“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 holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore, Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Hence, let us go out to Him….” (Hebrews 13:10-13)
Have you ever felt like an outsider?
Good. You need to.
As a follower of Jesus Christ, you are not only walking in the footsteps of the Ultimate Outsider but you have been called to a similar way of life.
The Lord Jesus “came unto His own and His own received Him not” (John 1:12). He was an Outsider even in His own place, among His own people, attending His own party.
He came to His world and it did not recognize Him.
He walked into His house, found it to be the haven of thieves and con-men, and proceeded to cleanse it, only to be confronted with demands of “by what authority do you do this?”
You’ve got to love His answer: “It’s my house.”
He came to His people and they crucified Him.
No one taking up his cross and coming after Jesus should be surprised when the world turns its back on him and writes him off as a loser and irrelevant. In following Jesus Christ, one should expect the path to be uphill, the company few, and the flow all in the opposite direction.
An Old Testament lesson worth treasuring.
In the former system, the blood of sacrificial animals was brought into the “most holy place” by the high priest as an offering for sin. However, the bodies of the animals were not eaten (in the pattern of most sacrifices), but were burned “outside the camp” (Leviticus 6:30 and 16:27). The Jews thus had an outside altar as well as the primary one inside the Temple.
Followers of the Lord Jesus see this as one more metaphor–the Epistle of the Hebrews lists many such–which prefigured the coming ministry of our Lord. Quoting scholar Edward Fudge, “In keeping with this figure, Jesus also suffered outside the gate of Jerusalem and therefore outside the camp of Israel, so that he might sanctify the people with his own blood. He not only was treated shamefully (Hebrews 12:2), but He was in the literal sense an outcast.”
Writer Neil Lightfoot says, “Crucifixion in ancient times took place outside the cities. Jesus died ‘outside the gate,’ that is, outside the city of Jerusalem (John 19:20). His blood, in contrast to that of animal victims (Hebrews 9:12), was the means of sanctification and the one acceptable sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 10:29).”
Let us go forth to Him outside the camp, bearing abuse for him.
In its immediate context, the writer of Hebrews is calling for followers of Jesus to break all ties with the Judaistic system. Everything in Hebrews was written to establish that we now have the fulfillment of all the old system promised, that Jesus Christ is the substance for which the old was the shadow. That was the ritual; He is the reality.
In our day, there is a wider application. We who have chosen to follow Jesus and have been chosen as disciples of Jesus Christ are called to live for Him outside the mainstream of this worldly system.
“If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (I John 1:15).
The specifics of that–what it means for each disciple–will have to be left to the individual under the leadership of the Holy Spirit.
–Originally, when some pastors and teachers began criticizing the styles of women’s hair and the length of their hemlines, I imagine it stemmed from a sincere desire to buck the trends of the world, to resist the lure of the carnal siren beckoning God’s faithful people to indulge in its fleshly standards. I suspect that’s in back of the Mennonites and Amish resistance to modern ways.
Those things have a way of getting out of hand, clearly, and quickly becoming legalism if the worst sort.
My conclusion, therefore, for what it’s worth, is that I am not empowered nor gifted to instruct you on what “serving the Lord outside the camp” means for you personally. Nor are you able to tell me. The Holy Spirit fills this role nicely.
–Christians will always have to fight the desire to be both in the world and “of” the world. (We have in mind John 17:11,14, where Jesus says His people are “in the world” but not “of the world.” That is always the standard.)
What that means and how we choose to resist the alluring ways of the world is an urgent matter, but one for each to decide. For many, it means guarding the reading material and entertainment allowed into one’s home. It might mean avoiding certain people who want to be friends but who are toxic.
People who write of culture speak sometimes of something being “campy,” meaning trendy. The word “camp” is used in the same way, whether by happenstance or attributable to this passage in Hebrews. In either case, this is a reminder to us that believers are called to live for Christ outside the mainstream, not caught up in the worldly culture around them, and most definitely not bringing it into the church.
“Therefore, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach” (Heb. 13:13).
And therein lies the problem.
We don’t like to be reproached. (The word means a disgrace. ) We want to be loved and accepted by everyone, respected and admired by insiders and outsiders, popular and acclaimed by one and all.
That can be our Achilles’ heel. The “need” to be approved by the outside world has led many a Christian into big trouble.
Our heart’s strongest desire should be to please Jesus Christ. “I delight to do thy will, O God. Thy law is within my heart” (Psalm 40:8).
There is no way to over-emphasize this. God’s people have to decide to what extent they mean it when they pray “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” And when we sing “Have thine own way, Lord.”
Back to the above premise (that “the need to be approved by the outside world has led many a Christian into trouble”).
When a noted Christian figure (and a personal friend of mine) was named “king of (a certain) krewe)” for Mardi Gras in our city, he rode in the parade on a massive float, tossed beads to the thousands of parade-goers, and withstood the criticism. He explained to critical Christians that the stage for his witness had just been enlarged. My conclusion was (and still is): only he could decide. Maybe so, maybe not. “Unto his own master a servant stands or falls” (Romans 14:4). And I’m not his master.
Should a Christian drink socially? Go to cocktail parties? Belong to certain clubs?
Should a Christian actor take a role in a play (or movie) that is profane or otherwise unworthy? Can a Christian even work in Hollywood at all?
Here are three questions worth our considering…
1) What has my discipleship of Jesus Christ cost me? What have I given up for Jesus’ sake?
2) Do outsiders see me as “one of the gang” or someone set apart? (Reminder: the world “holy” literally means “set apart. I Peter 1:16 fits here.)
3) Am I straddling the fence or making a sincere attempt to walk “the strait and narrow”? (An allusion to Matthew 7:14 and Elijah’s accusation of God’s people wanting to have it both ways in I Kings 18:21.)
I suspect that in this fallen world where God’s people cannot–and must not–withdraw, there will always be a certain amount of tension between what is and what should be. This will require us to live in the Word, to abide in Christ (i.e., to walk in the Spirit), and to stay on our knees.
Only when we are welcomed “there” will we find ourselves truly at home. Jesus spoke of a day when He would say to the faithful, “Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world!” (Matthew 25:34). But until then, like the faithful of old, “We have no continuing city. But we seek a city which hath foundations, whose builder and architect are God” (Hebrews 11:10).
Until then, we “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7) and we live in expectation of the fulfillment of the promises of God. Let us be faithful.