...we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken...Hebrews 12:28 NIV
Ah, the Unshakable Kingdom! And it's ours! It's the promise of Jesus in the New Covenant.
Hear our Lord's words,
Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Luke 12:32 NIV
But what is the New Covenant? What is this "ticket" so to speak, into the Kingdom?
The New Covenant is all about the finished work of Christ through His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. It's all about total forgiveness of sins, a new heart that is fixed on loving God, and the indwelling Holy Spirit who causes us to walk in HIS ways...and so much more! All received by grace through faith, not striving and working!
And as we come to the end of the letter to the Hebrews, we see that living from who we are as partakers of the New Covenant has certain qualities about it:
1. It's a life of stability (12:15-29). We are receiving a Kingdom that's unshakable, that can't crumble to the ground or be taken over by someone stronger! And it's right here, right now! And this kingdom is characterized by grace and freedom and peace...not fear and dread! It's a kingdom where Jesus is King, and we are His people!
But it's also a kingdom that's not yet! There will be a time when all will be set right; a time when...
...at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Phil 2:10-11 ESV
2. It's a life of brotherly love (13:1-4). We graciously receive and welcome "strangers" -- the invisible, neglected, unknown. We remember prisoners...those physically incarcerated, as well as those imprisoned emotionally and spiritually. Hebrews 13:2 says that we may be receiving angels unaware. But actually, according to the gospels, we serve Christ when we serve the needy. (Matthew 25:31-45)
Phil Yancy, in his book The Jesus I Never Knew, tells about a conversation between a rich American visitor and Mother Teresa. The American couldn't comprehend Mother Teresa's "fierce commitment to the dregs of Calcutta." In response to his confusion, she told him,
We are a contemplative order. First we meditate on Jesus, and then we go out and look for Him in disguise.
Where is He in disguise in our lives?
Maybe He's in disguise in our marriages. Kingdom, New Covenant living is where we do the old-fashioned thing by honoring marriage as God's design...and by treating our spouses as brothers/sisters in the Lord and as friends (S of S 4:9-12;5:1,16).
3. It's a life of contentment (13:5-6). We live free from "devotion" to money...why? Because God Himself is our true Treasure! He says..., so we can say...!
And what does He say?
I will never leave you nor forsake you.
So we can say,
The Lord is my helper;I will not fear;what can man do to me?
4. It's a life of remembering & imitating (13:7-8). We remember, and even study, the "exit" from this life of our spiritual leaders.
As John Piper says,
Beware of living heroes; prefer dead ones...Get heroes, especially dead ones.
Why? They have already heard the Lord's "Well done!" They've made it to the finish line!
So then we can...
...imitate their faith. Why? because...Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
He was faithful to them in the past. He is faithful to us in the present. And He will be faithful to us and to our children and future generations on into the future!
5. It's a life of identification (13:9-14). New Covenant living is not dependent upon religious rituals, foods, feasts, etc. (See Colossians 2:16-17). Our "altar" is the Cross, the finished work of Christ. And what do we "eat" there? We eat Jesus by faith (John 6) and get in Him: forgiveness, righteousness, joy, peace in the Holy Spirit, hope, and so much more (Romans 14:17; 15:13).
And just as Jesus died outside the "camp" (Jerusalem and the religious establishment of His day), so we are also willing to go against the ways of the "camps" we may be part of, when they conflict with the ways our Lord and King are leading us.
What "camps" are you part of today? Your church? your friends? your family? a relationship? your workplace? Do you have to "sell your soul" in order to fit in and feel part of the in-crowd? I'm here to say, DON'T DO IT! Go to HIM outside the camp and be willing to bear HIS reproach...no matter what that may mean!
My husband and I have been part of various, what I call, Christian camps -- different traditions, from very conservative to somewhat chrismatic*. I remember one time moaning and complaining to the Lord,
Lord, I don't fit anywhere!
The Holy Spirit said to my heart,
Congratulations! You can fit everywhere, because you don't fit anywhere! [Read that a couple times slowly!]
Then He reminded me of Jesus who had no place to call His own, who died rejected and abandoned by even His own. And I remembered Jesus' "healthy detachment":
Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man. John 2:23-25 NASB
So our expectations of fitting in can actually lead us to quench the Spirit in our own lives. So again I say, don't do it! "Go to Him outside the camp"...and the delightful surprise may be that there are others outside the camp...maybe waiting for YOU!
6. It's a life of sacrifices (13:15-16). Jesus did the once for all sacrifice! But we as believer-priests (1Peter 2:4-5) offer up spiritual sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving. We are not afraid to acknowledge His name and give Him the credit that is due Him. As Hosea so colorfully says,
We... offer our lips as sacrifices of bulls. (Hosea 14:2, alternate trans)
So we put our lips on the altar and let them pour out with praise and thanksgiving and glory to our great God.
And then of course, we have the sacrifice of doing good and sharing...signs of true faith. As James says,
But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works...For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. James 2:18,26 -- but check out all of James 2 ESV
7. It's a life of submission (13:17-19). We follow God's chosen leaders and make it a joy for them, not a grief. But we realize that they also have "feet of clay" as do their followers. So we pray for them that they finish well!
As John Piper says,
If you're watching [living] leaders, pray like crazy that they make it to the end...that they finish well!
We all know of leaders who have "shipwrecked" later in life...let's support and pray!
8. It's a life of enablement (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.
One of the richest and most beautiful of benedictions in Scripture tells us that it's not about our adequacy and ability to live this New Covenant life...it's about His equipping and working. What a relief! We are His vessels, His instruments.
Remember, the New Covenant basically says,
God does it; therefore, I do it.
Look at these other passages that say it well...and glory!
9. It's a life of listening (13:22-25). So we come full circle. This passage says to "pay attention" (NLT), to hear to listen. Haven't we seen that throughout the letter? It presupposes that when God speaks, we must listen...and so a closing reminder. New Covenant, Unshakable Kingdom living is a life of listening to our Speaking God who has spoken in His Son (Heb 1:1-3)...let us HEAR HIM!
A Mighty Fortress
Our God is, a consuming fire, A burning holy Flame, with glory and freedom Our God is, the only righteous judge, Ruling over us with kindness and wisdom We will keep our eyes on You We will keep our eyes on You
A mighty fortress is our God A sacred refuge is Your Name Your Kingdom is unshakable With You forever we will reign
Our God is, jealous for His own None could comprehend, His love and His mercy Our God is exalted on His throne High above the heavens Forever He’s worthy... We will keep our eyes on You We will keep our eyes on You
We will keep our eyes on You We will keep our eyes on You So we can set our hearts on You Lord we will set our hearts on You!
HIMSELF by A. B. SimpsonOnce it was the blessing, Now it is the Lord; Once it was the feeling, Now it is His Word. Once His gifts I wanted, Now the Giver own; Once I sought for healing, Now Himself alone.
Once 'twas painful trying, Now 'tis perfect trust; Once a half salvation, Now the uttermost. Once 'twas ceaseless holding, Now He holds me fast; Once 'twas constant drifting, Now my anchor's cast.
Once 'twas busy planning, Now 'tis trustful prayer; Once 'twas anxious caring, Now He has the care. Once 'twas what I wanted, Now what Jesus says; Once 'twas constant asking, Now 'tis ceaseless praise.
Once it was my working, His it hence shall be; Once I tried to use Him, Now He uses me. Once the power I wanted, Now the Mighty One; Once for self I labored, Now for Him alone.
Once I hoped in Jesus, Now I know He's mine; Once my lamps were dying, Now they brightly shine. Once for death I waited, Now His coming hail; And my hopes are anchored, Safe within the veil.
For the beautiful sermon connected to this poem by A.B. Simpson, a brother from the past, click here.
For Ray Stedman's commentary on Hebrews 13, click here.Hebrews 13, Ray Stedman, Faith at Work
For an enlightening description of the verious traditions of the Christian faith, readStreams of Living Water, by Richard Foster. In that book, Foster goes into the biblical and historical backgrounds of the different traditions ("camps"), as well as the strong points to emulate and the pitfalls to avoid.