The Way of Loyalty, Hebrews 13:9—16

The first 7 verses of Hebrews 13 contain the first of “three ways,” namely, The Way of Holiness. The life of faith demands that believers pursue a life of holiness. Holiness isn’t always spiritual; verses 1 through 7 illustrate this great truth that one cannot be holy if one’s actions aren’t holy. How we treat ourselves, other believers, strangers, and even those in prison serves to show the world just how holy we really are.

The last point we looked at was the idea that believers should never forget their spiritual leaders; to remember what they taught them and to follow their example. Verse 8 may be regarded as a transition sentence which leads the reader from practicalities to a brief discussion of doctrine.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)

We live in a world that is constantly changing. This has always been the case, especially in the first century AD, when social and political structures were undergoing mighty upheavals. Not long after this letter was written, Jerusalem was conquered and the Temple leveled. Our generation is also experiencing tremendous change, some of it good, much of it bad. Many people today are asking the same questions those in the first century asked: Is there anything or anybody you can count on? The Bible gives us the answer: Jesus Christ! He and His kingdom cannot be moved. If we build our lives on Him, we will discover that He alone is the firm foundation; Jesus Christ is the rock that doesn’t roll! Anything else cannot be trusted. Only Jesus has proved Himself to be absolutely trustworthy 100% of the time.

1. Jesus is the Christ, 13:8, 9

Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so. (Verse 9)

In our earnest pursuit of holiness, we must make sure that Jesus Christ is the Source, Center, and Goal of that pursuit. True Christian holiness—separation from the world to God—must always be Christ-centered, not man-centered. That’s why the writer cautions his readers not to be “carried away by all kinds of strange teachings.” How tempting it is to replace the spiritual pursuit of genuine holiness with man-concocked rules and regulations! That is NOT not God’s way! Holiness cannot be achieved by the outward dedication to set of teachings or doctrines. Holiness concerns what is on the inside of a man, not the outside.

The first century readers of this letter, Jewish converts all, were tempted to fall back to the forms of Judaism, mainly the Old Testament laws surrounding food and drink. They are reminded that those dusty, old rules did no spiritual good to anybody who observed them. The heart and soul of man are strengthened by God’s grace, not by food and drink.

And there are all kinds of “strange teachings” circulating today for the unsuspecting Christian to latch onto. The word “strange” does not mean weird or oddball; it means “strange” in relation to the Gospel of Christ. Maybe a better word wold be “foreign.” It’s hard to spot these false teachings. The Greek word for the English “all kinds” is poikilais, and means “many colored.” The idea is that there are so many false teachings or variations on the truth, it’s like looking through a prism. Why waste your time on those things when all you have to do is remain absolutely loyal to the teachings of Christ?

2. Jesus the Crucified, 13:10—14

We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat. (verse 10)

This is a verse that would have been extremely powerful to these Hebrew-Christians. The great Temple was still standing when this letter was written, and there were two altars back then: one in the Temple and the greater one in Heaven. The power of this verse is unlocked by a principle taught by Christ:

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. (Matthew 6:24a)

For the original readers of this letter, there was a real temptation to blend their old religion in with their new Christian faith. But it is impossible to trust two altars—those who serve in the Tabernacle had no right to eat at Heaven’s altar. In other words, an overlapping of beliefs and practices could not be tolerated. Intrinsically, Judaism and Christianity are incompatible, even though both faiths center on the same God, Yahweh. Why was it so dangerous to mix the two? The essential, Biblical tenets of the Christian faith can never be watered down because in doing so, the meaning of the Cross becomes diluted. To mix in elements of Judaism or any other belief system is to rob the Cross of its power and it reduces the Cross to the same level as those “foreign” elements. This is why the writer of this letter is so dogmatic on this point: when it comes to faith, it’s one way or another.

The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. (verses 11, 12)

Verse 11 gives us a specific example of what “those who minister” in the Temple did. The example probably refers to the ceremonies that took place on the Day of Atonement, where the bodies of the animals slain that day were completely burnt up in a fire outside “outside the camp,” a phrase that would have reminded the readers of the Tabernacle in the wilderness during the days of Moses.

The phrase “and so,” which introduces verse 12, also introduces an inference: the Day of Atonement typologically foreshadowed the great atoning work of Christ. Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross took place just outside the city, just as the carcasses of the animals are burnt up outside the city. To you and me, the power of this inference may be minute; we are not Jews and even if we were, we are thousands of years removed from the days of the Temple ceremonies. But to the Hebrews reading this letter, this inference would have felt like a slap upside their collective heads! Christ’s ability to cleanse from sin and His suffering outside of Jerusalem is as superior to the old sacrificial system as fiber optic communication to smoke signals! His atoning work does not involve any special meals for it is faith in Him alone on which the believer’s right relationship to God hinges.

Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. (verses 13, 14)

Here are two more powerful verses in letter awash in these kinds of verses! As far as holiness is concerned, the cost of pursuing it is no less than the cost of providing it. It literally cost our Lord everything to make it available to us. Can it cost us any less than our very lives? These two verses call on believers not to feel at home where Jesus wasn’t welcomed: in the world. We can’t afford to make our homes where Jesus was homeless! This is the definition of loyalty; to identify ourselves completely with Him in every way. If we are so comfortable so as to remain “in the camp,” we’ll never venture out of it to be with Jesus. There was no holiness to be found in Jerusalem; Jesus did His work on the outside. That’s where He is to be found. He is not in the world or the things of this world.

There is a choice every believer will be confronted with: to be loyal to Christ or cling to the so-called security of the world. The writer urges us to “go to him outside” the world; Jesus can’t be found in the world.

That “city” we are seeking is the city of God, or the Kingdom of God. That’s we are to pray “thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is heaven.” That’s our hope—our realistic hope—in the kingdom to come. And yet, our hope is also here, in the here and now, as we spiritually abandon the sinful world in which we are forced to live so that we may abide spiritually in the Kindgom, where Christ is.

To look for hope and security in the world (in Jerusalem) is to look in vain. For the Jews living when this letter was written, Jerusalem was their permanent city. Little could they know that its days were numbered and it was slated for destruction. The things that people think are permanent and trustworthy are really only temporary, while that which believers hope for is eternal.

3. God is the author of all, 13:15, 16

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Verse 15 reminds us that one of the most powerful dynamics of the Christian life is praise. When life beats us up, when we get discouraged, depressed, and despondent, when we’re tired of the “fight of faith,” we need to remember that praise both produces and releases God’s energy in our lives. If only we could grasp and hold on to the reality of this truth! Self-pity and whining about the circumstances of our lives would fade away and be replaced by a cheerful optimism that is rooted in the grace and power of God.

But this praise must be constant, not only when you feel like doing it or when the going gets tough. If you wait till then, it’s too late. There are no inappropriate times to praise God! True believers didn’t get motivated to praise God by the sight of bloody, dead animals in the first century, and true believers today shouldn’t be motived to praise God by any external influence, save the Person of God Himself.

Just in case some of the readers of this letter had been tricked into thinking that without the elaborate sacrificial system of Judaism they had nothing to offer God and no acceptable worship to offer Him, our letter writer reminds them that there certain sacrifices acceptable to God. These acceptable sacrifices can be offered anytime, all the time, not just on certain hours of certain days of the week.

  • The sacrifice of praise. The “fruit of our lips” should be a thankful attitude to God. But this attitude must be expressed; vocalized. Vocal praise of God is a proper response to our indebtedness to Him! We owe Him everything; the least we can do is praise Him.

  • The sacrifice of good works. “Faith without works dead,” wrote our Lord’s half-brother. Our vocal praise of God is directed heavenward, but our good works are directed toward our fellow man. This manifestation of brotherly love, though it benefits people, is really an acceptable sacrifice to God!

God finds great pleasure in us when we praise Him with our voice and honor Him with our actions.

It may seem strange that Christians need to be reminded to praise God and to do good. Unfortunately, sometimes we get so caught up in the minutia of our lives, we get so used to looking inward, that we don’t notice there are people in need all around us and, when it comes to worship, sometimes our worship becomes merely lip service.

(c)  2012 WitzEnd


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