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Searching for a
"The God of Peace"
Resurrection Sunday will soon be here, the special day in which we commemorate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through His death on the cross and his resurrection that soon followed, all believers that have been born anew by the grace of God, may be assured of the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life secured for them through God's Son. Easter messages that deal with Christ's resurrection are often efforts to try and convince skeptics of the resurrection; they are apologetic in nature. Although there is a place for that, that is not our intent here. For Resurrection Sunday if anything, is for the Christian, or, for the one who desires to become a true Christian. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is not a message of hope for the unrepentant, self-sufficient Christ-rejecter or Christ-neglecter, to coin a new term; no indeed, rather it assures his overthrow and doom. But the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is a cause of great hope and encouragement for the humble repentant sinner who desires forgiveness of sins and new life that comes through the risen Christ. And so, although we are writing here for Christians principally, it is hoped that the non-Christian who may read this might be given grace by God to believe these things and begin to yearn for them, so that he can come also to the place where he feels himself to be the recipient of blessing due to that first Easter Sunday .
Allow me to draw your attention to the fact of Christ's resurrection and its relationship to us through God's Word as it is recorded in Hebrews 13:20-21. Here we read of God who is at peace with His people through the resurrection of His Son. The passage reads as follows:
Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
The writer, in concluding his lengthy letter/sermon to these Hebrew Christians, after requesting that they pray for him (13:18), here, in vs. 20,21, expresses his desire, or 'wish', that God would bless them with grace, thereby enabling them to live lives pleasing Him in all respects. We may consider our subject by use of these verses by first focusing on the description of our God, 'the God of Peace', and then secondly, we may consider the God of Peace at Work on behalf of His people.
I. The God of Peace
Take note of this, our God is the God Who brings peace to us. This very title of God in verse 20 suggests this; He is the God of Peace. Thankfully, our God is a Great God Who gives peace to His troubled people. People trouble one another, and people trouble themselves. If left alone, if alienated from the God of peace, we would have little or no peace. But our God is One Who brings peace to us, even in the most troublous of times.
The apostle Paul is the only other writer of Scripture to use this title of God. [This has been one point of evidence, which has led some to conclude that he wrote this book of Hebrews--which may or may not be the case.] Paul used this title for God in Philippians 4. There the apostle related the idea of God being a God who might bring a sense of peace or well being to His people.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy -- meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. (4:6-9)
And so we see, this title of God is to convey the fact that God is able to assure and calm the troubled heart. Christians need not fear any situation, any circumstances, for in the midst of that which would trouble others, God may give peace to His people.
But this title, the God of Peace, not only means that He is a God Who gives us peace, but perhaps the main idea here is that He is the God Who is at peace with respect to us, His People. This being the case, I would say the title suggests several things.
First, this title hints of a former hostility, enmity, and alienation that existed between Himself and His own. I would suggest that the title here in Hebrews 13:2 in which God is described as the God of Peace toward His people alludes to the former state of war that existed between them. Although God is now at peace with His people, formerly this was not so; rather, before Christ redeemed us, before we submitted to and believed on Christ as our Lord and Savior, God was not at peace with us, but was at war with us. When we believed not, we were under His wrath. We were in a state of war with God. We were warring against Him and He against us. Our very nature was opposed to Him. We had resisted His Word. We had resented His right to rule. His Laws were grievous and oppressive to us. His ways were harsh, or at least we viewed them as so. We had rebelled from under His authority. We as His creatures had incited and fomented rebellious independence from His rightful rule over us. And as a result of our rebellion, His wrath was upon us.
Often times God is misrepresented as being a God of peace toward all humanity at all times. It is assumed that man only is a warring creature, but God is a God of peace only. The problem is that we must be all like Him, at peace with all mankind. But this notion is not supported in Scripture. God is not a God of peace only. He is a God of war against all those that are outside of Jesus Christ. They are objects of His wrath. He is fighting against them. Oh yes, from time to time, out of His mercy and grace, He withholds the manifestation of His judgment, but even in those times, His wrath is being stored up against all Christ rejecters and neglecters that will be unleashed in all of its fury on the Final Day when He will summon all the earth to do battle and be defeated by Him.
There are other titles of God in Scripture which suggest the His hostility between Himself and fallen man. He is the 'Lord of hosts', which has a sound of hostility to it and it describes Him Who fights against His enemies. He is 'the Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle.' He is 'a Man of war, the Lord is His name' (Ex. 15:3). There are many descriptions of God in the Scriptures, which depict God as anything but at peace. But here, He is described as the 'God of Peace.'
Second, this title suggests God's work of reconciliation toward His people. The hostility is now over between God and the people for Whom He is described, as the 'God of peace.' This, of course, was affected through the work of Christ. The work of reconciliation of God and His people is very clearly described in Ephesians 2:13-18.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been made near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of division between us, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near.
The fact that He is called the God of Peace indicates that it was He Who must initiate and perform this work of reconciliation. He was the offended party. His Laws were violated. His holiness was violated. His justice was to be vindicated. He must initiate the work of reconciliation toward His enemies, for they had rebelled against Him. Salvation is by His grace alone.
Third, this title suggests His great love for us. That He could deal with our hostility, that He would seek to reconcile Himself to this group of rebels certainly reveals the great love that He had for His people. It is great, because we were so far from Him in thoughts, deeds, and affections, yet He purposed to reconcile us to Himself. It is great because of the great cost to Him to reconcile us to Himself, even the death of His own dear Son. And so,
And so, thankfully, through Jesus Christ, God is now at peace with us. He is the God Who brings peace to us, but it should be recognized, He only does so because He is now at peace with us. This appears to be the major idea of our text of Hebrews 13:20-21. We read that God will assist you, if you are a Christian, equipping you 'with every good thing to do His will,' and He will 'work in us what is pleasing to Him', because He is now at peace with us, His people.
Verse 20, I would suggest, sets forth in particular the basis for this state of peace between God and us. The God of peace is described as One 'Who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the Great Shepherd of the Sheep.' Let us note several things in this statement about God's work of reconciliation, bringing a state of peace between Himself and His people.
Notice the emphasis. We see that God has come to be at peace with His people through Jesus Christ. God the Father is at peace with His people because of what He has done for them through His Son. There is only one way that a man or woman may find peace with God, and that is through God's own provision, Jesus Christ. There is no other way. There is no other religion for which the God of all the earth has regard. Christianity is His provision by which He may bring a state of peace between Himself and rebellious man.
Consider the description of Jesus Christ in this passage. First, Jesus Christ is The Great Shepherd. This title is full of meaning, of which we can only touch on here. (1) As the Great Shepherd He gathers the lost and scattered flock of God, calling people out of every nation, people who are numbered as God's chosen people who will be recipients of His salvation. (2) As the Great Shepherd He leads them in paths of peace, directing them to the fold of God. (3) As the Great Shepherd He laid down His life that they might live.
Second, Jesus Christ is called The Great Shepherd of the Sheep. The Lord Jesus is a Shepherd only to His Sheep. It is only for them that He has designs. He is only seeking the scattered, lost sheep of God and brings them into the fold of God. And it was specifically for them that He gave His life to pay for their sins. We read in John's Gospel Jesus' own words,
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd give His life for the sheep'I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me even so I know the Father, and I lay down My life for the sheep. (John 10:11, 14-15)
In biblical terminology you do not believe and then become one of God's sheep. Rather, you are one of God's sheep, and therefore you believe. John 10:16 declares, 'They will hear His voice, and they will come.' On the other hand, the Lord Jesus could say of some unbelievers in John 10:25 and 26:
Jesus answered them, 'I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father's name, they bear witness of Me. But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you.'
Jesus Christ is the Great Shepherd to His Sheep, and to them alone.
Now, how does God bring peace to the sheep of this Great Shepherd?
1. We read He does so through the blood of Jesus Christ. God's justice had to be satisfied. Sin cannot merely be forgiven until God's justice is satisfied. A Payment for sin must be made. And the payment for sin is nothing less than death itself. God has said, 'The soul that sins shall die.' His edict cannot simply be ignored. God is immutable, that is unchanging. God's law is as the law of the Medes and the Persians, once established, it cannot be revoked. If the penalty of failing to worship Nebuchadnezzar is a lion's den, then down must Daniel go, and only God could deliver him from that fate. And if God has declared that all who sin must die, must forfeit their life's blood, must go down into the grave, then so it must be done. Our Great Shepherd did so on behalf of His Sheep. He shed His blood; He died. He paid the sinner's penalty, dying in his place.
2. Next notice that God brings a state of peace between Himself and His people through the Eternal Covenant. This requires a word of explanation. It may seem too theological, too lofty for some, but in reality it is foundational, and no one can really say he understands the Gospel unless he understands this matter of the eternal covenant.
God has always dealt with human beings on the basis of covenant. A covenant may be likened to a contract, or a treaty, or sometimes as earlier in Hebrews, as a last will and testament. But here it would be good to consider a covenant like a contract. A covenant is an agreement between two parties upon which a relationship is established. Many people today relate to their employers based on this idea of a covenant. You both sat down, a contract was offered you, perhaps negotiations were conducted, stipulations were made, but when the contract was signed, both you and your employer entered a binding agreement--a covenant--each agreeing to the terms on which you would conduct a working relationship. In the same way, God has always dealt with humans based on a covenant. He comes and sets forth the terms. Only with respect to Him, and us there is no negotiating. He sets the terms.
With respect to people, God has related to him based on 2 types of covenants--works and grace. Let us consider each of these. First, what is a covenant of works? The terms of this covenant are as following: God declares that He will relate with you on the basis of your good works. In essence He says, 'By the merit of your obedience to My will I will continue to bless you with life and peace. However, if you choose to violate my will, and sin against me, then you will suffer for your sin. You will die.' This covenant relationship was established between God and Adam, our father. And because Adam was our father, who represented us, he entered us as well into this covenant standing. And when Adam sinned, God's wrath upon sin and His penalty for sin came upon Adam and all his descendants. That is why there is pain, sickness, and death today, it is God's wrath upon sin. (You can read about this in Rom. 5). No one could be saved from God's wrath on the basis of a covenant of works, because we are sinners; that is, no one except the Lord Jesus. Death could not hold Him because He kept God's covenant of works on behalf of His people. He did not sin, so death could not hold Him.
But thankfully, there is a second form of covenant between God and man. And this has been termed the covenant of grace. Several things need to be understood about this covenant of grace compared and contrasted with a covenant of works. First, the covenant of grace is an 'eternal covenant' (v. 20). Second, the covenant of grace like the covenant of works was between God the Father and a representative head of mankind--His Son Jesus Christ. As Adam entered a temporal covenant on behalf of his people, Christ Jesus, before time began, entered a covenant relationship with His Father on behalf of His people.
[Now, although there are a number of various covenants between God and man are described in the Bible, it is my opinion that apart from the covenant with Adam in the Garden, all were given with respect to the eternal covenant of grace. I would say that even the Law of Moses was given as a covenant of grace, but the Jews perverted it making it a covenant of works. Rather than viewing themselves as the covenant people of God chosen by grace and as a result responding to God's Law in faith and obedience, they perverted it and viewed the Law as a means of salvation, seeking by its observance to earn God's favor, thereby incurring the Law's wrath.]
The everlasting covenant of grace was a covenant made in eternity, before the creation of the world, made by the Three Persons of the Blessed Holy Trinity. Each person in the Trinity assumed specific responsibilities within this covenant. They bound themselves together as One God to save a people through this covenant of grace.
Let us consider the details of the eternal covenant of grace with respect to the three persons of the trinity. First, there were terms of the eternal covenant of grace assumed by God the Father. The Father in effect made this commitment:
I, the Most High Jehovah, do promise to give to You, my dear Son, a people, countless in number, drawn from every nation on earth. I will, on account of You, cease my warfare with them, and become to them a God of Peace, for I will pardon and wash them from their sin, deliver them from the power of sin and thereby the wrath which is upon them due to their sin. I will give them unto you, and will deliver each and every one of them into your kingdom which I will cause you to establish. I covenant by oath, and swear by Myself, that I will do this thing. This people Whom I have chosen will be given to you, every one of them; not one will be lost. Them I will forgive through the merit of your life and the payment of your blood on their behalf. But I too, do swear, that upon your death on their behalf, due to your righteousness, that I will raise you from death to reign forevermore, giving you a name above every name. And all of these whom I have given You, will be with You and Me, for I will give eternal life so that they will ever be with You and Myself, dwelling and reigning with us through eternity.
Second, there were terms of the eternal covenant of grace assumed by God the Holy Spirit. It is as though the Spirit in eternity committed Himself in this way to the Father and Son:
I, the Holy Spirit, will in time ensure that these given to You of the Father will come to You. I will make them alive, give them a heart to seek you, put faith in their minds and hearts to believe You. I will work in them every grace, sanctifying them, preserving them, unto Your kingdom.
Third, there were terms of the eternal covenant of grace assumed by God the Son. The Son concurred with His Father and the Holy Spirit, committing Himself to fulfill certain terms of the covenant on behalf of His people. It is as though He said to the Father,
My Father I will become one of them. I will take upon myself the form and nature of the fallen race. I will live in their wretched world, and for my people will I keep Your Law perfectly. I will be obedient to You, even to death, as I work out a spotless righteousness, which shall be acceptable to the demands of thy just and holy law. And when that time comes I will suffer and die on behalf of these you have given me. On behalf of My sheep, I will be the good shepherd and lay down My Life.'
And based on that eternal covenant, Creation was ordered and all the events of history have transpired. The Father has been true to His Word, The Holy Spirit has been true to His Word, and the Lord Jesus has been true to His Word. And if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, trusting in the merits of His life and death, if you are numbered among His sheep, hearing His voice and following Him, then this God, is a God of Peace to You, through the blood of the eternal covenant. All the promises of God are wrapped up in Christ Jesus. That is what Paul meant when he wrote in 2 Cor. 1:18-22:
But as God is faithful, our word to you was not Yes and No. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us -- by me, Silvanus, and Timothy -- was not Yes and No, but in Him was Yes. For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us. Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a deposit.
3. Notice also that God brings a state of peace between Himself and His people through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is through the resurrection of Christ that the benefits of His death can be applied to us. He must be alive if He is going to save us. A dead Savior cannot do anything for you. He must be alive so that He might be a King to us, subduing us in our Rebellion, a Prophet to us, revealing God to us, And a Priest applying and pleading the benefits of His sacrifice to our case. And it was through the blood of the covenant, according to the promise of His Father, that He raised His Son from the dead.
4. We also read that God brings a state of peace between Himself and His people through the blood of the Eternal Covenant that Jesus was raised. With the shedding of His blood in death, the Lord Jesus has fulfilled the terms of the covenant, and now, the Father is fulfilling His. For Jesus' sake He will pardon and purify every sinner, no matter how vile, ignorant, rebellious, that comes to Him in faith saying,
II. The God of Peace at Work toward Us
God's salvation is not merely to cancel the consequences of our sin, but salvation involves the reversal of sin and the bringing back into subjection everything about us that has ever deviated from His Will. He Has already begun a Work in His People. And so, He is at work--note, the Father is at work in His people, working in them, giving them every thing they are needing in order to live lives pleasing to Him. And the writer here is expressing the desire (and assurance) that God will continue to equip them toward this end. God's work in us involves conforming us to do His will. It Involves an enabling both in will and ability to do His will. We are to Pray that He continue to Work in us. But He must also continue to carry on this work in His people. This is all wrapped up in the idea of the eternal covenant. The Father is at work bringing a people to His Son. But again, it is through Jesus Christ this work is conducted. All the works of God are mediated to us and in us through His Son Jesus Christ.
Note finally, that God brings peace between Himself and His people through Jesus Christ to the end that He might be glorified. God, the Father, Who is the One working, Performs All His Work through His Son. The Father would have His Son glorified/magnified for all that He has done on His behalf. We, Who are the Objects of the Father's Work, Receive All This Blessing through the Son. We would have the Son glorified for all that is done on our behalf.
Let us conclude by emphasizing this last this point: Oh how we ought to glorify God for His work of redemption. And we ought to be so careful about claiming or arguing or fighting for some credit in any of this, lest we rob some of the glory that belongs to Jesus Christ. It was settled in eternity, and if you are a believer today, you only have Him to thank and praise.
On the other hand, suppose you are an unbeliever. Does this talk of God's chosen sheep, a finite number that cannot increase nor decrease mean there is no hope for you? Not at all. It is a Word of great hope. If you desire salvation, if you desire to be a chosen one, that is already a pretty good indication you are one. Take heart. The yearnings that you have were not generated from that fallen heart of stone. It comes from a heart that God places in His people when He draws them to Himself. Be encouraged by this, but be responsive as well. Seek Him. You will find Him. Keep knocking, He will open. And plead the terms of the covenant that we have set forth today as the basis of Him receiving you:
'Father, receive me, not an the basis of my goodness, my merit, my repentance, my faith, my commitment, or any such thing. I cannot stand before you based on a covenant of works; I will be damned eternally, Receive me and establish a relationship based on this covenant in Christ. I plead His merit and His blood to my case. Receive me and make me your child for Jesus sake. Be a God of Peace to me. Amen.'