On one of the application forms used by a denominational committee on which I serve is the request: “Give the names of teachers, writers, pastors, or others who have most influenced your religious thinking and experience.” Hebrews 13:7-8 points the original hearers and you to those who have gone before you, encouraging you to remember their teaching, but above all, to imitate their faith in the unchanging Lord Jesus Christ.
Remember the faith of your leaders. They spoke God’s Word to you. Although there are references to present leaders in verses 17 and 24 of this chapter, Hebrews is probably speaking of former leader. Their speaking is past tense, but, like Abel, described in Hebrews 11:4, still relevant. The author of Hebrews is himself a second generation believer (Hebrews 2:3) and exhorts his hearers to reflect on their original teachers. That reflection is designed to help keep them from straying from the faith.
Think about these men and imitate their faith. Study their whole way of life. These leaders didn’t make a false separation between faith and life. Rather, their whole lives reflected their relationship with God. The outcome of their lives includes a reference to their death. This does not require that they were martyrs, though some may have been, but rather understands that the kind of death you die flows out of your life lived in relationship to Christ. Imitate their faith. Hold to the faith they had. Don’t be moved from that faith to trust in externals. “A constant clinging to the truth about the person and work of Christ will stop us from listening to various strange teachings that damage our souls.” (John Owens, Hebrews, p. 259). Hold to the same body of belief to which they held. Apostolicity is a mark of the church, too often neglected in our post-modern culture. To hold to their faith means to hold to the Christ in whom they trusted.
Trust the unchanging Christ. Jesus is always the same. The unchanging character of Jesus Christ is the ultimate expression of the unchanging faithfulness of God. That is seen in the exchange between the Lord and Moses recorded in Exodus 34 following the fickleness of Israel in worshiping the golden calf. When Moses asked to see the Lord’s glory, he was hidden in a crack in the rock while the Lord passed by and proclaimed his name, describing his unchanging mercy and justice. Hebrews hearers and you need to know that Jesus, a better mediator than Moses, is the ultimate expression of God’s covenantal faithfulness. He is the same yesterday. Yesterday he offered up prayers in the flesh, Hebrews 5:7. He has not changed from the days of the original teachers. He is the same as he was in the Old Testament. He was the Redeemer then as well as now. He is the same today. He is representing you before the throne of grace continuing to be your perfect high priest today, Hebrews 4:15. He will be the same tomorrow and forever. He will always intercede for you, Hebrews 7:24,25. This gospel will not change. Don’t go looking around for something fresh to replace it.
Believe in this Jesus. Hebrews 13:8 is a statement (the verb is not even expressed), but implied is a command to trust. Trust this Christ in whom your teachers believed. The purpose of all their teaching was to bring you to trust Christ, and then to build up and deepen your relationship with him. Trust him because he does not change.
Did you notice what happened to Moses’ face as he descended the mountain after encountering the glory of the Lord? 2 Corinthians 3 contrasts the fading glory of Moses with the unchanging glory of Jesus Christ. Hebrews thinks the same way. As great as Moses was, the person you need is the unchanging Christ. That is a message desperately needed in our individualist, post-modern culture. “The only way by which we persist in a true faith is to hold on to the foundation and not to depart from it in the slightest. Anyone who does not hold to Christ,even though he may comprehend heaven and earth, has no knowledge that is not sheer vanity. All the treasures of heavenly wisdom are included in Christ.” (John Calvin, Commentary on Hebrews, on 13:8).
The faith of your leaders was in Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever. Is your trust in that Christ? Then live as one who knows and trusts him.