Second Reformed Church

Sunday, May 11, 2014

"Benediction" Sermon: Hebrews 13:20-21

“Benediction”

[Hebrews 13:20-21]

May 11, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            Last week, we looked at how we ought to pray for the leaders of the church – and why we ought to do so.  In this morning’s Scripture, the author of Hebrews now turns to pray for the Hebrews in the form of a benediction.

            What is a “benediction”?  A dictionary definition is “Benediction is derived from two Latin terms 'bene' and 'dicere' meaning well and to speak. It is a short invocation term standing for divine help, blessing and worship” (http://www.ask.com/question/what-does-benediction-mean).

            A benediction is something that is said or prayed asking God for help and blessing as part of the worship service – as part of the worship of God.  It is not merely decorative – it is not a piece of liturgical fluff.  It has meaning and purpose.

            In this benediction, the author of Hebrews tells us:

            First, God is the God of Peace.

            Second, the God of Peace has given us our pledge and assurance for the peace of the Church.

            Third, the God of Peace enables us to do His Will.

            And, fourth, the God of Peace works through us to do what is pleasing in His Sight.

            “Now may the God of peace”

            The prayer and blessing part of the benediction is found as the author of Hebrews writes the word, “now.”  This is what the author of Hebrews prays for the Hebrews – the way in which he desires God to bless them – and the reason why God is worthy of all worship for being the God Who can bring these things to pass as He wills.

            “Now may the God of peace”

            First, God is the God of Peace.

            Notice, this is a Name of God, it is not a request for the peace of God.  No, the author of Hebrews is calling on God as the God of Peace in this benediction.  What does it mean that God is the God of Peace?

            Paul writes, “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33a, ESV).

            God, the God of Peace, is, Himself, not in any type of unease, confusion, or dismay.  God is at perfect peace and harmony with Himself – Unity in Trinity – One God in Three Persons in perfect eternal union in every aspect of being – truly, perfectly at peace Himself and with Himself.

            Again, Paul writes, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:7-10, ESV).

            The God of Peace has made know His Will working through Christ to accomplish our salvation, which is to be united in the God of Peace – which we in every way would be in the God of Peace.

            That is, we, through Christ, are made to be at peace with ourselves through our being freed from slavery to sin, and, ultimately, through being delivered from the ability to sin – as we are glorified.  We will be at peace in our being, because we will only be able to do what is best for us, which is the Will of God.  We will do all things perfectly in love and worship of God, and we will be in His Peace.

            Also, through Christ, we have peace with the God of Peace, because our sins are forgiven, and we are seen as holy – progressing in our sanctification – in our becoming holy, such that we are no longer at war with God – we no longer hate God – we no longer rebel against Him in any ultimate sense – we have become sons and daughters – as John writes, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13, ESV).

            Finally, through Christ, we have peace with each other.  As brothers and sisters in Christ, we have been brought to peace with each other, so we no longer see each other as threats, but as those we love and will spend all eternity with in the Kingdom.

            The God of Peace is at peace with Himself, and He brings all those who are His – all those who believe in Jesus savingly – into peace with themselves, peace with God, and peace with all those who believe in Jesus savingly.  We are at peace now in the God of Peace through Christ and that peace will be a full and completed reality when Jesus returns to restore the Creation – including us.

            “who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant,”

Second, the God of Peace has given us our pledge and assurance for the peace of the Church.  And we see that pledge and assurance given to us in the next three clauses of our text:

“who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus,”

Notice this is the one and only time that the author of Hebrews mentions the Resurrection of Jesus, though it is implied throughout the letter.  And here it is obvious that the author is speaking of a real, physical resurrection from the dead.  Jesus, Who was dead in His body – not in His spirit or soul or divinity, was brought back from the dead – He was raised from the dead – He was brought back to life in His physical body.

Joined to His being a real human being Who died and then was physically raised by the God of Peace, we have the use of the title “Lord Jesus,” which uses the word “kurious” for “Lord,” which we understand in this context to be the Greek form of the Most Holy Name of God first given to Moses by God.

And so we see that God, the God of Peace, in the Person of the Father raised the Lord Jesus – God the Son Incarnate in the Person of Jesus, the God-Man.

This is a pledge and an assurance for the Church – all we who ever believe savingly in Jesus throughout time and space – because if Jesus physically rose from the dead, we also shall physically rise from the dead when He returns.

We read, “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24, ESV).

Why wasn’t it possible for Jesus to stay dead?

“For the wages of sin is death,” (Romans 6:23, ESV).

Because death is a result of sin – it is a punishment for sin.  We all die because sin came into the world through Adam:  “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—“ (Romans 5:12, ESV).  But:

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15, ESV).

Jesus could not be held by death, because only those who sin can be held by death, and Jesus never sinned.  And we shall not be held by death, because Jesus took our sin upon Himself and paid our debt to God for sin, so we are viewed as those who have no sin:

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:3-5, ESV).

By the Physical Resurrection of the Lord Jesus, we have the pledge and assurance by the God of Peace that we also will be raised in our physical bodies.

“the great shepherd of the sheep,”

The Lord Jesus is the Great Shepherd of the sheep – He is not merely any shepherd, but He is the Great Shepherd.  And He is not the Shepherd of everyone, but the Shepherd of His sheep.

As Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11, ESV).

The image of shepherd is the same as the image of pastor – one who leads, corrects, and protects.  The shepherd was called to make sure his sheep survived and prospered in their being sheep.  As Jesus explained to the Jews:

“Jesus answered them, ‘I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one’” (John 10:25-30, ESV).

With Jesus as our Great Shepherd, we have the pledge and assurance from Him and the God of Peace that all those who believe savingly in Jesus will have eternal life – our death will be short-lived, and then we will live again, and no one can ever take us out of the hands of our Great Shepherd.  The God of Peace gave us to our Great Shepherd, and we are His for eternity.

“by the blood of the eternal covenant,”

What is a “covenant”?  Basically, a covenant is an agreement between two or more parties.

Before the foundations of the world, the God of Peace entered into a covenant with Himself that He would create humans, who would sin and need a savior to be made right with God again.  And the Son volunteered to Incarnate as that Savior, being able to do the good works of God to merit salvation and, thus, being able to take upon Himself the sin of all those who would ever believe that they would be forgiven and made right with God by the Incarnate Son suffering God’s Wrath for our sin and physically rising from the dead, victorious as the Holy, Innocent, Divine, Incarnate Son.

That covenant was sealed by the shedding of Jesus’ blood on the cross.  For, as the author of Hebrews explains, “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22, ESV).

Zechariah prophesied the sealing of the Covenant of Salvation through the blood of the Incarnate Son of God in this way, “As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit” (Zechariah 9:11, ESV).

And Isaiah wrote, “’For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,’ says the LORD, who has compassion on you” (Isaiah 54:10, ESV).

And we might wonder how it is that the blood shed by Jesus, once on the cross, would be able to secure the making right with God of every person who would ever believe throughout time and space.

Although we do not believe, as the Roman Catholic Church teaches, that Jesus’ blood and flesh are physically offered up as a sacrifice every time we receive the bread and the cup – no, Jesus was sacrificed once for all who would ever believe – we do understand that the God of Peace has received and restored and recovered the blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins and His crediting of our accounts with His Righteousness – with His perfect keeping of God’s Law in such a way that it is the seal – the pledge and the assurance of the Church – until the end, that all those who ever believe have been received as forgiven and holy through Jesus by the God of Peace – and nothing can change that, because the Covenant is between the Members of the Trinity on behalf of all those who will ever believe, sealed by the Blood of Jesus – confirming the eternal covenant for us.

“equip you with everything good that you may do his will,”

Third, the God of Peace enables us to do His Will.

Now that the author of Hebrews has identified and worshipped the God of Peace in the opening of his benediction, he calls upon this God – he prays for the Hebrews – that God would do two things for them.  The first of which is that God would enable – that God would equip – them with everything good – all that they need – to be able to do God’s Will.

And we wonder what the heretic, Pelagius, thought of this verse!  Pelagius objected to the idea that we were unable to do what God commands without God enabling us to do it.  He said that if God command us to do something, we must be able to do it.  But he was found to be wrong – hear what God says about our fallen, sinful ability:

 “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5, ESV).

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, ESV).

“as it is written:  ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one’” (Romans 3:10-12, ESV).

And the author of Hebrews wrote, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6, ESV).

We can talk about “good things” that people do, but in God’s Eyes, anything that is done outside of faith – anything that is done outside of one who has received Jesus and His salvation – is sin – it is not acceptable to God.  Our fallen inclination –  no matter how good something might look to our eyes – we cannot see the heart – if it is done by someone who has not received Jesus savingly – God sees it as sin.

That is why the Hebrews – that is why we – need God to equip us with everything good that we would be able to do God’s Will.  We are not able to do God’s Will unless God first makes us and gives us the tools, the abilities, the inclinations, to be able to do God’s Will.

And so we read in James, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17, ESV).

If the God of Peace has chosen to save you – including you in the eternal covenant, sealed by the blood of Jesus, the Incarnate God-Man, the One Savior, Who makes us right with God through His Work Alone, then God, the God of Peace, will enable us, as He is willing, gifting us and blessing us to be able to do the good works that He has set before us to do – including obedience to His Moral Law.

So the author of Hebrews is praying for the Hebrews that God – the God of Peace Who made them right with Him through Jesus – would give them all that they need – that He would equip them – enable them – gift them and bless them – that they would be able to do what is good in God’s Sight.  God Alone enables us to be able to do His Will – and it is a gift.

            “working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ,”

And, fourth, the God of Peace works through us to do what is pleasing in His Sight.

In the second place, the author of Hebrews prays that God would work through the Hebrews to accomplish the good works that He equips them to do.

Even after equipping us with all we need to do good works in God’s Eyes, the God of Peace do not leave us alone to sputter and fail in living lives of holiness and good works, but He indwells each of us in the Person of God the Holy Spirit Who works through Jesus Christ – through His blood and pardon of us – to do the good works that God has called us to do in Him.

What this is saying is that God is with us working through us, helping us to do all that He has called us to do.  Listen to what Jesus said:

 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (John 14:15-21, ESV).

The Triune God Who saves us through Jesus Alone, equips us and lives in us in the Person of the Holy Spirit, yet, we live in the Trinity and the Trinity lives in us, enabling us and bringing to pass all that God wants done as we are led towards holiness and our glorification on the day of Jesus’ return.

Do not misunderstand:  we are not taught that we in any way become God or a part of God, but, in some way, God actively lives in us and works through us to His Glory and to our benefit – something that only believers in the Savior, Jesus, Whom God has sent, receive.

            Paul writes, “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17, ESV).

            And, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13, ESV).

            The author of Hebrews ends the main part of his letter by praising and worshiping the God of Peace and raising two petitions on behalf of the Hebrews: 

He raises before them in praise the God of Peace – the One True God – Who through Jesus and His Incarnation, Life, Death, Physical Resurrection, and Ascension, sealed the Covenant which gives all those who believe in Jesus savingly the pledge – that when Jesus returns our salvation and the peace of the Church is secure.

He prays for them in a way that exposes the detriment that sin causes us and the Sovereignty of God in our salvation and perseverance – asking that the God of Peace would supply all of His sons and daughters – those who believe savingly in Jesus – with the ability to do what God has commanded and that God would cause those good works to occur in us and through us through Jesus Christ and in the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit.

Surely, God is Sovereign over Salvation and all that is good and profitable and glorious in our lives!

“to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”

            For all of this – and more – God, the God of Peace – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are worthy of all glory forever and ever and ever.  May it be – and may the Church say, “Amen.”

            Let us pray:


            Almighty God, we thank You that salvation is all of You – that You planned from before the foundation of the world to save some of Your rebellious Creation.  We thank You for choosing us according to Your Will and for choosing to make us exemplars of Your Glory – that others would look at us and talk with us and see Jesus in us and through us.  Be pleased to continue to equip us and to work Your good works through us.  May we be used as honorable pots for the work of the Inexpressibly Glorious God to Whom we owe all praise and glory and thanks forever and ever.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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