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.
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.