Living Outside the Camp — Hebrews 13:3, 12-16

24 Sep

 Hebrews 13:3 (NIV) Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

 Hebrews 13:12-16 (NIV)  And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.
13  Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.
14  For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.
15  Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise–the fruit of lips that confess his name.
16  And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

       “What Would Jesus Do?” bracelets…discuss what those did for our conversations and actions a few years back when someone made a lot of money on this neat idea. Today, we’ll ask and answer the question: “Where Did Jesus Go?”

There are alarm­ing signs in our fellowship which raise questions about our ability to survive as a community of faith. Congrega­tions should be disturbed at the attrition rate of young people. We should also be concerned with the long-range effects of the diminishing influence of Christianity in our society on the survival of the church.

The seriousness of these problems became especially are apparent when we look at small churches in the nation’s largest cities. Many of the adult members were transplanted from smaller cities which were far less secularized than their new home. They were never really “at home” in the city, but the church was one place where they felt comfortable.

Their children, however, had quite a different experi­ence. They had few memories of life anywhere else. They had grown up in this very secular environment. And by the time they became teen­agers, they recognized that their religious life made them very different from their peers. They held beliefs that were largely unintelligible to their friends, and they were expected to main­tain a lifestyle and a set of moral standards that were radically different from others. This sense of being different—of belonging to this “strange sect”—threatened their Christian identity.

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.

I mention this not because it demonstrates the hopeless spiritual condition of some Ameri­can cities. I mention it because it describes a con­dition in which we may all find ourselves. Many of us recall when it was easier to keep the faith because religion was more popular than it is today. The people in our neighborhood went to church on Sunday morning as we did. Christian moral standards were understood and appreci­ated. References to the importance of religious faith were often made in school and by govern­ment officials. This popularity of religious com­mitment served as a prop to help us survive. Survival was never very difficult where religion was socially acceptable.

AN ASSAULT ON CHRISTIAN VALUES  — But most of these props have been removed, and secularization characterizes major Ameri­can cities. The media consistently undermine Christian values. We wonder whether the wave of bizarre sexual relationships portrayed in the movies is creating a new set of values or simply reflecting the prevailing standards of our soci­ety. At any rate, it portrays a style of life that is an assault on Christian values.

One of the gravest threats to the survival of the church, I believe, is not that some new piece of scientific evidence will shatter our convic­tions. It is the experience of holding to a set of views that are unacceptable to the majority of the people. Like the psalmist, we may be asking, “How do you sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”

We can learn from another minority group which faced these same problems centuries ago. The early church never enjoyed the props of respectability and social acceptability. The proc­lamation of a crucified Savior was “folly” to the majority of the people of that time. Early Chris­tianity took its shape at a time when the Chris­tians were not to be “conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2).

JESUS DIED OUTSIDE THE CAMP  — People trained in the Jewish tradition recall that the remains of the animals which had been sacrificed were burned outside the camp (Leviticus 16:27), and that those who burned them also became unclean. “Every­one knew” that Jesus had died a shameful death.

An important verse in Heb. 13:12 reminds us that Christianity didn’t begin with the protective arm of public acceptance:

  • Jesus never received any medals as “outstanding young man of the year” in Jerusalem
  • There is no “eternal flame” for Jesus in the Jerusalem National Cemetery
  • There was no state funeral, not any kind words from a chief of state
  • Jesus died outside the camp!

(John 19:20)  Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek.

People trained in the Jewish tradition recall that the remains of the animals which had been sacrificed were burned “outside the camp:”

(Lev 16:27)  The bull and the goat for the sin offerings, whose blood was brought into the Most Holy Place to make atonement, must be taken outside the camp; their hides, flesh and offal are to be burned up.

Early Christians were probably uneasy about declaring their Savior had died on a cross because of the likely response:

 (1 Cor 1:22-23)  Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, {23} but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,

When our lifestyle weds us too closely to prevailing standards, we have not accompanied our “pioneer” outside the camp!

  • The demands that are placed on us are no different from the demands that have been placed on Christians in every generation.
  • A church that chooses to be “inside the camp” of public acceptance will not survive…and it has no right to expect to survive!

George McDonald wrote in Only One Way Left: “I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves, on the town garbage heap . . . at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble. Because that is where he died and that is what he died about. And that is where churchmen should be and what churchmanship is about.”

 “LET US GO OUT TO HIM, BEARING HIS REPROACH”  — If Jesus died “outside the camp” of respect­ability, it would be absurd to imagine that the Christian would be spared the experience of sharing His fate. The life of faith has always involved bearing reproach (11:26) for the sake of Christ. Jesus said that each of us must “take up his cross” (Mark 8:34).

There is no other strategy but to follow Jesus “outside the camp.” If we were to decide that the appropriate thing to do is reflect the values of our society, we would discover that the church would be offering nothing which could not be found elsewhere. A church that chose always to be “inside the camp” of public acceptance will not survive. It would have no word to offer.

Viktor Frankl, a physician who spent years in a Nazi concentration camp, said, “We can bear almost any ‘how’ if only we have a ‘why.’” We need to know that something lies beyond our suffering. Frankl describes his own battle for survival in Man’s Search for Meaning. The hope that the concentration camp was not the end gave him the will to survive.

The glimmer of hope that he might outlive the terror and con­tinue his research helped him survive. If a goal is at the end of our struggles, we can endure almost anything. If we are sacrificing for a lost cause, though, we will not endure long.

The world’s values might lead us to believe that the things of life are within our culture and the standards of the day. But we can go outside the camp of this culture because we know that the really “abiding city” is not here at all. The lost cause is the standard of our society that looks inviting. Thus Christians share the loneliness of Jesus because His cause is not lost.

We do have a strategy for survival. It does not include accepting the lifestyle and values that are constantly placed before our eyes. We will be able to survive by being “outside the camp.” And by going “outside the camp” to­gether we can support each other along the way.

(Luke 18:8 NIV)  “…when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”  This is the concluding sentence in one of the parables of Jesus. He pictured the church as a defenseless widow who called for vindication to a heartless judge.

 Her one weapon, in the presence of frustration, was her persistence, and it finally worked.

 Jesus was likely suggesting that God at times seems silent and foreign to us – even as heartless as an unprincipled judge.

 But just the opposite is true: God is faithful to his people who believe! The essential question of the parable confronts believers in every age: will they persist in believing in times of frustration and hopelessness?

The survival of the church depends upon God! But it also depends on those people who go on providing encouragement to others, teaching classes, and helping with a variety of ministries of the church.

When Pliny the Younger reported on the Christians to the Roman emperor Trajan in the first century, he wrote, “They bind themselves by an oath not to any criminal end, but to avoid theft or robbery or adultery, never to break their word or repudiate a deposit when called on to refund it.” Although he was looking for a charge against them, he was forced to characterize them as a people who did not commit crimes and who paid their debts.

 Early Christians were a rebuke to the pagan and immoral societies in which they lived, and those societies often sought to condemn them. But the more they examined the lives of believers, the more it became obvious that Christians lived up to the high moral standards of their doctrine.  

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Posted by on September 24, 2018 in Church


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