Let Us Go to Jesus

Series: Better: A Study of the Christian Life in Hebrews

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Oct 27, 2013

Hebrews 13:8-14

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If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Hebrews chapter 13 and look at verse 8.   Our reading is going to be from verses 8 to 14 but go ahead and allow your eyes to scan just a little bit back up the page all the way to verse 1 and notice something.  Before we do the reading, I want you to note two interesting things.  The first thing I want you to note is this whole chapter is filled with exhortations about living the Christian life.  We’ve emphasized that already.  So in verse 1, “Let brotherly love continue.”  Verse 2, “Show hospitality to strangers.”  Verse 3, “Remember those who are in prison.”  Verse 4, “Let marriage be held in honor.”  Verse 5, “Keep your life free from the love of money.”  Verse 7, “Remember your leaders.”  So the chapter is moving through a series of exhortations about how to live the Christian life and then suddenly you get to verse 8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”  Ask yourself the question, “What’s the relationship between this series of exhortations and then suddenly this declaration, it’s almost an exclamation, that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever?  What’s the relationship between those things?” because there is one.  Now here’s a second and related question - “Why would you have, in verse 5, the exhortation, ‘Keep your life free from the love of money,’ the declaration or exclamation, ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever’ and then right back to another exhortation again, ‘Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings’?  Why those two exhortations and then that declaration, that exclamation stuck in the middle?  Does it have anything to do with them?”  Hint:  Answer - Yes.  But be thinking, “What would the connection be?”

Now let me help you with the answer to that by outlining the passage that we’re going to look at.  The real message of this whole section from verse 8 to 14 is, “Go to Jesus.”  But to understand what that means, I mean just saying, “Go to Jesus,” it kind of doesn’t make sense unless you have some context and understanding of the content of that, that’s where you’re going to get; that’s actually the exhortation that you’re going to get back to in verse 13 and 14 - “Go to Jesus.”  What does that mean?  You have to understand the flow of the argument of the passage to appreciate it and there are five things that I want you to look for in the reading.  

The first thing is the declaration, that exclamation that I’ve already told you about - “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” - verse 8.  The second thing is an application of that declaration and you’ll see it in verse 9.  It’s an application of the truth that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” to the living of the Christian life.  We’ve said this whole chapter is about how to live the Christian life.  Now, the author of Hebrews is going to tell you how who Jesus is and what He has done relates to how you live the Christian life.  Third, look at verses 10 and 11.  Then he is going to begin to explain to you the declaration and the application by explaining to you how atonement worked in the Old Testament because he’s going to tell you in just a minute that Jesus fulfilled what that atonement work in the Old Testament pointed to.  So in verses 10 and 11 he’s going to explain how atonement works and how that factors in to the Christian life.  Fourth, look at verse 12.  Now you’re going to get a proclamation and the proclamation will be about the effective work of atonement that Jesus has done.  Notice in this passage - you can catch it already just from the way I’m outlining it - this passage zeros our attention in on the person and the work of Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.  Jesus has atoned for us by His blood.  The person of Christ; the work of Christ.  And so what you see in verse 12 is a proclamation of the effective work of Jesus Christ for our salvation.  And then finally, when you get to verses 13 and 14, you get to the exhortation that the author of Hebrews has been leading up to.  It’s an exhortation for us to go to Jesus and to seek the city that is to come.  So look for those five things as we read God’s Word and let’s pray before we do so.

Father, this is Your Word.  Open our eyes to behold wonderful things in it because we need Your Word as much or more than we need food.  We do not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from Your mouth.  So help us to hear Your Word today as if our lives depended upon it because they do.  And we pray this prayer in Jesus’ name, amen.

This is God’s Word.  Hear it:

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them.  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 holy places 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 to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.  For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.”

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word.  May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

The author of Hebrews in this passage is virtually telling us that Jesus Christ is the secret to the Christian life.  He is certainly telling us that Jesus Christ is the key to the living of the Christian life.  All of these exhortations that he is giving in this chapter, as practical as they are, as Biblical as they are, as helpful as they are, will avail nothing in the Christian life unless our faith and hope are not ultimately placed in Jesus.  Unless we are looking to Him, none of these exhortations can happen; we can’t even do them.  And none of them will matter because Jesus Christ is the key to living the Christian life.   Now we won’t understand that, we won’t understand that unless we follow his argument in this passage. And I want to do that in these five steps that I’ve already outlined.  

JESUS IS ETERNALLY RELIABLE BECAUSE HE IS CONTINUALLY UNCHANGEABLE

The first thing that I want you to see is the declaration of verse 8.  It’s an exclamation about who Jesus is.  The author of Hebrews says in verse 8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”  And what he is saying is this - Jesus Christ is eternally reliable because He is continually unchangeable.  You can rely on Jesus Christ in the Christian life because He will never go changing on you.  You know, your friends will change and sometimes they’ll let you down.  Your dearest loved ones will change, or maybe they won’t, and their of those things can disappoint you.  You know the old joke - He marries her, hoping that she won’t change; she marries him, hoping she can change him.  But he doesn’t and she does!  That can be one of the great tensions and disappointments of marriage and it can happen in friendships too.  The author of Hebrews says, “Here is point one of the Christian life:  Jesus will never ever change from being the faithful, dependable Savior that He has always been, that He is today, and that He always will be.  You will always be able to count on Jesus.  Everything else will change; He won’t change.  Everything else in your life is changeable, sometimes not for the better, but He will never change for the worse.  You will always be able to depend upon Him.”

And my friends, that is so huge for the Christian life because it makes it very clear that Jesus Himself is the key to our living the Christian life.  And I just want to pause and say for a moment, that means that if there is in our life a problem today that seems bigger than Jesus, if there is a desire in your heart that is greater than Jesus, then you’re in a dangerous place because the whole point of the book of Hebrews - what is it?  It’s in our title - Jesus is better.  And so there is no problem that dwarfs Jesus in the Christian life.  And if we begin to think that we’re facing a problem that’s just too big for Jesus to deal with then our Jesus is too small.  And if there has come to be a love or a desire in our heart for either something that we have or something that we don’t have that is bigger than our desire and love for Jesus, we’re in trouble, because there is nothing better than Jesus.  

And I think, I think almost all of the mature Christians in this room would say with me today that though we know Jesus’ love for us does not wax and wane, we can attest that our love for Jesus has waxed and waned in the Christian life.  We can remember times when there was nothing more precious to us in this world than Jesus.  It may have been when we were deeply struggling with the guilt of sin, a guilt or a sin that we knew that we could not handle ourselves; we couldn’t fix it ourselves, or a bondage to sin that we couldn’t break ourselves free from.  And the Lord, in a marvelous deliverance, gave us peace from that sin and liberty from that sin and we knew that we couldn’t do that for ourselves and we almost wanted to dance we loved Jesus so much because He delivered us from the guilt and bondage of that sin.  And then we grew cold and distracted and we thought about other things.  And then through the Word and through the ministry of dear friends we were brought back into a fuller love for Jesus.  It just goes up and down and up and down and up and down across the Christian life.  

Well it’s always dangerous when our love for Jesus is cold, it’s always dangerous, because when we’re in that circumstance our problems seem bigger than they are and our desires seem more satisfying than they can be because Jesus is the only one who satisfies an there is no problem that Jesus is not bigger than.  And so I want to just say, if you are today feeling further away from Jesus than you want to be, go to Jesus and you keep going to Jesus until you know that He is your hope, that He’s bigger than any problem that you’re facing, and that He’s better than any desire that you have in life.  No matter how good or holy that desire is, He’s still better.  The author of Hebrews is telling us that Jesus is the key to living the Christian life.  None of these exhortations work without faith in Jesus.  In fact, that’s the very next thing that he’s going to tell you.

JESUS CHRIST ALONE IS ALL WE NEED TO LIVE THE CHRISTIAN LIFE

And here’s the second thing.  Look at verse 10 and 11.  Not yet - look at verse 9.  Look at verse 9.  “Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace.”  Now he’s going to take that truth, that Jesus is the key to the Christian life, that Jesus is eternally reliable because He is continually unchangeable, and he is going to apply that to our living of the Christian life in verse 9 and he’s going to say that Jesus Christ and the grace that He and He alone supplies are exactly what we need to live the Christian life.  “Don’t be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace.”  In other words, he’s saying what you need is what Jesus supplies, not what false teachers supply, not what the ceremonial food laws of the Old Testament supplied.  You need what only Jesus can supply.  And what can He supply?  Grace.  You needed grace not only to be saved; you needed grace to be sanctified.  You need grace to persevere.  How did John Newton put it?  “His grace has led me safe thus far and grace will lead me home.  It was grace that first taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved and it’s going to be grace that leads me home.”  

And so the author of Hebrews knows that what we need for living the Christian life we can’t get from false teaching.  And notice it’s in the plural.  Even in the early church, in the shadow of the apostles, there were multiple false teachings about there and none of them were going to help you.  Paul says in 1 Timothy chapter 1 verses 3 to 5 that false teaching leads only to vain speculations.  False teaching cannot lead you to maturity in the Christian life; only truth can.  Only the truth of Jesus, only Jesus’ grace can mature you in the Christian life.  And so he says, “Here’s what you need to know.  Jesus supplies the grace that you need to live the Christian life.”  

Now his comments about foods at the end of verse 9, “not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them,” brings up the picture of the old ceremonial ritual system where there were foods that you could eat and that you couldn’t eat.  And your eating or not eating of those foods was part of your sanctification in the Old Testament.  Part of the way that the Lord kept His people holy is He fixed it where they couldn’t eat with people who didn’t believe in Him.  So when you were in the ancient Near East and you met up with Baal worshipers and they pulled out a massive plate of pork barbeque, you couldn’t eat with them because the food laws said you don’t eat pork.  And do you know what God did?  He kept His people from being able to eat with idolaters by prescribing them a different diet.  That was one of the ways that He separated them from the nations.  

JESUS MAKES ATONEMENT FOR HIS PEOPLE

That thought gets the author of Hebrews, and here’s the third step of the argument - look at verses 10 and 11 now - gets him thinking about the Old Testament ritual system.  And look at what he says.  “We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat.”  Now you know what he’s talking about there.  In the Old Testament, one of the ways that the pastor of First Presbyterian Church Jerusalem got paid is when you brought an animal sacrifice a lot of the time he got to take part of the meat of that animal sacrifice.  The blood was used in the temple ritual, the rest of the body was destroyed, but you gotta keep some of the best meat from those goats and rams and lambs and cattle and you got to use it to feed your family.  And so he’s thinking about how, in the Old Testament, the priests, who served in the tent, in the tabernacle or in the temple, got to eat some of the food that was offered in the ritual process.  Now the cool thing about this is, he’s thinking about you as priests.  Listen to what he says.  “We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat.”  In other words, he’s saying, “Brothers and sisters, you are a kingdom of priests, and just like they got to eat from the Old Testament sacrificial altar in the tabernacle and temple, you, kingdom of priests, have an altar from which you derive food that nourishes you.”  And he’s about to tell you about that in verse 11.  

Look at what he says.  “For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice of sin, are burned outside the camp.”  Now if you look in the book of Leviticus, many of the animals that are sacrificed, the priests are allowed to take meat from.  But if you will turn to Leviticus 16 and look at verses 22 and following - go ahead and do that in your Bibles; turn to Leviticus 16 verses 22 and following - the atonement offering was not allowed to be consumed by the priests.  The atonement sacrifices had to be completely consumed outside the camp by fire.  If you look at Leviticus 16 verses 22 and following what does it talk about?  It talks about the scapegoat and it talks about the offering of atonement.  And what happens?  The priest puts his hands on the head of the scapegoat symbolically placing all the sins of Israel on the scapegoat and the scapegoat is taken outside the camp and sent into the wilderness.  And what’s the picture?  The picture is, the sins of God’s people being placed on that scapegoat and sent far away into the wilderness so that He bears their sins far away into the wilderness outside of the camp.  And then, for the atonement offering, the atonement offering, the blood of that animal, is sprinkled on the people and on the altar and then the animal, in its entirety, is taken outside the camp and burned to ashes.  

Now what’s the picture?  The picture is God dealing with His people’s sins by riddance and by propitiation, by removal, by exile, and by the penalty of His wrath.  That is, the scapegoat shows that God’s people’s sins meant that they deserved to be removed from His presence, just like God said to Adam and Eve in the Garden after their sin, “Go out from this Garden.  Go out from this Garden.  Go out from My presence.  You’ve rebelled against me.”  So the scapegoat is sent out into the wilderness.  And the burning of the atonement animal’s carcass symbolizes - and by the way, did you notice that even the priest that takes the carcass of that animal is not allowed back into the camp until he has been completely washed of the blood of that animal having come into contact with the sacrifice of sin?  It’s a picture that God will deal with sin by meting out the punishment that it deserves.  And the author of Hebrews is saying, “My friends, Jesus fulfills what is set forth in that atonement ritual in Leviticus 16 in His own death.”

JESUS EXPERIENCED THE ULTIMATE SEPARATION FOR HIS PEOPLE

Here’s step four.  Look at Hebrews chapter 4 verse 12.  “So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through His own blood.”  The author of Hebrews is saying Jesus is the scapegoat - He suffers outside the camp.  Jesus is the atoning sacrifice - He sheds His own blood for the people.  And He is your altar. He’s the one who supplies you what you need for your sustenance.  By His person and His atoning work, He supplies to you the grace that you need to be nourished.  Just as the scapegoat was sent into the wilderness, Jesus is crucified not on the temple mound.  He’s killed not in the temple but outside the gates - where?  Where the criminals were punished!  That’s where He’s crucified!  

You know in the Old Testament if you look at the phrase, “outside the camp,” it will occur somewhere between a dozen and two dozen times, a lot of times in Leviticus and Numbers.  Interestingly, when it does, typically it’s for one of three things.  One, someone who is unclean or defiled is sent outside the camp.  Two, someone who has sinned against the Lord is sent outside the camp, often to be judged, sometimes to be stoned to death outside the camp.  Third, the carcasses of these atonement offerings are to be taken outside the camp.  You see the picture?  The picture is a picture of separation from God and separation from His people.  You remember what Jesus cried from the cross, quoting Psalm 22 - “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”  He experiences the loneliness and the abandonment and the dereliction of the sin bearer outside the camp.  That’s why the author of Hebrews here emphasizes that He suffered outside the gate.  And He bears in His own body on the tree the due penalty of our sins.  We could not survive the bearing of the full weight of the wrath of God.  We’d be like, we’d be like those carcasses burned to ashes outside the camp.  But Jesus did and He was raised again, and in doing that, He bore the penalty that was due to us.  He atoned for us that way.  And the author of Hebrews is saying, “My friends, that’s the key to the living of the Christian life - you understanding who Jesus is and what He has done for you.”

GO TO JESUS

And here’s the very next thing he says.  You’re finally to the exhortation.  Here it is.  Look at verses 13 and 14. Here’s the fifth step of the argument.  “Therefore let us go to him, outside the camp, and bear the reproach he endured.  For here we have no lasting city but we seek the city that is to come.”  What’s the author of Hebrews saying?  He’s saying, “Here’s the great challenge you have.  In the Christian life, the great challenge is in thinking there’s something better than Jesus.”  You know what we call that?  We call that worldliness.  When you think that there’s something better than Jesus it’s called worldliness. When you think that you have a problem bigger than Jesus there’s a name for that- it’s called worldliness.  Because this world is held together by Jesus’ fingers.  There’s no problem in this world bigger than Jesus; He holds this world together “by the word of His power,” Paul says, in Colossians.  And there’s nothing better in this world than Jesus but we struggle with worldliness because for most of us the world’s been a pretty nice place and our hearts are pulled to it.  And the author of Hebrews is saying, “Here’s going to be the key to your living the Christian life - Go to Jesus because He is better than anything this world has to offer.  Cling to Jesus, go to Him, hang on to Him, seek the city which is to come not this world which is passing away.”  

The author of Hebrews knows that if you go to Jesus there will be people who think that you are a fool; you will bear reproach.  You are a fanatic.  You’re a religious zealot.  You’re a nut; way too into this religion thing.  And the author of Hebrews simply says this - “Do you see where He went for you?  He went outside the camp and He bore your reproach.”  Now when the world says, “Okay, it’s us or Him.  Who’s it going to be?” the author of Hebrews says, “Go to Jesus.”  When the world says, “Okay, who’s it going to be?  Us or Him?”  God to Jesus.  He bore your reproach.  Be willing, in gratitude for His grace to you to bear a little of His reproach.  Go to Jesus.  You see, the author of Hebrews is actually telling you how to fight the battle against worldliness.  When you think that your problems are bigger than Jesus or when you think that there’s something better out there than Jesus, the author of Hebrews is saying, “What you need is a long meditation on Christology,” which is what David Strain has been doing for weeks with us on Sunday nights.  That’s what the whole Glory In His Face series has been about.  It’s just - “Let’s look at Jesus and think about Him for a while.”  And that’s exactly what the author of Hebrews does here.  He says, “Think about who Jesus is and think about what He did and use that to fight when you find your heart tempted to think that there’s a bigger problem than Jesus or that there’s something better out there than Jesus.” 

Oh my friends, if your love for Jesus has grown cold, that’s a dangerous place.  By His grace and through faith, wouldn’t you today go to Jesus and remember who He is again and remember what He’s done for you and use it to fight the battles of the heart that have to be fought if we’re going to live this Christian life?  Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your Word.  Thank You for Jesus.  There’s nothing like Jesus.  But we forget that.  Some of us have almost forgotten that and we need to go to Jesus again.  So Jesus, bring us there again.  We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.

Well let’s sing about Jesus using number 677.

Receive God’s blessing.  Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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