Sunday, March 6, 2011

Outside the Camp

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I don’t know about you, but I am so thankful that we as Christians do not have to present animal sacrifices anymore! Can you imagine trying to sacrifice an animal in your Sunday best? Yikes! I say this half-joking and half-serious. Maybe in a way, it would be good because we’d relate with the true sacrifice of Christ a little better. I don’t normally find gory things such as sacrifices as something of greatest interest until I was reading in Hebrews and came across this passage:

“ 9 Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so. 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 openly profess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”

So technically it was the priest that did the sacrificing on the behalf of the people—but still: imagine your pastor carrying into your church, blood from an animal that was just thrown in the parking lot: so different isn’t it? So different, yet I sense this strange similarity in the way we live our lives. This portion of scripture starts off in verse 9 and presents the point for us not to become swayed with false doctrine and teachings. I am not a Bible scholar, but it sounds like the author was addressing a topic of accepting grace rather than following rituals. It goes on in verse 11 to describe the process of offering sacrifices and then draws a parallel to Christ himself and his sacrifice, outside the gate. Outside the gate. Throughout all of the Old Testament and history of the Israelites, the Tabernacle is the Holiest of Holies where priests would present sacrifices. Yet, when Christ came, the sacrifice was not even in the realms of the temple, but outside the city gate. Verse 13 calls us to go outside the camp and bear the disgrace he bore. Does this mean we are to sacrifice ourselves? Of course not, well, not physically---the ESV commentary makes a good point with this passage:

“Go to him outside the camp speaks metaphorically of leaving behind the love of this world and desire for its approval, and embracing the reproach of Christ, emulating Jesus’ response to his shameful sufferings (see 12:2-3). Moreover, such Christian endurance is founded on a realization that this world is a mere temporary dwelling (no lasting city) en route to an eternal abode (cf 11:14-16; 12:22-24).”
There: Does that make sense? It’s a metaphor: asking us to leave the concept of ritualistic religion and go to a place of understanding the sacrifice and nastiness of our sin. Not that we cannot worship in a temple and fellowship with other believers, but we shouldn’t emphasize that as our ‘enduring city,’ or what will save us in the end.
15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”
“Through Jesus,” not through “going to church x-number of times,” or even “praying the prayer,” do we find salvation. It says that we are to “continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise,” THROUGH JESUS. Aka, the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. The fruit of lips refers to the good things that come from our mouths: praise, gratitude, encouragement and words of love for something or someone. When you’re in love with someone, there is something special about saying his/her name. They say that saying a person’s name in an endearing way is equal to professing a kind of love towards that person. In the same way, we can glorify God just by merely professing his name to everyone. Verse 16 does mention that we are to do good and to share with others—not to earn salvation, but as a way to please God. In the Old Testament, scripture talks about the aroma of sacrifices pleased God and in the same way, when we give and share with others in Jesus’ name, we too have a sweet aroma that is emitted. Not just giving out of wealth, but out of need too! So often we give when it doesn’t cost us anything, but there are countless examples of Biblical characters giving EVERYTHING they own. Ha—you have no idea how nervous I get writing on the topic of sacrifice because I know that the LORD will very shortly, ask me to do what I am challenging others: rightfully so! But again, we do it out love for the Lord THROUGH Jesus. So although you don’t have to necessarily get your Sunday best dirty, maybe focus more on how to present yourself, your devotion, your words, and your gifts, as a form of sacrifice both in your place of worship and outside the walls of church: go to Christ outside the city gate.

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