Meditations in Hebrews 13: 71. A Final Encouragement? (2)
Heb 13:22 Brothers, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written you only a short letter.
Previously, chapters 1-6: We have been looking at this verse and seeing that the writer is referring to the whole letter as ‘a word of exhortation’ and as we have started to work through it viewing this as an overview we have being seeing that again and again our writer used each piece of theology as platforms on which to urge faithfulness, which was needed to stand against the persecutions and heresies that early Christians faced. Each theological platform launches an exhortation. We had come to chapter six, so let’s continue seeing how this works out in the rest of the book.
Now, chapters 7-10: Chapter 7 was all about Melchizedek and how Jesus brought a similar priestly activity, a permanent priesthood, confirmed by an oath of God, that no longer needed to keep on offering sacrifices because the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross was a one-off sacrifice. Chapter 8 built on that using the prophecy of Jeremiah about a new covenant. Chapter 9 expands on the contrasts between the old and new covenants and this flows on into Chapter 10 showing how Christ had come to present the one-off offering of his own body on the Cross, doing away with the need for any more sacrifices, i.e. removing the need for all the functions under the Law of the Old Covenant.
In the first six chapters of the book the exhortations were spread out. Chapters 7 to 10 present one great platform from which a salvo of exhortations are now launched. The salvo starts with the doctrine that God’s dwelling place is now open to us and Jesus is our intermediary:
Salvo no.1: “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (10:19-25)
Do you see there, there are five exhortations in this first salvo and each one comes off or is followed by a mini-platform of belief or theology.
Salvo No.2: This salvo comes first more by way of implication rather than direct exhortation, e.g. “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” (v.26,27) This principle comes as an implied warning or implied exhortation, and so it continues in the following verses with even stronger warnings down to verse 31. The verses that then followed were about how they had stood their ground in the face of suffering (v.32) and had stood supporting others in prison for their faith (v.33,34). This is then followed by two short, sharp exhortations: “So do not throw away your confidence…” (v.35) and “You need to persevere” (v.36) and then anther implied warning-exhortation in prophetic scripture: “But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” (v.38)
Chapters 11-13: Chapter 11 is the famous ‘gallery of faith’ and that is seen to be a platform from which the next salvo of exhortations is fired: “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. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (12:1-3) Again, four fairly obvious exhortations
In Chapter 12, the following section about discipline acts as a platform for, “Endure hardship as discipline,” (v.7) and another ‘salvo’: “Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. See that no one is sexually immoral.” 12:12-15).
This was followed by the analogies of the two mountains which included, “See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks,” (v.25a) and which acted for a platform (v.18-27) to launch, “let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.” (v.28) When we came to Chapter 13 we noted that there were at least twelve of these instructions or exhortations for practical Christian living, and the whole thing concludes with those simple words, “Brothers, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written you only a short letter.” (v.22).
And So: So, yes, there is much theology wrapped up in Old Testament language but this only goes to show, as the book develops, that this all gave way and pointed towards Jesus. The lessons of the Old Testament (chapters 1 to 12) should challenge us in our relationship with the Lord, to hold firm to our faith despite oppositions and wrong teaching coming from the enemy. The package of the New Testament leaves us with a faith based upon and focused upon Jesus, out of which clear expressions of behaviour are revealed (chapter 13), the understanding and adherence of which may be seen as part of our growth process as we take note of the challenge (Ch.5,6) to grow up. The theology coming out of the Old Testament may be tricky at times but I hope we have shown in these last two studies that we are left with plenty of guidance and instructions to work upon in our lives today.
Addendum: Summary of specific direct exhortations (We have omitted those that were implied. Where there are more than one in a verse or verses we have inserted Roman numerals to clarify them.)
- We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away (2:1)
- fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess (3:1)
- See to it, brothers, that (i) none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But (ii) encourage one another daily (3:12-13)
- let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it (4:1)
- let us hold firmly to the faith we profess…. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence (4:14-15)
- let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity (6:1)
- We want each of you to (i) show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do (ii) not want you to become lazy, but (iii) to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. (6:11,12)
- let us (i) draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith…… Let us (ii) hold unswervingly to the hope we profess…… let us (iii) consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us (iv) not give up meeting together…..but (v) let us encourage one another (10:19-25)
- So do not throw away your confidence…. You need to persevere (10:35,36)
- (i) let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and (ii) let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (iii) Let us fix our eyes on Jesus…. (iv) Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (12:1-3)
- Endure hardship as discipline (12:7)
- (i) strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. (ii) Make level paths for your feet…. (iii) Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy…. (iv) See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that (v) no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. (vi) See that no one is sexually immoral.” (12:12-15).
- See to it that (i) you do not refuse him who speaks … (ii) let us be thankful, and (iii) so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.” (12:25,28)
- I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written you only a short letter.” (13:22).