Hebrews: Outside the Camp

“We’re New Testament Christians, why are we studying the Old Testament? This stuff doesn’t apply to us anymore.” “One reason,” I answered “is because the New Testament writers used it quite a bit in their books and letters.  If we want to understand what they were saying, we need to understand their references.” That’s what we’re going to do in today’s passage.

“The high priest carried the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp” (Heb 13:11). It was Yom Kippur, the most holy day of the Jewish year. The day when the sins of the nation were atoned for. It was a day for fasting and prayer and confession. It was the day that the slate was wiped clean and the people were declared righteous – at least until they sinned again.  The high priest took the blood of the slaughtered animal into the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle/Temple as a sin offering and sprinkled it on the mercy seat of the Lord. The carcass of the animal would be carried outside of the camp/city to be burned because it represented the sin of the people. Sin must not be allowed to remain among God’s holy nation.

The writer makes the new covenant connection in verse 12: “And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through His own blood.” Jesus was the sacrificial animal. Jesus’ blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat of the Lord. And Jesus was crucified and buried outside of the city of Jerusalem because He bore the sin of all humanity. And by His blood, those who believe and receive His atonement are made holy.

An interesting aside here is that the Jewish leaders rejected Jesus and had Him crucified at Golgotha because of His radical message. But by putting Him outside of the city proper they were unknowingly confirming that He was indeed the sacrifice for the sins of the people. Because his original audience was believing Jews, the writer urged them to “go to Him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace He bore,” symbolically rejecting the old ways of Judaism (v. 13).

As believers in Christ, you and I will often have to “go outside the camp” of popular opinion and cultural relevance, even within the church, to live in holiness. But we’re in good company. We’re out there with Jesus. Remember what He said: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18).

Oh, and there’s one more reason why we need to study the Old Testament, even as New Testament Christians – because Jesus is all over it and all in it. It’s worth digging into the early texts to know Him better. All of history, including the entire Bible, is His story. It’s the greatest story ever told.

Are You Sure That’s Right?

I goofed up at work yesterday. I ordered a textbook for one of my professors and when I started adding the professor’s information to the online form, the auto-fill popped up because I had ordered textbooks for him before. Yes! I clicked on his name and let the system do its thing. The publisher sent an auto-reply to his email address to confirm the request. He messaged me his thanks – and told me that he had a new address. The book was going to the old address. I pulled up his faculty file in our system and – guess what – he had given me his new address months ago. But the publishing website had the old address and I, assuming it was correct, failed to verify it. Now I had to scramble to contact the publishing company and correct them before the book shipped. All because I didn’t do due diligence. I just assumed what they had was right.

You know where I’m going with this, don’t you? I’ve beat this drum before: Check everything out.  It was a minor inconvenience for me, but not every error is so simple. False teaching has eternal consequences. The culture is teaching “a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all” (Gal 1:6,7). They are teaching a humanitarian gospel that says we are all God’s children and that He accepts everyone who is sincere in whatever they believe. That’s a lie, and people will go to eternal hell sincerely believing it. They are teaching that God only wants us happy, not holy and that he is okay with homosexuality, murdering unborn babies, and changing our gender. That’s not the God of the Bible – the God who is holy, holy, holy.

That’s why the Bereans were applauded in Scripture.  Acts 17:11 says “The Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”  This little congregation checked out everything Paul said before they bought into it.  So should you

False stories on social media can be harmless – like copying and pasting text to change Facebook’s algorithms (p.s. it doesn’t do a thing), but believing a lie about God will always have eternal consequences.  My friends, please don’t let Facebook or Twitter or even me be your source for spiritual truth; check it out in the Bible before you believe it – and especially before you share it.  Beloved, Don’t take anyone else’s word for who God is or what He has said but God Himself.

Hebrews: An Unshakable Kingdom

If it seems like the past few years have left us all shaken, I don’t think that’s by accident.  I believe the enemy has taken hold of the pillars on which our human ideology is built and is having a rocking good time. I have not seen so much confusion and turmoil and unrest in my lifetime. The devil is on a mission to upend the world in which humans exist.  Makes you wonder if God has left us to fend for ourselves.  Let me put your mind at ease. God is still very much with us and He has not lost control- even for a moment.

Listen to what He said: “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens. The words ‘once more’ indicate the removing of what can be shaken – that is created things – so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire'” (Hebrews 12:26-29).

I believe God has been allowing this shaking for His own purposes. For the church and believers, He is shaking loose everything that does not have eternal value. Things like our fine buildings and traditions and systems and structures. Our weak sermons and half-hearted worship. Our surface-level relationships. Our fluffy feel-good “discipleship.” Our wealth and opulence. Our finery and frivolity. Our individuality and autonomy. Our worldly wisdom. Our selfishness. Our self-righteousness. Our attraction to sin. Our whining and grumbling. Our unbelief. Our pride.

What will remain? Humility. Real Love. Real Power. The Cross. The empty tomb. Holiness. Faith. Perseverance. Righteousness. Truth. Purity. Wisdom. Obedience. Surrender. And Hope. And Peace. And Joy. And from these God will build an unshakable Church. When God shakes the heavens and the earth all that remains will be strong, sure, and eternal – the unshakable Kingdom of God.

Every time God shakes up my life – and that’s happened quite a lot in the last few years – it is to shake loose everything I trust in that is unstable so I am left with the only thing I can depend on – Him. So shake me, God. Shake Your church. Shake the dust and the cobwebs that have overtaken us in our ease and slumber. Shake loose everything that will not have a place in your Kingdom. Then cause your Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.

Sin in the Camp

I don’t want to write this devotional. I’ve tried to talk God out of it, but He is persistent. This is His word to the Church – and the individual parts of it. Get your boots on and read Joshua 7.

Joshua and the army of Israel had just taken the city of Jericho. It was an extraordinary victory. Now they prepared to take Ai and the spies come back saying “Just send two or three thousand men to take it, for only a few men are there” (v. 3). But those three thousand were routed by the few men of Ai, and thirty-six were killed. The Israelites were in mourning – and in shock. Joshua went before the Lord and accused Him of bringing them out to destroy them (vv. 6-9). God corrected him saying, “Israel has sinned” (v. 11).

When the army went into Jericho they were commanded to not take any of the “devoted things” – the precious metals and other costly things – for themselves. All of those things were to be designated as “sacred to the Lord and put into His treasury”. Joshua said anyone who took them would bring about their own destruction and bring trouble on the whole camp of Israel (6:18-19). But somebody ignored that command. Through a process of elimination, Achan was found to be the guilty party. He saw a beautiful robe and silver and gold and he took them and hid them under his tent. He was the reason for Isreal’s defeat by a much smaller army. One man. One sin. But God regarded it as the whole nation’s sin. Achan and his entire family and even his animals were stoned to death and God’s curse was lifted from the nation.

Here’s what the Lord keeps speaking to me. The reason the Church today has so little power and has lost her godly influence in the world is because there is sin in the camp. The Church – the bride of Christ – has failed to keep herself pure and devoted only to Him. She has taken on lovers and allowed them to infiltrate His holy place. She has welcomed what God has called an abomination. She has championed perversion. She has fought for the slaughter of innocent babies. She has become like the world.

But here’s the other part of the problem. You and I are the church. You and I share the guilt because our personal, private lives affect the faithfulness of the camp, just as Achan’s did. You and I are joined to the whole body. We don’t live one life at church and a separate life outside of it. We cannot invite sin into our private lives and think it won’t matter. It all matters. To all of us.

So here is my pointed question – and believe me, I’m asking it of myself as well. What is buried under your tent Beloved? “You cannot stand until you remove it” (Joshua 7:13).

Hebrews: Are You Listening?

Several years ago I turned down an invitation to an event. Afterward, I discovered that one of my favorite authors was a surprise guest speaker that day and I missed it. I was so disappointed. A few years later this speaker passed away and I realized that I had missed my one opportunity to hear her in person.

The writer of Hebrews offers a warning that you and I need to heed. “See to it that you do not refuse Him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned those on earth, how much less will we if we turn away from Him who warns us from heaven.” (Heb 12:25a). The writer started this sermon by saying “In the past, God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various, but in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son” (Heb 1:1-2).

The history of Israel had been a sad story of God’s people rejecting God’s word through His prophets. The Lord said, “They have not listened to my words, words that I sent to them again and again by my servants the prophets” (Jer 29:19). Their stopped-up ears and stubborn hearts put them in exile in Babylon for seventy years. But now, the writer said, His people have rejected the very Son of God, whom John called “The Word [made] flesh” (Jn 1:14). God was speaking to His people face to face and they didn’t want to hear what He had to say. It’s not just that they couldn’t hear and comprehend – they refused to hear. It’s like the little kid with his fingers in his ears saying, “Lalala – I can’t hear you.” The writer said if the Lord didn’t excuse those who rejected the prophets, what makes you think He will excuse us for rejecting His own Son?

Here is something important I want you to notice. What were the prophets speaking? What was the Son speaking? Not “you can decide for yourself what is right and wrong.” Not “I just want you to be happy.” Not even “unconditional love.” Their messages were words of warning. It was always, “Repent.” Turn away from your sin and turn back to God.

Here’s another thought: If God did not excuse those who rejected the words of the prophets and the word of His Son, will He excuse you and me who have the luxury of His Word in written form? I have at least fifteen Bibles on the shelves in my office. I expect most of us have a Bible app on our phones – and every one of them says the same thing: “Repent.” It’s not that we don’t have His Word. It’s that we’re refusing to listen. Beloved, we have no excuse.

Hebrews: This is the Gospel

Tupac Shakur said, “Only God can judge me.” Coming from a guy who portrayed a “gansta” life and sang about violence, rape, drugs, and destruction, he was spot on. I don’t know if he ever read the Bible, but he’s paraphrasing Paul: “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court . . . It is the Lord who judges me” (1 Cor 4:3,4). The writer of Hebrews echoed him saying, “you have come to God the judge of all men . . .” (Heb 12:23). That is part of the gospel story that has fallen out of favor in recent years, but it’s the bad news that makes the good news so good.

I am sure you know John 3:16 well. It reveals the heart of the gospel: God loves sinners. But Jesus also said: “Whoever does not believe [in Him] stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (v. 18).  Here’s the rest of the story (nod to Paul Harvey).  God sent His Son because all of mankind is condemned because of sin.  Not because of our sinful actions, but because sin is the human condition since the fall.  We’re not sinners because we sin – we sin because we’re sinners. It’s not just what we do – it’s who we are. The destiny of all people is eternal condemnation – the wrath of God. Unless we believe in Jesus – and then our destiny is eternal life. That is what Paul means when he says: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

Hebrews continues the thought saying, “You have come . . . to the spirits of righteous men made perfect” – just as we will one day be. “You have come to Jesus . . .” Just stop right here and rest in that statement. That changes everything. “You have come to Jesus – the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (v. 24). The new covenant is a covenant of mercy – of a love that saves through holy blood that was shed, not from jealousy and rage, but from divine providence. Abel’s blood brought about a curse on Cain. Jesus’ blood brings freedom from the curse of sin for everyone who believes.

In 279 words I have told you the gospel. Here’s the summary: You are a sinner. God loves you. Jesus died to save you. Beloved, won’t you come to Jesus?

Hebrews: A Costly Trade

Warning: this post is not culturally correct.

Sin is such an antiquated notion. Its meaning has changed from generation to generation. The present generation – if they consider sin at all – see it as causing offense by denying someone’s right to celebrate their personal truth. But previous generations rightly understood sin as an action that is offensive to God.

While sin isn’t limited to one specific action, sexual immorality seems to be the favorite. And we don’t have to ask why. But we do need to understand what it means. The Greek word is pornos – you know what English word that corresponds to. It comes out of a root word that means “to sell into slavery,” and that gives sexual immorality a whole new tone. Sexual immorality is any sexual act that deviates from the biblical presentation of the loving physical intimacy between a husband and wife.

The author of Hebrews tied that sin to Esau, son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham. He said, “See that no one is sexually immoral, or godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son” (Heb 12:16). Even though he was a twin, Esau made his entrance minutes ahead of his brother Jacob, making him the elder. By rights, he got the blessing of their father and a greater portion of the inheritance – called “the birthright.” But Esau came in from a hunting expedition one day, “famished.” He smelled the food his brother was cooking and sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew. He threw away who he was – the eldest son – and all he stood to gain – the birthright – to fill his belly momentarily. He didn’t have proper regard for the gift that was rightfully his. When it was time to bestow the blessing, Jacob cashed in. “Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears” (v. 17).

Sex between a husband and wife is a beautiful, God-honoring thing. But any other expression of sex is sexual immorality. It is a moment of pleasure that will cost you dearly. In a culture where anything goes, Beloved, don’t sell your blessing to satisfy your flesh. God has so much more for you than that.

Hebrews: How to be a Christian Neighbor

The culture knows Scripture – at least a few verses that they are passionate about. “Judge not” (Matt. 7:1), “God is love” (1 John 4:16), and “Let him who is without sin . . . cast the first stone” (John 8:7). I found them a new one that I think they will really like: “Make every effort to live in peace with all men” (Heb 12:14). What’s interesting about these cultural favorites is that they are only partial verses or plucked out of their context so that their meaning is skewed. It is a favorite ploy of the devil, who knows more Scripture than most people in the pews. When he came to tempt Jesus in the wilderness, he quoted from Psalm 91:11-12, but he stopped just shy of his own demise in verse 13. (You should go look that up. In fact, I encourage you to look up all of these verses and read their surrounding context.)

Hebrews 12:14 has a second part that colors the whole verse differently. “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness, no one will see the Lord.” Oh. When you add verse 15, it becomes clearer: “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Now, before I started digging deeper into this verse, I thought it meant something like “let no ill feelings take root” but I was wrong (that’s not easy to say!). First, the word “bitter” metaphorically means “extreme wickedness” and literally means “poison”. Poison kills.

This reaches directly back to Deuteronomy as Moses was reiterating the covenant they had made with the Lord God. He said, “Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the Lord our God to go and worship the gods of those [pagan] nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison” (Deut 30:18).

I’ll be honest, I’ve wrestled with this all week. It’s not an easy passage. But I believe it means to live in peace with your neighbors, especially your unsaved neighbors, don’t condemn them or harasses them over their lifestyle. Don’t cause them to turn to wickedness because of your self-righteousness. But you – and remember, the writer is speaking to the community, not to individuals – live a holy life, set apart unto God. Because Jesus showed us that a truly holy life is attractive and winsome to a lost world. And so must we be.

When I Stand Before Jesus

I wrote this several years ago, and as I was reading this passage this morning, the Holy Spirit revealed something new to me (which is why we read the Scriptures over and over and over – there’s always something new to learn.)

I have always been drawn to the story of the woman caught in adultery (see John 8:1-11), mostly because I can see myself in two of the main characters.  So many times I am part of the judgmental crowd.  Like the religious leaders, I catch someone and call them out, accusing them and looking on with scorn.  Oh, I’m never obvious about it mind you – it’s all done in my head – but I might as well have drug them before the church because I’ve declared them guilty.  Yet, I have also been the woman, the sinner caught in the act standing before Jesus shamed and ashamed.  I know I am guilty as I stand clutching my sheet of self-reproach, trying to cover my nakedness and my sin.

Here is where something new came to me. I initially said that Jesus sees me in both roles and reminds me of my own sinfulness as He calls me to drop my rock of condemnation. But I realized that I was wrong.  Because I am washed in His blood, my sin has been removed – “As far as the east is from the west” (Ps 103:12) never to be remembered again. He will never throw my sin back in my face. He may gently chastise me for my judgmental attitude, but He does not remind me of my past transgressions because He has forgotten them. That’s huge to me, because I have an enemy who loves to taunt me with my past – and I have a past that gives him lots of ammunition. But Jesus steps in with His scars and declares me forgiven and free.

After He turned her accusers away, Jesus told the woman He did not condemn her. He didn’t even condemn her accusers. He condemns no one.  Paul said that He is the only one who rightly could, but He doesn’t (Rom 8:34). Instead, He sacrificed Himself to take away the condemnation our sin has heaped on us. Yes, sometimes you and I are both the accused and the accuser, but oh, to be like the One who pours out grace and mercy to all who believe. Lord, help me to be more like you and less like me.

So Help Me God

*Steel-toed boot warning.

Court scenes in movies, television, and books generally show witnesses and defendants swearing to tell the truth with their right hand on a Bible. The practice of swearing an oath goes back to antiquity. In twelfth-century England the practice of swearing on the Word and name of God to declare one’s truthfulness became law. The custom came over with the pilgrims but was never made law as it was one of the many reasons they left the oppressive religious rule of England.
In the day when the Bible was considered sacred text and God was revered, the practice of swearing an oath “on the Bible” was the norm. That is no longer the case and the courts have determined that a witness could simply “affirm” to be honest. But putting one’s hand on the Bible has never been a guarantee of truthfulness, has it? People swore on the Bible and still lied. Even claiming to be a Christian these days doesn’t mean a person will be godly. So what good is the Bible anyway? And who needs it if it can’t make you a better person?
Here’s the ugly truth: we often use the Bible to comment on the ungodliness in our culture and to point out sin in the world. But remember, the Bible was written to the people of God, not to the world. The Old Testament was written to the Israelites and the New Testament is written to the church. Who needs the Bible? I do. You do. The Pastor and the deacons and every member of the Church. Every person who claims the name of Jesus Christ. Because God is speaking to His people. God is calling the church back to Himself. He is telling His people to stop living in sin and repent. He is drawing those who claim the name of Christ into holy living. We can’t hold the unsaved world to biblical standards not following. We can’t rant about homosexual marriage when the divorce rate in the church is the same as outside the church. We can’t judge unwed mothers when pornography addiction is rampant in the church. We can’t demand righteousness we don’t have ourselves. Don’t read the Bible to convict the culture, read it to convict your own heart. “For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household . . .” (I Peter 4:17).