We have been looking, for these four months, at the covenant of grace. Today I want to look at the covenant life of God’s saints. For four months we have been studying the covenant of grace. Coming to the end of our studies, it is good to end it with prayer. Just as a minister who dutifully prepares a sermon, delivers the sermon, and then finally prays. He prays that God will apply to the hearts of the congregation the benefits and the fruit of that instruction that has been given.
That is what the author of Hebrews does. He has been giving instruction to the Jewish Christians. After all that instruction, he concludes the letter with a prayer for them. It is a prayer for the realization of God’s covenant purposes in their hearts. It is really a benediction, a prayer for covenant life for God’s saints.
We read in Hebrews 13:20 and 21: “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
How does God save His people? By means of a living faith in the Mediator of the covenant. What is the source of our covenant life? How does that life come to us? What is the purpose of God’s grace in us? The source of our life, the One to whom the prayer is offered, the author of our covenant life, is described by one of His titles, the God of peace. Then He is described by one of His works—the raising of Jesus from the dead.
He is, first of all, called the God of peace. God, in His Word, refers to Himself with different names, names that reveal to us His person, His attributes, and His works. So we look at the name, the God of peace. This refers to God Himself. He is the triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Between these three Persons there is a life of harmony. The Father loves the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Son loves His Father in the Holy Spirit. It is an everlasting covenant. God now also establishes a relationship to us His people. Why? Not because He is lonely, nor because He needs us. He is all-sufficient. He has enjoyed a relationship of fellowship and friendship in Himself. Eternally there was peace in His own being. In His thinking, in His desiring, in His work in Himself and outside of Himself, He is the God of peace. How different that is from the gods of the wicked! Especially in the Greek minds, the various gods were opposed to each other—fighting against one another. Our God, the One true God, is a God of peace. What a beautiful life God has in Himself.
He is the God of peace because, in eternity, the triune God determined to share that life outside of Himself. We call that the “counsel of peace,” or the “counsel of redemption.” God chose, that is, He elected, a people for Himself. He chose them in His Son Jesus Christ. This was a work of God triune, determining to show His grace in the way of a fall into sin and then saving His people. Adam was made a friend-servant of God. He was very good. But Adam fell. And though God comes and finds him and Eve, His purpose is to save him through the seed of the woman. God will save him in His grace, and that is why it is called a “covenant of grace.” Jesus Christ was the Head of that covenant people.
God is the God of peace in relation to His people—not mankind in general, but His elect people, those whom He has chosen. God is the God of wrath to the wicked, to the reprobate. God’s holiness burns against them in their sins. As the Judge, He punishes them for their sins, in time and eternity.
But God made peace with His covenant people by reconciliation through the blood of Jesus. Those who have made themselves enemies of God are brought near again in God’s redemption of them. Grace reigns. It reigns through the righteousness of God, not at the expense of God’s justice, but only in God’s righteousness. God did what it took to restore His people to Himself. He took away their sins. He gave Himself. He gave to them His own righteousness. He did that through, as we heard last time, a Mediator. It is through reconciliation, reconciliation by God, in His love, that we have peace with God. We read in Romans 5:1, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The apostle Paul goes on in that chapter to say, “By whom [Jesus Christ] also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” We have peace with God that passes all understanding. It is the peace of righteousness. What a beautiful name, what a beautiful title, then, for our God. He is the God of peace. We have peace, fellowship, friendship with God by virtue of His covenant promises. He has received us into His favor.
But in this prayer, God is, second of all, named as the One who has “brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep.” So He is the God of the Great Shepherd. Here is the evidence that God has peace with us. The Shepherd has sheep, sheep that were lost, in great need of saving. Jesus is the Head of His covenant people. He came to earth to seek and to save. He came to stand in their place. He came and took their sin and guilt upon Himself. He came to die the death that they deserved. He suffered in order to atone for their sins.
Was God satisfied with what Jesus did? Did Jesus in fact, as our Shepherd, take away all of our sins? Did He do so, rendering to God the perfect obedience that God’s justice demands? Was His suffering and death sufficient? The answer is a resounding: Yes! How do we know? We read in our text: “God brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus.” When God raised Jesus Christ from the dead, He showed that the wrath for our sins had been taken care of. His wrath had been placed (or visited) upon Jesus Christ in our place. The penalty of all of our sins was paid in full. God accepted the payment that was given for our redemption. He raised Christ from the dead. He did it as the God of peace. The Judge of heaven and earth was satisfied. His justice was satisfied in full. The resurrection of Jesus is the seal, God’s seal, of approval on Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.
Christ was appointed as the Shepherd of His people. The author of Hebrews was writing to people who were familiar with that Old Testament figure. The shepherd was the one who was promised in Isaiah 40:11. We read there: “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom.” Or again, from Ezekiel 34:23: “And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd.” Into the hand of our blessed Redeemer, God placed His flock to be justified and sanctified by Him. Jesus said in His High-priestly prayer in John 17:6: “Thine they were, and thou gavest them me.” Jesus is the good Shepherd in His death. He gave His life for His sheep. He is the only Shepherd. He is called in our text: the Great Shepherd.
All this takes place according to God’s everlasting covenant. We read there of the everlasting covenant, which indicates that it is God’s covenant. Everything in this world is temporary. But God says, “I will establish My covenant.” The covenant made before the foundations of the world would be realized through His own Son. His people are restored. It is everlasting. The covenant is all about God’s election of persons. He knows each of them individually and loves them. For God is the source of our life. He is the God of peace.
How does that life come to us, to you and to me who were dead in sins? The answer is in our text in this prayer: “Through the blood of the everlasting covenant.” Yes, in the Old Testament there was the endless shedding of animals’ blood because it was only a picture. God’s covenant was made, restored, and exalted in the blood of Jesus Christ. We read in I Peter 1:18, 19: “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your father; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” The blood spoken of here is all the suffering of Jesus Christ. The blood speaks of what our Mediator did by sacrificing Himself. The blood poured out. It is symbolic of Jesus’ life, poured out on the cross. Christ gave His life for His sheep. There was atonement, atonement for the innumerable host of His election. It is His perfect and willing obedience to His Father, the obedience that was demanded of us. His blood refers to all of His suffering. He bore the curse of the law so that we might be blessed of God. Our filthy garments of sin are stripped off from us. We are washed in the blood of Jesus and we are clothed with white robes. Jesus’ righteousness is reckoned and imputed unto us.
Oh, the precious blood of the everlasting covenant, able to atone for all of the sins of all God’s people, His saints. So, as we heard last week, children sing that song: “What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. Nothing can for sin atone. Nothing but the blood of Jesus. Naught of good that I have done. Nothing but the blood of Jesus. This is all my hope and peace. Nothing but the blood of Jesus. This is all my righteousness. Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” And the chorus: “Oh! precious is the flow that makes me white as snow; No other fount I know, nothing but the blood of Jesus.” God’s covenant, made from eternity, not conditioned upon our obedience but promised and realized in Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection.
It is an everlasting covenant. It can never fail. It is never repealed. It continues forever. On the pacifying blood of Jesus, God is the God of peace unto His elect people.
Now, finally, notice the purpose in our text. The prayer is that the God of peace, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, will make peace perfect in us. It is this grand scheme that must be kept in view. God, through the blood of Christ Jesus, makes us perfect in every good work. All the fruits of holiness toward God and His people.
That God makes perfect means He gives us a clear mind and a clean heart. He gives us a lively affection or love. He gives to us a renewed will. He gives us suitable strength for every good work to which we are called. In other words, He makes us fit and able. That speaks of a divine workmanship. It speaks of a gracious and quickening work of the Holy Spirit. May the God of peace make you perfect; may He fit you, may He prepare you, may He enable you.
To be made perfect in our text does not mean that there is absolutely no more sin in our lives here on earth. That is the false teaching of John Wesley—perfectionism. No, we still have in us a sinful nature. All of our life we are called to put that sinful nature to death. In this life we have only a small beginning of perfect obedience. But, rather than despising that small obedience, we thank God for that beginning, a beginning that continues to progress throughout this life, and finally, only in heaven, we will be without spot and perfect.
May God make us perfect in every good work. Notice, we cannot, we may not, try to single out those works that are the most agreeable to ourselves, those that are the easiest. It is not just some good works, those that demand the least of us, the least self-denial. The prayer, the benediction, says “perfect in every good work.” All of our works, every work, is to be conformed to the will of God. You see, God determines what is good and what is acceptable to Him. It is His revealed will. The psalmist says in Psalm 119:6, “Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments.” You see, my friend, we do not pick and choose what commands we want to obey. It is all His commands—loving God and loving one another. We need to pray that God will divinely fit us to every good work, especially those works that we find the hardest and most exacting because of our sinfulness and our weakness and our depravity.
To do His will. There is in Scripture a definition of good works. It is the rule of our duty, the revealed will of God. Our actions, our speech, even our thoughts and desires and affections, must be conformed to God’s law. They are good. If not conformed to God’s law, they are evil. A person cannot be a good Christian without doing God’s will. Oh the folly of those who say that God’s law, that our good works or our obedience, has no part in our salvation. No, it is not the basis of salvation, but it surely is the fruit and the purpose of our salvation.
We may be well pleasing in His sight. How is our imperfect work well pleasing in God’s sight? It is by the intercession of Jesus Christ in heaven for us.
What are the implications of this prayer? First of all, we are imperfect in ourselves. We are not qualified unto every good work. That is a humbling truth, is it not? Christians, of themselves, are unable to perform this duty. We still have that old man of sin in us. Second of all, our spiritual impotency is not to be excused, nor are we to pity ourselves because of it. Do not respond when you do something wrong: “Well, what do you expect of me? I’m only human.” No, none but God can fit us for performing His will. It is our duty and it is our privilege to ask Him to fit us. Beg Him to strengthen you with might by the Holy Spirit and through His Word. God, by His Spirit in His covenant, writes His law upon our hearts. He makes us desirous, willing, and able. By the Holy Spirit we understand, we love, we believe, and we do the things that God requires of us. No, not lying on a bed of ease, but, rather, growing in grace and in obedience.
The apostle Paul says in Romans 7:18, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.” How can we do what is good, every good work, that which God is pleased with? We find in Philippians 2:13, “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” God fits us to every good work, to do His will, that which is well pleasing in His sight. All the glory belongs to God and His Christ. That is why the prayer of the author of Hebrews ends, “To whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” God, as the God of peace, establishes, maintains, and realizes His relationship of friendship with His elect people in Jesus Christ. He makes them a people who love Him and live for Him.
Let us pray.
Father in heaven. We are thankful for our life in Christ Jesus. Oh, work mightily by Thy Holy Spirit. Make us fit, perfect to do thy will according to that which is pleasing in Thy sight, for we love Thee, Father. Bless, we pray, these studies on that precious, precious doctrine: God’s covenant of grace with us in Jesus Christ. Amen.