There are lots of directions we could go with this statement. We could make it very personal, experiential, and subjective: Jesus is always there for me as a warm, comforting presence whenever I need him. Or we could make it exclusively doctrinal: Jesus, as the eternal Son of God and Second Person of the Trinity, is immutable in his essence and attributes, and so never changes.
These things are true as far as they go. But I think they miss the full scope of the truth that the author of Hebrews so intensely wanted his readers to understand and hold on to. After all, Hebrews 13:8 – like every other verse in the Bible – wasn’t just divinely imprinted on key chains and mugs and Facebook memes and some guy’s bicep. It’s part of a particular book with a particular message, and it only hits us the way it’s supposed to when we look at it in light of that bigger context.
In it’s original context, “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday and today – and forever,” is not an assurance that Jesus will always be there for you individually, but a reminder that Jesus has always been and will always be there for us. It is the basis for the command that precedes it: “Remember your leaders, who taught you the word of God. As you consider the outcome of their way of life, imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7). This isn’t about having “your own, personal, Jesus.” It’s about continuing in fellowship with the community of faith and holding on to the faith of the community. It’s about following in the footsteps of those who walked with Jesus before you, in the confidence that the same Jesus who was with them will be with you, too.
Hebrews addresses people tempted and confused by “varied and strange teachings” (Hebrews 13:9) and points us back to the people who showed us how to follow Jesus in the first place. For me, that includes my mom, my grandpa, the director of a camp I went to every summer as a kid and worked at in high school, some long-dead theologians, and a series of patient and faithful pastors. (Maybe I’ll get to tell you about some of them in a future post!)
But Hebrews 13:8 doesn’t stop with the continuity of Christian tradition and the legacy of faith. It’s not just talking about our collective experience; it’s saying something specific about Jesus that provides the objective basis for our experience. It’s not just affirming the lasting truth of the message about Jesus; it’s affirming the constancy of Jesus himself.
This is an important theme that ties into the central message of Hebrews. We have a Mediator, a Savior, a Representative, a Great High Priest who lives forever. Unlike the priests of the tabernacle, he will never need a replacement (Hebrews 7:23-24). His death on the cross was the perfect and final sacrifice, so he will never die again (Hebrews 9:24-28; 10:14). He has become “a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 6:20).
This is not just an interesting piece of theological trivia. It is the anchor of our salvation (Hebrews 6:19). Our access to God is only through Jesus, and it is only secure because Jesus never changes. He always lives and always represents us to God. “He is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (Hebrews 7:25).
If you believe in Jesus, you have a living Savior. He is always alive, always interceding, always saving. Yesterday, at the very moment when you were falling back into that same pattern of sin that has plagued you for years, God’s love and acceptance toward you was not diminished for an instant solely because Jesus was interceding for you the whole time. Today, when you’re struggling and doubt, with bitterness, with lust, with shame, Jesus is alive and claiming you as his own. Into all eternity, your standing with God will never be based on your own record or personal holiness, but always and eternally on the fact that you belong to his once-crucified and ever-living Son.
Jesus Christ is the same. Always. Yesterday, today, and forever. He will never fail you and never leave you (Hebrews 13:5). He is the same Savior who died for your sins, rose from the dead, and entered into the presence of God, where he now sits at the right hand of his Father and names you as his own. He is the same Jesus who has sustained and upheld believers down through the ages, and he is the same Christ who will come again in glory to renew this fallen world.
This blog is about that Jesus. My hope and prayer is that it helps you to know, trust, and follow him, today and everyday.
Photo credit: Jamie Peabody, http://www.freeimages.com/photo/celtic-cross-1224247