There has always been the challenge of who we can trust and who should we follow in life. There are always voices crying out to be heard and most offer something that we want or feel we need. Often we listen to certain voices because of the fear we have from other parts of our life. Even though one voice may be somewhat scary, if they promise to get rid of something that is even more scary to us, we will listen to that voice.
No wonder then the writer of the Book of Hebrews as he nears the conclusion of his writing, challenges his hearers to take care of which voices they listened to. “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefitted.” (Hebrews 13:7-9) We can’t be certain who these leaders were who had spoken to them the word of life in days past. Most likely the writer was one of them. It could have been some of the apostles and Paul or Peter may have been among them. Whoever these leaders are, at least most of them are either dead now or at least no longer with them. It seems that most must have been dead since he points to the result or outcome of their faith. That seems to point to them having now gone on to God after having lived a full life for him. He challenges them to remember these people who they could be sure spoke to them the word of God and whose entire life was devoted to God all the way to the end, and to imitate their faith.
What intrigues me most is that he turns immediately to point to the ultimate leader. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.” Now please understand, Jesus actions and even his humanity haven’t always been the same. He had existed always as God, but there was a definite point in history when he became a man and pitched his tent among us for a little over 33 years. After that time he went back to the right hand of the Father still as the Son of man and also as the Son of God. So, Jesus changed in his work among us very much at the point he became a man and again when he left this world to go back to the Father. But, his teaching, his essence and his character have and never will change. Jesus didn’t change his mind about what was right or wrong for us during his time on earth or after he went back to God the Father. He came into the world to show us the Father, to establish his kingdom and to give us the New Covenant that Jeremiah had prophesied would come when God’s law would be for all people. He came to take our sins upon him and pay the price for those sins on the cross and then be raised from the dead to ascend back to the Father. There are always those who wish to lead, even in God’s family that would lead us away from Jesus the Lord and Savior. There were teachers among the people to whom this was initially written who were teaching things that were very different from the message Jesus gave. Their plea was that they should go back under the Old Law and follow the rituals of that law. So, the writer points back to Jesus the great lawgiver, high priest, mediator, and savior declaring that he hasn’t changed. Why would you even think of moving away from him?
Notice it was tied to the next warning, “Do not be carried away by varied and strange teaching; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefitted.” These new, false teachers that have stepped into places of leadership among them are stressing the food laws that were part of that Old Law the Jews had lived under. So his plea is that foods aren’t going to make any difference in your spiritual life. Be strengthened by grace instead. Grace wasn’t a basic concept of these teachers or most of the other teachers of the Old Law in that day. But it was vital to the teaching of Jesus. John said, “The Law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” Grow in grace as Peter challenged at the end of his second letter. Care must always be taken in who we will follow. There are always leaders that will take us away from Jesus and bind on us all kinds of laws and regulations that didn’t come from God but from their traditions or misunderstandings of God’s word.
It is so interesting to me that he then made the point that just as the bodies of animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest are burned outside the camp, so “Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.” (Verses12-14) You can’t take Jesus and somehow fit him into the camp of the observers of the Old Law or its regulations. He certainly won’t fit when we try to push things like circumcision and eating particular foods since he clearly said that what you ate didn’t affect a persons spiritually since it went right through them. Jesus hasn’t changed. If we are to stay with him we must go outside the camp of Judaism to bear his reproach. Why do that? Because we aren’t looking for a lasting city here on earth but one which is to come.
One final thought is that to follow Jesus really calls us to go outside just about every camp one can think of. His challenge doesn’t fit what most wish to do. We must be willing to leave the norms, the ordinary and the usual to follow him wherever he may lead. Remember his most often given command was, “Follow me.”