Cole Newton

The Comfort of Conforming to Christ

Why is it comforting that we have a new identity in Jesus Christ? The phrasing of the question shows that Gordon is making an appeal against the expressive individuals that we all are. We almost impulsively reject the notion that anything outside of ourselves could define our identity and that we would find that comforting. Yet the new identity that Jesus Christ imparted upon all whom He has redeemed is still the only true and lasting comfort, both in this life and even in death. The answer contains four sentences. Because the first sentence must be understood in light of the second, it may be more helpful if the answer read: “Because God has redeemed my life with the precious blood of his Son and has also delivered me from the lie of Satan in the Garden, I am being remade into the image of Christ, to have a true identity–in body and soul, throughout the whole course of my life, to enjoy God and glorify him forever.”

In the preface, Gordon says that he based this catechism upon the Heidelberg Catechism, which was approved in its final version in 1563 and was written by Zacharias Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus (who were both in their twenties when they first wrote). While the Westminster Shorter Catechism is unrivaled for instructing in sound doctrine, the Heidelberg remains in use nearly five hundred years later largely because of its devotional warmth. We see this distinction in the opening questions of both catechisms. The Westminster begins with establishing the end or purpose (telos) for all of mankind. In other words, it begins with what we were created to do. The Heidelberg, however, begins with the only source of real and lasting comfort that can be found in this broken and sin-stained world. As we will see, Gordon’s use of the Heidelberg is most evident in these first two questions.
Question 1
Whenever I first read the questions to my wife, I don’t think I even finished reading the answer to this first question before she asked me: “Why does a catechism on sexuality begin with identity?”
And that is a great and necessary question to answer right from the start. I answered Tiff that she likely thinks of identity in the much the same way that anyone would have throughout most of human history. My identity is who I am, and that is likely to be expressed through many external factors. I am the son or daughter of X and Y. I am the husband or wife of Z. I am the father or mother of my children. I am a citizen of… And the list goes on.
For the ancients, understanding one’s identity was crucial for being able to live out the virtue of piety, which meant doing one’s duty to whomever that duty was owed. For the Romans, Aeneas was the standard of such piety. Throughout the Aeneid, he repeatedly sets aside his own interests and happiness in order to do his duty to the gods, his country, and his family. The most famous example comes in book 2, where Aeneas escapes the burning of Troy while leading his son by the hand and carrying his elderly father on his back. That was an act of masculine piety, guiding the next generation while also shouldering the weight of the previous generation. Indeed, the Roman government saw the catechizing potential of that image, so they imprinted it upon their coins. Again, to live piously required understanding one’s identity or place within society so that you could properly fulfill your duty.
Yet you may have noticed that that notion is rather foreign to us today. Samuel James writes:
Over the past several years, Christian theologians and others have described the emerging generation of Western adults as belonging to the spirit of “expressive individualism.” The scholar Robert Bellah defines expressive individualism this way: “Expressive individualism holds that each person has a unique core of feeling and intuition that should unfold or be expressed in individuality is to be realized.” In other words, what most people in the modern, secular world believe is that the key to their happiness, fulfillment, and quest for meaning in life is to arrange things so that their inner desires and ambitions can be totally achieved. If these desires and ambitions align with those of the community or the religion, great! But if not, then it’s the community or the religion that must be changed or done away with. Life’s center of gravity, according to expressive individualism, is the self.
pp. 5-6
For our discussion, this means that most Americans today do not approach identity as a statement (this is who I am) but as a question: Who am I? This is crucial to understand because as Carl Trueman notes:
at the heart of the issues we face today is the phenomenon of expressive individualism. This is the modern creed whose mantras and liturgies set the terms for how we think about ourselves and our world today. It is the notion that every person is constituted by a set of inward feelings, desires, and emotions. The real “me” is that person who dwells inside my body, and thus I am most truly myself when I am able to act outwardly in accordance with those inner feelings. In an extreme form we see this in the transgender phenomenon, where physical, biological sex and psychological gender identity can stand in opposition to each other. I can therefore really be a woman if I think I am one, even if my body is that of a male. But expressive individualism is not restricted to questions of gender. When people identify themselves by their desires–sexual or otherwise–they are expressive individuals. And to some extent that implicates us all. The modern self is the expressive individual self.
That is no exaggeration on Trueman’s end. We are all, in some sense, expressive individualists. James opens up his book with David Foster Wallace’s fable about the fish. An older fish swims past two young fish and asks them how’s the water. As the older fish swims away, the young fish look at each other and ask, “What’s water?” The point of the fable is that it is incredibly difficult to notice what is all around us. Expressive individualism is the water that the modern West swims in, and failing to notice it does nothing to change the fact that we are still swimming in it. Even simple notions like being a cat or dog person or a morning or evening person give away that we are all expressive individualists to some degree, since the very notion that I can be defined by what I like or dislike is fundamentally modern.
Practically, this means we and virtually any person that we know has an ingrained propensity to look within ourselves for happiness, fulfillment, and meaning. And it makes sense right? Shouldn’t we know best how to best satisfy and comfort ourselves? Despite the reality that we live in most comfortable, wealthiest, and safest time in human history, the pandemic levels of anxiety and depression screams that something isn’t quite right. Indeed, for the first time in human history young people are more likely to kill themselves than be killed by almost anything else. The world has never been better, but in some ways, we have never been more broken.
The Heidelberg began by speaking comfort into a world filled with pain and death that were ever-present and inescapable, asking:
What is your only comfort in life and death?
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The Ten Words | Exodus 20:1-21

Under the covenant that Jesus inaugurated by the sacrifice of Himself, our Lord has removed the curse and burden of the law from us. We rest in His obedience rather than our own. Furthermore, He has given to us the Spirit of life that produces His fruit within us, fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, which are characteristics that naturally fulfill the law. Again, as Jesus said, the law has not been abolished; it has been fulfilled. 

Diving back into Exodus for the third and final time, we begin with the Ten Commandments. Together with the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, this passage has a long history of being used to disciple and catechize new believers into the faith. Indeed, the great Reformer Martin Luther said, “Although I’m indeed an old doctor, I never move on from the childish doctrine of the Ten Commandments and the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. I still daily learn and pray them with my little Hans and my little Lena.”
With much to cover as we attempt to tackle the back half of Exodus this year, you will not find an exposition of each of the Ten Commandments in this sermon. I did such a series back in 2019 (where I also preached through the Apostles’ Creed and Lord’s Prayer). Instead, because the Ten Commandments are a summary of God’s law, we will discuss the purpose of the law for us today as Christians.
A Recap of Exodus 1-19
Before beginning our study through the second half of Exodus, let us take a quick moment to recap the previous nineteen chapters. Although Genesis ended with Joseph’s family settling into the very best of Egypt’s land, Exodus opens by telling us that a new Pharaoh enslaved the people of Israel, and after four hundred years in Egypt, the LORD raised up and sent Moses to the king of Egypt. While this story is quite familiar to most of us, let us take care that we remember it according to what the Bible actually says. The Israelites cried out to God to be delivered from their slavery but never to be taken out of Egypt. Since we know that many worshiped the Egyptian gods, it should not surprise us that they did not actually want to leave Egypt; they just wanted to be freed from their slavery.
Yahweh, however, told Moses from the beginning that He was bringing them completely out of Egypt and into the land that He promised to their ancestors. Even though the LORD always had the intention of bringing the Israelites out of Egypt entirely, He commanded Moses to only request their temporary journey into the wilderness to sacrifice and hold a feast to God. This continued with each of Moses’ speeches to Pharaoh throughout the outpouring of the plagues. His message to Pharaoh is almost always: “Thus says the LORD, ‘Let my people go, that they may serve me’” (Exodus 8:1). He never demands of Pharaoh the permanent exodus of Israel, even though that is exactly what God promised to do. The LORD purposely kept the demand for Pharaoh’s obedience low so that Israel’s exodus would be all the more glorious whenever God used the hard-hearted Pharaoh to accomplish it. And that is precisely what Yahweh did, bringing them out of Egypt as conquerors and drowning Pharaoh and his chariots in the sea.
In chapters 16-18, the LORD brought Israel through the wilderness, testing them along the way. Although we saw the first signs of trouble with this exodus generation as they grumbled and complained, God continued to work His wonders, giving them water from a rock and the bread of angels to eat.
Finally, in chapter 19, Yahweh brought Israel to Sinai (also called Horeb), and before He commanded them to prepare for His descent upon the mountain in glory, which is where the chapter concluded, He gave to them the very heart of the Old Testament. In order to properly understand the Ten Commandments and all of God’s law, we must keep these words in mind:
Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.
EXODUS 19:3–6
That is the heart of the God’s covenant with Israel. God rescued the Israelites from slavery in order to make them His treasured possession, a kingdom of priest, and a holy nation. They were saved by God so that they could then live as God’s people. But they were also rescued to become a kingdom of priests. Priests, after all, were called to stand as mediators between God and men. The LORD did not lay claim upon the nation of Israel alone but rather the entire earth, and Israel was to be His nation of priests, mediating between Yahweh and all the other nations. Indeed, He chose Israel as a holy nation in order to also make them “a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6).
A Summary of the Law
After declaring His purpose for their deliverance from that very mountain and after three days of consecrating themselves, God now gives to His people the Ten Commandments. Although the LORD gave many more laws and commands to the Israelites, which we will study in the coming weeks, these ten were especially significant, which is testified by God speaking them directly to the people rather than through Moses and by their being etched into stone and kept in the Ark. They received this special treatment because the Ten Commandments serve as a succinct summary of God’s expectations for His people. In many ways, the remainder of the laws served to provide specific application and explanation to these ten.
Notice then how they begin:
And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.
Of all the wondrous things that we could consider within those first three verses, we should certainly note the pronoun being used. The LORD uses the second person singular, you. The original audience was Israel, God’s people, who were standing around Mount Sinai hearing God speaking to them from the smoke and fire and lightening. Yet in the midst of this great congregation, God spoke directly to each Israelite. The laws were given to the whole nation, but each person bore the responsibility for obeying them.
Yet God did not solely speak to those ancient Israelites. He etched these words into stone to symbolize their permanence and inspired Moses to write them into a book called Exodus. He even repeated them in Deuteronomy. Indeed, God speaks these words to all His people throughout history. They are still very much rules for governing life in the community of God’s people, yet the responsibility of obedience does not fall upon the collective unit but rather each person. If you have ever desired for God to speak a direct message to you, hear now what God says, “You shall have no other gods before me.”
Indeed, whenever we speak about God’s law and about how He expects His people to act, we can turn to the Ten Commandments because they served as a sort of constitution for what life among the community of God’s holy nation was meant to be. The beauty of this vision only requires a moment’s imagination to grasp. Who would not want to live in a community where people served the LORD with all their heart, soul, and might, where they exalted His name instead of their own, where they worked hard for six days but rested in God and one another on the seventh day, where parents and the family unit were held in honor, where life was sacred, where spouses were always faithful in both body and heart, where falsehood was unthinkable, and where everyone rejoiced in the possessions of others as much as they would their own? Such a place would rightly be called heavenly. Indeed, obedience to the Ten Commandments is heavenly because in heaven all submit perfectly to God’s will. On the other hand, the breaking of these laws both leads to hell itself and to a hellish existence here. Sin, after all, is lawlessness, and a lawless society is a dystopic society.
Through obeying God’s law, Israel was meant to display a savor and aroma of heaven to the rest of the nations on earth. The Old Testament narratives, however, is filled with accounts of the Israelites falling into disobedience, of their constant failures to measure up to God’s standard. Indeed, the New Testament writers confirm that such obedience is utterly impossible. No one can fulfill the Ten Commandments perfectly, constantly, and genuinely. As Moses, the giver of the law, died before entering the Promised Land, so too will all perish who attempt to enter eternal life through their own obedience.
What then is the purpose of the Ten Commandments today? Do they serve no other purpose other than to heap condemnation upon our heads as we continue to disobey them? Question 15 of the New City Catechism is of great help here:
Q. Since no one can keep the law, what is its purpose?
A. That we may know the holy nature and will of God, and the sinful nature and disobedience of our hearts; and thus our need of a Savior. The law also teaches and exhorts us to live a life worthy of our Savior.
In the catechism’s answer, we are given three purposes that the law of God serves. First, that we may know the holy nature and will of God. This means that the law has a purpose in teaching us about God. Particularly, it reveals two aspects of God: His nature and His will.
The law reveals God’s nature because His law is a reflection of Himself as the Lawgiver. This is why when preaching through the Ten Commandments I aimed to show how each displayed an attribute of God. For example, the First Commandment’s decree of exclusive worship reflects God’s holiness, that there is none like Him.
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Imago Dei, Male and Female

Through the joint workings of man and woman, God would use humanity to continue putting the earth into its beautiful order and fill it with His image. This is why generally men are more drawn to tasks that form and shape the world, whether physically or intellectually, and women tend toward tasks that fill and beautify the world, also both physically and intellectually. Furthermore, we should note that how God designed for the earth to be filled with His image-bearers is also reflective of God’s work of creation. 

Darwin (1809-1882), Freud (1856-1939), and Marx (1818-1883) can quite rightly be called the architects of modernity. During the 1800s, these three men were foundational in providing secularism’s answers to three of life’s most important and unavoidable questions regarding our origins, our guilt, and our hope.
Darwin’s theory of natural selection was the key to explaining man’s origin. How did we get here? Of course, answering that question always leads to a very important follow-up: Why are we here?
Although much of Freud’s work on psychoanalysis is no longer practiced by the psychological community, many of his ideas have so thoroughly permeated society that it goes unnoticed. Concepts like the unconscious, libido, id, and ego have weaved their way into our everyday vocabulary. But most importantly, we can thank Freud for teaching us to turn to psychology to help us resolve the strain that our sin and guilt place upon our consciences.
If Freud taught us to look inward, Marx gave us a vision for understanding the world around us. Focusing largely upon economics, Marx saw life as a great power struggle between the ruling class (the bourgeoisie) and the working class (the proletariat). He believed that nothing short of violent societal revolutions were necessary for the proletariat to free themselves from the financial chains that the bourgeoisie had shackled them with. Yet after such a revolution, utopia would surely emerge, a communist paradise without hierarchies and without oppression. Today, Marx’s economic vision of power struggles has been applied to all aspects of culture, fitting being called cultural Marxism.
Again, these three men gave secularism intellectual credibility. Because of them, humanity no longer needed to look beyond this world to answer questions about our origins, our guilt, and our hope. And it is largely due to their influence that we have need to spend an entire lesson focusing upon the questions before us. For over a thousand years, everything that we are going to discuss was practically assumed in the West, and the fact that we must now defend the reality of there being only two sexes can be extremely disheartening.
Nevertheless, we should remember that there is nothing new under the sun. Secularism is only a modern form of paganism that worships the self rather than the gods. Thus, with the diminishing of Christendom, we have actually been living through a revival of paganism. Of course, it has been rebranded. Instead of the world being created through the fighting of the gods, Darwinism says it was created through the struggle of every living to survive. Instead of visiting priests to absolve our sins, Freud taught us to visit psychiatrists, and instead of seeing a shaman to make us magic potions, we produce them in bulk and in convenient capsules. Instead of believing in places like Valhalla or Elysium, we now look for the communist paradise. You see, history does not repeat, but it certainly does rhyme.
Before Christianity became society identity of the West following the fall of the Roman Empire, only Christians and Jews believed in the imago Dei of mankind, yet for over a thousand years, it became an assumed doctrine in the West. In our present struggle over the doctrine of mankind, it is right that we must begin the doctrine that the Bible presents to us as the pinnacle of its very first chapter. The secular revival of paganism means that what was once assumed must now be defended and clarified.
Question 3
The first of the four sections of Gordon’s catechism focuses upon creation. That is an apt place to start because the Darwinian rejection of creation is at the foundation of nearly all the matters of sexuality that we will be discussing throughout this study. As we said in our reworking of question 2, we should be aiming to learn and remind ourselves through this section of the goodness of God’s design for mankind, including human sexuality. Let us begin then with Question 3:
How many sexes did God make a creation?
God made two sexes at creation; “in the image of God, he created them, male and female, he created them.”
Gordon fittingly makes a direct quotation of Genesis 1:27 because that is the Bible’s explicit answer to that question. Together with verse 26, these verses form the climax of Genesis 1 and are also one of the most important portions of Scripture for answering the theological and cultural challenges before us. Thus, let us take a moment to consider them in context.
Even though God could have very easily caused the cosmos to exist in their entirety less than the blink of an eye, the LORD chose to create through a six-day process, which means that there must have been significant reason and purpose for Him doing so.
Indeed, if we take a sweeping glance over the six days of creation, we find that the first three days are works of forming and shaping. On day one, God creates light and divides the light from the darkness, naming them day and night. On day two, God divides the waters from one another and creates the heavens. On day three, God gathers the waters together so that land is formed, then he covers the land with plants of every kind. Day four corresponds to day one with God filling the cosmos with objects of light: the sun, moon, and stars. Day five corresponds to day two with God filling the heavens with birds and the waters with creatures. Day six corresponds to day three with God filling the land with a kinds of animals.
Day six concludes with the creation of man. He is last of God’s creation to show that he is the pinnacle, yet he is still created on the sixth day to show that he is still within the created order. Indeed, as we will read in verse 26-28, God gave man dominion over all the earth, but he is just as much as much of a creation as the earth itself. Indeed, Genesis 2 will reveal that God used the dust of the earth to form the body of man. For the moment, let us read Genesis 1:26-30:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image,in the image of God he created him;male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.
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You Shall See What I Do to Pharaoh | Exodus 6:1

The LORD purposely kept the demand for Pharaoh’s obedience low so that Israel’s exodus would be all the more glorious whenever God used the hard-hearted Pharaoh to accomplish it. In other words, the LORD did not want to merely rip the Israelites out of Pharaoh’s obstinate hands (although He certainly could have!); instead, He wanted to so thoroughly dismantle the king of Egypt that he would not only consent to God’s will but would accomplish God’s will.

But the LORD said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand he will send them out, and with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land.”
Exodus 6:1 ESV

This word of Yahweh to Moses came in response to Moses’ lament at the end of chapter 5. At the beginning of that chapter, Moses had worked up the courage to do as God commanded, declaring God’s message to Pharaoh. Yet the Egyptian king scoffed at both Yahweh and His decree, then he issued a command that made Israel’s slavery even harder. After this, the Israelites complained to Moses, and Exodus 5 ends with Moses’ prayer:
Then Moses turned to the LORD and said, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.”
EXODUS 5:22–23
Notice that Moses’ complaint was that God had done evil to the people of Israel by allowing the evil of Pharaoh and by not delivering them at all. As with Job, we should note that God did not answer Moses’ why questions; He did, however, answer Moses’ complaint of God’s inaction, saying that Moses was about to see with his own eyes the great wrath that He was about to bring upon Pharaoh.
What effect would God’s judgment upon Pharaoh have? Pharaoh himself would drive the people of Israel out of Egypt. Indeed, notice that God emphasizes that point by repeating it: for with a strong hand he will send them out, and with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land. When reading the Bible, we should remember that repetition means pay attention.
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Fighting the Sexual Revolution with Catechisms

The attempts to redefine sex and marriage are nothing less than calling good evil and evil good. Sadly, many Christians didn’t realize how slippery the slope really was whenever they began to bend their convictions on matters like premarital sex and divorce. As we have seen from church history, we should hope to grow in doctrinal clarity through the present challenge. 

According to His long-term providence, God always uses heresy and false teaching to doctrinally sharpen His church. Don’t get me wrong. Heresy and false teaching are always bad news, and we should by no means take joy or delight in them. However, when we are forced to face them (which will prove to be inevitable in this life), we should take comfort that if we hold fast to Christ and His Scriptures we will be sharpened and refined through the challenge.
That was the case with the New Testament era of the church. Since the church began in Jerusalem, it began as a pointedly Jewish movement. Soon, however, the gospel began to go into the all nations, just as Christ commanded. And although Paul always made a point of preaching first in whatever synagogues he found, he usually went on to find much better reception with the Gentiles. Thus, it was natural that one of the first major questions facing the church would be regarding its relationship to Judaism. Particularly, where Gentile Christians required to be circumcised and practice other Jewish rites like the dietary restrictions? The Apostles’ answer was unanimous and very clear: no, “for in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6).
In the following centuries, the church faced a number of Christological threats, the most well-known being Arianism in the early 300s. Arius was an elder in Alexandria who argued that Jesus was the first and supreme created being but He was not God. The bishop of Alexandria, Alexander, maintained that Jesus was truly God, and the theological rift between Arius and Alexander soon spread throughout the Eastern Roman Empire. To resolve this debate, Emperor Constantine summoned bishops from across the empire to gather at Nicaea and settle the matter. That counsel wrote the Nicene Creed, and although Arianism did not vanish entirely (indeed, it is still with us today via Jehovah’s Witnesses), the deity of Christ, which most Christians had always believed by assumption, was given greater clarification. The Athanasian Creed would go on to clarify explicit belief in the Trinity, and the Chalcedonian Definition would clarify the hypostatic union of Christ.
During the time of the Reformation, salvation and worship were the theological battlegrounds. Things were irrevocably set in motion when Luther posted his 95 Theses, issuing a challenge for a theological debate, particularly over the selling of indulgences. For Luther, the struggle was for the scriptural reality that our salvation is through faith in Christ alone. The Reformers rooted their arguments in Scripture and expressed that glorifying God ought to be every Christian’s ultimate goal. We, therefore, rightly associate the Reformation with the five solas: Scripture alone, faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone, and God’s glory alone. Clarity again followed. Calvin wrote the Institutes of the Christian Religion to make instruction on the basic doctrines of the faith accessible to everyone, and while the Institutes are still very much worth the time it takes to read them, the confessions that we produced in the following hundred or so years better achieved his goal. Of course, Calvin and most of the other Reformers also wrote catechisms. Calvin went so far as to say in one of his letters:
Believe me, Monseigneur, the Church of God will never preserve itself without a Catechism, for it is like the seed to keep the good grain from dying out, and causing it to multiply from age to age.Letters and Tracts Volume V, 191
To be honest, I think that is a slight overstatement, since Christ will ensure the preservation of His Church; however, I do agree that catechisms can play a significant role in maintaining doctrinal fidelity in the church.
Of course, you may be wondering what exactly is a catechism, and since we are studying through a catechism, that would be a helpful matter to define. Gordon gives good summary:
Creeds and confessions were originally written to provide summary truths of the Christian faith in the face of great theological error. Catechisms in particular provided short, concise summary statements, in question-and-answer format, on some particular doctrine of the Christian faith. These documents are intended to help Christians, especially children and those new to the faith, to have their minds trained in what Scripture teaches on a given point of Christian doctrine.Page 7
Interestingly, the origin of creeds and catechisms appears to be one and the same. Ben Myers gives a wonderful description how the Apostles’ Creed was originally as baptismal catechism:
On the eve of Easter Sunday, a group of believers has stayed up all night in a vigil of prayer, scriptural reading, and instruction. The most important moment of their lives is fast approaching. For years they have been preparing for this day.
When the rooster crows at dawn, they are led out to a pool of flowing water. They remove their clothes. The women let down their hair and remove their jewelry. They renounce Satan and are anointed from head to foot with oil. They are led naked into the water. Then they are asked a question: “Do you believe in God the Father Almighty?” They reply, “I believe!” And they are plunged down in the water and raised up again.
They are asked a second question: “Do you believe in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was born of the Holy Spirit and Mary the virgin and was crucified under Pontius Pilate and was dead and buried and rose on the third day from the dead and ascended in the heavens and sits at the right hand of the Father and will come to judge the living and the dead?” Again they confess, “I believe!” And again they are immersed in the water.
Then a third question: “Do you believe in the Holy Spirit and the holy church and the resurrection of the flesh?” A third time they cry, “I believe!” And a third time they are immersed. When they emerge from the water they are again anointed with oil. They are clothed, blessed, and led into the assembly of believers, where they will share for the first time in the eucharistic meal. Finally they are sent out into the world to do good works and to grow in faith.
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Nebuchadnezzar’s New Humility: Daniel 4:34–37

We are not so far removed from Nebuchadnezzar, and like him, we deserve to be humbled by God. In fact, we deserve far worse than the king received in this account. Although God set us above the animals as bearers of His own image, we desire to be gods instead. For such a transgression against God’s holiness, we ought to be brought far lower than even that of a beast, which is exactly what will happen to all who refuse to repent. Those who reject Christ will forever be cast “into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). They will share the same eternal fate as the demons.

At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,
for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth;and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”
At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.
Daniel 4:34-37 ESV
After the time of madness, Nebuchadnezzar lifted his eyes to heaven, which was an outward sign of his newly humbled frame of mind. Only then was his reason restored to him. Twice the king tells us of his restored mind, and twice he follows with praise to God. He remarks in verse 36 that still more greatness was added to me; however, this appears to be an almost incidental fact now that he knows something of the greatness of God. Three quick notes are worth pointing out. First, while Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image appeared to be his declaration of the never-ending glory of his kingdom, now the king ascribed to God an everlasting dominion and his kingdom endures from generation to generation (v. 34). Second, he now calls God the King of heaven (v. 37), acknowledging God as a greater king than himself. Third, he understands that God targeted his pride, saying, those who walk in pride he is able to humble (v. 37).
Nebuchadnezzar’s great sin was pride, but the rest of humanity holds no bragging rights over him.
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The Great Shepherd of the Sheep | Hebrews 13:20-25

God equip us to do His will. Indeed, He must equip us to do His will, or we will not have the desire or ability to do so. He equips us, and He also works in us to do that which is pleasing in his sight. The sacrifices of praise, which we studied last week, are God’s will for us and are pleasing in His sight whenever we do walk in them. Acknowledging His name and doing good to others are the sacrifices of thanksgiving that we now give to God. Sounds easy enough, right? Loving God and loving our neighbor is so simple to say, but so impossible to actually live. Thankfully, God does not leave us on our own to accomplish these commands. He Himself actually enables us to do them.

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, 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.
I appeal to you, brothers, bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly. You should know that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom I shall see you if he comes soon. Greet all your leaders and all the saints. Those who come from Italy send you greetings. Grace be with all of you.
Hebrews 13:20-25 ESV

In Numbers 9:22-27, we find a particularly prized responsibility of the Levitical priests:
The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,
The LORD bless you and keep you;the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”
That priestly blessing is repeatedly and alluded to many more times throughout the Old Testament, especially within the Psalms. Psalm 67 is one of my personal favorites. And even in the New Testament, we still have allusions to this priestly invocation. The epistles typically open with a variation of this greeting: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:7). Often called benedictions, David Calhoun explains their significance, saying:
The Reformers noted that the benedictions of the Bible were more than the traditional way of parting; they were prayers of intercession. Furthermore, they were prayers of intercession by a messenger (such as Aaron, Melchizedek, Balaam, and Simeon) sent by God to proclaim that God had indeed granted the blessing promised in the benediction. The benediction was more than a general prayer of intercession; it was concerned with that spiritual blessing that God gave to Abraham and to his seed forever. That blessing was handed down from generation to generation in the temple and, later, in the church. In Christ Jesus ‘the blessing of Abraham’ had come to the Gentiles, wrote Paul in Galatians 3:14. Calvin explained that the benediction is God’s word in a special sense; it is a proclamation of grace, spoken by God’s ministers, by the power of God’s Spirit, and received by the people of faith. More than a prayer, it is a sermon. According to Calvin, the blessing God gives is himself.
In our final passage of Hebrews, we find one of the most marvelous benedictions in all of Scripture, but of course it should not surprise us that the book that has been continuously calling us to set our eyes upon Jesus would conclude with such heavenly words of blessing.
Grace be with You All // Verses 22-24
Since verses 22-25 are a postscript to the sermon-letter itself, let us take a glance at them first before focusing squarely upon the great benediction given in verses 20-21.
I appeal to you, brothers, bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly. Here the author calls his whole letter a word of exhortation. Throughout our study, I have said that Hebrews is primarily a written sermon that was sent out as a letter, and this description supports that thought. An exhortation is a charge or command to do something, and sermons ought to always be an exhortation in some form. Yes, the author has given us theological teachings of unfathomable depth, yet Hebrews is not simply a theological treatise or essay. The author wrote these words to urge us to do something, not merely to transfer knowledge into our minds. Particularly, his exhortation has been to consider Jesus and to look Him as we run with endurance the race of faith that is before us. And just as the author has repeatedly emphasized God’s act of speaking to His people, the appeal to bear with this exhortation is a call to listen carefully to what was said, to pay close attention to the words that we have just heard.
We may find it humorous that the author calls these thirteen chapters of a sermon brief, but I find this to be a wonderful vindication. Hebrews takes about 40-45 minutes to read, and since my sermons consistently hover around that same timeframe, I have biblical justification for saying that my sermons are brief!
In all seriousness, anyone who has ever taught deeply through a book of the Bible knows that the author is not exaggerating in the slightest. John concluded his Gospel by saying of Jesus’ earthly ministry: “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25). If that is true of Jesus’ earthly ministry, how much more of His heavenly ministry that has been the focus of Hebrews? John Brown wrote: “I have delivered nearly one hundred lectures of an hour’s length on this Epistle; and yet I am persuaded I have but very imperfectly brought out those ‘treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ which are contained in these brief terms” (726). Although Hebrews speaks briefly on Christ, we could each spend the remainder of our lives only studying this book, and we will still say with Brown that we have only imperfectly discovered its treasures.
In verse 23, the author informs his readers that Timothy has been released from prison and apparently hopes to see the readers along with the author. This is the only reference to Timothy’s imprisonment in the New Testament.
Verse 24 urges the readers to make the author’s greetings known to the whole church. The greeting of those who come from Italy may be read in one of two ways. If the readers were in or near Rome, then these were Italian Christians who were currently wherever the author was. If the readers were in Jerusalem or anywhere else outside of Italy, then these were Christians in Italy where the author must have been. It is likely that we will never definitely know which is correct in this life.
The God of Peace & Our Lord Jesus // Verses 20
Circling back to the great benediction in verses 20-21, we find the three major sections within it. First, in verse 20, the author invokes the God of peace and proceeds to give a snapshot of how He has brought us peace with Himself through his Son, our Lord Jesus. Second, in verse 21, we find what the author is calling upon God to do for us and work in us. Third, verse 21 concludes the benediction with a doxology ascribing all glory to our God.
Now may the God of peace Even though “our God is a consuming fire” (12:29) and even though the holiness of His presence caused Isaiah to cry out in terror, He is the nevertheless the God of peace. Indeed, the peace that God brings is not simply the cessation of strife; rather, it means being complete, whole, and being well. I think R. Kent Hughes is right to see a parallel here with Jeremiah 29:11, “which reads literally, “‘For I know the plans I am planning for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for shalom and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope’” (based on NASB). Significantly, this promise of shalom was given to God’s covenant people at the beginning of the Babylonian captivity when it appeared that the seas of the Gentile world had inundated God’s people for good” (471-472).
Where these Jewish Christians not facing the prospect of something just as terrifying? The sword of Rome was readying to strike them down. They could run back to Judaism to escape, but they would be abandoning Him who sits in the heavens and laughs at the plotting of nations and conspiring of rulers. Just as God sustained His people while in Babylon, so would He sustain them while in Rome. Indeed, here in the 21st Century we have the wonder of hindsight to behold that Babylon and Rome are nothing but history, while God’s people continue to endure as His kingdom continues to expand. Thus, this was no empty promise of peace.
Indeed, we can take comfort in the God of peace, whether in life or death, because He is the God who raises the dead: who brought again from the dead. The very worst that befall us in this life is death, which is a great enemy of mankind. Yet although we must all still die, Christ’s death and resurrection has removed the sting from death. It is no doubt still an unpleasant and sobering reality, but Christians do not need to fear death, for the One who conquered death through death is not ashamed to call us His brothers. And because He is our Savior, His resurrection is the security of our own resurrection. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23:
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.
This resurrected Savior is also the great shepherd of the sheep. God’s people are the sheep, which is imagery used throughout Scripture in places like Psalms 23 and 100.
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Let Us Continually Offer Up a Sacrifice of Praise | Hebrews 13:15-19

In our very text the author told us how sacrifices of thanksgiving and praise can now be offered continually by acknowledging Jesus as the Christ before all men and by doing good to our brothers. But there is maybe no greater display of this heavenly mindset in the author than this final command: pray for us. We find prayer so difficult precisely because it is spiritual work that can only be done by faith. Yet because prayer is appealing directly to God and calling upon the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth, who is also our Father through Jesus our Lord, to act on our behalf, what can be more important?

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
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.
Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner.
Hebrews 13:15-19 ESV

As we have been observing, this final chapter of Hebrews is largely a series of quick closing exhortations. Of course, these commands do not stand in a vacuum but are predicated upon everything that the author has labored to explain over the previous twelve chapters. Indeed, although the rest of the book also contains plenty of pointed exhortation, the purpose of this chapter can be captured in the question: How then shall we live?
The first verse, which I believe to be thesis of the entire chapter, called for us to continue in brotherly love. Such love for our brothers and sisters in Christ will be shown through our hospitality, our caring for the imprisoned and mistreated, our honoring of marriage, and our contentment with our earthly possessions. Such love cannot grow up out of strange and diverse doctrines but can only be rooted in our faith in Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. We concluded our previous passage with the author reminding us of the reproach that Christ bore to deliver us from our sins and calling us to also bear the reproach of marking ourselves as His disciples.
In the passage before us, the author explicitly binds the public confession of our faith in Christ to the love that we ought to show to one another, calling these pleasing sacrifices of praise to God. We will then see how submission to godly leadership is a safeguard against being led astray into strange and diverse doctrines and the importance of prayer as the greatest good that we can show to one another.
Pleasing Sacrifices // Verses 15-16
Particularly in the center of the book, the author of Hebrews labored to show that Christ is the absolute, perfect, and final fulfillment of all sacrifices for sins, according to the Old Testament law. Indeed, he noted that the chief benefit of the sacrificial system under the old covenant was to constantly remind God’s people of their sins and of their need for a perfect Redeemer.
Yet we should also remember that sin offerings were not the only kind of sacrifice that could be given. “Others were required as acts of worship denoting praise and thanksgiving to God and denoting the consecration of the worshiper to God. Of such kind were the burnt-offerings and the thank-offerings. The question naturally arises: The sin-offerings of the old covenant have been set aside by the offering of the reality to which they pointed. Have the offerings of praise and thanksgiving to God and denoting the consecration also been set aside? Does God still require his people to appear at the temple to perform sacrifices of worship and consecration as under the old covenant? Or with the superseding of the old covenant system is this also done away with?”[1]
Indeed, we can easily imagine that becoming a line of argument from some Jewish Christians: “We aren’t making sin offerings; we know that Jesus did that once for all. We’re only making sacrifices of thanksgiving.” What then is the answer? Have such offerings ceased, or are they still required of God’s people? The answer is yes and no. Yes, God’s people are still to bring to Him freewill offerings of thanksgiving and praise. We read that explicitly in verse 15: let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God.
However, making physical animal sacrifices has ceased. Just as the blood of animals in the sin offerings pointed toward their perfect fulfillment in the sacrifice of Christ, so the blood of animals in thanksgiving offerings also pointed toward something greater to come through Christ. You see, as long as these offerings of praise were bound to the animal sacrifices, they were severely limited. They were limited to being made only the temple. They were limited by the availability of the priests. They were limited by the resources that each person had.
Our sacrifices of praise no longer have such limitations under the new covenant. We are able to offer them continually… to God because they are no longer being made through the blood of bulls and goats but through him, that is Christ. All of our freewill offerings of praise and thanksgiving to God are now made through Christ, who forever sits interceding for us in prayer before the Father. Therefore, we can give continual sacrifices of praise to God because Christ is continually interceding for us and we have continual access to Him as our Mediator and great High Priest.
But what exactly do such sacrifices of praise look like today? The author himself clarifies what that ought to look like: that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Continually acknowledging (or confessing) the name of Jesus is the sacrifice of praise that God now desires from His people. We certainly confess Christ’s name each Lord’s Day as we sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to Him. But since author just commanded us to go to Christ outside the camp and bear His reproach, we should think of this more in terms of not being ashamed of Christ before those who would mock Him or (as is more common with us today) who we fear may mock us because of Him.
Of course, even within the Old Testament, there were explicit declarations that confessing lips were more pleasing to God than the blood of animals. Consider David’s great prayer of repentance in Psalm 51:12-17:
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,and uphold me with a willing spirit.Then I will teach transgressors your ways,and sinners will return to you.Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,O God of my salvation,and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.O Lord, open my lips,and my mouth will declare your praise.For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give will not be pleased with a burnt offering.The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,a broken and contrite heart,O God, you will not despise.
With David’s prayer in mind, Richard Phillips is right to note:
Far more valuable to God than any outward religious display we offer, is that we should sacrificially devote our speech to him. This is something we should seek in prayer and cultivate as a Christian duty. Ask God to sanctify your lips, that they would be servants of his will and a source of pleasure to him. Of course, this will require the sanctification of your heart, which is the whole point. In large part we measure our heart sanctification by the sanctity of our speech, as gossip and coarse joking and cursing and complaining give way to encouraging, edifying, wise, and God-praising words.[2]
Such sacrifices of praise imitate the faith of those who have finished their race before us and glorify Christ as our altogether lovely Savior. Verse 16 presents another means: Do not neglect to do good and share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. Just as acknowledging Jesus’ name has cost many Christians their lives and has heaped scorn upon many others, so too is doing good and sharing what we have with others always sacrificial. Because we live in a world that is still broken under the curse of sin, sinning is always easier (at first) than obedience. More specifically to the author’s point, it is also always easier to neglect doing good to others, just as it is always easier to neglect hospitality (v. 2). Yet in doing so, especially to the household of faith, we are also doing for our Lord (Matthew 25).
I think it is worth pointing out again that the author specifically has doing good to and sharing with our fellow believers. Although this may make me sound rather Scrooge-y, I believe that the general emphasis in many churches upon large mercy ministries is often not worth the time or financial commitment given to them. Like large outreach events, I certainly acknowledge that good and even salvations have come through them. However, mercy ministries often (again, a large generality that does not apply everywhere) seem to bear the fruit of Christians feeling good about serving the poor and perhaps the poor who were served thinking, “What nice people.” If our focus was primarily upon radically doing good and sharing with one another and with those connected to us, we would better present a community that people would actually desire to be a part of. Remember that the world (that is, non-Christians) will know that we are disciples of Christ (Christians) by our love for one another. If would do the best good for the world, we must give a glimpse of Jerusalem to those who have only ever known Babylon.
such sacrifices are pleasing to God. Recall from Hebrews 11 that this idea of having please God is connected to our being commended by God, which is the highest joy that can ever be known. As Lewis called it, it is the joy that the inferior takes in pleasing the superior. And what greater delight can there be for any creature than to know that the Creator is pleased with it. It amazes me to see my seven-month-old already trying to impress with whatever she is doing, but that is the natural inclination of a child to its father. A mother’s love is a child’s security, but a father’s approval is their confidence. If that is true of flawed, earthly fathers, how much more with our heavenly Father?
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Let Brotherly Love Continue | Hebrews 13:1-6

1 John 4:19 is the answer: “We love because he first loved us.” God’s love initiates; our love imitates. That is why these commands come in chapter 13 rather than chapter 1. Without the understanding of the love that Christ has demonstrated for us by not being ashamed to call us His brothers even as He took the judgment of our sins upon Himself, we have no hope of even beginning to love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Indeed, it is only our being the recipients of Christ’s love that enables us truly to have eyes to see the value and worth of loving one another, for the very fact that we call each other brother and sister ought to be a constant reminder that we are constantly interacting with fellow sons and daughters of God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. 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.” So we can confidently say,
“The Lord is my helper;I will not fear;what can man do to me?”
Hebrews 13:1-6 ESV

Back in Hebrews 10:19-25, the author gave us a series of three commands that were directly rooted in the sufficiency of Christ’s priestly work as described in chapters 7-10. Those three commands effectively serve as a table of contents for the final three chapters of Hebrews. The conclusion of 10 and all of 11 gave us numerous examples of those who drew near to God by faith rather than shrinking back in fear. Chapter 12 through its marathon imagery and spiritual vision of our present blessings and future hope, expounded upon the command: “let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” Now we come to chapter 13, which is largely a great series of practical exhortation for the Christian life. Indeed, here the author is modeling what he has commanded us to do through the Holy Spirit: “stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
Love & Hospitality// Verses 1-3
Let brotherly love continue.
So begins our final chapter of Hebrews. It is difficult to know where to begin when discussing such a simple yet profound command, but I think it best to first note how this command differs from the rest of the many commands in this chapter. As we will see with the four other commands that we will consider today, author has a pattern of following each command with an explanation that is meant to drive the exhortation further. Most often that explanation begins with the word “for.” Notice it in verse 2: Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Or verse 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. Verse 3 follows the same pattern but uses the words “as though” and “since:” Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. And again, that pattern can be noted throughout this chapter.
Why then does this first and, I would argue, most fundamental command not follow that pattern? I believe we should see this command as the thesis and archetype for all that follow. Or perhaps we could say that all the other commands in this chapter are particular aspects of this overarching command. Indeed, we find that love for one another must be foundational to Christ’s church. John Owen wonderfully says:
And in vain shall men wrangle and contend about their differences in opinions, faith, and worship, pretending to advance religion by an imposition of their persuasion on others: unless this holy love be again re-introduced among all those who profess the name of Christ, all the concerns of religion will more and more run to ruin. The very continuance of the Church depends secondarily on the continuance of this love. It depends primarily on faith in Christ, whereby we are built on the Rock and hold the Head. But it depends secondarily on this mutual love. Where this faith and love are not, there is no Church. Where they are, there is a Church materially, always capable of evangelical form and order.[1]
Or as our Lord also says in John 13:34-35:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
This love is not an abstract ideal but a concrete necessity. Indeed, verses 2-3 display the first two tangible examples of such love. First, a Christian’s brotherly love must be hospitable: Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
In the ancient world, hospitality was upheld as a chief virtue. Indeed, three times in the Odyssey, Odysseus inquires whether a country is civilized and godly by how they receive foreigners. Of course, it would be an entirely different question to ask how they lived up to that ideal. Yet if even pagans valued hospitality, how much more ought Christians?
And while we should certainly show hospitality to all men, I believe that the author is speaking particularly about being hospitable to fellow Christians. Remember the context of this letter. As 10:32-34 showed, the original readers had already endured one persecution in which many lost their property, and another persecution was rapidly approaching. Such trials likely left many Christians jobless or homeless and fleeing to other cities.
What better opportunity was there for displaying the love of Christ through their love for one another than by showing hospitality to their afflicted brothers and sisters? About this verse, John Brown writes, “The circumstances of Christians are greatly changed in the course of ages, but the spirit of Christian duty remains unchanged.”[2] While that is certainly still true today, I would also note that with the rise of neopaganism the circumstances of the original audience may not be foreign to us for long. As Christianity continues to lose influence and even provokes outright hostility in our culture, we should make ourselves ready to support those who are strangers for Christ’s sake.
Before moving on to verse 3, we must pause for a moment to consider this explanation: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. I agree with most commentators that Abraham’s lunch with the angels in Genesis 18 is most likely in the author’s mind, and we should take the author as meaning exactly what he says. Since we are not materialists, we should not marvel at the possibility of encountering heavenly beings without realizing it. However, I believe the overall point of mentioning angels here is to set our minds upon the greater spiritual depth that our simple acts of hospitality display. After all, we should remember that Jesus said that the love we show to the least of His brothers is the love that we are showing to Him (Matthew 25:34-40).
Verse 3 is intimately bound to verse 2: Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Here the author summons his readers not to forget those who were imprisoned for Christ’s sake. Ancient prisons were not nearly so humane as today’s prisons. If a person was to survive for any extended period of time, they would only do so through the provision of family. Thus, taking care of those in prison was a perfect way to show a Christian’s brotherly love. Of course, doing so was risky, since the visitor could easily be marked as a fellow Christian. But in answer to this risk, the author says that we should act as though in prison with them. We should count ourselves as already imprisoned whenever one of our brothers or sisters in Christ is imprisoned.
The second half of the verse then expands this loving identification to all those who are mistreated for Christ’s sake. Again, the original audience had already done this once before: “sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated” (10:33). They must do so again, for you also are in the body.
As at many points in this sermon-letter, I think the author uses that phrase in two ways. First, we all belong to the body of Christ; therefore, when one is mistreated, all are mistreated. But I believe he also means that we are still in our earthly bodies and that our race of faith is not yet complete. Therefore, we should show the same kind of love to our persecuted brethren that we would desire to be shown if we found ourselves similarly persecuted.
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Unholy Like Esau: Hebrews 12:12–17

Esau had his mind firmly fixed upon the things of the world rather than the things of God, and that is the road to apostasy for both individuals and congregations. In a way, Esau embodies all three of the dangers listed in verses 15-16. He failed to obtain God’s grace because of his apathy to the blessings of God. He was also a bitter root among God’s covenant family. His unholy life broke the peace within his family. Of course, there are certainly far greater sinners found within the Scriptures, but the reality is that most people will not fail to enter the kingdom of God because of how heinous and outrageous their sins were. Like Esau, they will fail to obtain God’s grace simply because they are secular and worldly, striving for neither peace nor holiness. 

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.
Hebrews 12:12-17 ESV
Our first introduction to Abraham is when God calls him to leave the country of his father to walk by faith to a land that God will give to him and his descendants. That was a walk of faith in every way because Abraham wasn’t told which land was going to be his and he did not yet have even single son to be his first descendent. Of course, God proved Himself faithful and gave Abraham a son, Isaac. When Isaac was grown, God gave the same promised blessing to him that He had given to Abraham, and though Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, was barren, Isaac prayed and God gave them twins. The older twin was Esau, and the younger was Jacob.
Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!” (Therefore his name was called Edom.) Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.
Genesis 25:29-34
The story of Esau continues on in Genesis 27, where Jacob disguises himself as his brother Esau in order to trick Isaac into blessing him. Jacob’s blatant deception and Esau’s pitiful tears can easily leave us confused as to who we are meant to be supporting. Indeed, the remainder of their stories can be just as confusing. Although Esau is not mentioned much more, he evidently went on to be great and prosperous, enough at least to have four hundred men at his command and for chiefs and kings to descend from him. Meanwhile, Jacob’s life was a perpetual struggle and striving with both God and men, and though his son Joseph was the right-hand of Pharaoh, his descendants quickly became a nation of slaves for four hundred years. While Jacob wrestled, Esau prospered. While Jacob’s descendants were enslaved, Esau’s descendants reigned as kings in their own land. Was God vindicating Esau? Was He punishing Jacob? In Malachi 1:2-3 God gives us an answer: “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated.” Indeed, God’s disciplining hand upon Jacob and his descendants was a sign of God’s fatherly love for them, while Esau’s being left to his own devices was proof of God’s hatred for him.
In our present passage, the author of Hebrews pulls the racing imagery from 12:1 and the goodness of God’s discipline together to give us this exhortation: our race of faith can only be run with endurance by striving against our sin and for peace and holiness. In verses 12-13, the author recalibrates us to the marathon metaphor, encouraging us to wrestle together against our sin and against growing weary and fainthearted. Verse 14 is the heart of our passage, commanding us to strive for peace and for holiness. Verses 15-16 provide three dangers that will hinder our peace with others and holiness before God, jeopardizing our entire race of faith. Finally, verse 17 concludes with the warning example of Esau, who did not strive for peace and holiness but despised his inheritance of Abraham’s blessing.
Make Straight Paths for Your Feet: Verses 12–13
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.
The word therefore is our signal that the author is building directly upon his previous thought. Indeed, he is now reaching back to verse 1 and making an exhortation for us. In verses 1-3, the author painted the Christian life of faith as marathon, a race that necessitates much endurance. In verses 4-11, he then presented the bitter yet beautiful truth of God’s loving hand of discipline upon His children. Here the author brings those two ideas together by returning to the imagery of a marathon and exhorting us to run in a manner that displays that we have been disciplined.
Drooping hands and weak knees ought to make us think of a weary runner who looks as though he will collapse at any minute, failing to reach the finish line. This imagery comes from Isaiah 35:3, which reads: “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.” The following verse notes that these are “those who have an anxious heart” and gives them this encouragement: “Be strong, fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you” (Isa. 35:4).
Is that not the message that the author of Hebrews has also been making to his readers? He has been exhorting them to endure in faith and not to shrink back in fear. He has called them to behold Christ, to fix their eyes upon the salvation that He has accomplished for them in His first coming and that He will consummate upon His second coming. Thus, by drawing from this verse in Isaiah 35, the author is telling them again to consider Jesus and to hold fast to the confession of hope that they have in Him.
For those who are already growing weary and fainthearted, keeping to straight paths makes a collapse far less likely. This imagery is drawn from Proverbs 4:26-27, though the whole section (beginning with verse 20) ought to resonate with what Hebrews has been teaching:
My son, be attentive to my words;incline your ear to my sayings.Let them not escape from your sight;keep them within your heart.For they are life to those who find them,and healing to all their flesh.Keep your heart with all vigilance,for from it flow the springs of life.Put away from you crooked speech,and put devious talk far from you.Let your eyes look directly forward,and your gaze be straight before you.Ponder the path of your feet;then all your ways will be sure.Do not swerve to the right or to the left;turn your foot away from evil.
Dennis Johnson notes:
Such paths will keep what is lame from being twisted—in two ways. First, on such paths the lame will not be “put out of joint,” twisted to the point of dislocation, but rather will be “healed.” The verb rendered “put out of joint” (ektrepo) often describes straying “off course” from the way that leads to life (1 Tim. 1:6; 5:15; 2 Tim. 4:4). Hebrews adjusts the wording of Proverbs 4:26 LXX, changing the number of the verb “make straight” and the of the possessive pronoun “your” from singular to plural, transforming a father’s advice to an individual son into an exhortation to an entire congregation. When Christians are spiritually weak (drooping hands, feeble knees) or disabled (lame), fellow believers must gather around them, clearing away obstacles and pointing them straight ahead to the finish line.[1]
Strive for Peace & Holiness: Verse 14
In verse 14, the author gives us a twofold command that forms the essential means of accomplishing verses 12-13: Strive for peace with everyone, and for holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
First, we should consider the principal command: strive. This is a fitting word to use, since no marathon can be completed without much striving. Likewise, it should also remind us of 12:4, which said that our race is also a “struggle against sin.” Like Jacob, who strove with God and with men (Genesis 32:28), so is the life of all God’s children one of striving. It is all too common to find parents who spoil their children, claiming that they love them too much to discipline them. Proverbs 13:24 calls that hatred rather than love: “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” Our Father is too loving to tolerate spoiled children; therefore, painful though it may be, He is diligent to discipline us. And we ought to be active in learning from His discipline, striving forward in the faith.
Yet while Jacob’s life was a striving with God and with men, the author of Hebrews is calling us to strive against our own sin so that we may have peace with men and the holiness before God. It is right that the author would connect these two, for our vertical relationship with God is always bound intimately with our horizontal relationship with our neighbors, both Christian and non-Christian. We see this in the two greatest commandments. Love God and love your neighbor. The two are bound together, for we cannot properly love our neighbor without first loving God and we do not truly love God if we do not also love our neighbor. Likewise, Jesus places these two ideas side-by-side in the Sermon on the Mount, saying, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:8-9).[2] Even so, let us view them briefly one at a time.
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