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Nov 16 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

November 15, 2020


Intro: This past week I was on extra duty with my grandchildren

Each time heading out the door I quickly ran through our checklist:
– “Do you have your homework? Your thermos? Your mask?”
• I read these last few verses of Hebrews as a checklist
• these verses are the finishing touches to a amazing document
◦ for the writer, these words were as important as everything else
– when we began our study, I explained the value of Hebrews
• in the gospels, Jesus reveals God – in Hebrews, God reveals Jesus
no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him (Mt. 11:27)
• the writer began this message
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son (Heb. 1:1-2)
◦ we’ve learned many of the ways God has spoken through Jesus
◦ we’ve also learned that he still speaks to us through Jesus

The first item on the checklist: Follow the leaders
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. Hebrews 13:17

I’m going to try not to weaken this verse with disclaimers and qualifications
– but we hear the first line differently than the original audience
• they lived in a culture defined by a stratified hierarchy
◦ people were born into a class and did not move from it
◦ they had to submit to higher classes, and for their own good
. . . for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them (Ecc. 5:8)
• today the threat of spiritual abuse is too great to make the blanket statement,
Obey your leaders and submit to them
– personally, I don’t like to think of myself as your leader
• many times I have been corrected by people smarter than I
◦ by someone who is a better person or better Christian than I
• I don’t feel like I’m out ahead of you, but traveling with you
◦ we’re on this journey together, assisting each other
◦ let’s take a closer look at this verse

“Obey” translates a Greek word, most often translated “persuade”
– to be convinced by someone – in this case,
• by someone with more authority or who knows better
◦ in verse 18 the same Greek word is translated “sure”
• so a leader is someone who we are sure of,
◦ regarding their wisdom, insight, depth, integrity, and so on
-“submit” – this is only time this Greek word is used in the New Testament
• it means to surrender, give way to, defer to
◦ this targets our inner life – our attitude (Am I teachable?)
• how I read this:
◦ use leaders, teachers, and pastors regarding our Christian concerns
◦ ask them questions, consult, pay attention to them, ask them for prayer

What our spiritual leaders do:
first, they keep watch over our souls
• literal, “go without sleep,” stay awake, alert
◦ like the shepherds who were led to the Christ child
in that same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night (Lk. 2:8)
◦ Paul, instructed the leaders of the church in Ephesus
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood (Acts 20:28)
• their primary concern is our souls!
◦ the formation of the inner-self in Jesus Christ
second, they will have to give an account
The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them . . . Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? . . . The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them (Eze. 34:1-4)
Contrast those “shepherds” with Jesus, who prayed,
While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost . . . (Jn. 17:12)
• God is going to ask your leaders about you
• as for us, our concern is that we’re a joy to our leaders and not a pain

When I read this I can’t help but think of “The Simpsons.” Ned Flanders, the overly optimistic, overly scrupulous, and guilt-ridden Evangelical ruined the ministry of Rev. Lovejoy. Flanders’ constant pestering of Rev. Lovejoy with his silly questions and inconsequential worries exhausted the minister’s patience. It is easy to imagine him groaning every time the phone rang and Flanders was on the other end.

for that would be of no advantage to you
◦ we would lose whatever benefit our spiritual helpers could provide

Bear with me – I believe Christians need to be warned
– managers are not leaders – we manage finances, facilities and programs
• people need to be led, not managed
• tyrants are not leaders
◦ authoritarian pastors and preachers have done untold spiritual and psychological damage to many of those followers
◦ and unfortunately, those (of us) raised under authoritarian leaders tend to become the same type of leaders
– questions we need to ask when choosing a leader to follow:
• does this person treat you with respect?
• love God? Jesus? the Scriptures?
• love the poor, weak, orphan, stranger – you?
• open to listen to others?
◦ or his he or she a hired hand? (cf. Jn. 10:11-14)
• is this person empathetic?
• narcissistic? materialistic? angry? divisive?
◦ God does not call a person to ministry to become a “success”
◦ but to help you succeed in building a strong relationship with Himself

The second item on checklist: Prayer
Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner. Hebrews 13:18-19

Pray for us – the writer and those with him who were also leaders
– he wanted the prayers of his readers to focus on his thoughts and actions
clear – translates a Greek word that means beautiful, excellent, good
conscience – first means consciousness
◦ what was on their leaders’ minds, what they were constantly aware of
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (Col. 3:2)
honorably – is the same Greek word translated “clear”
• pray that the writers actions would be excellent
in all things – not only religious duties or spiritual activities

A special prayer request: that I may be restored to you the sooner
Luke T. Johnson says that more quickly “is appropriate because the author suggests that their prayers will speed him to them faster than if they did not pray . . . .”
– in mapping out his work through history,
• God built contingency into the system
◦ that means that the universe does not roll through time like a machine
• instead, God leaves open spaces so events can turn one way or another
◦ for that reason, prayer can really effect changes in what happens
◦ this allows us to participate with God, to work with him
– if our prayers do not effect changes we want to see in our world,
• they can still effect changes in us

The third item on the checklist: A benediction
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, equip you with everything good so 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 Hebrews 13:20-21

These verses are loaded with profound concepts
– they repeat crucial themes the writer has raised and explained
• it’s possible that these themes could be nothing more to his hearers than noble ideas and revelations, theological truths
• but what the writer does in the benediction is this,
◦ he speaks these truths into their lives
◦ his speech is performative — it not only states a truth, but makes the truth a reality in them
– as with all benedictions, this one begins with God (cf. Nu. 6:22-27)
God of peace – for us, God is the most sure source of peace
◦ anything else that may provide peace is temporary
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation . . . (Jn. 16:33)
brought again from the dead . . . the cross is not the complete story
◦ resurrection is the essence and bedrock of our Christian hope
our Lord Jesus – perhaps the first Christian “creed” was the short declaration, Jesus Christ is Lord (see Php. 2:9-11)
◦ this is a truth that Jesus’ followers discovered about him
◦ they witnessed his authority (e.g., Mk. 1:21, 27; 2:5-12; 4:41)
the great shepherd of the sheep – Jesus is our ultimate Leader
◦ the one who cares for us, has come looking for us
◦ the image of the shepherd appears in the Synoptic gospels and is explicit in Jesus teaching in John 10, where he refers to himself as the good shepherd
by the blood of the eternal covenant — each word has been thematic in Hebrews
blood — Jesus’ blood has effectively brought us forgiveness and purification
eternalsalvation (5:9), redemption (9:12), Spirit (9:14), inheritance (9:15)
covenant — chapters 8 and 9; it has been inscribed on our hearts

What does the writer speak into our lives with this benediction?
– the work that God does in us through Jesus
equip you with everything good . . .
◦ we do not have it in us – on our own, we would fail
. . . for apart from me you can do nothing (Jn. 15:5)
◦ but God enables us to do his will
(when we do his will, his kingdom enters our world through us, Mt. 6:10)
pleasing (see v. 16) – we make it our aim to please him (2 Cor. 5:9)
through Jesus Christ – we learned last week that Jesus mediates every interaction we have with God
to whom be glory – these are words of doxology
(doxa is the Greek word translated glory, cf. Ro. 16:25-27)

The fourth item on checklist: personal concerns
I appeal to you, brothers, bear with my word of exhortation for I have written to you briefly.
You should know that our brother Timothy has been released with whom I shall see you if he comes soon.
Greet all your leaders and all the saints. Those who come from Italy send you greetings.
Grace be with all of you. Hebrews 13:22-25

The writer describes the message of his letter as an exhortation
– exhortation does not mean a scolding
• in fact, the same Greek word is translated appeal in this sentence
• it is an appeal to others in order to build them up, not tear them down
Timothy was well known to the Christian churches because of his association with the apostle Paul
• here we can see he was close to the writer of Hebrews as well
– the closing greetings are typical
– and finally, grace – the gift that makes all things possible
be with all of you – no one is left out

Conclusion: We have learned in Hebrews that Jesus has come near to us

Jesus has become like us (Heb. 2:14) and sees us as his brothers and sisters
– he tells us that he has come to lead us home
• to take us by the hand and bring us to the Father
• the central message of the book is encapsulated in the words “draw near”

Drawing near to God is possible,
because of everything Jesus did for us
Through Jesus, God speaks to us
and he calls to us by name
So slowly draw a deep breath
and rest in God’s nearness
Allow God to love you,
and by his grace make you worth of his love


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  1. Ed Northen / Nov 26 2020

    Thank you Chuck for your thoughtful and insightful words of encouragement. I especially like to meditate on God as light. His light gives us insight into his holiness, wondrous glory, mystery and unfathonable love for each of us as part of his creation. To have a heart filled with gratitude is essentinail to living life to it’s full. The list of things we can be grateful for is endless as God’s mercy is endless. Blessings to you and Barbara this Thanksgiving. Here is a poem I wrote for this thanksgiivng this year.


    In the ancient stories
    it was said
    “the first seed planted
    by the creator was gratitude”

    Go walk in the woods
    and see if it isn’t so
    listen to the voices
    of the earth.

    You will hear the
    the rivers melody
    the thrush’s song

    all reminding us
    of our origins
    our role in this world

    which is to lead
    the procession
    with a vociferous chorus
    of gratitude

  2. Chuck Smith, Jr. / Nov 30 2020

    Ed, I so appreciate it when you share one of your poems with us–with me. Grateful for you and your gift of words.

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