Twenty-first Sunday in Trinity November 12, 2000
20, 396, 409, 49
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach.
Dear Fellow Christians, Dear Fellow Redeemed
In S.E. Hinton’s classic novel, the Outsiders, the main character, Ponyboy, along with his teenage friends, lived on the wrong side of the tracks. With greasy hair, leather coats and no money, they were not allowed to be part of the gang made up of the rich kids. Some of Ponyboy’s pals were jealous. Why couldn’t they have the nice clothes? The new cars? And the rich parents? Like many teenagers today—not to mention quite a few adults—they were on the outside wishing they could be on the inside.
Sometimes we find ourselves on the outside, wondering what it would be like on the inside. This can be especially true for the one who names Jesus Christ as Lord! We have been called by Christ to live on the outside. To live on the outside, not in the sense that we separate and distance ourselves from anybody who isn’t a Christian, but, rather, in the sense that we live differently from unbelievers. Jesus says, that though for now we are IN the world, we are not OF the world. He has not called us to be worldly. The problem that we wish to address today centers around a very real temptation that confronts us all! The temptation to want back in! The temptation when faced with persecution to cave in and go back to the camp of those who hate and have rejected Christ! On the basis of our text, let’s talk today about …
The words of our text were first directed toward people who were Jews by birth who had become Christians. They were Jewish Christians who had left behind Judaism, a religious system of salvation by works. Led by the Holy Spirit, they now believed that salvation was a free gift through faith in Jesus Christ. And so, to the non-Christian Jews, these converts to Christianity were considered to be outcasts. The were the outsiders.
But there was a problem. These Jewish Christians were beginning to wonder if life might be better back in the inside—back in Judaism. It was getting, pretty rough on the outside. They were being harassed by the non-believing Jews. “Traitors to their race” they were called. On top of that the infamous Roman Emperor, Nero, had declared Christianity to be an outlaw religion. Christians were being persecuted all over the Empire. Was being an outsider for Jesus really worth it anymore? What advantage was there in it? For the first century Christian it often met a loss of property and income. In many cases, even, a loss of life. Many of these Hebrew Christians were on the outside, but they were also looking in! Back toward what they had and were before Christ had entered their lives.
Can you put yourself in their shoes? I think you can. How many Christians haven’t felt the reproach of life on the outside. One of the college girls of our congregation tells how she is forced to deal with a professor who routinely puts down her faith in Christ. Another Christian I know recently told me that when he shared his Biblical views on abortion with an acquaintance was called an extremist nut. In the newspaper a popular columnist was quoted as saying that no serious minded person could possibly believe in the Genesis account of how the world came into being.
There are other examples in which Christians find themselves standing alone and a part. How about the man who is pressured to join the Masons. All his friends have joined and he’s been told it’ll be to his financial advantage if he joins the inner circle of the lodge. When he says that he can’t in good conscience join an organization which teaches that all religions lead to heaven, and that our good works will get us there, he’ll find himself on the outside. Or what about the young engaged couple who wishes to honor God by waiting to engage in the sacred the act of marriage until they are actually married. Won’t they too find themselves on the outside of not only what is commonly accepted, but what is also almost even expected of people in their situation?
Life on the outside, it’s no walk in the park. And could it be that sometimes we find ourselves, like the Jewish converts of our text, on the outside looking in? On the outside wondering if it’s all worth it. Could it be that to make it easier on ourselves we find ourselves compromising Christ and the Word of God we believe and confess so that we can appear to be on the inside as well? If the people we work with use foul language it’s pretty easy for us to cave in and do the same. If they tell dirty jokes how easy isn’t it to laugh right along with the rest. Or if you’re at a school party, and someone whips out a joint, the inside looks like the easy place to be.
But once we start looking in, how long will it be before we take a step or two inside Satan’s realm? And then how long will it be before we begin to actually live on the inside, turning our backs on Christ and life on the outside.
How do we keep from being sucked back in? To the Christian converts who were wondering if Judaism might be a better alternative to Christianity, the author writes in an effort to redirect their focus. What he says, in affect, is that they needed to be people on the outside looking, not IN, but UP! If they would look up, they would see that life on the outside with Christ was undoubtedly worth it!
- And where were they to look? They were to look, first of all, UP at the cross! To show why the cross made following Jesus well worth any resulting persecution they might suffer, he reminds them of the significance of the cross. He does so by calling to their attention an Old Testament ceremonial sacrifice which graphically pictured the wondrous truth of Jesus’ cross. In Old Testament days the Jews were required to sacrifice various animals on the altar—in what was called the Most Holy Place, and then after the sacrifice the animal was to be taken outside the camp and burned. This ceremony was to remind the people of what Jesus, the coming Savior, would do with His sacrifice on the cross. The cross was God’s altar where Jesus was slain as punishment for all sin. And just as the animals were removed and disposed of, so Jesus death has removed and disposed of our sins once and for all.
Could these Jewish Christians really leave such an altar with such a wonderful sacrifice? How could they? Such a thing would be unthinkable. That is why the author issues the bold call, “Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.” Judaism had nothing to offer these believers who now knew about Jesus and his all-sufficient death. To revert to Judaism would mean to leave the cross and lose its benefits. Where would they be then? Back again in the hopelessness of trying to earn their way into God’s favor. Back again in the uncertainty of wondering if they’d done enough to please God. And worst of all back again on the path to hell.
If life on the outside with Christ seems a bit trying, look up! Look up at His cross! Where else can we find what it gives! What else can wash us, and has washed us of all sin! Where can we find such peace? Where can we find such love? Such acceptance? Such compassion? Can the world do for us what Jesus has? Can life on the inside appear that inviting when we consider what we have as we cling to that old rugged cross! Didn’t Jesus put it all into perspective when he said: “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?”—Mark 8:36.
But, you know, there’s more to look at, when we look UP! The arms of Jesus’ cross enfold us in God’s love, telling us it’s all aright, we’ve been forgiven. But the top of the cross points us up to a new and better world! Our text says: “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come!” How can life on the inside be so tempting that we’d want to go back to it? How, that is, can we let ourselves fall in love with a world that is destined for destruction, at the price of losing the life in which “God will wipe every tear from their eyes … [in which] there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain”—Rev. 21:4. How can we trade in an eternity of full and perfect joy for the brief and passing pleasures of sin! If we feel tempted to do so, we remember St. Paul who writes in Romans: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us”—Romans 8:18. When the world puts the pressure on us to join it, to compromise our beliefs, to trade in our faith for a good time, look UP!—and you will see that what it’s offering us is not worth it!
Sure, life can rough, but the best is yet to come. With the aid of the Holy Spirit we need to keep our focus on the cross and on heaven! That means thinking twice whenever we’re tempted to flirt around with some sin. That means daily examining our priorities to make sure Jesus and His Word haven’t slipped behind some other interest or pursuit? That means immersing ourselves in the saving promises of Scripture. Jesus is worth it! And there is not greater honor to suffer persecution and ridicule for His sake! “Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach!” AMEN!
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.