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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:To God Be the Glory
Text:Hebrews 13:20-21 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Lord, Our Lord, Thy Glorious Name
How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds
How Vast the Benefits Divine
To God Be the Glory     
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

“To God Be the Glory”
Hebrews 13:20-21
The letter to the Hebrews is an eloquent letter from beginning to end. Although we know the Holy Spirit inspired this letter, as he did all of Scripture, we don't know who the human author was. Some believe that Paul wrote the letter, but many others attribute it to Apollos or to another servant of the Lord who was inspired by the Holy Spirit.
But no matter which view is taken on the authorship of the letter, virtually every commentator acknowledges that this author was a wordsmith who describes the greatness of Jesus Christ with eloquence from the first chapter right on through to the last chapter.
And we certainly see that eloquence here in our text in verses 20 and 21: “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 forever and ever. Amen.”
This eloquent passage can be properly described in a number of ways: If you have an ESV Bible you probably noticed that the heading above verse 20 says “Benediction”. I believe the newest NIV has the same heading. And that is an accurate description of these verses. The word “benediction” comes from the Latin words “bene” meaning “well” and “diction” meaning to speak. We get our English word “benefit” from the same root word. A benediction is to speak a blessing from God.
Throughout the Bible we find many benedictions. The reason is that God himself has commanded us to use benedictions in order to impress upon our hearts and minds the great mercy and peace of God. We read about that in Numbers 6:22-27:
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,
     The Lord bless you and keep you;
      the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
    the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
 “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”
Central to God's benediction is the assurance of his peace. This benediction from Hebrews 13 begins with a description of God as being the God of peace. Some commentators have thought that perhaps this designation of God was used to encourage the congregation to have peace with one another. After all, the chapter begins by saying, “Keep on loving each other as brothers.” Some commentators point to this and other passages that describe the importance of peace within a congregation and attribute the benediction's wording to the God of peace in relationship to having peace with one another.
Others attribute it to the desire for peace by these Hebrew Christians who were severely persecuted for their faith. We have read where some lost material possessions and others were imprisoned because of their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Some commentators point to those very hard circumstances and believe that the author of Hebrews is stressing that in the hostility of the world there is peace for every Christian as they trust in the Lord to provide and keep his people.
And, of course, both of those views are correct so far as they go. When we have peace with God, we have peace with one another. If we know that we have been forgiven of our innumerable sins, we, in turn, find it much easier to forgive a brother or sister who has sinned against us.
Likewise, in all the hostility of the world we are thankful that we can have a peace which surpasses all understanding. One of the remarkable attributes of martyrs throughout the centuries – and we continue to see this attribute today – is that martyrs are given peace by God even as they know that their lives on earth are coming to a horrific end.
Consider Guido de Bres, the author of the Belgic Confession. He was imprisoned for his faith but there was no bitterness as he recognized God’s hand in his imprisonment. He wrote to his wife, “Remember that I did not fall into the hands of my adversaries by mere chance, but through the providence of God who controls and governs all things...”                                            
Writing to a former congregation, he added: “As for my chains and my bonds, rather than frightening me and filling me with horror, on the contrary they are my delight and my glory, I count them more precious than gold...”
His last words, before being hung, at the age of 47, were: “My brothers, I am condemned to death today for the doctrine of the Son of God, praise be to Him. I would have never thought that God would have given me such an honor.”    
Peace with God
But the context of the passage goes beyond those two aspects of peace – peace with others and peace with circumstances. The context of the passage points us to the greatest peace that anybody can ever have, and that is peace with God.
Because of the sin that we are born in, and also because of the sins that we commit, we are by nature at enmity with God. The only way to be reconciled to God, and forgiven of our sin, is through the shed blood of the eternal covenant – the shed blood of Jesus. There is no other way to have peace with God the Father except through faith in Jesus the Son. And it is only when we have peace with God, through the reconciling work of Jesus Christ, that we can have peace with others and with our circumstances. The peace that we have with God is through “the blood of the eternal covenant” in the words of verse 20.
The eternal covenant brings us all the way back before the creation of the world, for the Bible tells us in 2 Timothy 1:9-10 that “(God) saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…”
You see, before the sun was put in its place or the moon to mark off the seasons, grace was given us in the eternal covenant of redemption. Before the Lord created the heavens, and the earth and all that is in them, he knew full well that those who were created in his very own image would fall into sin and rebel against him and transgress his holy law.
And with that knowledge, a plan of redemption was made before the beginning of time. It was a work of our triune God, designed by the Father, guaranteed by the Son who offered himself as the surety of the covenant of redemption, and applied by the Holy Spirit who brings the gospel with efficacious power into the hearts of God's elect.
The covenant of redemption through the blood of Jesus Christ is eternal, not only in its design before the creation of the world, but also in its eternal destiny long after this world is purged by fire and the new heavens and the new earth are revealed in all their glory. There will never be a time when the covenant of God's redeeming grace will be discarded; there will never be a time when this covenant, enacted by the shed blood of Jesus Christ, will expire.
And we know that to be a certainty because it is guaranteed from God the Father through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Verse 20 speaks to that as it tells how the God of peace “brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus.” At times Jesus is said to have raised himself.  Jesus himself said, “I lay down my life, only to take it up again” (John 10:17, 18). Other Scriptures, such as Hebrews 13:20, emphasize the work of the Father in raising Jesus from the dead.
The terminology shows us that the Son, being true God, one with the Father, has power to raise himself up. Yet the Father is also active in the resurrection. The significance of the Father raising Jesus Christ from the dead is that it shows us that the Father is well pleased with all the redemptive work of his Son. It serves as God the Father’s “stamp of approval” on the work of Jesus Christ. In that sense this passage is truly a great and wonderful benediction as it describes the greatest blessing anyone could ever have – peace with God through saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Redeemed and Equipped
But this benediction goes on to teach us that having redeemed us, the Lord also equips us with everything good for doing his will. And in that sense this passage is an invocation, it is a prayer asking that having justified us, God will also graciously sanctify us.
The first part of this benediction deals with our justification, and the second part with our sanctification. We are saved from sin for a purpose. The first purpose, stated in verse 21, is so we may “be equipped with everything good for doing his will.
When winter is coming on, we equip ourselves for the cold. We get out the gloves, the hats, the winter coats and scarves, whatever else can keep us warm. We know that without the right clothes, without the right “equipment” we would freeze, we could not survive winter if we are not properly equipped.
In a similar way, it is impossible for us to do good works unless God himself “equips us.”  The Lord gave Jeremiah this question and answer: “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustom to doing evil.” (Jer. 13:23) You children have been to the zoo. You know that a leopard can’t change its spots, or a zebra its stripes!
The Bible teaches that the same is true for us. We cannot do good, and do the will of God for our lives, unless God changes us. God reconciles us to himself – our justification – and then works in our lives by his Spirit and Word – our sanctification.  Only then are we equipped to do good.
The Heidelberg Catechism also speaks of our inability to do anything good apart from God’s enabling power.  Question 62 asks, “Why can’t our good works be our righteousness before God, or at least a part of our righteousness?”
Answer: Because the righteousness which can pass God’s judgment must be entirely perfect and must in every way measure up to the divine law. But even our best works in this life are imperfect and stained with sin.
But God, seeing our inability to do good on our own, “equips us” with the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, with the wisdom of his Word, with the reassuring presence of the sacraments and the power of prayer, so that we may do his will. His will, in nutshell, is that we are sanctified. 1 Thessalonians 4:3 declares, “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified.” And this passage serves as an invocation asking God to graciously sanctify us.
Not only does the Lord equip us with what we need to do everything good for doing his will, but this invocation also pleads: “May he work in us what is pleasing to him” (21b). What pleases the Lord? Obedience to his Word is pleasing to the Lord. Perhaps you recall when the Lord rejected Saul as the king of Israel because of his disobedience, he sent Samuel to him. And Samuel said,
“Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
    as much as in obeying the
To obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to heed is better than the fat of rams.  
(1 Sam. 15:22)
Obedience pleases the Lord because it reveals our love for him. As Jesus said, “If you love me, you will do as I command.” (John 14:15) Our love for the Lord and our obedience to him fall so far short, yet there must be that striving for obedience. That is part of this benediction which also serves as a prayer that God would “equip (us) with everything good for doing his will, and…work in us what is pleasing to him.”
Likewise, in Romans 12, after considering the greatness of God’s mercy in the previous chapters, the Apostle writes, “I appeal to you…by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Rom 12:1-2)
Here again, this comes as God works in us by his Spirit, shaping and molding us, equipping us with what we need to do his will and to live a life of praise to him.
God’s Eternal Glory
The last part of verse 21 is a doxology extolling the Lord, “to whom be glory forever and ever...” If you and I are recipients of God’s grace – if we have peace with the Father through faith in the Son, if we belong to the Great Shepherd of the sheep and are indwelt and equipped for service by the Holy Spirit – how eager we should be to please God and glorify him forever!
Some commentators are divided on whether the “glory forever and ever” refers to the God the Father – the God of peace mentioned in the beginning of the passage in verse 20 – or to Jesus Christ, described in the last part of verse 21. But the glory of God is received by each person within the Godhead. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all to be glorified eternally, though we do recognize that by the Spirit's own desire he often serves as a spotlight, shining the light of glory on the Son, which in turn glorifies him as the third person of the Trinity. And we recognize that when the history of this world is over and done, the Son will be in harmonious subjection to the Father, just as 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 describes:
Then comes the end, when he (Christ) delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.  For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.
The hymn writer put it quite well when she wrote:
       To God be the glory great things He has done,
So loved He the world that He gave us His Son,
Who yielded His life an atonement for sin,
And opened the life gate that we may go in.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
Let the earth hear His voice!
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
Let the people rejoice!
O come to the Father, through Jesus the Son,
And give Him the glory, great things He has done. (To God Be the Glory, Fanny J. Crosby, 1875)
As we close out our study of Hebrews, we are reminded in this beautiful passage that in order to be blessed by the Great Shepherd we must be part of his flock. Jesus himself said, in John 10:7-9, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
Have you come to the Father through saving faith in the Son, Jesus Christ?  Do you have assurance of your salvation, based on the perfect, finished redeeming work of Christ?  If so, it is evidence of the greatest gift anyone can ever receive, for the Bible teaches in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
And yet although the gift of faith is given by God it must be exercised by us. Ephesians 2:10 adds, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” The good works – the demonstration of the reality of our faith – is encompassed in the invocation in this passage, asking that "The 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.”
May that describe you, and may that describe me, as God graciously answers our prayer, so that we do what “is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.” Amen!
Sermon Outline:
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 forever and ever. Amen. - Hebrews 13:20-21
                             “To God Be the Glory”
                                   Hebrews 13:20-21
I.  This eloquent passage is properly described as:
      1) A benediction describing the greatest blessing: peace with God
          through Jesus Christ, by the blood of the eternal covenant (20a-c)
      2)  An invocation asking the Great Shepherd of the sheep to:   
             a) Equip us with everything good for doing His will (21a)
              b) Work in us what is pleasing to God (21b)
     3)  A doxology extolling the Lord, “to whom be glory forever...”  (21c-d)
II. Application: To be blessed by the Great Shepherd (20d) we must be
     part of His flock through saving faith in Him, which is the greatest of all
     gifts, given by God yet exercised by us (Ephesians 2:8-10; Phil. 2:12-13)




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Ted Gray

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