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Properly Equipped

Date: Jun. 11, 2017

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Hebrews 13:1-25

Key Verse: Hebrews 13:20-21

“Now 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.”

It is feeling a lot like summer these days. The weather is getting hot, colleges and universities are out, and CPS still has a just over a week to go. With all the warm weather in the summer, it is important to make sure that you keep cool. You can keep cool with a nice cold iced tea or lemonade. Maybe you prefer having snow cone or Italian ice. One of the best and tastiest ways to keep cool is with some ice cream. It doesn’t matter what your taste preference is; there is an ice cream for you. The number one ice cream flavor is vanilla with the next being chocolate. If those are a little too benign, then you have your mint chocolate chip, coffee, or rocky road. For the even more adventurous there is lobster ice cream, goat cheese beet swirl, white chocolate banana curry, whiskey prune or even bacon ice cream. When you eat ice cream, how do you eat it? Does anyone here use chopsticks to eat ice cream? No? That’s a hard way to eat ice cream. You eat ice cream in a cup or a cone. If it is in a cup, then you have a spoon. This allows you to scoop up the creamy, cold treat. When you have the right tools, whatever you need to do goes a lot smoother. It is the same way in many parts of life. You can tighten and loosen a bolt when you have the right size wrench. It is very difficult if you don’t have the right size. It is hard to wash clothes without detergent. It is hard to solve differential equations without knowing basic calculus first. Being properly equipped is a part of everyday life and it is a part of our spiritual life, as well. Our passage today gives a rapid-fire list to properly equip us spiritually.

This is our last passage in the book of Hebrews. We started the book back in February and over the course of these past five months, we’ve learned a lot about who Jesus is. We’ve seen that Jesus is greater than angels, he is greater than any prophet, he is greater than any priest and he is greater than any sacrifice. Simply put, Jesus is God and is greater than anything else in the past, present or future. The author’s magnum opus, his pièce de résistance, his main point of the letter is that God is love and any hardships that we have are not some sort of punishment, but discipline, a way for us to be taught because God loves us so much. Hardships are an opportunity to learn more about God and to love him for it. They refine us and purify us. They make us better people and prepare us to better serve God and others, and that is in line with the final prayer that the author shares with the letter’s recipients.

Now, today, I am not going to start at the beginning of the passage. I’m going to start at the prayer, which is in verses 20 and 21. They read, “Now 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.” This is a nice closing prayer. But it is shortened to, “May God equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him.” There are two parts to this prayer. The first is that God may equip us do to his work and the other is for God to work in us. We may work for God and God to work in us. We’ve heard for a while about Jesus being the greatest and now it is time to take what we learned into the world to do good with it and have ourselves changed by it. I start by bringing up this prayer first because it can help us to have context in regard to the things mentioned before it.

Now, let’s go back to the beginning of the chapter and take a look. The passage starts out, “Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.” (1) As a body of believers, we are not just a bunch of random people together in a room; we are brothers and sisters. The bond between siblings is something that runs deeper than our relationships with friends or strangers. When friends and acquaintances offend each other, it is very easy for any bond to be broken. When it happens with siblings, they are still your brother or sister. They say that blood is thicker than water, but the blood of Christ is thicker than even that. Through the blood of Jesus, we are all children of God and that makes us brothers and sisters. We are brothers and sisters with people from all sorts of walks of life. If you look at the world today, our differences drive us apart. Anybody who is different is looked down upon and scorn. We tend to insult and mock those with a difference of opinion, but in Christ, we are united. Now, the church also has a nasty tendency to split over a difference of opinion, but if we were to recognize what truly unites us, we would be a force like the world has never seen. If we were to love each other as siblings, the world would know God because God is love.

Beyond our love for each other, the author of Hebrews encourages its readers to love even the stranger. “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” (2) It says to show hospitality to strangers. As kids, we are taught to never talk to strangers, because we don’t want to be kidnapped. We view strangers as an unknown quantity and we fear them as kids. As we grow up, that fear turns to apathy. We couldn’t care less about people we know nothing about. We live in the third largest city in the United States. How many times have you walked by a person and never gave that person even a first thought? You didn’t even see them. Jesus told his followers to love their enemies, but here it extends even to strangers. Evil people and people who love the world love the people they like, but to love a person that you hate or you don’t care about shows that you are different from rest of the people of the world. How we treat people we don’t know about shows a lot about who we are on the inside. When we treat those that we don’t know with hospitality, it is like showing hospitality to angels or even Jesus himself. Again, this is an example of God’s love for us. We were strangers to him because we walked far away, but through Jesus, God embraced us as children.

In the next verse, the author continues the thought of love. “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” (3) This is the key verse for the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, and they rightfully take this verse in context. The ones in prison, referred to in the verse, are those imprisoned for their faith. The author isn’t talking about random prisoners, but those who were persecuted for their belief in Jesus. Around the world, there are countless people under persecution for their faith, many even in prison. We cannot forget them, but we have to remember them and put ourselves in their place. We have a tendency to not think about those who are not here. Out of sight, out of mind. However, we have to show love to them because they are suffering for Jesus. Again, this shows God’s love because God never forgets us. He is always there.

The next verse is also about love, but it is about something more. “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” (4) Marriage is about the most perfect love that we have on this earth. It is the closest thing that we have to the love between God and his people. We make an active choice to bond and unite as one. When that bond is not kept pure, it strains under the weight of the immoral. Nowadays, people want to take the definition of marriage and twist it and mold it to what they want it to be. It’s not kept pure. There are people out there who marry pillows or cars or the Eiffel Tower. It makes for funny headlines, but it insults the love God has for us. Many times, in the Bible, adultery is used as an analogue to idolatry. If God is in a marriage with his people, then when his people chase after other gods, then it is like they are being unfaithful to their marriage. As our generation knows very well, infidelity in marriage leads to the destruction of lives and broken families. It hurts so many people all because people are not satisfied. This verse about marriage is not just about love, but about contentment. It is about being content with what you have.

This is also echoed in 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.’” There is so much trouble in life when we desire the things we do not have. When we try to keep up with the Joneses, we are never happy because there is always something more that we want. We spend a lot of money on phones, only to replace them in a couple of years. There are always new features on TV’s that cause us to upgrade. We think that if we had just a little bit more money, things would be all right, but in fact, with more money, we would just squander things and make it worse. We have to be content with what we have because God is the one who provides. When we are content, we are not searching for something more, because God is everything that we need. On top of all that, he will never leave us or forsake us. He is always with us and will never let us go. He sent his son to die for us, we can be sure that he will not discard us. He loves us too much. Being content allows us to keep focus on God, which has been the theme all throughout the book of Hebrews, because we are not searching for something more. There is no “more”. Jesus is the greatest; there is no one greater than Jesus.

When we are content, there is no fear of loss and we can be confident. “So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’” (6) God will never leave us or forsake us. God will not abandon us at all, so we don’t need to be afraid of anything. People cannot do anything. The passage continues, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (7-8) The passage directs its readers to their leaders. These were the leaders who first poured out the word of God in their lives. They were the people who shared Jesus with them first. We all have people like that. No one here came to know Jesus on their own. They were all brought by someone else. There is a call to imitate their faith, to live like they lived. They lived for Jesus and the word “outcome” in the verse means that they died for Jesus as well. They had died but Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever. He was the focus of their faith. They were content in Jesus and desired nothing more. They loved him and they loved his people. They were the embodiment of what the author was trying to say.

The words that those leaders spoke were the words of God, but the author warns, “Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so. We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat.” (9-10) There are all sorts of strange teachings out there. There is the guy who fought for his religious right to wear a pasta strainer on his head for a driver’s license photo. There are also the 176,000 people who are a part of the Jedi religion. There are a lot of strange teaching out there. The author of Hebrews points out that people were believing that they were strengthened by eating certain ceremonial foods. They thought that they were better because they were doing something considered special, but we are only strengthened by grace. We are not better people because we of the things that we do, we are better because of grace. The world thinks that they can better themselves, but Christians know that it is only Jesus that can make ourselves better. Those who try to better themselves through acts have no right to come to the alter of grace.

“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. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” (11-14) Here, we have a call to return to Jesus and his cross. We are holy because of Jesus’ blood, not because we have done anything, but because he has done everything. As Christians, we share in his disgrace because we identify ourselves with his cross. But that disgrace does not matter because this world is immaterial and we are looking for the city that is to come. Our home is not on this earth. We are being equipped to inherit a heavenly city. That is where our hope lies and that has been a theme throughout this book.

Our focus must be on God and we must hold on to his promises and that brings us to so much joy. “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” (15-16) Here, we can see that we are equipped when we sing praises to God. It is a sacrifice and the fruit of our hearts. When we praise God, we acknowledge God for who he is and it focuses our eyes on him and not our circumstances. We can, then, do good and be willing to share. Jesus shared his life with us and we are called to share just like him. Our culture is very much about the self. We have ours: our things, our money, our lives, and we are not willing to share. However, through Jesus, we can share and love and show the world of the wondrous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The passage continues, “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you. Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon.” (17-19) Again, the author brings up leaders. This time, however, he mentions the current leadership. He urges the readers to have confidence in their leadership and to submit to their authority. That is not something that is easy for us to do. We are a nation founded on rebellion and questioning authority. We don’t have confidence in our government leaders. There is so much strife and animosity that it is a miracle that the government gets anything done. It is easy to become jaded and think that we can do better than those in charge and this extends to the church. How many times have you grumbled about a sermon or have had critiques of what was said or how something was done? Now critiques can be helpful, but if that is all you do, then they are not critiques any more, they are complaints. You are bringing people down. You are making a burden for those who are supposed to be leading. Now, your leaders are human and they do make mistakes, but it is important to always have grace. Those who are leading must give an account because they are supposed to be leading you to Jesus. That is a burden all on its own. I remember that Moses led his people through the wilderness and the people complained so much about everything. Eventually, Moses got frustrated with them and that was no benefit to anyone. Because of those complaints and frustration, the people had to wander the wilderness for forty years and Moses was not allowed to go into the Promised Land. He would die before entering. We have to remember that the true leader is Jesus and all the complaints eventually end up at his desk. Our eyes have to constantly be focused on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.

Now, we are back at the prayer. Let me read it one more time. “Now 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.” (20-21) Surrounding the outside of the prayer is God. It is God who equips us to do his will. It is through Jesus’ blood that we are promised life. It is only Jesus who is due glory for ever and ever. We have to remember Jesus in everything that we do. That is the point of Hebrews. Jesus is greater than everything else in existence, and when we remember that, we can be properly equipped to do his will.

Now, many times we like to think that being properly equipped means that we need certain abilities, but all we need is Jesus and his love. If you look at this chapter as a whole, you see a lot of love in it. Just like God’s law can be summarized by loving God and loving others, so being equipped to do God’s will can be summarized by loving God and loving others. When we love God and love others we are properly equipped to serve God. The apostle Paul wrote, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3) We can have all the abilities in the world, but without love, we have nothing and we are nothing. We are properly equipped when we love others and love God.

If we believe in Jesus, we are called to serve Jesus. Some people wonder what the point of life is. What is our purpose on this earth? We Christians know what that purpose is. It is not to gain wealth or fame or power for ourselves. Our purpose is to serve God and share the news about Jesus with others. That is what brings us the most joy. Each of us is called to share Jesus with someone. Some of us stand up here and give a message. Others share Jesus through Bible study. Others, still, show Jesus by the grace and love in their lives. We all have different methods of sharing Jesus, but it takes a lot of love to do so. We have to remember our God and look to him always. We have to put up with a lot in regard to the people we are sharing with. People are selfish and bitter and just mean, but we, as Christians, must bear with it all and love them despite the fact and we need to be properly equipped to do so. That is why God equips us to do his work and works in us. We have to be changed because we are like the world on our own. We can be selfish, bitter and mean, but through Jesus we can have love because God is love. We can have grace and be strengthened by grace. So, the author concludes, “Grace be with you all.” (25) We don’t want to be eating our ice cream from a cone with chopsticks.

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