The author concludes his letter with some final words of exhortation to these Hebrew Christians fighting to trust Jesus. He has taken his audience a long way. He has compared Jesus to everything and proven that Jesus is always better. He has highlighted the worthiness of Christ, especially in his priestly role, able to help us when we need him most. He has encouraged us, warned us, exhorted us, comforted us, and afflicted us. He has compelled us to persevere with Jesus. Now he is ready to close this book with some final exhortations and a final blessing.
1 Let brotherly love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. 3 Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. 4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. 5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”
In his classic book, The City of God, St. Augustine shows us how to think about the world. There are two cities: the City of God and the City of Man. These cities are founded on two loves. Augustine explains:
Two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord. For the one seeks glory from men; but the greatest glory of the other is God, the witness of conscience. The one lifts up its head in its own glory; the other says to its God, “Thou art my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.”
Hebrews 13 is about two cities, with the focus on the City of God. How does the City of God live? The residents, sustained by Jesus, persevere in love. They remember those in prison, hold marriage in honor, stay free from love of money, and remember that the Lord is their helper. By nature, the City of Man is opposed to the City of God because love of God has replaced love of Self, and Self never dies easily. The City of God operates under different rules, powered by the Holy Spirit. Whereas the City of Man looks for the easy way out, maximizing comfort and affluence, the City of God looks for the righteous way out, maximizing love and care.
Because the City of Man hates the City of God, the original audience would have known people imprisoned for their faith. The author is asking his readers to identify with them in their suffering because Christians comprise one body. Undoubtedly, that would have included watching over their spouses and children. The unity of the believers means not only that they are part of one church but that they stick their neck out for one another, even if that leads to suffering. After all, they’re following a man who died for the ones he loved. That’s not an easy call, but what in the Christian life is easy when living in the City of Man?
When it comes to holy living, the City of God never lets up. The joy of the Lord is their strength. So, naturally, the author moves from the hard to the harder. He calls his readers to two things in verses 4-5: marriage must be held in honor, and we must be content. The author has repeatedly warned us not to drift from God. One way we could fall away from the faith is to give ourselves over to sexual sin. Another way is to give ourselves over to greed.
Sexual immorality and greed are often closely linked. Discontentment leads to sexual sin, and sexual sin leads to discontentment. It is as true today as it was in the ancient world. Our disordered desires cause our downfall. But in the City of God, citizens are content with what God has provided because they’ve already received the deepest desire of their heart. They have God, the one who fulfills all longings.
We drift from God because we believe the Devil’s lie that God is holding us back. We are like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, considering the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge Good and Evil when the Tree of Life has been provided. Therefore, we fight sexual temptation and discontentment by considering Jesus Christ. Christ keeps us tied to the harbor of the gospel. He holds us in the throne room of heaven. We may feel the wind and the rage of the storms, but we cannot be lost at sea because the anchor holds.
To endure, we need reminders of the sovereign power of God. Here in Hebrews 13, the author quotes Psalm 118 as comfort and motivation for holy living. “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” Our motivation to keep the marriage bed undefiled and remain content is the goodness of God. He will not leave us nor forsake us. He is our helper. The logic of the gospel tells us that all our greatest fears have been conquered in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. If the Lord grants us victory over our foes of sin and death, how much more will he grant victory over sexual temptation and greed? Is God holding out on us, or are we holding out on him? In which City do we have our citizenship?
7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 9 Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. 15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. 19 I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner.
Verse 8 is the key verse in this passage: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Inside the City of God, no matter who rules the world around us, we know that Jesus is the one who upholds the universe by the word of his power (Heb. 1:3). We have no election to fret over. We have no takeover to worry about. We have no party to apologize for. God is on his throne, everything is going his way, and he loves us.
Leadership change can be disruptive to an organization, ushering in uncertainty and fear. We grow to love those who have led and pastored us for years, and when they go, we fear what the next leader will do. But there is a great hope that the City of God has that the City of Man can never know. Men die. God lives forever. Leadership change in the City of Man almost guarantees strife. Leadership change in the City of God reminds us of the true Leader, Jesus. With Jesus as our head, all godly leaders lead under him. Though the leaders may change, Jesus never does. It’s like the Vice President being changed after four years. Would we notice a difference in the direction of leadership?
Leadership change in the church should not be a cause for alarm. It should be a cause for rejoicing. But every Christian must have their eyes peeled for wrong doctrine. Leadership change is dangerous when the gospel is compromised. That’s why the author urges them not to be led away by diverse and strange teachings. As long as they follow those who preach the same gospel message, they will find the same gospel grace.
Some leaders have passed on to be with the Lord, and others rise to take their place, but Jesus sustains his church because he is the same yesterday and today and forever. We can submit to our Jesus-loving leaders because they are led by Jesus himself, and he always remains faithful.
But it won’t be easy. Jesus’ leadership is not accepted by the City of Man. If we are to follow him, we should expect the same kind of treatment that he received. He was dragged outside of the city. We should not be surprised if we are as well. In fact, the author of Hebrews calls us to voluntarily go outside the camp. We must leave the City of Man to come to the City of God. It is better to be mistreated with the people of God than to be lavished with all the riches of the world. We have treasures the world cannot understand.
20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
22 I appeal to you, brothers, bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly. 23 You should know that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom I shall see you if he comes soon. 24 Greet all your leaders and all the saints. Those who come from Italy send you greetings. 25 Grace be with all of you.
The City of Man causes unrest for the City of God, but God is the God of peace. There is no need to fear because God has brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus. The worst they could do was kill him, but even that didn’t have the desired effect. What they meant for evil God meant for good. The resurrection of Jesus was not only a miracle; it was the confirmation that the citizens of the City of God are going to be ok. The City of Man may have their crosses and spears, but the City of God can bear them as they wait for God to turn the spears into plowshares.
The peace of God reigns through the person of Jesus. He is the great shepherd of the sheep. He himself told us this in John 10. He isn’t a shepherd who merely keeps us from trouble, but one who endured the greatest trouble the City of Man had to offer. Because he came out the other side, we can believe his words: No one can snatch us out of his hands (John 10:28). Through his shed blood, he offers us an eternal covenant. We can endure the hard times because this covenant offers better promises. We may wonder if we will make it through, but Jesus will equip us with everything good that we may do his will.
The author closes by telling us his purpose. This has been a “word of exhortation.” That means this has been a sermon. And what do all good sermons do? They lift Jesus up and usher the listeners (in this case, readers) to behold his glory. He has written this to Christians wondering if Jesus is worth it anymore.
After all that he has taken us through – the Sonship, the Priesthood, the New Covenant, the warnings - what we should see at the end is the worthiness of Jesus. He is able to save.
What the author of Hebrews gives is not a job description to adhere to but a savior to unite to. What we need as we close this book is exactly what God has been giving us through this book all along: grace. It is the grace of God that saves, sustains, and brings us home. Grace is in all and through all because Jesus Christ has set his face toward us in love. So, therefore, grace be with all of you.