“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)
Some things never change. The way we think may change, our social conventions may change, our technologies change, the iPod may be changing as rumors have it (now we’ll have to buy new ones), even the way we see the world may change. But our sin, our Adamic rebellion against God, our self-centeredness does not change. The way we express it may change, as we go from youth to adulthood, from ancient to modern, but the core of our sin does not change. The core of salvation does not change. Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. He is the Lamb slain from the foundations of the world, one time for all times, one Death for all. That doesn’t change.
And so the Church’s message doesn’t change. The surrounding culture may change, the language may change, but the message is the same: repentance and forgiveness in the Name of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God.
The sermon to the Hebrews is a sermon of encouragement and exhortation in a time of upheaval and change. The synagogue had grown hostile to Christians, to those who believed and confessed the Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God, and the Savior. Whereas Paul and others could preach in the synagogue, now the doors were closed. Faith in Christ divided families and neighbors. The government was growing hostile, believing that Christians were not “patriotic” and were bad for homeland security because they didn’t participate in the civil religion.
Some were tempted to go back to their Jewish roots. Back to the synagogue and the sacrifices of the temple. Back to Moses and the commandments of Sinai. The book of Hebrews is written to such people who would be tempted to go back to the old covenant. And so the preacher to the Hebrews makes his seven-fold appeal for Jesus Christ: Christ is greater than the angels, greater than Moses; He brings a greater covenant of forgiveness; brings a greater Sabbath rest; has a greater high priesthood than Aaron, serves a greater temple, and offers a greater Blood once for all as a sacrifice for sin.
So there’s no going back from the new to the old. The old has given way to the new in Jesus; you can’t go back to Moses again. To do that is to abandon the only salvation that there is. You can’t undo what God has done; you can only reject it and so be lost forever. But “it is finished,” and there is life and forgiveness and salvation no where else and in no one else but Jesus. And He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
We are not likely to be tempted to renounce our Baptisms and the Gospel of Jesus and go back to the old covenant. There is no temple for sacrifice, so that temptation doesn’t exist for us. We are more likely to abandon faith in Christ for the “nothing” of our contemporary “agnosticism,” for roll your own religions, for being “spiritual without being religious.” I’m not sure what that means, but it seems to have to do with thinking nice thoughts, burning some incense, eating lots of green, leafy vegetables, and having tattoos of Chinese characters on your body and you’re not even Chinese.
We are infected with the lust for novelty, something different, something more exciting. It’s like a virus that flares up, especially when things start getting difficult or dull. The old Adam loves novelty, and we following his footsteps are religion junkies. We love the stuff that gives us temporary uplift and escape, that promises to pull us out of the dirt and sweat of our mundane existence. There must be something more than the ordinaries of the liturgy, or those old dusty Scriptures, or that the talking head of a preacher, or those tired hymns, or that same old bread and wine.
But the sickness hasn’t changed since Adam and Eve. Nor has the cure – the death and resurrection of the Lamb of God, who is the same – yesterday, today, and forever – and the Word that delivers it.
The lust for novelty also infects the way we look at our baptismal lives. How do we live as Christians in this world? What does the baptized life look like? The novelty virus flares up and we look for golden halos and glowing holiness. And we fail to see the holy in the mundane, the day to day, the ordinary, in our vocations, in our everyday work. That is the near-sightedness of our sinful condition. The harder and closer we look for holiness, the less we will be able to see it.
That’s why the preacher to the Hebrews winds up his sermon with a few short paragraphs of exhortation, painting a description of the life of the baptized believer, so we don’t get any goofy notions in our heads about what that looks like. Nothing has changed over the years here either. Jesus is the same, and the life of His baptized believers is the same.
The description really begins with worship in the verses that precede our reading. “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” Worship is not an option for the baptized believer; baptized believers worship. We are a forward looking people, not looking back on the old but looking forward to a kingdom and a life of worship that begins with our Baptism. We are approaching a God who is a consuming fire, but who does not consume us for His Son’s sake. Therefore, reverence and awe are the order of the day the day in worship.
Let brotherly love abide. We have the same Father in heaven; we have the Church as our baptismal mother; we are bodied and blooded together as one in Christ. Love was the hallmark of the early Church. “See how they love one another,” the pagans said looking at Christians. “This is how the world will know you are my disciples,” Jesus said, “that you love one another.” Brotherly love. Philadelphia. We don’t have to like each other, we get to love one another as the family of God in Christ.
That love extends to the stranger in terms of hospitality. We say we worship with the angels and archangels. Who knows? One of them might pay us a visit on a Sunday morning. Be sure to great our guests and invite them to coffee hour.
Remember those in prison, as though in prison with them. We are all one body in Christ, even if prison bars physically separate us. This isn’t talking about “prison ministry,” but about members of the congregation who have been arrested and imprisoned for the faith. People sometimes wind up in prison for what they believe, hard as that may be to believe. It happened in those days; it happens today in many parts of the world. Nothing much has changed. Freedom of religion is a rather new and daring, if not tenuous, concept. We’ll see how long it lasts. I’m not optimistic. We too might be visiting our own in prison one day, just as we now pray for the imprisoned throughout the world. The question we need to be asking is this: Would we be willing to go to prison for our faith in Christ?
Let marriage be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed be undefiled. Simply put that means no shacking up, hooking up, fooling around, gawking at porn on the internet, and all the other ways we have of messing up the marriage bed. It’s holy – reserved for husband and wife. Hebrews singles out sexual sin, as does Paul (some think Paul wrote Hebrews). Sexual sin is like battery acid to the soul; it corrodes our lives spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, physically. God’s heavy hand of discipline rests on the sexually immoral and adulterous, for our own good and protection. Your bodies were bought with the price of Christ’s body on the cross. The baptized glorify God in their bodies.
Keep your life free from love of money and be content with what you have, the preacher to the Hebrews says. Coveting is the opposite of contentment; it’s a form of idolatry. When the heart is unbuckled from the fear, love, and trust in God about all things, it latches on to things. Money represents the power to buy and own things. The love of money, Paul says, is the root of all manner of evil. The baptized hold their money and things with a loose, dead hand of faith. God knows what you need, He is your helper. He has staked His claim on you. Jesus said, “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.” No amount of money can bring you that kind of peace.
Remember your leaders, the pastors who speak the Word to you. Obey them and submit to them as they speak the Word to you. They speak in the stead and by the command of Christ. To hear them is to hear Jesus. Like any workman, they have to give an account for their stewardship of the mysteries of God. Yes, the Good Shepherd is forgiving and merciful even to His undershepherds. I believe that and I’m banking on it. But Paul says our work will be put through the fire the way my 8th grade art teacher used to take our art projects and shake them to see if they were crafted well. You can help by making my work a joy and not a burden.
The baptized life is a life of humility, giving way to others, considering others better than ourselves, recognizing that the Lord we trust and serve gave His life “outside the camp.” He was reviled and rejected; spat on and abused. The world didn’t applaud Jesus then, and it doesn’t applaud Him today. Nothing much has changed. The same Jesus, the same cross, the same persecution. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and so are His detractors and the world that would rather keep Him dead. And His baptized believers.
The baptized live as strangers in this world, pilgrims on a journey, resident aliens in this world, like the Israelites in the wilderness. Our citizenship is in heavenly Jerusalem; our proof of citizenship is our Baptism. We have no lasting city here. Our cities are all destined for destruction, whether slowly or quickly, whether through war, decay, or disaster. What lasts eternally is the city that God builds, into which you have been baptized, the city that is founded and grounded on Jesus, the rejected Rock.
Jesus took His place among the least, the lost, the lowly, and the dead. He was baptized with sinners. He ate with outcasts, drank with tax collectors, hung out with prostitutes, touched the leprous. He told the proud Pharisee to take the least and low seat at the table and wait to be invited forward. He told him to open his table to the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, to those who cannot repay, to show what God’s banquet table looks like – a table of grace, undeserved kindness to sinners all for the sake of crucified and risen Jesus.
I’ve told you nothing new today, because there’s nothing new to tell you. No matter how much the world around us seems to be changing. Jesus Christ is the same – yesterday, today, and forever. And our life in Him is the same – yesterday, today, and forever.
I’ll conclude this morning the way the preacher to the Hebrews concluded: “Through Him, then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name, and lives that do good for others and share in what we have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”
In the name of Jesus,