it possible to do good works.  So not only is our justification based on what Christ has done for us, but our sanctification is based on what Christ is continuing to do for us by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Salvation is by grace from first to last. 

III. Christians willingly receive exhortation and foster fellowship in their salutations.

So he concludes with a few final words of greeting and exhortation. These greetings we willingly receive even as we foster fellowship in these salutations.

Notice what he says in verse 22: “Bear with this word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly.” I think every time ministers get nervous about going over long, say something like, “Okay, this is my final point.” Or, “Bear with me, this will only take a little while.”  And I am getting the feeling the author of Hebrews is saying something like that here.

I am told that this sermon would have taken about an hour to read out loud to a congregation. So comparatively speaking, that is not the longest talk you have ever heard. We have heard some State of the Union messages recently that ran to about and hour and a half. But that still is a long time.  But I suspect that it is not the length of reading this message to them that makes the author a little nervous now.  I suspect it is the content. Because you can imagine having several hard things said in the context of reading, that people might have gotten distinctly nervous at hearing this message read. So the author basically says to bear with my exhortation, even though it may be painful.

The author knows that listening to faithful preaching is not necessarily comfortable, but it is worth bearing.  My soul was blessed as Brian Habig preached the word, but I got really uncomfortable a few times as he ministered the word because he was getting at me.  He had stopped preaching and gone to meddling, because it was applying to me, of course.  Preaching doesn’t apply to me, meddling does apply to me.  He was really meddling. But I am glad he meddled. So although good preaching isn’t always easy to bear, it is always good for us. It is worth bearing, and the author says bear with this word of exhortation.

Then he pronounces a blessing on them: “Grace be with you.”  That word grace sums up all of the blessings of the New Covenant, the better covenant of which Jesus Christ is the only mediator.

What a blessing it is to have been able to walk through this book with you. May the Lord bless you as you attempt to walk in faith and persevere in the end in the truths of this work, His word. 

Let’s pray. 

“Heavenly Father, we do thank You for the Book of Hebrews and we ask now as we close our study of it that You would bless the spiritual truths that we have been nourished on to our growth in grace. And we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

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