Second Reformed Church

Monday, May 19, 2014

"Bear With My Word" Sermon: Hebrews 13:22-25

“Bear With My Word”

[Hebrews 13:22-25]

May 18, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            We conclude our look at the book of Hebrews this morning, and we consider his final appeal, greetings, and prayer for the Hebrews to whom he was writing.

            In these final words, we find the author of Hebrews teaching three things:

            First, we ought to stand for the Gospel.

            Second, we ought to mutually salute our fellow Christians.
            
            And third, we ought to pray the whole good will of Jesus for our fellow Christians.
            
            Hear the Word of God:

“I appeal to you, brothers, bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly.”

First, we ought to stand for the Gospel.

Do we remember why the author of Hebrews wrote his letter?

This letter was written in the late mid-first century when the Christians we suffering severe persecution under the Romans and the Jews.  The Romans considered them to be trouble-makers and atheists, and the Jews considered them to be heretics.  None of them wanted the Christians around – and the Christians were being tortured and killed and driven underground to worship.

The solution to their suffering was a seemingly simple one:  deny the Gospel and go back to practicing Judaism with its Sacrificial Law.  “Come back to Judaism and all will be forgiven – you will be welcomed back – all will be well again.”

The author of Hebrews appealed to the Hebrew Christians being tempted with the argument to return to Judaism and he begs them as brothers – as men and women that he loves in Christ, as men and women he knows, and as men and women with whom he shares a common interest – he begged them to “bear with his word” – to listen – to take to heart – his admonition – his teaching – based on their experience of him as an apostle of Jesus Christ and based on their reception and knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – he begs them to stand for the Gospel.

Why?

There are two reasons:

First, the Sacrificial Law was never intended to make a person right with God – the best it could do was make a person partially right with God for the moment that they offered their sacrifice, which was no salvation at all.  Being partially saved is like being partially pregnant – it’s meaningless as far as salvation is concerned.

One of the reasons that Law was given was to make it clear that all people are sinners and everyone needs a salvation that cannot be earned in order to be made right with God and escape God’s Wrath.  Our only hope is the Savior that God promised back in the Garden of Eden.

Second, as the author of Hebrews goes to great lengths to show, Jesus is both the fulfillment of every aspect of the Old Testament Sacrificial Law, and He is also the Promised Savior and the Only Hope of salvation for humanity – God come to earth in the flesh, Who lived a perfect life under God’s Law, died for the sins of everyone who would ever believe, and physically rose from the dead and ascended back to His throne – having merited righteousness through His Life, which He credits to all those Who believe, and having taken on the Wrath of God for all of the sins of everyone who would ever believe in the Savior, so those Who believe are now seen as holy and justified through Jesus.

Given the results – the only sensible thing to do is to stand for the Gospel – to believe what historically occurred that makes Jesus the Only and Promised Savior from God.  That’s why he says that standing for the Gospel is urgent – that he appeals to them – he begs them to consider all he has said in love and for their benefit.  It is urgent to stand for the Gospel, because nothing else will save us – we cannot keep the Law of God and the Law of God was never meant to be a way of becoming right with God – a way to salvation.

However, as the Hebrew Christians knew all too well, standing for the Gospel is dangerous.  But that should not have come as a surprise, even in the early days of the Gospel – Jesus was crucified, after all.  And the Bible paints the Christian life as normally being one of suffering – Christians ought to expect to suffer for our faith:

“and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:17, ESV).

“If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer” (2 Corinthians 1:6, ESV).

“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,” (Philippians 1:29, ESV).

“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me” (2 Timothy 1:8-12, ESV).

“For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:20-21, ESV).

And Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24b-25 ESV).

Those preachers who promise that everything is going to be peaches and wine when you become a Christian are lying.  The promise from the beginning is that if you believe in Jesus, the Only Savior, that God has sent into the world, you will suffer for His sake and for the sake of the Gospel.

Standing for the Gospel is dangerous, but it is the only hope for a human to be saved from the Wrath of God!

All over the world, Christians are still put to death for professing their faith – for proclaiming the Gospel.  We gave money to an RCA missionary this past year who is in a part of the world where, if it was found out that he was there as a missionary and not just there for the job he is doing to provide for himself and his family; they could be deported or even killed.

Please understand we are nowhere commanded to seek out suffering.  However, we are told to expect suffering for the sake of the Gospel – and the point of the letter to the Hebrews is that suffering, even to the end of being put to death for the sake of standing for the Gospel is worth it.  For – as Peter put it, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, ESV).

Does it really apply to twenty-first century Americans?  Shouldn’t our religious views be private and personal?  Shouldn’t we not annoy people with what we believe?

There are only two questions for us:

One, do you believe that Jesus is the Only Way to salvation?

And if so, two, will you be obedient and tell others the Gospel?

At this point in history, we do not tend to be killed in this country for professing our faith.  But, are you willing to be ridiculed?  Are you willing to lose a promotion?  Or a job?

When I became confident of my call to the ordained ministry, I had relatives say that I was “wasting my talents.”

I have had people tell me my beliefs are “uneducated,” backwards,” “ignorant,” and “anti-science.”

I had someone recently tell me that I was a racist for disagreeing with an African-American pastor on the definition of the Gospel.

I have been told by higher ups in the denomination that I probably couldn’t get another call in the Northeast because I believe that the whole Bible is true.

That’s not being tortured or killed – by a long shot…

Standing for the Gospel is urgent, because it is our Only Hope.

Standing for the Gospel is dangerous.

“Bear with my word” – “take to heart what I have taught you and lived for and recognize that it is worth being put to death for,” or losing your home, or your job, or just being ridiculed.  Open your mouth, proclaim the Gospel, live for Jesus, and whatever comes, may Jesus Christ be glorified in our living and in our dying.

The author of Hebrews says, apologetically, that he wanted to make sure that they stood for the Gospel and hang on to the Gospel and understood the Gospel – that Jesus Christ fulfills the Old Testament Sacrificial System and is our only salvation – it was urgent that they not turn away – that they not be sway by the rhetoric of the Jews and the threats of the Romans – and that’s why he wrote such a short letter.

And some of you may be thinking, “Short letter?  He’s been preaching on this the better part of two and a half years.”  But, it’s actually only eight and a half pages – it’s something that could have been read to the congregation in one worship service – in less than an hour.  It is short.  But what it says is of utmost importance and urgency.  And that is why he is apologetic in tone about the shortness of his letter.

 Second, we ought to mutually salute our fellow Christians.

“You should know that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom I shall see you if he comes soon. Greet all your leaders and all the saints. Those who come from Italy send you greetings.”

The author of Hebrews goes on to personal greetings:

First, he tells them that Timothy has been released – probably from prison.  What Timothy is this?  We might quickly jump to the conclusion that this was Timothy, the companion of Paul, to whom the two letters of Timothy are written, but we cannot be one hundred percent sure.  What we can be sure of is that this Timothy was a missionary of the early church who had been imprisoned for some time, and who was now released from prison. 

We also see in the text that this Timothy was going to come to the author of Hebrews, wherever he was and whatever the circumstances were that were keeping him from returning to the Hebrews, and that Timothy would go on to meet with the Hebrews after he was reunited with the author of the letter to the Hebrews.

We also note that this Timothy was a close friend and Christian brother to both the author to the letter of the Hebrews and to the Hebrews themselves, as the author of the letter to the Hebrews calls him, “our brother.”

From this, we can see it is good and right to rejoice in the good things that happen to our brothers and sisters in Christ – to have the mutual love for one another that overrides our being jealous of others and their successes, but rather rejoices with them as fellow members of the Body of Christ.

Thus, we ought to rejoice and spread the good news when good things happen to our brothers and sisters in Christ – when we get a new job, when we have children and grandchildren, when we recover from illness or some other thing which is keeping us down – and especially if it was from continuing to proclaim the Gospel freely, when we are thanked for what we have done or the example we have been – we are to rejoice with each other’s joys and support each other in them.

As Paul reminds us:

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

“For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:12-26, ESV).

We are one together in Christ and when one suffers, we all suffers and when one of us rejoices – like Timothy being freed – we ought all rejoice with the person or people who are rejoicing.

Secondly, the author of Hebrews makes his third comment about leaders in this chapter:

First, he told us that we are to remember what our leaders rightly taught us from the Word of God and imitate them as they live lives which are pleasing to God and according to His Word.

Second, he told us that we are to obey our leaders in those things that they rightly teach and preach from the Word of God – for the sake of the office they hold and because they are proclaiming and commanding what God wants from us.

And third, now, he tells us to greet all our leaders.  We are to care about our leaders and greet them as brothers in Christ – as parts of the Body of which we are all one.  We ought to be joyful to see and sit under our faithful preachers and teachers – looking forward to hearing what they have to bring to us from the Word of God – giving thanks for the diligent work they have put into prayer, study, and preparation to deliver the Word of God to us.

Third, he tells us to also greet all the saints – all those who are believers with us – and
that he and the saints in Italy greet them.  We are to care for our fellow Christians – desiring to be with them – especially in the House of God for worship.  Although we are different people and, perhaps, some of us would not normally choose each other for friends if we were not part of the Church – remember the saying, “you can choose your friends, but you’re stuck with your family.”  That’s a negative way of putting it – but recognize that you and I and all those who believe through time and space are brothers and sisters with each other and Jesus Christ – part of the same One Body, the Church, of which Jesus Christ is the Head.  Just as we are pleased to have all of our body parts – we ought to be pleased and give thanks for our brothers and sisters in Christ – extending fellowship to all those who confess Christ.
            
Here, we also find out that the author of the letter to the Hebrews is confined in Italy.  Whatever his circumstance which prevents him from going to the Hebrews, we know that he is in Italy.

And third, we ought to pray the whole good will of Jesus for our fellow Christians.

“Grace be with all of you.”

What does the author of Hebrews intend in these words?

Grace is the unmerited favor of God in the Gospel, and the blessings of God and the ability given by God to do God’s Will.

The author of Hebrews is offering a prayer for them that as they face persecution for the Gospel, that they will not turn back to the Old Testament Sacrificial System – proving themselves to be false confessors of Christ, but that they will hold fast to the Gospel – having received the Grace of God that they would be able to believe and endure whatever comes their way for the sake of the Gospel – the Only Way of Salvation.

And he is praying for them that they who have believed savingly in Jesus and His Gospel would be equipped and blessed in every way that they need to be the people of God that He has called them to be – to do all that God has put before them – to do it well – to the Glory of God and for the good of them and all the saints – all those who believe.

That is something we ought to pray for each other, is it not?  That we would truly believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ and not merely be hypocritical posers in the House of God to look good or to try to reap benefits from we who cannot see the heart. 

We ought to pray for each other that we truly believe and that God will supply us with everything we need to do the good works that He has set before us.  We ought to pray for each other that we would keep from sin and show love – especially to our brothers and sisters in Christ – but also to all people that they would see Christ in us.  So, even if we are taken away and thrown into prison for our profession of faith and threatened with torture or death we would stand strong and confess Jesus Christ and His Gospel, because there is no other hope – there cannot be any other hope – God has made One Way through Jesus Christ that all those who believe would be saved.

So ends the letter to the Hebrews.

Let us pray:


Almighty God, we thank You for making the Way of salvation through Jesus Christ.  We thank You for choosing us to be Your sons and daughters.  We ask that You would give us Your Grace – that we would be sure that we have believed that Jesus, the Incarnated Son of God, is the One we are putting our hope and salvation in, and we ask that You would give us Your Grace to stand for You and the Gospel of Jesus Christ no matter what we may endure at the hands of those who do not believe and those who are fighting against Your clear Word.  We ask that You would give us all that we need to do those good works You have planned for us, and we ask that You would enable us to do them.  Help us to love our brothers and sisters in Christ – all those You have called to Yourself through Jesus – may we rejoice with those who rejoice and stand with and mourn with those who mourn.  Make us a more caring, more Christ-exalting people, that we would have joy and You would be glorified. For this is our life and our purpose, and it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

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