Do you know what it means to be TREATED AS AN OUTSIDER? To be left out? Overlooked?
What about because you’re A CHRISTIAN? Perhaps the conversation stops as you walk into a room. People know you don’t fit into the conversation, or the dirty joke. So they just LEAVE YOU OUT.
Perhaps you don’t get invited to the movies. Because people know it’s not the sort of movie you’re going to approve of.
Or you don’t get invited to the party? Or the morning tea? Or the weekend away? Because people just don’t understand you. Don’t know how to ACT around you?
Or perhaps you DO get invited. And people behave as if you’re not there. SAY things and DO things you’d NEVER think of being part of. And they just don’t understand. And you feel like the outsider.
The good news AND the BAD news/ is that being a Christian always means BEING AN OUTSIDER. Always HAS, and always WILL.
It’s BAD NEWS because you’re still an outsider. GOOD NEWS because it’s just the same for every other Christian who’s serious about their faith.
I know of a minister of a church in Adelaide. He was speaking recently about a young Asian doctor from his church, whose family were from Hong Kong.
This guy – we’ll call him Chris – had been investigating Christianity for a while during his time at Uni. He’d grown up a Buddhist. But by the time he graduated, he’d decided – the claims of Jesus couldn’t be ignored.
For Chris, that’s when the problems started. Because when his parents back in Hong Kong heard about it, they WERE FURIOUS. They told him in no uncertain terms that he could no longer consider himself their son. He was excluded from the family. Written out of the inheritance. Excluded from family events and occasions. “Don’t bother turning up to your sister’s wedding. Because you’ve brought disgrace to the family”.
That’s not where the story ended. Because a few months later Chris had a call from his brother in law who’d flown to Adelaide from Hong Kong. Chris agreed to meet him. And over lunch, his brother in law brought out a cheque from the family. For one million dollars. He said to Chris, “The family is tired of the disgrace you’ve brought on them. They want you back. The money’s yours. If you give up your Christianity”.
Chris looked at the cheque. Shook his head. And refused. The brother in law tore it up. Started writing another cheque. He said, what’s it going to take… to make you change your mind?
And Chris shook his head. And excused himself from the table. And left. And hasn’t heard from the family since. Excluded because he’s a Christian.
The good news AND the BAD news/ is that being a Christian always means BEING AN OUTSIDER. Always HAS, and always WILL.
Just Like Jesus
After all, it was just that way for Jesus. So how can we expect anything different? Have a look at Heb Ch 13 v 11. It’s the central idea in this whole last section.
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.
The picture is of Jesus. Part of the Jewish people. Part of Jerusalem – the city of his ancestor, King David. And yet, he’s REJECTED by his people. Cast aside as an outsider. Dragged out of the city, stumbling under the weight of a rough wooden cross. Insulted, spat upon, beaten.
Suffering to make us holy.
If he’s done THAT, then let US go to HIM outside the camp. Follow him. Imitate him. Leave behind the people who reject him. And suffer rejection together with him. Bear the disgrace he bore.
That’s the call. The call to those first Jewish Christians. Tempted to fit in with the Jews around them. And it’s the call to US, AS WELL. Who’re tempted to blend in with the culture around US. To change what we say and do and think. And who we are. So that we’ll FIT IN.
Be an outsider, just like Jesus!
A REAL city LASTS
And you can see the REASON we can do that. It’s there at the end of v14. The PERSPECTIVE that empowers us to do that. “For HERE we do NOT have an enduring city, but we are looking for the CITY THAT IS TO COME.”
Christians look BEYOND what they can TOUCH, and HEAR, and SEE. To what’s REAL nevertheless – to the city that can’t be touched or heard or seen AT THE MOMENT. The HEAVENLY city. Beyond acceptance in a civilization that WON’T endure. To a city that WILL.
It’s the difference between REALITY and MATERIALITY.
We always think that something CAN’T EXIST unless we can TOUCH IT. That something has to be MATERIAL/ to be REAL. And so most of the world SCOFFS at Christians who long for heaven. Who laugh when we submit our lives to a Lord they can’t see, hear, or experience.
But the city WE long for/ is NO LESS REAL than EARTHLY civilization. To cities you can touch and feel and smell.
n fact, our HEAVENLY city is MORE real.
Why? Because THIS WORLD will PASS AWAY. It won’t LAST. V14 – it’s NOT an ENDURING city. Whereas the CITY to COME. Is BUILT FOR ETERNITY. Just like US.
A REAL city/ LASTS.
Back in Ch 12 it talks about God promising to JUDGE. And to DESTROY this world. Look at v26 of Ch 12.
Now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 The words “once more” indicate the REMOVING of what CAN be shaken-that is, CREATED THINGS-so that what CANNOT be shaken may remain –
(that’s our HEAVENLY CITY)
If you know a storm’s coming that will flatten EVERYTHING, it makes sense/ to be somewhere that CAN’T be shaken.
Do you remember earlier this year Cyclone Larry whipped through Innisfail, in far nth QLD? It destroyed every second house with 290 km/h winds. Roofs gone, walls flattened, houses washed away in the floodwaters, banana plantations and sugar cane farms destroyed.
Not the night to choose to go CAMPING, or even to sleep in your car, or a flimsy fibro and tin shed.
When you know a cyclone like THAT is coming, you want to be in a place AS SAFE AS POSSIBLE. Solid brick. Cyclone-resistant roofing. Concrete floors. Double-glazed windows.
And it’s the same with THIS LIFE. It makes sense to be somewhere that WON’T BE SHAKEN. Like the HEAVENLY Jerusalem, rather than the EARTHLY city.
And so Christians hope in ETERNITY. Because the things of THIS LIFE, which seem so attractive and important – are nothing but flimsy shacks standing smack-bang in the middle of an oncoming tropical cyclone. They won’t last. But our heavenly city WILL.
Offer a sacrifice
And so we’re to come OUTSIDE the city. The city that LOOKS so solid. To walk away from possessions, and fame, and power, and money, and success. And to bear the disgrace of NOT FITTING IN. The same disgrace Jesus bore.
So what does all that MEAN? What does it mean to choose the heavenly Mt Zion instead of the Earthly Mt Sinai? What does it LOOK LIKE to go outside the city, outside the camp, following Jesus?
Does it mean we’re to form a Christian community out in the bush somewhere. To PHYSICALLY and LITERALLY come out of the city? No, that’s not it at all! The answer’s there in the very next verse. V15. We’re to OFFER A SACRIFICE.
It’s perhaps not the OBVIOUS thing you’d expect to see in the book of Hebrews. Since MOST of the book’s been talking about how USELESS sacrifices actually ARE. How the whole Jewish system of temple, and altar, and burnt offerings is second-rate. Outdated. Superceded.
And yet, there it is. V15. “Let us offer to God a sacrifice.” But take a closer look, and see what the writer’s getting at. V15.
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.
Firstly, our sacrifice is THROUGH JESUS. Because of the GREATER sacrifice he’s made on our behalf. The sacrifice of himself that makes us acceptable to God.
Secondly, it’s a sacrifice of PRAISE – the fruit of lips that confess his name. It’s not a dead goat that God’s interested in. But a LIFE that directs praise and thanks to God. That points people to the One who’s given us everything.
THAT’S the sort of sacrifice God’s interested in.
And that’s not all. Not just WORDS, but ACTIONS TOO. V16.
Do good, and share with others FOR WITH SUCH SACRIFICES GOD IS PLEASED.
It’s the contrast between the sacrifices on the physical altar in the physical temple. Rituals that do nothing but point out the enormity of sin and guilt, and our distance from God.
And the sacrifices that fill the life of a Christian. Sacrifices of words and actions, of desires and goals, of choices, and priorities. A life that’s focused on following Jesus OUTSIDE THE CAMP. A life that DOESN’T CARE if it bears the disgrace of the world. As long as GOD is pleased. As long as GOD accepts us.
The same point’s made at the end of Ch 12. v28. What acceptable sacrifices to God look like. And not only is it right WORDS and right ACTIONS. But right ATTITUDES as well.
28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and SO WORSHIP GOD ACCEPTABLY with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.”
The “worship” word there/ is the one used in Hebrews to describe the priest’s work – the service they give at the temple.
We’re to give service as well. But service and sacrifices that actually PLEASE God. Acceptable service for God isn’t about getting the candles lit in the right order, or washing your hands the right number of times. Or cutting the lamb up the right way.
It’s about RIGHT ATTITUDES. Be THANKFUL – you’re inheriting an unshakeable kingdom. And since God is A CONSUMING FIRE – HOLY and JUST, have the attitude of REVERENCE and AWE – of circumspection and caution. Of respect. With a full sense of the seriousness of the task we’re performing. Because we serve the God who made the Universe.
Acceptable sacrifices. Acceptable worship. In word, and deed, and attitude.
And then straight after – the start of Ch 13 – we see how that attitude towards GOD shows itself in our attitude TO OTHERS. How our worship for God is played out in the sphere of life.
And as we look through the list, notice how COUNTER-CULTURAL it is. How OUTSIDE normal behaviour it is. If Christians did a bit more of this, people would probably treat us even MORE as outsiders. Because so much of this stuff just seems like NONSENSE to the world.
But it’s what it means to offer acceptable sacrifices to God.
13:1 “Love each other as brothers”. Have a look around. This is a bunch of people who are SO DIFFERENT to each other. If it wasn’t for Jesus, most of us would have nothing in common.
People out there NEVER get together with people like THIS. The way WE do at church. Because it’s HARD WORK with someone who’s different from you/ to meet them in the middle. And the world is ALL THE POORER for it.
But for us, it’s Jesus who brings us together. Who gives us the interest in each other’s lives that energises us to HELP, to WEEP with each other. To CRY. TO CARE. To LOVE.
Or v2. Don’t forget to entertain STRANGERS. Who does THAT? Most people don’t even entertain their CLOSEST friends. Yet Christians are called to entertain STRANGERS. Those we have to work HARDEST with.
Or v3. Remember those IN PRISON. And those who are suffering. It’s talking about their fellow-Christians locked up for their faith. It’s counter-cultural to make yourself feel uncomfortable – to put yourself at risk – for the sake of someone else. But the Christians were doing it.
A few years later the Christian writer Irenaeus talks about the way Christians in prison were cared for. The older women in the church would cook for them, the kids from the church would play in the courtyard outside the jail cells; while Christian friends would bribe the prison guards so they could be locked in the cells overnight as well. To keep their imprisoned brothers and sisters company.
Or look at the next paragraph. Counter-cultural worship in the area of VALUES. There’s nothing that shows a Christian as an outsider MORE/ than their attitude to SEX, and MONEY.
Which are more powerful forces than most of us probably like to admit. Sex and money have been the undoing of more lives and relationships and careers than you could start to imagine. The world says you can never get enough of either. And never be satisfied with what you’ve got.
And for Christians, in the areas of SEX, we’re going to be, very visibly, outsiders. Because these days, fidelity – marital faithfulness – is apparently a JOKE.
Spicks and Specks is a show I catch on TV sometimes. The music quiz on ABC. And they were talking about Jon Bon Jovi, the rock star. Who somebody mentioned had been happily and faithfully married to his high school sweetheart for something like 18 years.
And the thing that was striking was that everyone on the panel laughed. At how UNLIKELY it was that a rock star would stay faithful to his wife when he was surrounded by adoring and available female fans.
Well, fidelity might be unusual with rock stars… but for Christians, it’s one of our key distinctives. Because we know what a great GIFT marriage is. We know how BEAUTIFULLY God has designed our sexuality. And how much he HATES it when we misuse it. Take a look at verse 4.
4 Marriage should be honored by all, and THE MARRIAGE BED KEPT PURE, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.
I wonder if you’re struggling with that. Keep in mind that God DELIGHTS in pure sex. And no matter how much the world devalues marriage, God delights in it. And he’s going to judge adultery. And sexual immorality.
Honour marriage. VALUE it. Whether you’re married or not. But verse 5 says, whatever you do, don’t love your money.
You know, there’s always been a sort of a conventional wisdom that money can’t make you happy. But I heard the other day that new research has actually proved that it can. And apparently – this is true – apparently they’ve proved there’s a simple formula for the amount of money you’ve got to have for it to make you happy… whatever culture or country you in, whatever income you’ve got. The amount is… MORE THAN MOST OF YOUR FRIENDS.
University research has proved it. If you’ve got more money that most of your friends, it’s going to make you happy.
Which says just about all there is to say about human nature, doesn’t it?
Time to come outside the camp. Read verse 5.
5 Keep your lives FREE FROM THE LOVE OF MONEY, and BE CONTENT WITH WHAT YOU HAVE, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
If you’re saying that, you really are going to be very different. Being CONTENT. Because you trust that God is WITH you, providing, meeting your needs, working for your GOOD.
The whole advertising industry works on the understanding that people are NEVER content. They always want something new, or bigger, or faster, or better looking.
Be counter-cultural. Come outside the city. But you don’t need to join a hippy commune to do it. Be content with your salary, with your car, your house, your spouse.
And one final counter-cultural command. Something the world doesn’t do naturally. And, to be honest, it’s a bit hard for me to talk about. Because I’m pointing to myself.
But it’s there in v7 and again in v17 – so it’s got to be important. RESPECT YOUR LEADERS. Don’t put them down, or criticize them. Obey them. Support them. Back them up.
Have a look at v17
17 Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.
Submit to their authority. Because good leadership isn’t about building a personal empire. It’s not about what’s in the LEADER’S best-interests. But what’s best for the PEOPLE. See it there near the end? If you make a leader’s job a burden, that would be of NO ADVANTAGE TO YOU.
That’s what leaders are trying to do. To keep watch over you. To protect and guide and build-up. In fact, the word for “keeping watch” is literally “stay awake”, or “lose sleep”.
Your leaders are the ones who lose sleep over you. Who fret and fuss. Who will have to give an account before God of how they’ve treated their precious cargo.
So, make their job easy. Obey them. Listen. Support. Help. Encourage. Give feedback. Tell us how we can do it better.
Because your leaders DO lose sleep over you. They DO keep watch over you. And it IS a joy. It’s something they do because they LOVE it.
And when their work is a joy, it’s TO YOUR ADVANTAGE.
There’s a whole range of practical things you can be doing. Things which are acceptable sacrifices. Ways that you can be counter-cultural. That you can come out of the city, and bear the rejection Jesus bore.
But our rejection won’t be forever. Because we ARE headed for ANOTHER city. A city where our disgrace will be over. Where instead of rejection, we’ll experience inclusion and intimacy and acceptance. Ultimate acceptance.
It’s an experience we’ll only know COMPLETELY into eternity. But it’s one we can begin to enjoy, one we can GLIMPSE, with each other at church, as we follow Jesus together. As we learn to love and accept each other.
Listen again to the wonderful words of Ch 12 v22. Describing the eternal city we’re coming to. Accepted by God, washed clean by Jesus, and accepted by his people. Gathered together for eternity.
22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.