This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Hebrews 13:1-17
Purpose:to remind one another that in all the changes that take place in the church and among its leadership, Jesus remains the same and will never fail us. Good leadership always leaves us with him.
Sermon prepared by Dr. J. Cameron Fraser, Pastor of First CRC, Lethbridge, Alberta
Change can be hard. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad. We can all think of examples of both. But today we are thinking about the changes that come in the life of the church and especially of its leadership. That’s the context of our text.
The Hebrew Christians to whom this letter was originally written had gone through huge changes. They had recognized that their entire history as a people had been leading up to the coming of Jesus as their Messiah. They had come to believe in Him as Savior and Lord. But not all their fellow Jews had done so. In fact, these Hebrew Christians were being accused of having rejected the traditions of their fathers for a new and different religion. And some of them, it seems, were having second thoughts. This letter, then, was written to reassure them about their faith and to discourage them from trying to turn the clock back.
The author of the letter shows how Jesus as the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures is greater than Moses the lawgiver and Joshua who had led their forefathers into the promised land. His sacrifice of Himself as our Great High Priest is much greater than the priesthood of Aaron and the animal sacrifices which anticipated Jesus’ sacrifice to end all sacrifice. Jesus is even greater than the angels, because He is the Son of God.
Having made this argument in ten chapters, the writer gives us the great eleventh chapter in which he lists a number of Old Testament heroes of faith, all of whom were preparing the way for Jesus. This is clear from the opening words of chapter twelve, which says: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (vv.1-2). In other words, let’s not fix our eyes on the heroes of the past, but on Jesus to whom they were looking forward, however dimly they had understood that.
Chapter thirteen appears to be a series of miscellaneous, yet related, instructions and it is here that we find the words of verse 8 that will form the primary basis of our message: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Notice also its connection with verse 7: “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” So we shouldn’t ignore those who have gone before. In fact, we should imitate their faith, but see where this leads us: to Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever. Leaders come and go, but godly ones always leave us with Jesus who remains the same and who promises in verse 5, just as God had promised to Joshua so long ago: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
Then in verse 9, the writer warns: “Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings.” He goes on to say what kind of strange teachings he has in mind. They have to do with “ceremonial foods,” that is with outward religious observances rather than with Jesus. Just as godly leaders point us to Jesus, strange (or false) teachings point us away from Him to our own religious acts.
This context sets the stage for a closer look at just what it means for Jesus to be the same yesterday, today and forever.
Jesus: yesterday, today and forever
Right at the beginning of the letter, speaking of Jesus, the author quotes words from Psalm 45:6: “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever…” (Heb. 1:8). This tells us, among other things, that Jesus is God and that He is eternal; in other words, He is the same yesterday, today and forever.
In the rest of the letter, we find out what Jesus did for us in the past, what He is doing in the present, and what He will do forever. Let’s look at some examples of each:
Chapter 1:14-15 reads: “Since the children (that is, us) have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is the devil—and free all those who were held in slavery by their fear of death.” Jesus, the eternal Son of God, became one of us, so that he might die for us and thus destroy the devil’s hold over us, and in particular our fear of death.
Then chapter 5:7-9 tells us: “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”
This passage poses some difficult questions, such as how Jesus needed to learn obedience and be made perfect, if He was already perfect. But the main point we want to get out of it is that Jesus submitted to the will of His Father and so went to the cross for us, even though He naturally shrank from it, and in this way “became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”
That’s what Jesus did for us in the past. He laid aside the glory of heaven and became one of us, suffering the penalty of our sins, so that when we respond to Him in faith and obedience, we can be assured of eternal life.
What is he doing for us now? Look at chapter 4:14-16: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in our time of need.”
Not only did Jesus die for our sins in the past; He now offers the merit of His sacrifice before the throne of grace in heaven as the basis of our acceptance and confidence in prayer. Because He is Jesus (His human name) He is one of us and so understands our trials and temptations. Because He is the sinless Son of God, He pleads our cause perfectly, so that we can be assured of His and our acceptance. This is what Jesus continues to do for us in the present.
The Apostle John makes a similar point in his first letter when he says that if we sin (and we all do) “we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 John 1:1b). Hebrews uses the language of priestly intercession; John writes of the perfect legal defense. Both make the same point: Jesus is pleading our case before His Father’s throne in heaven, and this is the basis of our confidence in prayer.
And what about the future? See Hebrews 7:24-25: “…because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” Jesus intercedes for us—that is He pleads our cause—and He does that not only today, but tomorrow and the next day and the day after, and for as long as we need it. He is able to save completely. You will never lose your salvation as long as Jesus is praying for you and he never ceases to do that as long as you are in this world.
Then look at 9:27-28 and 10:37: “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him…For in just a very little while, ‘He who is coming will come and will not delay.’”
If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, this is because He died for your sins nearly 2,000 years ago, He continues to plead your cause before the throne of grace in heaven, and will come back soon to take you to be with Himself forever. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.”
Some think the leaders spoken of in chapter 13:7 were martyred for their faith. That may be. Chapter 10:32-34 suggests a time of persecution after the Hebrew Christians had “received the light” (10:32) and it might have included the leaders who first “spoke the word of God” to them (13:7). We can’t be sure, but we do know this: they introduced these believers to Jesus as the Word of God who fulfills the promises, prophesies and sacrifices of the Old Testament.
It’s good to remember such leaders. We too owe a debt of gratitude to those who introduced us to Jesus. But leaders don’t stay for ever. We can tell from verse 17 of Hebrews 13 that new leaders had come on the scene. They too must be respected, trusted, even obeyed “so that their work will be a joy, not a burden…”
But only insofar as they lead to Jesus. In themselves, they are imperfect sinners like the rest of us, subject to failure and disappointment. Yet, we can never be disappointed with Jesus who is perfect and will never fail us. It is to Him that all good leadership points and it is with Him that godly leaders leave us. Whatever changes, for good or bad, take place in the life of the church, Jesus never changes and if we keep our eyes fixed on Him, we will find Him to be the same yesterday, today and forever. Amen.
Order of Worship
We Gather for Worship
Welcome and Announcements
Mutual Greeting (optional)
Call to Worship: Revelation 4:11; 5:11, 13
Gathering Songs: “You Are Worthy” PH # 232
“Our God Reigns” PH # 195
God’s Greeting: Revelation 1: 4-5
Song of Praise: “Holy God, We Praise Your Name” PH # 504
We CELEBRATE God’s Grace
Silent Prayer of Confession followed by “I Praise the Christ of God” PH # 260: 3
Reading of Psalm 45
Song of Assurance: “Jesus Shall Reign” PH # 412
Children’s Message and/or Song (optional) “Jesus Loves Me” PH # 571
We Hear God’s Word
Prayer for God’s Help
Scripture Reading: Hebrews 13:1-17
Scripture Text: Hebrews 13:7-8
Sermon: “Leaving Us with Jesus”
We Respond in Faith
Prayer of Application: Lord, we give thanks for the promise of Your Word that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.” May we know that as a reality, a conviction and a comfort in all the changes we face in life and in the life of Your church. Help our leaders to always point us to Jesus and leave us with Him. Amen.
Song of Response: “Abide with Us, Our Savior” PH # 565
Offering and Offertory Prayer
WE LEAVE TO SERVE
Song of Praise: “Oh, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” PH # 501:1,2,7
God’s Blessing: Hebrews 13: 20-21
Doxology: “He Is Lord” PH # 633