The Sacrifice of Suffering

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings; for it is well that the heart be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited their adherents. 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 sanctuary 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. Therefore let us go forth to him outside the camp, and bear the abuse he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which 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.

What we have seen in these verses over the last two weeks is that the Christian life can be described as three kinds of sacrifice that we make to God. The first was the sacrifice of praise which we see in verse 15: "Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name." The second was the sacrifice of a shared life which we see in verse 16: "Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God."

Following Jesus to Calvary

The third sacrifice is our focus for today. It's the sacrifice of suffering, and it's described in verses 13–14: "Therefore let us go forth to him outside the camp, and bear the abuse he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come."

Verse 13 is picking up on verse 12 where it says, "Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood."

So Jerusalem is being pictured as the camp of Israel. Jesus was taken outside the gate, away from the camp, and tortured and killed on a cross like a common criminal between two thieves. And now this inspired writer looks at you and me and says, "Let's go . . . let's go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured." This is what it means to be a Christian.

Jesus said this same thing didn't he? In Luke 9:23 he said, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it and whoever loses his life for my sake will save it." Being a Christian means following Jesus, and following Jesus means going with him to Calvary—outside the camp.

Now Jesus made it plain in Luke 21:16 that not all Christians will die by martyrdom. He said, "Some of you they will put to death," not "All of you . . . " But all of us must be willing. All of us must count Christ better than life. All of us must take up our cross and follow him in the kind of life—the kind of love—that he lived.

Going "Outside the Camp"

And this verse 13 makes explicit something very important for us today. It says that we should go to Jesus "outside the camp." Now what does that mean? The writer knows that we don't live in camps the way the Israelites did. "Outside the camp" stands for something. What does it stand for?

I think the camp for Israel was the place of safety and sanctity. Outside the camp there were dangers of wild animals and dangers of enemies. And outside the camp was where the unclean animals and refuse were to be buried. So outside the camp there was potential danger and the risk of uncleanness. The camp was comfortable and safe and clean and sacred.

So when he says to us, "Let us go forth to him outside the camp," he probably means, "Let's go outside the place of comfort and safety and religious sanctuary; and let's join Jesus in the risky places, the dangerous places, the dirty places."

So if "the sacrifice of praise" represents the priority of worship in our church, and "the sacrifice of a shared life" represents the priority of nurture and care and education in our church, what does this "sacrifice of suffering" represent? It represents at least the priority of evangelism and world missions. It represents the priority of resisting the incredible inertia of comfort and security—of wanting to spend all our time inside the camp.

But what is outside the camp? Strangness. Uncertainties. Drug dealers are outside the camp. Pimps and prostitutes are outside the camp. Unpredictable gangs are outside the camp. Your unbelieving colleague or neighbor or classmate is outside the camp. Some parts of the wilderness outside the camp are muddy and steamy, and some parts of the wilderness outside the camp are tall office buildings with oak-paneled offices and floor-to-ceiling windows. And outside the camp are all the unreached peoples of the world.

When God says to us in this text, "Go outside the camp with my Son to share the abuse he shared," he means, "Let your light so shine before men"—before lost and needy men outside the camp, not just in the ease and comfort of your church and your home. The light should shine in the dark. And it's dark outside the camp. He means, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations." He means, "You shall be my witnesses not only in the camp of Jerusalem but in Judea and Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the world."

Breaking Out of Our Comfortable Camps

The third indispensable priority of Bethlehem Baptist Church must be to break out of our comfortable camp and move in the world where it is dark and risky and foreign and uncomfortable and dangerous. Hebrews 13:13 says very plainly that outside the camp there is abuse and reproach.

We in America need to learn what Christians in most of the world can't help but learn, namely, when Jesus calls us to himself, he calls us to suffer. Romans 8:16–17 says, "The Spirit himself bears witness that we are the 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."

Paul said to the new churches he was starting (Acts 14:22), "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom."

And the reason this is so is not just because tribulations often find us inside the camp, but because being a Christian means going outside the camp where even more tribulations are. It may mean choosing places to live, places to work, places to minister, places to travel, people to help, ministries to do that are not safe from abuse and reproach.

Examples of Going Outside the Camp

Let me give you several examples.

In some countries in Africa today the AIDS epidemic is reaching staggering proportions. I was told last week at a missions conference in Colorado Springs that some cities in Uganda are simply being wiped out. It's like the bubonic plague in Europe in the 14th century when some places lost two-thirds of their population.

In that setting today there are missionaries and missionary doctors and their families who believe that for them God's call outside the camp is to stay right there when many Westerners are fleeing the country.

Another example is the country of Lebanon. I heard again of Christian professionals and pastors who have the opportunity to leave that war-torn land but choose to stay there "outside the camp" in danger of bombing and kidnapping, and with fewer and fewer provisions and protections. They look at the struggling church there, many of whom have no chance to leave, and they look at the tremendous needs, and they say, "This is where I am needed most—outside the camp. This is where Jesus went—and where he goes today."

Or consider this. I have here a list of the 150 largest unreached people groups in the world—all having at least one million people. Virtually all of these groups, with no church of believers, are found in countries that are resistant or hostile to Christian missionaries. Do you see what this means? It means that either the church will be disobedient to the command of Jesus to disciple all the peoples (Matthew 28:19), or we will go forth with Jesus outside the camp and bear the abuse he did. The Great Commission will not be finished without suffering.

The Biblical Way of Thinking

The thought that Christians are only called to live and work where it is safe is not a biblical thought. Biblical thinking proceeds on the assumption that we are all called to follow Jesus outside the camp where there is reproach and danger. It may be the risk of ostracism and scorn at your work. It may be the risk of egg on your face at school. It may be the pain of misunderstanding from an unbelieving relative. Or it may be the far greater risks of prison and persecution in Colombia or Mindinao.

This way of thinking—this willingness to go outside the camp of comfort and security—is a very strange mentality. It's not natural to this world. What is it? Is it naïveté about what pain and suffering are really like? Is it a kind of pathological masochism that just wants people to feel sorry for us? Is it stoical heroics that hopes to be remembered in the hall of fame? What is this willingness to go outside the camp to Jesus and bear the abuse he did?

Verse 14 gives the answer. "For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come." Our willingness to live and work with Jesus outside the camp of comfort and security is not naïveté. It is not a pathological desire to suffer. It is not stoical heroics. It is, in fact, an unshakable and happy confidence that there is no abiding security and happiness in this world but only in the next. The pleasures and safety of upscale Minneapolis and suburbia cannot compare to the pleasures of the New Jerusalem.

Look at Hebrews 10:34. "For you had compassion on the prisoners, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one" (cf. Hebrews 11:2, 26).

It is not only possible to go with Jesus outside the camp; it is possible to do it WITH joy! Why? Because whatever we lose in obedience to Jesus will be repaid a thousand-fold in the city of God. Jesus said, "Blessed are you when men persecute you and revile you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice in that day and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven" (Matthew 5:11–12). Your willingness to go outside the camp is the measure of your treasure in heaven and your freedom from treasure on earth.

The Bible and the newspaper make it plain that to be an outspoken, evangelistic, socially engaged Christian in the years to come is going to be increasingly dangerous. And brothers and sisters, I want to be right in the thick of it with you. I see us standing together against evil outside the camp. I see us winning the lost from outside the camp. I see us, with all God's awakened church, planting a church in every people by the year 2000. Let's go outside the camp together.

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