Lesson Fifteen—Hebrews 13 The Shepherd… Superior to All Folds

Come, children, on to glory!
With every face set fast
Toward the golden towers,
Where we shall rest at last.

We have seen Christ in glory in the first seven chapters of this Epistle; we are seen as having entered within the veil with Him in the next three; we are seen journeying through this wilderness world “on to glory” in the last three chapters. In chapter 11 God’s pilgrims are following one another in the pathway of faith; in chapter 12 there is the hope that is set before us; in chapter 13 it is the love that should characterize brethren in Christ. We have no portion in this world, but we have Christ in glory, and one another down here.

There will be a shaking up of the whole world system soon (chap. 12:27); the bands that bind society together are already snapping; the anchor for faith is the unchanging Christ, and the bands of love “that unite all the children of peace,” find their anchorage there.

The exhortations of the chapter are simple, needing little explanation, but much exercise of heart, lest we let them slip.

1. Fellow Pilgrims in the Path of Faith (vv. 1-6)

“See how these Christians love one another,” was the comment of the world upon the conduct of the early believers. They had never seen anything like it before; it was an entirely new thing in the world, the fruit of Christ’s resurrection. There had always been natural love, springing from natural relationships. But this was different. Believers in Christ loved each other because they were “brothers,” children of one heavenly Father, members one of another.

“Let brotherly love continue.” What a barren waste our way would be without it. “We be brethren,” said Abraham to Lot, and refused to engage in strife with him. Continuing in “brotherly love,” he was able later to deliver “his brother” when he had been taken captive by the kings of the nations (Gen. 14:14).

The fruit of love is twofold in its practical results. Our brethren may be strangers to us; love opens the home to them, and heaven’s benediction is ours in return (v. 2). Our brethren may be in distress; we open our hearts to them, “tugging away at the same load,” bearing the same burden, and having the same care (v. 3).

The enemy of love is lust; and it is against the activities of this evil we are warned in verses 4 and 5. As fragrant as love is, so destructive is lust, making of our heart’s garden a wilderness, robbing marriage of its sanctity, the home of its sacredness, and love of its loyalty. The twofold cravings of lust: impurity (v. 4), and worldliness (v. 5), are offset by another couplet: “contentment” and “confidence.”

“Content with such things as ye have,” not seeking to be richer tomorrow than today, satisfied with God’s abundant supply, we can echo His word of promise (v. 5) with the reply of faith (v. 6).

2. Former Leaders in the Path of Faith (vv. 7, 8)

The ranks of God’s pilgrims were thinning. There were those who had guided the flock and were no longer with them; but the fragrance of Christ that had characterized their ministry and their footprints, remained where they had marked the way. Their faith could be imitated. The purpose and goal of their life and service could be summed up in one word—Christ. He was the Alpha and the Omega of their conversation and conduct. What a happy remembrance they could have of those brethren! Imposing monuments have been erected in memory of the great men of this world. In the religious world sects have been formed round the names of honored men of God. But nothing could be greater than to have contributed to the glory of Christ—the names of the servants lost in the greater Name of the Master—the glory of their lives seen only in the golden rays of His unutterable and unalterable glory. J. G. Bellett tells of one who when nearing home, said, “I have preached Jesus, I have lived Jesus, and I long to be with Jesus.”

3. The Unchanging Leader in the Path of Faith (v. 8)

To a company of saints, among whom one of the most devoted of Christ’s servants had labored, it was said after his homegoing, “Now what will you do since you have lost your father in Israel?—his sweet voice silent, his glory-lit face gone, the precious ties of love broken.” Their only answer was, “Christ is the same.” In this Epistle, we have seen how He displaces everything. He also fills every vacancy.

For a moment we pause again in the progress of this Epistle to gaze upon Him. His undimmed glory fills the past, present, and future. The yesterday of the cross, the forever of the throne, contribute to the glories that now circle His brow in the sanctuary of heaven. The cold hand of death can never snap the ties that bind us to Him, distance can ne’er remove His face from us, nor time erase the memory of His love from the pages of our lives. Over His glory there never comes “a shadow caused by turning”; He is the Unchanging One.

Men and things are changing fast;
Only Jesus will remain when all is past,
Our Lord Jesus.

4. The Variety of Ways that Divert from This Path of Faith (v. 9)

In contrast to the rest of faith, the unchanging Christ, we have the “teachings variegated and alien” that appeal to the flesh. When the heart is not satisfied with Christ there is a restless searching after other things. But these novelties and antiques are foreign to grace, and can never establish the heart. Only Christ can satisfy, and He is all we need. Grace has reached us from the heart of God, and the cold ritual of a Judaistic Christianity is a poor substitute for the living power of an ever-living, ever-present Christ. Jacob’s “little balm, and a little honey, spices and myrrh, nuts and almonds,” “the best fruits in the land,” could not satisfy, but when he heard of Joseph, Israel said, “It is enough.” “It is impossible to enjoy Christ, and not feel that He is everything.” He satisfies and nothing else can.

5. The Privilege We Have in the Path of Faith (vv. 10-14)

In the camp of Judaism, amid its shadows, stood an altar, and by its attendants it was considered the altar. In their eyes, Christianity had no altar. But the altar of God belongs to the heavenly brethren, and only Christians have a right to it. Christ, outside the camp, is our Altar, our Sacrifice, our Priest, our Sanctuary. The glory that shines within the veil was shut out from the earthly temple.

When priests long ago carried the carcass of the sin offering to a clean place outside the camp of Israel, little did they think they were picturing the act of Israel in taking their great Sin-Bearer outside the gate of Jerusalem to suffer and die. A crowd followed our Lord to Golgotha and watched Him there. They smote their breasts at the sight; but turned their backs on Him. We behold them going down the dusty road back to the doomed city.

It is our blessed privilege to follow Him outside and remain with Him, outcast, despised, reproached for His Name’s sake.

Apart from all, in the joy we dwell
Which the eye hath never seen—
’Tis a dry and a thirsty land below,
But there the fields are green.
Where He is no more the outcast Man,
But the Lamb whom all adore,
There is now the place of our joy and song,
And shall be evermore.

6. The Practices of Those in the Path of Faith (vv. 15-17)

A double stream of sacrificial service flows from the hearts and lives of the heaven-bound pilgrims as they travel on to God. There is the upward stream of praise and thanksgiving, the overflow of the heart in worship to God, for we are holy priests (v. 15). Then there is the outward stream of blessing and benevolence to those who are round about us, for we are a royal priesthood (v. 16).

Christ has been at the altar of expiation, and now we can stand at the golden altar, rendering continual service of thanksgiving. And this self-sacrificial service will be accompanied by subjection (v. 17), for there is order and government in the house of God. The insubjection and independency of the flesh too often mark us. The real test of devotedness to Christ will be seen in that love which bows to the guidance of those who watch over our souls for good, and who seek to maintain godly principles and practices among God’s dear people. Thus there is a threefold giving here—our songs, our substance, and ourselves.

7. Responsibilities in the Path of Faith (vv. 18-25)

This letter to the Hebrews closes with a threefold desire of the apostle. First, he requests their prayers for himself; next, he desires their entire conformity to the will of God; and finally, he urges them to give heed to the word of exhortation.

It is lovely to see the greatest of the apostles call upon the feeblest of saints to pray for him. And he expects their prayer to be effectual, for “prayer changes things.” “That I may be restored to you the sooner,” he writes (v. 19).

Invoking blessing upon them, Paul casts them upon God Himself, the God who has removed every obstacle to peace by raising Christ from the dead. He would work in them His will, so that His pleasure might be seen in His people and His glory secured forever. And the guarantee for all this is a Risen Saviour, the One who has been the Object of our consideration throughout this letter.

Gathered Gleanings

The name of Paul does not appear at the close any more than at the commencement. This was for obvious reasons in a letter to the saints of the circumcision. But who else would have so spoken of Timothy? The writer was in Italy, and sends the salutation of such as were there. The apostolic under-current is apparent to a spiritual mind.