Once Pharaoh finally let God’s people go, a new set of challenges arose for them. They were no longer subject to the whip, but they soon learned that it was a big scary world out there. Giants filled cities that were surrounded by enormous walls, and the huge crowd of Israelite men, women, children, and livestock weren’t exactly a welcome sight on any community’s horizon. God wanted His people to fight, to conquer, to claim the land that He had promised to their ancestors. But, the chosen nation preferred to stay in its own camp, where it was safe. Where they all knew exactly where they stood. Where they didn’t have to worry about things that they didn’t understand or didn’t want to deal with.
After all, what really lay outside the camp? The unclean. This is where the lepers, the dead, and the unholy of the world stayed. It is where priests sent little goats who carried countless iniquities on their heads, symbols of sacrifice. It is where they burned the blood-drained bodies of animals that had been laid on the altar. For God’s people, the world outside the confines of the camp represented the untouchable. They were happy with their rituals and their traditions and their strength in numbers, and for a long time they didn’t have the heart to do anything else. They wandered around in their group, taking comfort in the status quo.
Fast forward about a thousand years and we find the writer of Hebrews making a plea to first century believers in Christ. Jesus, he says, will not be found where the tabernacle sacrifices happen. He isn’t in the “holy” place now. He is outside the camp. He is out there bearing our shame, busting up all of the traditions and rituals that we have always clung to. Not only that, He is sitting with the lepers. He who is spotless has made Himself unclean. And it’s outside of the camp, the writer tell us, where His suffering has sanctified us.
Then the writer issues an invitation: Let us go to Him outside the camp.
These words were written to a generation of Christians who were just figuring out what following Christ should look like. They were in uncharted territory in many ways, trying to reconcile old traditions, self-righteous striving, superstitions, and the influence of false religions with their faith in the true Savior. I’ll bet, like us, they wanted to be considered respectable. They wanted influence. They may have even felt like political power was the route to creating a more sanctified world. Or they may have just been more comfortable with this faith if it was legitimized by religious rules and regulations.
But one thing the writer of Hebrews makes clear is that following Jesus rarely looks heroic or admirable to most. In fact, he invites the believers to meet Jesus outside the camp, bearing His disgrace. Why would they do that? Why would they associate themselves with the suffering, shame, and disgrace of God on a cross? Why would they put themselves in a position of sacrifice? Of possible public ridicule? The writer’s answer is simple: We do not have an enduring city here. We seek the one to come.
Or, in the words of a southern mama, y’all need to have a come to Jesus meeting.
Christ followers haven’t changed that much through time. We still really love our camps. In fact, at this particular point in history I’d say that we are on the verge of worshiping our own opinions. We love to divide up along party lines. We want to be right. We want to be listened to. We want to sit ourselves down in places of honor and do things the way we want to do them (sometimes just because that’s the way it’s always been done). We want to build teams and then pit them against other teams in a war where no one wins. We long to treat this world like it’s an enduring city, like we aren’t just a vapor, and we keep doing the same things, just rituals in a camp, while eternal souls all around us die and go to hell.
Maybe it’s time for us to get outside of our camps. Let’s go to Jesus, let’s identify with Him in His suffering, in His shame, not pandering to this world but sacrificing whatever needs to be sacrificed in order to truly live for Him and not ourselves. It’s a humbling thing, to walk out of the camp that tells you what you want to hear. It doesn’t feel like heroics I’ll bet. It doesn’t feel like wisdom, at least not wisdom according to this world. If we are following Jesus rightly in this culture, it will feel like shame. It will feel like we are walking away from what is accepted to walk with One who wasn’t. Who isn’t. The truth is that He is the answer to all of it. Not politics or laws or Supreme Court justices or Christian schools or riots or health reports or vaccines.
This world needs to see us leave our camps and walk with Christ alone. It won’t applaud us. It won’t make it easy on us. But some will see it and they will begin to understand it and they, too, will walk out of their camps to meet our Jesus.
I know you well, dear reader, because we are alike. And even now, many of you are reading this post with an eye for any hint of support for your camp’s position on various topics. You are deciding if you want to share this to bolster the argument you have been formulating on social media. The extent to which you think about such things may give you a hint that you are more committed to your camp than you are to the Lord Himself. You may have to climb a craggly hill or wander aimfully into the wilderness, but seek the One who bears your shame, and fall at His feet, forgetting about the camp. Jesus is better, for by His suffering we are sanctified. Stay close, bearing with Him while the camps keep warring, and you will know peace.
Therefore, Jesus also suffered outside the gate so that He might sanctify the people by His own blood. Let us then go to Him outside the camp, bearing His disgrace. For we do not have an enduring city here; instead, we seek the one to come. Hebrews 13:12-13