As a young child in Wollongong, I learned a lot of hymns and songs at Sunday School, in church, and at home listening to Burl Ives LP records.
Burl was a challenge to my tiny mind, since as well as revivalist hymns he also sang patriotic American songs, and colonial Australian songs such as “Click go the shears” and “Waltzing Matilda,” which we certainly did not sing at the little independent evangelical church on Mount Keira Road.
Then there were the songs we learned at the Illawarra Grammar School, with Mr Beilby and Reverend Woodward, such as, “Michael, row the boat ashore,” “Morning has broken,” and “Lord of the dance.” We didn’t sing those in church either.
My childhood mental Spotify is hopelessly compromised. But one hymn I remember well; the chorus goes like this:
Yesterday, today, forever,
Jesus is the same;
All may change, but Jesus never,
Glory to his name.
When we moved from Wollongong to New Guinea in 1978, they sang it there too, but in Pidgin.
The hymn was written around 1890 by A. B. Simpson, of old Keswick fame, and the leader to whom the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination traces its origins. The words of the chorus are from Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
At first glance, this sentence seems to have nothing to do with what comes before, or goes after. It looks adrift from the context of the passage. But it is a significant bridge connecting verse 7 with verse 9, placing the current plight of the Hebrew Christians in Christological context.
Verse 7 refers to revered past leaders of the church, who may have died. Verse 9 warns the readers of this letter against being “led astray by various kinds of strange teaching” that have popped up in the leadership vacuum.
When change happens, sudden or incremental, and we are left to our own devices, what was once a peaceful and secure life can quickly deteriorate. We may at first welcome the change, or press into its challenges, but the new reality sets in and the change comes to have less and less attraction.
Every generation encounters change. We are in the midst of pandemic-driven change today, but for each of us various changes occupy our minds and our emotions. For those Hebrew Christians it was leadership transition, and the author of the letter encourages them to “carefully observe the outcome” of the lives of their former teachers, and “imitate their faith.”
But even more important is the call, in verse 8, to remember Jesus. Through changes large and small, Jesus remains. He “is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
“Yesterday,” writes biblical scholar F. F. Bruce, “Jesus ‘offered up entreaties and supplications, with loud crying and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death’ (Heb 5:7);
“today he represents his people in the presence of God, a high priest who has a fellow-feeling with them in their weakness, because he ‘endured trial in all respects like’ themselves ‘while remaining free from sin’ (4:15);
“for ever he lives, this same Jesus, ‘to intercede for them (7:25). His help, his grace, his power, his guidance are permanently at his people’s disposal; why them should they lose heart?
“Others serve their generation by the will of God and pass on; ‘but this one’ … never needs to be replaced, and nothing can be added to his perfect work.”
Through the thick and the thin of our ordinary lives, Jesus remains. He remains constant. He stands at the door and knocks.
He delights in welcoming the prodigal home. He delights in seeing his people embrace change, and rise to new challenges, finding their place of ministry in his kingdom. He delights in growth, service, maturity.
Jesus is not only “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of God’s nature, sustaining all things by his powerful word (Heb 1:3) – he sustains you, and brings heaven to you, and walks by your side through all the changes, and carries you at last into God’s glory.
Let us pray.
O God, our Father, give us a draught of the eternal fountain that lies in your immutable, everlasting love and decree.
Then shall our hands never weaken,
our feet never stumble,
our swords never rest,
our shields never rust,
our helmets never shatter,
our breastplates never fall,
as our strength rests in the power of your might.
Rod Benson is Research Support Officer at Moore Theological College, Sydney. He enjoys preaching, cooking, snorkeling, and reading a good book. This talk was presented as a staff devotion on 8 February 2021.
 F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews (rev. edition; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 375.