We are into the closing part of the Letter to the Hebrews and the author has some more practical and relevant things to say. From 13:7:
Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.
This letter is written to the whole community—not to a leader or leaders as we might expect in our subverted, industrialised Christianity of today. Here, they are all exhorted to think about their leaders’ teaching—these leaders spoke the word of God to you. The tense of the Greek verb spoke points back to the one time when they were first brought the life-changing message of Jesus, the living word of God. There is often the need to remember the beginning of our walk with the Lord and reflect onwhether we are still solidly in step with the Master.
They are to consider the outcome of their [leaders] way of life. Our author is confident that their leaders are leading lives worthy of imitation. So they can be imitated—not slavishly but considering them, and not legalistically—which would transport them very quickly out of their blessed Jesus-rest, out of the Presence. We receive Jesus through one another. We need one another. What a responsibility this is. Many will not address this preferring to shelter behind “the church” whatever that is, or slavishly follow the man or woman at the top. That’s horribly unbiblical.
We have here a plurality of leaders—there is no single leader, no single minister. Here there is no one called a ‘priest’ or ‘vicar’ or ‘minister’ or ‘pastor’. This is the case with all the groups meeting in New Testament times. Mono-ministry is foreign to the churches of the first century, a strange teaching. They knew what God wanted—a mature people not carried away by strange teachings. Consider this : a collegiate leadership is much less likely to embrace strange teachings. And where there is mutual sharing with each member participating in building up the whole body there are safeguards against error. There is wisdom in a multitude of counsellors. Their accountability is mutual and all submit to Jesus himself.
Plurality of leaders in the local community of believers wonderfully reflects the heavenly community of the Godhead. That fact alone must carry enormous weight for the way our local churches should be cared for. Leadership in the heavenly sense matches the biblical way and must of necessity be reflected in our local churches. To act otherwise is sheer disobedience. We leaders will need to give account for our practices before the Lord of glory. Furthermore what is not of God will be discovered and will not survive in judgment.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so. We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat. (Heb 13:8-10)
The teaching they received from the start was on Jesus, alone our only mediator, our ultimate leader. So we can say with them Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. This same Jesus who walked here on our planet, now reigns forever in the heavenly place. This is the same Jesus who told his disciples that heaven and earth would sooner pass away, than his words!
This is the same Jesus whom our author introduced us to at the very start of his letter as the appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe, the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. This is the same Jesus who after he had provided purification for sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
Did you get that? Did you see the implications of such a statement? Yesterday and today and forever. And now this! : The great Hebrew name of God revealed to Moses in the desert I am who I was, I am whom I am, I am whom I shall be, the Eternal Now, is here applied to Messiah Jesus!
He never changes, guaranteed, and because he committed his teachings to a people, to many, not to an individual, we must not change that teaching, nor add to it, but contend for the truth entrusted to us by his apostles. That is why it is critical that we read and consider deeply their written teachings and put them into practice in our lives and in our corporate life in Jesus together.
This is of great and profound importance. Heed it, or be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings.
We do indeed have an altar, a better one. It is the death of Jesus on the cross. This altar alone makes us holy and acceptable to God, our hearts strengthened by his grace. To replace this by anything else – by ceremony or ritual or the words of so-called priests or popes, by strange teachings, by dominant leadership, by demanded obedience is a scandal, it is pathetic.
Jesus’ life, death and living presence is the real altar, the real Presence, not a shadow or a symbol. There is no apostolic mandate for anyone to speak of an “altar” as a piece of furniture in a man-made building. “Altar” always denotes a place of sacrifice, of death, and it is insulting to the Lord in the extreme to imagine or teach that Jesus’ body –or anybody for that matter, is offered now —unless this author is to be regarded as totally deceived, along with all the apostolic writers. Jesus’ once for all offering is unrepeatable. Yet the benefits flow forever for all who trust him.
Here is an extraordinary statement for a Hebrew to make : those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat from this altar that has been granted us! Truly, these Hebrew believers, and we also today, eat his flesh and drink his blood by believing on him and following him, by living our lives immersed in him and his in us, anywhere, everywhere, his Presence.
We are continually seated at table with Jesus our great high priest and pioneer, the author and finisher of our faith.