Living for the City to Come

Living for the City to Come

“Living for the City to Come”

(Hebrews 13:7-14)

Series: Captivated by Christ (Hebrews)

Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD

Henderson’s First Baptist Church, Henderson

  • Please open your Bibles to Hebrews chapter 13.

We are nearing the end of our series.  We’ll just have one more message from Hebrews which we’ll do the last Sunday of the year, and the reason for that is because next Sunday begins our Advent Season and we’ll be looking at different aspects of Advent beginning next week as our preaching team each takes a Sunday leading up to Christmas.  So what we don’t finish in Hebrews today we’ll finish the last Sunday of the year.

Hey, while your’e locating Hebrews 13, I want to share something with you.  Several of our married couples are being blessed by the helpful teaching in Grace Marriage.  Michele and I are in Grace Marriage as well, lots of fun and great teaching.  We get emails periodically about how to show grace and live grace-filled lives.  

So many of us got this email last week about grace and the holidays.  I really liked this and it seemed timely too because we left off in Hebrews 13 reading about being content, thankful for Jesus Christ who never leaves us nor forsakes us.  Let me share a bit from this as I think it will be helpful to many of us in our marriages and families, as the holidays can be tough on a lot of people.

There are two approaches to the holidays – what is and what isn’t.

The “what is” approach looks for things to be grateful for…Scripture tells us to give thanks “whatever the circumstance”…and…during tough times, it takes real discipline to identify the good, dwell on it and take the “what is” approach.

The “what isn’t” approach is focusing on what you wish the circumstance were and not what the circumstance (actually) is. (What happens is) sadness and regret pour in the mind as the difference between the ideal (as in ideal family or marriage) and reality is contemplated. (And so,) saddened by dreams, people and relationships lost, the individual spirals into sadness and depression.  (it doesn’t have to be that way!)

Holidays can be a joyful time of thanksgiving or a rough time bringing on depression and loneliness.  The “what is” approach will help keep joy in the holidays!

“What is” is always Jesus and, unlike our circumstances, He never changes, nor does he leave us or forsake us.

So focus on what is and be grateful for your family, grateful for your spouse, grateful for your kids and grandkids, grateful to be with them, grateful for what you have, grateful for a day to spend time together, to influence positively, to pray for, to love.  Amen.

  • Please stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word.  We pick up this morning at verse 7, a section of concluding behaviors and directions for all Christians.  

7 Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct. 

8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. 

9 Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by grace, not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them.

10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. 

11 For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. 

12 Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. 

13 Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. 

14 For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come. 

  • Pray.

When I first began studying this passage I had a hard time seeing it as anything other than a series of disjointed statements; no real connectivity from one verse to the next.  Maybe that’s how some of you felt a moment ago as I read the text aloud.  That’s how I felt.  Seems like there’s just a lot of interesting “stand alone” statements that bear no immediate resemblance to one another, much the way puzzle pieces poured out of a puzzle box look to us, scattered across a coffee table.  Each piece has its own identity but there’s no immediately obvious connection from one piece to the next.  No big picture that looks anything like the picture on the cover of the box.

But then, the more I studied, the more I began to see natural connectivity from one verse to the next, verse 7 tying to verse 8, and verse 8 as a bridge to verse 9, and so on.  And as the study days passed, I began to see a “big picture” emerging from these eight verses.  And by the end of the week, what was especially surprising to me was to discover how these eight verses actually summarize the entire letter of Hebrews!  Just eight verses and yet a neat and succinct exposition of the main themes we have been studying throughout the 13 chapters, namely persevering in our faith, continuing to run the race, our Christian lives, enduring hardships, with our eyes on Jesus.

So if you’ll permit me, I want to take the next 30 minutes or so to teach through this passage and we’ll together see how this passage is a micro-summary of the entire letter and—more importantly—how we are to live in light of its teachings.  First:

  1. We Learn from the Faithful [7-8]

Christians learn from the examples of others, first of faithful leaders.  Our faithful leaders.  That’s verse 7.  

  1. Our Faithful Leaders (7)

7 Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct. 

When I first read this verse I thought it had to do with pastors and elders in the church, especially when coupled with verse 17: Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account.  Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.”

Here’s a verse that talks about how ministers shepherd the flock, lead the church.   They do so as those who “watch out for your souls” and “as those who must give account.”  Ministers will give an accounting to God for all they do in ministry.  And the writer says, “Let them do so with joy not with grief.”  Follow the lead of your ministers and obey them so that joy resounds throughout the church.  Don’t grieve them so that joy is gone, a condition the writer describes as “unprofitable for you.”  

We’ll come to that verse on a later day, Lord willing.  I mention it here because some see it as going along with verse 7, but I don’t think it does.  The writer doesn’t say, “Obey” here as he does in verse 17.  He says “Remember.”  See that in verse 7?  “Remember,” which suggests that these particular leaders were no longer around.  

“Remember those who rule over you,” actually conveying a past sense in the original; better: Remember those who have led you,” who have “spoken the word of God to you,” which is to say, those who proclaimed the word of the gospel to you.  They taught you the gospel back when.  They taught you about Jesus and about growth in Him.

Remember them, “considering the outcome of their conduct,” or the “outcome of their lives,” the way their lives turned out, how they lived right on up to the very last day.  Consider them, “whose faith follow.”  Follow their example.  “Whose faith follow.”  

That phrase sums up all of chapter 11.  Remember that?  Faith.  The writer says at the beginning of chapter 11, “by (faith) the elders obtained a good testimony” and then he tells us about all the faithful leaders who have gone on before us, the faith of Abel, and Enoch, and Noah, and Abraham, and so on.  That’s the same idea here in verse 7.  

There are godly examples who have gone on before us.  Faithful leaders.  Those whose entire lives have been lived.  This is why Christian biographies are better for us than current day heroes of the faith.  Biographies of Jim Elliot, Elizabeth Elliot, Corrie Ten Boom and others; living heroes have not finished living.  How many times have we been disappointed to learn of the moral failings of some great preacher or teacher or Christian writer?

Dead heroes have already lived out their lives.  You can “consider the outcome of their conduct” because as “outcome” suggests, their lives have “all come out;” it’s all been lived.  To quote Paul elsewhere: They finished the race.  They kept the faith.

So we learn from the faithful; our faithful leaders.  For many of us this includes not just the men and women of faith in the Scriptures, but others in our memories who have lived out the gospel for us while they were here, parents, grandparents.  They modeled genuine faith in Christ.  Remember them.  Our faithful leaders and, secondly:

  1. Our Faithful Lord (8)

This is great statement, verse 8:

8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. 

He is faithful!  You can count on Him.  He will never let you down.  His nature does not change.  He is always the same.  So you can count on Him, depend upon Him, rest in Him, trust Him.  He doesn’t vary.  

Verse 8 appears to be a bridge from the thought in verse 7 to the thought in verse 9.  Back in verse 7 the writer mentions those “who have spoken the word of God to you,” the word beginning with proclamation of the gospel.  And the gospel does not change, unlike that which is warned against in verse 9, “various and strange doctrines.”  Christ’s nature does not change, and neither does Christianity change.  

You know how you get software updates on your computer or phone?  You have an iPhone, for example, and mobile operating software on your phone is now at its twelfth major release.  And no sooner than iOS 12 comes out but that in less than two months you have to update it to iOS 12.1.  That’s common among things that are imperfect and incomplete.

Christianity needs no updates.  It comes to us as a complete body of faith 2,000 years ago, “released,” if you like, released perfectly and utterly sufficient.  And it remains as trustworthy, reliable, applicable, and relevant today.  It needs no developers to tweak it or improve upon it.  Like Christ Himself, it is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  

Some of you have may have read Philip Yancey’s book, What’s So Amazing About Grace?  Yancey records an amusing anecdote about Billy Graham who certainly believed in the unchanging nature of Jesus Christ.  After a trip to Russia at the height of the Cold War, Graham came under fire by many political conservatives who said he had “set the church back 50 years.”  When Graham heard that, he lowered his head and replied: “I am deeply ashamed.  I have been trying very hard to set the church back 2,000 years!”—(page 264).

Jesus Christ, the same yesterday today and forever.  We learn from the faithful; our faithful leaders, our faithful Lord.  Secondly:

  1. We Live by Faith [9-12]

Two sub-points here.  How do we live by faith.  First:

A) Stabilized by Truth (9a)


Again the first phrase of verse 9:

9 Do not be carried about (or carried away) with various and strange doctrines

There’s a picture here.  Carried about, or carried away pictures someone who is inadequately grounded and loses his footing, as in being carried away by a strong current at sea; loosing your footing and being swept away.  So this is a person inadequately grounded in truth and is swept away by the strong current of false teaching.

“various and strange” doctrines are teachings that have been added, wrongly added to the unchanging doctrine of God’s word.  Added in an attempt to improve upon the original message, appealing to man’s desire for the new and novel, some new thing that will make one man wiser than the next.

Remember the Apostle Paul in Acts 17?  He’s in Athens preaching the gospel at the Areopagus in Athens.  The Areopagus was a hill where Grecian philosophers gathered regularly.  Remember how Luke described the people there?  He says in Acts 17:21, “For all the Athenian and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing.”  Some new teaching.

That statement describes many folks today who are always looking for the new thing.  Tell us some new thing.  We’re tired of the old and familiar.  Don’t give us that old story of the Bible.  We’re not so sure we like it anyway, what with its teachings about hell and the exclusivity of salvation in Christ alone.  Give us something new to chew on.  The writer uses the imperative mood here in his warning: “Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines.”

Would you be able to recognize “various and strange doctrines” if you heard them from the pulpit?  Read them from a book?  Would you immediately be able to tell what is strange and unfamiliar and does not belong to the truth?  

It’s often noted that federal agents are trained to recognize counterfeit currency by carefully studying genuine banknotes.  They become so familiar with the original that any “various” or “strange” markings on the counterfeit is immediately recognizable as foreign.  Agents learn by the fourfold method of “Touching, tilting, looking at and looking through” each note.  So when a suspected forgery is in the mix, they can immediately tell by touching (the way it feels), tilting (looking for color in a holograph, for example), looking at and looking through the bill (carefully studying and identifying tiny features often missed by counterfeiters).   

So while there is merit in studying cults and world religions, the Christian’s best use of time is to become so familiar with God’s Word by touching, tilting, looking at, looking through, that he knows that truth.  They know the truth and can immediately spot error, whether that error comes from a teacher, even a much sought-after speaker, or a best-selling book.  There is something in the teaching that does not ring true as we read or listen.  It has all the markings of a counterfeit.  

Christians at every level of growth and experience must continue to study God’s Word, daily reading, study in small group Sunday school, listen to teaching and preaching of the Word, fill our lives with the truth.  Regular familiarity with the Word keeps us grounded and keeps us from being swept away by false teaching.

We live by faith; stabilized by truth.  Here’s the second sub-point that really is the crux of the passage.  Not only are we stabilized by truth, but we are:

B) Strengthened by Grace (9b-12)

9 Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by grace (strengthened by grace), not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them.

Whatever else this phrase means “foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them,” one thing is clear: the writer is saying that the way to establish our hearts our strengthen our hearts—which is to say, becoming strong in your inner spirit and having the ability to keep going when the going is tough—how to we strengthen our hearts?  He says Christians are strengthened by grace; another way of saying living by faith in Christ and growing in Him; this is the way to become strong; strengthening our hearts.

So what does he mean by this statement about foods here?  Don’t try to strengthen your self by eating certain foods.  Well, I don’t think by “foods” he that he is addressing some kind of new diet that was circulating among the people, promising them both physical and emotional benefits.  

Even today we’re told that certain foods can strengthen both body and spirit and so people rave about one diet or another.  And they are many, aren’t they?  Atkins diet, Crash Diet, Jenny Craig, Mediterranean, Nutrisystem, Slim Fast, or South Beach.  I don’t think he’s describing organic foods, or fat free foods, or sugar free, caffeine free, antioxidants, soy products, or range-free chickens.  

By the way, some of those diets may appeal to many of us, especially this after Thanksgiving week!   This is that time of the year when I ask Michele: “Do these pants make me look fat?”  She says, “No, you’re fat makes you look fat!” 

There’s nothing wrong with any of those things, I just don’t think the writer has in mind popular diets circulating around Rome or other major cities.  So what is he getting at here in verse 9 where he mentions “foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them?”

Given the context of the letter, I think he’s talking about those believers who had gone back to the Jewish food laws dietary food laws and restrictions of the old covenant.  Remember under the old covenant as described in the Old Testament, God’s people were prohibited from eating certain foods; foods described as “unclean.”  There were foods they could not eat and foods they could eat.  By the time of the new covenant as described in the New Testament, all foods are considered “clean.”

These Jewish converts to Christianity were facing persecution for their faith and so many were tempted to go back to the old ways.  And some were trying to find life and meaning with God through observance of the old rules and rituals of the old covenant.  And the writer is teaching here in verse 9 that the heart is strengthened, or the very essence of a man or woman is made strong, not by Jewish dietary food laws.  He says those food laws have not ever profited anyone spiritually.  They were given to highlight the special relationship between God and His people.  Here are a people separate from the world.  Here are a people who are different, have different ways, serving the one true and living God.

So our hearts are not strengthened by Jewish dietary food restrictions, but by the grace of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ.  That’s how a heart is made strong.

Applied to us in our day—the way you strengthen your heart is not by external religious practices.  Rules and regulations.  The way you strengthen your heart—right here in the text, verse 9—is to see that “the heart is established by grace.”

You want life?  You want a heart for God?  Genuine spiritual strength and genuine spiritual growth and a sense of God’s presence?  It comes by grace, by believing in Christ and allowing God’s grace to pour in you and through you as you grow in your faith in Jesus Christ.  Getting to know Him through prayer, conversations with God throughout the day, reading His Word, hearing from Him in the Bible, worshiping with the body of Christ, small group study, preaching, musical singing and worship.  This is how the heart is “established by grace.”  Not by slavishly obeying food laws or other ceremonial laws or sacraments in a mechanical impersonal way that has nothing to do with the grace of God.  

We live Christ, breathe Christ, talk Christ, think Jesus Christ.  Strengthening our hearts by grace is to live a Christ-intoxicated life.  

This truth is expanded upon in the following verses, verse 10:

10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. 

The writer is stressing the difference between the old and new covenant.  He’s using the term “altar” here in a figurative sense, saying that we Christians have a different kind of altar than the altar under the old covenant tabernacle worship of the Israelites.  Our altar is, in essence, the cross of Christ.  And “those who serve the tabernacle” that is, those priests serving under the old covenant “have no right to eat” at this altar, the altar of Christ.  They have no right because they refuse Christ or reject Christ.  They do not see that Christ is the fulfillment of the old covenant promises.

The writer has said in this letter that all of the things under the old covenant were shadows of the reality found in Christ, or pointers, pointing forward to the Christ who would come.  Every animal sacrifice offered under the old covenant, whether during the time of the tabernacle or the temple, every animal sacrifice pointed forward to the sacrifice of Christ.  So when an animal was sacrificed on an altar by a priest, it accomplished a temporary kind of forgiveness, but the blood of bulls and goats itself could never permanently remove sin.  These animal sacrifices prepared the people to understand the need for a greater sacrifice to come, the perfect Lamb of God—Jesus—who takes away the sin of the world.  While believers under the old covenant did not enjoy as much revelation from God as we enjoy today, they were saved the same way as we are—by grace, through faith, in the perfect sacrifice to come, Jesus Christ.

So anyone who is trying today to live under the old covenant, the old altar, robs himself of the rich “feast” of feeding on Christ at the new altar of the gospel.  That’s his point here in verse 10.  We have an altar, a better, new testament altar, the altar of the cross of Christ, from which comes life in every sense of the word!  Jesus is better than anything or anyone.  

11 For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. 

The author is now comparing the sacrifices of the Day of Atonement and the offering of Jesus Christ.  You can read Leviticus 16 later for the background.  Leviticus 16 teaches that the high priest was not allowed to eat food from the animals sacrificed on the Day of Atonement.  Unlike most of the Old Testament offerings, the remains, or the “bodies of those animals” used in the sin offering were “burned outside the camp.”  They were not allowed in the sacred precincts of the camp.  Now watch the connection to verse 12:

12 Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate.

The writer is saying that Jesus, like the sin offering on the Day of Atonement, “suffered outside the gate.”  This is a reference to the cross at Calvary.  Jesus carried His cross to Golgotha, outside the city, outside the city gate, where He suffered and died as a sacrificial offering for our sin.   And like the sin offering on the Day of Atonement under the old covenant, Jesus was not permitted inside the sacred precincts of the camp.  He suffered outside the gate, outside the city of Jerusalem.  He died outside the gate.  He was buried outside the gate.

But look what Jesus’ suffering accomplished—not a temporary forgiveness of an animal offering, but He suffered: “that He might sanctify the people with His own blood.”  What can wash away my sin?  What can make me whole again?  Nothing but the blood of Jesus—His life and death on our behalf as the perfect, once-for-all atoning sacrifice for our sin.  He makes us holy.  Not foods.  Not animal sacrifices.  Jesus Christ.

This is the central theme of the letter!  Jesus is better than anyone or anything under the old covenant.  Jesus is better!  

Now watch how the writer skillfully connects the theme of Jesus’ better sacrifice to Christian suffering.  Jesus “suffered outside the gate,” rejected by those inside the gate, inside the city of Jerusalem.  Jesus was treated no better than an unclean animal carcass, not allowed inside the sacred city.  Jesus suffered outside the gate.  He suffered shame, disgrace, and the reproach of unbelievers, verse 13:

13 Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. 

Here’s another main theme of the book of Hebrews.  Don’t collapse under suffering.  Don’t give-in when persecuted for your faith.  Jesus suffered.  We will suffer with Him.  And the key to getting through the suffering, hardships, difficulties, and persecution is to look forward to the future heavenly rewards that are ours in Christ.  So we learn from the faithful, we live by faith, and:

  1. We Look to the Future [13-14]

Verses 13 and 14.  We look to the future:

A) Bearing the Reproach He Endured (13)

Verse 13:

13 Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. 

He suffered for us.  Why should we not expect to suffer for Him.  This is the old hymn: “My cross I’ll carry till I see Jesus.”  That’s what the hymn-writer is talking about, he’s talking about going forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach.  He’s talking about your expecting reproach this week as a Christian; not being surprised when you are ridiculed for your faith.  We bear His reproach.

Christianity is not something people immediately and universally accept as true.  Why?  Because Christianity strikes at the center of our pride.  It doesn’t tell us we’re good people and we can become better.  Christianity tells us we’re sinners and we can’t become better.  That’s not a popular message.  That’s bad news.  Separated from God here and hereafter because of our sin.  Bad news.  We should not expect people to immediately run to Christ, run to a faith system that insults their pride, when every other major religion appeals to their pride.  

All other religions appeal to one’s pride.  You know: you can do this.  You just need to work at it.  Live a good life.  Do these things.  It’s performance-based.  It suggests you can, if you just bear down and push through, you have the strength within you to rise above your circumstances and earn a way into paradise.  Christianity says that’s bogus.  You can’t do it.  You’re a sinner.  And God is holy.  Try as you may, you will always sin.  You’ll never consistently “not sin.”  And if you hope to stand in the presence of a holy and perfect God, you’ll have to consistently “not sin.”  And you can’t.  

Bad news—But!—and here’s the good news, here’s the gospel: rather than expecting us to come to Him, God comes to us in Christ.  Lives a perfect life for which we can get credit.  Dies a perfect death of substitution in our place.  Takes our punishment upon Himself on “the altar,” the altar of the cross outside the gate.  If we believe on Him, we feed on Him, we take Him into our lives, we are saved.  Good news.  But it requires our admitting we are sinners, not as clever as we think we are, not as good as mothers and neighbors tell us we are.  No, we are sinners in need of a Savior.  So when we share that message, we can expect to bear His reproach.

The initial readers of this letter were looking for a way to avoid His reproach.  They wanted to remain in God’s favor without the suffering.  They wanted the blessings of life under the One True and Living God, but without the bloody, crucified Messiah part.  And the writer of Hebrews is, in essence, saying: “Not possible.”  And furthermore, “Why would you want to turn your back on the very One to whom the entire old covenant points?!”  Without Christ there is nothing.  All you have is an old covenant religious system that has removed the climax, the very apex of the entire system; like removing the peak of a mountain, or the roof of a house, or the cornerstone of a building.  Without Christ, you have nothing!

They were challenged to leave the safety and security of the old covenant ways, their social and emotional attachments to the temple, fellowship, family, familiar, leave it and go out, bearing the reproach of Christ—not unlike what the writer says about Moses back in Chapter 11.  Remember Hebrews 11:26, Moses esteemed “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he looked to the reward.”

That’s the second sub-point.  We look to the future, bearing the reproach He endured and:

B) Anticipating the Reward He Secured (14)

Bearing Christ’s reproach can be a challenge.  When faced with persecution, we may be tempted like the folks who read this letter 2,000 years ago, we too may be tempted to go back to seemingly easier ways of our lives before Christ.  But the key is not to look back, but to look ahead—to look to the future, anticipating the reward Christ has secured!  Verse 14:

14 For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.

Like Abraham we don’t find life in this “city,” a city that does not continue.  We look to a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11:10).  

That’s especially important to remember when you are facing reproach and ridicule for your faith.  When ridiculed, don’t buckle  Go to Jesus outside the gate and identify with Him.  Your life is in Him—not in the approval of others!

We’re outsiders.  We’re on the outside.  Remember that as Christians.  Watch yourself.  Our “old man,” the old us that’s still with us, the prideful self doesn’t like to be an outlier, the strange person going against the flow of popular culture.  I mean, it’s easy in here.  We’re on the inside and we’re among friends.  But once we go outside, outside those doors, we find ourselves among the world, things are less comfortable.  We’re regarded as being on the “wrong side” of things. 

Ladies gathering together for coffee or tea, the conversation turns to risqué television shows or lurid movies, and there’s the gentle sound of laughter among the group, and one turns to you and asks, “And what do like, Cindy?”  The guys out back having a break among the water cooler in the fog of cigarette smoke and coarse joking, and, “What do you think, Bill?”  When you share your faith, you’ll be an outlier.  

When you’re at school this week, your faith in Christ may come at the cost of being regarded as “out of touch,” outside the popular circle, outside the gate.  When it happens, just look to the future; look to the reward Christ secured for you.

This world is not our home.  There’s a world to come for the Christian—a good word to come.  For here we have no continuing city, but there we do!  A continuing city, continuing into eternity.  

Let’s pray.  Heads bowed and eyes closed.  Guilty of allowing “various” or “strange” teachings into your worldview?  Other ways to be saved?  Belief in hell?  We talked last week about popular culture’s teachings regarding sex and marriage…

Response: “Lord, Here am I”

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