Hebrews 13:12 - Together with Jesus, Outside of the Gate
In an instant, something can happen in one’s life.
Something that changes everything.
It can be a disaster that strikes you, the diagnosis of an illness, a bankruptcy. You stand there with empty hands. You lose a person close to you. Suddenly you are alone.
Questions arise within you.
God, what are you doing?
What do you want from me now?
People tell you that you will not receive an answer to those questions.
No, perhaps not an answer we would like to hear it. Still, God does not remain silent.
A Lot of Attention
This is precisely the kind of situation to which God pays a lot of attention. Think, for example, about the Christians shortly after Pentecost. They encountered severe suffering. In that suffering, they were acknowledged and strengthened by God. That is a central theme in the New Testament. In the last book of the Bible, the Lord gives Christians insight into his counsel, how he rules while the opposition, the disasters, the hatred, and the violence increase.
Particularly the Jewish Christians had to drastically adapt to the new situation. Within the old covenant, they were accustomed to dwelling and sitting in peace under their grapevine and fig tree, provided they lived close to God in faith. God personally kept watch over the land of promise. However, that time was apparently in the past. They were scattered among the nations, and because of their faith, were persecuted and outlawed. Understandably, they could have had many questions. What was happening? Why? Hadn’t they made the right choice?
For these reasons, they receive a special letter, the letter “to the Hebrews.” In it, the Holy Spirit explains that the new dispensation of the covenant really is a huge step forward. Prior to this, God did not speak through his Son; never had there been such a prophet on earth. The whole order of the priesthood finds its fulfillment in him. The great sacrifice has been made. Creation is paid. This High Priest no longer brings offerings, but he can save everyone on the basis of the satisfaction that he has brought about. He is King at the right hand of God. All things are entrusted to him. How could this be a wrong choice? Go to him! The way is open. He is the way to the Father! Go freely; nothing is holding you back.
Lofty words. Our sanctuary is in heaven. We have access there.
Because of that, we can stand on earth empty-handed. These statements are not in conflict with each other.
On earth, we find Jesus “outside the city gates,” an expression that says much. That expression refers to a special offering, a sacrifice from which no one has the right to eat (Heb. 13:10-13).
There were thank offerings and peace offerings, from which meals were held in the court. A portion of the animal to be offered was laid on the altar, another portion was for the priest, and from the rest, the whole family would feast before the face of God.
But there was also a most holy offering, from which no one was allowed to eat. The blood of this offering was brought in, right before God’s throne, to bring about reconciliation for sin (Lev. 6:13). In this case, a portion of the offered animal was also placed on the altar, but the rest was taken outside of the camp to be burned, hide and all. Not as garbage or refuse, but rather in a holy place. It was dedicated to God, but in such a way that no one benefited from it.
At this most holy offering, God leaves the people standing there empty-handed.
Jewish Christians should be able to remember this. They stand in a rich tradition full of significance. What happened there turns out to be of lasting significance.
Why was it done in this manner? Why was the meat, which they could have eaten and enjoyed, burned before the eyes of the people? Why also the hide, which they could have used for the construction of a tent? Wasn’t that a shame of such a costly animal?
The answer is that God, in this way, focuses the people’s attention on the blood. It was poured out for the sins of the people. It was brought into his sanctuary. There, God accepted it, as a means of reconciliation. There, he accepted man and removed the sin from him! Do you understand that this is the greatest gift that exists? And that it includes everything for time and for eternity? Therefore, at that moment, no additional gift is needed. The blood, and the blood alone. Recall that you live because of it, and that the earth exists through it.
For This Reason
That line from the tabernacle extends directly to this day, when it is written: “So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood” (Heb. 13:12).
For this reason.
To take you along to the place where you will stand with empty hands.
To focus all your attention on his blood.
His blood flowed for your sins.
He brought it into the holy place, not on earth, but in heaven.
There it was accepted by God.
There God accepted you.
Do you understand that this is the greatest gift that exists?
And that it includes everything for time and for eternity?
For that reason, God can erase everything else in your life so that you share (as is stated) in Jesus’ humiliation (in his “shame,” as was previously written). His life was totally emptied (Phil. 2:6-8). He gave his blood and kept back only who and what he acquired by it: creation and an innumerable multitude of people. But he held nothing back from himself. The “emptying” was complete.
His body was destroyed, not as garbage or refuse, but rather holy to God. But this happened in such a way that every believer looked on it with amazement: “Does it really have to happen this way?”
No one receives answers to all their questions. That is difficult in situations that lead to confusion. But still, as you ask God, “What do you want?” you will receive an answer. You receive an answer to a question you pose to yourself, “Do you want to meet Jesus in his humiliation?”
That seems strange; we would rather share in his exaltation. Isn’t now the time for that?
True, we do not need to turn back the clock either. But, even in his exaltation, we encounter the Saviour with the scars in his hands and his feet. He is recognizable as sacrificed, although he lives (Rev. 5:6).
To the Hebrews, it was said, “Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured” (Heb. 13:13). These are words explicitly presented to us. Are you willing?
If you receive Jesus, and all that is in him, are you then willing to stand with empty hands? During the passage of time, many beautiful answers have been given to this question. Moving answers. People have loved Jesus more than their own lives. Now it is time for your own answer.
Do not think that this is something incidental, a difficult time to struggle through as quickly as possible. On the contrary! Imagine that later, God goes through your life with you and asks you about the highlights. What would you show? Your diplomas, your business, your children, your contributions to church, country, and society? That may be. But without a doubt, God will bring forward those moments when everything fell out of your hands, when you had to process that terrible news, when a great void came into your life. How did you speak about God in those moments? No, perhaps not as your first reaction. One can be confused, beaten down, overcome by doubts — see similar Psalms which have been laid on our lips. But still, through it all, did he remain the God in whom you trust? And whom you love? Did you say that, maybe even stammered it? Not to mandate anything, but this is gold for God, that you desire nothing besides him, cling to nothing and no one else, even if it be through bitter tears. Then we can sing, in stalwart faith, with Psalm 73:25: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.” In everyday life, this becomes reality. It also says, “Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel and afterward you will receive me to glory”; and “But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works” (Psalm 73:23-24, 28).
That love is purified, freed from improper motives. It is love for God himself. He does not ask this from us every day. But he does ask it.
It is not strange that such highlights are experienced by us as low points. But the Lord will preserve it, and on his day, surprise you with it.
Are You Ready?
Moreover, this is not limited to periods of suffering, although that is what was described in this case. We confess that, as Christians, we do not have to leave the world. In a certain sense, this is true. But to meet Christ, you will have to go outside the gate. Faith is not added to full life. It requires the willingness to let everything go, other than God. That takes practice. It is a skill to associate with people and belongings in such a way that you are ready to meet the Lord at any moment. Yes! Who is able to do that? The Holy Spirit will bind you to the Lord in that way. He will teach you.