Let’s take our Bibles this morning and turn to Hebrews 13, which is the last message we’ll do in Hebrews. I feel like I’m leaving an old friend here, since it’s been a really rich study for me that helped me grow in the Lord in understanding many Old Testament passages and how they relate to the sacrifices and Christ. It all points to one Person, and we’re looking for our glorious future as believers as we dwell in the city whose Maker and Builder is God.
This is the end of the message to the Hebrews. The writer leaves us with a reminder that as we run the Christian race and grow in our knowledge of God and His promises, and our faith increases, our we can hold fast to the testimony that we have in Jesus Christ. We are not done yet. We will still have a continual need for paying attention to the Word of exhortation. We will still continue to have a need for taking notice and greeting fellow believers, and we will continue to need to think of and practice God’s grace.
Let’s read the passage, Hebrews 13:22-25 says:
But I urge you, brethren, bear with this word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly. Take notice that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom, if he comes soon, I will see you. Greet all of your leaders and all the saints. Those from Italy greet you. Grace be with you all.
That’s the end of this book. While I was in Hebrews 12:1, just look there for a moment, the Scripture brought to our attention that the Christian life is very similar to a race. It says:
Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
The nature of this race is that you and I are in it the moment we come to Christ. We are in it to give all our effort to crossing the finish line. But remember, it is not a race to determine how fast you run. Neither is it a race that is competition with others, which determines success or failure in reaching the goal. The point of the race is not the one who finishes first. The point of the race rather, is that you simply finish regardless of the number you come in. According to Hebrews, you must finish with endurance. And truth is what gives you endurance, your relationship with Christ, the Spirit of God, all give you endurance.
We need to think of the Christian life as a foot race or like a cross-country race, than any other kind of race. If you’ve ever run cross-country, there are always ditches and holes and fields that you have to run through. There are protruding rights and inclines and declines, and other obstacles of all kind. This is really how the Christian life is. The purpose of the race is just to finish the course despite hardships, exhaustion, aging, pain. Part of running the race well is removing those things which slow you down and hinder you from making good progress.
There are things you will need to continue in so that you endure until the end and finish the Christian race well. That’s how we kind of ends the book. I already mentioned them but we’ll take a closer look now. In Hebrews 13:22, that author says to the audience that they have a continual need for paying attention to the Word of exhortation. The verse says:
But I urge you, brethren, bear with this word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly.
In other words he is saying to us that he has taken major theological topics and just barely skimmed the surface in his writing. He encourages them that those who have been urged have found the course disagreeable, and they might lose out on the benefits of what is being taught. But it is a general exhortation to all believers that we can never get along with the Word. So he presses us yet with another imperative and that word right there bear with is the imperative. Scripture is called us not only to hear the message of the Word of God, but also to pay attention to it’s details.
Along the way, you have to ask yourself this question, about what practical difference has this message made in your daily Christian experience? What has changed in your life since hearing the Word of God? We should always be asking ourselves that question, no matter when you’re taught something or what book you are in.
Has it encouraged you not to forsake the assembling of yourself together as a manner that some have. Has it struck fear in your heart by its warnings? Has it caused to well up with joy in your heart because of its promises? Has it convicted you of the exclusiveness of faith in Christ alone for salvation? Has it provided you to open your heart more and more towards those who are in need to provide generosity and hospitality when it comes to your attention? Has it caused you to consider the shortness of your life and that earth is not your permanent home but that you are heading towards your permanent home? Has it made you loosen your heart’s grip on possessions and things and caused you to be content with what you already have? Has it moved you to pray with an open and sincere heart before the Lord and be honest with Him? Has it caused you to appreciate the extent to which the Lord went in order to supply you with full and final salvation. Has it taken you to glory? Has it caused you to stand in the middle of the city whose Builder and Maker is God? Has its teaching helped you to grasp the supremacy of Christ and moved you to humble yourself in reverent worship?
The Word of God should have done all this and more, because an exhortation like the book of Hebrews does this. It is designed to stir you up to unceasing watchfulness, especially against your own back sliding and caused you to press on in this race after Christ to the goal of Christian hope. Therefore we ought to accept and ponder its message. We ought to obey its message, and warnings, and instructions, and exhortations. Why? Because it applies to you. When you stop listening, you start doing your own thing. In other words, you start living for yourself again.
See we could never be done with the Word of exhortation and the preaching of the Word of God. That’s a continual thing that must always be present in the life of a believer no matter who you are, where you are, how long you have lived, etc. You’ll never get to the place where you know it all and where God is done with your sanctification. You’ll never get to that place because right from sanctification you go to glorification, and only then will you be perfect. But that’s God’s choice, not yours. So you’re never done!
But that’s a good thing because we need the Word of God. It’s the important ingredient that we can never get away from. The second thing I want you to notice is that we should be greeting fellow believers. Look at Hebrews 13:23:
Take notice that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom, if he comes soon, I will see you.
This is an imperative to notice! And then in verse 24 it says:
Greet all of your leaders and all the saints. Those from Italy greet you.
He is saying to them at the end that he wants them to take these two imperatives and practice them in their lives because if we don’t take notice of other people, who will? He mentions a person to take notice of, who is Timothy their brother. Timothy is a pastor and evangelist, and probably currently in jail for preaching the gospel. The intention and emphasis here is that this Hebrew church had something to do with Timothy’s release, either by prayers or action or both. It’s the church that ought to pay attention to those who are downcast and have been afflicted and inflicted. We need to pay attention to those that others don’t take notice of. Especially for someone who ends up in jail for preaching the gospel.
As a matter of fact, anybody can be incarcerated. Even if it’s because of their own sin, we ought to take notice of them because if we don’t as a church no one will. Just for example, I recently received a letter from a young man that I knew in the past that came to our church as a Rutgers college student. He came to know the Lord back 15 or more years ago. Then he back slid and gotten away from Him and ended up leaving the church in the wrong way.
I lost track of him and tried to contact him a few times. But I learned that when people don’t want to be contacted, they know how to stay at an arm’s length and even become invisible. That’s what he did. We couldn’t reach him and I recently received a letter from him in last December, right after Christmas. And when I opened it there was a handwritten letter. I want to read a part of it to you. It says:
“Greetings to you in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Please forgive me for leaving the church in the manner that I did and that I have not been in contact with you for so many years. I humbly ask that you will please forgive me. I hope and pray that you and your family, and all that are at Calvary are well.”
That was from fifteen years ago. I haven’t heard from him or talked with him since. He tried to call me one time but it didn’t work out and I happened to lose my phone’s numbers, and one of them was his. Obviously, the Lord didn’t want me to talk to him at that point. But it shows signs of righteous behavior in this particular letter. I thought to myself that it looks like the Lord got a hold of his life and brought him back to himself. I was reminded of the passage of Scripture in Hebrews 12:8-11 which is on God’s discipline. It says this:
But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
It seems like the Lord got a hold of him and was disciplining him. I did not mention to you that this came from Safford, Arizona, which is the home of the Federal Correction Institute, of which he is a resident. This young man fell in with the wrong people and was led away by his own passions and desires of the flesh and ended up committing a federal crime and got caught. Now he is doing time for his crime and he is receiving justice.
After receiving that letter, I could say to myself that I’m glad he is doing better and that God has a hold of him. But he is in prison and if we don’t take notice of him, who will? I didn’t give you his name purposefully because I want to write a letter and then give it to you. Then I want everyone to write. He is going to get more mail there while incarcerated during a 4 year time than anybody else. I pray that will happen.
In our culture, that claims general goodness of him, he and people like him are considered human trash. They’re considered the lowest of the low. But the human view of goodness is upside down and backwards. According to the Old Testament in Psalms 14:3, it says:
There is no one who does good, not even one.
Well Paul picks that up in the New Testament in Romans 3:23 by adding:
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
As Christians we understand at the end of the day that we are in the same boat. We are no better than the vilest offenders. Do you see yourself like that? Are you being corrected in your mind as to who you really are? We ought to see ourselves through the lens of Scripture. The difference is that we have a hope, an assurance that we have been forgiven by God through Christ Jesus. But what about those who are locked up? Who will give them hope? Do they deserve a second chance? Maybe the world says no but the church says yes. As long as they have red blood running through their veins, they have a second chance. They blew it and got caught. They are incarcerated and did things that are wicked.
But remember Hebrews 10:34 says:
You showed sympathy to the prisoners.
And one of the prisoners could have been Timothy and that’s why he brings it up at the end. They prayed for him, they had something to do with his release. Now this young man that I was talking about further wrote this:
“I will gladly share as factually as I am able, the events that have led up to me being here and how God has exceedingly graciously been working in me over these years and still now.”
God’s got His hand over him and is keeping him. If God has to bring someone to a situation like that, that’s God’s grace. He is recognizing that, which is huge!
So he has something to do with us and we ought to take notice of him. If we don’t, no one else will. Maybe his family will, but that’s it. So I will a letter addressed to him, and then I will make his address available to you. Some of you know him, but I know him and I pray that you would come to know him too.
So he is saying in this passage of Scripture to take notice, that’s a command. In other words, don’t just live for yourself in your own little world. If you know all this stuff and God’s been gracious to give you this knowledge, you are hugely responsible. You can’t just stick your tail between your legs and walk out the door as if you don’t know anything. You’re part of the Church now, which ought to be different. Part of being different is noticing people, especially those who have been knocked from pillar to post in this world by their own family and sin.
In the passage of Scripture, the writer says that he will come with Timothy if no one notices him. It seems very Pauline at the end here, and some people think that Paul wrote Hebrews. I don’t think he did, I think Apollos wrote it. Remember Apollos and Timothy and Paul were all together ministering. Therefore the writer says that he will come with Timothy. Then he says in Hebrews 13:24:
Greet all of your leaders and all the saints. Those from Italy greet you.
This is the third time that he is talking about leadership and I think the point here is to express kind and respectful attention towards those who bear an office in the church. In other words, they are God’s gift to you. So the attitude that you should have towards them should be one of welcoming and greeting. That should include praying for them, lifting them up, and encouraging them.
And then he says in the verse that we should take notice of those who are downcast, the leaders, and finally all the saints in and outside of the congregation. From time to time their names are going to come up for some reason. And I love how he uses the word saints, which means separated ones. If you don’t believe it, well you are a saint if you know Christ. You are set apart by God for Himself, and from this world and from this darkness. And you are devoted now to love and fear the service of God and His Son and people. We are to welcome the true members of the visible church, wherever they are and wherever they come from.
Then he says for the readers to have mutual regard for everyone because those in Italy greet them. How true it is that Christianity breaks down social behaviors and melts all kinds of prejudices. The Christians in Italy are contacting a Hebrew church. Gentiles are greening a Hebrew church. You know that the Romans and Jews did not get along. But here you have Italians and Hebrews, who were accustomed to regarding each other with contempt and hatred. But in Christ Jesus, there is neither Jew, Roman, Italian, nor Hebrew. All are one in Christ. There is no such thing as skin color that divide people. When we become believers, we become one group.
If I think of our own congregation, we have Jamaicans, Hawaiians, Islanders, Brazilians, Chileans, Puerto Ricans, Hispanics, African Americans, Italians, Thai, Taiwanese, Korean, Arabian, Jewish, Philippino, English, Irish, Scot, Slovakian, German, and Polish. The last one is me. But you know what? None of those things should matter in Christ, for everything is broken down in Him. We are just like each other and we have a common bond.
I think what he is saying here at the end is that all the barriers break down, whether social, political, or otherwise. It should melt down all kinds of prejudices in the church until there are none left. That’s what the church is about and that’s what Christ does in your heart. If you come from a particularly prejudiced type of family, whether they are social or passed down, in Christ those things are going to be broken down. Until you no longer see people as black, white, yellow, or any other nationality or color.
It’s neat to have fellowship with people who are so different from you in their mannerisms and in the way they speak and what they eat. I think it’s exciting to meet people from all different cultures and learn from them. We are to take notice of other believers who they are, how God is working in their lives, and how can we pray for and help them. That is what we ought to do.
But then there is one more thing we should do. We should have a continual need, not only for the Word of exhortation, but also for taking notice of others regardless of who they are. And then lastly we have a continual need of thinking of and practicing God’s grace in Hebrews 13:25:
Grace be with you all.
Grace or favor is often used as a fixed formula at the beginning and end of Christian letters, and it is so in this passage. But you have to ask yourself why should grace be with you? Why is it so important? We must always be thinking about and practicing God’s grace. If we’re going to endure this race together, then we have to remember and practice God’s grace, the divine sovereign, kindness of God. May you always be ready to recall the proofs of His particular love and care for you because His loving kindness is better than life.
But you know what? One of the most misunderstood things in the Christian life is this very word grace. I am still learning about it. Now I want to bring to your attention what the writer of Hebrews does with this word grace. He mentions it seven times in different contexts.
But before I go through them, I want to step back a bit so that you may once again, grasp an understanding of the risky business of the full impact of God’s grace. And that you would do so in order to hedge against the temptation to become grace abusers or grace killers.
We must go back to the doctrine of justification. The definition of justification is the sovereign act of God whereby He declares righteous the believing sinner, while still in his sinning state. I’m stressing the sinning part of God’s work in justification. It doesn’t meant that the believer stops sinning once the become believers. And it doesn’t meant that the believer becomes righteous in the sense that they suddenly become perpetually perfect. The sinner is declared righteous by God. He sovereignly bestows the gift of eternal life on the sinner at the moment he believes.
Thereby He declares the sinner righteous while the sinner lives a life marked by periodic times of sinfulness. An example is of a person who hasn’t joined the church yet, hasn’t been baptized, hasn’t started giving, or live a sacrificial and pure life yet. He has simply taken the gift of eternal life, seen himself a sinner needing salvation from Christ. His mind has been changed in regard to Christ and he has trusted him by faith, which is repentance. He has received the free gift of God apart from any works that he can offer, and the transaction is complete!
By grace, through faith alone, God declares the sinner righteous. That’s justification. From the moment of justification, the moment a sinner is justified, he begins the process of growth through maturity. That is sanctification. And little by little, he learns to lead a life that honors God. It’s a whole process.
Justification means even though someone still periodically sins, and find themselves unable to stop sinning on a permanent basis, God declares him righteous when he believes. That has everything to do with God’s grace and graceliving. You and I will continue to sin from time to time. Therefore we should have all the more reason to be grateful for God’s grace. As a sinner, our only hope for survival is grace.
Just imagine that you have a six year old son whom you love dearly. Tragically one day you discover that your son was horribly murdered. After a lengthy search, the investigators of the crime find the killer. At that point you have a choice, if you use every means in your power to kill the murderer, that would be vengeance. And God says that vengeances is His and He will repay. If however, your content to sit back and let the legal authorities take over and execute over him what is proper including a fair trial, a plea of guilty, capital punishment, that would be justice. God allows us to get justice in the world through our system.
But if you should plead for the pardon of the murderer, if you should forgive him completely and invite him in your home. If you should adopt him as your son, that is grace! God’s grace is risky. Yet that is what God does every single time someone comes to faith in Christ. He takes a condemned, guilty, believing sinner who says that he is lost and unworthy and guilty as charged. And God extends the free gift of eternal life because of Christ’s death on the cross and because His death has satisfied God’s demands against sin. God sees the guilty sinner who becomes by with alone as righteous as His own Son. In fact, He even invites us to come home with Him and adopts us into His forever family. Instead of treating us with vengeance or executing justice, God extends grace. I find that no explanation can cause us to fully grasp God’s grace and what He actually did for us!
If you’re not grasping grace, you’re either going to fall into the category of being a grace killer, and some people call that legalism. And someone who is legalistic in their thinking always emphasizes works over grace. They opt for giving lists of dos and don’ts, whether it’s personal or traditional. It is up to them, in their mind, to earn God’s acceptance. But God has already accepted them, which is justification. There’s nothing you and I can do to gain God’s favor or grace.
Also a grace killer leaves no room for gray areas. Fellowship is based on whether there is full agreement. Rigid standards are more important than relationships. Grace killers try to work off sin. And when they do that, they have misunderstood and move away from what the Bible says about God’s grace.
Grace abusers are people who give license to their sin. They go too far and set aside all self-control. They take their liberty to an extreme so that they end up serving sin again. Like what Paul says in Romans 6:15:
What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!
Grace abusers blow off sin. Both of those ideologies are wrong. You can’t work off sin, or you’ll try to add to the work of Christ on the cross. And you can’t blow off sin because now you are a believer in God’s family and God’s not saying you have to do this, but He is putting in your heart a desire to want to do this and love Him and serve Him out of gratitude and thankfulness.
That’s why the Bible always emphasizes graduated and thanksgiving because when you are thankful, you are definitely gracious in your expression of praise to God for what He has done for you. You are hedging against being a grace abuser or a grace killer.
God has saved us to such an extent that we can’t do anything at all to add to it. Now, let me just take you to the seven occurrences that is used in Hebrews for this word grace. In Hebrews 2:9, when expounding on the work of Christ, the writer of Hebrews says this:
But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.
So even in the work of Christ and in dying for sinner, it is God’s grace that moves Him to be as sacrifice for His children. In Hebrews 4:16 when we are invited to pray, we are reminded of God’s grace where it says this:
Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Even when we are prodded to pray, what is the overarching word? Grace. When Scripture expounds perils of apostasy, we are reminded of the seriousness of falling backward away from Christ. It says in Hebrews 10:29:
How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?
In other words, God’s Spirit who is offering to you freely God’s salvation, people just blow it off. You know there is no forgiveness of sin for people who do that. When Scripture warns the congregation to make sure that no one falls short of the grace of God. Hebrews 12:15 says:
See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.
In other words, we begin this life of faith by God’s saving grace, and only by grace can we move forward and continue. The author is concerned that no one in the race will fall behind and turn aside from the prize that is set before them. The passage there is speaking of the absolute and disastrous eventuality of cutting oneself off from the grace of God. Instead of being carried forward by God’s grace, this person turns from it and is left behind and lost.
Not believing in Moses is one thing, but not believing in Jesus Christ is quite another. Not believing in the greater than Moses, the faithful Apostle and High Priest Jesus Christ is ruinous to someone’s eternity.
When we are called to thankfulness, the author brings up the word grace again in Hebrews 12:28-29:
Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.
In other words, grace is the practical application of goodwill, a sign of favor. It is a gift that God gives us and in turn we give to others and practice in our lives ourselves. Scripture reminds us in Hebrews 13:9 that the only to be strengthened in this race is by grace:
Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace.
In other words this is especially in light of the works based teaching of false teachers. They are trying to get you to do something by false ideas, which is not by grace. Keep returning to the idea of grace, what the Lord has done for you, and that it is completely free! The Christian life is not an easy one, but we are not left to fend for ourselves. We are regularly reminded in Scripture that we have a God who is generous, kind and will meet all His people’s needs. That is what Hebrews teaches us.
We find as we grow in our knowledge of God, and as we grow in our faith in Him, that when we depend on grace we cannot be shaken. When we live like this, we will keep running until we finish. I believe that we have embarked on a journey that has brought us to a place in which we all have the opportunity to once again fall in love with our Lord Jesus Christ and come to worship Him more consistently and deeply than ever before.
I pray that if this study has done that in some way, I praise God for that. But also if you didn’t really know Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, that by this study you were led to faith by repentance and His Word. If you have, then let somebody know about that. Talk to someone about what you have learned. My prayer for you today is that you will know forever and follow Him all the days of your life.
If you do not know Him, I pray you would come to know Him. If you did know Him, I pray that your understanding of the supremacy of Christ would become clearer and more solidified in your heart and mind than ever before. So the writer ends it by saying: Grace be with you all.
Well, remember he does say this. When we are running the race, it will be by faith. He says for us to run and endure to the end and finish well. It doesn’t say that we will finish perfectly. The direction of our lives is to please God with our heart, mind, and soul. We need to pay attention to what God says in His Word. We need to take notice of others, and when we do we hedge against the sin of selfishness and self-centeredness. We need to think of and practice grace. When we do, we will think of sin seriously and we will hedge against being grace killers or grace abusers. If we do that, we will run the race well. That’s why he ends with, grace be with you all. That’s what we need more than anything while we run this race. Never forget that.
Let’s pray. Lord thank You this morning for Your kindness to us. Thank You, Lord, for Your divine graciousness to us. We know from reading the Word of God that we don’t deserve Your grace. Because You are a gracious God, You give it to us and You have done everything possible to secure the offer You make to us as free. You do that through Your Son Jesus Christ, who has the supremacy of all persons and things, in Heaven and earth and through all creation. Seen and unseen, there is no one like Jesus Christ. There is no one like Your Son and we praise You for that and for the understanding we have of that.
I pray that as we walk out and live our Christian life, as we run this Christian race, we would remember our responsibility. I pray that we would remember our needs and I pray that we would continue and that we would be challenged by the Word of God so that it would increase our faith and cause us to endure the race that is set before us. I pray that we would not have our eyes on ourselves, but on You and others. I pray that we would see the needs of others and that we would want to meet them and share in the lives of others. I pray that we would also see that need of the unmerited favor of God that has been given to us through Christ Jesus. I pray that we would realize that we can easily slip onto one side or the other. I pray that You would give us balance and that Your Word would strengthen us. As we do that, Lord, I pray that Your Spirit would take hold of us and would continue that sanctifying process. If need be that You must discipline us, please do so in order that we may share in Your grace.
Thank You, Lord, again for this time, for this book, for all that You have taught in it and worked in the hearts of Your children. I pray that now we would learn to live and desire to live in the glory of Your great Name. I pray this all in Christ and for the advancement of His Church, the evangelization of the world, and for the building up of the Church, thank You Lord, I pray this in Christ’s Name, Amen.