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Enlightenment Through Christ

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Because it is still 2021, our theme for the year continues to be “Be the Light”.  Clay and I don’t have another light-based sermon series scheduled for a little while yet, but I thought it was appropriate to revisit the theme in a one-off sermon anyway. 

In particular, I thought all of us could stand to be reminded that even though we’re supposed to be the light, we aren’t supposed to be the source of the light.  Instead, that source is Jesus.  If we want to know what light is, we should look to Him.

However, this doesn’t merely mean looking at what Jesus said and saying the same thing.  Rather, we need to consider the whole pattern of His life and teaching.  2000 years ago, many people rejected Jesus, and they continue to do so today for the same reasons.  Even the people who believed in and listened to Him ran into problems with that, and if we think we are above those problems, we are sadly mistaken!  This morning, then, let’s look at a context from Mark 8 to see what it can teach us about enlightenment through Christ.

The first of the three stories in the chapter that we’re going to be considering concerns THE PHARISEES.  Here, consider Mark 8:11-13.  As always when we study Mark, it’s important to remember that the gospel is only loosely chronological, but it is tightly thematic.  When Mark puts two stories next to each other, it’s not necessarily because they happened sequentially in time.  Instead, it’s because the stories have something to do with each other and offer commentary on each other.

Here, the Pharisees have come to Jesus asking for a sign.  On its face, this request sounds reasonable.  However, the opposite is true.  Jesus has just worked the mighty miracle of the feeding of the 4000, but that’s still not enough for these guys.  They want another sign!  Jesus declines to jump through their hoops, but based on their previous performance, if He had obliged them instead, they only would have looked for an excuse to ask for yet another sign.  Their problem is not absence of proof.  It is the absence of a good heart.

In the same way, we must consider whether we are coming to Jesus with a good heart.  This has to do first of all with His divinity.  We have plenty of evidence that He is indeed the Son of God.  The question, though, is whether we are looking for reasons to believe or excuses to disbelieve.  If the latter, no apologetic argument ever will be enough to convince us.

The same holds true of the authority of Jesus.  There are two hearts with which we can come to the word.  We can come to it wanting most of all to carry out our own desires, or we can come to it with the desire only to please Jesus. 

Here too, we must be honest.  Do I study the Scriptures looking for the tiniest clue about what Jesus wants, so I can do that?  Or, instead, do I reject any but the most overwhelming evidence, insisting that my obtuseness leaves me with the right to do whatever I want?  If the latter, we have company among the people of 2000 years ago, but it’s not the company we want!

Next, let’s consider how the enlightenment of Jesus affects THE DISCIPLES.  Let’s continue with our reading in Mark 8:14-21.  In this story, we see a clear difference of priorities between Jesus and even His closest followers.  Jesus is concerned with the evil hearts of the Pharisees and of Herod, who also is a problem.  Using metaphor, He warns His disciples to watch out for the leaven of their influence. 

That’s not where the disciples are.  Apparently somebody goofed, and they neglected to lay in provisions for the boat ride ahead.  They’re out of bread!  As a result, when Jesus starts talking about leaven, their minds go to the yeast in the wheat products they eat. 

From our perspective, this might seem like a reasonable mistake to make, but Jesus doesn’t take it that way.  Instead, He uses the language of Old Testament prophecy to condemn them.  These were men who had seen Jesus make meals for 5000 and 4000 people out of a tiny amount of food.  If they had thought about that, they would have realized that it didn’t matter whether they had bread, as long as they had Jesus.

Brethren, this is one to which all of us need to pay attention.  As with the disciples, our preferred state is to have both bread and Jesus.  We want our relationship with God, but we want all of our earthly comforts and blessings too.  When we lose those things, where is our focus?  Do we seek Jesus, believing that He is enough, or do we start worrying because we don’t have any bread?  As we see, the latter can be a problem even for good-hearted disciples, but if it’s a problem we have, it highlights our need for growth in understanding.

Finally, let’s consider the miracle of healing THE BLIND MAN in Mark 8:22-26.  This is surely one of the most difficult miracles in the whole ministry of Jesus to understand.  The blind man is brought to Jesus, Jesus lays hands on him, but his vision is not fully restored.  Rather than seeing clearly, in his own words, he sees men like trees walking around.  Only after Jesus lays hands on him again does he begin to see clearly.

When we consider this miracle in isolation, we find ourselves asking, “How in the world does this make sense?”  If Jesus had enough power to heal the guy at all, why did it take two tries to get it right?  Did He have to get a power-up from the Holy Spirit before He could try again?

The mistake here, of course, is considering the miracle in isolation.  When we’re talking about the One who did all things well, the only reasonable conclusion is that He healed the man in this way because He meant to.  In the context of stories about people who refuse to understand or who understand only incompletely, His purpose in doing so is clear.

Here, then, is what is going on.  Just like Jesus healed the paralytic to show that He had authority on earth to forgive sins, He healed the blind man in stages to show that our spiritual enlightenment comes in the same way—in stages.  Nobody is presented with a perfect understanding of Jesus and His will the moment they’re baptized.  Instead, we have to seek Him and learn from Him in order to conform our understanding to His.

This certainly happened with the apostles.  In the next chapter, Peter is about to have a big leap in spiritual understanding when he confesses that Jesus is the Christ.  However, even then Peter wasn’t done.  On the night of Jesus’ betrayal, his violent response shows how much more he has to learn.

So too with us.  None of us have it all figured out, nor will we.  However, the more diligently we seek the Lord, and continue to seek Him, the more enlightenment we will find.

Addressing Spiritual Problems

Thursday, June 24, 2021

There are few things that are more difficult for Christians and churches than when another Christian falls into sin.  It’s very easy and straightforward for us to interact with one another when everybody is living faithfully; indeed, the fellowship we share in Christ is one of the great joys of earthly existence! 

However, one of the characteristics of sin is that it makes everyone else’s choices more difficult.  All of a sudden, that easy camaraderie is shattered.  Now, every time we see the Christian who is doing wrong, a host of questions leap into our mind.  Should we treat them normally and act like nothing’s wrong even though we know it isn’t true.  Should we say something?  If so, what?  Should we go to the other extreme and avoid them entirely because it ends up being much less awkward for everyone?

These are difficult questions, but thankfully, the Holy Spirit does not leave us without help.  There are several contexts in Scripture that probe this subject, and one of them appears in our Bible reading for this week.  Let’s turn to 2 Thessalonians 3, then, to see what the apostle Paul has to teach us about addressing spiritual problems.

In this context, I see three main lessons for us, and the first is that we must IMITATE THE APOSTLES.  Here, let’s read from 2 Thessalonians 3:6-10.  Here, it becomes obvious that the Thessalonian church has a problem.  There are several members of the congregation who are refusing to work. 

We don’t know why this is.  Many commentators have speculated that it’s because they were expecting the imminent return of Jesus, so what’s the point in working?  It’s also possible that they thought it was easier to sponge off other Christians than it was to work.  Regardless, these Christians who should be productive members of society are idle busybodies instead.

In addressing this problem, Paul first encourages the church to imitate him and his companions.  Paul did the Lord’s work during his time in Thessalonica.  He had the right not to do secular work.  However, he chose to work to show the Thessalonians how important and godly working was.  His behavior was their standard.

Today, early Christians aren’t merely our standard when it comes to working.  Their behavior is our standard when it comes to everything.  It’s vital for us to acknowledge this standard for two main reasons.  First, it shows us what’s right and what’s wrong.  We can resolve every important spiritual question by referring to what our first-century brethren did.

Second, it shows us how we must live if we want to help Christians who are walking disorderly.  They have to be able to see us obeying the commandments that we want them to obey.  I guarantee you that if we try to correct a brother or sister, and they know that we aren’t living right ourselves, the first thing out of their mouths will be an accusation of hypocrisy!  Sadly, an exchange like that is actively harmful because it gives them an excuse to reject correction even from a brother who is living right.  If we want to clean up somebody else’s act, we must clean up our own act first.

Next, we must be willing to COMMAND AND EXHORT.  Here, let’s consider 2 Thessalonians 3:11-13.  Notice how formally Paul uses his authority here.  As an apostle, in the name of Jesus Christ, he tells the busybodies to knock it off and get back to work.

Both parts of this formula are vital.  The first is the command part.  This is not something that culturally sits well with us.  On Facebook, Americans are lions, but in person, we’re a bunch of cowards.  We don’t do face-to-face confrontation well at all!

However, experience has taught me that if you want somebody to change, the only way to get them to change is to talk to them face-t0-face.  There is no substitute for looking in somebody’s eyes and telling them they need to straighten up for their soul’s sake.

When we do this, though we must be loving, we must be direct too.  Too often we’re so worried about hurting a sinner’s feelings that we beat around the bush and couch our message in so many caveats that they easily ignore it.  I’m reminded, though, of a brother I know who is a recovering drug addict.  He says that what helped him wasn’t the people who tried to coddle him and downplay his condition.  Instead, it was the people who loved him who told him straight up that he was doing evil and needed to repent.  We too need to have the moral courage to call a spade a spade and a sin a sin.

As we do this, though, we shouldn’t overlook the importance of exhortation either.  Exhortation is positive.  It’s encouraging.  It offers a road map for change and improvement.  If we don’t offer this road map, all we’re doing is beating somebody down and making them feel bad about themselves without offering them a way to feel good about themselves.  Our goal isn’t to check boxes here.  It’s to provoke change, and if we want to see a change, we should tell the sinner what it is.

Paul’s final instruction is to NOTE THE DISOBEDIENT.  Look at 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15.  Though obviously any of us can exhort a brother to do good, this is clearly an instruction given to the whole church.  It’s similar to what we read in Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5.  If we go to somebody, and they refuse to listen—other passages lay out the process here in much greater detail—we need to single them out for different treatment.

Interestingly, Paul’s words here are meant to help us avoid two different extremes.  The first is continuing in the same relationship with them as though nothing has changed.  The temptation here is obvious, isn’t it?  We’ve said our piece, they ignored it, so we shrug and move on in our relationship with them as though they didn’t listen to a hot stock tip we gave them. 

Of course, the gospel is much more than a hot stock tip.  In Hebrews 10, the writer tells us that Christians who fall away have trampled Jesus, regarded His blood as an unclean thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace.  It makes God very angry when His people turn their backs on Him, and for the apostate, their meeting with God on the day of judgment poses a deadly danger.  When we continue in friendly association with the sinner despite the doom that is hanging over them, we do them no favors!

At the same time, though, neither do we cut off communication with them entirely.  That would be regarding them as an enemy, and if we don’t talk to somebody anymore, it’s awfully hard to admonish them as a brother!  Instead, Paul is calling us to strike a difficult balance.  We need to continue in that relationship even though they have wrecked it, showing them by our conduct both that we love them and that we don’t approve of their actions.  This is awkward, and it’s meant to be awkward, but it’s also the last chance we have to save their souls from destruction.

Doing Even More

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

There are many things that I love about being a preacher, but one of my favorites is the encouragement I get from good people who are diligently seeking God.  For me these days, it seems like every Sunday night is a Paul-in-1-Thessalonians 3 moment.  Since the big pandemic shutdown late last year, it’s been a joy to watch our evening attendance slowly rebuild itself. 

The progress hasn’t been linear, but on the attendance charts, it’s plain to see.  More and more, the members here, people who had gotten out of the habit of worshiping on Sunday nights, are investing the effort to re-instill that habit.  I think that’s great, and it speaks volumes about who all the people who are here tonight want to be.

To the Sunday evening crowd, then, I can only repeat Paul’s commendation in 1 Thessalonians 4:1.  All you can say to the folks who are already working is encouraging them to do better!  Though obviously there are any number of ways that all of us can improve in our service to God, there are three that I want to focus on this evening, ways that every brother and sister here can do even more.

The first of these is to MAKE THE MOST OF THE TIME.  Consider Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:15-16.  I think his reasoning here is fascinating.  He says some familiar things:  pay attention, and make the most of your time.  However, his reasoning is not very familiar at all.  We should do these things because the days are evil.  In other words, we should take advantage of the opportunities we have right now because life is hard, the future is uncertain, and we may never get opportunities like this again.

If there is any lesson that we should have learned from the pandemic, surely this is it!  On January 1, 2020, none of us anticipated the way that the next 18 months were going to go.  We had no idea how greatly our lives were going to change.  For many of us, we had no idea that an illness from the other side of the globe was going to put those lives in danger.    

On January 1, 2020, all of us were rotten future-predictors.  On June 6th, 2021, are any of us any better future-predictors?  We have no idea what the future holds!  For all we know, on January 1, 2023, we might not even be here anymore!

This tells us, then, that the time for serving God in all those ways we’ve been thinking about is not 18 months from now, or at some indefinite point in the future.  That time is now. 

This could mean any number of things for us.  It could mean that we follow through on that good intention of being here every time the doors are open.  It could mean that we commit to spending more time on our kids and grandkids instead of work and hobbies.  It could mean that if we fell off the daily-Bible-reading wagon in February, we get back on it in June.  I don’t know what the answer is for all of you, but I think each of you knows what it is for yourself.

The future is uncertain.  We might not be able to act then, but all of us can act now.  Every day that God gives us is a priceless opportunity.  Let’s use each of them to glorify Him.

Second, let’s recognize the opportunity we have right now to LOVE OUR NEIGHBOR.  Jesus emphasizes the importance of love in Matthew 22:34-40.  This is a familiar passage to most of us, but I think there is a particular application that we need to consider.  Remember how back during the pandemic, we would check the CDC site every day to get the latest COVID numbers?  Right now, there’s a public-health crisis going on that may be even worse, but nobody is updating a website daily about it.  It’s a mental-health crisis.

Human beings are social creatures.  God designed us to enjoy and even need being around others.  This is why in prison, the worst thing that you can do to punish somebody who has been locked away for life is to put him in solitary confinement.  Well, brethren, for the past 18 months, COVID plus government intervention has put us all in solitary confinement, and the mental damage that has done is incalculable.

Worse still, the disease prevents the cure.  If you’ve got COVID bad, you’re going to go to the hospital, but if you’re badly depressed, you’re not going to want to go anywhere or do anything to get better.  None of us have the foggiest idea how many Americans are in this predicament, but I would guess that they number in the tens of millions.  Each one of those people is a silent tragedy.

If they can’t reach out to us, we need to reach out to them.  We need to be checking up on the people we know, both inside and outside the church, and engaging deeply enough with them to make sure that they’re OK.  This is particularly true for those whose behavior has changed significantly pre-pandemic to post-pandemic.  There may well be a problem there, and we need to love our neighbor enough to find the truth and act to help if needed.

Finally, let’s PRAY FOR DOORS.  Paul advises the Colossians to do so in Colossians 4:2-4.  It’s axiomatic that people start seeking the Lord in hard times.  We see this pattern occur repeatedly in the book of Judges, among many other places in Scripture.  We have undeniably been through a hard time, so what does that tell us that a lot of people have been thinking about?

Once again, though, these people aren’t necessarily going to be boldly coming to us.  If you don’t have God in your life, and COVID has got you thinking about the frailty and insecurity of human existence, that’s a pretty depressing line of thought!  Right now, the people who most see their need for God and would be most willing to accept Him may well also be those who are least able to do anything about it.  They’re really unlikely to show up on their own at a church building full of people they don’t know.

What do we do about it?  We pray about it, that’s what!  We ask that God through His providence will lead us to encounter people who will be receptive to the gospel.  Of course, if we are loving our neighbor as we should and checking up on people, we show God that we will walk through the door if He opens it, and we make it more likely that opportunities will arise.

When that door opens, you don’t have to be Jesus or the apostle Paul to take advantage, either.  I’m here to tell you:  converting somebody who isn’t ready for the gospel is impossible, but converting somebody who is, is easy.  Even if you’re not up for even a basic study, you’re up for inviting somebody to services.  Just do that, and keep praying, and good things will happen. 

The Path of the Righteous

Wednesday, June 02, 2021

Back when Clay and I were organizing our preaching for the month of May, he texted me and asked what two light topics I wanted to preach on.  About 10 seconds later, I replied with Psalm 27 and the text I’m going to be preaching on this morning.  “Wow; that was quick!” Clay responded.

There’s a reason for that, and it’s because both Psalm 27 and this morning’s passage are passages that I love, passages that make me smile whenever I read them, passages that I try to carry around with me everywhere I go to make sense of life. 

Psalm 27 is great, but if I had to pick one of the two, after offering to give up a limb instead, I would pick this morning’s.  Look with me at Proverbs 4:18-19.  These are two short verses, but they encapsulate everything I love about the word of God.  They are simple, they are beautiful, and they are profound.  Indeed, they are so profound that I intend to spend all of my time in the pulpit this morning without citing another verse.  Let’s see, then, what we can learn from a close examination of the path of the righteous.

There are three key elements in this proverb that help us to understand it, and the first of the three is THE PATH.  Note first of all that Solomon says that there is both the path of the righteous and the way of the wicked.  In other words, everybody is on a spiritual path. 

This seems simple, but it’s quite meaningful.  Sometimes, you run into people who think they are spiritually neutral.  They’ll tell you that they leave all that God stuff to somebody else and mind their own business.  Well, they might think they’re neutral, but God doesn’t think they’re neutral, and the devil doesn’t think they’re neutral either.  Their feet are on a path, and they are headed to a destination.

Second, it’s worth noting too that everybody’s path starts out dark.  Yes, Solomon says that the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, but what’s it like before the light of dawn shows up?  It’s dark! 

In other words, both the righteous and the wicked start out without a spiritual clue.  When first we hit that age of accountability, none of us have any sense.  We may be blessed with godly parents or other mentors, who are sort of like a spiritual flashlight, but those without help are blundering around in the woods at midnight.  Max Dawson likes to say that if you haven’t wrecked your life by the time you turn 22, you probably won’t, but sadly, lots of people do wreck their lives before that.  Sometimes their bad decisions leave them with a criminal record or a drug habit; sometimes they cost them their lives and their souls.

Finally, as the above implies, everybody’s path is dangerous.  This isn’t like one of those “trails” in the national parks that are four feet wide, paved, and wheelchair-accessible.  Instead, it’s more like a deer path in the woods in the middle of nowhere.  That’s the way life is for all of us.  It’s filled with all kinds of trials and temptations and traps.  The devil hopes that we will come crashing into every one of them.

However, the difference between the path of the righteous and the path of the wicked is that the former is illuminated by THE LIGHT OF DAWN.  This we should understand not literally, but metaphorically, as referring to spiritual enlightenment.  The Bible speaks of many ways we can become enlightened.  We can study the word, which is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.  We can benefit from the instruction of older, more mature Christians.  We can pray for wisdom.  We can observe the lives of others. 

Regardless, this is the key difference between the righteous and the wicked.  This is what determines the course of our lives and our eternal destinies.  The righteous seek enlightenment and benefit from it.  The wicked don’t.

Second, because the enlightenment of the righteous is like the dawn, this tells us that the process is gradual.  How many of you have ever been outside waiting throughout the time from pitch blackness to full day?  It’s not like God flips on a light switch, is it?  It’s sloooow!  At any given point in the process, the change that is occurring is imperceptible.

So it is with our spiritual enlightenment.  There are lots of people who want the wisdom without the Bible study and the meditation and the prayer.  Guess what?  It doesn’t work like that.  If we want God to illuminate our world for us, we have to seek Him day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year, decade by decade.  There are no quick fixes.  If we want our path to get brighter, there is no substitute for time and effort.

However, as slow as it is, the light of dawn is transformative.  You start out in pitch blackness, then you start seeing dim outlines, then a black-and-white vision of reality.  Finally, everything fills in with color, and there’s no sign left that such a thing as night even existed.

This is how the illumination of spiritual wisdom is.  It changes everything.  We see life and the things of eternity in vastly different terms than the people of the world do.  The more enlightened we become, the greater the difference between us and everybody else becomes too.

This difference consists of KNOWING OR NOT.  The path of the righteous gets brighter and brighter until the course of their lives is fully illuminated.  This doesn’t mean that the path of the righteous is safe.  I have scrapes on my shins right now because I tripped over a branch in the woods in broad daylight.

So it is for us spiritually too.  No matter how wise and spiritually enlightened we become, the devil still trips all of us up occasionally.  However, we are able to avoid most of the sins that would entangle us, and even when we do get entangled, at least we know what happened and can learn from it.

It is not so for the wicked.  The wicked aren’t hiking through the woods in the daytime.  They’re still out there in the dark.  Again, this may not be something that we experience normally.  The streets of my neighborhood all have streetlights.  If I want to, I can go wandering around in reasonable safety. 

However, that wasn’t the experience of the ancient Israelites, and if we’re out in the boonies, even today, on an overcast night, it can get can’t-see-your-hand-in-front-of-your-face kind of dark.  That’s what life is like for the wicked, but they’re trying to go down the path anyway, and, as you would expect, they end up tripping over all kinds of stuff.  The sins and troubles that the righteous see and avoid are the most prominent features of the lives of the wicked.  Spiritually speaking, their shins look like somebody’s been whaling on them with a golf club!

Worse still, the wicked don’t even know why they’re stumbling.  They don’t get it, they don’t learn, and they go on doing the same dumb stuff.  You ever known somebody like that?  It seems like their life is playing the disaster song on repeat.  Over and over and over again, it’s the same mistakes.  These are people who don’t learn because they refuse to learn.

It might seem hard to be righteous.  It might seem hard to make that effort to be here Sunday morning and Sunday evening and Wednesday evening.  It might seem hard to make time for that Bible reading every morning.  It might seem hard to remember to constantly seek wisdom from God in prayer.  You know what’s a lot harder?  Not doing any of those things.

Going Outside the Camp

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

As Clay noted in his evening sermon last week, the last segment of the book of Hebrews, like the last part of many New-Testament epistles, contains practical instructions and admonitions, the so-what of the doctrinal discussion earlier in the book.  However, even the last part of the book of Hebrews is still the book of Hebrews.  If we just glance through Hebrews 13, we’ll see quotations from the Old Testament and other allusions from the Old Testament that most people off the street wouldn’t understand.

It can be tempting to take a buffet approach to Bible contexts like this.  We go through and we pick out the parts about singing praises to God and not cheating on our spouses, and we ignore the parts that aren’t as accessible.  However, there are two problems with that approach.  First, it’s lazy, and Christians are called to press on, not to be lazy.  Second, it cheats us of the full measure of the encouragement that we’re supposed to gain from the word of God.  Hebrews may be harder to figure out, but once we do, it’s worth it!  With this in mind, then, let’s consider what the Hebrews writer means when he talks about going outside the camp.

The first section of this context that we’re going to be considering is about THE CHANGELESS CHRIST.  Look with me at Hebrews 13:8-9.  First, we see the writer observing that Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.  As He was, so He is.  As He is, so He will be. 

This has two significant implications for us.  First, it tells us that the help He offers will remain the same.  I often talk about how we should be encouraged by what the Bible tells us about the faithfulness of God.  This is why we should be encouraged.  God hasn’t changed and Jesus hasn’t changed, so we can expect the same blessings from them today. 

Christians in the first century faced all kinds of trials and troubles and persecutions, but the Lord got them through it.  If Jesus Christ is the same, that tells us all we need to know about what He offers us.  So too, through Jesus Christ, the disciples of the first century found forgiveness of their sins.  Saul of Tarsus, the self- described chief of sinners, was forgiven so completely that he became an apostle!  If that’s how completely Jesus forgave Saul, how completely will the same Jesus forgive us?

Second, if Jesus is the same, His expectations remain the same.  The things that pleased Him in the first century will please Him in the twenty-first century too.  On the other hand, the things that He did not authorize in the first century He does not authorize today either.  If we want to honor Him today, the Scriptures tell us all we need to know.

This is why the admonition of v. 9 is so important.  If Jesus’ blessings and expectations remain the same, above all else, we must not go astray.  We must hold to His word, and we must hold to Him.  If we do, it’s all on the table, even eternal life.  If we don’t, we stand to lose it all because we have forsaken Him.

The Hebrews writer justifies this claim by describing OUR EXCLUSIVE ALTAR.  Let’s keep reading in Hebrews 13:10-12.  Here, the Hebrews writer is playing off of his comments about food regulations in v. 9.  The Jews were trying to tell the Jewish Christians that they couldn’t eat certain foods.  By contrast, the Hebrews writer wants those Jewish Christians to understand that they have spiritual food that the unbelievers couldn’t eat. 

Here is where things start getting confusing unless we’re experts in Leviticus, which, since we haven’t taken Josh’s class next quarter yet, we might not be!  Though the writer doesn’t give us a Scripture citation, he’s referring to the rituals for the Mosaic Day of Atonement, which is described in Leviticus 16.  In particular, he’s talking about the regulation of Leviticus 16:27, which required that when the goat was sacrificed for that yearly sin offering, the Israelites weren’t supposed to eat it.  Instead, they had to take it outside the camp and burn it.

Going outside the camp, then, isn’t just about physical location.  It’s about spiritual separation.  Symbolically, by burning that goat, the sins of the people were removed from them and destroyed. 

However, the Hebrews writer wants us to understand that rather than just being a weird Old-Testament custom, the goat of the sin offering is a type of Christ.  Just like the goat was burned outside the camp, Jesus was taken outside the city walls of Jerusalem and crucified.  He too took the sins of the people out from their midst.

There are a couple of crucial differences, though.  Nobody ate the goat of the sin offering, but all of us have become partakers in Christ and His altar.  Under the Law of Moses, the blood was sprinkled on the ark of the covenant, but all of us who are baptized believers have been sprinkled with the blood of Christ ourselves.  Christ separates us from our sins, but He also unites us with His Father and Himself.

All of this leads irresistibly to the writer’s conclusion about GOING TO JESUS.  Let’s finish our reading this evening with Hebrews 13:13-14.  If we want to be united with Jesus, we have to go where He is—outside the camp.  This doesn’t mean that we have to literally walk the pilgrimage route to Golgotha.  Instead, it means that we have to spiritually separate ourselves from the world.

This sounds very duh, but it’s actually quite painful.  As Clay talked about last week, the Jewish Christians suffered a lot.  They were thrown in prison, they had their possessions looted, and if they kept on, they were going to have their blood shed.  The Hebrews writer basically says to them, “What did you expect?”  Jesus was mocked and humiliated as He left the camp; those who want to do the same should expect to bear His disgrace too.

This is true for us too.  When our family gives us a hard time because we’re Christians, when people online accuse us of being hateful because we stand for Jesus and His word, when our friends don’t want to be our friends anymore because we can’t go drinking with them, we are going outside the camp to join Jesus, bearing His disgrace.  There’s no way to pick the world and Jesus at the same time, and when we leave them, and they laugh at us for it, we’re picking Him.

The next verse explains why anyone would endure this kind of abuse.  We leave the city here because we’re seeking the city which is to come.  We leave behind the earthly Jerusalem so we can claim our place in the heavenly Jerusalem.  In the spiritual realm, there is no dual citizenship.  Either we are citizens of the world, which will be destroyed, or we are citizens of heaven, which won’t be. 

Sure, declaring ourselves to be citizens of heaven will bring suffering on our heads here, but it also is the only possible path to eternal blessing.  We can’t spend our time the way the world does.  We can’t spend our money the way the world does.  Instead, we have to go to Jesus now so that we can be with Him forever.

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