Hebrews 13:20-25 - The Ongoing Work of God

August 18, 2013 Speaker: Series: Hebrews

Topic: Sunday Worship Passage: Hebrews 13:20–13:25

[Text: Hebrews 13:20-25] “The Ongoing Work of God”

A benediction is the “pronouncement of God’s favor upon an assembled congregation.”[1] It often sounds like a request, but don’t mistake it as mere wishful thinking because it is a request that our God intends to fulfill in the lives of His people. And for needy pilgrims like us, this is very good news because it tells us that what God began through Christ, He will finish through Christ, too.

[Read Hebrews 13:20-25 and Pray]

Here we are at the end of Hebrews, this early Christian sermon written by a loving pastor to friends who were suffering. They’d been put out of the synagogues because of their acceptance of Jesus as the Christ. They were facing the brutal power of Rome for their acceptance of Jesus as Lord instead of Caesar. Very soon after this, more Christian blood would be shed.

But into their suffering, their pastor had written. Although it seems long and detailed to us, in v. 22 he says that this exhortation is but a brief note. But so much is packed into such short space! From their pastor, they’ve heard of the God who is not silent, but who speaks of His victory and redemption from sin and death. These Christians heard about the work of God in the past through Jesus, the perfect propitiation – the final atoning sacrifice – for sin and the permanent, eternal high priest for the people of God. As they held fast to him and rested in his finished work, they could stand in the confidence that the blood of Christ had purified them completely. So, with grateful hearts, they could draw near to God through Jesus and worship him.

That gratitude was also meant to lead them into love for one another, too. That’s a significant focus in chapter 13 as the pastor begins applying the truths of the Gospel to everyday life. He calls them (and we who believe the Gospel) to hospitality to strangers, to remember those in prison and those who are mistreated in this world. We’re called to hold marriage in honor as followers of the faithful Christ. And rich and poor alike are called to keep our lives free from love of money since it is a poor substitute for our greater riches in Christ. There is the call to embrace the things God has given to us to help us along the way during our days of pilgrimage: the leaders who watch over us, God’s word that strengthens us as we hear about His grace. And we’re called, above all, to endure suffering as we follow Christ outside of what is safe and comfortable to our true home, the city of the living God.

Now, in the end of it all, the pastor understands something that all pilgrims need to understand. By faith in Christ we are already accepted as pleasing to God. By faith in Christ we are already purified by his blood and counted as faithful servants of God. But what is already true of us in Christ is, at the same time, not yet experientially true of us. That is, we’ve still got some growing to do; we still struggle as pilgrims here.

It’s into that struggle that the pastor speaks here because he understands that as soon as the call comes to obey, pilgrims who desire to obey out of love for their Savior discover their own weakness. Anxiety can rise as we remember the strength of our flesh and the threats of this world. And when the specter of suffering looms large in our minds we think, “I am truly grateful to God and to Christ and His Spirit. But how can I do all this when I know my own weakness? From where comes the power to fulfill all these callings? How can I endure the suffering that is to come?!?!”

The answer given by the pastor is immensely satisfying. The God who worked to make us acceptable to Himself through the death of His Son is the same God who will continue working in us through His resurrected Son, helping us to more and more live in line with who we already are in Christ. To put it in terms you pay theologians to use, we must depend on God for our justification – our right standing before God. But when we are justified by faith in Christ, we must also depend on God for our life before God – our sanctification, too.

That is the essence of this benediction. It is encouragement for the weak, hope for the struggler, comfort for the failure, strength for the one in need of endurance. It mercifully destroys the approach of so many to the Christian life. You who grow weary of a “pull yourself up by the boot-straps” approach to your Christian walk can find rest as you hear that the God who has worked to bring about the “already” realities of the Gospel in Christ, will bring the “not yet” things into existence, too. Though we do not yet live as we ought, though our lives are not yet fully conformed to the image of God, we have hope that what God began, God will continue and God will finish through Christ.

See how he times the benediction perfectly to answer anxious hearts? The pastor speaks into the present saying, “Now….” Today, in this moment as you are about to walk out of this church and into the world – right now – may God act. In this single word, “now,” the pastor confronts our weakness with hope that there is a God who works today. For whatever you have carried with you into this place – a struggling marriage, a stressful relationship with a child or parent, weakness in your pilgrim walk – and whatever is waiting for you outside – suffering from a mocking world or just suffering temptation as your own flesh fights against you – whatever it is, there is hope for “now” because God is still working “now.” The God who said to His people, “I will never unfasten myself from you nor forsake you” (13:5) has not changed. He is with you now to fulfill this benediction in your life. Have faith, blood bought lambs of the Great Shepherd, that though you may not see it clearly, your God is now at work.

And now remember who your God is. He is “the God of peace,” the pastor says. The concept of peace is in a few places in Hebrews, but I want us to focus on just one. In chapter ten, we hear that by the will of God “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Through his blood, Jesus won such a full forgiveness for his people that no other sacrifice ever needed to be offered. Through his blood, Jesus brought into reality what was promised back in the days of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, when God promised to put his laws into new hearts that He would give to us, forgiving and choosing never to remember our sins against us. It was the will of God to make peace with us and he accomplished it through the blood of his Son, Jesus. It is because of this peace won by Christ that Christians may approach God with confidence.

By calling God “the God of peace” in this benediction, the unsettle minds of weak pilgrims are called back to their hope – to Jesus and his work on behalf of his people. You can see in the benediction how God’s character and work for peace was supposed to encourage Christians as the sermon ended and they returned to ordinary life. But, after calling God the God of peace, the God who made peace through the death of His Son, he goes on to remind them that the work of God didn’t stop there.

His work kept going as the God of peace “brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep….” This remembrance of the resurrection would have been a profound encouragement to the suffering Christians because it is the reminder that although Jesus suffered death, God had raised him from the dead. God had willed for Jesus to suffer but that suffering had been a purposeful suffering – 2:10 says it perfected Christ! And on the other side of suffering – through suffering – was the resurrection. These Christians had a sure hope in the resurrection of Christ that even though God was calling them to suffer “now,” they were certain that all who directed their faith toward Christ would be raised with Christ, too. There would come a day when their own suffering would cease and the power of Christ’s resurrection would be on full display in the City of God. And that day would come not because they’d gotten themselves to the city on their own, but because Jesus, the great shepherd had carried them there.

All this, the text says, God did “by the blood of the eternal covenant;” the sacrificial death of Christ, cleansing and forgiveness of sin, restoration to life and the service of God, the resurrection of Jesus – all these things are accomplished by the blood of Christ that secured an eternal relationship between God and His people. This irrevocable relationship where God binds Himself to us in Christ is a major emphasis in Hebrews. This eternal covenant has Jesus as its mediator and guarantor. This eternal covenant relationship sealed by the blood of Christ is the reason why you and I, by faith alone, have received a kingdom that cannot be shaken (12:28). And the eternal covenant is why God will continue working in the lives of His people in the way the pastor is about to say.

Verse 21 is the substance of what God means to do in the lives of His pilgrim people. If we remove the descriptive statements that precede it, we’ll hear the core desire of the benediction; “Now 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….”

So, follow me here for a moment. We’ve got to take this apart a little before we can put this all together. This “equip(ping) with every good thing” is for the purpose, v. 21 says – “that you may do his will.” So, I’ve got a few questions. First, what is the will of God? Whatever it is, the verse says it is “pleasing in his sight.” Second, what “equipping” do we need to actual do the will of God?

First, the will of God – “that which is pleasing in his sight” – is not some secret thing you need to discover. It’s been the main focus of Hebrews all along. To do the will of God is to “pay…attention to what we have heard” from Christ (2:1). To do the will of God is to “hold fast our confession” of Jesus as the Son of God and faithful Savior of sinners (4:14-16). To do the will of God is to embrace Christ as “high priest of the good things that have come” (9:11) and to “draw near (to God) with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (10:22) Yes, it is the will of God to “let brotherly love continue” in so many different forms (13:1-19), but to please God by doing His will begins with something much more simple and profound. It is made perfectly clear in 11:6, which says, “without faith it is impossible to please [God].” And again in 10:36-39,

“For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For,

“Yet a little while,

and the coming one will come and will not delay;

but my righteous one shall live by faith,

and if he shrinks back,

my soul has no pleasure in him.”

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.”

Faith. Faith in Christ is the will of God. The will of God is for you to believe, Christian, and for you to endure in your faith. The will of God is for your faith to be an active, lived-out faith as gratitude for all that is yours in Christ spills over into love for others inside and out of the community of the Savior. The will of God is for you to be a pilgrim walking with eyes fixed on Christ on your way to be with him. And so, the pastor’s plea is that God would equip you with what you need to endure in faith.

When I think of being equipped for something, I imagine having all the tools for a job (like Mack – that guy has every tool you could imagine). But when it comes to tackling the job, it’s completely up to me. I may have the tools, but that doesn’t mean I have the ability to use them.

This word “equip” here, however, means “to make someone completely adequate or sufficient for something; to furnish completely; to cause to be fully qualified.”[2] So, by asking God to “equip [us] with everything good,” the pastor isn’t just asking for God to give us the tool bag and send us along. This isn’t turning our pilgrimage into a grace-less “God helps those who help themselves” situation. This is the hope that God makes us completely adequate to do His will. He fully furnishes to us the faith we need to please Him.

And so, the pastor’s request and the hope you have from this benediction is that the God who first equipped you with the gift of faith in His Son will continue to equip you with the faith you need to endure through these present sufferings. It is the request that He would equip you with the kind of active faith that is lived out in love toward others through good works.

Just remember how such faith comes to us. The Scriptures say “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17). We are told that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped [same word!] for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17) This is nothing less than the Spirit of God continuing His work toward us as we encounter the living God through His Word and though that Word He equip us with a living and active faith. Are you weak? Are you struggling to keep walking? Take hold of the Word, Christian! It is God’s means of equipping you with the faith that pleases Him.

It is the last clause of the core request, however, that deserves our undivided attention. The pastor wrote, “Now 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….”

If we are to grow in our faith, if we are to walk as becomes followers of Christ, if we are to be remade in the image of God, walking with a living and active faith it will only ever be “…through Jesus Christ.”

This is not afterthought phrase, added to make the whole thing sound more spiritual. What we hear is foundational to Christian life. We have to depend on Christ for our justification – for God to declare us pardoned and acceptable to him. And we must also depend on Christ for our growth as pilgrims, for the grace we need to live out our faith. Another writer put it so perfectly I can’t say it better,

“At the beginning God did place in Adam everything necessary to equip him for the performing of all obedience; but not so with the Christian. God has not [given] to us such supplies of grace that we are self-sufficient. No indeed: rather has He placed in Christ all “fullness” of grace for us to draw on (John 1:16), thereby making the members [of Christ’s Body] dependent on their Head.”[3]

God can never accept us or our faith or good works apart from Christ. Again, the same writer speaks of this idea:

“The best of our duties, wrought in us as they are by Divine grace, are not acceptable to God simply as they are ours, but only on account of the merits of Christ. The reason for this is, that Divine grace issues through an imperfect medium: sin is mixed with our best performances. The light [of grace] may be bright and steady, yet it is dimmed by an unclean glass through which it may shine. We owe, then, to [Christ] not only the pardon of our sins and the sanctification of our persons, but the acceptance of our imperfect worship and service….”[4]

Please don’t misunderstand. Though we still strive for holiness (12:14), we must hear that our holiness is not what will make us or our works acceptable to God. So, we strive for new obedience but direct our faith to Christ for our sanctification just as we do our justification. And it is God Himself who fully furnishes us with this faith.

Think about what this would have meant to the early Christians who first heard this benediction. When they walked out from their house church and into the world, they were going out to suffer. They were going out into a darkness that would soon be lit by the bodies of burning Christians. They were called to love those who were burning them, called to endure the suffering that was part of God’s will for them. But they went, strengthened by the grace of God the pastor asked for them. We have the testimony of these brothers that this sermon in particular sustained them and caused the church not only to survive, but to grow and mature in faith.[5] They knew the God who had already accomplished peace through the death of Jesus was still working.

You and I are called, too, to walk out from this place continually offering up a sacrifice of praise to God (13:15) no matter what we encounter out there. And we are to do good and to share what we have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God (13:16). But if you, like me, come to the end of Hebrews and find your weakness exposed, if we see our small and weak faith in the face of suffering, then take comfort that God has always known the weakness of those whom He has called. And He always provides for us in Christ. That is why to Christ and to God belongs all “glory forever and ever. Amen.” (13:21)

That God is the one working in us is such a reason for hope because it means, fundamentally, that we can change – that holiness and obedience to God can increase in us; that we can more and more died to sin and live to God. But the ongoing work of God also means that your suffering is not outside of the will of God. It means your suffering is not in vain because it is a means of God helping you to endure in your faith in Christ. It is His way of taking your eyes off yourself and re-directing your eyes to Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith.” (12:2)

We direct our eyes and faith toward Christ at all times because, in the end, we are utterly dependent on Christ and his work in us. So, the same faith we direct toward Christ for our forgiveness and cleansing, we direct toward him for our ongoing life as well.

And his word tells us his faithfulness will continue. After all, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Even though his faithfulness may lead us through suffering, in the end it will be seen to work together for our good and for his glory.

[Pray – Father, we praise you that you have not left us to ourselves. You have called us by your Spirit and cleansed us through your Son and promised through your Word that what you began in Christ you will finish through Jesus, too. Thank you for speaking to us in our weakness and giving us a sure hope in Christ that you will provide for all our needs; you furnish us with the faith in Christ we need to endure in every circumstance. In the lives of these, my brothers and sisters, I pray that you would continue your work through Christ. There are many suffering in broken relationships, struggling in temptation, feeling weak and lonely and faltering. Bolster their faith through the Word of Christ and strengthen them with a renewed hope in him. I pray that for each of us and ask that you would fulfill this benediction in us now so that we might walk as your people here, worshipping you, Triune God, while doing good and sharing what we have. And Father, help us to cooperate more and more with your grace, to take hold of Christ and the means of grace you have given to us: your Word, prayer, our baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Continue to work in us through these things by the power of your Spirit and the Risen Christ until that day when we stand in the city that is to come – our prayers turned to praise, your promises turned into your presence. Amen.]

[Benediction, from Hebrews 13:20-21]

“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] Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 279.

[2]  from the Louw-Nida Greek Lexicon.

[3] Arthur Walkington Pink, An Exposition of Hebrews (Swengel, PA: Bible Truth Depot, 1954), 1269.

[4] Arthur Walkington Pink, An Exposition of Hebrews (Swengel, PA: Bible Truth Depot, 1954), 1270.

[5] 1 Clement quotes Hebrews thoroughly, giving proof that the sermon was cherished by the church during Roman persecutions.


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