Let Us Go to Him Outside the Camp
Constantly, we’re trained to choose comfort over suffering. From air-conditioning to smart phones, from Roombas to Amazon Prime, our culture wants you to be comfortable. These comforts aren’t necessarily bad. They can even be quite helpful. But they can also so shape our assumptions that we can become enslaved to comfort. Without realizing it, we expect comfort, feel entitled to it.
But it’s not just our culture training us this way. We prefer comfort. When you were a kid on the playground, or when you’re surrounded by coworkers, don’t you prefer to fit in with the crowd? It’s more comfortable to be liked. Isn’t it true that if many of us had our choice, we want the trophy quite apart from the intense training; we want the crown quite apart from the cross? We want to be comfortable.
Some of our first questions are, “Will it be safe? Is the neighborhood dangerous? Are the people nice? How much of me will it require?” Sometimes we ask those questions to count the cost. But sometimes the desire to be comfortable keeps us from following Jesus and identifying with his sufferings. Sometimes we get so settled in this world, that we stop living for the new one. We aren’t the first Christians to be tempted this way. Some of the Christians in Hebrews had a similar struggle.
Some Jews had become Christians. But they’re now wavering in their commitment to Jesus. Part of that is due to their own passivity. The other part is due to persecution. Enemies have done terrible things to keep them silent about Jesus. So they begin to question: “Why bother with Jesus if it means so much suffering? Wouldn’t our old ways in Judaism be easier? Didn’t God speak in the old covenant as well? Let’s return to Judaism. Perhaps we could reduce our Christianity to the things it broadly holds in common with Judaism. Maybe we could just blend in with the Jews a bit more; then the Jews wouldn’t persecute us. Rome might leave us alone as well.”
To some extent, they preferred to stay comfortable over taking up their cross. Hebrews exists to address that problem. To choose comfort in this life over the cross is to abandon the very benefits of that cross. Instead, Hebrews says, let us go to Jesus outside the camp, bearing his reproach. This is the sacrifice that pleases God. Let’s read it together, starting in verse 9…
9 Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. 15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God
The Better Altar/Sacrifice in Jesus
In Hebrews, we encounter a consistent pattern. Magnify the greatness of Jesus and the new covenant against the old covenant shadows; and then exhort the people in light of those greater, new-covenant realities. The same pattern appears in verses 10-16 [screen]. Verses 10-12 explain the greatness of Jesus’ sacrifice along with the dangers of returning to the old covenant shadows. Then verses 13-16 show how that should impact our lives. Let’s begin, then, with the better altar/sacrifice in Jesus.
To understand verses 10-12, we need to jump back to verse 9. He says, “Don’t be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it’s good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which haven’t benefited those devoted to them.” People speculate about what’s meant here by “foods” and being devoted to them. But a few weeks ago, 9:8-10 helped clarify what’s in view. He’s referring to the old arrangements under the Law. To devote yourself to foods—in this context—was to abandon Christ’s sufficient work and return to the old regulations under the Law that can’t give you access to God and that can’t perfect your guilty conscience.
In context, then, we’ve got one group trying to strengthen people’s hearts by returning to the old regulations under the Law. They’re trying to convince people that this is still the way to approach God, and that there’s even some kind of spiritual benefit in being devoted to the foods associated with the old animal sacrifices.
Hebrews steps in to say, Not so fast! Verse 10, “We (Christians) have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat.” That’s not language we’re used to, but “altar” simply means the place of sacrifice. One place of sacrifice is the altar in the temple in Jerusalem—what he calls here “the tent.” By contrast, the better place of sacrifice—the altar “we have”—is found in the death of Jesus. His point is that anyone who chooses to serve the tent—anyone who chooses to serve the old system under the Law when the fulfillment in Christ has come—they have no right to participate in the blessings of Jesus’ sacrifice. Let’s trace his argument further…
In verse 11 he says, “Let me explain: the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp.” That’s from Leviticus. Under the old system, priests would offer sacrifices for sin. Sometimes they could eat the sin-offerings (Lev 6:26); and by eating the sacrifices, Paul tells us, they became participants in the altar (1 Cor 10:18). But there was one exception. According to Leviticus 6:30, “…no sin offering shall be eaten from which any blood is brought into the tent of meeting to make atonement in the Holy Place…”
For Hebrews, the key example is the Day of Atonement. In fact, Hebrews 13:11 shares the same language as Leviticus 16:27—“…the bull for the sin offering and the goat for the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the Holy Place, shall be carried outside the camp. Their skin and their flesh and their dung shall be burned up with fire.” They weren’t allowed to eat it, in other words. The old order had sin-offerings, but the priests couldn’t partake of the most important one.
By contrast, Hebrews is saying that Jesus not only provides the better sacrifice; he invites us to share in its blessings—he invites us to eat his flesh and drink his blood, according to John 6. His flesh is true food; his blood is true drink. How do you do that? You come to him and believe in him. When you come to Jesus as God’s gift to the world for salvation, you will experience life with God. God himself will strengthen your heart grace. He will give you help in time of need. Those who return to the old regulations cut themselves off from the blessings of Christ’s sacrifice.
And what is one of those blessings? True purification to enter God’s presence. You see, Leviticus 16:28 goes on to describe how even the priests couldn’t re-enter the camp until they were clean. The tabernacle and the area around the courtyard, “the camp”—God designated that area as “clean.” God’s presence dwelled inside the camp. To be in God’s presence, you had to be clean. The camp was sacred territory. Outside the camp was designated unclean. Leapers dwelled there. Those defiled by dead things were there. Criminals were killed there. The nations who rejected God were there. Until you were designated clean according God’s word, you couldn’t enter the camp. You couldn’t enter God’s presence. You needed purification.
Through that system, God was pointing backwards to illustrate humanity’s story outside the Garden. Our defilement with sin keeps us from God’s presence. We need someone to purify us, to make us holy. Through that system, God was also pointing his people forward to what he offers the world in Jesus.
“Jesus,” he says in verse 12, “suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.” That’s unique. Why’d Jesus do it that way, outside the gate? The old priestly order could never bring the unclean into the holy places. The priests always left them outside the camp, unclean. The priests couldn’t do it. But Jesus did. The holy one, suffered outside the gate. He didn’t enter the old tent, apart from us, to make his sacrifice. He came to us, to the unclean; and he suffered, and died to make unclean people clean, to make unholy people holy. The righteous died for the unrighteous that he might bring us to God. Nothing inside the camp could ever do that. They were only pointers to the sacrifice Jesus made to bring us into the true holy places, to bring us into the presence of God. The unclean could never come to God; he came to us.
If that’s true—and Hebrews is saying that it definitely is true…in fact, that’s why he brings up the historical fact of Jesus’ death outside the gate. If that’s true—if Jesus offered an atoning sacrifice that brought us into the true holy places—then he rendered the old holy places null and void. Jesus’ sacrifice was so sufficient in accomplishing our forgiveness, the sacrifices in the old holy places aren’t necessary anymore. In fact, anybody who keeps devoting themselves to the old sacrifices—they don’t please God. To spill more blood when Jesus’ blood did it once and for all—those sacrifices will not please God. To devote yourself to foods that don’t mean a thing anymore, that have no saving significance, that doesn’t please God.
The only sacrifices that remain are the ones he mentions in verses 13-16, and they are not the kind that make atonement—that work is finished. The sacrifices we bring are of the kind that grow out of the atonement Jesus made for us. Here’s where Hebrews explains how the new covenant should impact us, how the new covenant compels us. We know the truth about Jesus’ sacrifice, and its superiority. How should we now live? What does it mean for the way we do life? Three exhortations follow…
1. Willingly bear the reproach of Christ.
Number one, we must willingly bear the reproach of Christ. Listen to verses 13-14: “Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.” We just learned that the old holy places are null and void. The place of fellowship with God isn’t found within the confines of the old covenant. It’s found in the person and work of Jesus. You don’t access God’s presence by going to a temple, or to any other place for that matter. The true meeting place is found in Jesus Christ. He makes people holy. He gives access to God. He turns unclean people into sacred people.
For whoever receives his sacrifice—Jesus’ presence brings you into the true holy places. Do you see what he’s saying? If you want to be holy, if you want true fellowship with God, don’t go sacrifice at that old tent over there. Don’t start devoting yourselves to a bunch of empty rituals. Go to Jesus outside the camp.
That’s where you make your sacrifices now. And those sacrifices aren’t you laying down an animal’s life; you are laying down your own life in the path of love. When Hebrews says, “Let’s go to Jesus outside the camp,” he’s telling them not to return to the old regulations under the Law. He’s telling them not to blend in with Judaism. Instead, they must actively and publicly identify with Jesus’ sacrifice and no other. For them to do that would mean persecution.
That’s why he adds, “bearing the reproach he endured.” When you hear reproach, think others disparaging you. They publicly belittle you, treat you as worthless. They turn you into a public disgrace and expose you to insults and abuse. Think of the reproach of Christ mentioned in Hebrews alone: he had to bear up under immense suffering (Heb 2:10); the full brunt of temptation hounded him (Heb 2:18); with loud cries and tears he prayed (Heb 5:7); he experienced hostility from sinners (Heb 12:3); he endured a cross along with its shame (Heb 12:2). Bearing reproach isn’t comfortable, convenient, easy, or safe. It’s a cross in the path of obedience.
Think of Stephen in Acts 7—he was showing the Jews how the Law and the temple anticipated Jesus; but the people secretly plotted to malign Stephen, lie about him, and then they stoned him. Think also of what some of these same Christians had encountered before. Remember what they endured in 10:32-33? “…you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproaches and afflictions, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property.” That’s what he’s asking them to do again. Don’t run away from that reproach. Don’t fall prey to the comforts of blending in with Judaism—or any other teaching that denies Christ’s sacrifice. Take up your cross with Jesus outside the camp.
Here’s what that means for you and me: don’t blend in with the culture around you as a way to escape persecution. Don’t try to syncretize Christian teaching with some other strange teachings as a way to stay comfortable. Don’t compromise on Christ as a way to fit in with the crowd. That’s a real temptation facing the church—to find security by identifying with the more recognized group, or with the group in power, or with the group making the most noise, or with the group that agrees with me politically? Then, compromise after compromise takes place until you can no longer tell the Christians apart from the pagan world.
No matter what side the reproach comes from, be willing to suffer reproach for the true gospel. Be willing to identify with Jesus in going outside the camp, with all the disgrace and ridicule and mocking that will come along with it. Stick with the message of God’s grace in the new covenant, even when that means others will hate you for it. The world hated Jesus too. The pagan Romans hated Jesus confronting their idolatry and immorality. The religious right hated Jesus confronting their self-righteousness, hypocrisy, and lack of compassion. When we stick with Jesus, both will treat us the same.
That’s a hard call on your life. But it doesn’t come without its reward. He says in verse 14, “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” Now, we often read that and think Fort Worth, my city—and there may be an application there. But in context he’s talking about Jerusalem. That city isn’t going to last; and it didn’t last when the Romans sacked it in 70 AD. His point, though, is not to give themselves to living for the Jerusalem below. Rather, live for the Jerusalem above. Live for the New Jerusalem, that will one day come down from heaven to earth. Live for the city whose designer and builder is God. That’s your reward; the blessings and riches of that city will be so worth every sacrifice you make in this life.
Don’t get too settled in this life. Don’t grow too comfortable here. I appreciated Wes’s exhortation at the members meeting last Sunday, reminding us from 1 Peter that we are sojourners and exiles on earth. Our true home is in the New Jerusalem; and that should affect what we value most and what we give ourselves to and what we speak most passionately about and where we lay up our treasures.
2. Openly praise the name of Christ.
Number two: openly praise the name of Christ. That’s another sacrifice that pleases God outside the camp. Verse 15: “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” Notice first that any true worship of God must come through Jesus—“through him let us continually offer.” Jesus is the only mediator between God and man. There is no other way to approach God, no other way to please God besides through Jesus.
See also that he clarifies what he means by a sacrifice of praise: “that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” The word behind our English “acknowledge” has to do with confessing Jesus publicly. We see it used of John the Baptist openly announcing Jesus’ identity (John 1:20). We also see it used when the blind man is healed in John 9, and his parents refuse to answer the religious leaders out of fear—the text says, “for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ [i.e., openly], he was to be put out of the synagogue.” We’re dealing here with open confession, publicly acknowledging Jesus’ lordship.
Then also notice that it’s not limited to a religious event, or to the car ride on the way to work, or to a season of life that’s easier than others. Our open praise should happen continually. In private, in public, Sunday through Saturday, in plenty and in want, in all circumstances, we must openly praise the name of Jesus.
I love Sunday gathered. I love acknowledging Jesus’ name together in praise and prayer and then in fellowship afterwards. At the same time, Sunday gathered isn’t where we spend the bulk of our lives. Sunday gathered is meant to prepare us for where we do spend the bulk of our lives; and that’s with other people outside this fellowship—at family events, at school, at work, at neighborhood parties, at city council meetings, at the park, at the gym, at the Pregnancy Help Center, in lines at the grocery store, reading to your kids. It could be Christians; it could be non-Christians.
I’ve been doing the grocery shopping right now. Tuesday mornings I go to Sprouts. I see the same people working, the same cashiers. As you build relationships, you learn about them. You learn what they love, sometimes what they hate. You learn when a family member dies or when a customer mistreated them. One lady who works there is a Christian. We’ll often share something we’ve learned in the word recently; and this is no private, quiet conversation. When she talks about Jesus, the whole store hears about Jesus. She has no problem openly praising the name of Jesus.
Just before Christmas, though, another cashier had shared with me how the raise she expected wouldn’t be coming through. It brought a lot of grief for her. This provided an opportunity for me and this other sister to pray for this cashier and speak to her about the Lord. Both of us were able to openly acknowledge that God is there, that he cares for her, that he will hear when she cries to him.
Each of your circumstances are different. Each of your contexts are different. The people you interact with during the week are different. But our responsibility is always the same—openly praise the name of Christ. When the opportunities come, speak boldly. Rejoice in his good graces to you. Even when they imprison you, we have examples in Scripture and in church history of the saints praising the name of Jesus in suffering. Make him known to others continually, this is another sacrifice we bring.
3. Generously serve others to image Christ.
Lastly, number three: generously serve others to image Christ. This is another sacrifice pleasing to God outside the camp. Verse 16, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”
That reaches back to Jesus’ teaching, doesn’t it? Jesus prioritized doing good. He taught his disciples to follow in his steps. Luke 6:27, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you…” What sorts of “good”? Well, Jesus continues, “To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back…If you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same…But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.”
According to Jesus, “doing good” goes beyond good morals expressed privately in the comfort of your home. It also goes beyond what’s normally expected by the outside world in a given situation. 1 Peter 2:15 makes a similar point, “that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” Meaning, your commitment to the good of others should be so obvious in the way you care for them, that even non-Christians would have no grounds to speak against you. We are to be the sort of people that, when others attack us, everyone else can look at our attackers and say, “Man, you be crazy. They’re like the most generous, caring people I know.”
Doing good. In Mark 14:7 it refers to caring for the poor. Hebrews itself has given us a few examples like serving the saints in 6:10. It’s showing hospitality in 13:2. It’s serving the persecuted church in 13:3. The rest of verse 16, here, speaks to using our material possessions to serve others in need—he says, “share what you have.” This kind of sharing marked the church from the very beginning. Acts 2:44, “All who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.”
In 1 Timothy 6:17, Paul encourages the rich this way: “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share…”
Doing good, sharing what you have—we’re dealing with caring for others in visible, material ways; and they’re characterized by a kind of generosity that can only be explained by the presence and power of Jesus in someone’s life. They can only be explained by hope in the city that is to come. To serve others, we can let go of our things more easily because of the treasure we know awaits us in the New Jerusalem.
Maybe you know of a need that you can meet this week, even today. Maybe you’re aware of a single mom that needs help watching the kids. Maybe you can use your home to host care group or invite families from the neighborhood over for a Saturday breakfast. Maybe there’s someone at higher risk with COVID and they need help with groceries. Maybe you’ve experienced mistreatment from an enemy of the gospel this week, and your next step is to serve them and do good to them this week. Maybe you just need to do a better job knowing people’s needs, so that you can help meet them. Whatever it looks like, let us generously serve others to image Christ. May our light so shine before others, that people see our good deeds and glorify our Father in heaven.
Are these the sacrifices you bring to the Lord? How are you willingly bearing the reproach of Christ? How are you openly praising the name of Christ? How are you generously serving others to image Christ? These are the sacrifices that please God, brothers and sisters. These are the sacrifices that grow from our knowledge of Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice for us. Let’s give ourselves to them faithfully. They will surely pull us away from numerous comforts in this life. Living this way will not be convenient or easy. But Jesus is our help; he is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He will strengthen your heart with grace. If he died to take care of your biggest problem, and bring you to God, he will now in his resurrection life help you until we all meet someday in the New Jerusalem. Maybe next year. Let us go to him outside the camp, bearing the reproach, for here we have no lasting city but we seek the city that is to come.