Date: April 21, 2019
Speaker: Jeff Breeding
Scripture: Hebrews 13:20–13:21
In 2013, The Atlantic magazine asked a panel of historians the following question – What day most changed the course of history? The list of responses, as you might guess, was fascinating. One historian said June 28, 1914 was most pivotal – the day Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated and Europe spiraled into the dark pit of WWI. Another said the day in 1440 that Gutenberg invented the movable type printing press. Still another said July 4, 1776 and the Declaration of Independence. Again, the responses were fascinating, and there was a broad range of answers – from events to inventions, from battles to people. In fact, the one consistent feature of the panel was the inconsistency. No two historians agreed, and there was no event that appeared more than once.
If, however, you were to ask a group of Christians that same question, the answer would be different, wouldn’t it? The inconsistency of historians would be replaced by the confidence of Scripture. On the authority of God’s Word, Christians proclaim that what we celebrate today – the Resurrection of Christ – was the day that most changed the course of history. Resurrection Sunday is the most pivotal day in history. Think about it, just in terms of human society. The Resurrection of Christ is foundational to Christianity, and since the Resurrection, Christianity has arguably been the most potent force for good in the world. The course of human society has absolutely been shaped by what we celebrate this morning.
But it goes deeper than human society. In terms of redemption, Resurrection Sunday is the most pivotal day in history. All of God’s promises find their Yes and Amen in Christ, and they do so because of the Resurrection. Without the resurrection, there is no salvation, no hope of eternal life, no forgiveness of sins, no knowledge of God as Father. All of those realities rest on the Resurrection of Christ. Human history is perhaps not the best label. Redemptive history is more accurate, and no day is more significant to redemptive history than the Resurrection of Christ.
But, it goes deeper still, doesn’t it? Redemptive history ultimately has a bearing on individual, personal lives. In both your life and mine, the Resurrection of Christ is the most significant day. I know that is a massive claim, but consider this fact, every human being who has ever lived will face eternity based on what they believe about the Resurrection of Christ. Grasp the gravity of that statement. The Resurrection of Christ is the great dividing line of humanity. There are those who, by God’s grace, rejoice in this day and trust in Christ as Savior, and then there are those who reject this day and scoff at the notion of a Resurrected God. You see, the Lord Jesus rose again some 2,000 years ago, but that one day is the moment that will define each person’s eternity.
From human society to redemptive history to the course of our individual lives, the Resurrection of Christ is without doubt the most significant day in history. In fact, you could say that the Resurrection is the lens through which the rest of life must be viewed. Our view of God, our view of the world, our view of ourselves, our view of eternity – everything is shaped by what happened at the empty tomb. Historians may debate different days as most pivotal, but as those who believe God’s Word, we know that the answer is clear. The Resurrection of Christ is the central event, both for our lives and for the life of this world.
And our passage this morning is a good example of why this is true. As you can see there in your Bibles, this passage is the closing benediction to the book of Hebrews. Here, the author sends his final greetings and offers his final prayer for the believers to whom he has written. This is the author’s last chance to impress upon them the reality of God and the truth of the gospel. This is his final shot to grip them with what is most important.
And notice the truth that frames his final words. Look again at v20, and catch how the author describes God, v20 – “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus.” What is the author’s emphasis here as he closes? It is the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Of all the truths that he might use to describe the work of God, it is the resurrection that receives the author’s attention. God is the God of the resurrection. Jesus is the Shepherd who was dead but is now alive. God’s power in his people is the power of the resurrection. You see, as this text illustrates, the resurrection of Christ is the lens through which we see and understand all other truths. Without the resurrection, we are alone and without hope in this world. Through the resurrection, however, believers are alive and secure in the promise of eternal life with Christ Jesus our Lord. The resurrection, then, is not only the most pivotal day in history; it is the foundation, the heartbeat even, of the Christian faith.
What I’d like to do this morning is consider from this passage in Hebrews four realities revealed in and through the resurrection, four truths that are anchored in the resurrection and that should then color the way we see the rest of life, including ourselves.
The Resurrection Reveals the Certainty of Salvation
#1 – The resurrection reveals the certainty of salvation. You don’t have to read Scripture very long before you learn that there is a problem between humanity and God. It takes the Bible three chapters, in fact, to establish that something has gone wrong. Genesis 3 tells us how Adam and Eve rebelled against God in the garden, even disobeying the clear command of God’s Word. And from Genesis 3 onward, Scripture describes, often in painful detail, the consequences of humanity’s rebellion. We are separated from God, by our own doing. The relationship is fractured, even broken. Worst of all, there is hostility between humanity and God. You don’t have to read Scripture for long to see how this plays out. It takes all of three chapters.
But then we come to the NT and we read passages like this one from Hebrews. You’ll notice that the author addresses this prayer to the God of peace. That title should take your breath away. We should be astonished this doesn’t say the God of judgment or the God of wrath or even the God of power. Considering the depth of our sinful rebellion against God, that’s how we should expect to meet the Almighty – not in peace, but in terrifying judgment.
And yet, that is not what we find. Here, we find our prayer addressed to the God of peace. And understand, the peace in view here is not simply the absence of conflict. This peace has to do with salvation. This peace is about reconciliation. This peace is the work of Jesus Christ, who laid down his life to bear God’s wrath against sin. Remember, that’s what the cross of Christ is, it is God’s work to reconcile sinners to himself. It is God’s work of taking the initiative to do away with the hostility and establish the peace humanity destroyed.
But if we stop with the cross, then we actually miss out on the peace. It’s one thing to say that Christ died to pay for sin, but still the question remains – how do we know his payment was good? How do we know his blood satisfied God’s wrath? The resurrection is the answer. The empty tomb is the demonstration that Christ’s death was sufficient to save sinners. The empty tomb is the tangible proof that salvation is not a mere possibility but a certain, once-and-for-all accomplishment for those who believe. You see, Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday must be kept together. The cross declares that Christ’s blood has been shed, and the empty tomb declares that Christ’s blood was sufficient.
Let’s not breeze over this too quickly, brothers and sisters. I do want to press home to you how marvelous it is to know God as the God of peace. I want us to be reminded today of just what the resurrection means for those who belong to God. It means there is no hostility between you and God. This is foundational gospel truth, but God help us to never forget it. When Christ Jesus died on the cross, a divine transaction took place. The Lord Jesus, the Son of God, took the sins of his people upon himself, and the Holy God crushed his Son under the weight of his wrath. God treated Christ as if he had committed those sins. Can you fathom it – the sinless Son of God being treated as though he had lied, lost his temper, manipulated other people, ignored God, mocked his Word, and broke his commandments? Every sin that every believer would ever commit, God placed upon his Son and then poured out his wrath upon him.
But the good news of the gospel is that Christ satisfied God’s wrath. He absorbed it, he cried out, “It is finished,” and then he rose again because there is no wrath left to bear. If you belong to Christ by faith, then Christ has satisfied God’s wrath against your sin. And that little word your is significant. He bore your sins, even the ones you can’t fathom being known by others, even the ones that still haunt you with shame. Christ bore those sins. And he didn’t just bear them. He completely paid for them, and his resurrection is God’s promise to you that the payment was good. The resurrection is the reason there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Brothers and sisters, all the hostility has been dealt with, once and for all, and the empty tomb is the certain demonstration that salvation has been accomplished.
You see, there’s a world of good news in that title the God of peace. It’s what we celebrate today and every Lord’s Day. It’s the good news of the resurrection of the Son of God, a resurrection that reveals to us the certainty of salvation for those who believe.
The Resurrection Reveals the Triumph of Christ
#2 - The second reality flows directly from the first – the resurrection reveals the triumph of Christ. Again, let’s go back again to the beginning, to Genesis and humanity’s sin in the garden. When the man and woman sin against God, God declares that the consequence is death, both physical and spiritual. Then, as Scripture rolls forward, sin and death seem to go unchallenged. People sin, they die, and on it goes, to the point that even the so-called good guys sin and die. As you look at history, it seems like the consequences of the Garden – sin and death – will continue to roll forward unchecked.
But then we come to passages like this one in Hebrews, and everything changes. Notice again how the author describes the work of God. What is it that the God of peace has done? He has brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus. Again, that statement should take your breath away. Did the author really write that someone faced death and won? Did he really say that someone was put in the grave but later walked out? Yes, that is what Scripture says! And that creates hopeful, glorious good news – sin and death will not triumph. God has defeated death by subjecting his own Son to the penalty of death. But that Son is dead no longer. He is risen. And that means that sin and death will not have the final word. Christ does, and his final word is “Victory.”
But this good news gets even better. Notice how the author describes the resurrected Jesus. He is the great Shepherd of the sheep. That is a title of leadership. In rising from the dead, Jesus has taken his place at the front of God’s flock, and there at the front, he is leading his people to experience his own triumph over the grave. What an encouragement to those who belong to Christ! At every step of the Christian life, the Lord Jesus is out front, leading us through the power of his own resurrection. He has gone before us and has endured great suffering in order to blaze the trail to glory. He is presently interceding for us, carrying out his priestly ministry before the Father. And he will return again very soon to bring us safely to the heavenly city. Wherever we find ourselves in the race of faith, we’re never running alone. The Lord Jesus is there, out front, leading us to glory.
And what’s more, Christ’s resurrection leadership cannot fail. Notice I did not say it will not fail; I said it cannot fail. There is no chance the great Shepherd will fail to lead us home. It is not possible. It cannot happen. How can we say that? Because the tomb is empty. If Christ has defeated sin and death, then there are no enemies left that could possibly harm his people.
If you are a Christian this morning, v20 is telling you that you are not alone. Whatever valley you face, Jesus faced it. Whatever darkness you endure, Jesus endured it. He has been through every possible experience of this life – even death – and he now stands to lead his people through those same experiences. You are not alone; you have a Great Shepherd who has triumphed over the grave, and he stands to lead you on in the power of his own triumphant resurrection.
But there is one more point we should note about v20, and it gets the personal nature of Christianity. Notice how the author says our Lord Jesus in v20? Did you catch that? He doesn’t just say the Lord Jesus, but our Lord Jesus. You see, the gospel goes beyond mere intellectual assent. The gospel calls for fellowship, communion, and affection that flows from a personal embrace of Christ. He is our Christ, as the author says here in v20.
And so, I would ask you, have you embraced the gospel message with that kind of personal trust? Have you confessed your sin to God and trusted in Christ alone as your Savior? Perhaps you’re here this morning because it’s Easter Sunday and someone invited you, but you’re actually not sure that you believe any of this. Perhaps you’re connection to Christianity over the years has never actually been personal. Sure, you’ve gone to church, and you believe there is a God. But you’ve never said what v20 says – that Jesus Christ is our Lord, your Lord by faith. If that’s you this morning, I do pray that God would use his Word even now to open you eyes to see and believe in the Risen Christ. There is only God, the Maker of heaven and earth, and there is only one way to know him as Father. And that is through faith in his Son, the Crucified and Resurrected Christ. In fact, that is what Scripture is calling you to do this morning. Your being here is no accident, and God’s Word is calling you this morning to turn from sin, and to believe that Christ lived, died, and rose again for your salvation. And so, I just simply say to you – Won’t you hear that message, and by God’s grace, believe?
The resurrection reveals the triumph of Christ, and those who trust in him will experience his triumph as well, even for eternity with the Lord.
The Resurrection Reveals the Assurance of the Gospel
#3 – The resurrection reveals the assurance of the gospel. You’ll notice in v20 that the author describes how God raised Christ from the dead. It was by the blood of the eternal covenant. Now, covenant is one of those massively significant biblical words. To summarize it much too quickly, God relates to people through covenants, and these covenants are binding agreements that define the relationship. The OT describes the life of God’s people under what’s called the old covenant. This is what God gave the Israelites at Mt. Sinai, the old covenant. It contained God’s law, the sacrifices, the plans for the Tabernacle worship – everything that was needed for the people to live in relationship with God.
Now, if you have read the OT much, you probably know that this old covenant didn’t work out perfectly. It wasn’t the covenant’s fault or God’s fault. It was the people’s fault. They lacked the heart to keep the law. In fact, God’s law, which was intended to govern the relationship, actually ended up illuminating how much the people needed something greater than the Law!
But toward the end of the OT, there is the promise of a new covenant. And this new covenant would be good news for God’s people, because it would address the root of the problem. This New Covenant promised that God would give his people new hearts – hearts that delight to do his will.
Now, look again at v20 here in Hebrews. Christ was raised from the dead how? By the blood of the eternal covenant. You see, the author is reminding us that Jesus’ death and resurrection established that promised new covenant. What God’s people so desperately needed, Christ has provided through his death and resurrection. He has established this new covenant.
And yet, there is a unique point being made here in v20. Notice again how the author describes this covenant. He calls it the eternal covenant. That’s unique in the NT, and the point has to do with time. Christ’s blood-bought covenant will never pass away. The old covenant has been fulfilled in Christ, but the new covenant – that covenant is eternal. You see, that’s what the author is getting at here. The covenant Christ has established is not a shadow, but the substance. It is not limited, but effective. It is not temporary, but eternal and endures forever.
Think of what this means for us, brothers and sisters. Let’s apply this eternal covenant to our lives. I know we can’t fully grasp eternity, but let’s try as much as we can. This covenant has existed as far back as eternity past, in the mind of God himself. It didn’t come into being simply at the cross and resurrection; it has always been the purpose and plan of God. And this covenant will exist as far forward as eternity future. It has no ending point, it will never run out, and it cannot be replaced. No beginning and no end. That’s the scope of this eternal covenant, which means, we are bound to God with an unbreakable bond. As far back as eternity past, God has loved his people in Christ, and as far forward as eternity future, God will love his people in Christ. And this covenantal love cannot be broken, for it is sealed with the blood of Christ, the eternal Son of God. You see, our relationship to God is not rooted in what we have done, but in the gospel work of Christ.
Take comfort, brothers and sisters. If you have been born again by God’s grace, there is nothing that can separate you from your covenant-keeping God. The resurrection of Christ is the assurance that God will keep you forever through the gospel. So many of the promises we hold precious are rooted right here, in this truth. Jesus promised us, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” How is that true? Because we are bound to him in the eternal covenant. The apostle Paul says, “Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” How can that be? Because we bound to God, by the blood of the Risen Christ, in the eternal covenant. Do you see it? This encouragement in v20 is the soil from which those precious gospel promises spring!
Take this truth to heart, brothers and sisters. The resurrection of Christ is the assurance that God will keep his people forever through the gospel. The new covenant cannot be broken; the gospel will not fail to save those whom God has called to himself. How do we know this? Because the tomb is empty, and Christ’s work of establishing this eternal covenant is complete.
Fourth and final reality revealed in the resurrection – the resurrection reveals the provision of the Father. You’ll notice in v21 that the author finally gets to his request. Notice the request, v21 – “Now may the God peace… equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight.” There is a lot to consider from that verse, but I’d like us to focus on the Father’s provision for his children. God has given his children all that they need for life in this world. In fact, the author of Hebrews leaves no doubt. The Father has equipped believers with everything good.
Think about what this means, brothers and sisters. When the Father sets us off in the Christian life, he does not say, “Well, I hope you have what it takes to finish. I sure hope you can make it to the end.” No, the Father equips us with everything we could possibly need. Consider, just for a moment, all the Father gives to his children. He gives his children the Holy Spirit who dwells in God’s people and conforms believers to the image of Christ. God gives his children spiritual gifts that enable us to be a blessing to him and to others. God gives his children his Word – his holy, inspired, life-giving, soul-sustaining Word – his Word that is able to make us wise and give us insight, his Word that reveals truth and proclaims to us the precious promises of the gospel. God gives his children the church, the body of Christ – brothers and sisters who are committed to helping us hold fast in the faith. And most incredible of all, God gives his children himself, so that whatever we face in the Christian life, we face it with the confidence that God is with us, that he will never leave us or forsake us in Christ. The Holy Spirit, spiritual gifts, the Scriptures, the body of Christ, and God himself – brothers and sisters, that is everything good. This is the Father’s provision to his children, and his provision is perfect.
And yet, if we miss this next connection, then we perhaps miss the glory of it all. How can the Father give us such a perfect provision? Why do we receive such bountiful blessing from God, rather than the judgment we deserve? The answer, brothers and sisters, is the resurrection of Christ. It is not by accident that v20 precedes v21. Before anything else, we need Christ crucified and resurrected for us and our salvation. Before anything else, we need the Great Shepherd of sheep raised again from the dead, and only then, in in light of his resurrection, do we receive from the Father all that we need for life and godliness. Do you see it? It is because of the empty tomb that God gives to us from his own fullness.
In fact, the point is even deeper than that. Because the tomb is empty, we also have the assurance that the Father is not presently holding out on us. The empty tomb is the Father’s promise that his provision is enough. In that sense, we think of Paul’s words in Romans 8 – “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” You see, it’s the same promise as here in Hebrews 13. And again, why is that promise true? Because the tomb is gloriously empty.
Brothers and sisters, I want to end with this encouragement. There will be seasons when your Christian life feels like anything but victorious. There will be seasons when you’ve got no strength left to fight the good fight. It may even be that way for you right now, this morning. But if so, I pray you’ll look to the resurrection of Christ, and see in his empty tomb the Father’s provision of everything you need. I pray you’ll see how the resurrection of Christ is both a reality and a promise. It’s a reality in that Christ can never die again, his work of salvation is finished once and for all. And it’s a promise that right now, today, the Father stands ready to provide what you need for life and godliness. Look to God’s Word, brothers and sisters. Remember the promises of God now fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Hold to the gospel, and remember the blessed truth that through the gospel, God holds on to his children to the very end. The resurrection of Christ reveals to us, with absolute certainty, that the Father has provided all we need for life and godliness.
Certainty of salvation, the triumph of Christ, the assurance of the gospel, the provision of the Father – each of those truths is precious to believers, and each of those truths is revealed to us in what we celebrate this morning – the Resurrection of the Son of God. Brothers and sisters, what better way to end this Resurrection Sunday than with the declaration that ends our passage, v21 – May the God of peace work in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. He is risen indeed. Amen.