The year is really no longer “new,” and the image I’ve chosen for this study is — thankfully and finally — out-of-date (although we did have snow flurries on Sunday morning), and so today we conclude our study of Hebrews with the rich content of chapter thirteen. For weeks, I’ve been planning and pondering how to tie up some of the major themes we’ve covered together.
For instance, we noted very early on that the writer of Hebrews gives very few exhortations in his letter that are strictly moral or behavior oriented. Instead, he focuses on warnings against the sin of unbelief, for it was this very thing that lay at the heart of Israel’s downfall. However, here in the last chapter we have some do’s:
- love one another
- practice hospitality
- care for prisoners
- honor your marriage vows
- be content
Yet, even now, the author is careful to tie his admonition to the believer’s standing in Christ, for the exhortations given in verses 1-5 are given in the power and the promise of verse five:
For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say:“The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?”
Another theme that I had planned to review in detail begins in Hebrews 6:12 with the encouragement to imitate the faith and patience of those who have inherited the promises. This theme is perpetuated in a huge way with chapter eleven’s table of contents of Old Testament saints, and now chapter thirteen urges readers to consider who else they might emulate. The message is, “Go find some heroes,” for this is the sort of hero worship in which the hero will deflect attention to where it belongs, heroes who motivate us to worship God.
Best laid plans notwithstanding, I have found that with every reading of Hebrews 13, verse nine has been the burdock on my coat sleeve:
Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them.
Is this a strange verse to focus on?
Not if you remember that we said from the beginning that our study of Hebrews would increase our appreciation for the book of Leviticus!
Apparently there was an unhelpful teaching at large that involved food — perhaps Jewish dietary restrictions were being taught as a path to righteousness? The author is not specific, but without a doubt, in our century there is no shortage of unprofitable thinking about food whether it’s excessive dieting, addictions of all sorts, and even obsessions over what goes (or doesn’t go) into our bodies — as if that could defile us more than our faithless words or ceaseless striving, (Matthew 15:11). Efficient idol-factories that they are, our hearts have even found ways of turning fasting and the Lord’s supper into something they were never intended to be, when the truth is: There is no food regimen that will fix your life!
With both feet planted firmly in his understanding of the Old Testament, the author reaches back for truth from Leviticus 16 and the Day of Atonement. The offering for sin made on that all-important day was carried outside the camp — and burned. None of it was eaten. Hebrews 13:12 draws a dotted line all they way forward to the cross, where, outside the city gate the sin offering to end all sin offerings was offered, and the “food” upon which we all now are strengthened is grace.
This truth unmasks the hollow place that sends me to the refrigerator (again?) between meals. Over-eating or boredom-snacking or stress-binges may be signs of a grace hunger that no food on this earth will satisfy.
The drooping spirit that sends me to the third (or fourth?) cup of coffee just to put one foot in front of the other may be more than just fatigue, but rather a sign that strength of spirit is lacking.
Where does this strength of spirit come from?
According to Hebrews 13:9, it doesn’t come from food. It comes from grace.
Is it possible to eat grace for breakfast?
The only reliable resource for feeding the spirit is Christ. This final chapter of Hebrews points us to the altar which brings us the abiding presence of Christ who is “the same, yesterday, today, and forever.” It points us to “the outcome” of the conduct of those who have run and are running the race of faith ahead of us. Most of all, the book of Hebrews points us to faith, the power that fuels right conduct, the source of all true righteousness.
As we bring our study to a close, here is my prayer for you and for me:
Lord, sweep us into the river of Your grace that we may remember — and never forget — where the strength comes from that will keep our wandering hearts close to you.
Thanks to all of you who have persevered in this journey through the Epistle to the Hebrews. I’ve appreciated your input and your encouragement!
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