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Monday, September 1, 2008

Coming Home (Hebrews 13:11-16)

August 31, 2008
Sermon by: Robert Austell
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Today we are wrapping up the series on exile and redemption. We started in Genesis in the Garden of Eden and saw that, in mercy, God allowed exile for humanity’s sin rather than immediate judgment and death. That mercy would be short-lived, however, if in grace God did not also come after us in exile to reconcile us and bring us home, for we lack the capacity to find our way back to God.

Over the weeks we have looked at numerous examples of God plunging into the muck and mire of human existence. That existence – that exile – takes many forms, from personal bondage and addictions to societal woes, and everything in-between. But God has come near in order to speak into that exile and call us to faith and redemption.

Until now, we have read and heard the stories of the Old Testament, setting the pattern for God’s involvement and redemption, but not explicitly naming Jesus Christ as God’s ultimate provision. Today, we come to God’s perfect plan, foreshadowed for thousands of years, proclaimed by prophets and teachers, and made flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is God with us… God come to get us… God come to call us home.

Sin Outside the Camp (v. 11)

There is a lot packed into a few verses here. I’m going to focus in on verses 11-16. It is there that the writer of Hebrews draws a connection between Jesus and the Old Testament atonement sacrifice, particularly highlighting the phrase “outside the camp/gate.” That phrase is used three times in these verses and I’d like to focus in on them, because they overlap significantly with exile or being separated from God.

The first time that phrase appears is in verse 11:

…the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp.

This offering is described in Leviticus 16:27 and surrounding verses. In those ancient times, sin was addressed in several ways. Priests would sacrifice animals – a goat and bull – to act out, almost as in a drama, God’s plan for the forgiveness of sin. A bull and a goat were sacrificed – killed – for death is the consequence of sin. Another live goat was taken outside the city gate, symbolically carrying the sins of the people. This was the scapegoat, which carried the sins of others far away. The animals that were killed were not used for eating, as with other sacrifices, but their bodies burned outside the city gate. This was because of the association with human sin and symbolic of the consequences of sin: death and isolation.

This is why exile was such a powerful experience for the Jews and for the human race. It is also dramatic – a preview of our eternal destiny apart from God. In exile, we are cast (or cast ourselves) outside the holy walls of God’s Word and will; we’re just not dead yet. The ancient Israelites very tangibly connected their various exiles with separation from God, even as I have been trying to do in this series.

Jesus Outside the Camp (v. 12)

In so many ways the Levitical sacrifices were like a huge drama pointing to Jesus. There are wonderful points of connection between the atonement offering, scapegoat, and Jesus, who took the sin of the world onto himself and through whom God cast them away as far as the east is from the west.

In our passage today, though, the connection is made between Jesus and the sacrificed animals whose bodies were burned outside the city gate. We read:

Therefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate.

We’ve talked about God wading into the muck and mire of human existence and this is it. This is God entering into exile to bring us out. Jesus was an exile in his own day. He suffered outside the gates of Heaven, during his earthly life. He literally suffered and died outside the gates of Jerusalem on the cross at Golgotha. He not only took the sin of the world onto himself as the scapegoat; he also took the consequence of sin onto his head, enduring death and complete exile from God.

If you have any doubt about God hiding out in Heaven or plunging into the mess of humanity, you only need look at Jesus’ life and death to see God coming to rescue us. Jesus spent his ministry with those “outside the gates” – the lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, and sick, who were considered unclean and outcast. And consider the ripping of the curtain in the Holy of Holies, which Hebrews also makes much of. We were no longer to go seeking God “in there” – God came to seek and save us “out here” – outside the gate, outside the camp.

Humanity Outside the Camp (v. 13)

The passage takes an interesting turn in verse 13. And it is consistent with all that we’ve seen thus far in our study of exile. We read:

So, let us go out to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach.

The author of Hebrews calls us away from the limited sacrificial system of the Old Testament. By extension, we are called away from any effort on our own part to achieve our own salvation. Rather, we are invited to turn to Jesus, the one who is found… out among the exiled. Jesus is a Savior for the broken-hearted, wounded, and lost. We don’t sing “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a saint like me.” We sing “wretch” because God put on human flesh and came out of the city walls to find us in the trash heap. We look for Jesus there among the dying, decaying, and drowning, because it is there that God is working to seek and save the lost.

And not only is that where we see God at work – we who trust in Him for salvation through Jesus Christ are challenged to “Come, follow me.” And look, that’s exactly where the passage goes next.

The Character of Those Called Home (vv. 14-16)

In verses 14-16 we have the whole exile series in three verses. Having demonstrated, in Jesus, that He is plunging into the darkness of this world, we are challenged to recognize that this place – this exile and this world – is not our home. God has made us for more and intends us for more. Look at v. 14:

For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.”

We talked about that eternal perspective last week. Right? – “Earth is Not Our Home.” But we also recognized that it doesn’t produce passive daydreaming Christians, but active and engaged disciples. So see the challenge of verses 15-16, which describe worship of God and mercy lived out around us:

Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to his name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

All this combined together is both Good News and the vision set before us at Good Shepherd. We are not perfect people, but imperfect people who need and have trusted in the God who saves. We have seen God at work among us and around us – several of you have shared your testimony or “God-story” and I continue to look for folks who would be willing to do this. And, setting our hearts and minds on Jesus, we recognize an eternal and heavenly purpose behind our earthly existence. More and more, we are responding to God-on-the-move.

You may have noticed the new look in our welcome area. I hope that every time you see the lighthouse and the searchlight there that you will be reminded that Jesus, the light of the world, calls to His Church:

You are the light of the world, a city set on a hill. You are salt and light.

What is your personal ministry and mission? How have you or how are you hearing and responding to verse 13: “So, let us go out to Him outside the camp.” How will you follow Christ?

And what is God doing with us and around us right now? How will we be salt and light? As we find out, respond, and run after Him, I believe God is going to light up Old Providence, and beyond, for His glory. Amen.

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