Hebrews 13:20-25, “Grace Be With You All”

[20]Now may the God of peace, who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, [21]make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.  Amen.
[22]And I appeal to you, brethren, bear with the word of exhortation, for I have written to you in few words.  [23]Know that our brother Timothy has been set free, with whom I shall see you if he comes shortly.
[24]Greet all those who rule over you, and all the saints.  Those from Italy greet you.
[25]Grace be with you all.  Amen.  (NKJV)

As the writer comes to the end of his thoughts, he returns to where he started – with God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Earlier, he had spent several chapters on the nature, character and preeminence of the Lord Jesus in connection with the place of God the Father in His life and ministry, 1:1, 2, 5, 8 13, etc.  Now, as he closes, he commends his readers into the care of that same God the Father.

In describing the Father, the writer goes at once to the very heart of the Christian faith.  He says that the Father brought up the Lord Jesus from the dead, v. 20.  The idea of resurrection from the dead includes the thought of death.  It isn’t separate from it.  And “death” relates to the person who dies.  If the Lord Jesus isn’t who He claimed to be, and who the Scripture says that He is, fully God and fully human, then His death has no meaning and the resurrection is nothing more than a fable.  It’s a shame that many professing Christians seem to have this view.  If there is no resurrection, there is no salvation, 1 Corinthians 15:12-17, and those who believe in the Lord Jesus are of all men the most pitiable, v. 19.

In contrast to this gloomy and hopeless idea, the writer describes the Lord Jesus in view of His mission:  that great Shepherd of the sheep, Hebrews 13:20.  Our Lord used that same figure to describe Himself in John 10.  The angel Gabriel told Joseph that this child whom Mary would bear would save His people from their sins, Matthew 1:21.  Though Joseph possibly only ever knew the OT promises of the salvation of Israel, the Lord Jesus came to redeem folks out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, Revelation 5:9 (emphasis added), not just the nation of Israel.

If you are a believer, then the Lord Jesus had you in mind when He walked the dusty roads of Israel.

In the NT, believers are described as “sheep.”  Though this isn’t a particularly complimentary description, in Biblical times, sheep were a common sight and the Bible uses the relationship of shepherd and sheep more than once.  Psalm 23 and John 10 are only two examples.  The thing is, sheep are utterly dependent on the shepherd.  Left to themselves, they will get into all kinds of trouble and are exposed to danger on every side, against which they are defenseless.  It’s the shepherd who takes care of them and keeps them safe.  Cf. John 10:11-13.

The Lord Jesus came with a specific goal in mind:  the salvation of His sheep.  He didn’t just come to this world hoping for the best.  To hear some preachers and believers, apparently all that happened when the Lord left the glories of heaven was that the Father hugged Him and wished Him luck.  That’s a completely inadequate and false idea.  The writer alludes to this when he mentions the blood of the everlasting covenant, v. 20.

An old “gospel” song painted a scene in heaven of utter confusion when Adam and Eve fell into sin, with God searching everywhere to find someone who could step in and do something about it.  Finally, according to this utterly unScriptural and God-dishonoring song, Jesus volunteered to come to this world as Savior.

Whatever difficulty we might have in understanding or accepting it, the Bible is clear that salvation is carefully thought out and planned.  It speaks of believers being chosen by God for that blessing even before the foundation of the world, Ephesians 1:4, and given to the Lord Jesus, John 10:29, in order that He might save them, John 17:2.  It describes the Lord Jesus as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, Revelation 13:8.  So certain is our salvation, in fact, that believers are already considered “glorified” in the mind and purpose of God, Romans 8:30.

Just to clarify something:  this “choice” by God the Father means the salvation of some who would otherwise by lost, Romans 9:29, not the condemnation of some who would otherwise be saved, as some charge that we believe.  Without election, there would be no salvation.

One more thing.  God didn’t just “look down the corridors of time,” as some say, and choose those whom He saw would choose Him.  That is not what the Scripture means when it refers to our salvation according to God’s foreknowledge, as in 1 Peter 1:2.  God’s foreknowledge isn’t dependent on what He sees His creation is going to do, but on what He Himself has planned to do.  This is taught in such verses as Acts 2:23, which says that Christ was delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, and Romans 8:28, which says that believers are the called according to His purpose, before it says, in the next verse, says that we are “foreknown.”

In v. 21, the writer continues the appeal he began in v. 20, asking God to do something in according with that everlasting covenant, namely, to make his readers complete in every good work to do His will.

This verse was the subject of the saddest example of misreading the Bible that I’ve ever heard.  The college-age class I was in years ago had a leader who taught from this verse that we were to make ourselves complete, etc., etc.  It was all about us.  Apparently, he had never noticed that the subject of the verb “make” in v. 21 was “God” in v. 20.  It’s not about what “we” do at all, but about what God will do.  Now he was a good man, an earnest man, but he himself admitted that, though he had led the class for 17 years, he had never read the Bible through.  It is so sad that there are so many like him, believers to whom the Bible is as foreign a book as if it had never been translated into a language they can read, because they never read it.

The objective of salvation isn’t just to take us to heaven, or to give us “a life without a care,” as another unfortunate “gospel” song put it, but to make us like the Lord Jesus Christ, holy and without blame before God, Ephesians 1:4.  The work won’t be completed in this life to be sure, but it does begin here, and it’s a work which God must do because we don’t know how to do it – and can’t do it, for that matter.

In v. 22, the writer does turn his attention to his readers and appeals to them to bear with the exhortation, the few words he had written to them.  He’s not the only one who ever had difficulty with this.  John had the same problem.  There’s just so much that could be said about the Lord that, as John put it, even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written, John 21:25.  There’s just too much that could be said.  Indeed, according to Ephesians 2;7, it will take God Himself the ages to come…to show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  I don’t think we get much more than the first little bit of the introduction in this life.

And he’s not the only one who has been concerned that his readers pay attention to what he wrote, or, if he were a preacher, to what he said.  I’ve often wondered, when a person leaving a service tells the preacher, “What a wonderful sermon that was,” what would happen if the preacher would ask him, “What was it about?”  (What was your preacher’s sermon about last week?)  This may seem harsh, and it may be, and I’m sorry, but as I look around and see the terrible condition this nation is in, and “Christians” right out there in the middle of it, I wonder if anybody is listening to the Word at all.  Too many churches seem to be concerned more about personalities or programs or prosperity or politics than they are about the proclamation of the Gospel of our Lord and God Jesus Christ.

The writer closes his “few words” with grace be with you all.  I hear a great deal today about “love” and very little about “grace.”  Without the grace of God, though, we’ll never experience the love of God.

That’s why the writer closes his writing, and I close this series, with –

Grace be with you all.  Amen.

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March Memories: Jesus, The Good Shepherd.

In John 10, the Lord Jesus had a lot to say about His sheep.  Shepherds and sheep were a common sight, and He used them to illustrate redemption.  Without going into great detail, and in no particular order, there are several things in this chapter which illustrate the care of the Lord for His sheep.

1.  The shepherd has responsibility for the sheep.

By the very nature of his job, the shepherd is responsible for the welfare of his flock.  It is what he does.  He isn’t there for himself, but for them.  Further, he is accountable for what he does.  We see the Lord’s responsibility in John 10:16 (NKJV), where He said, “…other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring….”  Notice the phrase, “I must bring.”  He has responsibility for the sheep.

He also has accountability.  In John 17:2, the Lord told the Father, “Those whom You gave Me I have kept, and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.”  The Lord is accountable to the Father for those whom the Father has given Him.

2.  The shepherd has authority over the sheep.

Because He is the shepherd, He has the right and the authority to enter the sheepfold, vs. 1,2, and to lead them out to pasture.  The doorkeeper, or security guard, to use the modern term, knows Him and will let Him in.

Indeed, our Great Shepherd of the sheep, Hebrews 13:20, has been given authority over all flesh, John 17:2 (emphasis added).  Have you ever really thought about that?  Does it just mean, as some seem to think, that He is now “ruling” in heaven?  I don’t wish to be difficult, but it seems to me from His own words that such a thought has nothing to do with what He actually said.  John 17:2 says, “…as You [the Father] have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him  (emphasis added).  A lot of people don’t like to hear that.  I do understand.

Our religious culture has been so filled with the idea that God’s done all He can do, and now it’s up to us, that any idea that that may not really be true is hard for some to accept.  This is not to deny our responsibility to preach the Gospel or to believe it.  Preaching is the means God uses to call in the sheep, and faith is the evidence that one is a sheep.  And “preaching” doesn’t just mean from a pulpit.  It has to do with anything that focuses attention on the Lord Jesus.  That might just be how we do our job.  A tract, this blog, a word of encouragement, all these may be included in “preaching.”

The shepherd has authority.

3.  The shepherd knows the identity of the sheep.

Perhaps there would be several flocks of sheep in a fold, but the shepherd knew which ones were his, vs. 4, 5.  And the sheep knew him,  Furthermore, he knew them individually.  He had named each of them, and called them one by one.  Naming animals is nothing new.

We’ve mentioned elsewhere the lovely duet sung in church to the effect that “when He died, He didn’t even know my name”!  That is a truly sad view of the death of Christ.  He knew His sheep when He hung on the Cross, dying for them.  He knew them before Genesis 1:1.  Their names were written in His Book of Life before time began, Revelation 13:8; 17:8.  And He will know them forever.

He knew everything about us,…and He died for us, anyway.  We are His.

4.  The shepherd guides the activity of the sheep.

He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  And when he brings them out, he goes before them, vs. 3, 4.  The Psalmist put it like this:  He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still water, Psalm 23:2, 3.

5.  The shepherd seeks the prosperity of the sheep.

Now this doesn’t mean a fat bank account, a nice house and a Lexus out in the driveway, perfect health and wonderful relationships, as many in the church think, who seem to have no interest in anything beside this world.   The shepherd wanted his flock to be fed and watered and protected.  Our Lord has that for His own, but He has so much more besides.  He said, “I have come that they might have life, and they might have it more abundantly,”  v. 10.  Once again, the “abundant life” doesn’t refer to material things, though the Lord may give those to us.  Nor, as some believe, does it refer to a state of sinless perfection.  After all, the life the sheep have is eternal.  In the Lord Jesus Christ, the poorest believer has for free what all the wealth in the world for all time could not buy:  eternal life.  “Abundant life” isn’t the privilege for an elite few among believers.  It belongs to all of us because our Shepherd has given it to us.

6.  The shepherd provides security for the sheep.

In vs. 11-14, Jesus said, “The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep.  But he who is an hireling and not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches them and scatters them.  I am the good Shepherd, and I know My sheep, and am known by My own.”  

Further, He said in vs. 27-30, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.  And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.  My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.  My Father and I are one.”

In those four verses is clearly stated the hated (at least by some), the hated doctrine of eternal security, centuries before John Calvin and the generation after him, which actually formulated the so-called “5 Points”.  Our Lord said that His sheep would never perish, and no one could take them away from Him or the Father.  To the idiotic idea that, well, yes, but they can leave, – that would just show that they weren’t sheep to begin with.  Cf. 1 John 2:19.

In v. 27, the tenses are all “present;” the sheep are hearing, the Lord is knowing, and the sheep are following.  Salvation isn’t something that just happened years ago with some “decision” or church rite.  It’s a “today” thing – which doesn’t mean that we can lose it tomorrow.  When tomorrow gets here, then it will be “today,” and the sheep will still be following….

Jesus and the Father are “one” in Their determination to save the sheep.  It’s a commentary on the sorry condition of Christianity that the belief that that can be thwarted is so widely held.  The sheep are Christ’s.  He cannot and will not lose them.

7.  The shepherd tends to the productivity of the sheep.

Leaving aside the fact that sheep can be food, they produce two things: wool and more sheep.  In John 15:5, 8, the Lord said, “I am the vine, you are the branches.  He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing…By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you shall be My disciples.”  The goal, and responsibility, of the Christian life is fruitfulness.  After listing several things to be developed as corollaries of faith, like virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love, Peter goes on to say, For if these things are yours and abound, you shall be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 Peter 1:5-8.  This could really be a post in itself.

The LORD is my Shepherd….  These thought are just a small portion of what Psalm 23:1  means.
_______________

(Originally posted on April 12, 2013) edited and new material.

 

 

 

Jesus: The Good Shepherd

In John 10, the Lord Jesus had a lot to say about His sheep.  Shepherds and sheep were a common sight, and He used them as an illustration of redemption.  Without going into great detail, and in no particular order, there are several things in this chapter which illustrate the care of the Lord for His sheep.

1.  The shepherd has responsibility for the sheep.

By the very nature of his job, the shepherd is responsible for the welfare of his flock.  It is what he does.  He isn’t there for himself, but for them.  Further, he is accountable for what he does.  We see the Lord’s responsibility in John 10:16 (NKJV), where He said, “other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring…,”   Notice the phrase, “I must bring.”  He has responsibility for the sheep.  He also has accountability.  In John 17:12, our Lord told the Father, “Those whom You gave Me I have kept, and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.”  The Lord is accountable to the Father for those whom the Father gave to Him.

2.  The shepherd has authority over the sheep.

Because he is the shepherd, he has the right and authority to enter the sheepfold, vs. 1, 2, and to lead out his flock.  The doorkeeper, or security guard, to use the modern term, knows him and will let him in.  Indeed, our Great Shepherd of the sheep, Hebrews 13:20, has been given authority over all flesh, John 17:2 (emphasis added).  Was this “authority” given to Him so that He could just make it “possible” for men and women to be saved if they will “do their part”?  Did He die just to “provide” salvation for them if they will only exercise their “free will” and “accept” Him as Savior?  Is there such an “if” in salvation?  Did He die for “goats” as well as for His “sheep” (Matthew 25:31-33; John 10:15)?  What does Christ Himself say about this authority?  In His prayer to the Father, He said, “Father, the hour has come.  Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him,” John 17:1, 2 (emphasis added).

Don’t be misled by the word “should”.  It expresses purpose.  All of us can look back on our lives and see many things we “should” have done, but didn’t.  There is no such “woulda, shoulda, coulda” about the Savior!  He finished what the Father sent Him to do, namely the redemption of those whom the Father chose and gave to the Son.  He did everything, and has everything, necessary for the redemption of His people, His sheep.  In other words, there is nothing that stands in the way of the Shepherd as He goes about His business of gathering together His sheep.  He “must” bring them in, all of them, and He will!

3.  The shepherd knows the identity of the sheep.

Perhaps there were several flocks of sheep in this fold, but the shepherd knew who were his.  And the sheep knew their shepherd, vs. 4, 5.   Furthermore, He knew them individually: he had named each one of them and called them one by one.  Naming animals is nothing new.

There was a lovely duet sung in a church I attended several years ago.  This song had a line which said that when Jesus died, “He didn’t even know my name.”  That may sound very emotional and wonderful that Jesus would die for people without knowing anything about them or even their name, but it’s a truly abysmal view of the death of Christ.  He knew His sheep as He hung there on the Cross paying for their sins.  He knew them then.  He knew them in eternity past.  Their names were written in His book before the foundation of the world, Revelation 13:8; 17:8.  He will know them forever.

He knew everything about us…, and He died for us, anyway.  We are His.

4.  The shepherd guides the activity of the sheep.

He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  And when he brings them out, he goes before them, vs. 3, 4.  The Psalmist put it like this:  He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still water.  He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake, Psalm 23:2, 3.

5.  The shepherd seeks the prosperity of the sheep.

“Prosperity” here doesn’t mean a fat bank account, a nice house and a Lexus out in the driveway, perfect health and wonderful relationships, as many in the church think, who seem to have no interest in anything but this world.  The shepherd wanted his flock to be fed and watered and protected from danger.  Likewise, our Lord said, “I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly,” v. 10.  Once again, the “abundant life” doesn’t refer to material things, or even, as some believe, to a state of sinless perfection in this life.  After all, the life that the sheep have is eternal.  In the Lord Jesus Christ, the poorest believer has for free something that all the wealth this world has ever known or will ever know cannot buy, namely, eternal life.  “Abundant life” isn’t the privilege of an elite few among believers.  It belongs to all of us, because our Shepherd has given it to us.

6.  The shepherd provides security for the sheep.

Likewise, Jesus said in vs. 11-14, “The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep. But he who is an hireling and not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches them and scatters them.  I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep,  and am known by My own.”

Further, He said in vs. 27-30, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.  And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.  My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.  I and My Father are one.”

In these four verses is clearly stated the hated (at least by some), the hated doctrine of eternal security, centuries before John Calvin and the generation after him who formulated the so-called “5 Points.”  Our Lord said His sheep will never perish.  And no one can take them away from Him or the Father.  To the idiotic reply that “Well, yes, but they can jump out of His hand” – that would simply show that such a one was never a “sheep” at all.  In verse 27, the tenses are present: the sheep are hearing, the Lord is knowing, the sheep are following.  Salvation isn’t something that happened years ago with a “decision” or some ceremony.  It’s a today thing – which doesn’t mean that we can lose it tomorrow.  When tomorrow gets here, it will be “today,” and the sheep will still be following….

Jesus and the Father are “one” in their determination that the sheep will be saved.  It’s a commentary on the sorry condition of Christianity that the belief that that determination can be thwarted is so widely held.  The sheep are Christ’s.  He cannot lose them.

7.  The shepherd tends to the productivity of the sheep.

Leaving aside the fact that sheep can be food, they produce two things: wool and other sheep.  In John 15:5, the Lord told His disciples, “I am the vine, you are the branches.  He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing…By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.”  The goal, and responsibility, of the Christian life is fruitfulness.  After listing several things to be developed as corollaries of faith, such as virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love, Peter continued, For if these things are yours and abound, you shall be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ,  2 Peter 1:5-8.

This is just a little of what it means when we think of Psalm 23:1, “The LORD is my shepherd.”