Sermon preached on Hebrews 13:10-14 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 3/31/2019 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
Last week, as we studied the verses that surround today’s passage, we read of how Judaism has become a foreign doctrine to Christianity. Jews, who practice the old covenant rituals without recognizing Jesus as their fulfillment, practice a different, false religion. Christians must not embrace such a Christless Judaism. And yet, as Hebrews has been showing us, we have much to learn from the ordinances of the old covenant if we see how they spoke of the Christ to come. Today we get a chance to do that. Looking again at the Old Testament teaching on Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – we are brought to consider the topic of the holiness of God. How can one become holy as God is holy? How can one know the holy presence of God? That was a concern addressed but not solved under the old covenant, except so far as it looked to what Jesus would ultimately accomplish.
So then, let’s begin today by looking at verse 10 and doing some comparison of altars. Verse 10 speaks of an altar that the old covenant priests couldn’t eat from. Remember, that the altar is the object on which you offered the sacrifice to God. The priests under the old covenant had the bronze altar that was in the courtyard of the Tabernacle. For most offerings, at least the priests would be able to have a share of what was sacrificed on that altar. Sometimes, like we said last week with the peace offerings, the person giving the offering would also get to share in eating some of the offering. But here in verse 10, Hebrews speaks of an altar that such old covenant priests would not get to eat from. Most specifically, this refers to the sacrifice of Christ at Calvary aka Golgotha. The cross of Calvary was effectively an altar unto God of Jesus Christ. The old covenant priests who don’t embrace Jesus have no right to eat of that altar. In other words, they have no right to partake of Christ and his benefits, spiritually speaking. Non-believers do not have a right to the saving benefits of Christ.
That being said, when it speaks of them not having a right to eat of our altar, the context here of Yom Kippur makes us also think backwards in time to that annual Day of Atonement observance. This Yom Kippur context comes out specifically in the next verse. There in verse 11 it speaks of blood that is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, which must be a reference to the Day of Atonement practices, based on the description. The verse describes this an offering dealing with “sin”. That alone would seem to identify either the annual Day of Atonement rituals, or the more ordinary offering known as the “sin offering”. Of those two options, the details here show that Hebrews has in mind the Day of Atonement. It mentions the high priest giving the offering, which was something specific to Yom Kippur. Also, the reference to bringing the blood into the sanctuary in the Greek in verse 11 appears to refer specifically to it being brought into the Holy of Holies which was also unique to Yom Kippur. And so, all these details in verse 11 seem to describe the Yom Kippur sacrifices.
Why this is especially important here is that unlike the standard sin offering, which the priests were allowed to eat from, they were not allowed to eat any of the Day of Atonement sacrifice. Leviticus 6:30 says, “But no sin offering from which any of the blood is brought into the tabernacle of meeting, to make atonement in the holy place, shall be eaten.” And so that’s how the Day of Atonement sacrifices worked. They’d slaughter the animal in the courtyard of the Tabernacle, and then the high priest would take some of the blood into the Most Holy Place and sprinkle it on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant. Then, instead of eating any of the sacrifice, they’d take it all outside the camp and burn it up completely.
Why am I going into all these details? Because I want to draw out Hebrews’ point. This passage starts by saying that there was an altar that we have that these high priests had no right to eat from. That would subtly bring to mind how the greatest sacrifice under the old covenant had that same restriction. Then Hebrews goes on to explicitly bring up what he just implied: Yom Kippur. The high priests had no right to eat from that altar. The priests were given a share to enjoy of so many of the offerings: the regular sin offerings, the trespass offerings, the grain offerings, the peace offerings: so many offerings that the priests did have a right to enjoy. But not of the Yom Kippur altar. They had no right to eat of that.
And so, Hebrews is painting a picture that goes backward and forward at the same time. The restriction of the priests to eat of that sacrifice in the Old Testament pointed to this restriction of not being able to eat of Christ. Hebrews is dealing in typology again here. Hebrews has already told us that the Day of Atonement ritual was, in its imperfect ways, foreshadowing the once for all sacrifice of Jesus Christ that would perfectly and completely atone for the sins of God’s elect. The prohibition under the old covenant regarding eating of the Yom Kippur altar shows that the old covenant itself didn’t secure the right to eat of the substance of our atonement. Think about what’s implied then here. Christians under the new covenant can eat of that altar of Christ! We have that right! That’s even what is sacramentally given to us in the Lord’s Supper; not corporally or carnally, but spiritually and really. Maybe to say all this one more way: those high priests, despite their consecration, weren’t holy enough to be able to eat of a sacrifice offered in the Holy of Holies. Yet, in Christ, we are made that holy.
Well, it’s that topic of being made holy that I want us to continue to think about in light of the point here being made about the practice of burning the sacrifices outside the camp refenced in verse 11. That practice is intimately connected with ritual purity and holiness. You see, when they sacrificed these animals and sprinkled the blood in the sanctuary, it was about making the sanctuary holy. It was a consecration going on. That’s interesting, because the sanctuary was supposed to already be a place that is holy. Yet, this earthly sanctuary that existed among the people, that was inside the camp of the people, it needed this regular cleansing by the sprinkling of blood. The animal’s that were slaughtered by this were vicariously taking on the sin of the people which is what defiled the sanctuary in the first place. So, when the blood was splashed all around the sanctuary, it was showing that death has been given out to account for the sin. And so, this sprinkling of the blood promoted ceremonial holiness and cleanliness. Yet, likely that is why the bodies of the animals, whatever was left, would be taken out and burned outside the camp. As those animals vicariously took on all the sin of the people, their carcasses took on that status of sin. The carcasses thus would be unclean and unholy and would thus need to be removed from the holy place of the temple and even of the city full of the inhabitants those sacrifices were seeking to cleanse. And so, the bodies of beasts were removed away from the tabernacle, and away from the people, and burned up in a ceremonial act of cleansing; surely picturing the hellish fires of the eternal Gehenna. It shows the unclean sin-bearing beasts removed from that which had been made holy by the shedding of blood. By the way, when thinking about bringing such bodies outside the camp, you might recall that other unclean things were also supposed to leave the city with its holy people and be outside the camp. The case of those with leprosy might come to mind; they were unclean and thus had to be outside the camp of God’s people and his presence. Outside the camp was the place of the unclean.
So then, think of the connection of this with Christ’s sacrifice. Jesus’ sacrifice was done outside the camp, verse 12. This has similarities and differences with the Day of Atonement ritual. The similarity is that Jesus ended up dead outside the camp, like how the bodies of the beasts would end up. That makes sense. Jesus took on our sin and defilement on the cross, becoming vicariously unclean in the sight of God. We can understand why Jesus’ ended up outside the camp.
But yet think of the difference here with Christ’s sacrifice. It’s embodied in the call of verse 13. We are called to go to Jesus outside the camp. What? To a Jew that would have been a potential stumbling block. Sacrifices were offered in the camp for a reason. So, their blood could sanctify and make holy the tabernacle and the camp. Jesus’ sacrifice was not offered inside the city gates of Jerusalem. It thus wasn’t offered inside the earthly temple where sacrifices normally were offered. His sacrifice wasn’t being offered to make that temple or old Jerusalem holy. Rather, it was offered to make clean and holy all who would come to him outside the camp. That’s the irony here. That place of the unclean outside the camp, that’s become the place of consecration and holiness. Jesus’ cross makes the unclean clean and the unholy holy. All those many sacrifices under the old covenant couldn’t accomplish in perfection what the one sacrifice of Jesus did. Come to Jesus, trusting in his sacrifice, and you will have this holiness.
In connection with this, we come to our third point for today to affirm verse 14. Verse 14, “For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.” This language of a continuing city refers to a permanent home for God’s people to dwell with God. Think of that under the old covenant. At first, they didn’t have a continuing city. They wandered through the wilderness and the mobile tabernacle went along with them, so they would always have a holy camp wherever they went. Yet, in Deuteronomy, several promises are made that once they got to the Promised Land, that God would choose a place to put his name and to establish as his dwelling place among the people. Well, when they got into the Promised Land, they did end up having a somewhat permanent city for God’s dwelling among them, though even then it wasn’t truly permanent. God’s tabernacle was setup for a time in Shiloh. It ended up in a few other locations until it finally came to Jerusalem and converted from a tent to a temple. Though it had quite a tenure there, even that wasn’t a permanent city, by the fact that it was destroyed by the Babylonians, and again later by the Romans. And so, Israel, with its typology, had a typological continuing city in Jerusalem, but its impermanence only betrays the fact that it was typological. It yet anticipated a real permanent home to come.
And so, I love the logical deduction made here by Hebrews for us now as God’s people under the new covenant. The logical deduction is that we don’t have a permanent city or home here on this earth. That’s why we seek the one to come, that is a heavenly one in the new creation. Think about how Hebrews understands this logic. If we had a continuing city on this earth, Jesus’ sacrifice would have been offered inside that city. His blood would have been sprinkled on an altar within that city. If the earthly Jerusalem was to be the continuing city for God’s people, then that’s what would have happened. He would have been sacrificed inside that city, at the temple, his blood sprinkled about, and then his body would have been taken outside the camp to be disposed of. And then we wouldn’t be told here to go to Jesus outside the camp. We’d be told to stay in the earthly Jerusalem that he would have just purified. But that’s not what happened. Because God’s people don’t have a permanent home on this earth. The Jerusalem out in the middle east is not our permanent home. It’s not a holy city anymore. It was only ever a type of the city to come. And with the sacrifice of Christ outside the camp, we are told now to abandon the type for the substance.
This is all because when Jesus suffered outside the camp at Calvary, he was at the same time presenting the offering of himself in the true heavenly tabernacle. He was consecrating the heavenly tabernacle with his blood – that’s what Hebrews 9:23 specifically said. Do you see the point? Jesus’ blood wasn’t sprinkled to cleanse any city here on earth. His blood was sprinkled to cleanse the real tabernacle that exists in heaven. That’s why we are to forsake any earthly city as some home for God’s tabernacle and go to Jesus outside the camp. Because as we come to Jesus outside the camp, we are coming in our union with him to this tabernacle in heaven that he cleansed for us by his blood. We then await the end of this age, when Christ will return and makes all things new and when that heavenly tabernacle will come down out of heaven and set itself up on a renewed earth. That’s what Revelation describes, and it says it will be the permanent home for God to dwell with us his people. That’s the permanent city that Hebrews says we seek. We need to let go of any fascination with the Jerusalem that exists on this earth. If you want to cling on to that old typological home of Jerusalem, you might as well go back to the sacrificing bulls and goats and eating kosher because its all part of the typology that has been fulfilled in Christ. And because it’s found fulfillment in Christ, Hebrews says we must not go back to that anymore. Let it go. There is no place on this earth that will be the permanent home for God’s people. Not Jerusalem. Not the location of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Nowhere. We look to the city to come in that world to come as described back in Hebrews 1:5.
The good news is that while we seek that permanent home, the Bible tells us that God does nonetheless have a temporary home with his people on earth. He says that’s the church. The New Testament says that God’s people are his temple on this earth (1 Cor 3:16, 1 Peter 2, etc.). God’s presence goes with us in this time of “wilderness wandering” while we head toward that permanent home to come in glory.
To help illustrate this, I point you back to the Exodus 33:7 where Moses setup a tent outside the camp and called it the “Tabernacle of Meeting.” This was before the regular Tabernacle was made in Israel. There, outside the camp, Moses and God would meet together. It says that if people needed to inquire of the Lord, they would go out to Moses at that tent outside the camp. I hope you already see a parallel with how we are told here to go to Jesus outside the camp.
That section of Exodus is especially illuminating when we see why Moses setup the tent outside the camp. It all started back in Exodus 25 when Moses was up on Mount Sinai. There he received not only the Ten Commandments but also instructions for how to build a Tabernacle to be in the midst of the people. That’s when Moses got to see the heavenly tabernacle so he could pattern the earthly one on it. Moses was surely getting really excited that God was going to have them build this Tabernacle so his presence could dwell with them. But then, while he’s up at on Sinai, God tells him he needs to go down the mountain to the people because they have committed great sin. That’s when they made the golden calf and worshipped it. God wanted to just wipe out the people then and there. Moses managed to intercede enough to get God to agree to not utterly destroy them. In fact, God not only agrees to that, but he says he will even send his angel with the people so that they would be able to successfully conquer and take hold of the Promised Land. But God then clarifies that he himself wouldn’t have his presence in the midst of the people, lest in his holiness he destroys them. In other words, no Tabernacle now.
Moses then goes down the mountain and that’s when he sets up this tent outside the camp – because God wouldn’t go into the camp! But Moses isn’t content with all this after knowing about God’s original plan for the Tabernacle. Moses didn’t want to settle for anything less. So, Moses continued to plead with God and ultimately God gave him the answer he wanted. That’s when Moses went back up to Mount Sinai, received new stone tablets with the Ten Commandments and goes back down the mountain and renews the covenant with Israel. What does he then immediately do? He has the people to build the Tabernacle in their midst. That’s chapters 35-40.
My point then is that we see in Exodus that this idea of having God’s presence dwell among the people in the Tabernacle was very important. But in Exodus, sin almost got in the way of that plan in light of the holiness of God. It was the same problem of sin in the future that resulted in Jerusalem and its temple being destroyed. But in the fullness of time, God sent Jesus to solve this problem of sin so God’s people could be perfected in holiness. That’s what we come to in Jesus. As those made holy in Christ, the holy God spiritually dwells within us as the church. And we head toward that permanent city of that heavenly tabernacle that will one day be our eternal home in glory. That very thing which Moses saw on Mount Sinai – that he was so excited about being able to have a faint replica of it – we will get the real thing!
So then, let us indeed continue to go to Jesus outside the camp. If you were a Jewish Christian back then, you would have very literally shared in Christ’s reproach. To go to Jesus like that as a Jew meant you were abandoning Jerusalem, you were abandoning the temple, you were abandoning all that old covenant ritual and worship that focused on fleshly cleansings in this age. But you were happy to do so, because you would be coming to a far greater cleansing and eventually to a far better home than anything Judaism according to the flesh could offer.
We too, today, will have to know reproach in various ways as we go to Jesus. For to go to Jesus means that we leave behind the world and its ways. We leave behind the rewards its godless way holds out. And more and more the world shames us for choosing Jesus over the world. But we gladly do this, because whatever the world offers pales in comparison to the eternal riches we have in Christ. And as we bear that reproach, we rejoice that we do not bear it alone, for God dwells with us. And that is but a foretaste of what our greatest reward will be: settling down into a permanent home where God in his glory will dwell with us forever. Amen.
Copyright © 2019 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.