“Let Us Go Outside the Camp to Him!” (Hebrews 13:7-17)
The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (September 1, 2019)
It is especially wonderful to see all of you here today, on this Labor Day weekend. This holiday, probably more so than any other, is noted for leaving town, going camping, or simply just hiding away somewhere to enjoy this last weekend of summer.
What an opportune time then to focus on the Holy Writer’s exhortation to Christians in this 13th chapter of Hebrews to also go outside the city gate and to actually go outside the camp. Of course, his call to go out has nothing to do with having a holiday from work. Rather in a metaphorical manner, he calls for us to leave behind false teaching that has become the norm in much of the church and to go out to the real Jesus who has been sacrificed for us outside the camp. There we will find our true salvation. There is the blood that sanctifies us. There, in that crucified Jesus, we will come to know what sacrifices are pleasing to God. There we find our true city where God dwells with us. But also there, outside the camp, we will bear the same reproach Christ Jesus experienced from not only the world but also from those who fashion themselves to be of God’s people.
The first audience of this epistle was comprised primarily of Jews who had been brought to believe in Jesus Christ as their true long-promised Messiah, the Christ. Yet, they faced daily pressure from other Jews and even the establishment of the day to forsake the true Gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone through Jesus and to return to Judaism’s heavy dependence on one’s good works and daily sacrifices to be right with God. These Jewish Christians were being continually ridiculed and persecuted by the Jewish leadership to abandon faith in Jesus and to come back into the fold of the religious mainstream of Judaism. How tempting it must have been! Revert back and again go to the synagogue hassle free or risk being ridiculed, arrested or even put to death? What would you and I do?
Leave it up to us human beings to be more concerned about our own physical and temporal welfare than anything else! Look what we have made of even something like Labor Day. Originally, Labor Day had been established as a time to call attention to the abuse the average laborer in our country was suffering and to ease their burden if even for only one day. Back in the 19th century when the day originated, the common laborer; the factory worker, brick layer, machinist, farm laborer, had to work every day and at almost starvation wages. Time off was a luxury they could not afford. Greedy companies and employers were more than happy to ignore the plight of their workers. Labor unions then tried to highlight this abuse by holding work free days with parades, speeches and picnics. Eventually, state governments and then the national government set aside a Labor Day to honor laborers and give them time off. But, now, who even gives this any thought? Today, Labor Day is simply looked at in most people’s eyes as holiday weekend for everyone to barbecue, get out of the city, go camping, or simply just indulge oneself. Does anyone use the time to honor the laborers or give any thought to any abuses that they might be experiencing?
We, self-centered, human beings tend to do this with everything. We create organizations to help alleviate the suffering of others or to assist them in their needs and inevitably the organization becomes focused on its own preservation and then evolves into a social club for the entertainment of the members.
I’m afraid the church is subject to the same fate. Why? Because it is made up of sinful people also. Oh, yes, unlike society at large, the church by definition is made up of baptized believers in Jesus Christ. However, those believers have the same sinful flesh that unbelievers have. Christians, too, are subject to same temptations to turn inward and focus only on self just like the unchristian world.
Accordingly, some Christian congregations and church bodies today resemble more social clubs, civic organizations, and mutual admiration societies than they do outposts for the truth of Christ Jesus, dispensaries of the forgiveness of sins, and lifesaving stations rescuing souls from their sinful condition and hell. Christ-like self-sacrifice has all but been replaced with self-indulgence.
Sadly, the pressure to conform to a kind of work-righteousness mindset is just as prevalent today as it was in the first century. Congregations are busy doing things but they have little to anything to do with saving souls with the message of Christ. More often if they are doing anything besides having dinners and parties, their programming is about making big social changes in society or promoting the latest liberal and progressive agenda of liberation from all the constraints of societal and even biblical moral norms. What they call the worship is all about feeling comfortable and being entertained rather than humbly receiving the gifts of God from His work and doing.
Sad to say, but in much of Christianity today, one is hard-pressed to hear the true Gospel. The cross of Jesus is rarely if at all mentioned. In its place is a social gospel that insists since God is love He wants us in the church to be working to free people from any sort of constraints, whether those be imposed by the government or God Himself, say through the Ten Commandments. It is preached under the banner that God is love that all sincere and good people can go to heaven no matter what religion they might practice, what kind of sinful lifestyle they have chosen, or whether they believe in Jesus Christ or not. People in these churches are being taught that they don’t really need Jesus. Their works of love will ensure that they will go to heaven. Accordingly, it has become just as true today as it was in the holy writer of Hebrews’ day, and Martin Luther found in his day, that if you want to find true salvation from sin, death and the devil, if you want to find the real Jesus, if you want to offer true sacrifices pleasing to God, you need to go out from the camp of what has become the contemporary church.
Much of the church today is also awash in false and anti-Christ teachings and practices. To our day the Lord’s holy writer still speaks: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them” (vs. 7-9).
We cannot afford to be sucked into the vortex of the diverse and strange teachings being promulgated today. Our world may have changed, the times may be a’changin, but Jesus Christ has not changed. He is the Word of God made flesh. The same plan of salvation God decreed from before the creation of this world is still true and inforce. The greatest need of even the people of this 21st century is still the same: they stand condemned under the wrath of God and have the desperate need for the one and only remedy that saves them. They still need the crucified Jesus Christ. Leading people to think that their good works, kindness, activism in social causes can save them, will actually damn them. The same message Jesus gave His apostles and then instructed them to proclaim to us to save sinners is still the message the church has to share with the world today. Jesus’ commission of His church to make disciples of Him by baptizing people in the name of the Triune God and teaching them all things Jesus has taught us remains our sole charge.
The Holy writer points to the irony that in order to save sinners Jesus had to be crucified outside the camp; that is, outside the holy temple where sacrifices were made and worship of God was conducted. In fact, because the spiritual leaders of the day had so corrupted the true Word of God with their man-made regulations and the imaginations of their own hearts, real worshippers of God had to go out of the holy city to the lonely hill of Golgotha and there behold the true sacrifice offered for their sins.
There at the foot of His cross, true believers received the mercy, grace and forgiveness of God. There was the blood, the precious blood of God Himself, being shed to sanctify them; that is make them holy. As they received what Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, was giving them in repentance and faith, they were truly worshipping God. The true temple where God desired to meet His people was not that edifice in Jerusalem that was designed to be but a copy of His true temple but it was the fleshly body of Jesus Christ. The lasting city that God was giving them was not Jerusalem of the earthly nation of Israel but the city to come, the true holy city of God, that Abraham by living in tents showed that he too was longing for (Heb. 11:10).
Here, then, comes the same exhortation to us today, “Therefore, let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.” Being on the church roll of some Christian congregation or sitting in the pew of its worship service or even doing all the things the congregation expects of us, does not save us. It is not in buildings that humans build that God promises to meet us. It is not through human philosophies, imaginings of their hearts or minds, or prescribed rules that any soul is saved. Our salvation, our hope, our sanctification, is only found in the blood of Jesus Christ. If it means that in order to behold and receive that blood of Jesus we find it necessary to go out from what is considered church by many today, then so be it. Jesus bore the reproach of our sins to save us. We ought to be able to bear the reproach of those who fashion themselves as the true Christian church and to do so with joy and thanksgiving.
Going out from the camp is really our heritage as Lutherans. We are ready to suffer the reproach of even the whole Christian church if necessary if it means that we retain the true teaching, and hence, salvation in Jesus Christ. Remembering our spiritual leaders; Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon, Martin Chemnitz, C.F.W. Walther, among many others, who were brought to the true faith as preached by the LORD’s holy apostles and were not ashamed to preach and teach that Word, we confess boldly with St. Paul, “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Cor. 1:21-24).
So what if we, Lutheran Christians, are perceived and mocked by mainstream Christianity today as being outside their camp! The voice of the real Jesus is not heard in their preaching of the thoughts of their own hearts and not founded upon the words of Holy Scripture. The real Jesus is the suffering Son of God on a cross who dies to atone for sin not the Jesus they preach that loves everyone in their sin. The real Jesus is not to be found in their sacraments when they deny Jesus’ own words of His true presence in them. The real Jesus is not with them when they insist that there is truth in other religions and that a person can be saved apart from faith in Jesus Christ. They might consider themselves holy by their self-chosen works but only the blood of Jesus sanctifies. The real Jesus is not witnessed in their joint ecumenical statements that agree to disagree and give a false sense of church unity.
As Lutherans we are bold to go outside the camp and preach with St. Peter: “…there is salvation in no one else (save for Jesus Christ), for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12) We are not ashamed of the true Gospel but vigorously teach the truth no matter how inconvenient to the world that sinners are saved by grace alone, through Christ Jesus alone and received by faith alone. This is truly offering a sacrifice of praise to God. As the holy writer states, true praise of God is confessing the name of Jesus. We follow a worship liturgy that keeps us focused on Christ and the gifts purchased by His blood which He seeks to give us not a service of doing something for Him. Faith is the highest worship.
Dear Lord, keep us in the blood of Jesus! Amen.