Grace Be with All of You
Topic: Suffering & Sufficient Grace Passage: Hebrews 13:22–13:25
A number of you enjoy The Lord of the Rings. There’s a scene in The Fellowship of the Ring—Boromir attempts to steal the ring. Frodo escapes, but soon finds himself flat on his back after a frightening vision of Sauron. Aragorn approaches; and thinking that he too might steal the ring, Frodo starts to run. Aragorn then reminds him, “I swore to protect you.” Frodo asks, “Can you protect me from yourself?” Aragorn then approaches Frodo, the ring whispers his name. Then with both hands, Aragorn closes Frodo’s hand over the ring and pushes it away saying, “I would have gone with you to the end, into the very fires of Mordor.”
I mention that because last week I stopped short of finishing Hebrews, and Trey sent to all the care group leaders a meme of Aragorn saying, “I would have gone with you to the end.” This morning we’re going to the end…though it’s far better than the fires of Mordor. Hebrews ends on the note of grace; and that’s where we’ll finish today as well. But With verse 22, we encounter some final greetings; and there’s a tendency—at least sometimes—for people to skim these endings. Instead of meditating on these words, we want to blast through them. Sometimes we think, “Hey, we’ve gotten all the good stuff already. How could a few final greetings impact our life?”
But there are a number of reasons not to skim the final greetings. For starters, these too are the holy, inspired words of God. They ought to be treasured as equally as other parts of Scripture. Through them, God speaks to us. Also, final greetings include historical details that help us piece together the context in which the letters were written. That’s especially true when you read these letters alongside Acts. Final greetings also provide a window through which we see God’s mission play out in the lives of his people: saints move from city to city, special care needs distribution, Christians risk their necks, strategy for mission gets reported, urgent requests for prayer, and so on.
Today, I want to narrow the focus to four ways this final greeting can impact our lives. One is built on the imperative to “bear with” his “word of exhortation.” The other three come from how these words relate to the rest of the letter and the broader mission of our Lord. Before going there, however, let’s read verses 22-25.
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.
1. There is a Savior who changes us.
Four ways these final greetings can impact our lives. Number one, there is a Savior who changes us. Verses 22-25 remind us that our fundamental identity changes when we’re united to Jesus. Notice what he calls the recipients in verse 22: “I appeal to you, brothers [and sisters].” Once they were separated from God’s family; now they’re called “brothers and sisters.” How’d that happen? Look back to 2:10.
“For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That’s why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying, ‘I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.’ And again, ‘I will put my trust in him.’ And again, ‘Behold, I and the children God has given me.’ Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it’s not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore, he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”
Basically, God gives his Son a family—spiritual children, brothers and sisters. The Son willingly identifies with them. He endures sufferings for them. He qualifies to represent them. He delivers them from Satan’s power. He removes God’s wrath from them. That’s how we became “brothers (and sisters),” united to God in one household. Jesus isn’t ashamed to call these folks brothers and sisters. Neither is the writer of Hebrews. By calling them, “brothers,” he recognizes that Jesus powerfully changed them. He recognizes that he belongs to them, and they to him. In Christ, they are now family. In Christ, they have a new identity and a future hope in glory.
The same with the other title he gives them in verse 24: “Greet all your leaders and all the saints [or holy ones].” Once they were unholy, unclean. Sin kept them from entering the holy places with God. But now they’re called saints? How’d that happen?
Again, let’s review 10:10. “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” Or, 13:12, “Jesus…suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.” Jesus changes unholy people who cannot access God into holy people who have unhindered access to God. By calling them “saints,” he recognizes that Jesus changed them. Jesus made them new, holy ones.
That’s important. He’s about to charge them to “bear with” his “word of exhortation.” But notice, his command builds on the fact that they already belong to Jesus. They’re not obeying, in order to get right with Jesus, in order to become children. God has already made them children. God is already at work to make them holy and bring them home to glory. If you belong to Jesus, God is already at work in you too. You’re already sons and daughters. Obedience is now a matter of learning to become what you are. Obedience is now a matter of learning to hear your Father’s voice and learning how to live in his family. In Christ, you have a new identity; you are a new person. And you also have a new hope; you’re on a trajectory toward glory. Know who you are. Remember who you are, who God has made you to be.
It’s also important because we should recognize each other like this, brothers, sisters, saints. Christ is not ashamed to call us “brothers,” “sisters.” Christ is not ashamed to call us “saints,” “holy ones.” Even when Christians get it wrong in the New Testament, never once do the apostles wince at calling the people “brothers,” “saints.” Just read Corinthians sometime—divisions, pride, people suing each other, people asserting their rights instead of laying them down to serve others. I don’t think I would’ve been very quick to start that letter with “To those sanctified in Christ Jesus…”
Yes, there are occasions when someone who professes to be a “brother” proves not to be one by a pattern of unrepentance. But until that pattern becomes evident, we refer to one another as brothers and sisters, as holy ones. We view each other as family. We eat at the same table. Let’s treat one another as Christ himself identifies us. Just like this writer shows loving, earnest concern for his family members, we ought to share the same sentiment toward one another.
2. There is a word to endure.
Next observation is this: there is a word to endure. The main imperative says this in verse 22: “I appeal to you, brothers, bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly.” By “word of exhortation,” he means the whole letter. It takes about 45 minutes to read out loud. He could’ve gone longer. Several places indicate he wanted to say more. 9:5, he’s describing the tabernacle and says, “Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.” Or 11:32, after numerous examples of faith, he says, “For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, and so on.” He stays brief.
But brevity doesn’t mean he sacrificed depth. Nor does it mean he pulled any punches. Let’s see if we can summarize his word of exhortation. One of the main concerns is to reveal the greatness of Jesus and his new covenant. Hebrews develops how Christ is greater than the angels, greater than Adam, greater than Moses, greater than Joshua. He’s the greater High Priest. He offers the greater sacrifice. His death actually forgives sins. He opens the way for us into the true holy places. We can approach God’s throne without fear. Jesus inaugurates a greater covenant, an eternal one; and through that covenant we’ve come to a greater mountain, Mount Zion. No longer do we hear the thunderclap of the Law’s condemnation; in Christ, we hear the music of the new Jerusalem’s festivities. By resurrection, Jesus is also the great Shepherd of the sheep. He’s leading all his people home to glory. There’s no one else like him. Even the old covenant, expected his day—God’s Son would turn the shadows into substance. The promises of the good things to come—he would make real.
If that’s true, Hebrews also warns against the dangers of falling away from Jesus. Some of them are drifting into sin. Some of them have grown dull of hearing God’s word. Some of them are reverting to the old covenant system. But to abandon Jesus like this, to pretend his work didn’t matter all that much, is to forfeit the blessings of his new covenant. We shall not escape, he says, if we neglect such a great salvation—2:1-3. “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God”—3:13-14. “If we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries”—10:26-27. God uses warnings to keep us persevering.
Alongside the warnings, though, come many promises. Hebrews also reinforces our hope to keep us faithful to Jesus. For those who truly belong to Jesus, he gives us every good thing to do his will. Because Jesus himself suffered when tempted, he’s able to help you who are being tempted (2:18). Jesus is a great High Priest who sympathizes with your weaknesses; and through him you can approach God’s throne to find grace in time of need. Many trials will come, but the Father has good designs in them. As discipline, they train you to share in God’s holiness. The more you become like him, the more you give yourself to peace, to righteous living, brotherly love, generosity towards others, and Christ-like sacrifice. God’s unchangeable character also means that his new-creation word will come true. Jesus has already gone as a forerunner on our behalf. He is the sure and steadfast anchor of our soul. Not only did he die to remove God’s wrath; he rose to ensure we enter God’s rest and receive the unshakable kingdom.
Therefore, in the face of a chaotic, broken world, look to Jesus, crowned with glory and honor. That’s the basic message of Hebrews. Jesus is greater than everything, so don’t abandon him but follow him until he brings you into God’s rest. What does it mean, then, to “bear with” that word of exhortation?
At a minimum, it means you patiently receive it as the truth. But there’s more to it than that. After receiving it as the truth, it includes letting those words have their appropriate affect in you. Let me show you what I mean. There’s one other place where this word appears in a similar context. In 2 Timothy 4:2-3, Paul says this: “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure [bear with] sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions…” Sound teaching includes explaining God’s word alongside its reproofs, rebukes, and exhortations. To bear with that word means you forsake your own passions and respond to the reproof and rebuke with humility. They change you and lead you to repent. The exhortations give you courage to keep obeying God.
To “bear with” his word of exhortation isn’t just to tolerate it. It’s to let it become so much a part of you, that you’re moved to obedience. You sit before its scrutiny and let it have its way. I mean, he said some hard things, too! “We have much to say about Melchizedek. It’s hard to explain, though, since you’ve become dull of hearing. By this time you ought to be teachers, but you still need someone to teach you the basic principles of the oracles of God” (Heb 5:11-12). “Do not neglect meeting together as is the habit of some…” (Heb 10:25). “In your struggle against sin you haven’t yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood…Endure hardship for discipline” (Heb 12:4).
Jesus said hard things like that, too. But what distinguished his disciples from the rest of the world is the choice to bear with his words. Think about the Canannite woman in Matthew 15. Kneeling before Jesus, “My daughter is severely oppressed by a demon…Lord, help me!” Jesus says, “It’s not right to take the children’s bread [meaning Israel] and throw it to the dogs [meaning, Gentiles like her].” Nevertheless, she bears with his word and says, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” “Oh woman, great is your faith,” he says.
Or take the disciples in John 6. Jesus says, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” The disciples say, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” Jesus responds, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?…No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” Another hard word, and the text says “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with Jesus.” So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Peters answers, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…” True disciples bear with Jesus’ words.
Of course, there are also examples like the rich young ruler who did not bear with Jesus’ words. “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” The man walked away sorrowful. He chose not to bear with Jesus’ words. He loved his possessions too much.
Today is the thirty-fifth sermon in Hebrews. But I still must ask myself, Am I bearing with his word of exhortation? Has it become so much a part of me that I’m moved to obedience? Are you heeding its warnings and soberly reflecting on the disastrous consequences of sin? Are you finding nourishment from Jesus’ priesthood and looking to him as you run the race? How have the words in chapter 13 alone moved you to act? Brotherly love, showing hospitality, remembering the persecuted, honoring marriage, being content with what you have, obeying your leaders, doing good to others.
Or what about the various places that he says, Jesus is a great High Priest—“let us with confidence draw near to the throne of grace…” God is faithful—“let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering…” Bear with these words. Receive them with patience. Let them move you to endurance in what’s right. Receive his words about Jesus and the new covenant; and let them give you courage and hope to persevere to the very end. In these words, God has spoken by a Son.
3. There is a mission beyond us.
Third observation from this final greeting: there is a mission beyond us. The mission of God certainly includes us, but it reaches well beyond us. Look at verses 23 and 24. “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.” Notice how discipleship continues in the face of persecution. Presumably, Timothy was in jail for the gospel. He has just been released. But it doesn’t stop him or the writer of Hebrews from continuing the work. Prison doesn’t stop them from visiting these believers, from making sure that they stick with Jesus.
But notice too where some of the greetings come from: Christians from Italy. It’s not clear if the writer of Hebrews is in Italy, or if he’s somewhere else and ran into some Christians from Italy. But the point remains the same: we’ve got believers in Italy! Remember the beginning of Acts? “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Believers in Italy is evidence that the mission of Jesus was marching on. A group of Italian Christians send greetings to a group of Jewish Christians. The mission of God advances to the nations, just as the Scriptures said it would—beyond the Jews to all nations. The mission continues to advance well beyond this church.
Greetings like this one help us remember that this letter has a framework in missions. God is on a mission to see a living testimony of his kingdom among all peoples of the world. The theology and exhortations in Hebrews belong to that mission. Theology that pleases God always functions in the context of his global mission; and the ending of Hebrews reminds us to live there.
Sometimes a church or a denomination can become so inwardly focused—whether on their problems or successes—that they lose sight of what God is doing beyond them. They lose sight of the bigger kingdom picture. There are many reasons I’m glad to receive email updates from our missionaries. But one of them is that they help us remember God’s global mission. They help lift our eyes to see that the fields are white for harvest. They help us see that God is saving people near and far. They help us see that we’re not the only ones sending missionaries, planting churches, spreading the gospel, developing theology schools. God’s work is happening on every continent. More recently, scholars like Andrew Walls and Philip Jenkins observe that the epicenter of Christianity has subtly moved from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern Hemisphere, one of the most pronounced examples being the growth of the church in Sub-Saharan Africa. We hear these reports, and it ought to cause much rejoicing and support and prayer. We may feel small, but we’re but one local expression of Christ’s worldwide kingdom that will not cease to advance.
4. There is grace to finish well.
Last observation: there is grace to finish well. The letter ends with these words: “Grace be with all of you.” What is grace? Some have defined grace as God’s unmerited favor. It’s not something you can work for; God gives it freely. But Hebrews has helped us get even more specific about grace. The grace in view is God’s free and extravagant generosity in Christ toward undeserving sinners.
Nothing in us, nothing about us, nothing we did, moved the Lord to save us. The only thing we merited was judgment for rejecting God’s law. But God chose to act for us in his Son. 2:9 says that “by the grace of God” Jesus tasted death for everyone. And it wasn’t just any death, but a death that reconciles us to God. In Hebrews, Jesus’ blood removes wrath, cleanses sin, and purifies the conscience. Also, because Jesus is risen, we have grace for the future too. 4:16 says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
The writer of Hebrews now prays that such grace be with them. For every future day there will be more grace for God’s people. As long as they stick with Jesus, there will be grace every day that strengthens the heart (Heb 13:9), grace to help them run the race, grace for every task the Lord calls us to. He will give grace for every trial we face. Every tough job you encounter at work, God will supply you with grace to do it well and unto the Lord. He will give grace to endure an angry boss who’s hypercritical and never thankful. Every grace necessary to raise children and endure their tantrums, every grace to pursue peace with others in the church, every grace to mature in Christ-likeness, every grace to resist temptation—the Lord will come through for you.
You can count on the Lord’s grace when go home today, when you go to work tomorrow, or to class, or to the hospital for that next operation. His grace will be there for you when you’re trying to live out the demands of this letter and you find it challenging to keep obeying. His grace will be there when you go to that next funeral, or when you’re preparing for your own. The point is that grace is not just a past experience. Grace is your future confidence every day. For those in Christ, the Lord has inexhaustible grace. That’s what he means by “grace be with you all.” He’s confident that grace didn’t just come to them in Christ; grace will also go with them in Christ.
John Newton got it right in the third stanza of his famous hymn, “Amazing Grace,” “Through many dangers, toils, and snares, / I have already come; / ‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far, / And grace will lead me home.” I don’t know exactly what challenge or sorrow that you’re facing today. Maybe you’re wanting further clarity for your family’s future. Maybe you’re researching what it looks like to become foster parents or to adopt. Maybe things are so dark for you right now, you don’t know how to take the next steps. The Lord’s grace will be with you. Your life is part of a storyline of grace. It had a beginning before you were even born—even before the foundation of the world God chose you in Christ. It’s being worked out in the present as God made you his son or his daughter. His grace also looks forward to ensure you reach the finish line. What his grace began, his grace will complete.