LIFE OUTSIDE THE CAMP
1. When the New Testament speaks to us about how to maintain a Christian mind-set in the midst of the world, it speaks of our Lord with the language of Leviticus.
a. For any of us who have labored our way through all the details that book has about priests and sacrifices, this fact may be quite unexpected.
b. But it’s true; First Peter (cf. 1:13f) and Hebrews (as in our text) especially do it.
c. And it’s a good thing – a very practical and much needed line of thought!
2. You can see why from an observation James Thompson offers in his book Strategy for Survival, a helpful little volume on Hebrews.
a. He tells about working with a small congregation in a big, very secular, city.
b. Most of the adult members were transplants who had been brought up in spiritually-minded homes, and who found the church to be the one place in that worldly environment where they really felt comfortable.
c. But their children had the opposite experience: they had come up in that secular atmosphere, and as they grew into their teen years the uncomfortable fact that the church made them different from their peers confronted them.
d. They held beliefs that not many of their friends understood, much less agreed with, and they were expected to maintain a lifestyle that was different from the popular culture.
e. Thompson says, “I do not recall seeing anyone give up the faith because intellectual problems became too unbearable. They did not drop out because they had examined the evidence for Christianity and found it unbelievable. But I did see several young Christians struggling to hold a set of beliefs which ‘no one believes anymore.’” (p. 124-125)
3. That’s the kind of pressure our text aims to relieve. It encourages followers of Christ by using images from Leviticus to highlight the positive meaning of life outside the camp.
1. As a Christian, you are imitating those who hearts have been strengthened by grace.
a. The leaders mentioned at the start of the paragraph are the ones who have already finished the journey well.
i. They spoke the word of God to the readers, they can be remembered, and the outcome of their lives can be considered.
ii. They “led” (NASB), but they still “are the guides” (KJV f.n.) because the word they spoke is authoritative and because the way they lived is worthy of imitation.
iii. The reference is most likely to those who first heard what the Lord said about the way of salvation and confirmed it to the rest of us (2:3).
iv. Consider, then, the humble boldness of Peter and John (Acts 4-5), or the gracious courage of Stephen (Acts 6-7), or the loyal steadfastness of James (Acts 12), or the way these same qualities played out in the lives of the others over time.
v. Why did their lives turn out that way? Because “it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace” (v. 9)!
b. The Christ who, just as he promised, was with them is still with his people.
i. It’s almost as if the writer imagines his readers thinking, “But those leaders are gone on. Their views are unacceptable to most people now. We feel so out of step!”
ii. And his answer is profound: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (v. 8). That is so much the message of this book!
iii. “Yesterday” he was the one through whom God created the world (1:2), and when everything in it wears out he will still be the same (1:12).
iv. “Today” he offers salvation to all those who will hear his voice and not harden their hearts, since he always lives to make intercession for them (4:7-10; 7:25).
v. “Forever” he will be at the right hand of God, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time (10:12). Christ is the fixed point, the constant in a world that each generation thinks is unique to it.
2. As a Christian, you are partaking of those benefits that can actually last.
a. We have an altar which benefits us (v. 10).
i. The idea that foods of one kind or another are of spiritual benefit seems to have always been a challenge to faith.
ii. In the service of the tent in Leviticus, the priests were to eat of certain kinds of offerings. But when a sin offering was made and its blood was used to make atonement on the altar before the LORD, the body of that animal was burned outside the camp (v. 11; Lev. 16:27).
iii. Jesus suffered outside the gate (v. 12).
(1) He made one sacrifice for sins forever on the cross (Jn. 19:17-20).
(2) He offered his blood in the holy places of heaven itself, securing an eternal redemption (Heb. 9:12).
(3) He did it to sanctify a people for himself – to purchase a people for his own possession (cf. Acts 20:28; Eph. 5:25, 26).
iv. Those who are devote themselves to what he has done are the ones who partake of the benefits of the altar.
v. There is no other altar associated with Christianity.
b. We have a city that is to come, the only one that can last (v. 14).
i. When the readers saw the phrase “here we have no lasting city,” they may not have realized how poignant the point was.
ii. Some of those who were “serving the tent” fancied the idea that those who were devoted to Jerusalem had a city there that would abide.
iii. But this letter is thought to have been written about 68 A.D.; just two years latter General Titus and the Roman army would plow it under.
iv. A major point in Hebrews is that there is “a city that is to come” – consider, for example, 11:10, 14, 16.
v. That city is our hope, too; we must continue to “seek” it!
3. As a Christian, you are engaged in those activities that are pleasing to God.
a. “Let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured” (v. 13).
i. This means that we are continually going to him, no matter what, even when it involves loneliness of believing.
ii. He came to do God’s will; so must we (10:7). He gave himself to make us holy; we must be holy (10:14). He endured shame and hostility from sinners; we must not grow fainthearted (12:3).
iii. It isn’t a matter of oddity; it is a matter of which treasure we consider to be the greater wealth (cf. Heb. 11:26).
b. “Through him let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name” (v. 15).
i. The emphasis is on “through him” – there is not another means of drawing near to God to offer him anything.
ii. Since “where there is forgiveness...there is no longer any offering for sin” (10:18), no sacrifice is appropriate but praise.
iii. Praise is offered to God by lips which tell what he has done through Christ.
c. “[Let us] do good and...share what [we] have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (v. 16).
i. This must be part of going to Jesus, because it is the same kind of thing he went about doing (cf. Acts 10:38).
ii. What our lips say in praise to God is to be reflected in what our lips say to other people, and in what our hands do for them.
iii. We are not to neglect to “communicate” (ASV), that is, to get involved with people, to give of ourselves, to share the journey with each other.
1. This wonderful paragraph has: 1)one object: Christ; 2)two possessions: an altar and a city; 3)two exhortations: let us go to him outside the camp, and let us offer up a sacrifice of praise; and 4)two warnings: do not be led away, and do not neglect to do good.
2. It uses the images of Leviticus to say that if you are a Christian...
a. You are imitating those who hearts are strengthened by grace.
b. You are partaking of benefits that will last.
c. You are engaged in pleasing God.
3. Do you remember that observation about young people in the city thinking they had beliefs no one accepts any more? It was written a generation ago! The life outside the camp is the life we have always needed!