Hebrews 13:1-25 “Yesterday, Today and Forever”
I wish to start by congratulating all of you on plodding through the entire Book of Hebrews! This is one of the most difficult books of the Bible to study, and receive in Sunday messages. It is right up there with Revelation! One person on Tuesday morning asked if we were going to have a test on the Book of Hebrews! “Are we gonna have a test now?’ she asked. WE are not going to have a test NOW; the test comes in that time when we stand before the Lord. So, yes, there will be a test after this sermon! Just not today—unless it is today that we stand before the Lord. Now that I have totally confused you!
The first verse of our Scripture for today literally tells us to “Stay in Philadelphia.” That is a special message indeed for Kevin & Kay who are right now in Philadelphia braving it out until they can come back here! I know, you are looking at your Bibles right now thinking I am crazy. The word for “brotherly love” in Greek is Philadelphia. The word to “remain” here is “menatai” in the Greek, which means “to stay” in the imperative. So, we can read this text as “maintain your brotherly love for one another,” or simply read it as “Stay in Philadelphia!” Let us rather read it the first way that we are to maintain our Christian affection for one another. This is the proper answer to the test!
In verse two is something really cool in the Greek as well. The verse talks about “strangers.” “Strangers” sounds like people who are strange or estranged. Yet, in the Greek is the word “philoksenias.” In that word you hear the word for “brotherly love” once more. It is actually repeated from the first verse. What it is saying is that when we welcome others into the church, do not do so as if they are strangers! Do so as if they are simply your brothers whom you love already. This is a “loving stranger.”
Remember the context of this letter being written to the Jews in Rome. They were being persecuted. Their worship services were being tracked and spied upon. Very often one had to show a symbol (a fish for instance) or know a secret password in order to come into the worship space. So, here is the command to not suspect that the person who suddenly comes to worship is a spy for the Roman Emperor but is rather a brother or sister in the faith—an angel, literally meaning one sent by God! We are all angels, I like to think. We are all here because of God!
Well, how are we supposed to get into the practice of welcoming our sisters and brothers in the faith when we have so much trepidation? We have been told to “not talk to strangers” since we were old enough to talk! Do you remember your parents telling you that? Talking to strangers is dangerous stuff. On Kauai we are warned never talk to the stranger because if you talk stink everybody is related! It will come back to you! Use that same theory, but in a heavenly sense! One day you are going to know who that stranger was in heaven!
In verse three we read how to make this reaching out to others happen safely: “Remember”! Remember the prisoners, for instance. Those prisoners would have been the other Christians who are in prison for their faith. So, have that empathetic imagination that you are suffering alongside of them. Remember when you were the stranger! Remember when you first came to church and did not know anyone. Remember when you were sick and needed prayer. Have that empathy with others around you.
The other thing that is really important as a Christian besides having empathy is keeping your word. We here in the church like to speak of the idea of covenant. The best everyday example of that is the marriage covenant. Yet, this only speaks of the marriage covenant here, I want to expand it as the basis really of everything we do and strive for as Christians.
Let us jump back into the Gospel of John for a second. Open up to John 3:29, “He who has the bride is the bridegroom. . . .” Right off the bat before Jesus even really starts his healing ministry it is clear that a covenant, like that of marriage, is operative between us and Jesus Christ. The church, we believers, are the bride and Jesus is the bridegroom. WE have made promises to one another before God that cannot be broken. Amen to that!
All of Hebrews 13 is very much a schematic for how to live our lives as Christians. You have probably figured that out for sure. Here in verse 5 is perhaps the most critical instruction of all. Keep your lives free from the love of money. To be sure, that does not mean that we should strive to live totally without money. This text does not say anything about “keeping free of money,” in fact it warns of the “LOVE of money.”
So, you remember still the first verse could be translated as “Stay in Philadelphia”? This verse has a cool second way of translating it, too. It has the word for brotherly love in it again. This time the word is preceded by an “a” (alpha), meaning “not.” So, have no brotherly love for “argyros,” which of course is silver, like “argent” in French or as in “Argentina,” the silver land. But, “gyros” is also that meat that spins on around against a flame and gets nice and crispy. Then, you throw it into a pita pocket and serve it as a gyros sandwich—or some folks call it a “hero sandwich.” Stay in Philadelphia but do not fall in love with your hero sandwich! Ha ha ha. No wait, maintain your love for others and do not fall for love of money! How did I ever pass my Greek exams in seminary, you wonder?
I really need to lift out verse 7 from this text today and bring it to your attention. Here it says that we are to “Remember our leaders.” What I want to point out is that this is not a reference to pastors in the church. The Greek word that is being used here is a reference to a royal leader or a governor. It is the same root word from which we get the English word “hegemony,” which is an absolute political power.
What we should see here then is an admonition to remember those people who have positions and power in Government who have accepted the faith and have shown Christian leadership in the otherwise secular society.
We are to consider the outcome of their lives and emulate or imitate their lives. Christians need to be in secular society—in its power structures. In the day when this was written, it was more of a matter of life and death for the faith to continue. You see, if all the Christians are of the slave class, then it is easy for the powers to be to eradicate the faith by merely working some slaves to death. But, if governors, military leaders, and senators of the Roman Empire become Christians, then there is little that anyone can do to hurt the faith! Yes, remember those who have suffered in prison for the faith, but moreover remember those Christians who find themselves in positions of power in government. Look to them as an example.
We cannot forget that the final historical outcome of all the Christian martyrs that came after Christ is that the Emperor of Rome himself was eventually converted to Christianity. That was Emperor Constantine in the year 312 AD. The most powerful man on the planet bowed before the Cross of Jesus! Today’s leadership for which we always pray Sunday after Sunday need to remember Constantine and also bow before God!
Verses 7-17 paint an interesting picture of how Christ is always outside of the politics of the day, however. The animals that were offered in the Temple to God in Jerusalem were prepared outside of the Temple. Jesus himself was sacrificed on the Cross outside of the city walls. Our future is not about somehow re-entering the Jerusalem of old but rather about the coming of the New Jerusalem, the new Kingdom that Jesus brings down to earth.
I just want to review a little for the test which is to come: We should remember Hebrews 11:13-16, “. . . .They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on earth. . .they had a desire for a better country, that is a heavenly one. . . .God has prepared a city for them.”
Therefore, we should indeed remember our civic leaders, especially those who lead through faith in Jesus, and we should pray that they will always know that their power to lead in this world is transitory. Their leadership today is simply to serve Jesus tomorrow.
Lastly we live lives that are honorable and pleasing to God. “Pleasing in his sight,” are the words that are actually written. Since God is all-knowing and all-seeing, that means that we must constantly asks ourselves if what we are doing now, in this very moment, pleasing in the sight of Jesus Christ. That is the true test that we must live by. If there is a test for the Book of Hebrews, that is it.