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Living Outside the Camp Hebrews 13:9-16

16 Mar

“Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those who eat them. {10} We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat. {11} The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. {12} 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.” Hebrews 13:9-16

Keep these thoughts in mind when you talk to our young people, who are hearing that they should ‘never be in a position to feel uncomfortable.’

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 religion in our society on the survivial of the church. [1]

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. But I did see several young Christians struggling to hold a set of beliefs which “no one believes anymore.” Unfortunately, in too many instances it was a losing struggle.

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.

We may begin to believe that the lifestyle on the screen is normal behavior. When we see a standard of sexual behavior where fidelity is considered a thing of the past, we may begin to question our own beliefs. The effect of constant exposure to these assaults on Christian values leaves us vulner­able and wondering if we are out of step with the rest of the world.

Sociologists report that much of what we believe and know comes from society around us, not from our own investigation and analysis. From earliest childhood we come to believe cer­tain things about the world because “everyone knows it is that way.” We believe them because it seems silly to question what everyone knows is true. If you hold to a point of view that is largely unacceptable to the larger group, you begin to question any view that is contrary to “what everyone knows.”

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?” Do we have a strategy for survival?

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).

The readers of Hebrews never knew the props of respectability and acceptabil­ity. Their situation was more extreme than our own. They faced persecution and suffering (10:32). Apparently, this situation of being “out­side” public acceptability led some of the mem­bers to give up the faith because some had ceased to attend the worship. The author told the entire church that they needed endurance, and he gave them a strategy for survival.

JESUS DIED OUTSIDE THE CAMP  — In 13:12 the author reminds his people that Christianity did not begin with the protective arm of public acceptance. Jesus never received any medals as “Outstanding Young Man of the Year” in Jerusalem. There was no “eternal flame” for Jesus at the Jerusalem National Cemetery. There was no state funeral, nor any kind words from a chief of state. The author reminds his readers that Jesus died “outside the camp” at Jerusalem.

Jesus died at a place “near the city” (John 19:20) where criminals were executed. No expe­rience could have been further from public ac­ceptance. The author states that Jesus endured shame (12:2) in His crucifixion.

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.

Early Christians were probably uneasy about declaring that their Savior had died on a cross because it was the ancient equivalent of the elec­tric chair. “Everyone knew” that good men did not die on crosses.

Paul said, “Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:22). The story of a crucified Savior was “to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:23).

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).

The readers of Hebrews had already suffered on account of the faith: (Hebrews 10:32-34)  Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. {33} Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. {34} You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.

The striking thing about the advice in 13:13 is the reminder that our legitimate place is outside the camp. Christ is our pioneer who calls us to fol­low Him to the cross. When our lifestyle weds us too closely to prevailing standards, we have not accompanied our pioneer “outside the camp.”

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 would not survive. It would have no word to offer.

We are not asked to be alone! We have a com­munity that nurtures and supports our Chris­tian values. When we worship and study to­gether, we encourage each other (3:13; 10:25) and provide the help that allows us to survive. It may be difficult to maintain our beliefs if we must maintain them alone. But we do not have to survive alone because we go “outside the camp” together.

“WE SEEK THE CITY WHICH IS TO COME”  — If all of our efforts to keep the faith were certain to come to nothing, we certainly would never survive. Nothing is more futile than a lost cause.

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.

[1] Appreciation is given to Dr. James Thompson for his writing on this issue.

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2020 in Encouragement

 

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