January 2, 2022
In the midst of chaos and confusion that just doesn’t seem to end, how do we stay strong in the faith? The answer, teaches Alistair Begg, is to steadily focus on the one who is unchanging. According to Hebrews 13:8, Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. This simple fact gives us confidence to face uncertainties about the future with the assurance that He will never leave us. Are you trusting in Him as your Savior, Shepherd, Friend?
Sermon Transcript: Print
And I invite you to turn with me to the Word of God, to Psalm 102—the 102nd Psalm, which has as a heading “Do Not Hide Your Face from Me: A Prayer of one afflicted, when he is faint and pours out his complaint before the Lord.” Psalm 102 and reading from verse 1:
Hear my prayer, O Lord;
let my cry come to you!
Do not hide your face from me
in the day of my distress!
Incline your ear to me;
answer me speedily in the day when I call!
For my days pass away like smoke,
and my bones burn like a furnace.
My heart is struck down like grass and has withered;
I forget to eat my bread.
Because of my loud groaning
my bones cling to my flesh.
I am like a desert owl of the wilderness,
like an owl of the waste places;
I lie awake;
I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop.
All the day my enemies taunt me;
those who deride me use my name for a curse.
For I eat ashes like bread
and mingle tears with my drink,
because of your indignation and anger;
for you have taken me up and thrown me down.
My days are like an evening shadow;
I wither away like grass.
But you, O Lord, are enthroned forever;
you are remembered throughout all generations.
You will arise and have pity on Zion;
it is the time to favor her;
the appointed time has come.
For your servants hold her stones dear
and have pity on her dust.
Nations will fear the name of the Lord,
and all the kings of the earth will fear your glory.
For the Lord builds up Zion;
he appears in his glory;
he regards the prayer of the destitute
and does not despise their prayer.
Let this be recorded for a generation to come,
so that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord:
that he looked down from his holy height;
from heaven the Lord looked at the earth,
to hear the groans of the prisoners,
to set free those who were doomed to die,
that they may declare in Zion the name of the Lord,
and in Jerusalem his praise,
when peoples gather together,
and kingdoms, to worship the Lord.
He has broken my strength in midcourse;
he has shortened my days.
“O my God,” I say, “take me not away
in the midst of my days—
you whose years endure
throughout all generations!”
Of old you laid the foundation of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you will remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away,
but you are the same, and your years have no end.
The children of your servants shall dwell secure;
their offspring shall be [satisfied] before you.
Well, I invite you to turn to Hebrews chapter 13, where our text for this morning is to be found. Hebrews chapter 13, and we’ll pause and ask for God’s help as we turn to the Bible:
Make the Book live to me, O Lord;
Show me yourself within your Word,
Show me myself and show me my Savior,
And make the Book live to me.
For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Well, our text this morning is probably the best-known verse in the book of Hebrews. And I haven’t checked, but I would not be at all surprised if this particular verse does not come in the top five of sermon topics for the first Sunday of a new year. I would imagine that when people are gathering on the first Sunday of a new year, as we do now, that there would be quite a number that would come to this particular verse.
“Well,” you say, “is that it for you? Is that why you’re doing this? Have you run out of ideas? Why are you all of a sudden becoming so predictable?” Well, I’m capable for all of that and more besides, but no, I’ve actually had this verse in my mind for two particular reasons: first of all, on account of a new series that is about to begin, and secondly, because of an old song that I’ve been unable to get out of my head, running through my thinking for a significant part of this last year.
The new series is on the book of Hebrews. It’s going to be taught by my colleagues over the next thirteen weeks, which is a peculiar challenge for them and a wonderful encouragement for us, allowing us to fix our gaze quite unmistakably upon the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s the series. But the old song is a song that actually was written back in 1973 by a fellow called Alan Price, who at that time was the keyboard player for the Animals. Think “House of the Rising Sun” if you can’t do anything with that. And in that context, he wrote this very short song. It goes like this. (I’m not going to sing it for you; you can relax.)
Everyone is facing changes,
No one knows what’s going on,
And everybody changes places,
And still the world keeps moving on.
Now love must always turn to sorrow,
And everyone must play the game,
Because it’s here today and gone tomorrow,
But the world goes on the same.
Fascinatingly, he set those words to the tune of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”—whether on account of his background, growing up in the northeast of England in a church context, or not I do not know. And our verse for this morning, which is Hebrews 13:8, actually challenges the sentiment of the words that I’ve just quoted. There is a plaintive element to them. There is almost a cynical element to them. There’s a sense in which we are trapped, as it were, in the endless cycle of being born and living and dying and going on, and nobody really knows. And here in Hebrews 13:8, we have the antidote to that kind of thinking: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” That’s our text, and my hope is that this study provides something of an appetizer, setting us all up for the real meal that is about to follow. “The same yesterday … today and forever.”
The writer to the Hebrews has begun his letter by saying, “In the times past, God spoke in various ways, but now, in these days, he has spoken to us by his Son.” BC, anno Domini. And yet, in the context of the unfolding of his letter, we have these three tenses. And this will become apparent in the course of these studies, I’m sure. We will discover, for example, in chapter 9 that the writer says, “He has appeared … to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself”—in the past, “yesterday.” He now appears for us in God’s presence, “today,” and he will appear a second time to wrap things up. “Yesterday … today and forever.”
Now, this particular verse—as I say, such a familiar verse—comes in the context of the closing chapter, the thirteenth chapter, which is a very interesting chapter. And in many ways, it almost looks like an addendum to everything else that has preceded it. In fact, the fellow, the gentleman, the professor, the doctor, who taught me New Testament all these years ago, in his commentary on Hebrews, refers to the thirteenth chapter of Hebrews “as a series of apparently disconnected exhortations and other incidental teaching.” Now, I’m going to leave you to consider that, but you will notice—even a cursory glance at it, you will see—that it is almost as though he has said, “Now, there are a number of things that I want to mention to you before I pronounce the benediction,” and then he goes through a number of things: talks about money, talks about marriage, he talks about sex; he talks about all kinds of things. And it is in the course of that that he then says what we have in verse 8.
Now, it is not my purpose or my prerogative to delve deeply into the letter. That is for others to do. In fact, I want to say nothing further about its wider context. But we do need to recognize that our verse—that is, verse 8—comes between verse 7 and verse 9. And verse 7 provides an encouragement, and verse 9 provides a warning.
The encouragement in verse 7, if your eyes are upon it, is to “remember your leaders, those who spoke … the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life”—or, in the King James Version, consider their “end,” consider how it finished—“and imitate their [life].” Now, what I take it is—because he’s going to go on, down in verse 17, to come back to leaders again, the leaders that are still around—I take it that he’s referring to those who have moved on. And what he’s saying is “You should remember them. They live on in your memory.” And, of course, they do. It made me think this week about some who used to be with us, who were leaders in our church, that God has taken to himself. We remember them. We remember them. We remember the good end to their life. But they are no longer available for us to approach them. They are no longer a source of help. They can no longer provide support. “Remember your leaders.” That’s verse 7.
And then the warning in verse 9: “Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it[’s] good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods.” Presumably, in the context, they were saying these external things matter far more than they really do, and so he’s saying, “It is grace that ought to ground you in these exhortations, not a form of externalism. But make sure that you don’t allow yourselves to be swept off course.” That’s what he’s saying.
So, “Remember your leaders, and don’t get swept off course.” The answer to the departure of the leaders who are no longer available to help and to the danger of drifting is verse 8—namely, a steady focus on the one who is always available, who is always the same, who is unchanging from year to year.
Now, the writer has actually already established this at the very beginning of his letter. You say, “Well, you said you wouldn’t mention it.” Well, okay, so I didn’t tell the truth. But Hebrews chapter 1. The reason I read Psalm 102 is because the writer is quoting Psalm 102 in Hebrews chapter 1: “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning … they will perish, … you remain.” All right? So in other words, he’s already established this fact. He now puts it very straightforwardly and very simply: “You are the same,” he says in chapter 1, “and your years … have no end.” That is applied, you will notice. It is true of Almighty God, the Father, and it is true of the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s why in the opening chapter you have that great expression of these things.
So, here we have it: Jesus Christ, “the same yesterday … today and forever.” Let’s just go through each of these, and that will be our study for this morning.
First of all, “yesterday.” In other words, what the writer refers to as “in the days of his flesh.” You can see that in 5:7. He says, “In the days of his flesh, this is how Jesus was.”
Now, as you know, I have depended all of my life on hymn writers and songwriters who have helped to encapsulate for me often big truths pressed down into a very simple context so that my capacity to absorb it is—I’m capable of absorbing it; and not least of all in those who wrote hymns for children. One of the great benefits of being brought up in a context where you sing as a child and where you learn as a child is that it never leaves you. And so I found myself inevitably going to my childhood when I thought about “yesterday,” and a lady who wrote a wonderful hymn which begins,
I think when I read that sweet story of old,
[How] Jesus was here amongst men,
How he called little children as lambs to his fold,
I should like to have been with them then.
I don’t know about you, but it still draws me. Jesus moving amongst the people in the days of his flesh. Jesus being identified in the crowd. Jesus silencing his disciples, who are saying, “Could you please get rid of these children? They’re causing a dreadful hullabaloo.” And Jesus saying, “No, no, no, no. We’re not going to do that. Let them come to me.” I wonder what he would have been like.
Well, the fact is, we know. And how do we know? Well, because he has given to us the record of what he was. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John provide for us an insight into Jesus, as it were, “yesterday.” Last Sunday, if you can remember last Sunday, we considered Jesus as a twelve-year-old boy. But Luke very quickly zooms on from there, fast-forwards immediately, what, eighteen years. And Jesus is introduced to us in the synagogue where he grew up in Nazareth. And when he is there, as you will find it when you read Luke 4 at your own leisure—when he’s there, he’s reading from the scroll of the prophet. Remember: “In the past, God spoke of old by the prophets, but in these last days, he has spoken to us in his Son.” And Jesus the Son takes up the scroll of Isaiah, and he reads the section which says, “He sent me to preach good news to the poor and to set the captives free and to grant sight to those who were blind.” And the people listened to this. They were familiar with the prophet. But what they were not ready for is what he then went on to say: “Today this Scripture [is] fulfilled in your hearing.”
Well then, we would expect that if that is the case, we would read on in the Gospel records and find Jesus doing exactly that. What? Setting captives free, granting sight to the blind, transforming people’s lives. And, of course, that’s exactly what we do find. We see him touching the untouchables. The lepers had to stay a long way away. Nobody touched them. Jesus did. We see him putting his finger on the man’s greatest need—the man who couldn’t walk, and he thought if he only had his legs, that would fix everything, the way some people are here today; they’re saying, “If only I got a degree, that would fix everything.” “If only I got a raise, that would fix everything.” “If only that.” “If only that.” “If only that.” And Jesus says, “No, let me tell you what the real need is. The real need is that you need salvation.” He puts his finger on his life.
He hangs with an unlikely crowd of people. He ticks off the religious authorities by going to the wrong parties. During the year, one of my friends actually sent me a piece, a sort of New Year’s resolution. And I made a note of it, and I want to share it with you. It’s vaguely humorous. He says, “This year, I want to be more like Jesus. Number one: hang out with sinners. Number two: upset religious people. Number three: be kind, loving, and merciful. Number four: take naps on boats. Number five: tell stories that make people think.” “There was a certain man who had two sons. And the younger one said to his father, ‘Father…’” The people said, “I wonder what this is about.”
You see, Jesus learned, as we said last Sunday, by looking up. Jesus learned as he walked through harvest fields. That’s why Jesus said the things that he said. He said, “Consider this: the person who hears my words and puts them into practice is like a man who built his house on a solid foundation. But the person who hears my words and doesn’t put them into practice is like a man who built his house with no foundation at all, and the whole thing collapsed.” Well, how difficult is that to understand? One has a foundation, and it remains; one has no foundation, and it collapses. Jesus has stories that are clear.
His purpose is unmistakable. “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance,” he said to the religious authorities, who were annoyed with him because he was hanging out at Matthew’s house. “I didn’t come to start a religious club,” he said. “I came to call sinners.” And also, “I am gentle and lowly in heart, and those who come to me will find rest for their souls.”
No, we don’t need to be in any doubt at all about what Jesus was like “yesterday.”
Secondly, what about “today”? Because the real question is: Is he still like that? Is he still like that? I mean, one of the things that you might do at the end of the year… I’m very wary of doing this, particularly with my wife. I’ve heard people doing it in marriage. I’m not sure that it’s a recipe for success, but you’re supposed to say, I think on the closing day of the year, you know, “Are there things about me that you would like to change, dear, sweet wife?” You know. I’m not up for that. I really am not, because I won’t live long enough to get through the entire list. I don’t say that with any sense… I’m not entirely cavalier on that. I mean, it’s a dreadful thing.
You know, what are you like on a Monday? And are you the same on a Wednesday? How are you on Fridays? What were you like when you were seventeen, now that you’re forty-eight? Were you funny then? Were you sad then? Were you morose then? What are you like now? Chances are that there are all kinds of ebbs and flows. But not in Jesus. Not in Jesus. He’s the same.
And what we learn from “yesterday” applies to “today,” because he is the same. Now, obviously, we could affirm that on multiple fronts. But let me just say two things—again, that you will find… These will unfold in our studies; I’m absolutely confident.
First of all, we know that he is able to save completely—he is able to save completely—because he always lives to intercede for us as we come to God in prayer. So when we read the Gospels, and we see him “yesterday” reaching into the lives of people and transforming them, and we come to that today, we not only look back to “yesterday,” but we discover that today he is the same. He appears in the presence of God on behalf of his children. That’s why we sing, “Before the throne of God above I have a strong and perfect plea.” He is the one who is able today to save completely all “those who draw near to God through him.” “Through him”—that he is the Door, that he is the Gate, that he is the Shepherd of the sheep. There are others who came before him who are thieves and robbers—again, from the Gospel records—but “I am the door,” he says. “He who enters in through me will be saved, and he will go in and out, and he will find pasture.”
So, he’s able to save completely. And also, he is able to sympathize with us entirely. This is chapter 4; you can find it there. He’s able “to sympathize with our weaknesses.” This, again, flows from last Sunday, doesn’t it? Because we said, quoting the Westminster Confession, that when the fullness of time had come, Jesus took upon himself man’s nature—and I hope you remember this phrase—“with all its essential properties and common frailties, yet without sin.” In other words, the Lord Jesus Christ became part of what he created. He who is the creator of the universe becomes part of that created order—that he is today a flesh-and-blood reality. He’s not a phantom. He’s not a concept. He is a reality. And I’m going to quote my favorite carol for the last time this Christmas, but probably not the last time ever—at least I hope not. But it’s absolutely apropos:
Jesus is our childhood’s pattern;
Day by day like us he grew;
He was little, weak, and helpless;
Tears and smiles like us he knew;
So he shareth in our gladness,
And he feeleth for our sadness.
How can God feel for your sadness, how can God share in your gladness, unless God steps down into time—unless God takes upon himself, in the form of the second person of the Trinity, all that is represented in humanity, yet without sin, thereby enabling him to do what he did? So, as you read on through the letter, as we’ll discover, that he “offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears.” He “offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears.” If it were no other place, then we see him in the garden of Gethsemane, don’t we? That he sweat, as it were, “great drops of blood.” And in many ways, what that is doing is authenticating the fact that we face these things—that we are fearful, that we cry, that we wonder, that we hope, that we long. He’s the same! He’s the same today.
You come back to my children’s hymn, it goes on: “I wish that his hands had been placed on my head, [and] that his arm had been thrown around me.” I used to think about this when I was lying in my bed. I used to think about this, and I used to think about “All his jewels, precious jewels, his” something something jewels. It’s that little song. I used to think, “I wonder how you become one of those. I wish that his hand had been placed on my head and his arm had been thrown around me—like, just like that. Like yesterday.”
Then she goes on. She says to the children for whom she’s writing, “Yet still to his footstool in prayer I may go and ask for a share in his love.” There you have it. What is prayer? A long list of things? No! It’s like cozying in. It’s like saying, “Jesus, all that I discovered about you yesterday is true and relevant today. I may not have your hand on my head physically. I do not have your arm around me. But I have your Word, and I have your promises. And I want to be a bit like that lady who said, ‘If I could just touch the hem of his garment…’” And Jesus says, “Who … touched me?” And this fellow who said, “What do you mean, who touched you? Have you seen the crowd?” How did he know? How does he know you? How does he know your weeping heart? How does he know your longings? How does he know? Because he is the same today as he was yesterday.
I should ask you, before we come to tomorrow and all our tomorrows, to our “forever”—I should ask you, as we enter this new year: Are you trusting him in this way? Do you know Jesus in this way, as a Savior, as a Shepherd, as a Friend?
You know, I cannot escape my curse; I freely admit it. But as I was sitting pondering this in the middle of the week, a song came to my mind by a Scandinavian lady from, like, the ’60s. Her name was Evie, and she sang a bunch of songs. I don’t know where she is now. But one of the songs was “What kind of friend is there on a clear day and leaves at the first sign of rain? Not this kind of friend.” She’s singing about Jesus. And then, in another of them, she says,
Are you tired of chasing pretty rainbows?
Are you tired of spinning round and round?
Wrap up all the shattered dreams of your life,
And at the feet of Jesus lay them down.
No, you see, the reason that you wouldn’t do that, the reason that you’re afraid to do that, is because somehow or another, you’ve decided that the loss will be so great. But let me tell you this: Do you not think that he will give you greater in place of the things that you set down? I wonder: Have you tasted that the Lord is good today?
And then, finally, “forever.” “Forever.” What a transformation this brings about, doesn’t it? I was listening this morning to the BBC—which is not always wise first thing in the morning, but I was—and there was a program I was listening to, about how if we would stop eating meat and go with soy milk and do a number of other things, none of which I’ve actually committed to doing, then it would be possible for us to create a context where, you know, we could all live forever. And I said, “Wow!” I said, “That’s interesting.” Forever! Who’s in charge of forever? He who “is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
It’s quite interesting that in the context in which he gives this word of assurance, he actually says, “Keep your life free from love of money.” “Keep your life free from love of money.” There’s a number of ways to love money. One is to love it because you’ve a lot of it and you want to hold on to it. And the other way to love it is because you desperately want it and you don’t have any of it. So whether the love affair is with it or without it, the writer says, “Let me tell you what the answer to that is: the contentedness which comes from knowing that he provides for us, so that we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I won’t fear. What can man do to me?’”
Because he has said “I will never leave you,” we can confidently say “I will not fear.” He said, “I won’t leave you.” We say, “I won’t fear.” Not “He said, ‘I will never leave you,’ and we said, ‘Well, I’m not really feeling that very much.’” No, no. No, no. He said, “I will never leave you.” We said, “I will not fear.” It’s a declaration. It’s volitional before it is emotional: “Everything will change. Everything will change. The heavens and the earth will pass away. Yet you will remain. Yet you will remain always.”
In other words, “Don’t be alarmed. We’ve got it under control.” That’s why we read from Psalm 102. That’s why the writer begins in that way: “You laid the foundations of the earth …. They will perish, … you … remain; they will … wear out like a garment.” Here’s another thing you can do at the end of the year: get rid of old stuff! Get rid of… I mean, how many jackets do you need? And are you planning on keeping them forever? Have you seen some of the lapels on those jackets, gentlemen? They should never be seen again. Never again! And we could go through a whole host of things.
That’s how God is going to treat the present universe. That’s what it actually says: he rolls them up like an old bathrobe—something that you got for your Christmas in 1943. You’re not still wearing that; at least I hope you’re not. No. You can gladly roll that up and dispense with it. That’s what he says. That’s what he’s going to do.
Now, you see how that challenges the song with which we began? “Everyone is facing changes,” and “no one knows what’s going on.” First line, true; second line, false. Everyone is facing changes. But there is one who knows what’s going on: he who laid the foundations of the earth; he who appeared to suffer in the sinner’s place; he who bore the wrath that I deserve as a sinner; he who leads the company in praise; he who is “the same yesterday … today and forever.” Who else can fulfill that category, the “forever” category?
As a boy in Bible class on Sunday afternoons, one of the songs that we were taught to sing goes:
Yesterday, today, forever, Jesus is the same.
All may change, but Jesus never! Glory to his name!
Glory to his name! Glory to his name!
All may change, but Jesus never! Glory to his name!
The hymn writers will help us:
One there is, above all others,
Well deserves the name of Friend;
His is love beyond a brother’s,
Costly, free, and knows no end.
They who once his kindness prove
Find it everlasting love.
Father, thank you that in Jesus we discover that all of your fullness is found and that we are complete in him. We pray that on this first Sunday of a new year, that these simple and yet elemental facts may undergird whatever we’re facing personally or in our families—uncertainties about our future and so on. Please help us to this end, we ask. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
 R. Hudson Pope, “Make the Book Live to Me” (1943). Language modernized.
 Alan Price, “Changes” (1973). Lyrics lightly altered.
 Hebrews 1:1–2 (paraphrased).
 Hebrews 9:26 (ESV).
 Donald Guthrie, Hebrews, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1983), 267.
 Hebrews 1:10–11 (ESV).
 Hebrews 1:12 (ESV).
 Hebrews 5:7 (paraphrased).
 Jemima Luke, “I Think When I Read That Sweet Story of Old” (1841).
 Matthew 19:13–14; Mark 10:13–14; Luke 18:15–16 (paraphrased).
 Hebrews 1:1–2 (paraphrased).
 Luke 4:18 (paraphrased).
 Luke 4:21 (ESV).
 Luke 15:11–12 (paraphrased).
 Matthew 7:24–27 (paraphrased).
 Luke 5:32 (KJV).
 Matthew 11:29 (paraphrased).
 See Hebrews 7:25.
 Charitie Lees Bancroft, “Before the Throne” (1863).
 Hebrews 7:25 (ESV).
 John 10:9 (paraphrased).
 Hebrews 4:15 (ESV).
 The Westminster Confession of Faith, Modern English Study Version, 8.2.
 Cecil Frances Alexander, “Once in Royal David’s City” (1848). Lyrics lightly altered.
 Hebrews 5:7 (ESV).
 Luke 22:44 (ESV).
 Luke, “I Think.”
 William Cushing, “Jewels” (1856).
 Luke, “I Think.”
 Matthew 9:21 (paraphrased).
 Luke 8:45 (ESV).
 Evie Tornquist, “All the Time in the World.” Lyrics lightly altered.
 Evie Tornquist, “Give Them All to Jesus.”
 Hebrews 13:5 (ESV).
 Hebrews 13:6 (paraphrased).
 Hebrews 13:5–6 (ESV).
 Brenton Brown, “Word of God” (2012). Paraphrased.
 Psalm 102:25–26 (ESV).
 See Hebrews 1:12.
 See 1 Peter 3:18.
 Albert B. Simpson, “O How Sweet the Glorious Message” (1890).
 John Newton, “One There Is, Above All Others” (1779).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.