Commissioned with Everything Good
Six months ago, the government learned that Isaac become a Christian. Where Isaac lived, following Jesus was forbidden. His family lost everything. Fearing threats from authorities, businesses refuse to employ Isaac. Nearly all have disowned them and left them on the streets. They’re doing what they can to survive, but seeing his wife and children suffer is nearly unbearable. If the pain gets worse, he wonders how staying faithful to Jesus is possible.
For years Faith dreamed of getting married and raising a family. That marriage happened. Children came too. But her husband’s sin turned the dream into a nightmare. Others swooped in to help piece together what the wrecking ball of his unfaithfulness left behind. But even as the pieces come together, distrust leads to fear; and the lingering hurt makes her question how forgiveness and love are even possible. Not knowing what to expect, she wonders how staying faithful to Jesus is possible.
Then there’s Diego. Diego became a Christian 20 years ago. Monday nights, he leads a Bible study. Sometimes he’s asked to lead worship on Sundays. He’s involved in a local ministry to the poor. Anyone who meets Diego wouldn’t question his commitment to Jesus. But Diego wrestles with assurance. The daily battle against his own sin discourages him. He wonders, “Why is my sanctification taking so long? If the gospel is so powerful, why am I still not whole? If I feel like a miserable worm, if I’m this vulnerable to temptation, is staying faithful to Jesus possible?”
Hannah loves Jesus too. She loves using her gifts to serve others. For years, the church has enjoyed her generous acts of charity. But, after months of testing, the doctors don’t know why Hannah’s body keeps shutting down. Often, she wants to serve, but her body doesn’t have the stamina. She hears the preacher say, “Adopt the orphan, serve the poor, show hospitality,” and everything in her wants to. But just getting the kids off to school leaves her exhausted. She wonders, “If my strength is fading so quickly, how, in coming days, will staying faithful to Jesus be possible?”
Then there’s Marcus. Soon he will marry Lauren; and he’ll also adopt her little boy, Cade. But he’s terrified. He knows how Scripture calls him to love Lauren and Cade. But he never saw it modeled. All he remembers is hiding in the closet while his father shouted at his mother and threw dishes across the kitchen. Never once could he recall his daddy tucking him in or telling him, ‘I love you.’ “Will I become the same?” he wonders. “People often say, ‘Like father, like son.’ What if I mess everything up? How do I care well for them? Is staying faithful to Jesus possible for me?”
Perhaps you’re living a story like these, or maybe you know someone who is. Perhaps your story is different, but circumstances leave you with the same lingering question. In a world with persecution and deception and suffering—knowing the weakness of my own flesh—how is staying faithful to Jesus possible? Hebrews answers that question with a closing benediction, a prayer, a hope for the people.
New Testament letters share much in common with other letters from the Greco-Roman world. But several features make them unique. The apostles often change the customary greeting. Instead of the usual, “Greetings!” the apostles would use “Grace and peace to you from our Lord Jesus Christ.” Even their greetings, they set within the framework of God’s saving plan. Also, instead of instructing an individual, their letters focused more on the community as a whole.
But another way they stood out was this: utter confidence that God’s power would actively achieve in the people everything they had just written about. Verses 20 and 21 exist for that purpose. They express great confidence that all you will need to stay faithful to Jesus—God will work it in you. In union with Christ, staying faithful to Jesus isn’t just possible; it’s secured. Let’s read it together starting in verse 20:
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.
1. Who is our God?
As we approach verses 20-21, we could say they answer four important questions. The first is this: Who is our God? Verse 20 calls him “the God of peace;” and what’s meant is that he’s the source of peace. He’s the God who gives peace.
If you read Hebrews looking only for the word “peace,” you’ll find it in three other places. In 7:2, Melchizedek, pointing to Christ, is called “King of Peace.” In 12:11, God disciplines us to produce the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Then in 12:14, we must strive for peace with everyone. But if you also look for the various concepts associated with peace throughout Scripture, then Hebrews provides an even richer picture.
People usually have a truncated view of peace. Often, they reduce peace to the mere absence of conflict. But in Scripture, peace has more to do with the presence of God blessing the world with his perfect rule. True peace exists only when we stand in a right relationship with our Maker, who then orders our relationships with others according to his design and will. For Hebrews, this is where God is taking the world.
For every enemy to peace, God is in the process of putting them beneath Jesus’ feet—1:13. We don’t yet see everything rightly ordered in the world, but we do see Jesus crowned with glory and honor, ruling the world to come—2:5, 8-9. Jesus has delivered many from Satan’s power already, and he is leading many children to glory—2:10, 14. That glory consists of entering God’s rest—chapter 4. No enemies, no sickness or death, creation bountiful, everything rightly ordered, everybody made whole—all in the presence of God. Hebrews 11 calls it the better country. Hebrews 12 calls it the unshakable kingdom and the heavenly Jeru-salem (“city of peace”).
This is the peace God intends to give those who follow Jesus. This is the peace he seeks to work into us even now. This is the peace that he expects the church to reflect in our relations to one another.
You see the news headlines: Boko Haram Kidnaps 276 Schoolgirls; Military coup in Myanmar; Are US police too militarized? Civil War Continues in Yemen; Protesters Storm US Capital. There is a lack of peace in the world. We even experience that lack of peace in our homes when marriage is hard and the kids fight and you’re pushing down all kinds of frustration after a hard day. People know this lack of peace.
People also long for peace—only the peace they have in mind isn’t always the same. “Know Justice—Know Peace,” some of the signs have read. But we’re left wondering, Who’s justice? One shirt I saw had “Peace Maker” across the front. But in the background flew the rainbow LGBT flag. Another shirt said, “Give peace a chance; be armed just in case,” with an AR-15 across the middle. “Peace—Love—Tacos” makes a great t-shirt. But I doubt there’s anything that tastes that good. People want peace. But the peace they envision isn’t God’s. The peace they envision isn’t everything rightly ordered before God’s presence. So, the war goes on.
True and lasting peace cannot be found in the world or in ourselves. True peace must come from outside both. The Bible’s answer is that it comes from God, the one who created the world, the one who designed every relationship to work a certain way. Here’s the message of Scripture: though we don’t deserve it, God reached down to bring us his peace. In the midst of our chaos and wars and strife, God reached down to bring us peace with him and peace with one another. Central to his peace plan was God saving us through Jesus—which we’ll consider more closely in a moment.
But before going there, consider what this means. You will not find peace until you know the God of peace. Strive all you want. Do all the works you want. Form as many campaigns as you’d like. You will not find true peace apart from a relationship with the God of peace. That’s important for us to remember. Some of you want peace in your marriage and in your home but you’re not spending much time with the God of peace. Your heart isn’t full of peaceful attitudes, because there’s rarely any communion with the Source of true peace. The fruit of peace in your life is a gift of the Spirit. You must come to God, if you want true and lasting peace. If your soul is in turmoil this morning, bring your burdens to the God who gives peace.
Knowing that God is the God of peace also gives us hope as a church. 12:14 said, “Strive for peace with everyone.” How’s that going to happen. Sometimes we may not want to like each other very much. Humans are irritating, myself included. How will a community of sinners—yes, saved by grace, but still maturing in Christ. How can we relate to one another peacefully? God is the God of peace. Through Jesus, we are united to the Source. We have communion with this God by the Spirit. We have so much hope for our relationships. If God can make a new creation, he can establish and preserve peace in this church. Turn to him. Depend on him. Ask his help. Learn his ways.
Knowing that God is the God of peace also helps us speak to the world. The world’s attempts at achieving peace apart from God will not last. They can paint a football field with words like, “End Racism.” They can attempt “peace talks” in the Middle East. Public servants can set goals for more peaceful neighborhoods down South Las Vegas Trail. But if there’s no desire to relate to the God of peace—if part of that vision is not rightly ordering ourselves beneath God’s rule, it will not last. To be clear, wherever God’s common grace leads people to pursue a true good for society, we should be the loudest supporters. But in our support, we must extend to these same people the special grace of God in Christ. If any group wants to experience real and lasting peace, they must first know the God of peace. Let’s point people to him.
2. What did he achieve through Jesus?
Second question: what did God achieve through Jesus? What did he achieve to ensure that his kingdom of peace will be established? How do we experience his peace? Verse 20 again: “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.”
“He brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus.” Nowhere in history has any person entered death and then taken up their life bodily never to die again. Repeatedly, the grave proves its power over us. We cannot escape death on our own. Death holds people in the grave because people have this massive problem called sin. Death is in our bones, because we rebel against God. Nobody can beat it. But there was one man who did, Jesus Christ. God raised him never to die again.
This makes him, and him alone, the great shepherd of the sheep. By sheep he means you people, all his people throughout the ages, all the ones he’s leading to glory. In the Old Testament, God appointed certain leaders to shepherd his people. Most famous were Moses and David. Like a shepherd, Moses led God’s people out of slavery and through the wilderness. Like a shepherd, David led God’s people in the promised land. In leading the people, both of these men were to reflect the care of Yahweh himself, the one who leads us beside still waters. But neither could fulfill God’s purpose for his people. Both Moses and David were sinners. Death overtook them as well.
Nevertheless, God’s people weren’t without hope. Consider, for example, Zechariah 9. Zechariah is one place in the Old Testament where themes of “peace,” “covenant,” and “shepherd” all merge. God would send a Savior to establish a better covenant in blood. He would liberate his people, speak peace to the nations, and extend his rule to the ends of the earth. Or, consider Ezekiel 37. “My servant David shall be king over them,” God promised, “and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes…I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant…” Again, we find themes of “peace,” “covenant,” and “shepherd” merging in the mission of a coming Savior.
Then enters Jesus. He proves to be the better mediator and king. To use the words of Hebrews, he was tempted in every way as we are, yet he was without sin. Unlike Moses and David, death couldn’t conquer Jesus. Jesus was without sin. He lived the life we should’ve lived but couldn’t. Then he willingly gave himself up to death for our sake. He took our sins to the grave. The death we deserved, he died for us. The curses of that old covenant for disobedience—God poured out those curses on Jesus instead of pouring them out on us. Jesus took the penalty of the Law we deserved.
But more than that, when he spilled his blood, Jesus established the new and better covenant. Notice how he phrases it, “God brought again Jesus from the dead…by the blood of the eternal covenant.” That’s another way of saying he raised Jesus on account of what Jesus did. He raised Jesus on account of the blood he shed to establish the new covenant. Here he calls it the eternal covenant. He’s not pointing us backward to a covenant in eternity past—some people have taken it that way. But the emphasis throughout Hebrews has been to contrast how the new covenant is better than the old. How the new covenant is better than the covenant made with Moses. That old covenant was temporary. The new covenant is eternal in that it lasts forever. There won’t be another one to replace it. It is a forever covenant, mediated by a forever Savior.
In other words, not only does Jesus’ blood forgive your sins. God also does this: through the new covenant, God ensures that all the hopes of his peaceful kingdom will come true for you. If you take God at his word and follow Jesus, you have the assurance that God will give you all the blessings of his peaceful kingdom.
That’s what God achieved for you in Jesus. You don’t get them for anything you’ve done for God. You get them for everything God did for you in Jesus. Forgiveness, fellowship with God, a hope that God will raise you and give you an immortal body like Jesus’ body, absolute freedom from all sin and sinful inclinations, final deliverance from all enemies, a creation made new, a land brightened with God’s radiant splendor, every tear wiped from our eyes, everlasting peace—it’s all yours if you belong to Jesus.
That’s where he’s leading us even now as our great Shepherd. Listen, God appointed lesser shepherds to lead you. That’s what your pastors/elders are—your lesser shepherds under Jesus. There may be things we do sometimes that disappoint you. But Jesus will never disappoint you. That’s not an excuse for any pastor not to pursue further maturity in Christ-like leadership. But it is to say, make sure your hopes aren’t bound up with a mere man. Be sure your hopes aren’t bound up with some internet personality. Set your hopes on the great Shepherd. Jesus will never disappoint.
Even I felt the Lord’s gentle correction a few weeks back. I got COVID; and the fatigue and brain fog kept me from working effectively. I wanted to care for the church. I wanted to prepare another sermon. I wanted to do all the things. But I found myself very limited; and in my limitations, I grew frustrated that I couldn’t do more. “Doesn’t the Lord know they need me?!” No, you don’t need me. The only one you need is Jesus. I’m happy to serve under his rule. But the way I will serve you best is by pointing you to him. He isn’t limited by earthly trials and hardships. He is always wise, always strong, always available, always near, always alive. Jesus is your great Shepherd. Look to him. Trust in him. Even when other leaders fail or fade, he will come through.
3. What will he achieve in you?
Third question: What will God achieve in you? Here we move to verse 21: “[May the God of peace] equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ.”
His prayer is that God “equip” them. Other translations have “restore” them. The word has to do with “putting something in a condition to function well.”[i] His prayer is that God do that in us for this specific purpose: “that you may do his will.” You function well when you do God’s will. Another way he puts it is doing “that which is pleasing in his sight.” You function well, not when you do whatever is right in your own eyes. You function well when you do what’s pleasing in God’s eyes.
Chapters 12-13 taught us how to live in a manner that pleases God—running the race with endurance, patiently receiving God’s discipline, continuing in brotherly love, showing hospitality, honoring marriage, obeying your leaders, and so on (cf. Heb 12:28). Now he’s asking God to restore us in such a way that we do these things.
Before we answer how that happens, let’s tease out this purpose a bit further. In Hebrews, who does God’s will? Who pleases God? Look at 10:5. He’s showing why Christ’s sacrifice is effective and final; and he says this in verse 5: “Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.’” Okay, what will God take pleasure in? Verse 7, “Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”
Jesus does God’s will. Jesus pleases God. Are you tracking with me? By praying that God equip us to do his will, he’s asking God to make us like Jesus. When God equips you to do his will, your life will look like Jesus’ life.
Now, how exactly does he achieve that? God achieves that in you through the new covenant blessings. What was the one thing Israel needed that the Law could never give them? New hearts. New desires that squared with God’s desires. That’s what God gives us in the new covenant.
Just to show you where I’m getting this, look at 9:11. It’s another place in Hebrews where this word “good” appears. He says, “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come…” Then look at 10:1, “For since the Law, has but a shadow of the good things to come…” In context, he’s talking about the blessings of the new covenant in contrast to the old. The blessings of the new covenant are the good things that have come in Jesus.
Then, if you turn back to the new covenant in 8:10, listen to one of its blessings: “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts.” Under the new covenant, God replaces obstinate rebellion with obedient devotion. God’s law becomes so much a part of you, that all that grieves God also grieves us, and all that pleases God also pleases us. The old covenant made demands but never produced obedience. The new covenant effectively produces the obedience.
That’s just one of the blessings. The New Testament speaks elsewhere of God giving you the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit comes into your life and makes you a new kind of person with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness, self-control. Another place in Hebrews speaks to how we now have ongoing access to God; and he helps us in our times of need. Another place in Jeremiah speaks of God putting the fear of God in us such that we never turn away from him.
On and on we could go with these blessings of the new covenant. That’s how God works in us that which is pleasing in his sight. He pours out every good thing in the new covenant, such that you can and will do his will.
Here’s the answer to the question we started with. In a world with persecution and deception and suffering—knowing the weakness of our own flesh—how is staying faithful to Jesus possible? How can people like Isaac and Faith and Diego and Hannah and Marcus and you—how can we stay faithful to Jesus? Because God will do it in you. It’s possible because God will work it in you. Did you hear the connection? You’re the one doing his will. Why? Because he is working in you that which is pleasing in his sight.
I love the grace of the new covenant. Your faithfulness to Jesus is possible—and not just possible but secure—because everything the new covenant requires of you, it also supplies for you. No matter what you are facing right now, or what you will face in the days to come, God is able to help you stay faithful to Jesus. So, don’t let your current, seemingly-impossible circumstances paralyze you from following Jesus. Every grace you need for the days ahead—God has guaranteed them for you by Jesus’ blood.
God isn’t like the pagan gods, commanding you to do something and then leaving you to do it in your own strength. The true God stays with you and graciously works in you to do his will. When you belong to Jesus (notice: through Jesus), you will make it to the end. God will help you finish the race. Let those words encourage you and reassure your heart this morning: God is working in you what is pleasing in his sight. Make those words your daily prayer: “God keep working in me what is pleasing in your sight! I can’t do this on my own! Help me do your will!” And he will. Whatever God calls you to endure, he will give you everything good to please him.
4. What’s the goal of it all?
If that’s true, then all glory belongs to God through Jesus Christ. That’s the answer to our last question: What’s the goal of it all? Verse 21 ends with this: “[The God of peace…working in us through Jesus Christ] to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” Amen means “truly,” “let it be so.” Often, it appears at the end of a prayer or benediction (like this one) to prompt your response. Together with the author, we respond with strong affirmation that God is able and that God is worthy.
To render the Lord “glory” isn’t to give him something he lacks. It’s to recognize the worth God has. In 2:9, God crowned Jesus with glory and honor, because of the suffering of death. In 3:3, Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses. Hebrews now tells us to affirm his glory together.
If there’s anything good in us, it’s not owing to us. God did it. God worked it in us. Yes, you’re still the one who does God’s will—but consider all that’s behind it: God giving you his peace, God establishing a new covenant, God raising Jesus from the dead, God crowning him Lord of all, God equipping you to do his will, God working in you. Therefore, God gets the praise. We get the blessings, God gets the glory.
That’s the goal. That’s the goal of all God’s saving deeds—the praise and the enjoyment of God’s glory in Jesus forever and ever. Amen.