Preachers are fond of saying Paul’s letter to the Hebrews is not a letter, it’s not written by Paul, and it’s not addressed to Hebrews. I tend to agree. It’s clearly a sermon, not a letter; it doesn’t sound like anything Paul ever wrote, and it’s directed to a church that’s made up of both Jews and Gentiles.
We know this church was enduring some pain. At the end of chapter ten, the author/preacher makes explicit what’s been implied throughout the whole sermon: You’re experiencing some trouble. He reminds this congregation that, so far, they’ve stood their ground in the face of suffering. They’ve been publicly exposed to persecution and insult, they’ve been thrown into prison, some have had their property confiscated. In chapter twelve the author says, yes, you haven’t had to shed any blood yet, but you’re enduring some significant hardship.
See, for Jews, embracing Jesus Christ as the Messiah means leaving the security of Judaism and the temple in Jerusalem. For Greeks, it means leaving the safety of the gods and pagan temples of the national religion. These Christians were feeling isolated and shut out. When it comes to their neighbors and families, to their government and their culture, these Christians were living in danger. They had no status, no security, no nothing.
That’s why a lot of them wanted to quit. A lot of them had stopped coming to the worship gatherings and some of them had stopped confessing that they were Christians. They didn’t like the way it felt. It scared them. The whole sermon of Hebrews from start to finish is about perseverance. Don’t give up. We’re not quitters. Keep running the race. Don’t throw away your confidence or your salvation. Don’t drift away. Hang in there.
Don’t. Give. Up.
It’s easy for Christians to feel like outsiders because the world isolates us and insults us, the culture minimizes and marginalizes us, and the government persecutes and imprisons us. Followers of Jesus have always been on the wrong side of government and culture.
But today in the United States, we Christians resist being pushed to the margins. We don’t quit, we fight!
For the past fifty years, the Church in America has had less and less influence, less and less power, less and less status and standing. The society doesn’t prop us up, the government doesn’t encourage us, and our neighbors don’t care. Christians in this country feel betrayed by the culture, we feel discarded by the powers, and ignored by the masses. The Church is losing its influence and its status in the United States and that’s got a lot of Christians really shook up. So we push back!
Because we like being in control. Being on the margins may be fine for the Church in the Bible, but we’re not going to be shoved out today! The Church in the United States has not intention of being irrelevant to the government or the culture. We’re resisting. You can hear the fear in our conversations, you can feel the anger in our forwarded emails and Facebook posts, you can see the determination in our posture and in our positions. We’re not going there. We like being mainstream and important. We like being the ones in charge. We like making and enforcing the rules. We are not going to be shoved aside and ignored like outsiders. We are Christians!
“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. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” ~Hebrews 13:11-14
Those verses sound really important, don’t they? The language is strange, a little provocative. And it just sounds important, like something we should pay close attention to.
The preacher of Hebrews is giving Christians a different perspective. He’s telling them about a better way to view their place in the world. He calls these Christians to follow Jesus, to go where Jesus goes, to live and die the way Jesus lived and died. The preacher calls them/us to reject the safety and security of the city and go to the place of sacrifice and service outside the gates. Out where Jesus is. Outside the camp.
These four verses have some very important implications for where God’s Church is right now. There is some holy instruction here we dare not ignore. We’ll spend this week in this space — in the middle of a pandemic, economic uncertainty, and racial injustice and demonstrations — exploring what it means for disciples of Christ to go outside the camp.