Formations 02.25.2018: Let Us Go to Him

Hebrews 13:1-16

The writer of Hebrews was tricky. One Greek word he uses over and over translates to “draw near” or “approach.” In the Greek Old Testament, to “approach” God was something priests did. It was the common term for worship, entering the defined sacred space of the temple in order to offer a sacrifice.

The writer uses this word to describe the Christian life, saying things like:

• “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness” (4:16).
• “He is able for all time to save those who approach God” (7:25).
• “Let us approach with a true heart and full assurance of faith” (10:22).
• “You have come to [literally, ‘approached’] Mount Zion and…the city of the living God” (12:22).

Christians do what the Old Testament priests did: they draw near to God to worship. If you want a biblical justification for believing in the priesthood of believers, there’s a pretty good one!

More than merely repeating the call to “approach,” the writer often uses other images of travel or movement. Christians are like the ancient Israelites making their way first to worship God on Mount Sinai and then to enter the promised land (ch. 4). Or, Christians are like runners stretching toward the finish line with their eyes set firmly on Jesus (ch. 12). In Hebrews, the Christian life is one of movement toward a goal.

And that’s why I say the writer of Hebrews is tricky. In today’s lesson, we read: “Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city gate…. Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured” (13:12-13).

For twelve chapters, the writer has told us that we are travelers on a journey to Jesus—a spiritual pilgrimage that will bring us into the very presence of God. Doesn’t that image appeal to you? Don’t you long to meet God? And where do we do that, you ask?

He’s out there on a hillside redeeming the world by suffering unspeakable abuse.

And we’re supposed to go join him.

And that, the writer says, is what authentic Christian worship is all about. It isn’t about dazzling liturgical extravaganzas. It isn’t about singing the right kind of music. It’s certainly not about inoculating ourselves against a world that needs the gospel.

It’s about joining Jesus out there beyond the boundaries, where he is creating sacred space where there was none before.

That’s where we’ll find the road to the heavenly city.

Discussion

• What responsibilities come with the doctrine of the priesthood of believers? What sacrifices do we have to offer?
• What do you find difficult about living out your faith in the “real world”?
• What is the relationship between worshiping God and serving others, especially those who suffer injustice or need?
• Where should we go to meet Jesus today?

Reference Shelf

The Recipients of Hebrews

Christians are being addressed. They are “holy brethren who share in a heavenly call” (3:1). They have been Christians for a period of time—long enough that they ought to be teachers (5:12). They have had a reputation for love and service directed toward other Christians in their need. They are facing difficult days, similar to their early times in Christian life and service. In those early days they suffered, “sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated” (10:33). At that time the Christians addressed in Hebrews “had compassion on the prisoners” and “joyfully accepted the plundering of your property” (Heb 10:34).

In this new period of suffering, the Christians have not yet resisted to the point of shedding their blood (12:4). The fact that the possibility of martyrdom is raised lets us know that the experience they are facing is not trivial, but we learn more about what is happening to the spirit and will of the readers than we learn of the actual cause of their suffering. The writer speaks of the danger of Christians drifting away from the message they have heard, failing to hold fast their confidence and pride, being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. He warns of the danger of sluggishness. Some of the Christians have begun to neglect regular worship service. They are in need of endurance because they have drooping hands and weak knees (2:1; 3:6, 13; 6:12; 10:25, 36; 12:12).

Edgar V. McKnight, “Hebrews, Letter to the,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 970.

True Worship

This reader sees the hortatory exposition of vv. 10-16 as a tightly- packed summary of the main argument of Hebrews and an exhortation based on that argument. The exposition is read as an antidote to the “strange teachings” mentioned in v. 9, as is the formula about Jesus Christ in v. 8 (“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever”). All of these expository and hortatory moves are ways of faithfully remembering the teachers who first proclaimed the gospel to the readers….

The expository section ends with v. 12 and the application begins with v. 13. Three specific applications are made. The first application is found in vv. 13-14 and focuses on the detail that Jesus suffered outside the gate. Christians are urged to “go to him outside the camp.” Previous appeals for movement in Hebrews call for movement to Jesus as Jesus had entered the true sanctuary or had been enthroned at God’s right hand (see 4:16; 6:19-20; 9:12, 24; 10:22). Here the goal of the movement is still to Jesus, but the direction has changed. It is not movement into a special sacred sphere but movement “outside the camp.” The camp symbolizes traditional holiness and security. Outside the camp is the sphere of shame and abuse. The ground for the appeal is given in v. 14—the fact that Christians have no lasting city here on earth (see 11:13; 12:22, 25). Christians seek the “city that is to come.”

The second application calls on the readers to “continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God.” This sacrifice is “the fruit of lips that confess his name.” The term “sacrifice of praise” is used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to refer to a subclass of “peace offerings” or “sacrifices of salvation” (Lev 11–18 LXX). They were sacrifices offered with unleavened bread mixed with oil. But in Hebrews, the metaphorical application is intended whereby the prayer of thanks itself is the reference. The metaphorical character of the sacrifice is made clear in the explanatory remark.

The final application continues the metaphorical transformation of the practice of sacrifice: “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (v. 16). The rationale for such action is that it is “pleasing to God.” The reference to pleasing God recalls the remark at 12:28 about acceptable worship.

Edgar V. McKnight, “Hebrews,” Hebrews–James, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2004), 310–12.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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