Jesus is Always the Same
Sermon based on Hebrews 13:1-8
Sunday, September 1, 2013 – Pentecost 15C
Take a minute this morning to consider all the changes that you've gone through in the past 5 years. Living in Alaska you know that the weather is constantly changing. Here at Grace, you've had new bulletin layout, a new Grace Notes publication. We've built a new classroom out of an old annex. New members have joined us, others have left, and you've got a (relatively) new pastor. Almost everything is changing!
Or consider other changes in your personal life: Some of you have go to a new school or have new job. Others have moved to a new home and have made new friends. Relationships have changed between boyfriend and girlfriend, between husband and wife. Some of you have lost a loved one to death. At times it seems that everything is changing all around us.
The Hebrews were living in such a time where everything was changing. In the first decades after Christ, think of what the Jews went through! Their whole way of worship had changed! Their whole way of life had changed! No longer were the Old Testament sacrifices necessary. No longer did they have to abide by the dietary and customary laws that God had given through Moses! It must have seemed that everything was changing all around them. And they were tempted to go back to the good ol' days and back to the old kind of worship.
But the author to the Hebrews reminded them that they didn't need to go back. What they had now was better. And even thought it seemed like everything was changing, one thing would always stay the same—the salvation that they had in Jesus. Jesus is always the same—yesterday, today, forever.
That means he's still the same for us today. No matter what changes in our lives, Jesus is always the same. And knowing that he never changes means we can trust him to eternity. And it means we can love him in time. Listen now to the comfort and the encouragement the author to the Hebrews gives us in Hebrews 13:1-8…
Keep on loving each other as brothers. 2 Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. 3 Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. 4 Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. 5 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." 6 So we say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?" 7 Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
I. So Trust Him to Eternity
Throughout the book of Hebrews the author pointed out how Christ and the system he brought was so much better than the old system. Christ was superior to the angels, to Moses, and to the priests. And he brought a better covenant with God, a better sanctuary, a better sacrifice. So as the author wrapped up this letter, he encouraged the Hebrews not to go back to the old way. Instead, they should rejoice in what they had and live as the people God made them.
What did that look like? He spelled it out with five actions of love in the first five verses:
· Love one another: Keep on loving each other as brothers. In other words, be friendly to everyone—whether you like 'em or not.
· Love strangers: Do not forget to entertain strangers… In other words, be friendly and hospitable to everyone—whether you know them or not. Treat everyone as if God sent them to you.
· Love the suffering; those less fortunate that you: Remember those in prison… and those who are mistreated… Sympathize with them and don't just ignore them and look the other way.
· Love your current or future spouse: [Keep] the marriage bed… pure… Don't engage in pre-marital or extra-marital sex and don't even entertain the notion by lusting after someone who you're not married to.
· And finally, don't love money: Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have… or love God more than you love the stuff of this life and be genuinely thankful and grateful to him for what he's given.
These were tall orders, weren't they? Still are, aren't they?
· Have you always been friendly, even to the people you don't like or get a long with? Have you kept on loving each other, just as Christ has loved you?
· Have you always been hospitable, opening up your home to strangers, neighbors, co-workers? Have you loved people you don't know in the same way that Christ loved you when you were not only foreign to him, but hostile to him?
· Have you always honored marriage and kept the marriage bed pure with no indecent thought?
· Have you always kept your money in your bank and out of your heart? Have you always loved God more than your stuff?
Of course not! Not always. We're all guilty, aren't we? And steeped in our self-centered narcissism, we fail miserably. And by each failure to love God by loving others, and for each failure to love God more than money and stuff, we deserve hell.
But the author to the Hebrews didn't say "That's where you're going!" did he? Instead he offered comfort…
God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." 6 So we say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?"
But that was to the Hebrews, right? Does that still apply to us today? Maybe you've seen the commercial on TV where two chameleons are trying to decide what color paint they should get at Lowes'. And they keep changing colors as they step on the paint sample cards. But after they've painted the living room, the wife chameleon changes her mind. And the frustrated husband chameleon says, "You can't keep changing!"
What if God were like a chamelon? What if you prayed, "Forgive me, God!" And he said, "Nah. Not in the mood. Try me again tomorrow." What if you prayed, "Be with me and help me." And he said, "No thanks. I'm tired of putting up with you."
Ah, but what comfort we find in the last verse of our text! There it says, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. That means that everything written to the Hebrews still applies to us today! God doesn't change.
Jesus is still our helper. He's still our Savior from sin. Jesus is always the same! He always forgives. He never forsakes. That means that the help he provides wasn't just "yesterday" on the cross. It's today and forever too!
He still promises the same thing to us that he promised a young Joshua, entrusted with the lives and souls of thousands of Israelites in the face of some pretty fierce and vicious enemies. He tells us, "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified… for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you." …The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." (Deuteronomy 31:6,8)
Imagine for a minute you're walking through a dark alleyway where all sorts of shady and suspicious characters are lurking looking for someone to rob, to mug, to hurt. How safe would you feel? And that's often what life is like, isn't it? There are people out there who are eager to take advantage of you, to hurt you, to step on you to get ahead. And not only that, but add the guilt and the shame and the weight of your own loveless sins and life can be a scary place.
But now imagine that you're walking down that same dark alleyway. But this time you have with you an armed guard of dozens of navy seals who have all been given the orders to protect you at any cost. How safe you would be! And how comfortable you could feel! Well, friends, you have help that's far more powerful and far more reliable than a few navy seals. You have the certain promise from God that he will never leave you. He will never forsake you. He will always forgive you. And always love you. And those promises will never change since he will never change. Jesus is always the same.
"To infinity and beyond," accurately describes how Jesus will love you. And it accurately describes how we can trust in Jesus. He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. He promises he will always be with us. He will always take care of us. He will never leave us—not when others do leave us, not when cancer won't leave us, not when all our money and all our earthly security leave us. He will never forsake us so we can trust in him to eternity—to infinity and beyond.
And this trust, this absolute confidence that Jesus is always the same, helps us to change. It changes the way we view life. And it changes the way we live life. We no longer live to serve ourselves, but to serve our God by serving others. Because Jesus is always the same we trust him to eternity and that trust leads us to love him here in time…
II. So Love Him in Time
When the author to the Hebrews gives these five exhortations, he ends them all with a "because." Keep on loving each other… entertain strangers… Remember those in prison… [Keep] the marriage bed… pure… Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."
Because of God's gracious promises—his promise of sins forgiven, his promise of eternal protection from hell, his promise to always be with us—we can't help but respond. And we don't just respond with words of praises. We respond with actions of love. Because of Jesus' promise that he will always be the same, we can love him here and now in time.
Knowing how God has befriended us and promised to be by our side always, we too can befriend others—not with some hidden motive, trying to get something out of them, but eager to love and serve them for Jesus' sake alone. And because of our love for Jesus we can even love complete strangers, treating them as if they were angels sent by God. After all God send these strangers into our lives and lets them cross paths with us for a reason.
Knowing how Jesus loves us and gave himself up for us, we gladly give ourselves up for our spouses—or save ourselves for our spouses. We honor marriage and keep the marriage bed and even our thoughts pure, in thanks to Jesus for making us pure. And knowing that God will never leave us but will always take care of us and provide for us, we can be content with the blessings God has given.
We do all these things, not because we have to, not to prove our worth as Christians, not in order to get into heaven, but in order to thank Jesus for being our helper, to express our gratitude for taking our sins away, to show our appreciation for the promise that he'll never leave us.
So here's your challenge: Find real, tangible ways to express your gratitude to Jesus this week. Don't just thank him with words of praises, but thank him with your actions of love.
· Come up with a way you can show love to one another, with a phone call, an email, or a card of encouragement to someone sitting in the pew next to you, or to someone who should be sitting in the pew next to you. Consider inviting a fellow member that you don't know very well over to your house to get to know them better.
· Find a way of loving strangers—those people you don't know that well, or even at all. Consider inviting a neighbor or co-worker to dinner. Take them out or invite them to your place. Find out what their needs are and how you can meet those needs.
· Think about how you can ease the suffering of someone who's hurting. Maybe you could become a pen-pal to someone who's in prison. Our synod has a great program that keeps you safe while giving you opportunity to serve them. (Talk to me later if you want to get involved.)
· Find a way to love your spouse. Ask him or her what one thing you can do this week (that you normally don't do) that would better express your love for him or her and for your Savior. If you're married or single, keep your thoughts and actions pure. Check out a new synod website at www.ConquerorsThroughChrist.net if you need help.
· And take a look at your budget again. Can you give up some money that you're spending on yourself and instead use it to express your love for God by giving it to him? Can you let go of a little more of the blessings God's given you to keep it out of your heart?
Consider how you can express your contentment and your gratitude for all the blessings God's given you—not just for the physical blessings, but especially for the greater spiritually blessings—for the promises of sins forgiven and of eternal protection from hell, for his promise to always be with you, to never leave, to never, ever forsake you.
And dear friends, as we place our trust in Jesus—who is always the same, yesterday, today and forever, to infinity and beyond—we can't help but love him here in time and serve him every day of our lives in thanks for the great promises he's given to us—the promises we know he'll keep, because no matter what else changes in our lives in the next five years, Jesus will always be the same. In his name, dear friends, amen.