So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 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. 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. Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. Hebrews 13:12–17, ESV
Can you imagine this scenario? Your favorite musician is coming to town to play a concert. Tickets are a bit pricy, but this may be your only chance to see this renowned artist. So, you dig into your savings and buy the best seat in the house. Your excitement builds. The day comes. You head to the venue. You go in and … nobody. You are the only one at the concert. The band comes out and plays. They sound great. You clap and cheer alone. You come to realize quite quickly that you don’t just go to concerts to hear the music. You go to be part of the crowd.
There is a similar theme in Hebrews 13:12-14. We are told that Jesus went outside the gates of the city and suffered to make us God’s people. Because He suffered in a place of scorn, that is where we will have to go to be with Him. The world that put Him out of the city does not admire His followers. Instead of looking for a welcome in this world, we are to bear reproach with Christ and long for the eternal city where God’s people dwell in His presence. We are to “go to him outside the camp.”
There is something else to observe in the passage. Notice the community language. He sanctified “a people.” The command is “let us go.” We are told that “we have no lasting city.” “We seek the city that is to come.” And we do not seek a cabin in the woods. We seek a city, a place filled with people.
Coming to Jesus is to come to a community—the church. Thus, Hebrews 13:15-17 include community commands. We are to offer the unending “sacrifice of praise.” We are to sacrificially share. We are to submit to and obey leaders. As we come to Jesus is to share in His reproach, we are not alone. We come to Him and enter into a fellowship with other saints in a community of praise.
Be encouraged. You are not alone in Christ. As you continue to draw near to our crucified and risen Lord today, long for that city to come, and find true joy in Christian fellowship!
I am praying for you,
Let brotherly love continue.
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.
Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”
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.
Hebrews 13:1–9, ESV
Counties in our state, including ours yesterday, are transitioning from the Red Phase to the Yellow Phase. During Sunday’s online service I will speak about the phases the deacons and I are developing for regathering Thompsontown Baptist Church. Were I unable to rest in the sovereign grace of God, I might give in to the fear that we will never again be ‘unphased’ by this virus.
Hebrews 12 ends with a call to the saints to remember that Christ’s blood shed for us has made us citizens in a better kingdom than the kingdoms of this world, “a kingdom that cannot be shaken” (v. 28). As citizens in this better kingdom, we have access to God, and we come before Him in awe and worship. In an earth-shattering event, His Son saved us. Now we bow before this awesome God.
Though we are worshippers in God’s kingdom, we must live out our citizenship in this world. Hebrews 13 begins with a series of straightforward commands for doing so. Love the saints. Graciously open your home to the stranger. Don’t forget the persecuted church. Honor your marriage vows. Trust God more than money. Follow those saints God has put in leadership over you. Cling to gospel truth. It is rather telling how the issues addressed in these commands are the very same ones we deal with today.
It can be tempting to read Hebrews 12 and 13 as though they describe phases in the Christian life. First, we become good at worship. Then, we deal with life. The problem with such a reading is this: There is no sense in which we need to reach a certain level of progress in our worship before we can move on to daily obedience. Our sanctification has no such phases. We who love God with all our being are at the same time those who are to love our neighbors as ourselves. We who bow in worship are at the same time those who are show love in the church, love to our neighbors, love to suffering saints, and love to our spouses as we trust God for His provision, His guidance, and His truth.
I am praying for you as you work through these phase-dictated days in which we live. It can sometimes be overwhelming. My prayer is that you will be empowered to do so as citizens of a greater kingdom, by the grace of our great King.
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears. Hebrews 12:12-17, ESV
Most mornings, after breakfast, I trek out to the garage to exercise. I plan to do it every morning, but only accomplish it most mornings. I am sure you can imagine why my every becomes a most. I do not exercise because it is fun, but because I need the benefit that comes from it. Many mornings it is all I can do to push through my routine and some mornings, faced with the prospect, I choose to have another cup of tea instead. Faced with the reality of “no pain, no gain,” sometimes I choose “no pain.”
The author of Hebrews uses the metaphor of physical fitness to call us to diligence in our efforts at spiritual fitness. Christ suffered violence at the hands of sinners so we might have eternal victory over sin. Now He helps us in our striving for practical victory over sin in this life, for spiritual fitness, by disciplining us. Even though there is pain in the discipline, we find that “it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (12:11).
It is time to the hit spiritual gym. In Hebrews 12:12-16, we are given two exercises to perform “so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.”
We are to exercise our peace muscles. The key to this relationship-building workout is drive out the “root of bitterness” that destroys peace in our relationships. With reference to Deuteronomy 29:18, we are told to do spiritual exercises to improve our contentment muscles, focusing on the grace and mercy of God toward us and letting that shape the way we relate to others. We are to work out any desire to be a grumbler who leads others to doubt the goodness of the one true God and seek after false gods.
We are also to exercise our holiness muscles. This includes fighting against sexual immorality and against the general kind of unholiness we see in Esau’s willingness to accept instant gratification at the cost of his birthright. Hebrews has already made it clear that the best kind of exercise for building holiness muscles is to set our eyes on Jesus: to consider what He has done for us and strive to follow His teaching and example.
Once I post this entry, I am going out to the garage. It is leg day. It will hurt, but I will be better for it. Then I will have about fourteen hours today to exercise peace and holiness muscles. When I stumble, fail, receive discipline, repent, and receive forgiveness it may hurt. But I will be better for it.
I pray that God will bless your exercise routine today, too.
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.” Hebrews 12:3–6, ESV
I love to read systematic theology and biblical theology books. But one of the most interesting ways that I have found to read theology is through the biographies of historical figures who wrestled with theological topics. There is something special about walking alongside the saints of old as they wrestled with theological truth in their particular situations. Biographies remind me that the theology I study was often worked out in conflict as men and women gave even their lives for the doctrines they found in God’s Word.
Hebrews 12:3-6 reminds us that our theology of enduring faith, the subject of chapters 10 and 11, is a truth to be worked out in conflict. When the author tells us that we need to “not grow weary or fainthearted” because we “have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood,” he is not calling us to a life of faith lived out in comfort and ease. After what he has just written in Hebrews 11:32-40 about martyred saints, it is clear that the possibility of bloodshed in this life of faith is real.
Quoting Proverbs 3:11-12, the author reminds us that this suffering is a way God works in the lives of those He loves. He tests their faith, even punishing them when they fail, and, in doing so, builds them up in that same faith. The life of faith may be hard, but it is not a life lived outside the sovereign hand of a loving God. For this reason, we are better off when we suffer for our faith.
Does this seem a little too abstract? It is not surprising. The American church has for some time been “at ease in Zion” (Amos 6:1). This is to our shame. It is time to end our pursuit of comfort and lean hard into a life faithfully devoted to Christ. Such a life will not bring us ease in a fallen world. Indeed, it should not. But it will strengthen our faith and bring us great joy and rest in the Lord.
Maybe it would help you to spend some time with a good Christian biography and observe how the saints who went before us endured. These are a few of my favorites:
May God grant us all endurance in faith!
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1–2, ESV
The Hebrews 11 “Hall of Faith” is filled with the testimonies of Old Testament saints who trusted the promises of God and received God’s blessings. Even though they “did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us” (11:39-40), they ran their races in faith. They ran well.
As we tour this hall and admire the plaques on the wall, we are called to action. Their faith in the face of turmoil and tribulation serves to challenge us. We too are to run the race of faith as committed athletes in pursuit of a prize. Our motivation for running well is even better than theirs. Ours is a better race.
We need to run unencumbered by sin. Sin will weigh us down if we carry it in this race of faith. We cannot pursue the works of the flesh while we run. They are too heavy for us to bear. And they are clingy; the burden of sin does not just fall off our shoulders on its own. To run well, we must despise sin, trust that Jesus has carried our sin for us, and seek it no more.
Our race is a life-long endurance race. Until we go to Jesus in death or He comes to gather us to Himself, we run the race. A sprinter’s mentality will not do. We cannot blast out of the starting blocks and hope to win the race in a matter of days, months, or even years. We must be at the work of running every moment of every day.
Our race is a “race that is set before us.” We do not need to carve out our own course as we run this race. The Almighty has set the course. He knows our comings and our goings because he has determined the time and the place of our running (Acts 17:26). Consequently, we need not worry about the course but can focus our energy on running in faith.
Our race is a race with a perfect prize. At the end of the race is the One who set us on this course of faith and is at work in us building our faith as we run. Jesus ran His race, enduring a cross of shame. He finished well and is now “seated at the right hand of the throne of God” where He waits to reward those who finish the race. What an encouragement to us to keep running!
I am praying for you as we run this race together,