Greetings and Grace

Basic CMYKWhat do you do when you finish reading a book? Do you simply say, that was a nice read, or do you do something as a result? The concluding postscript of this book, Hebrews 13:22-25, calls you to greet one another, but those greetings reflect God’s gracious work and summon you to live as his people.

Greetings! Greetings are appropriate in a letter. As you read the opening words of Hebrews, it sounds more like a treatise, and the book is rich in teaching about Jesus Christ, especially about his work in heaven right now as your great High Priest. But here at the end it is clearly a letter. Hebrews 13:22 identifies the work as “a word of exhortation” (see Acts 13:15). This postscript may have been written in the author’s own hand, the rest having been dictated (compare Galatians 6:11-18; Romans 16:22). This is a place for personal news, including Timothy’s release and expected visit. When God gave us the New Testament epistles, he did not give us a handbook on theology, but rather letters written to particular real people dealing with very real situations. The original hearers of this “word of exhortation” needed to be reassured of the majestic glory of the risen, ascended Savior.

Greetings to all. Greetings to all the leaders. Former leaders have been held up as an example, v.7. Your present leaders are to be obeyed, v. 17. Now they are to be greeted, which also affirms the author’s support of them. But it is not only the leaders, but the whole church that is greeted. Greet all the saints. All the saints are in view. Not one is too unimportant to escape the greeting. Greetings from those from Italy. This could indicate an Italian source for the letter. Or the destination might be Italy. The language is too ambiguous to safely draw conclusions. One commentator suggests an ambiguous, “Our Italian friends greet you,” may best reflect the point. Greetings reflect the unity of God’s people. See Romans 16.

Greet one another because you are God’s people. You are holy in Christ. “Saints” are not a canonized few, but are God’s holy ones, set apart by him and to him. All God’s people are saints, Ephesians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:1. Christ, your perfect priest, is holy, Hebrews 7:26. His atoning work makes you, his people, holy. Reflect that holiness in your life. As saints you are one people. God’s redeemed are a people, one people, 1 Peter 2:9,10. Hebrews emphasizes the unity of the redeemed people, Hebrews 13:12; 12:22,23; 10:25. Because of this unity the author extends greetings. Church membership and involvement in the worship and life of the church are important. “Christians are Christians by virtue of certain acts of God which took place at a definite time in the past, but these acts of God have released a dynamic force which will never allow Christians to stick fast at any point short of that divine rest which in this life is always a goal to be aimed at and never a stage which has been reached. The faith once for all delivered to the saints is not something which can be caught and tamed; it continually leads the saints forth to new ventures in the cause of Christ, as God calls afresh. . . . As the Christian surveys the world today, he sees very much land waiting to be possessed in the name of Christ; but to take possession of it calls for a generous measure of that forward-looking faith which is so earnestly urged upon the readers of this epistle. . . . So, in a day when everything that can be shaken is being shaken before our eyes and even beneath our feet, let us in our turn give thanks for the unshakable kingdom which we have inherited, which endures forever when everything else to which men may pin their hopes disappears and leaves not a wrack behind.” (F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 416-417).

Grace be with you all. God gives you grace in Christ Jesus. God gives you grace in his Word. This letter is “a word of exhortation.” It began with an emphasis on the Word of God. God’s gracious revelation focuses on a person, the person of Jesus Christ. God gives you grace in the offering of Christ. The Old Testament sacrifices were pictures of God’s grace. A lamb died in the altar, and your sins were forgiven! In Christ, that reality is present. The work of the great High Priest, the Lamb of God, is pure grace. His work is the opposite of any form of self-righteousness. God gives you grace in the exaltation of Christ. Christ is the risen, glorified Lord. He is able to be gracious.

Receive God’s blessing. God’s grace is his free gift to you. The letter is a word of exhortation, and the mention of grace implies that you need to live in God’s grace. God equips you to do this, and even creates the desire for him in your heart. Look back at the Aaronic blessing in Numbers 6. These are not just words—God actually puts his name on his people. That made them different from the nations around them. God has placed on you the gracious name of his Son. That means you must live differently. You must walk by faith, not by sight—in a different setting than those who first had this letter read to them—but nonetheless you walk and live to the glory of God.

Greet one another. Grow in fellowship and in serving your Lord, because God’s grace is with you.

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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