I’ve been writing articles from the Book of Hebrews for some time now on Tuesdays. Today I will bring that series to a close by looking at Hebrews 13:20-21. Far too often in life we emphasize how much we are to do and what depends on us. It always amazes me to see how much the writers of the New Testament say about what God is doing in and through us as His people. “Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant’ brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever, Amen.”
I would love to know exactly who the writer of this great book was. I wish he had just given us his name at the beginning or end as most of the other writers did, but that isn’t the case. He had an extremely high view of God and Christ. His beginning and ending go back to praise God for what he had done and is doing in our lives. He is first the God of peace. Sometimes when people read through the Old Testament they think of God as a God of war not peace. Yet he was always trying to get his people to live in a way that they might have peace, that they could lay down their arms and sit under their own vine or their own fig tree. Sin always invaded the plan of God for peace among his people. Under the New Covenant he still works for our peace. First he offers peace between himself and those who will turn to him in faith and obedience. He tells us we can be reconciled to God through the blood of Jesus and can then have that peace with him. He offers us peace with ourselves in that our sins can be forgiven and we can lay aside the feelings of guilt. He works for peace between us and our brothers and sisters in Christ motivated by love and grace toward each other. That reconciliation brought together Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, male and female, barbarian and Scythian. Only in Jesus can every race, background and language come together as one. And he longs for us to pray for the governing officials that we might lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness (I Timothy 2:1-3). No longer does God call on his people to go out and fight the world with swords or bombs, but to go instead into the world with the gospel of peace that can change the hearts of men and women so they don’t seek any longer to kill and destroy one another.
The God of peace, through the blood of the eternal covenant, brought back Jesus from the dead. This is a very unusual way of speaking of Jesus resurrection. It seems to me that his point is that God’s plan through the eternal covenant was to have Jesus die shedding his blood on the cross and that plan also meant for death not to be able to hold him there so he was brought back from the dead through his resurrection. It is in that sense that it was through the eternal covenant. God’s plan for man’s redemption always involved blood. For a long time it was the blood of bulls and goats that were offered. But they were always pointing to a time when the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world would be the one offered as the sacrifice to God.
He then identified Jesus as the Great Shepherd of the sheep. Jesus was the lamb offered. He is also the Shepherd of the sheep. Jesus identified himself as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep in John 10. He is the one who came that we might have life and have it more abundantly. When Peter wrote to the elders of the church in I Peter 5 he calls on them to shepherd the flock of God among them. But he quickly says that when the chief shepherd appears then you will appear with him in glory. The elders, or pastors of the church are to shepherd, but only under the lead of the chief shepherd who is Jesus Christ our Lord.
Notice his plea is that God and Christ will “equip you for everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him.” Over in Ephesians 4:11-16 Paul talked about the leaders in the church being ones who equipped the people to work as servants in the body of Christ. Certainly as men and women we can work to mentor and encourage people. We may even train them on how to do good works. But God himself is always about equipping us in ways that no human can ever do. People seem to enjoy quoting Paul’s statement in Philippians 2:11-12 about working out our own salvation with fear and trembling. But few go on to quote the next phrase “For it is God who is working in you both to will and to do his good pleasure.” We need to give our salvation a work out. But please know that we aren’t in this alone. God is constantly working in us through the Holy Spirit to strengthen us in the inner man (Ephesians 3:14-21). He is the potter that is molding us into the vessels he wants us to be. God uses His word as a means of molding us. In 2 Corinthians 3:18 Paul was talking about the difference between the Old and New Covenant and made the point that when we with unveiled face behold the glory of the Lord through reading the New Covenant, we are transformed into the same image from glory to glory by the Spirit of our God.
We need to all be striving to grow and be what God wants. But let’s be clear that God is working in us. We often simply need to yield to his lead instead of trying to force ourselves to go in some direction. I fear that we are often squirming when God is working on us and need to be still and know that He is God. I think of Paul in 2 Corinthians 12 as he was struggling with his thorn in the flesh and praying for God to take it away. I’m sure his mindset was that he could do so much more and be such a better preacher if God would simply take that thorn away. What a shock when God said, “NO”! “My grace is sufficient for you. My strength is made perfect in weakness.” It is most often the case in life that God works best through our weaknesses rather than our strengths. He uses every failure, every fall, every mess up and every blemish as a way to touch another person’s life who has dealt with that same struggle and is wondering how to overcome. God is at work in you and me. His work doesn’t travel at the pace we would often like, but it never stops. One day he will change our lowly bodies that they may be fashioned like his glorious body and the transformation will be complete. What a glorious day that will be!
God does his work in us “through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” He doesn’t speak of the work of the Spirit in this final greeting, but has often earlier and he is certainly spoken of often throughout the Scriptures. Just to know that the Godhead is always working in us should give us pause. Our lives, our service, our worship and everything involved is to be done to the glory of the Lord Jesus, and not ourselves. One of the most difficult challenges we face is the one of letting the glory go to the Lord and not to us.