The point of Hebrews 13:12–16 is loud and clear: Christians, move toward need, not comfort! Move toward need, not comfort!
The central call to us is in verse 13: “So, let us go out to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach.” That is, move with Jesus toward need, not comfort. This command in verse 13 is based on the death of Jesus, how it happened and what it accomplished. Verse 12: “Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people through his own blood [that’s what it accomplished], suffered outside the gate [that’s how it happened].” “Therefore let us go out to him outside the camp.”
In other words, he says, “Christians, join Jesus in his sufferings!” Because Jesus suffered outside the gate, move out from the camp of security and familiarity and ease, and be willing to bear reproach with him on the Calvary road. And because he died there to sanctify you, do this not in your own strength or virtue as a mere act of imitation; do it in the strength and holiness that Christ purchased for you in his death. Otherwise, it will not be an act of faith but an act of heroism; and you will get the glory, not Christ, and God will not be pleased, because without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).
“Move toward need, not comfort.”
So the main point is this: Christian, with a Savior like this, here is how to live: move toward need, not comfort.
Now I know that this exhortation can be misused. A single woman might say, “Okay, I should look for the weakest, most needy man I can find and marry him in the hopes that I might do him some good.” Or a young professional might say, “Okay, I should look for the weakest, most unstable company in the computer business and try to get hired there in the hopes of helping turn it around.” Or if your car needs repair, you might say, “Okay, I will look for the mechanic who is about to go out of business because he’s so incompetent, and take my car there to help him out.” “So much for your exposition; move toward need, not comfort.”
Christ’s Radical Call
The problem with these misuses of the call of Jesus is that they are not nearly radical enough. They are only foolish. Why should you even assume that you should get married? Maybe the call of Jesus to move toward need and not comfort is a call to utterly devoted singleness for the sake of greater service. Or maybe it’s a call to be married to the kind of person who is strong enough and radical enough to go outside the camp with you and suffer beside you, and to maximize your lives together for the good of others instead of sinking into the little cesspool of comfortable self-preoccupation that many marriages are.
And why should you think that you should even be looking for a job in America — with a company that’s weak or strong — when similar jobs are available in countries where there are hardly any Christians and the need for your light is utterly desperate. Or maybe you should work for a strong company here because there are perishing people there or because there will be opportunities for extensive influence in spreading kingdom values and making spreadsheets serve the supremacy of God in all things.
Why should you assume you should have a car? Maybe the call of Jesus on your life is to move to a place and a people where you don’t need a car — because there aren’t any roads, and no churches and no Christians. Or maybe you should have a car that works so that you can drive unfailingly toward need and not comfort.
The radical call of Jesus to join him on the Calvary road — to go outside the camp and bear reproach with him — can always be caricatured and ridiculed and made to look foolish. It’s one of the easiest ways of escape. It’s very tempting. It makes you look clever. It makes Jesus look inept. And it frees you (for a few more deluded years) to go on in the way of an empty, shallow, comfort-seeking routine that some people call life.
“So, let us go out to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach [verse 13] . . . because [verse 12] Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people through his own blood, suffered outside the gate.” The way he died and why he died make all the difference to us whom he calls to go with him. The way he died was outside the gate: outside the seeming comforts and security and familiarity of the Holy City, Jerusalem — outside the gate, on Golgotha, willingly, sacrificially, lovingly. And why he died (verse 13) was to sanctify the people, to make us different than the rest of the world, to make us holy and loving and radical and risk-taking and utterly captivated by another destiny than this world offers.
Outside the Camp
Consider the next verse (verse 14) to get a handle on what these sanctified people are like. What does sanctification really mean? Christ died to sanctify the people, that is, to produce the kind of people who are willing to think of their whole lives as going with Christ outside the camp to bear reproach. How so? What has happened to these people? Verse 14 shows us. They are willing to go with Jesus on the Calvary road toward need, not comfort, “For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.”
What’s the point of this? The point is that Christ did not die to make Minneapolis in this age a paradise. He died so that we would be willing to stop trying to make our private lives paradise on earth — in Minneapolis or anywhere. By what strength? Because we are masochists? Because we love suffering? No. Because “we are seeking a city which is to come.” Do you see that? Verse 14: “Here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.” Our motive for going outside the camp — toward need, not comfort, bearing reproach, caring about the people — is because there is a city coming, “the city of the living God” (Hebrews 12:22). It is better than what this age offers and it will last forever, and best of all, God will be there, undiminished in glory (Hebrews 12:23).
We have seen this pattern over and over in Hebrews. We saw it in Hebrews 10:34 where the Christians moved toward need and not comfort by visiting prisoners. When it cost them their property, they rejoiced, Hebrews says, because “you knew that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one” — they were seeking a city which is to come, not comfort and paradise on earth. So they moved toward need, not comfort.
We saw it in Hebrews 11:25–26 where Moses moved toward need, not comfort, “choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt.” Why? By what power? Verse 26 says, “Because he was looking to the reward,” that is, he was looking for the city which is to come.
We saw it in Hebrews 12:2 where Jesus moved toward need, not comfort, when he “endured the cross and despised the shame.” How? By what power? Verse 2 says it was because of the joy set before him. That is, he looked to the city that is to come.
We saw it in Hebrews 13:5–6 where Christians move toward need, not comfort, by keeping their lives free from the love of money and being content with what they have. How? By what power? Verse 5: “For [God] has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you,’ so that we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not fear, what can man do to me?’” I am now and always will be safe in the keeping of God. I am a citizen of the city, which is to come and nothing can separate me from it. So I will move toward need, not comfort.
“Radical confidence in a glorious future with God is what Christ died to produce.”
So the point of Hebrews 13:14 is confirmed again and again: Christ did not die to make the cities of this age — or the suburbs — a paradise. He died so that we would be willing to stop trying to make our lives paradise on earth — both in the city and in the suburbs, and instead go with Jesus outside the camp of comfort and familiarity and security to where the needs are and where he also says, today (the day you die) you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43). We move toward need, not comfort, because we look for a city that is to come. Radical confidence in a glorious future with God is what Christ died to produce. And when it takes hold of you, you will be sanctified (verse 12) and go with Jesus toward need, not comfort.
Praise and Love
Let’s get more specific. What’s involved in this life that moves toward need, not comfort — this life outside the camp on the Calvary road, moving with Jesus toward suffering for the joy that is set before us in the city that is to come? Verse 15 gives one answer and verse 16 gives another.
Verse 15 says it is a life of praise to God — real, heartfelt, verbal praise — the kind that comes out of your mouth as the fruit and overflow of your heart. Verse 15: “Through him [Jesus] then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to [literally: confess] his name.”
Verse 16 says it is a life of love to people — real, practical, sharing of your life for the good of others: “And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”
In other words, when we go with Jesus to the place of his sacrifice outside the camp, we see more clearly than ever that his sacrifice for us — the sacrifice of himself, once for all for sinners (Hebrews 9:26, 28) — brings to an end all sacrifices except for two kinds: the sacrifice of praise to God (verse 15) and the sacrifice of love to people (verse 16).
So here we are outside the camp on the Calvary road with Jesus, bearing reproach, moving toward need, not comfort — and what is this road? Where is it heading? Practically, this afternoon? For you? This week? This year?
- Perhaps it’s the road that leads to fasting and praying for the unreached peoples in the 10/40 window,
- or to Ministry Hall to get involved with Ukrainian orphans,
- or to the new location of our neighboring abortion clinic, Midwest Health Center for Women, on South 5th Street to help Sara and Naomi and the others stand for life,
- or to the home of Glen and Patti Larson and others standing on the brink of eternity,
- or to page eighteen of the Prayer Journal for the Persecuted Church to find agencies that will give you practical ways to care for the suffering Christians around the world,
- or to the telephone to make a hard phone call to plead with a straying friend to come back to Jesus,
- or to a neighbor whom you know is perishing in unbelief.
The Calvary road toward need, not comfort, leads to a thousand possible places of love and praise.
Go to the Nations
My prayer this morning is that among you young people whose course is not yet so fixed, and you older, retired people who have energy left and much freedom, and you others in between who may want to cash it all in and do something radically different with your lives the way the dozens of single and married people have done in this church over the years — my prayer is that among you all, God may use this word from Hebrews 13:13 to shake you to the foundations and loosen you from your place and send you to the unreached peoples of the world with the gospel of the glory of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. I know this is not missions week, but this is what I hear in this text for some of you this morning.
Hundreds of thousands of Christians around the world are risking their lives just to be Christians this morning. We know from Revelation 5:11 that the reason Christ went outside the camp and suffered was to redeem people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. And if that is why he went, then what must it mean when Hebrews 13:13 says, “Let us go out to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach”? Must it not mean for many of us: Leave the camp! Leave the camp! Leave the comfortable Bethlehem camp. Leave the comfortable Minneapolis camp. Leave the comfortable, secure job. And join Jesus on the Calvary road moving toward need, not comfort.
“Sinners are perishing because there are no Christians willing to be persecuted.”
No, you don’t have to cross cultures to obey this text. I’ve given seven illustrations of that. But listen: Christ suffered outside the camp for the sake of the nations, hundreds of which have no church, no books, no missions that can even expose them to the news that Christ came into the world to save sinners. So I press this: Hebrews 13:13 is a call to move toward need and not comfort. And the need that cries out to my ears this Sunday is the need of peoples where Christians are perishing because of persecution, and where sinners are perishing because there are no Christians willing to be persecuted.
I plead with you, when you dream about your future, whether you are eight or eighteen or thirty-eight or eighty, dream Hebrews 13:13, “Let us go out to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach.”
We Go Forth Not Alone
We are going to consecrate ourselves to this by singing the final hymn printed in your worship folder, “We Rest On Thee.” Many of you know there is a story behind this that gives it special force at this moment. Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming, Ed McCully, Nate Saint, and Roger Youderian were killed on January, 1956, in Ecuador, moving toward the need of the Auca Indians and not toward comfort. The title of Chapter 16 of Elisabeth Elliot’s account of the martyrdom is a line from this hymn: “We Go Not Forth Alone.”
Shortly before their deaths on Palm Beach they sang this hymn. Elliot writes,
At the close of their prayers the five men sang one of their favorite hymns, “We Rest on Thee,” to the stirring tune of “Finlandia.” Jim and Ed had sung this hymn since college days and knew the verses by heart. On the last verse their voices rang out with deep conviction.
We rest on Thee, our Shield and our Defender,
Thine is the battle, Thine shall be the praise,
When passing through the gates of pearly splendor
Victors, we rest with Thee through endless days.
With that confidence, they went to Jesus outside the camp. They moved toward need, not comfort, and they died. And Jim Elliot’s credo proved true: “He is no fool to give what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” “Here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come” (Hebrews 13:14).
I invite you to sing it. And when you get to the words, “And in thy name we go,” mean it, and be ready to go.