God Blesses and Keeps His Lambs

December 30, 2018 Series: Hebrews Scripture: Hebrews 13:18-25 by Chris Strevel

Please Pray for Me (vv. 18-19)

A Brotherly Appeal

If another believer warns that you are in danger of apostasy, the last thing you would expect is for him to ask for your prayers. We do not respond well when others confront us, especially in our age. Its various forms of unbelief do not kill truth but erect seven billion gods who care only for their own version of truth. But the gospel does something astounding when it takes saving root in us. The strongest warnings can be given with the deepest personal attachment and concern. Strong truth can be stated without hard feelings and with love, for it comes from the God of love. Because Jesus Christ transforms sinners, our apostle can write “the commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:38) without lording it over men. He uses his authority boldly, but he is meek at the same time. He rebukes and warns sinners, but also sees them as his spiritual equals and does not hesitate to plead for their prayers. 

Thus, while it is too much to say that the apostle intended to soften his letter by this personal appeal, he certainly designed to reaffirm his love and win their hearts.” His conscience was good before God, but a good man needs the prayers of the saints. Paul had been raised to the third heavens and might seem to be above the need for their prayers, but he warmly said goodbye with a plea for his readers to pray for him. Perhaps we might say that the higher one truly is in Christian understanding and experience, the more approachable, tenderer, and humbler he is. “What do we have that we have not received” (1 Cor. 4:7)? Always be suspicious of the intellectual and spiritual claims of arrogant men who are dismissive of the feelings of others. Heavenly wisdom always brings with it sincere lowliness of mind and tender concern for others, as James wrote (3:14-18). Our Lord and his apostles were very solicitous to gain the heart of their hearers, for being a Christian means having a lowly mind that is truly concerned with the welfare of others and communicating with them in ways that they are most likely to be gained for the Master and kept for heaven.

That We May See You Soon

The strength of Paul’s warnings to his believing countrymen was matched by the strength of his love for them. He wanted to be restored to them, to see them and to rejoice in Christ together. It is strange to find such loving words in this particular letter. Church splits and violent controversies have arisen for far lesser charges than the danger of “drifting away from Christ,” but the apostle now acts as if this is all behind them. Or, can it be instead that he assumes, as he did when he wrote the Corinthians, they would respond to his letter positively? He was conscious of writing God’s word to them, so he certainly believed in its transformative power to bring them back into the old paths. Plus, to take our Lord for an example, when he rebuked Peter strongly, did he love him less? Of course not! He warned Peter strongly because Peter’s heart needed deep searching. He would be a poor physician who left infection behind in the wound, and when the Lord rebukes us, he confronts to purge and then to restore to health. 

But we have raised pride to a deity and made it a right never to hear something we do not like, receive an opinion opposed to our own, or to accept correction meekly, for that would surely mean that we are wrong and not sufficient to define good and evil for ourselves. And it is little better among Christians, for many walk around like little gods, take offense at the slightest provocation, and can easier lift a house over their heads than admit they are wrong. This should not be the case among Christians. Christ has humbled us, and we do not think we are above criticism and correction. In fact, after thinking about what others say in the way of warning, it is often the case that we love them more and want to be around them. If our brother or sister calls us to be more faithful to Christ, or takes the time to give us a gospel lesson, we love them for their pains, for it may be harder to give a rebuke than to receive one. Knowing this to be the case, as soon as we have to warn our children or another believer, let us quickly affirm our love for them and express our desire to be with them, for this will make our goodwill to them abundantly clear. And if we have received correction, let us learn to receive it as coming from Christ and the believer who gave it as his angel to encourage us toward holiness and heaven.

My Gospel Prayers for You (v. 20):

Praying the Gospel of Grace

The God of Peace

Having asked for their prayers, he prays for them. This prayer does what all right praying does – lifts our minds and hearts away from ourselves, to the great God who has done and said wonderful things for us. The petition does not come (v. 21) until after the praise and ascription of blessing to the God of our salvation (v. 20). This rebukes us for rushing forward with our petitions, without first composing our minds and hearts to give God his rightful praise. We must think soberly and reverently of the God into whose wonderful presence we come and whose mighty name we invoke. We want to tell and ask; we must remember, praise, and ascribe first – not only because this is the right order, for to God is due and should be our delight to give him praise and adoration, but also because this would put us in a proper frame of mind to ask in a manner that is agreeable to him and worthy of his majesty. Thus, the uniquely Pauline title, the God of peace, begins the prayer (Rom. 15:33; 16:20; Phil. 4:9; 1 Thess. 5:23). He thinks first of peace because he is consumed with the gospel of peace, the chastisement of our peace that our Savior bore, and the peace we now have with God because he made that peace. Peace is practically synonymous with the gospel of grace. To the God who has made peace, gives peace, sent the Prince of peace – to him be all glory, praise, and honor. If we begin with the God of peace, we shall find it easier to live at peace with one another and to be at peace in our particular circumstances. 

Through Leading the Great Shepherd Out of Death

Are you drifting from Christ, as these believers were in danger of doing? Do you despair of adverse circumstances and shudder when you think how much the world hates the followers of Christ? Does the specter of persecution fill you with foreboding? The remedy for our fears is to understand the gospel carefully, and to understand carefully this and similar gospel prayers found throughout Scripture. Our entire security rests in God’s saving plan, which was accomplished through his Son. The more we understand and pray and live the gospel of grace, the more stable our hearts will be, with freedom from worry and trust in the Lord’s wise government of our lives. Do we doubt that God is able to do great and marvelous works to deliver us or to keep us in good faith while we endure hardship for Christ’s sake? When our Savior lay in deepest shame, even in the dark grave, the God of peace led him from the grave.

This is a rather odd way of saying “resurrection:” to lead him out again from the dead. It implies that he first led him to death and the grave, crucifying the Lord of glory in order to pay the chastisement of our peace (Isa. 53:5). And his name – the great Shepherd of the sheep (Isa. 40:9-11) – shepherd implies leadership, guardianship, and responsibility. It is a fitting title for the whole work and office of Jesus Christ to save us. As the great and good Shepherd, he laid down his life for us; he went to the grave for us, there to bury our sin, judgment, and shame. “Awake, O sword, against my Shepherd,” the prophet Zechariah wrote (Zech. 13:7), for the Father struck down the Shepherd to save the sheep. Our Lord Jesus took upon himself the total responsibility for our salvation. He removed our curse by becoming cursed for us, satisfying God’s righteous justice, and bearing the full load of the shame and suffering due to us for our transgressions against God’s holy law. To save us his sheep, the great Shepherd laid down his life for us. He had this authority from his Father – to lay down and to take up his life (John 10:18). He gave up the ghost – his life was not taken from him – he freely, voluntarily gave it up to redeem his sheep (John 19:30). He allowed himself to be surrounded with the pains of hell and of death (Ps. 18:3-4). And then the Father led him out of the grave.

By the Blood of the Everlasting Covenant

The reason that we are saved and secured through the resurrection of Jesus Christ is that it fulfilled the terms of the eternal covenant between Father and Son. That covenant was made in the councils of eternity, in which the Son agreed to become surety for our sins, offer himself as the ransom price of our deliverance, and to redeem all that the Father had given to him to be his people (John 10:15; 17:2). Zechariah and Ezekiel speak of this “everlasting covenant” (Zech. 9:11; Ezek. 37:26) – a covenant stretching back before time and reaching forward into the new heavens and earth, thus securing all God’s elect in Christ forever. It is because of this covenant that we can boldly affirm that God can never stop loving and saving us, for properly speaking, he never began. There is no before and after with him. Always he has united us to his beloved Son, the Mediator of the covenant and the great Shepherd of the sheep. Always he chose us in Christ, with our salvation, resurrection, and future glory tied to his satisfaction at the cross, victory over the grave, reign in glory. The most important thing is not that we chose Christ or loved God, but that he loved us and chose us to be his own (1 John 4:17; John 15:16,19).

 When God raised Jesus Christ our Lord from the dead, he was fulfilling his agreement with his Son. Jesus shed his precious blood for our redemption. He fulfilled all righteousness, obeyed every word of his Father, and had no sin. As man, he was and did all that we failed to be and to do. And he did this not in the glorious state in which we were made but in a state of humiliation, dishonor, and direct, constant assault from the evil one. When the Father led his Son triumphantly from the dead, he testified to perfect satisfaction made, redemption accomplished, his sheep ransomed, the heavenly Judge satisfied and reconciled, and death’s power in sin broken (Rom. 4:25). To lead Jesus Christ through the blood of the everlasting covenant, therefore, is perhaps one of the most glorious descriptions of the gospel to be found in Scripture. Resurrection because his blood was sufficient! Resurrection because there is no more condemnation to those who are in Christ! Resurrection because the terms of the everlasting covenant have been fully met! Resurrection because we are redeemed and shall one day be raised bodily by the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead!

What a preface of praise to the second part of the prayer following! What a way for us to pray – to recount to God all the glories he has done for us, to worship him for them, and to depend upon him to bring to us their blessings – all because of Jesus Christ our Lord. And then, to add further joy to our hearts, let us never forget that the blood of Jesus Christ has secured these blessings for us forever. We cannot fail to overcome the world, endure to the end, reach heaven, and be raised from the dead if we are washed in the blood of Jesus Christ. His was no random blood shed but the Lamb appointed from the foundation of the world. His was no mere resurrection from the dead, like Lazarus, but the resurrection of the crucified Lamb, whose emergence from the grave was the death of the grave, the grave itself being swallowed alive by his sinless life and worthy sacrifice.

My Gospel Prayers for You (v. 21):

Living the Gospel of Grace

God Makes Us Fit to Do His Will

God’s saving purposes are not exhausted with the death and resurrection and enthronement of Jesus Christ. We might say that he did these wonderful works for us to effect a mighty change in us. The glory that he has in the salvation of sinners (John 13:31) includes the transformation of the sinner. The work of Jesus Christ is not only to remove the guilt and condemnation of sin but also to break its power and to raise us to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:1-14). And it is important to see this connection – between God’s saving work in Christ and God’s transforming grace in us. They are seamless; the one must follow the other, sanctification justification, and holiness faith. We do not trust half a Savior. He knows nothing of a grace that does not lead to obedience (Tit. 2:11-12). Most who shout grace the loudest often understand it the least, for God’s grace in Christ makes us doers of God’s will, obedient and joyful servants of righteousness (Rom. 6:18-22). His grace, as we see here, makes us complete or able to do God’s will. This is the power of our Savior’s death to sin and resurrection to new life applied to each believer. God’s grace empowers good works. He empowers us to be doers of his will, as was our Savior preeminently and savingly, and as we are by virtue of union with him in his death and resurrection.

God Works in Us What Pleases Him

To do God’s will is to do what is pleasing to him. We learn God’s will from his word alone – not from the outrageous and ever-changing ethical fads of philosophers and cads, or the whims of preachers, or devolving social standards. The Lord has shown us what is pleasing to him: that we do justice and judgment, love mercy, and walk humbly before him (Mic. 6:8). Our Savior said to obey his commands is the proof of true love, so that following Jesus, from the days he walked the earth until he returns, must ever lead us back to his word, the written Scriptures (John 14:15). Seeking God’s will never lead us away from the Bible but always more closely to it.

Since doing his will is said to please him, each one of us should stand ready to do whatever he commands, without a moment’s hesitation, not worrying what the outcome will be or whether we must suffer for obeying God, rather than man. Nothing matters more to us than pleasing our God and Savior. This is the language and proof of our love, love’s empowering dynamic – that we devote ourselves to pleasing our God and Savior (Col. 1:10). We have no life but the one he has given us by taking away the life of his Son on the cross. We have no glory except through our great Shepherd being struck down for us and covered with our shame and spitting. Therefore, against all the criers of cheap grace and against the haters of God’s law, not in the world but in the church, we must insist upon a seamless gospel, a full gospel. God has saved us to be doers of his will; our Savior shed his precious blood so that we would be obedient disciples. This is the true grace of God: “For the grace of God that brings salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” (Tit. 2:11-12).

This prayer brings to the forefront that God does not save us, then say, “Now, in your own strength, go obey me.” The gospel is not gracious until we get to obedience, only to throw us back upon our own initiative. All the initiative and power unto doing God’s will and pleasing him comes from God himself. This does not make the believer passive but greatly energizes him to seek the grace offered. Jesus Christ died to free us from sin’s dominion. He rose so that we might walk in new life, by the power of his Spirit, drawing from him the “fruits of righteousness” (Phil. 1:11). This is God’s working in us (Phil. 2:13). The gospel glory is that all the fruitfulness commanded of us as believers is fruitfulness worked in us by the power of God, by the immediate, personal presence of his Holy Spirit. Hearing this, we are to ask, to continue asking, and to continue looking to Christ. All strength unto godliness comes from him. If we lack strength, we are not looking to him, or have offended him in some way, or are being tested. In good time, we shall bear good fruit unto holiness. This is God’s will, our holiness (1 Thess. 4:3). But it is likely that many of us, hearing about our duty, never make much progress in it or find much joy in it, because we turn back to ourselves. When we hear that God wants us to do his will, we must run to our great Shepherd for strength, and never stop running to him. Shall we stumble? Yes, and often, but our stumbling is usually the occasion for the manifestation of his greater power through stirring us up to repentance and more fervent seeking of his help.

Now, no believer can ever conclude from this prayer, “Well, if God wants me holy, he will have to do it. There is no point in me trying.” If you think and live this way, you will never be holy, and you will never make it to heaven. Believers try, and our first efforts must be away from self and toward our Savior. “Lord, I cannot, but you can. You have said I will bear much fruit, so I ask you to make me fruitful. Help me to please my God and Savior, to be a doer of his will. May your spirit of ‘not my will, but yours be done,’ rest upon me.” And, we must keep praying in this way. We must keep looking unto Jesus. All the strength unto holiness and working unto obedience is God’s. What great glory is this! “It is God who works in us to will and to do his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). Hearing this, let us rejoice. Let us also learn, when we hear about our duty or are confronted with our sins, not to despair of God’s favor or fear his wrath, but rather receive his invitation to come to him for strength. When he says, “Obey me,” he always adds, “I will help you.” But we must ask for his strength, as the apostle does here. “You have not, because you ask not.”

May God Be with You All (vv. 22-25)

After praying, the apostle concludes by urging them to receive his short letter, which he has written to exhort and encourage them to hold fast to Christ. How hard it is for us to receive the things that are of eternal importance, while we readily enough hear what is trivial and short-lived! Even if they are hard to hear and might even offend us, at least initially, we must hear our Savior’s voice warning us and extending his hand down to us. Then, he gives them some encouraging words about Timothy, who appears to have been imprisoned at this point, but was likely to be released soon. They must have known Timothy, and perhaps the apostle’s remarks are intended to encourage them to “man up” a little – as if being imprisoned for Christ was anything to be worried about! His third (v. 24) remark again refers to their leaders, from whom there seems to have been some estrangement – salute or greet them. This is another way of saying to hold them in high esteem. It is likely that their leaders were encouraging them to hold fast, which was causing friction. No, Paul says, esteem them highly and respect their counsel.

Finally, in this regard and to close the whole, Paul commends them to God’s grace. He never gives his name in this letter, for what mattered most for his countrymen’s salvation was not his apostolic authority but the grace of God in Christ that he set forth to them. God’s grace was able to see them through the worst circumstances. It did and has. Nothing can topple the power of God’s grace in us. Nothing can separate us from his love. Whatever our future holds, let us keep in warm and constant memory his good will to us in Jesus Christ.