Hebrews 13:7-17: Spiritual Remembering

Paul Preaching FrescoHow ironic.  The day before I leave to care for my parents because they suffer from Alzheimer’s, the book of Hebrews warns us against a spiritual Alzheimer’s.  For the Christian Church is a living reality, also with a memory.  The book of Hebrews speaks of this memory, telling those in the Church not to succumb to a spiritual Alzheimer’s.

In many ways, we find ourselves today forgetting too much.  What’s crazy about forgetting something is, when you forget it, you often don’t remember you are to remember it!  So, not only do we lose what we should be remembering, but even that we are to remember it.  How ironic!  So destructive is this spiritual Alzheimer’s!

Our sacred text for today tells us:

Remember your leaders, who spoke the Word of God to you.  Consider the impact of their lives, and follow the example of their faith.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Do not be carried away by diverse and strange teachings.  Your strength comes from God’s grace. [Hebrews 13:7-9]

Yes, even today, we are to remember our leaders, those who spoke God’s Word to us.  Consider the Book of Hebrews and when the author wrote it: In the 1st century.  Even in those days of old, the Church was to remember—yes, their current pastors—but even more so the Apostles and those whom the Apostles taught, those in the past, “those who spoke to [them] the Word of God.”

Even in the 1st century, as spiritual grandchildren of the Apostles began to fill the Church, Scripture told the Church to remember the Apostles and their first pastors.  To remember your leaders isn’t focusing only on me, your current pastor.  No, Hebrews is hailing us back to the Church’s first pastors: The Apostles and their students.

Why?  The ministry of those first pastors is to continue even today.  For if Jesus as God is “the same yesterday, today, and forever,” which He is, then what the Church believes, teaches, and confesses is also unchanging.   To remember what they taught, we are still to learn from the Apostles today.  To forget what they brought to the Church from Jesus, “diverse and strange teachings” will then take us away from Christ.  Those teachings do not strengthen us “by grace.”

Our memory, going back to the Apostles and their students, is a focused spotlight on their teaching of God’s Word.  The Apostle Paul tells us in the book of Ephesians: Christ “gave—on the one hand, apostles; on the other, the prophets, the evangelists, and pastor-teachers.”  Why did Christ do this, this giving?  To outfit His saints with spiritual armor and move them into good works of serving others.  Most of all, God wants to bring us and keep us in the Church, the Body of Christ.

What’s the result of what Christ does for us through our leaders we are to remember?  He brings us into the fullness of the faith.  That is being one in faith, knowing God’s Son, being brought into Christ’s standard of spiritual maturity (Ephesians 4:11-13).

Now, why do you think we are to go all the way back to the Apostles?  Scripture tells us the Apostles are the foundation of the Church with Christ as the Cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20).  So, to this day, God still calls pastors to preach and teach apostolic doctrine, not their own.  Today’s pastors are to remember so they may proclaim Christ for us and our salvation.  So we—you and me—remember.  For when we forget, we forget the real Jesus and how He comes to save us.

In the 4th century, after Christianity became a legal religion, the Church focused her energies on being faithful and confessing that faith.  For many taught lies about Jesus.  The Church realized if those lies about Jesus remained in the Church, nothing else mattered.  The antidote?  The Creeds.

Only after the Church put together her Creeds to refute false teachings about Jesus did she even bother to compile the list of books of the Old and New Testaments.  For us, this sounds odd.  We would first want to hammer out what is Scripture and what is not.

Consider this: Knowing what books are in the Bible is of little help if you don’t find the real Jesus within its pages.  The Bible exists to bring Jesus to us.  Jesus even tells us so (John 5:39).  Believing in Jesus, we still confess those Creeds to this day, for they speak forth apostolic doctrine.  And when we do so, we remember our leaders as Scriptures tells us to do, because those leaders point us to Christ.

When we recollect as the book of Hebrews tells us to do, we recite the Creeds.  We do so, not only to remember but to make sure our faith is in the real Jesus.  We don’t want to confess some newfangled Jesus, which someone came up with based on his interpretation of Scripture.

Remembering our leaders, we do not forget about our “altar, from which those who serve the tent may not eat.”  What does that mean?  Hebrews is confessing the doctrine of “closed Communion.”  In their setting, it was those who didn’t trust in Jesus as the Messiah.   They were not allowed to commune at a Christian altar.

Everyone who confesses something, some religion, some faith, belongs where they are one with others.  If someone does not confess the same Jesus we do, he should not commune here.  He should receive where he is one with others at another table.

Why?  They recollect something else, a different Jesus, whom they may think doesn’t come to us in His body and blood.  For the Jews, who “still served the tent,” they brought to mind a different Messiah from the Old Testament, not the one who pointed to Jesus.  They had a different memory—and so their confession was different.

For those, however, who do belong to this altar, all are welcome to commune if they want to receive, in repentance, what Jesus gives to them: His body and blood for the forgiveness of sin (Matthew 26:28).  How can we be sure?  Jesus tells us.

Jesus gave these words to His Apostles for the Church: “Drink of it all of you; this cup is the New Covenant in my blood.”  This remembering of our leaders, who bring us the real Jesus, bring us to the Supper and what Jesus gives to us for life and salvation.  Does not Jesus teach: “Do this in memory of me?”

This remembering is collective, for both you and me, for the laity and the pastor.  Scripture calls us all to recollect.  We are to hold one another accountable to this recall of memory, not forgetting the doctrine the Apostles preached and taught.  If you forget, I am to call you back; if I forget, you are to tell me so.

This remembering is not what you may reminisce from childhood or your experiences.  Our memories are collective and go back to what Jesus first gave to His Apostles.  Any other memories, which are not faithful to the Apostles’ teaching, are corrupt and will point us in some other direction, not to the real Jesus.

So, when we remember as Scripture tells us, we realize, once more, we live as strangers in this world.  We are pilgrims on a journey, resident aliens, like the Israelites of old wandering in the wilderness to the Promised Land.  Our citizenship is in the heavenly Jerusalem; this fallen world is not our permanent home.

Our cities are all destined for destruction, whether today or tomorrow, whether through decay or corruption within, or war and destruction from without.  What lasts in eternity is the city God builds, the city of Christ, whom we still have through apostolic preaching, teaching, and the Lord’s Supper.

Our Epistle for today finishes in the present tense.  So, when you remember “our leaders,” the Apostles of old, you obey those who are your leaders today and submit to them.  Why?  They are watching over your souls, and they are accountable to God.

Paul commanded Pastor Titus: “Encourage and correct with full authority” (Titus 2:15).  All authority from God is not for the person, but whom he serves.  A pastor’s authority is not to benefit himself, but the people he serves.

So, each pastor will answer to God if he abused his position and did not preach and teach Apostolic doctrine.  That is why he also must not forget “our leaders.”  A pastor will answer to God.  God won’t hold you accountable because He didn’t call you to shepherd a flock.  He will, however, hold you accountable if you don’t submit to him.

What!  “Submit” makes us angry; it sounds crazy.  Even worse, God commands it!  Hebrews is using command language.  What does God mean?  This: to give way or yield.  So, respect your pastor as God’s shepherd for you, and yield to him instead of cornering him to get your way.  God placed him here to shepherd over your soul.

What happens if you rebel against your pastor and disobey what God tells you?  Here’s what happens: it is of no benefit to you.  So, don’t undercut your pastor—you are only harming your spiritual well-being.  Why do that?  It makes no sense.

In the end, our recollections are not about remembering.  Neither is it about your pastor, your “leader,” to whom you are to submit.  No, it is all about Jesus and what He did, does, and will do to save you—and so you remember, even obeying your pastor.

If we lose apostolic doctrine, we lose Jesus Christ.  We lose the perfect life He lived for us.  We lose His death on the cross for us.  We lose His resurrection from the dead for us.  And if we lose those life-giving truths, we lose the Christ who comes with them.

God calls us to remember because we need to; such remembering is not optional.  For your strength comes from God’s grace, not from spiritual Alzheimer’s.  Amen.