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.Hebrews 13:20-21
Last week our pastor finished his sermon series on Hebrews. I’ve said this over and over in my sermon notes – what a rich study Hebrews has been. In recent years I have thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the whole story arc of scripture, seeing how the Old Testament was the foundation of our faith, and how it foreshadowed the New Covenant. The letter to the Hebrews ties it all together so nicely.
And in this last bit, the author ends with a beautiful benediction. This is one of those prayers to copy down, to pray for yourself, for your friends, family, and church!
In processing my notes from the sermon I am looking at the prayer phrase by phrase.
“Now may the God of peace”
I have a plaque on my mantel to remind me about “peace!” It says, “It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.” And of course, on my own, that’s impossible. But GOD! He is the God of wholeness, and that’s what peace is to me. His peace is that blessed assurance that He is in charge, He’s sovereign so my circumstances around me do not have the final say on my well-being. It’s this God who is sovereign, who makes me whole, who will also equip me for His work!
“Who through the blood of the eternal covenant”
Jesus entered the Most Holy Place by His own blood, not by the blood of goats and calves. Once, for all time!
- Paul in his letter to the Romans reminds us, “Jesus is never going to die again; death no longer has mastery over him. (6:9)”
- Jeremiah tells us, “I will make a lasting covenant with them that I will never stop doing good to them. (32:40)”.
- Ezekiel also prophesies, “I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be a perpetual covenant with them. I will establish them and place my sanctuary among them forever. (37:26)”.
The new covenant is eternal! The old covenant was established to point us to Jesus. And in Him, the old covenant is fulfilled! Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection established His kingdom, His eternal kingdom!
“Brought back from the dead”
It is interesting that in this benediction, the author of Hebrews mentions the resurrection of Jesus. That is not a theme in the book of Hebrews, instead the author focuses on the exaltation of Jesus sitting at the right hand of the Father. For example in the beginning of the letter, the author writes, “After making purification for sins, [Jesus] sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” Obviously Jesus’ resurrection is implied but not stated until Hebrews 13:20.
“Our Lord Jesus that great Shepherd of the sheep”
The picture of Jesus as shepherd is a favorite. In Ezekiel 34 we read about shepherds, religious leaders, who were selfish, uncaring, harsh, even brutal. “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.” Ezekiel goes on to write about how God will shepherd His people, search for them and care for them. “I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.” And of course, we have the Psalmist’s prayer, “The Lord is my shepherd!” And then in John 10, Jesus announces that He, Himself, is the Good Shepherd! Jesus as shepherd reminds me that He cares for me. He leads me. He provides for me – both sustenance and rest. He protects me. And He laid down His life for me.
“Equip you with everything good for doing his will”
Paul writes in Philippians 2, “for the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort—for the sake of his good pleasure—is God.” God is the one who equips us with even the will to do what He wants us to do! His equipping us means that He adjusts, shapes, mends, restores, prepares us for every good work. Again as Paul stated in Ephesians 2, we are the product of His hand, heaven’s poetry etched on lives, God’s masterpiece, created specifically for the good works He has prepared in advance for us to do.
Maybe you, like me at times, feel unworthy, unable, unskilled to live a life worthy of our calling. That’s OK … because on our own we are unworthy, unable, unskilled! But that doesn’t let us off the hook. Instead, we are called to die to self, and allow the Spirit full control. It is with His enabling that we are able to fulfill the great commandment of love – loving God and loving others.
“May he work in us what is pleasing to him”
The sanctifying work of the Spirit is transforming us to be like Jesus. As we allow the Spirit access, our faith grows; it is our faith that pleases Him. Without faith, it is impossible to please God. We are being transformed into the image of Christ from one degree of glory to another reflecting a clearer image as the Spirit develops in us the fruit … love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
It’s this phrase that gives me pause. We are commanded to work out our salvation with fear and trembling and at the same time, God works in us what is pleasing to Him. So in reflection and prayer, I ask that I work in sync with the Spirit and not against the Spirit. That I submit to the Spirit’s tug on my heart and life instead of pulling hard in an opposite or different direction. I’m reminded of a prayer from a study written by Henry Blackaby, to seek to know where God is at work, and join Him in that work.
“Through Jesus Christ to whom be glory for ever and ever”
Jesus, the name above all names! It is only through His work on my behalf that I can accomplish any good thing. He is the one worthy of worship!
Father of peace, and God of love!
we own your power to save,
that power by which our Shepherd rose
victorious o’er the grave.
Him from the dead you brought again,
when, by his sacred blood,
confirmed and sealed forevermore
the eternal covenant stood.
O may your Spirit seal our souls,
and mould them to your will,
that our weak hearts no more may stray,
but keep your precepts still;
That to perfection’s sacred heightPhilip Doddridge
we nearer still may rise,
and all we think, and all we do,
be pleasing in your eyes.
PS. If you want to read more notes on Hebrews, I invite you to check out the category on this blog, “Hebrews – Look to Jesus.“