The word benediction has Latin roots; it literally means “to speak well of,” although we might also say by extension that it means “good word.” We have benedictions at the end of our worship services; these “good words” spoken over the congregation are meant to be an encouragement and also a commissioning. The benediction of Hebrews 13:20–21 is one of my favorites in all of Scripture, because it is just that! It is a good word of encouragement as we hear these beautiful reminders of who Jesus is, and it’s also a word of challenge and commission as we are reminded that, in light of who Jesus is, we ought to live differently as people who have been redeemed.
Verse 20 gives us the good word of encouragement relating to our relationship with God because of Jesus. Through the cross, we are at peace with God; indeed, our God is a God of peace! This God of peace has raised Jesus Christ from the dead, and because of Christ’s resurrection, we, too, have this hope of a new life to come. The author of Hebrews then uses this beautiful Old Testament imagery of Jesus as “the great shepherd of the sheep.” Throughout the book of Hebrews, we have heard again and again that the blood of Jesus is better than the blood of bulls or goats. He is the ultimate sacrifice, the final Passover Lamb.
Yet in this passage, the sheep metaphor shifts as Jesus is pictured as the Great Shepherd and us as His sheep. This metaphor resounds throughout the Old Testament; Moses and Aaron were pictured as shepherds leading the Israelites (Psalm 77:20), David declared that the Lord was his Shepherd (Psalm 23), and the priests were repeatedly condemned for being bad shepherds to their sheep because of their false teaching and unfaithful ways (Jeremiah 23; Ezekiel 34). But Jesus is the true, faithful Shepherd who gently guides His children, and He never leads them astray.
The commissioning of verse 21 comes in light of this great truth that we are being led by our Shepherd, Jesus Christ. How will He lead us? In kindness and with gentleness, yes, but He will also lead us by equipping us to do His will, “working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever” (Hebrews 13:21 ESV). Our Shepherd will lead and guide us to do God’s will, to live in light of His kingdom ways, to choose holiness and righteousness over the ways of the world, and to seek the city that is to come. It’s frightening sometimes to think about how God might be leading us. What if He calls us to do something that is hard and far out of our comfort zone? We can take comfort in the truth that only God can equip us for the tasks to which He has called us. He alone can prepare us, He alone goes before us, and He alone works in us for His glory. We can’t do any of this on our own! It is only through the power of the Holy Spirit at work in us that we can respond to His faithful leading and can follow Him wherever He may go.
There’s comfort in knowing that, regardless of where our faith journey might take us in this life, our final destination is in the presence of the Almighty, where our faith will be made sight. As one of my favorite Christmas carols puts it, “And He leads His children on, to the place where He is gone” (Cecil Frances Alexander, “Once in Royal David’s City”). He leads us on to a better city and a better hope than anything this life can promise. This, indeed, is a good word! Praise God, and even so, come Lord Jesus, and lead Your sheep home.
Hebrews 13:20-25 (ESV):
20 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, 21 equip you with everything good 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.
22 I appeal to you, brothers, bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly. 23 You should know that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom I shall see you if he comes soon. 24 Greet all your leaders and all the saints. Those who come from Italy send you greetings. 25 Grace be with all of you.