June 29, 1997
The book of Hebrews is like a movement in a sonata, weaving together themes of revelation and redemption and ultimately pointing to Christ. It should be no surprise, then, that the composer concludes his work with a humble request for prayer and a benediction that reminds us of all God has accomplished through Jesus. May we, like the Hebrew believers before us, heed this letter’s instruction, cherish God’s family, honor our leaders, and stand in the grace of our Father.
Sermon Transcript: Print
I’d like to invite you to take your Bible and turn with me to Hebrews chapter 13. We’re going to read from verse 18 to the end of the chapter, and this will be the concluding study.
“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.
“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.
“Brothers, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written you only a short letter.
“I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been released. If he arrives soon, I will come with him to see you.
“Greet all your leaders and all God’s people. Those from Italy send you their greetings.
“Grace be with you all.”
Father, as we come to what we estimate will be our final study in this great letter, we pray, as with our beginning study, that you will turn our eyes upon the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the theme of the Bible and certainly the great theme of this epistle to these Hebrew Christians. Grant that there may be a fragrance about these moments spent with our Bibles opened upon our laps that will touch our lives not only for the immediacy of this day but, if it please you, for all of our lives and into eternity. That is a high, far-reaching request, possible only if you would be gracious enough to come by your Spirit and do for us what we are unable to do for ourselves: speak, hear, understand, and apply the truth of your Word. For we pray in the name of your Son. Amen.
As I looked again, in preparation for our study this evening, this afternoon at these verses that conclude this chapter and this great letter, it struck me that in many ways, the epistle of the Hebrews―and in fact, this may be true of more than one New Testament letter; I didn’t think beyond the scope of Hebrews—but this particular epistle might be, at least at a stretch, thought of in terms of the first movement of a classic sonata. For those of you who are familiar with musical terms, you will understand immediately. For others of us who are not as familiar but remember it from our days at school, perhaps a refresher will be helpful.
You will remember that we were told that in a classic sonata, in the first movement, it began with exposition; and there was an exposition usually of two subjects in separate but related keys. In point of fact, that is exactly true of the letter of Hebrews. He opens up with the exposition of two subjects, and they are these: what God has said to us (namely, the doctrine of revelation) and what God has done for us (namely, the truth of redemption). And then there follows upon that the development. And in the development phase of the first movement of the sonata, the subjects are elaborated on. And that is exactly what has taken place in our studies in Hebrews. Though we have ranged through a number of areas, by and large, everything that has been said has been wound around these two initial, related themes of revelation and redemption. And then there comes the recapitulation, when both subjects are brought back, and this time in the same key. And this is what we actually find in these concluding verses, not least of all in verses 20 and 21, to which we’ll give most of our time. And it is, of course, true that with relative frequency, in that first movement there would also be a coda, or a little tail at the end of it all, which is exactly what we find in verses 22‒25.
Now, I want to pick up from where we left off in our previous study, where we noted that the leadership was both pastoral and accountable. When you look at verses 18 and 19, you’re able to add a third word to that description. It wasn’t simply pastoral and accountable, but it was humble leadership. And we never express the humility of our hearts better than when we bow our knees in prayer, nor do we make it clear to others our dependence upon God to any greater degree than when we seek to solicit from them the promise and assurance of their prayers.
I find it particularly striking that the author’s first personal reference doesn’t come until the thirteenth chapter, and when it comes, it comes as a prayer request. The first time the writer, as it were, personalizes things in this particular way, he does so to acknowledge his dependence upon the prayers of God’s people in order that he might better serve them—and in so doing, he provides for us a further example of the nature of leadership within the Christian church. The writer recognized that all the blessing that he ever needed could be obtained from God alone and that prayer was the means of obtaining the blessings and encouragements that he required: “Pray for us,” he says. “I particularly urge you to pray.” Christian leadership should never be above the need of the prayers of God’s people. And to the degree that leaders ever give the notion that we are, then we do a disservice to our people, to ourselves, and, indeed, to the whole testimony of God.
His concern here about a clear conscience I think probably has something to do with the great freedom that he was exercising in relationship to the Jewish practices. Because, you will remember, as we’ve gone through the letter, many of his readers would have been scrupulous in relationship to some of the old practices of Judaism, and they were having great difficulty in feeling that they were free from some of the stuff that had marked them before their encounter with Christ. And the writer had clearly been able to release himself from much of that old system, and he wanted them to know that he had “a clear conscience” in relationship to that and that he did “desire to live honorably in every way.” And that is a wonderful reminder to us, incidentally, that the clarity of our conscience and the desire for honorable living are to be hallmarks, again, of Christian leadership.
The nineteenth verse is simply a reminder to us that while letters are okay, being face-to-face is the best. And that is his concern there: “I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon.” “I want to see you,” he says. If you’ve ever written letters over a long period of time to someone, you will know that no matter how eloquent you may be, how effective you may be with a pen, there is nothing to compare with the opportunity that comes from gazing into the individual’s eyes and rejoicing in their company. And this reference at the end of this letter is akin to what we find with frequency throughout the rest of the New Testament letters.
Now, having expressed his humility by means of this prayer request, he then, in verse 20, moves with ease from requesting that they might pray for him to offering what is essentially, on his part, a prayer of benediction. And this is what struck me first as a kind of recapitulation, and that’s how I finally reversed into all that analogy of the first movement. Because here in this little prayer, he gathers up a number of themes which have run throughout the letter, if you’ll notice—for example, the nature of the blood of the Lord Jesus and what it is meant for it to be shed; this notion of covenant, and particularly an eternal covenant; the lordship of Jesus Christ, the importance of doing his will. All of this and more is gathered up in this prayer that he offers on their behalf. And he directs his prayer, you will notice, in this wonderful opening phrase, to “the God of peace.” “May,” he says, “the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus [Christ], that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for [the] doing [of] his will.”
Incidentally, the way in which we pray does not simply reveal our hearts; it reveals something of our heads. The way in which we pray reveals a great deal about our theology, about our grasp of the Bible. It is not that in public prayer we seek to impress others with our knowledge of the Scriptures, but it is that we cannot but give revelation of what God has been teaching us when we take the very things of God and use them in addressing him in prayer. And so we ought to understand that the phrase “the God of peace” is directly related to the following phrase as he makes reference to “the blood of the eternal covenant.” How is it that God is the God of peace? How is it that God grants peace to sinful men and women? How is it that God can reconcile sinful man to himself, a holy God? How can there be peace where by the very definition of our lives we are at enmity with God, we are under his wrath, and we face only his judgment? How could he be the God of peace? The answer is “through the blood of the eternal covenant.”
And presumably the writer has in his mind a number of passages—doubtless Isaiah 53, speaking of the Suffering Servant, as the prophet Isaiah pointed to one who was to come, not realizing that he would be the one who would be the fulfillment of all of his prophecies and would be the apex of the revelation in the letter of the Hebrews; this one who
had no beauty or majesty …,
nothing in his appearance that we [would] desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
And yet, he was the one who “took up our infirmities.” He was the one who “carried our sorrows,” and “we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.” What wondrous love is this? “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities.” Notice: “The punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
The New Testament writers came to understand the wonder of this and wrote of it with frequency. Let me give you just two references. Colossians 1:19: “For God was pleased,” says Paul to the Colossian believers, “to have all his fullness dwell in him”―that is, in Jesus―“and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven”―now, here, notice―“by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” And the same truth burned itself into the heart and mind of Peter as he observed from a distance all of the sufferings of Christ. And as he later wrote in response to the exhortation of Jesus to strengthen his brethren and to encourage them, he said, “He was chosen before the creation of the world”―that is, Jesus―“but was revealed in these last times for your sake.” “We weren’t redeemed,” he said, “with corruptible things like silver and gold, from the empty way of life that had been handed down from our forefathers, but we were redeemed with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”
And all of these Hebrew Christians, and Isaiah and the prophets, when they stand around the throne of God, and when we join hands with them, and as we proclaim the wonder of God’s grace, and when we declare the amazing wonder of the fact that he is the God of all peace, upon what will we reflect? Upon the shedding of the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. He who knew no sin became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him.
I wonder if the penny has dropped for some who began these studies in Hebrews having no grasp of things at all; for some who began like the Judaizers, feeling that some external religion, some embracing of rules, some attempt at cleaning up and dressing up and appearing our best and doing our best and seeking to earn our acceptance with God would be sufficient for welcome into his presence. Has God by his Spirit opened your eyes to the wonder of this? That all your righteousnesses are as filthy rags; that there is not one thing that I or you could do to commend ourselves in the presence of God, and therefore, we are without hope in the world unless another should take our place. For
Not all the blood of beasts
On Jewish altars slain,
Could give the guilty conscience peace
Or wash away the stain.
But Christ, the heav’nly Lamb,
[Bears] all our sins away,
A sacrifice of nobler name
… than they.
That’s the significance of the phrase. By raising Jesus from the dead, God gave proof that he had accepted the sacrifice of Jesus, that the atonement for sin had been accomplished. If Jesus had not been raised from the dead, then there would be no salvation for sin. If Jesus had simply died as a natural man and been raised from the dead, then there would be no sacrifice for sin. But because of the death that he died and because of the resurrection that he experienced, there is for us the atonement for our sin. And indeed, that’s why the writer has pointed out in 10:18 that because in his death Jesus Christ accomplished this atonement, there is no more sacrifice for sin that can be offered or needs to be offered.
Now, I could take a long time trying to expound this, but let me give you a quote. It’s a little prosaic, but it is a wonderful quote. It is from John Owen—probably, arguably, the greatest theologian that these shores have ever produced:
The death of Christ, if he had not risen, would not have completed our redemption; we should have been still in our sins. For evidence would have been given that atonement was not made. The bare resurrection of Christ, or the bringing [of] him from the dead, would not have saved us; for so … other [men] may be raised by the power of God. But the bringing again of Christ from the dead, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, is that which gives assurance of the complete redemption and salvation of the church.
The writer is making it clear that Christ has performed an act which could be repeated by no other, and he has received a position which could be held by no other.
Now, he has used this descriptive phraseology in order that he might then make statement of his request. All of this theology underpins what he’s asking for. He hasn’t asked for anything yet; he has just heaped up these wonderful truths: “May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead” who? “Our Lord Jesus Christ.” And who is he? He is the “great Shepherd of the sheep.” “Now,” he says, “this is my request: may he equip you with everything good for doing his will.” What a wonderful and essential prayer! The word here for “equip” means “may he put you in a proper condition; may he make you complete; may he restore you; may he mend you; may he repair you.” It is the word that is used, for example, in Matthew 4, when Jesus comes, and the disciples are at the shore, and they are mending their nets, and the word that is used there is from the same verb, katartisai. And they were repairing that which was broken.
And so he says—looking upon these believers in his day, writing out of the fullness of God’s heart to them—he says, “It is my great prayer. And I’m not just praying into the air,” he says. “I’m praying that this God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead the Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep―this is the one to whom I go in prayer. And I am asking him that he will give you everything that you require. Because,” he says, “I know that God is able not only to supply what is necessary but to repair what is broken.”
What a wonderful truth that is! It would be one thing if God could only supply what was necessary―he gave us one shot at it, and as soon as we violated it or messed it up or fooled around with it and put it on the side, he said, “That’s you. You’re done. I’ll move you aside now, and I’ll find another to use.” No, the God to whom we come is the God who understands that yes, we have compromised our testimonies; yes, we have lived dislocated from one another. We are not perfect, we haven’t been, and we’re not about to be.
And it is this God who equips us with “everything good for doing his will.” In other words, he doesn’t dress us up in the uniform so that we may march around and impress people, in the way that some teenager in the ’60s might have gone to the army and navy store and bought himself, as many did, an air force coat, or a combat jacket, or a sailor’s uniform. And they used to pronounce themselves sterling stalwarts in the cause at the time, and their hair swung in the breeze, and frankly, they looked ridiculous. And they wandered all around Carnaby Street, aping the front of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’s long-playing album cover. In other words, they dressed up.
Some of us as Christians are in danger just of playing dress up, as if God would equip us with all of the necessary requirements to make us happy. He equips us with everything good for the express purpose of doing his will. What is his will? That we would be holy. What is his will? That we would show hospitality, that we would minister to those who are in prison, that we would live true to our marriage vows, and so on. It’s no mystery. It’s not some magic box kept under the tree somewhere that only a few select people can go and find. The will of God is on the surface of the pages of Scripture, and he supplies us with everything good for the doing of his will: to make us holy, not, ultimately, happy. He gives us the resources not as toys to be played with but as tools to be employed, in order that we might become “useful to the Master.”
And he says, “May he work in us what is pleasing to him”—this great paradox of Philippians 2, that all that we ever work out for good is what God has worked in for his pleasure. We do it; he does it. Who does it? I do it; he does it. And in that paradox, as we depend upon him and as we are equipped with all of this, then he’ll “work in us what is pleasing to him.”
And notice: “through [the Lord] Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” In other words, he says, “I started with Jesus, I talk about Jesus all through the middle, and I’m finishing with Jesus too.” Because he is the one who is greater than Moses. He is the one who is more significant than the angels. He is the name above every name. He is the one who is “crowned with glory and honor.” He is the one who is seated at the right hand of the Father on high. Let us praise him! Indeed, if these studies in Hebrews have not made Jesus more precious to us, then we have failed in our studies.
What about the little PS, verses 22, 23, 24, and 25? Let me summarize it for you.
Verse 22: “Heed the instructions.” That’s what he’s saying. “I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation. I only wrote you a short letter.” It would take about an hour to read out loud. He could have developed these themes a lot more. From his perspective, this was quite short. Imagine how long it might have been! “Heed the instruction,” verse 22.
Verses 23 and 24: “Cherish the fellowship.” “I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been released. If he arrives soon, I will come with him to see you. That ought to fill your hearts with expectation, because you love to be with God’s people.”
“Cherish the fellowship.” “Greet your leaders.” And verse 25: “Stand in grace.” “Heed the instruction, cherish the fellowship, stand in grace.”
Well, there it is: the great themes of revelation and redemption; the wonderful picture of the Lord Jesus; turning our eyes to him as the one who is the Savior from our sin, the one who is the Lord and Master of our lives.
Throughout my studies in Hebrews—our studies in Hebrews—I made a new and ancient friend, an individual with whom, in one respect, I have very little in common, certainly when I consider his intellectual capacity and his piety. He was a man of peculiar learning. He had fluency in twelve languages. He taught theology as the professor of divinity in Edinburgh in the final twenty years of his ministry. So, I have to reach a little to kinda hold his hand over the corridor of all these years since the early 1800s.
But I gain some encouragement from recognizing that we were both born in Scotland; that we both shared the privilege of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; that we both were called to the ministry of the Word of God; and that, I hope to some degree, that I would share his passion to teach the truth which is actually in the verses that we’re trying to study, rather than to teach a truth that we want to teach, and we look for a few verses to try and teach it; that there would be some sense of affinity with this individual of whom Murray M’Cheyne, preaching in an ordination sermon, said, “John Brown of Haddington used to preach as if he had read no other book than the Bible.”
But the one thing that intrigued me most was this: the biographical introduction to the commentary begins like this:
Early one morning in the year 1738 a shepherd boy with homespun clothes and bare feet, stood at the counter of Alexander McCulloch’s bookshop in the University city of St. Andrews. The startled shopkeeper [who] was yet more surprised when he heard the youth’s request, it was for a Greek New Testament. “Boy,” exclaimed the Professor of Greek who happened to be in the shop at that moment, “if you can read that book, you shall have it for nothing.” Soon a rather thick leather volume was in the lad’s hands and to the astonishment of all present he read a passage and won his prize. By the afternoon sixteen year old John Brown was back among his flock on the hills of Abernathy, having walked some forty-eight miles since the previous evening to obtain his treasure.
A sixteen-year-old shepherd boy? Forty-eight miles on foot to buy a Greek New Testament? Well, this was John Brown’s grandfather. “Oh,” I said, “that’s nice. My grandfather was a shepherd too. But I don’t know if he ever read the Greek New Testament.”
And as I read through his biography and found my heart stirred by it, I came to the way in which he concluded his studies. And I want to use his conclusion as my conclusion, because I don’t think this can be improved upon. And with these words I draw this to a close. He says,
And now I close these illustrations of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Happier hours than those which I have spent in composing these expository discourses, I can scarcely expect to spend on this side of the grave. I trust the study of the Epistle has not been without some improvement, as well as much enjoyment, to myself. I shall rejoice if at last it [should] be found that others also have been made better and happier by it. All is now over with the author and his readers, as to his illustrating the Epistle, and their listening to these illustrations; but there remains the improvement to be made, and the account to be given …. God requireth the things which are past, and so should we. Let me request those who have accompanied me thus far, seriously to review the whole Epistle, and ask themselves, Do we understand it better, and do we feel more strongly the sanctifying and consoling influence[s] of the doctrines which it unfolds? Can we say with greater conviction of the truth than formerly, We need a High Priest—we have a High Priest—we are well pleased with our High Priest; we have acknowledged Jesus as our High Priest; we will hold fast our acknowledgment; He died for us—we will live for Him; and if He calls us, we will die for Him; we will trace His steps on the earth, we will wait His coming in the clouds? If this be the case even in one individual, I shall not have laboured in vain: if it has been the case with a number of individuals, I shall have received a full reward.
Let us pray together:
Our God and our Father, we thank you for the immense privilege of being able to study the Bible on our own, in little groups, in different ways and different places, and not least of all here on the Lord’s Day. And we thank you that in these studies in this epistle to the Hebrews, our gaze has been turned again to these wonderful truths―that you are God, and you have made yourself known to us in the world in which we live, in the Word which we read, and in the person of your Son, upon whom we turn our gaze. And we thank you for what you have done for us in the Lord Jesus Christ―that in him there is forgiveness of sins, the cleansing of a guilty conscience, the removal of the fear of death, the anticipation of the hope of glory. How, then, we should praise you for the love of our Redeemer! Grant that we might do so. To the glory of his great name we ask it. Amen.
 Isaiah 53:2‒5 (NIV 1984).
 1 Peter 1:20 (NIV 1984).
 1 Peter 1:18‒19 (paraphrased).
 See 2 Corinthians 5:21.
 See Isaiah 64:6.
 See Ephesians 2:12.
 Isaac Watts, “Not all the Blood of Beasts” (1709).
 John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews (London, 1840), 4:764.
 2 Timothy 2:21 (NIV 1984).
 See Philippians 2:13.
 See Hebrews 3:3.
 See Hebrews 1:4.
 See Philippians 2:9.
 Hebrews 2:9 (NIV 1984).
 Iain Murray, biographical introduction to Hebrews, by John Brown (1862; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1961), iii.
 John Brown, An Exposition of the Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Hebrews, ed. David Smith (New York: 1862), 2:276.
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.