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JESUS CHRIST IS THE SAME YESTERDAY AND TODAY AND FOREVER

Hebrews 13:1-13:25
Key Verse: 13:8

Thank God for helping us to think of his unfathomable blessings in Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant. We have a fellowship with the living God, we belong to the church of the firstborn, and we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken. What we can do to his grace is to be thankful and worship God acceptably. In this last chapter of Hebrews the writer let the readers amid many exhortations continually fix their eyes and thoughts of Jesus amid many exhortations. For the constant thought of Jesus would be the greatest encouragement, as they strove to follow him in this world. The same is true to us.

First, Jesus is the same forever (1-8). Look at verses 1-3. “Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” Here we can infer that at the time when this epistle was written, believers in Jesus were suffering much, imprisoned and mistreated. They were like strangers in the world. In chapter 10:32-34 it is written, “Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property…” At that time it seemed that the earlier days of suffering were coming back, though not that much severely. It would be beautiful if the life of love was practiced in such a time. The writer could remember Abraham, who had served angels not knowing they were angels, when he just invited strangers to his home for some rest and refreshment. The writer encouraged the believers to continue to practice the life of loving and serving, trying to think of the difficult situations of others. Christian life is truly moving from self-centred life to Christ-centred and others-centred life. It is also expressed in Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” We ask God for his mercy in this aspect.

Look at verse 4. “Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” As we studied in Genesis, it is God who instituted marriage between a man and a woman in the Garden of Eden to so establish a family. The establishment of a family was the end of God’s creation story as the completion of the creation. This was a very joyful event. Jesus performed his first miraculous sign at the wedding, turning water into wine to keep the joy in the wedding and thus blessing the wedding. As marriage is a joyful event, so it is to be a sacred and honourable one. Marriage should be honoured by all men in any time and any generation. When marriage is honoured, marriage bed can be kept pure. The writer clearly wrote, “God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. The believers of that time needed this admonishment and warning, so do the Christians of today.

Look at verse 5. “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’” 1 Timothy 6:10 says, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” People can love money out of greed or also out of poverty. When we think of the believers of that time, some might love money and wanted to become richer, yet probably many of them do so to overcome their poverty. In any case they had to keep their lives free from the love of money. They needed to learn to be content with what they had. Paul said 1 Timothy 6:8 says, “…if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” One can be content believing in God’s absolute care, for God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Look at verse 6. “So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” When God is my helper, I don’t need to be afraid of anything and anyone. In my poverty God can provide me with necessary things. In my lacking courage, God will grant me courage when I look up at him. In my lacking wisdom, God will give me wisdom when I ask for it. So we can say with confidence, “You, man, what can you do to me?” What a confident life! Persecution or poverty or authorities of the world does not matter in this confidence.

The author of Hebrews exhorted and encouraged the people with the words of God. What truly matters, especially in hardships, is whether we have the word of God. So verse 7 says, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” It is a beautiful and desirable Christian community if in that community there are leaders who speak the word of God and whose way of life people can be followed and imitated, and such new leaders are raised up. Christian community is to be a community of learning and imitation in the word of God.

Now all these exhortations point to Jesus. Look at verse 8. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” This can be one of the most beautiful verses in the Bible. This is a poetic expression of Jesus’ faithfulness in eternity. People change, natural or social circumstances change, and time and generations change. All the created things change. But Jesus does not change. He remains faithful to the end. In Hebrews chapter 1:10-12, the writer described the Son Jesus’ superiority to angels and quoted the words of Psalm 102:25-27, “In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.” This is the prayer of a Psalmist before the LORD. Yet, the writer of Hebrews applied it to the greatness of the Son Jesus in the first chapter. And interestingly, in the last chapter the author mentioned again Jesus being the same forever. Jeremiah expressed the greatness of the LORD’s faithfulness as this, “Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23). The faithfulness of the LORD and that of the Son are the same.

In his everlasting faithfulness Jesus is the author and perfector of our faith. He initiated and he will complete. Paul said in Philippians 1:6, “…he (God) who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Certainly, God’s work and the work of Jesus are one. While on earth Jesus showed his faithful love to his disciples who were in the world. He loved them to the end washing their feet at the Last Supper, which was a mere servant’s job at that time. He bore all the weakness of his disciples who had committed their lives to him. Jesus bore three times of Peter’s denial. After his resurrection, he appeared to this disciples to encourage them and equip them with his peace. Yet, for some reason, Simon Peter went back to his old fishing job even after such an encountering with the Rise Jesus. That night he caught nothing. Simon Peter must have thought that was the end of the world in his totally failed life. However, early in the morning the Lord Jesus stood on the shore. He appeared again to Simon Peter and showed him his unchanging faithful love. The Lord Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Do you love me?” surely meaning, “I love you; do you love me?” And at Peter’s confession he said, “Feed my lambs.” In this way the Lord Jesus assured his love relationship with Simon Peter and reinstated him as a shepherd for God’s flock. This Jesus has been faithful to me for the last 30 years of my mission life, despite all my weaknesses and sins, and raised me again and again as his servant. I did not know how to write God’s messages and how to speak before the public. Yet, because of the Lord’s faithfulness I am what I am. Being confident in his faithfulness I pray to be able to write better and speak better the word of God to nourish God’s flock of sheep. Thank God for his faithful, unchanging love for each of his people. The faithful Lord Jesus has guided Paulina thus far in both favourable times and unfavourable. There was a time in her junior high when she told the love of the heavenly Father through her writing in her class, many of them were moved, even some to tears. Also, there was a time in her grade 11 when she fell into deep depression to the point of losing the meaning of her existence in doubting God’s love surrounded by a very ungodly school environment. At that time God had mercy on her and helped her to realize that Jesus was forsaken in her place so that she might not be forsaken. In this grace she was restored. Since then she testified to the grace of Jesus through her life testimony with the title, “I want to know Christ.” Truly the Lord Jesus has been faithful to her. He will continually lead her in his faithful love while she receives internship training in Chicago. We remember his words of promise, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mt 28:20)

At time of wedding a bride and a groom pledges each one’s faithfulness to his or her spouse: “I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life (or until death do us part). And Malachi 3:15 says, “…do not break faith with the wife of your youth.” However, sadly unfaithfulness is prevalent in our society, between a husband and a wife and among many human relationships. It is a painful thing. In the grace of his faithfulness God wants us to be his faithful followers and his faithful people. There is a hymn song, “I have decided to follow Jesus…The world behind me, the cross before me…Tho’ none go with me, still I will follow…No turning back, no turning back.” The words are based on the last words of a man in Assam, north-east India, who along with his family was converted to Christianity. When he was called to renounce his faith by the village chief, he declared, “I have decided to follow Jesus.” Then when there were threats to his family, he continued, “Though no one joins me, still I will follow.” His wife was killed, and he was executed while singing, “The cross before me, the world behind me.” This demonstration of his faith is reported to have led to the conversion of the chief and others in the village. May we follow our faithful Lord Jesus in our time.

Second, Jesus suffered outside the city gate (9-14). Look at verses 9 and 10. “Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those who eat them. We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat.” In a faithless and unfaithful generation, it is easy for the people to be carried away by all kinds of strange and deceptive teachings. Jesus’ people should be aware of this and be faithful to his teaching and his cause to the end. Their hearts can be strengthen by his grace, but by ritualistic ceremonies. We have an altar in the true tabernacle which our Lord Jesus went through and where he serves (Heb. 8:2; 9:11). This is truly the altar of grace. So it is written in Hebrews 4:16, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

How was this altar of grace possible? Look at verses 11-12. “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.” Jesus made the people holy through his own blood. Yet, he himself suffered and died thrown outside the city of Jerusalem. He was completely abandoned and forsaken bearing all the shame and disgrace for us. In this grace what can we do? Look at verse 13. “Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.” The writer encourages us to be willing to participate in his suffering and disgrace to keep our faith and serve God’s flock of sheep. In the course of doing the work of God Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:13, “…Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.” This is also the life of Moses: he chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time; he regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt. It was because he was looking ahead to his reward (Heb 11:26). So verse 14 says, “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.”

Look at verses 15-16. “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” Now here we see a different kind of sacrifice, a sacrifice of praise. Following the life of Jesus who suffered outside the city gate is certainly a sacrifice. That requires self-denial and even self-death. Also, when we think of the social situation of that time, it would certainly be not easy to offer a sacrifice of praise, confessing and praising the name of Jesus. For this sacrifice one had to overcome himself and peer pressure and the social atmosphere. Even doing good and sharing with others before God would be not pleasant to the people of authorities. Yet, true believers would know with what sacrifices God could be pleased.

Third, Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep (17-25). Look at verse 17. “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, but a burden for that would be of no advantage to you.” At the time of trouble and conflict it is not easy to obey leaders and submit to their authority. It can be possible when they see things from God’s viewpoint. That requires mature faith, seeking to please God, not people.

Look at verses 18 and 19. “Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honourably in every way. I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon.” All the believers, especially leaders, need this assurance that they have a clear conscience and desire to live honourably in every way. Praying for them is beautiful faith.

Look at verses 20-21. “May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever Amen.” The God of peace restores all things in peace to himself through the blood of the eternal covenant, the blood of his Son Jesus. The blood was the ransom price. Through the blood of the eternal covenant the God peace also brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus. God said in Hosea 13:14, “I will ransom them from the power of the grave, I will redeem them from death. Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O grave, is your destruction?” In this prayer the writer of Hebrews said of Jesus suddenly as the great Shepherd of the sheep. At this prayer he must have been moved by Jesus, the shepherd of the sheep, who sacrificed himself for the flock of God’s sheep. He is the great high priest (4:14) and the great shepherd. He came to do the will of God to make the people holy through the sacrifice of his own body once for all (Heb 10:7,10). During the days of his life on earth, this great shepherd 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 (Heb 5:7). His life as shepherd pleased God. The God of peace brought him back from the dead. This God of peace is the God of mighty power and true victory. So Paul said in Romans 16:20, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” The writer of Hebrews prayed that this God of peace might equip the people with everything good for doing his will so that they might also live a shepherd life following the great shepherd Jesus for the will of God. This is really an encouraging prayer. The writer also prayed that God might work in them what is pleasing to him through Jesus Christ. Doing the will of God will be what is pleasing to him. He concluded his prayer, “to Jesus Christ be glory for ever and ever. Amen. And the final greeting is “Grace be with you all.”

In this study we thank God for Jesus, who is the same yesterday today and forever, who suffered outside the camp to make the people holy through his own blood, and who is the great shepherd of the sheep. May we put our faith in him. We pray that the God of peace may equip us with everything good so that we can follow our faithful Lord and the great shepherd for doing the will of God in our time.

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