"A Constant Savior and a Better City"
As we come to the final chapter of Hebrews, we are reminded that we are all reading an epistle. You may have been so captivated by these long and lengthy arguments about a new and better covenant that you lost sight of the fact that this was a letter—a letter written by an unknown author, yes, but nonetheless, a letter written to believers. In Hebrews 13, the author gives readers many ethical exhortations, which is common in epistles. He implores them to show love to one another through their hospitality, through providing an encouraging presence to those in prison, and through marital faithfulness. The danger of greed is addressed. The readers are encouraged to follow their leaders faithfully and not to be led astray by those who preach a false gospel, proclaiming that certain food laws must be followed to be a part of God’s kingdom in Christ.
All of these ethical concerns are grounded in two key truths found in verses 1–19. First, we are reminded in Hebrews 13:8 that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Even if Christian leaders are tortured and put in prison, even if they are martyred for their faith, even if they are uncovered as hypocrites who were leading people astray, believers are reminded that Jesus is the true source of hope. Even the best of people will disappoint us, but Christ will never lead us astray. This truth gives us comfort as we pick up our cross and suffer as Christ did, going outside the camp to “bear the reproach He endured” (Hebrews 13:13). This good word, written to believers suffering for their faith, provided much-needed encouragement because it reminded them that their Lord also suffered. We don’t suffer alone; we trust that Jesus suffered for us and that He is suffering with us in all of life’s trials and tribulations. He is a constant Savior, a faithful High Priest who “knows our needs, to our weakness is no stranger” (John Sullivan Dwight, “O Holy Night”), and yet who is never changing and who promises He will never leave or forsake us.
We also trust that this suffering is temporary. The second key truth in this passage comes in verse 14: “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14 ESV). The author of Hebrews wants readers to understand that everything around them is temporary. The money they possess, the homes they live in, the jobs they hold, the things they’ve collected over the years, and their place in society will one day fade away because the earthly city they are living in was never built to last forever. In light of that truth, believers ought to hold loosely to all of these temporal things which will pass away. In Hebrews 12, we learned that the only kingdom that cannot be shaken is the one yet to come; the only city that will never fade is the one instituted by God and is the city we seek. Because of this great truth, we can endure suffering, persecution, and hardship of every kind because we know we are citizens of heaven and a better city awaits us.
This, after all, is the great hope we celebrate at Advent and Christmas; as we look back on Christ’s first coming to the world, we also look forward in hope to the day when He will return, when we will possess that long-awaited city, where we will dwell in the presence of God forever.
Hebrews 13:1-19 (ESV):
1 Let brotherly love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. 3 Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. 4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. 5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we can confidently say,
“The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear;
what can man do to me?”
7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 9 Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. 15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
17 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.
18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. 19 I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner.