We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.
The writer of this passage in Hebrews 13:10-14 is addressing an audience of Hebrew Christians, under great pressure to forsake Jesus and renounce his discipline. He begged them not to cast away their confidence and draw back from faith to perdition, though their goods were plundered, their companions abused and themselves made a spectacle by reproach and tribulation (10:32-39).
The writer calls upon Hebrew history as examples of enduring faith in chapter eleven, hoping to inspire similar perseverance in these troubled saints. Finally, he cites the Lord Jesus himself, who "endured the cross, despising the shame" (12:2). "For consider him who endured such hostility from sinners against himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin" (12:3-4).
Jews who became Christians were often cut off from their families and denied access to important parts of their lives. They were faced daily with a painful ultimatum: recant your discipleship or lose everything else. Witness the abuse of the apostles and disciples in Jerusalem throughout the Acts of the Apostles. The persecution included wrongful imprisonment, unjust threats to cease evangelism, and even murder. The stoning of Stephen led to a great dispersion of saints as the fear of retribution upon this "sect of Jewish heretics" terrified, but did not destroy the faith of the saints.
In Hebrews 13, the writer again appeals to Hebrew custom to illustrate the reliability of Christ and the way of truth. Hebrew law required the burning of sacrificed animals outside the camp in the days before the temple and city were built, and this law continued once the foundation of Zion was laid (Leviticus 4:12, 21; 16:27). Having previously established the role of Christ as our sacrifice for sins (10:1-10), the writer now brings the metaphor around to the location of Christ's crucifixion. John's gospel account reveals that "the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city" (19:20) and therefore not actually within Jerusalem. Had our Lord been killed by mob fervor as was threatened on many occasions, this might not have been true. By prophecy, however, Christ was a victim of the Roman-Jewish justice system and was executed according to that law, "outside the camp."
As the great Hebrew letter closes and the writer grasps at every last ounce of opportunity to inspire the saints, he compels them to imagine the son of God being led out of Jerusalem and nailed to a cross while his apostles cowered behind, refusing to own up to their Master, for fear of the Jewish leaders.
The writer tells them that they face the same test. Let us not shrink away and deny our Lord, but instead emerge from the safety of the shadows and go forth to him. Refuse the devil's fire where Peter warmed his hands and join Jesus around the tree of shame (Galatians 3:13). Does the approval of your families and the Jewish rulers mean more than the grace of God you recognize resides in the Messiah of Nazareth? Does comfort and acceptance in Jerusalem outweigh the hope of heaven?
Our writer compels them to make choices similar to those that all of us will have to make as well. How much is Jesus worth to you? What would you sacrifice for the hope of eternal life?
It is simple to sit back in this modern day and scoff at the weakness and cowardice of the apostles and disciples who were pitifully absent when Jesus was tried and executed. "I would have been right beside him all the way." Oh, really?
We are given plenty of opportunities to prove such an assertion, though against far less perilous odds. Our text challenges the saint to live every moment of his life as if he is actually being led to the cross with our Jesus. Christ was killed as a troubler of the peace; he was subjected to ridicule, scorn and false accusations. Our Lord was held up to the spectators for their abuse. For one to be identified as his follower meant the possibility of falling to a similar fate. Still, the Hebrew writer challenges his audience to be willing to bear that shame and reproach anyway. Who among us will face the heat and refuse to retreat into the shadows when faith and truth are mocked today?
Jesus warned potential converts to count the cost of discipleship and not enter into his company without the end in mind. "If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matthew 16:24-25).
The Hebrew writer was reminding his readers that the path to heaven requires us all to be willing to give up our lives.
Ever since the days when Christ trod Palestine, becoming a Christian has divided families. "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to 'set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law'; and 'a man's enemies will be those of his own household.' He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me" (Matthew 10:34-37).
Broken families were not the objective of the Redeemer; rather they were a distressing but tolerable result when the gospel was preached and only accepted by a few. It is not the believer who rejects his family because of his faith; it is the infidel who disowns a relative that confesses Jesus.
One sees this problem today. When a person is convicted by the purity of the gospel and decides to leave a Catholic or denominational system for the truth, he or she may face anger and resentment from relatives not so convicted. What to do? One must weigh the approval of the Heavenly Father against that of an earthly. One must compare the prospect of comfort and peace on earth with the hope of heaven? Which means the most?
Figuratively speaking, true Bible faith is under great fire these days. Even the so-called religious people of the world find genuine Christianity objectionable and narrow-minded. The saint of God is persecuted by atheists and infidels who mock the perceived naiveté of faith and kneel at the throne of junk science and hypotheses. Likewise, the saint is backed into a corner by sectarians pleading for unity-in-doctrinal-diversity (the tolerance of error and sin) and castigating any who contend for the truth as mean-spirited enemies of progress.
Jesus faced these pressures, too. The Sadducees thought the idea of resurrection was unscientific and rebuked Jesus and his followers for it (Matthew 22:23). The Pharisees and scribes hated our Lord because he contended so earnestly for the truth and didn't go along to get along (Matthew 15:12). Are you willing to go outside the camp of ecumenism and deified science to stand with Jesus? Are you willing to be called naive, stupid and even unchristian to keep the faith and hope of a life beyond this mortal frame (1 Peter 4:12-19)?
"Here we have no continuing city." There is safety and popular acceptance in the camp of sin, but courage and faith require us to go out to Jesus and stand by his side no matter what. Are you ready for that?
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