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“With Such Sacrifices”

Hebrews 13:9-25
Bob DeGray
May 5, 2002

Key Sentence

The person who lives out his faith by grace must be practically selfless.


I. We have no basis for pride (Hebrews 13:9-14)
II. We are called to an outward focus (Hebrews 13:15-19)
III. We receive grace for His glory (Hebrews 13:20-25)


        Amy Carmichael was a missionary to India who spent fifty five years rescuing girls from Hindu temple prostitution, and discipling them in the Christian life. Elizabeth Elliot’s biography of Amy Carmichael, “A Chance to Die” reveals a woman who struggled, who acted impulsively, who often had to eat her words, and yet who strove with all her soul and strength to serve Christ. She gave up everything - wealth, position, marriage, family, safety and health to be Jesus’s servant in India.

        One of the best of her many books is the devotional called “If”. These proverbs capture the striving for selflessness and Christlikeness which marked Amy Carmichael’s life. Let me read a few of these ‘if’s’ before we look at the last section of Hebrews. “If I hold on to choices of any kind just because they are my choices; if I give any room to my private likes and dislikes, then I know nothing of Calvary love.” “If I slide comfortably into the vice of self-pity and self-sympathy; if I do not by the grace of God practice fortitude, then I know nothing of Calvary love.” “If my thoughts revolve around myself, if I am so occupied with myself I rarely have a heart at leisure from itself, then I know nothing of Calvary love.” “If I cannot in happiness take the second place (or the twentieth); if I cannot take the first without making a fuss about my unworthiness, then I know nothing of Calvary love.”

        The death and resurrection of Christ calls us to selflessness, to take our eyes off ourselves and focus on him and others. As we conclude Hebrews that outward focus unifies the last several instructions given by the author. He has already painted a glorious picture of the superiority of Christ, the effectiveness of his sacrifice, our need for perseverance and of walking in grace by faith. Now he concludes with exhortations which imply that the one who lives by faith must be practically selfless. And by practically I don’t mean ‘almost.’ What I mean is ‘in practice’ or ‘in a practical way’. The selflessness which we gain by the grace of Jesus when we walk in faith must be practical. Several things in Hebrews 13:9-25 will help us as we strive by faith and with grace to be practically selfless.

I. We have no basis for pride (Hebrews 13:9-14)

        The first thing we’ll notice is that we have no basis for pride. Hebrews 13:9-14 Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those who eat them. 10We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat. 11The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. 13Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. 14For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

        The tension in these verses is really between grace and works. It appears that some of the readers were tending to forget grace and to drift back into a system in which their salvation was earned or kept by following a set of rules. One of the most common set of rules people devise tries to maintain personal purity by controlling external things such as what you eat or touch or see or do. In fact the sacrificial system God gave through Moses included those kind of external rules for purity; ceremonial cleanliness as a picture of righteousness and holiness. But it is easy to let the picture dominate, to begin to rely on those external rules to keep you holy.

        The author says ‘don’t fall into that trap’. He makes a distinction between what impacts the heart and what doesn’t: “It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those who eat them.” Jesus said “Don't you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean.' For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man 'unclean'; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him 'unclean.' ”

        Contrary to the teachings of Islam, eating pork does not make a person unclean at a heart level. Contrary to what some Orthodox Jews believe, eating non-kosher foods does not defile. Contrary to what the Mormons teach, drinking coffee will not make you morally or physically ill. Contrary to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a blood transfusion will not threaten your salvation. Contrary to many Protestant churches, a glass of wine is not a sin - though drunkenness clearly is. Contrary to the formal teaching of the Catholic Church, eating meat on Friday is not wrong. Contrary to what the Hindus believe, eating a cow is not a violation of the divine. But almost any religion will eventually draft for itself some food rules, just to make it feel better.

        Don’t get dragged into these things, the author says. “Let your heart be strengthened by grace.” Food can strengthen your body, but only grace can strengthen your heart - it is God’s gift, not something you earn. To be strengthened by grace is the antidote to pride - knowing that nothing we do can earn God’s favor: we are helpless and hopeless without him. “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling.”

        “We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat.” That altar is Jesus, who said “I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I give for the life of the world.” Jesus offered his body as a sacrifice once and for all to provide life for us. So we have nothing to be proud of in ourselves. We are saved by his grace.

        We are also saved by his disgrace. Jesus was sacrificed outside the gates of Jerusalem. The author compares this to the Day of Atonement in the Old Testament. The high priest would sacrifice a bull and a lamb and the blood would be taken into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering. But the bodies of those animals would be taken outside the city and burned as if they were unclean. In the same way Jesus, in his sacrifice, was killed outside the city, as if he were unclean. He never entered into the earthly Holy Place and the earthly system had nothing to do with the effectiveness of His sacrifice. Instead, his blood was poured out on a heavenly altar that cannot be touched by human hands, and it was more effective than the blood of bulls and lambs because it was more than a picture of cleansing - it really made people holy.

        If Jesus was willing to humble himself and suffer for our sins, though he had done no sin, then there is no place for pride in us, who caused his suffering. Instead, we need to remember, as the author suggests, that we are pilgrims of faith, whose hope is not in earthly gain or in earthly recognition, things that Jesus never received. We are to go to him, outside the city and share his disgrace as he endured ours, not for earthly gain but for the eternal joy of heaven. Heaven’s reward more and more speaks to my heart because I see what trials and troubles so many endure here. We are pilgrims who often don’t receive the things promised but see and welcome them from a distance; we are aliens and strangers on earth, looking for a country of our own, longing for a better city – a heavenly one which God has prepared for us.

II. We are called to an outward focus (Hebrews 13:15-19)

        So we have no reason for pride, only for faith. Everything we have is by grace, none of it earned by our merit. Everything is earned by Christ, by his sacrifice, his disgrace, the merit of his self-giving. This is why we must get our eyes off of ourselves and praise him, get our eyes off of ourselves and love others as he did. Because we live by faith and because we are saved by grace we are called to be practically selfless. Verses 15 to 19: 15Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise--the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. 17Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you. 18Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. 19I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon.

In Hebrews we have seen over and over the superiority of Jesus - superior to creation, superior to angels, superior to men. And we have seen over and over the superiority of his sacrifice: final, once and for all, making us holy by his blood. But if his sacrifice is perfect and complete, are there any sacrifices we can offer that God will accept? The author answers that questions ‘yes’ - the sacrifices that come when we focus our hearts and minds on Jesus and on others.

        The first sacrifice mentioned is praise. “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that confess his name.” Notice first that our praise is offered through Jesus, who pays for our sins and gives us access to God. Second, our praise is continual. This doesn’t mean that our every word is praise, but it means our praise should be daily, not just Sunday, should be often, not just at a fixed time. The idea is to be so aware of our dependence on Jesus that our hearts overflow with praise for the one on whom we depend. Next, this praise is offered to God as a sacrifice. This is a priestly role for all believers. We don’t offer sin offerings, we don’t offer burnt offerings, but we do offer the praise of our hearts and bring it into the presence of the Father through the Son. We step into God’s presence at any time through prayer and offer him praise.

        Finally, this praise is ‘the fruit of lips that confess his name.’ We already saw that the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart. If praise and confession are the fruit of our lips, it shows that these things are in our hearts. By the way, this isn’t the same thing as confessing our sins: here confession means acknowledging Jesus, recognizing what he has done, and telling him how wonderful it is. It is the result of fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. That’s been my key verse in Hebrews, from the first chapter where we saw his superiority to this last chapter where we offer him praise. Fixing our eyes on Jesus is a form of practical selflessness - it puts our attention on the one who deserves it and gets us outside ourselves. As Lyle Johnson sings: More of you, Jesus, less of me.

        Practical selflessness is also displayed when we focus our attention on others. Verse 16 “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” The verse literally says “don’t neglect” to care for others. It takes conscious effort. ‘Doing good’ is a general term that covers all kinds of benevolent behavior. ‘Sharing with others’ is more specific and carries the idea of having everything in common. The second term might be best thought of as focusing on your brothers and sisters in Christ, but the first says that we should do good to everyone. As Paul says: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Galatians 6:10.

        We’ve been studying the Peacemaker materials in Awana. One of the acronyms in the kids program is intended to help kids avoid conflict by thinking before they act or speak. It’s ‘S-T-A-Y’: Stop, think, act, yea! But that acronym works for doing good, too. In order to do good we first need to stop, or at least slow down enough to see and feel the needs of those around us. Think - what can I realistically and sacrificially do to help? Act - do it. Stop. Think. Act. Yea. God gives us joy when we offer this kind of sacrifice. In fact, the verse teaches that God himself gives the Yea and Amen to our goodness and sharing - those acts please him. Stop. Think. Act. Yea!

        Obeying our leaders is another exercise in practical selflessness. Verse 17: “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.” We live in an individualistic society, where submission and obedience are not highly regarded. But the Word of God has not changed to accommodate our cultural quirks. Despite what society says, we are supposed to respectfully obey our leaders and do what they think is best.

        Of course if our leaders are calling us to unscriptural behavior, that’s an exception. Kent Hughes gives a few examples. “This doesn’t mean unqualified obedience, the kind that made it possible for Jim Jones to murder 800 of his followers by ordering them to drink poisoned Kool Aid. Neither does it provide the basis for authoritarian churches, like some whose members submit nearly every decision of their lives to the elders.” Gail and I knew of a church in Illinois where they told you what kind of car to buy. But this call to obedience was never meant to make anyone contradict biblical morality or conscience. It was, instead, a call to an obedient heart.

        A church, like a family or nation works best when responsible leaders receive respectful cooperation from those they lead. The emphasis is really on the responsibility of the leaders: they keep watch over you as men who must give an account. They will answer to God for how well and responsibly they cared for the church members in their local body. That’s a tremendous and daunting burden. In fact the word ‘keep watch over you’ could easily be translated ‘lose sleep over you’. Responsible leaders take their task seriously - therefore we should take their direction seriously. Responsible followers bring joy, not grief to their leaders, who rejoice when they hear of spiritual growth and maturity. John wrote “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” That’s the way all leaders feel.

        Of course, obedience is good for the followers as well. Being disobedient and a burden to your leaders doesn’t just impact them. It impacts you, and your family, and all those around you in the church. So the selflessness of submission and obedience is ultimately good for everyone - it has your own enlightened self interest at heart.

        So does prayer, of course. This is the last area where the author calls his readers to selflessness, to take their eyes off themselves: “Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. 19I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon.” His heart’s desire is for a clear conscience and an honorable life - which isn’t a bad thing to pray for anyone, and especially for your leaders - for me, for the elders, for all who represent Christ to others in this body. You take your eyes off yourself and pray for us, and meanwhile, leaders, we need to take our eyes of ourselves and pray for others. That’s practical selflessness.

III. We receive grace for His glory (Hebrews 13:20-25)

        So we’ve seen that we have no reason for pride, that we need to focus on Jesus through worship, and on others through caring, submission and prayer. Finally, we’re reassured that as we do this God we will give the grace we need to bring him glory. Verse 20: 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, 21equip 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. 22Brothers, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written you only a short letter. 23I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been released. If he arrives soon, I will come with him to see you. 24Greet all your leaders and all God's people. Those from Italy send you their greetings. 25Grace be with you all.

        Verses 20 and 21 are the familiar benediction we’ve used many times as we’ve studied this book. The remaining three verses are a personal note from the author, in which he urges his readers to take seriously what he calls his brief exhortation. Let’s focus on the benediction as we close. Notice first that the God who is asked to give us this blessing is the God of peace. He is the author of peace, the one who creates it in us and sustains it. With him we find perfect peace. Jesus said “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. . . Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

        Second, he is the God of promise: his blessings come through his covenant promises. We learned earlier that we are under a new covenant, promised in the Old Testament but achieved through Jesus, and that it is his blood, shed on the cross that makes possible this new arrangement between God and man. Under it man is not judged for his sins nor on the basis of his failed attempts at holiness, but is made holy and forgiven through the work of Jesus. This is the covenant promise of his shed blood.

        Third, he is the God of power. He brought Jesus back from the dead. This is the only time in Hebrews the resurrection is explicitly mentioned, though it is implied throughout. In the Old Testament if they wanted to point out God’s power they pointed to Egypt: the plagues and the parting of the sea. But in the New Testament, whenever a writer wants to highlight God’s power he thinks of the resurrection. Paul prays, for example, that the Ephesians may know God’s incomparably great power, which is “like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.”

        Next he reminds us that the one who was raised is ‘the great shepherd of the sheep.’ The shepherd metaphor is not used often in Hebrews, but it brings great comfort, because the shepherd is the one who takes care of his sheep. Christ calls himself the good shepherd, and both Peter and this author expand that by saying that he is the great shepherd, or the chief shepherd, the one on whom the responsibility for the care of the flock ultimately falls. This risen shepherd lives not only to give us life, but to tend us so that we will be sheep who bring him glory.
        The heart of the blessing sought by the writer is that the shepherd would equip his sheep with everything good for doing his will. The word ‘equip’ can mean ‘to repair’ or ‘to mend’ - putting things right so they can be useful. Matthew uses the word of the disciples repairing a net. Paul uses it of restoring a fallen brother. Classical Greek used it of a doctor setting a bone. This prayer is a beautiful request that God mend his children, using every good thing to prepare them to do His will. Scripture calls us vessels, pottery, but often we are broken or cracked vessels unsuitable for the task. This is a request that God use his divine super glue to make us fit for service.

        The second request is that having repaired us he would fill us. A clay pitcher, even if beautifully repaired, can do nothing of itself. It must first be filled before it can be used. The phrase ‘may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ’ is a prayer that we may be so filled with Christ that we can be practically selfless - ready to do good. There are two verses in Paul’s letters that reflect this same priority. Ephesians 2:10 “For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Philippians 2:13 “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”

        So this benediction is a prayer for no small blessing. Based on the fact that he is a God of peace, of promise and of power, and that our Lord Jesus is our great shepherd, the writer asks that God’s people be beautifully repaired and beautifully filled so they might do the will of God. No small blessing - and yet one this writer, despite all the warnings he has given, felt possible for his readers. And one which we, despite the knowledge we have of our sins, should desire for ourselves and for others.

        What is the purpose of this blessing? Notice carefully - it is not to bring us glory, but to bring glory to Jesus Christ - forever and ever. His grace is at work in us not to make us proud of what he is making, but proud of the one who is making us, just as a vessel beautifully restored has no right to be proud in itself, but only to take pride in its maker and redeemer. It is to God we bring the sacrifice of praise, the fruit of lips that confess his name. To him belongs the glory for the grace he gives.

        I recently ran across a quote from of a preacher who must have been African American, as with stunning cadence he called his congregation to trust Jesus. As we end our time in Hebrews and move to communion, I can’t think of a more fitting conclusion than this sacrifice of praise.

        He is the one who made us and not we ourselves. The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows his handiwork. No means of measure can define his limitless love and no far_seeing telescope can bring into visibility the coastline of his shoreless supply. I'm telling you today _ you can trust him!

        No barrier can hinder him from pouring out his blessing. He's enduringly strong and entirely sincere. He's eternally steadfast and immortally graceful. He's imperially powerful and impartially merciful. He's the greatest phenomenon that's ever crossed the horizon of this world. He's God's Son. He's the sinner's savior, the centerpiece of civilization. I'm trying to tell you, church, you can trust Him!

        He doesn’t have to call for help and you can't confuse him. He doesn't need you and he doesn't need me. He stands alone in the solitude of himself. He's august and he's unique, he's unparalleled, he's unprecedented, he's supreme, he's preeminent. He's the loftiest idea in literature, the fundamental doctrine of true theology. He's the superlative of everything good. I'm telling you that you can trust him!

        He can satisfy all your needs and he can do it simultaneously. He supplies strength for the weak and he's available for the tempted and the tried. He sympathizes and he sees. He guards and he guides. He forgives sinners, he discharges debtors, he delivers captives, he defends the feeble, he blesses the young, he regards the aged, he rewards the diligent, he beautifies the meek. Don’t you see that you can trust him!

        He's the key to knowledge. He's the wellspring of wisdom. He's the doorway of deliverance. He's the pathway of peace, he's the roadway of righteousness, he's the highway of holiness, he's the gateway to glory. He's the master of the mighty, he's the captain of the conquerors, he's the head of heroes, he's the overseer of the overcomers, he's the governor of the governors, he's the Prince of princes, he's the King of kings, he's the Lord of lords. You can trust him!

        His office is manifold. His promise is sure. His life is matchless. His goodness is limitless. His mercy is everlasting. His love never changes. His word is enough. His grace is sufficient. His reign is righteous. His yoke is easy, his burden is light. I wish I could describe him to you. He's indescribable because he's incomprehensible. He's irresistible because he's invincible. You can't get him off your hands. You can't get him off your mind. You can't outlive him, and you can't live without him.

        Pilate couldn't stand it when he found he couldn't stop him and he couldn't find any fault in him and the witnesses couldn't get their testimonies to agree and Herod couldn't kill him and death couldn't handle him and, thank God, the grave couldn't hold him! There was nobody before him, there will be nobody after him. He has no predecessor; he'll have no successor. You can't impeach him, and he's not going to resign. You can trust him!

        And all God’s people said ‘Amen’