The 22st Sunday After Trinity November 7, 2004
377(1-5), 377(6-10), 267, 306, 463(1-3)
Let brotherly love continue. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels. Remember the prisoners as if chained with them—those who are mistreated—since you yourselves are in the body also. Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge. Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say: “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the Word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by grace, not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them.
Dear fellow-redeemed, saints and heirs through Christ Jesus:
Dead men speak when we open up our hymnals. Through their recorded praises we join with the faith and hope of men and women in ages past—individuals long sainted who, having died in Christ, now live with Him in undiminished light and ecstasy. Our hymns and confessions are testimonies made by others, often under conditions where we would hardly expect any hope or joy to survive.
One of the boldest statements in our hymnal is made by Martin Luther when he began a song with the words: “If God had not been on our side.” In this age of relative values and ecumenism, even we tend to cringe at such an audacious statement. Who’s to say that God is on our side?
Such is the right and privilege of the Holy Christian Church. Her hope is founded on Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. [v.8] In a fluctuating and failing world, Christ’s Church alone remains strong and secure, clear about who she is and why she stands. As the writer to the Hebrews closes out his essay on the great treasure Christ is to His Church, he explains how “a changeless Christ creates a steadfast Church.” I. In the changeless love of our Savior, we love with a pure heart. II. In the changeless riches of grace, we live with a rare contentment. III. In the changeless Word of God, we have the anchor of hope.
In the changeless love of our Savior, we love one another with a pure heart. In Jeremiah we read of this love. “The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: ‘Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with loving-kindness I have drawn you’” (Jeremiah 31:3). The Savior’s love for us is a timeless, unwavering love. Our love for one another is rooted in this love. So we are admonished: “Let brotherly love continue. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels. Remember the prisoners as if chained with them—those who are mistreated—since you yourselves are in the body also. Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” [vv.1-5]
How does the love of God come to abide in us? It goes back to the Word of God which confronts us with God’s Law and reveals our sins so that we better appreciate the unmerited nature of God’s love for us. We are ever reminded through Word and Sacrament that we have been made the objects of a love that never changes—love that was made concrete when Christ became our brother. So we look on our fellow believers as brothers and sisters of the most sublime family in heaven and on earth. To them we show the debt of love which we naturally owe our Savior.
Such fraternal love is hospitable. Those who come to us in Christ’s name should be received with open hearts. If our hearts are open, so will be our homes, our time, our resources, our own family circle. In our day, this often occurs when we receive visitors of our fellowship—hosting a pastoral conference or receiving Tour Choir members into our homes. In the days of the early Church, such hospitality was needed on a more urgent scale. Many in the Church were poverty stricken and endured various forms of persecution. In those days, one’s Christian home might be needed as a clandestine house of worship, or for a safe house for persecuted believers, or as the nerve center of an underground outreach for preaching the Gospel. Such grass-roots Christianity is not so far away in our day. It is said that a “house church” movement in China serves some 15 million believers.
So we are urged not to forget this important Christian grace of hospitality. But such hospitality has a benefit to the host. Some have entertained angels. The writer of this epistle is most likely referring to Abraham and Lot, who were visited by such angels (cf. Genesis 18-19). The reminder that it could happen again comes two thousand years after the first visit. Our God is unchanging and now, another two thousand years later, we still ought to be ready for such a visit from ones whose purpose is “to minister to those who will inherit salvation!” (cf. Hebrews 1:14).
But the love that lives on in the Church is also holy and committed. The Church’s attitude toward marriage is a reflection of her understanding of God’s unchanging love toward her. In fact, Christ often drew on the picture of marriage to illustrate the relationship of Christ to His Church. As a bride awaits the arrival of the bridegroom, so the Church awaits the coming of her Christ.
On the other side, the love of Christ for His Church and the honor the Church has for her Lord becomes the pattern for the sacrificial love of husband and wife. Because of this, the Church will jealously guard the honor of marriage in the face of every word or behavior that would diminish it in the eyes of men and women. May we have the courage and insight to uphold the ideal of God’s union in the face of the perverse and self-centered attitudes championed by many in our day.
Our text reminds us, also, that in the changeless riches of Grace, we live with a rare contentment: “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” [v.5]
There was a time when Jesus loved a man whose heart He couldn’t win: “Now as [Jesus] was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?’…Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.’ But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Mark 10:17ff).
We all know how quickly yesterday’s paycheck slips through today’s fingers. Earthly wealth changes and ultimately is lost by all. But with Christ we have an unchanging treasure reserved in heaven. It is the treasure of being assured that God is truly on the side of the righteous. As the Israelites entered the Promised Land, said “good-bye” to Moses, and came under the leadership of Joshua, they were repeatedly assured: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6; Joshua 1:5).
Taking over the Land of Promise—the land flowing with milk and honey—was no easy task. The people often became impatient. But it was that promise of the Lord’s presence and His help in time of need that drove them forward.
With a similar promise, the Lord impels us to go forward, to follow after Christ banking on our treasure in heaven and committing our earthly fortunes to His wise disposition. When covetousness causes us to indulge in our natural love for the things of this world, may we come to repentance and be humbled in the face of the riches of that we have in God’s grace. By grace God has shown us ample goodness for “in Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will…In Him also we have obtained an inheritance” (Ephesians 1:7ff).
The Hebrew Christians who received this letter would face severe persecution and trials. The changes they would see in their lifetimes would decidedly not be for the better. The same might be said for our day. But we are also reminded that, in the changeless Word of God, we have an anchor of hope so that we are not swept away by Satan’s hot breath.
Jesus, near the end of His ministry, pointed this out with regard to the prophets and Israel. To the Jewish rulers Jesus said: “You are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets…indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city” (Matthew 23:31ff). But all those prophets had spoken God’s unchanging Word—the Word that proclaimed God’s grace in Christ. It was and is Christ’s own Word.
This Word is the anchor of our hope. For this reason no human struggle merits more appreciation from Christ’s Church than that of those people who have “brought the word of God to you” [v.7] This phrase is in the past tense. It refers to those who have preached to you, but who have now gone their way, particularly to heaven. What a shame if they are remembered for their weaknesses which God often turns into strengths.
Every one of us who confesses Christ before this world will be made to pay for it at the hands of the Devil and his world. The more opportunity we take to proclaim, the more it will cost us in this life. Personal experience had made the Hebrew Christians intensely aware of that cost.
“Whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct” [v.7] God grant that we draw near to our changeless Christ who gives His believing saints such steadfastness in this world. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.