Three Holy Hierarchs / Fifteenth Sunday of Luke (Zacchaeus), January 30, 2022
Hebrews 13:7-16; Luke 19:1-10
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
Christians aren’t better than everyone else. But Christians are different. And it’s because we belong to another people, another civilization, one that is different from the rest of humanity.
Today we heard from Hebrews 13 “Here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city, which is to come.” With this iconic phrase at the center of this passage which is read for today’s feast of the Three Holy Hierarchs, St. Paul reveals to us a vision for what Christian life truly is to be and how it contrasts so much with the life of the world, with its assumptions and how it is ordered.
To that end, I want to go through this passage line by line to show how this works.
First, verse 7: Brethren, remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the Word of God; consider the outcome of their life, and imitate their faith.
For us who are Christians, our leaders are those who spoke the Word of God to us. These are our bishop, our priests, our teachers, our parents. Their task is to speak Christ to us, Who is the Word of God. We are to “consider the outcome of their life, and imitate their faith.” See their example, imitate their faithfulness to God.
This is a huge contrast with how the world understands leadership, which is mainly in terms of politicians and celebrities. Those who seek fame and power are always before our eyes and ears—whether on broadcast or print media or on social media. And so much of the evil that is in this world is because we consider that life’s outcome and imitate that faithfulness—that faithfulness to the passing things of this world. But that is not the city we belong to. It is not lasting. We belong to the City that is to come.
Verse 8: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Why does the apostle say this? It is to show that our way of life finds its origin and purpose in One Who is not changeable and will never pass away—again, a contrast with the ways of life of this world. When we are dedicated to the world’s values of power, prestige and possessions, then we are addicted to things that cannot last and will in the end destroy us.
Verse 9: Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings; for it is well that the heart be strengthened by grace, not by foods which have not benefited their adherents.
In the specific context of the first century, the “foods” to which the apostle refers are not only metaphorical but literal foods that had been offered to pagan gods and put their worshipers into communion with those demons. Therefore, St. Paul here teaches us to feed upon the grace of God, not upon the “diverse and strange teachings” of philosophies and religions which do not benefit the salvation of those who follow them. We know what the outcome of those ways is, so we lay it aside and instead seek after the grace of God, that is, the very presence of God which calls us to be faithful.
Verse 10: We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat.
“Those who serve the tent” may also be rendered “those who serve the Tabernacle,” by which he means the Temple of the Judaeans. In other words, in order to eat of the altar of Christ, one must be a baptized Christian, and not even the priests of the Old Covenant (who are in the first century still around) may eat of it. Why are they forbidden to partake of the Eucharist? It is because they are not part of the New Covenant of Christ. Again, we see a contrast between the way of life of Christians and the way of those who are dedicated to the world—and the Sadducees who controlled in the Temple in the first century were very worldly, indeed, oppressing the people by severe economic hardship in collaboration with the Romans.
Verses 11-12: For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through His own blood
In Exodus, one of the commands given by God for sacrifices for a sin offering is that it should be offered “outside the camp,” that is, outside the purified space where the people lived and worshiped God. Why? Because it was to do away with sin, which must be put outside. But this was actually to foreshadow Christ, in Whom this commandment is now fulfilled. And in doing so, He actually makes atonement, purifying not only “the camp” and those in it but the whole world (1 John 2:2). Here the contrast of the perishing city of the world is set up against the everlasting city of Christ by showing how Christ’s sacrifice will actually change that perishing city into His own City. Its ways will be washed away in His blood, and only His purified creation will remain.
Verses 13-14: Therefore, let us go forth to Him outside the camp and bear the abuse He endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the City, which is to come.
Here our theme about the ccty to come is linked with our going forth to Christ outside the camp and bearing the same abuse that He endured. We go to suffer with Him—because this is what the world does to holiness in its anger and hatred for the truth—because we have no lasting city here but seek the City which is to come. In other words, we know that Christ is conquering His enemies the demons and that even though they crucified the Lord of glory, they had no idea that that was their defeat (1 Cor. 2:8). We join Christ in His sufferings because we know that His City is coming and will have no end.
Verses 15-16: Through Him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His Name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
Therefore, having seen this vision of life in the City of Christ, the City that is to come, we are enjoined by the apostle to worship Christ continually, to do good, to share what we have, because “such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” These are the means by which we are faithful and loyal to Christ, the way that we actually conform ourselves to being citizens of that City.
So much of life in this world is about trying to please its leaders, who urge us to seek after power over others, after prestige in the eyes of men, after possessions so that we might feel comfortable and secure.
But as Christians, we are different. Why? To be really basic and direct about it, it’s because we know that that leadership is a bunch of losers.
What do I mean by that? Well, I do not mean human politicians and celebrities and the wealthy. The real leadership of this world’s way of life is actually a spiritual leadership, a leadership of spirits who have rebelled against God and try to draw us away from him. So when the powerful and famous do the same, it’s because they have been attacked and enslaved by those demonic forces. So we don’t attack the slaves. Actually, with God’s help, we try to rescue them, to buy them out of slavery and set them free.
And why do we do that? It is because we have heard the gospel and believed it. And because we have heard and believed it, we become obedient to it. The gospel is that Jesus Christ the Son of God has conquered His enemies and that His Kingdom is at hand. This is the “city that is to come” which the apostle spoke about.
Since we know Who the Victor in this war already is, if we’re smart, we’re going to join up with Him and make everything ready for the fullness of His appearance. When He comes to judge the quick and the dead, we want to be found ready, to be found obedient.
So we don’t get caught up in the endless controversies and pursuits of this world. Let such dead ways of living bury themselves, because death is their aim. Here we have no lasting city. We seek the City which is to come. And we do that by being faithful to the King of that City.
To our Lord Jesus Christ, the Founder and Ruler of the City of God, with His Father and the Holy Spirit, be all glory, honor, and worship, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.