Here’s a bit more from chapter 13 of The Letter to the Hebrews. I repeat here what is eminently repeatable :
Jesus’ once-for-all offering is unrepeatable!
The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. (13:11-14)
Our author refers back to the Jewish cultic practices of Leviticus. He draws a parallel between the necessity to burn the remains of the bodies of the sacrificed animals outside the camp and the Lord Jesus the Messiah suffering outside the city gate. This is a remarkable parallel. What shame Jesus suffered for us and what humiliation to be cast outside society as if an accursed guilty one.
It has been made perfectly clear in this letter, that only Jesus’ blood can make them holy—and so it does! But there is a cost for them, a sacrifice, a call to gladly join him outside the man-made camp, the temporary city, the formal, now empty, religious system and share in and bear his disgrace from the unbelieving opponents of Jesus’ eternally noble offering. Opponents who will mock and sneer and cast them out. So we too are called to go outside with him.
For many reading this who are still locked up in an institutionalised, static, rule-driven, denominational based or clergy dominated ‘church’, this is a call to join our beloved Jesus outside the camp, outside the ‘secure’ (?), programmed, professionally led citified, temporary edifice. To join Jesus along with others who are determined to worship God in God’s way, to obey him according to his design for church, his Body, his family, his household, given once for all to the apostles. Yes, there is a design for growth, for maturity, and here there is the companionship of Jesus, here the resources of the Holy Spirit.
You can understand the design plan easily from the N.T. writings. The problem is our disobedience, our reluctance to join Jesus in his movement outside the known and traditional ways. To suffer the disgrace he bore by identifying with him.
Like the heroes of the Old Covenant the author listed for us, we look not to a city here, but the city that is to come. Our holy place is the presence of Jesus in our lives, in our shared experience. No earthly aesthetic can substitute for the Holy Spirit. We too live by faith and in the meantime waiting for his return, we enjoy the promised rest. Joining him ‘outside’, leaving all to follow him, Jesus has assured his disciples that anyone who gives up (sacrifices) home …
or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or land for me and for the good news will be rewarded. In this world they will be given a hundred times as many houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and pieces of land, though they will also be mistreated. And in the world to come, they will have eternal life. (Mark 10:29-30, C.E.V.)
Our author continues the Old Testament cultic metaphors in terms of the sacrifices now to be offered to God by his people under this glorious New Covenant, this new and living way.
Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (13:15-16)
So what sacrifices do we present to God under the New Covenant along with our believing Hebrew brothers and sisters?
Firstly, our offerings are made through Jesus! Our only mediator. They are not offered to God through a church or through a liturgy. And they are offered continually, not temporary like the old. He is worthy that we offer right sacrifices constantly. These are not one-offs. We do not stop. And because Jesus is still the same and forever, we also are to offer up to God sacrifices that please God here and now in the 21st century.
This offering is identified as what comes out of our mouths when we confess before others openly that name above all names. By doing this we promote and advertise his greatness, his wonder. For our band of Hebrew brothers and sisters, this was indeed often a costly sacrifice living as they did in a society opposed to their great high priest. For us also this can be costly but it is a sacrifice so pleasing to God. Let your name be hallowed.
Similarly, it is a pleasing sacrifice to God for us to be sharing with others, to be generous, and doing good, like our Master before us. So it is not only what comes from our lips but what comes from our hands in helping and serving others, out of thankful, praising hearts. Paul’s words in his letter to Romans (ch 12:1-8) again come to mind. It’s not only with our lips but in our lives lived out here on earth. Let your will be done on earth.
However, there is a teaching in some circles, that what comes out of the mouth is of inferior worth to what comes from the work of our hands. Francis of Assisi is often quoted as saying to his followers they should preach the gospel, if possible without using words. Such an idea can minimise the sacrifice of praise with the lips, giving people a false sense of righteousness through silence. Of course, there can be a hollowness about us if our actions do not match our words and there are times when speaking is not appropriate. Both kinds, honouring God with our lips and our works, are acceptable to God.
We are called to offer up pleasing sacrifices to God. These sacrifices that we offer up to God must be those he has called for. Under the Old Covenant cultic system, strange offerings carried severe penalties. Under the New Covenant, it is no less important to offer up sacrifices that please God, that is, those he has indicated through the words of Jesus and the apostles. And there is one sacrifice that can never be repeated and to try to re-enact that is an abomination, an insult to the gracious, finished work of Jesus, the Lamb of God.
So let’s leave behind any dodgy, worldly inspired, man-conceived practices, those traditions we think are acceptable (‘but we like doing these things’) and obey the word of the Lord in offering sacrifices we are sure are pleasing to Him.