Have you ever watched a movie, or read a book where what you thought the movie was about turned out to be nothing at all what it was truly about? Happens to me with the best of reads and flicks. I think good authors and directors design it that way. The writer of Hebrews sort of does that with this “paragraph” of text.
In the the last entry, I covered the consistency statement about Jesus sandwiched between trusting leaders to avoid false teaching. But, what the writer does with the “false teaching” reference is actually surprising. It turns out it’s not actually about food:
Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited. We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.Hebrews 13:9-14 (NASB)
So, we start with the reference to teaching about food, and end up looking at Jesus in heaven. On the way, we leave Jerusalem and view the crucifixion. Yeah, it’s a weird journey when you think about it. From food laws through crucifixion to heaven…wait, that sounds vaguely familiar. Do you see it?
In this letter to Hebrews, one of the “elements” claimed to be missing is any reference to Communion. Yet, if you go back and read those last sentences of the passage above again, do you see it? It’s the path of Jesus from the upper room to His ascension. In common application of communion, that’s what the Lord’s Supper refers to as well (Luke 22:14-20, Mark 14:22-45, Matt. 26:26-29).
But, of course, the path chosen by Nicodemus, has to pass through Exodus, in a sense. The writer uses a reference to the sin offering, the type of offering which in English translations is often “whole burnt offering”. In this type of sacrifice, nothing is eaten, there is no portion for the priests, and all of it is consumed by fire. The problem is that, when it’s an ox or bull, that’s a lot of animal to burn up. So, it’s divided up, with specific parts of the organs burnt on the altar, and the rest taken outside of the camp and burned.
What the author does here is point out how Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem. Remember that he is trying to encourage his audience to endure rejection from their fellow Jews rather than give in, and compromise their faith in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. Here, he calls them to go outside the camp.
For us, this is like calling us to reject “science”, or “philosophy”, of the learned and schooled, the wisdom of this world. It’s challenging us to endure the smirks, the eyerolls, the sighs of the ones who have “done the math”. For this world, to believe that there is a Creator, that this Creator loves His human creatures, and that He is our Savior through the historical figure of Jesus is ludicrous. To go further and claim deity for Jesus is simply irrational. And yet, it’s true.
The writer of Hebrews calls on his audience to go “outside” and join Jesus, because the view from “outside the camp” is a view of the heavenly city. What we are seeking we will never find among the “accepted” of this world. We, like the host of witnesses who have gone before, seek a city not made with human hands. We seek to pass through the Holy Place, through the thick curtain, and enter the Most Holy Place, there to find Jesus on the throne interceding on our behalf with the Father.
So, it’s not about food, not really. It’s the transition from food (the upper room) to the cross (the sin offering burned outside the camp), and then to the foot of the throne in heaven. One day, the cup of communion will be shared with our Savior once again, when we “drink it new in the Kingdom of God”.
The writer looks forward, and the path he takes is the path of communion. The elements are there, flesh and blood. The crucifixion is in sight, and also the scene in heaven. The call is to leave the comfort of acceptance by the world, and go outside, to the reproach of the Anointed One. Rather than be carried away by pointless rules, carry the reproach of our Savior.
I suppose this is a call for volunteers to be the “village idiot”. Or, it’s a call to follow Pilgrim away from his family and village, to the Celestial City. It’s likely both.
What’s your view through the knothole this morning?
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation