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.
The Division Between Christianity and Judaism
Let me begin this morning by reminding you of something from verse 10. It says, "We [that is, we Christians] have an altar from which those who serve the tent [that is, the Jewish priests, serving with the sacrifices at the tabernacle] have no right to eat." What this means is that Jesus gave himself (7:27; 9:14) as our sacrifice once for all (9:28) on the altar of the cross. He became our Passover lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7) and took our place (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 3:18) and bore our sins (1 Peter 2:24) and became for us a source of eternal food (John 6:53f.) which meets our deepest needs and gives us everlasting life.
The reason it says in verse 10 that the priests have no right to eat from this altar is that they have rejected Jesus as their Messiah and the Son of God. Anyone who believes may come and eat. Jesus said in John 6:35, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me shall not hunger; and he who believes in me shall never thirst." The only person who has no right to eat is the one who won't believe and come.
So what we saw in verse 10 was the tragic division between the Christian and Jewish faiths. Jesus came and divided the true and the false. There are two altars: there is the old altar in Jerusalem with the old sacrifices; and there is the new altar outside the gate (v. 12) where Jesus offered himself once for all for sin. Jews and Gentiles who come to this altar for forgiveness and for strength find acceptance and hope. Jews and Gentiles who refuse to come have no right to the altar of life and will perish in their sins.
Christianity as a Life of Joyful Sacrifice to God
And so Christianity began, pushed out of Judaism by those who rejected Jesus as the Christ, but in God's sight heirs of the promise and possessors of the kingdom (Matthew 21:43). Now in verses 13–16 the way of life in this new religion called Christianity is described. It's a life of joyful sacrifice to the God of love.
- There is the sacrifice of suffering. Verse 13: "Let us go forth with him outside the camp, and bear the abuse he endured."
- There is the sacrifice of praise. 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."
- And there is the sacrifice of a shared life. Verse 16: "Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have for such sacrifices are pleasing to God."
Last week we talked about the sacrifice of praise and stressed that the number one priority at Bethlehem is the cultivation of hearts that stand in awe of God so that the sacrifice of praise will really be fruit of the lips and not works of the law.
Doing Good to Others and Sharing Your Life
Today I want us to focus on verse 16, the sacrifice of a shared life (Priority Number Two). Very simply, the life of a Christian is not only to be a worshiping, praising life, but a shared life; a life of doing good for others and sharing your possessions and your heart with others. Verse 16 says, "Do not neglect [or forget] to do good and to share what you have." Then a reason is given for why we should do this: "For such sacrifices are pleasing to God."
What sort of things does the writer have in mind? I think we can see if we look back to the beginning of the chapter. Hebrews 13:1–3: "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 ill-treated, since you also are in the body."
So the kind of thing he means by doing good and sharing would be hospitality (having people—even people you don't know—over to your house after Sunday service); visiting people in prison; caring for any who are afflicted. But of course there are hundreds of ways to do good for people and to share your life with people. The point is that people who get their strength and their wisdom from the altar of the cross, from Jesus Christ, are people who live for others. They get up in the morning and think about how they can do the most good for other people today. This is the sacrifice that they offer to the Lord day after day.
And one of the reasons for building a new and wider network of small groups at Bethlehem is to help cultivate the relationships where the sacrifice of a shared life can be made in the most caring and helpful way. Tom will pick up on this at the end of the service.
Why God Is Pleased with Such Sacrifices
The text says that such sacrifices are pleasing to God. And I want to spend the rest of our time pondering why that is, because I think if you can see why God is pleased with this way of life, it will please you too and make it a joy and not a burden.
1. They Honor the Death of His Son
It pleases God first because it honors the death of his Son. That is, it affirms the reason that Jesus suffered and shows that his death was effective in its purpose. Verse 12 says, "So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood." Jesus suffered to sanctify you, that is, to purify you and make you holy and good and loving like he is. How do you show that sanctification? How do you affirm the sufferings of Jesus and show that they were not in vain in your life?
Titus 2:14 says, "Jesus gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds." So the way to show the truth and power of the sufferings of Jesus is to be zealous for good deeds. God is pleased with our doing good and our sharing because it demonstrates the success and power of the sufferings of his Son.
2. They Display His Trustworthiness
The second reason God is pleased with the sacrifices of doing good and sharing your life is that they display his trustworthiness. They show his faithfulness and reliability. How can good deeds and sharing display the faithfulness of God?
You can see how in 13:5: "Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for [note this word, 'for'; here comes the basis of our freedom from the love of money] he [God] has said, 'I will never fail you nor forsake you.'" Now consider the relationship between the love of money and the ability to do good and share what you have. If you love money, if your trust for the future and for happiness is in money, then doing good and sharing will be hindered. So Hebrews says, "Keep your life free from the love of money," so you will be free to live for others and not for your own private gain. And how do you keep your life free from the love of money according to verse 5? By trusting the promise of God, "I will never fail you nor forsake you."
This means that every time you offer the sacrifice of doing good and sharing because you no longer depend on money, you show that you are trusting the promise of God and that God is trustworthy and faithful. When you can live for others without needing material payoff, you show that God is your payoff. A life lived for others is a bright testimony to the worth of God and the truthfulness of his promises.
And God loves to see his truth and worth exalted. So he loves the sacrifices of doing good and sharing.
3. They Are His Own Work
Third, God is pleased with such sacrifices because they are in a real sense his own work, and he delights fully in the excellence and beauty of his own achievements. You can see this in 13:20–21. "Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in you that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."
What this shows is, first, that God equips us with everything good that we may do his will, and, second, that God works in us that which is pleasing in his sight. So when I have the faith and the freedom and the zeal to do good and to share my life with others, I cannot boast in myself; it is God at work in me. Let him who boasts boast in the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:31).
When you have the grace to live for others—to do good and to share—it is just that: it's GRACE! Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:10, "I worked hard, nevertheless it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me." And since we know that God rejoices in all his works (Psalm 104:31), we know that he rejoices in the work of grace that gives us the faith and the freedom and the zeal to live for others. So the third reason God is pleased with our doing good and sharing is that this is his work and not just ours. And he rejoices in his own handiwork.
Why We Should Delight in Such Sacrifices
I think these three reasons that God delights in the sacrifice of a shared life are the reasons that we should too.
- It is a thrilling thing to know that the way you are living is proving the success of the sufferings of Jesus. It should be a great incentive to you that your life can verify that Jesus did not die in vain. Your good deeds and your shared life are the triumph of his cross.
- It is a thrilling thing to know that your life is a showcase (in all your weakness) of the trustworthiness of God and the reliability of his promises. To bank your hope on God and not on money or things is a deeply satisfying experience. It feels risky and vulnerable in one way; but in another way there is a very profound sense of security that you have chosen the way that makes known the worth and reliability of God.
- And it is a thrilling thing when your good deeds and shared life give evidence that you are the very handiwork of God—that he is at work in you to will and to do his good pleasure, and that he who began a good work in you will complete it to the day of Christ.
So my prayer is that as you hear Tom Steller describe the small group vision at Bethlehem, you will feel a deep desire to share your life with others—to do them good, to satisfy your own soul, and to please your heavenly Father.