“Going Outside the Camp”

Categories: M. W. Bassford, Sermons

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.