Today’s passages: Isaiah, chapters 25-28; Hebrews, chapter 13
Scripture: Hebrews 13:20-21 (NRSV) – Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will working among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
Observations: There is so much in these two verses of benediction! I have always used this benediction at the end of a graveside service, because I think that it offers much encouragement and hope. But today as I read it, I recognized that there is a lot of foundational truth packed into it.
(1) God is the God of peace. Yesterday, I noted in Hebrews 12:14 that we are called to “pursue peace with everyone.” The ultimate reason that we do this is because God is the God of peace, and if we are to be like him, and fulfill his purposes in this world, we have to pursue peace.
(2) The blessing is that the God of peace would make us complete in everything good. When we are tempted to think that God has done everything in us that he needs to, this verse reminds us that we need God to make us complete in everything good. This reminds us that God’s work is always continuing in us, to make us complete (or “perfect”) – which we must acknowledge is a process that does not end in this life. Each day, God is at work, shaping and forming us in the image of Jesus, making us more and more like him – so long as we do his will. The point of the author’s repeated calls to obedience, and to not rebel against God like the Israelites did in the desert, is that disobedience hardens our hearts and makes it more difficult for us to hear and understand God. Obedience, on the other hand, softens our hearts, attunes our spirits to what God is saying and doing, and helps us to become more like Jesus. After all, Jesus is the one who ‘humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:8)
(3) God’s work in us is done through Jesus Christ. God is working to make us complete in everything good, and that work is made possible because of what Jesus has done. It’s hard sometimes to remember all of the context of our New Testament passages when we’re reading one chapter a day; things blur together, and when we include the Old Testament passages that we read each day, we may forget what we’ve read in Hebrews over the last two weeks. One major point of the book of Hebrews is that the covenant which God has established through Jesus is superior to the old covenant under the law. Everything that is available to us under the new covenant is possible because of what Jesus has done. We are forgiven because the blood of Jesus paid the price for the sins of all mankind. We are born again because Jesus’ death and resurrection opened the way for the Holy Spirit to come and regenerate us when we believe in what Jesus has done for us. We can come before God’s throne with confidence because Jesus has opened a new way for us through his death. And we can know God, his will, and his purposes for us because he has spoken to us through Jesus, his Son.
(4) And because all of this (and so much more!) comes to us through Jesus Christ,the writer tells us that Jesus is the one to whom be the glory forever and ever. I’m intrigued by the word “the” – when the verse says that the glory belongs to Jesus, forever and ever, I think that means that all of the glory belongs to him. Logically, that means that none of the glory belongs to us. How hard that is for us to accept! We are very ready to give glory to Jesus, but in the back of our minds we expect that we’re entitled to a little bit, too! Whether we’re thinking about how much we’ve changed in our walk with Jesus, or how we’ve helped to lead others to faith, or how much we’ve served or given, there is always that insidious thought that someone ought to notice and praise us. I think one of the most important parts of the work that God has to do in us is to bring us to the place where we can willingly and cheerfully admit that all of the glory belongs to Jesus.
Applications: God is reminding me today how hard it is to get to that point. We want to be noticed, and thanked, and appreciated, and even applauded – but those are very dangerous things. Jesus warned us, “Be careful when you do your ‘acts of righteousness’ that you do not do them in front of men, to be seen by them; I tell you the truth, you have your reward in full.” I don’t ever want to have to settle for the fleeting praise of other people, when the joy of God’s Kingdom is available. If I seek to exalt myself, God will humble me; if I humble myself, I can leave the exalting up to him. That’s one of the ways that God continues his work in me.
Prayer: Father, I confess that it is easy to fall into the trap of wanting people to appreciate and applaud what I do. When I do that, I am prone to do their will, rather than yours. Thank you for reminding me how dangerous that can be, and that the glory belongs to Jesus, forever and ever. Help me today to give Jesus the glory that belongs to him, so others may be led to him. Amen.