Second Reformed Church

Sunday, March 02, 2014

"Let's Go Outside the Gate" Sermon: Hebrews 13:7-16

“Let’s Go Outside the Gate”

[Hebrews 13:7-16]

March 2, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            Last week we considered ways in which we are to respond in love to others, our spouse, and our blessings.  We saw that we respond to the world around us in the light of Who God is and what He has done.  We live differently because we know the Holy God and we have received the Only Savior, Jesus Christ, and His Gospel.

            In this morning’s text, the author of Hebrews again looks at how Jesus has fulfilled the Old Testament Sacrificial Law and urges his readers to understand that the Law is fulfilled, so the only rational and safe thing to do is to hold on to the Gospel and believe in Jesus and what He has done.  Turning back to the Sacrificial Law would be even more fruitless than before Jesus came, because it was never intended to be a way of salvation and now it is fulfilled, so going back to it is a denial of its fulfillment – of Jesus and His Gospel.

            We see:
            
            First, we are to remember the preaching and teaching of faithful pastors and teachers.

            Second, Jesus is the fulfillment of the altar.
            
            Third, Christ calls us to leave everything behind and pick up our cross.

            Fourth, we are to respond as people seeking a permanent city.
            
            First, we are to remember the preaching and teaching of faithful pastors and teachers.

“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.”

The author of Hebrews tells his readers that they are to remember what their faithful preachers and teachers taught them from the Word of God.  He is referring both to the preachers and teachers that make up that cloud of witnesses that have gone on before us and surround us as we run the race of faith, as well as those preachers and teachers who are still living and faithfully preaching and teaching the Word of God.

If you have ever sat under a preacher or teacher who faithfully preaches and teaches God’s Word, do you remember what he taught you?  The preaching and teaching of the Word of God faithfully is not merely what we have to suffer through to get to coffee hour.  It’s not what we do to merit our salvation.  Paul tells us in the book of Ephesians that we sit under preachers and teachers who faithfully explain God’s Word so we will be equipped for the life of faith – so we will be able to live as Christ has called us to live.  If we do not make an effort to understand and remember what teachings of the faith have been delivered to us faithfully, we are effectively walking around naked.

Yes, the Holy Spirit will remind us, as Jesus promised, but we ought to make an effort as well.  If we love Jesus, we will make an effort to know Him – we will make an effort to know the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – as they are taught about in the Word of God and expounded on by faithful preachers and teachers.

I hope when I’m gone, some of you will say that there were times that I preached and taught the Word of God faithfully and that you learned things about our God and Savior that now strengthen you and give you joy as you look forward to Jesus’ Return and the coming of the Kingdom of God in all its fullness as believers in the Gospel.

The author of Hebrews also tells us to look at the lives of our preachers and teachers – are they living lives that mirror what they are teaching and preaching?  If they are, then in those ways, we ought to be like them – if a preacher or teacher lives before us something that he has faithfully taught from the Scripture – use that example and follow it that you also might be living according to the Word of God.  And when we see preachers and teachers not living up to the Word of God, when they preach and teach one thing and then act in opposition to it – do not follow that example.

David said, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (Psalm 51:3, ESV).  And the same is true for me:  I have not lived faithfully in all things before you, and I hope you continue to pray for me that I will advance in my sanctification – in becoming holy – that I would be a better and more faithful pastor to you.  And I hope when I am gone that you forget my sin and unfaithfulness and remember some way that I lived faithfully that you can emulate – something that I did that was right and good and pleasing to God that you can also do.

The author of Hebrews told his readers to also look at the faith of preachers and teachers – do they believe and confess – outside of the pulpit – what they do in the pulpit?  Are they sound in their theology?  Where they are not, pray that they would be taught and strengthened.  And where they are right and consistent – strive to be like them in holding firm to the doctrines – the teachings of the faith.

I have misinterpreted the Scripture, and when I have come to understand that I have, I have told you that I was wrong.  And I sin – I am no one to put on a pedestal – I am just like you – even as I preach and teach, I am under the Word of God, being taught – it often seems to me that I need to hear the sermon more than you do, because I know how much more I need to come into conformity with the Word of God.  And it is my hope that when I am gone, you will remember – not my sin and inconsistency – but those times when I held fast to the Word of God and consistently upheld what I have taught you from the Scripture.

So, we are to look at the preachers and teachers who have faithfully preached and taught the Word of God, and we are to remember what they taught us from the Word of God and follow them in life and doctrine insofar as they lived faithfully to the Word of God.

The foundational truth that we are to remember is that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Notice that the author of Hebrews calls Him, “Jesus Christ,” not merely Jesus.  In doing so, he is alerting his readers to the fact that he is not talking merely about Jesus and His humanity, but about Jesus the Incarnate Son of God as Savior – the Gospel message.

He is telling us that Jesus Christ is the intended and Only Savior from before the Creation and through the age until the Restoration – there never has been and never will be another way to be right with God – there is Only One Savior – His Gospel has always been the same – and He and His Gospel remain eternally faithful and true.  There is only One Way to be right with God and that is through believing and receiving the Gospel of Jesus Christ – His Incarnation, Life, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension.  The Old Testament saints believed and received the Savior Who would come and make the Way, and now we believe in the Savior Who has come into history – spelling out the Gospel in all its fullness.

And the author of Hebrews tells us the most important things to avoid are “diverse and strange teachings.”  And he specifically gives the example of people who think the food you eat plays a part in your salvation.  And before you say, “O come on!”  Have you ever heard of the Jews, the Mormons, and the Seventh Day Adventists?  They all have teaching about the necessity of eating certain foods and abstaining from other foods in order to be right with God.

“But,” someone is thinking, “Didn’t God command the kosher laws of the Old Testament?”  Yes, He did, but it was never about salvation; it was about being set apart – and it may be a healthier way to eat.  However, in Acts chapter 10, God presented Peter with a whole bunch of non-kosher foods and tells him to eat them.  Of course, the main point of the vision is that Gentiles – non-Jews – are welcome into the Kingdom, but it also has been understood to mean, secondarily, that the kosher laws have been fulfilled in Jesus and we don’t have to follow them any longer.  Certainly, they don’t have to be followed for salvation, because that was never the intent of the kosher laws.

The church I was part of in high school taught us that listening to certain types of music will send you to Hell.  That’s ridiculous.  Even though we can argue that some music is better than other music, the music we listen to has nothing to do with salvation.

We have been saved by grace:  “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9, ESV).  And we must remember we are saved by grace when someone tries to tell us that we have to do something or not do something in order to be saved.  It’s not true.

So, believe those things that preachers and teachers have faithfully taught from the Scripture – especially the Gospel and how all other things relate to Jesus Christ and the Gospel.  And don’t be led away by teachers and preachers who say something else is necessary for salvation other than the Gospel.

Second, Jesus is the fulfillment of the altar.

“We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.”

In Leviticus 16, we find the instructions for the sacrifices for the Day of Atonement.  As we looked at the Day of Atonement – Yom Kippur – in the past, we remember that a bull, a ram, and two goats were involved in the sacrifice to make atonement – to make the people right with God.

We remember that this was a yearly sacrifice for the sins of the people of Israel.  Once a year, all the people of Israel would gather to repent, sacrifice, and receive forgiveness for their sins.  And let keep in mind what the author of Hebrews already told us:  “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22, ESV).

The major problem with the sacrifices of the Day of Atonement is that – at best – they were for partial, temporary forgiveness of sins.  The sacrifices could not and were never intended to make a person completely and eternally right with God.  The sacrifices covered the sins confessed for the moment – nothing that was forgotten and nothing that happened the next second.  So, it could never function as a way of salvation.

In brief, the bull, the ram, and one of the goats, was slaughtered, and their blood was flung around to symbolize forgiveness of sin through the blood.  The second goat had the sins of Israel symbolically laid on its head, and it was sent into the wilderness to perish.  Then the slaughtered animals were taken outside the camp:  “And the bull for the sin offering and the goat for the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the Holy Place, shall be carried outside the camp. Their skin and their flesh and their dung shall be burned up with fire. (Leviticus 16:27, ESV).

In most of the offerings, the priests and the people participated by eating some of the offering.  In the sacrifices of the Day of Atonement, the animals were burned completely – no one ate of the sacrifice – no one participated in the sacrifice.  The priests were not even allowed to eat any of the animals of the sacrifices of the Day of Atonement.

Jesus, in fulfilling the sacrifice of the Day of Atonement, was also sacrificed outside of the gate – outside of the city of Jerusalem.  Jesus was sacrificed – crucified – on Golgotha – on the Place of the Skull.

And like the sacrifices of the Day of Atonement, Jesus’ Blood was shed for sin, but, it was shed not merely for the sins remembered and for a particular moment, but for every sin we every commit – we have full atonement through Jesus’ Blood – we are truly made right with God for all of eternity through His Blood.

Yet, unlike the sacrifices of the Day of Atonement – when the people and the priests did not participate in the sacrifices – they didn’t eat the sacrifice – as they normally did – in Christ, we do participate in the sacrifice – spiritually.  Paul wrote, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Romans 6:6, ESV), and “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20, ESV).

We participate in the sacrifice with Christ spiritually, because Christ functions not only as the Sacrifice, and the High Priest Who offers up the Sacrifice, as the author of Hebrews has already explained, but He also functions as the Altar on Whom all our sins are laid to be burn up – skin and flesh and dung – through the shedding of His Blood for the forgiveness of our sins and the making of us righteous and holy – into His Own Image.

Christ fulfilled all the aspects of the Day of Atonement and we are joined with Him spiritually, so we are crucified with Him, and our sin is put to death in Him, and through His Blood, we are made right with God, righteous and holy, and He raises us from the dead with Him, and pledges to bring us with Him into His Kingdom on the last day.

Third, Christ calls us to leave everything behind and pick up our cross.

“Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.”

Is it any wonder we are now called to respond to such great news?

We are called to go “outside the camp” with Jesus “and bear the reproach he endured.”  What does that mean?

It means that we leave the Old Testament Sacrifices behind – they have been fulfilled in Jesus – it is a denial of the Gospel – and useless – to turn back to them.  (Remember – the first century Jewish Christians who were suffering severe persecution under the non-believing Jews and the Romans were wondering if they should turn away from the Gospel and back to the Old Testament Sacrifices – such that the message of the author of Hebrews is – hold fast to the Gospel!)

Following Christ means leaving Judaism – and anything and everything else behind that hinders the pursuit of the Gospel – to take up the cross – endure reproach, exile, afflictions – even to death – for the sake of the surpassing worth of the salvation Jesus Christ merits for us through the Gospel.

Peter wrote, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Peter 4:14, ESV).

Paul wrote, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:16-17, ESV).

If we are Christians, we should expect to suffer for Christ’s Sake.  We are called to go outside of the gate – willingly – joyfully for the sake of Christ and His Gospel – not because we enjoy suffering – but because it proves we are His.

Are you willing to go outside the gate?  Are you willing to hold fast to the Gospel and endure whatever comes your way for the sake of Christ?  Are you willing to suffer for Christ?  Are you willing to be lied about, tortured, and put to death for confessing faith in Him?  Not to seek out suffering – but to be ready for it – and to receive it that you might be united with Him in suffering?

If you are not, let me urge you to make sure you really believe the Gospel.   If you are not willing to go outside the gate – if you are not willing to suffer for Christ, should suffering come, search your heart and see if you are really a Christian.

How do we prepare ourselves for suffering?  Hold fast to the Gospel and remember the teaching and preaching of teachers and preachers who have faithfully delivered the Word of God to us – believing what God has said in His Word and living as He has called us to live – being like those teachers and preaches who have showed us what faithful living and belief look like.

Fourth, we are to respond as people seeking a permanent city.

“Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”

Again and again throughout the Scripture, God reminds Israel and all those who believe that they are sojourners, exiles, strangers in a strange land.  This fallen, corrupt, and sinful world is not our home – this world restored with the fullness of the Kingdom of God all around us is our home.  We are looking for the New Jerusalem – for the new heavens and the new earth – when Jesus returns and banishes sin and death and evil and restores the Creation to how it was before the Fall – and even better – makes it impossible that we and the Creation should ever fall into corruption again.

The author of Hebrews explained this:  “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13, ESV).

Paul tells us who were are and who we are becoming through Jesus:  “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22, ESV).  That is what we are to keep before us as we run the race of faith and endure whatever suffering we suffer for the sake of Christ.

The author of Hebrews continues by telling us that the acceptable sacrifice from us is not animals – those sacrifices have been fulfilled once – and for all who believe – in Jesus – but praise and thanksgiving through Jesus.

The psalmist tells us:  “And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!” (Psalm 107:22, ESV).

The acceptable sacrifice comes from our mouths and hearts now, not from the blood of animals.  We sacrifice to God through praising Him for Who He is and what He has done and by thanking Him for Who He is and what He has done.  Now that we are one with Christ through His Life, Death, and Resurrection, we come before God speaking our words, helped by the Holy Spirit, so we can glorify Him – uplifting His Name and His Gospel above all things and all people.

Are you thankful for what God has done for you?  Do you have reason to praise God as you know Him better and better through His Word and through the work of the Holy Spirit in you?  As you go outside the gate and suffer for Christ, do you have reason to thank and give praise, lifting up the Name of Jesus?

This past week, I have felt lost, sad, and angry, as I have begun to mourn the death of my beloved, Cali.  I am mourning, but I thank God that I had almost nineteen years with her, and I have hope and believe that God is faithful and will keep His promise to restore the Creation, as One Who loves His Creation.           

Finally, this morning, the author of Hebrews tells us to seek the good of others.  As we saw last week, we are to love others – both our brothers and sisters in Christ, and all people, first proclaiming the Gospel to every creature, and then doing everything we can to better others.

Micah, writing against those who hoped in animal sacrifices, wrote, “’With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?  Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?  Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’  He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:6-8, ESV).

And so, we see that God is pleased that we sacrifice ourselves for the good of others – whether that mean time, care, supplies, comfort, or whatever we can share with others to help them and make them better off, especially through the proclamation of the Gospel.

Love God by praising and thanking Him for Who He is and all He has done.  And love others by proclaiming the Gospel and meeting their needs in that way that God has enabled you to meet needs.

Let’s go outside the gate.  Let us go, proclaiming the Gospel, rejoicing and thanking Him for His salvation, enduing suffering for His name, holding fast to the Gospel, and all we have learned from preachers and teachers who have faithfully preached and taught the Word of God.

Let us understand that Jesus fulfills the Old Testament Sacrifices – and most importantly, the sacrifices of the Day of Atonement.  He is the High Priest, the Sacrifice, and the Altar for all those who will believe in Him.

And let us love God and our neighbor. 

Let us pray:


Almighty God, we are weak-skinned, and we think far too well of ourselves.  We think little of Your Sacrifice for our sins and foolishly want this life and this world to be our glory.  Open our eyes and help us to run the race of faith.  Help us to understand Your Word.  Make Your pastors faithful in preaching and teaching, in life and confession.  Revive our hearts and minds and help us to see You for who You are, rejoicing, giving thanks, and responding lovingly to all people, as we look forward to the coming of Your Kingdom in all its fullness.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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