Let’s turn to Hebrews 13 as we are moving through this last chapter of this tremendous theological and yet practical book of the word of God.
I want to go back and look at verses 9 through 14. This is the sixth time looking at the virtues of the Christian race.
These are the things that theology produces. These are the things the spirit of God is building into you. We already have learned that there are six things already that theology will produce in a believer’s life.
The first one is brotherly love, one of the genuine and first quality being displayed in our life by the spirit of God.
The second one was hospitality to those who need it. The third is simple sympathy being able to reach out to those who are in trouble. Then fourth is purity before marriage and after marriage. This is what the Lord is producing in our hearts. Then fifth is realistic contentment, contentment that we are content with what we possess, what God has given us in our lot, in our life. We are content with knowing it come from the hand of God.
Then last week, I looked at imitable loyalty that the Lord is developing in us, a loyalty that can be imitated by others. In fact, I said already that what you’re loyal to will show up in your character and your manner of living. What you give your time to what you think about, what you’re willing to die for. Really what the word of God is getting at, what you’re ready to leave behind for what God thinks is important for you.
So scripture points us to where to look for our models. That’s found in verse 7. This is by way of review. The Bible is making a commendation towards faithful leaders. You look to people to be where to find loyalty. Of course in verse 7 says remember those who led you. So be mindful of your leaders, especially those who in leading You, lead You by what they preached, in verse 7. They spoke the word of God to you.
So the word of God was primary to them. It was the primacy of the word of God that was important to them. So that should be important to you too.
That’s going to be the very ingredient that keeps you going and faithfully growing in the Christian race. A second thing in verse 7 is that they lead by how they lived. The primacy of the word of God wasn’t just theoretical knowledge in their head where they were able to pass Bible exams, but it was actually something practical.
It says in the word of God here to consider, in verse 7, the result of their conduct. When you think about that, if you want to know how to live by faith and finish the race well, scan closely the manner of life of those who are faithful teachers of the word of God. Of course not only ones that are alive, but ones that have died already. That you saw – wow, they finish the race. They finish the race well. They finish the race with joy, praising the Lord. They finish the race knowing what was on the other side and trusting God fully. They finish the race as people of faith. That’s the whole book of Hebrews, people of faith.
You want to be that kind of person. Once you get that in your knowledge, then in verse 7, it says imitate their faith, the last part of the verse. We are to be mimics of those who faithfully lead, whose pattern of unselfish devoted sacrificial service is marked by the one in whom they imitate. As they imitate Christ, then you imitate their life as they’re imitating Christ. Somebody like this is constantly looking to Christ, constant constantly looking to how He lived, what he requires of us, and wants to be like Him.
Therefore you can follow someone like that and that’s where the Bible is bringing us. In verse 8, it says there’s a third thing to be mindful about our leaders: how they led by what they fix their eyes on, or who they fix their eyes on. Verse 8 it says:
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Not only did they have a primacy of the Word of God, they stuck to the supremacy of God’s Son, of Jesus Christ.
That’s the center of all the Word of God, from Genesis to Revelation. It is all about Jesus Christ. That’s what God’s plan is. Christ is the one. If you miss Christ, you realize you miss it.
The writer of Hebrews is getting these Jewish believers, who somehow maybe want to go back to the comfortable confines of Judaism, to say: no, leave it and go and follow God’s plan. Follow the shadows and the types and the pictures all in that system that you had that God gave you in the first Covenant, because they all point to Christ. Then leave the old Covenant and living the New Covenant. That’s what he’s telling them. That’s what he’s telling us too, today who live, that Jesus is the same. His plan was always the same in history.
He died for his children as the unique, one time, eternal sacrifice. Today, he is the forerunner in Hebrews, who has already entered heaven. Christ, right now, is in heaven now interceding at God’s right hand for us.
Why? So the whole plan could come to completion. So everything could be done in God’s program. God’s not done. We’re still in God’s program. He’s not finished yet. We’re all part of it. We’re in the mix. It is an exciting time to live as a believer because we are in the mix.
Then it says that He is the same forever. That means eternally He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. That is Jesus Christ. The whole book of Hebrews has always been centered on Christ.
If you want to study any book that’s going to bring you back to Christ, it’s going to be the book of Hebrews. His help, His grace, and His power are permanently at God’s people’s disposal. All those things are at our disposal who know Christ. All this means is that His character, His word, His plan will not change. He can be followed and trusted. Those who follow him can be followed. They can be mimicked because of what He says. He will accomplish all that He has promised in the Word of God. That is where we went last time.
Then in verse 9, he says now wait a minute. There’s a problem though. This is the problem: while you’re living in this world, there’s going to be all kinds of teaching that goes on. Some of that teaching is false teaching, but it sounds real good.
If you don’t have the Word of God as primary, and if Christ is not the supreme person in your life, and you move away from that, and you stop following your faithful examples, then you already, while living in this world, are in trouble. Now you are going to be bombarded by some kind of false teaching. That false teaching, if thought about, if embraced by you, somehow gets into your mind and into your thinking, then you can be let away by it.
So what’s the point? The point is: know the Word of God so you can’t be led away by it. Keep your eyes on Christ so you can’t be let away by it. It’s always going to be what they think about Christ that’s going to determine whether they’re true or false. That’s where you go first.
Look at verse 9 because now he gives a condemnation of false leaders. He says:
don’t be carried away by varied and strange teachings
. The danger here is that some who profess Christ have stopped listening to and following their faithful leaders. They begin to take their eyes off of Jesus, the one who remains the same. Instead, they start to develop itching ears by accumulating teachers to suit their own liking. That’s a very familiar doctrine in the writing of Paul, where he told Timothy they will no longer endure sound teaching but will go after something that itches their ears, sounds good, makes them feel good. Whatever it
may be in their life, it’s a departure from the truth. It’s a departure from the Scriptures. He’s saying here: when does that happen? When the Word of God is set aside and is no longer primary. Then Christ will no longer be supreme. Then, like I said last week, you float away like you’re caught in the currents of a river. You start being misled, not even knowing it, by false teaching. There you go down the river, further and further and further away from the truth, until the truth doesn’t mean anything to you anymore. Then I don’t know about Jesus Christ anymore either.
That’s how it happens, and they just kind of get numb to it all. The varied teaching are deviations from the truth, not based on the teaching of Scripture. Strange teachings are those unbiblical and distorted teachings that did not even sound like the teaching of Scripture, but they did sound good.
The teaching of a false teacher, whatever they’re communicating to a group of people, they have to have some kind of source on where they’re getting their information from. They’re either going to get their information from the current philosophies and teachings of the day (even in the evangelic or Christian religious world, there’s a bunch of teachings out there and new ones popping up every year), or they get it from their own mind. People are intellectual enough to be able to communicate by the power of their mind certain teachings or truths. They can, by power of persuasion, persuade people even to believe them. They sound even orthodox and sound. They have that ability and power. You may have met people like that.
But somebody who knows the Word of God, they always have their radar out. They’re always trying to detect. They’re always examining. They’re always running through the grid of Scripture to make sure what they’re hearing is the truth and what doesn’t line up with the word of God. It could just mean the doctrines of man or even the doctrines of demons. Demons will supply whatever teaching you want to bring you away from Christ and to move you away from the truth of God’s Word.
These teachings are ever-changing. They’re not the same. There’s not a single theme and program and end result to it. They’re just all over the place. These teachings are usually teachings that people want at a certain moment in time. None of them makes anyone spiritually strong. That’s where he’s heading in his text, because in verse 9, I want to point you to the reference to foods. He says:
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.
In other words, it implies that these first century false teachers were carrying out their strange teaching about dietary restrictions and food laws of one kind or another. Remember, food and drink and various ceremonial washings and external regulations were common in the Hebrew system, in the Jewish system.
If you turn your Bibles quickly over to Colossians chapter 2, you will see in this passage that Paul again warns the people when it comes to certain traditions of men, certain regulations specially in the area of doing something to be accepted by God. In Colossians 2, it says in verses 16-17:
therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day – things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.
In other words, these were just shadows and pictures of what the reality would be.
The reality would be fulfilled in Jesus Christ. So back in Hebrews, we we see here that when you continue to listen and follow faithful teachers, when the Word of God is primary and Christ is supreme, then you will be a discerning person. You will begin to discern.
Number one, you’ll discern this: the heart of a true believer cannot be strengthened by ceremonial foods. Alright, maybe that’s not our case today. But I want you to notice what it says in 13:9, it says that those who are occupied by a particular ceremony or standard or regulation concerning foods were never benefited by it. Actually they were led astray by the teaching. They embraced it with no lasting spiritual benefit in it at all. It was worthless, in other words. They were doing something that is worthless, and actually is leading you away from Christ and away from the truth. It has no benefit spiritually to strengthen you whatsoever at all.
You discern that as a believer. So the varied and strange teaching was, the bottom line, worthless. Why would I want to get get involved with something or think about something or be let into something that is worthless spiritually? I don’t want to spend time there. Life’s too short for that. I want to spend time on the truth. Right? You and I ought to be thinking that way.
Look at what it says in verse 9. This is what I want to stress this morning: that the heart of a true believer can only be strengthened by grace. Verse 9:
for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace.
I felt like I had to go back there. Because people don’t really understand grace. In fact, we start out with grace, and we end up with standards and regulations and rules.
Why is that? Because false teaching is always pressing upon the church, for us to leave what really strengthens us and really benefits our soul and give it up for something that we could do.
Something that we could tangibly measure because it’s really hard to measure spiritual growth. There’s not the spiritual growth ruler. There is actually: the Bible. Am I growing in these virtues? He’s listed already six virtues. Am I growing in these things? Are these things evident in my life? They will continue to be evident when you, to run this race, must have something to strengthen you.
Any athlete who’s running in a race, they find out as much information as they can about what diet works, what vitamins to take, what power drinks to take. Why? So they can maintain your strength and ability to be on the competitive edge to win the race, or in the Christian race, to finish the race. For you and I, what kind of spiritual vitamins can we take? What kind of diet can we be on? Not food, of course, but spiritual diet that’s going to make us strong.
Right here, it says that the heart is going to be strengthened by grace. The renewed heart, which is the seed of human personality (in Hebrews here in particular, it has a reference to attitudes and conduct), if it is going to be made strong and firm, it must be by God’s grace. It’s by grace the day you believe in Jesus. If you live to 75 or 100, it’s by grace you become strong and firm in heart, so you’re not moved in this direction or that direction.
In fact in Hebrews, a heart that is continually grows firm by grace will be a heart that hold fast to their confession, a heart that approaches God boldly in prayer knowing what to ask, and a heart that is willing to bear the reproach for Christ. No matter what reproaches come into my life, because I’m a believer, it’s not going to move me away. It’s not going to pull me away from what is primary and what is important.
Hebrews already emphatically stated that the law brought nothing to completion or perfection. So that means that Jewish regulations about food are not beneficial. It also means that any kind of food regulations or any kind of external regulations, any kind of list of rules of do’s and don’ts, have been for all-time surpassed and outmoded by the work of Christ.
We cannot, before we become saved or during our salvation, add to anything Christ has finished or completed. Now, that’s important. Because it is grace which strengthens the believer’s heart. Not any kind of rules, not any kind of avoidance of any kind of prohibited foods that somebody says that you should not eat or eat at certain times of the year, or that you can’t do this on this day or that on that day, or that a Christian should look like this and not like this, or Christian should go there and not go there.
If you are discerning, you won’t have to worry about spending time thinking about those. You already know what to do. I’m going to do anything that honors Christ. I’m not going to do anything that dishonors Christ. You can pretty much answer almost any question by just thinking like that. That’s what a believer is going to do.
If you’re going to be strengthened by grace, then maybe we should know a little bit more about grace. The word "grace" stands out above all other words in the Bible in describing God’s great salvation, in fact 130 times in the New Testament alone. In the book of Acts chapter 20, I just want to listen it says:
but I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.
The primary motive for those running the race was the grace of God in the gospel. Then Paul in Romans said this:
being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.
Paul again in Titus says:
For the grace of God has appeared.
Where has the grace of God appeared? In Christ! Bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age.
There it is: grace is going to strengthen me in respect to my salvation and grace is going to strengthen me in being someone who displays grace to other people.
So both two things, it’s the theological and the practical connected in the word grace. And then again in Titus, it says:
He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us, richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
This word "charis" is used in all those scriptures: grace. This word has various shades of meanings according to the context in which it is used. When it is used to refer to the salvation of sinners, it always means God’s unmerited favor, God’s blessing, God’s mercy. Those things are all shown to those totally unworthy, undeserving, hell deserving, when there is no consideration whatsoever of any merit on the part of the other person.
A further understanding of what grace means requires going back to an old Hebrew term that meant to bend down or to stoop. The picture was this: that God bent down to people through His plan to give them something they could never deserve. The term included the idea of condescending favor. As pastor and Bible scholar Donald Barnhouse said: love that goes upward is worship. Love that goes outward is affection, but love that stoops is grace. So think that in our mind, that this is what God has done to you and I who would never and could have never earned it or deserved it.
That means there’s at least three things to emphasize about God’s grace.
The first thing is: to show grace is to extend a favor or a kindness to one who doesn’t deserve it and can never earn it. Now you say: well these are the thoughts that are going to strengthen me and my faith. Why? As I go along and I don’t feel right; I don’t feel this; I don’t feel that; life goes this way; life goes that way. I can’t keep up with all the twists and turns of life, but I know this: that my salvation in Christ can’t be taken away because I didn’t deserve it in the first place.
God gave it to me. He decided to stoop down and give it to me. Every time the thought of grace appears, there is the idea of it being undeserved. That strengthens me. And in no way is the recipient getting what he or she deserves. Favor is being extended simply out of the goodness of the heart of the giver. Grace flows from the heart of God, who is the giver to someone who doesn’t deserve it. They would never have deserved it. You and I would never have deserve what God’s giving by grace.
A second thing I want you to think about grace is: grace absolutely and totally free. Now most of us, including myself, have trouble with this one, because we work for everything we get. You know, they say if something sounds too good to be true, it’s probably not. A lot of times things that are offered free: I don’t know about that. Today, everybody is skeptical about everything. People don’t trust anybody. They don’t take anybody at their word. They just don’t know who to believe.
I can understand why because of all the stuff that’s going on. But we can’t let that affect our understanding of grace. What’s going to strengthen me in the faith, that grace is absolutely free. To understand grace rightly is to see that it comes to us free, clear, with no strings attached at all.
God’s not saying to us: I’m giving you this gift. It’s free. It’s not deserved, but somewhere down the line I’m going to require something of you. No, that’s to think of grace wrongly. Martyn Lloyd Jones, preacher in London, gives a definition of the grace of God in his comments on Romans 3:24. He says this and I quote: there is no more wonderful word than grace.It means unmerited favor or kindness shown to one who is utterly undeserving. Here again, the purely gratuitous character of our salvation is brought out. It is something that results from the soul exercise of the spontaneous love of God.
It is not merely a free gift, but a free gift to those who deserve the exact opposite. And it’s given while we are without hope, ungodly, and without God in the world.
So what do we deserve? What’s the opposite of grace? Condemnation. Wrath. Judgement. That’s what we deserve. If I’m going to be strengthened by it, I must understand that I could never earn it. It is absolutely and totally free. There’s no strings attached whatsoever.
A good illustration of this is from the life of Jesus in the gospels. Remember, when he stood by a woman caught in adultery, the law clearly stated: stone her. She clearly committed adultery, no doubt about it. The grace killers who set her up demanded the same. Yet He said to the self-righteous Pharisees: he who is without sin, let him cast the first stone.
What is that? You know what that is? That is Grace because under the law, they had every right to bury her beneath the rocks in their hands. And they were ready to do so. But Jesus intervened with grace and preferred forgiving to stoning.
Yet there are many people who think that there’s something they must do to pay God back. Somehow they’re hoping God will smile on them if they work real hard. If they work real hard, they’ll earn His acceptance. That’s an acceptance based on works. Receiving God’s acceptance, according to this passage of scripture, is not by any kind of works-based list of systems of do’s and don’t. It’s the acceptance of God by grace.
Why are you accepted by God? I know your life. I know how rotten you were. Why would God want to accept you? You know why? Because He chose to. When He chose to do it, He chose to give it to me, who would never deserve it. He chose to give it to me without cost, freely.
Wow, you know what? That does sound too good to be true, but yet in Scripture it is true. Therefore, this is what strengthens me: that receiving God’s acceptance by grace always stands in sharp contrast to earning it on the basis of works.
You see, now that Christ has come and died and thereby satisfied the Father’s demand on sin, all we need to do is claim His grace by receiving the free gift of eternal life. It is free. It cannot be bought. In fact to attempt to buy it is a great insult to the giver.
If I were to invite you to my home and say: come over, let’s enjoy our company together. We make a big meal and we drink and we have a good time. Then at the end, you reach in your pocket and say: how much did tonight cost? And you say: I’m ready to write my check out. Would that not be an insult to the one laying out their table and their food and their fellowship and their time? They didn’t want any payment. They just want to enjoy the night together. That’s all they wanted. Sometimes that’s exactly the way we think when it comes to our Christian walk. That’s why these subtle things can rob us of the very strength God’s given us and that’s grace.
In fact, it’s a third hing I want you to think about when it comes to grace. It’s this: grace has two dimensions. One is vertical. Vertical grace centers on our relationship with God. It is amazing.
Who sang this morning "Amazing Grace". You know why – it is amazing. Everyday we ought to wake up saying: it is amazing that God saved me. It is amazing that God allowed me to know what I know. It is amazing that I have the Word of God in my hand and I could know what is the good and the perfect and acceptable will of God today. It’s prescriptive for my life.
God allowed me to know it. I can know what pleases Him. Grace is amazing because it frees from the demands and the condemnation of the Mosaic law. It announces hope to the sinner the gift of eternal life, along with all its benefits.
What do we learn when we become believers? We learn all the benefits that we have once we become believers. We have a city, a place God preparing for us. We can’t undo our salvation. No one can take it away from us or any of those things. Therefore, that strengthens me, gives me boldness. It gives me a desire to continue to serve God with gusto.
There’s a second dimension to grace though. And it’s the horizontal grace. One is vertical. One is horizontal. That centers on human relationships. It is attractive. Grace is attractive in people’s lives. It frees us from the tyranny of pleasing people. It frees us from adjusting our lives to the demands and expectations of human opinion. It gives us relief, the enjoyment of freedom along with all its benefits.
It’s silences needless guilt in our heart. It removes self-imposed shame. Sometimes we walk around as Christians, guilty about something we’ve already confessed. Christ already died for us. Then what’s your problem? We are robbed of our joy and we are joyless Christians. Why? Did the grace of God change? Did Christ change? Did something change?
No, some false teaching got into your head. Something tugging at what the truth is and we adjust in our mind and you’re letting it happen. Therefore your joy is out the window. Now you begin to live on how can I please people. You begin to live off this guilt of even sin that you already confessed. Then you walk around ashamed, therefore robbing you of your boldness to share the gospel and live a Christian life that somebody can imitate. The Bible is saying here: listen, if you are going to have strength and you’re going to continue to walk in strength, you must understand and think everyday upon what grace is. You know why? Because it will deliver you from legalism.
Legalism is a slow suffocation of the spirit. It’s diet is rules and standards. It was alleged by these teachers in Scripture that the competing teachings concerning foods will strengthen the heart and keep it from the defection. Yet grace is mediated through the Word of God. The instruction about food, in the place of the word of grace, is destructive to the faith.
Rules and standards are destructive to the faith. The person who follows it is in danger of being carried away by false teaching, a false understanding of the tremendous grace of God that has been given to you in Christ Jesus as a gift, to someone who doesn’t deserve it freely. You live there. Live there, and it’ll be hard for someone to rob you of your joy. Live there and it will be hard for someone to move you off track and move you away from Christ. It will be very hard for them to do that.
Where does that bring us as far as our passage of Scripture in Hebrews?There’s a third and a fourth thing that you will discern when you continue to follow faithful teachers and the word of God. What are they? The heart of a true believer cannot have an interest in two alters at the same time. Look at our passage again in Hebrews 13:10 and it says this:
we have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat.
All right, let me just say at the get-go here. Why is it that true believers cannot have an interest in two alters at the same time? Because the two altars are so different and involves such different religious observations. In other words, let me put it like: Jesus Christ cannot be just an add-on to what you believe. Jesus Christ cannot be an add-on to a religious system. You must follow Christ alone and completely.
You can’t have dual things going on when it comes to worship in Christ. You have to have a singular desire in your heart and understanding. A fourth thing would be that a heart of a true believer can only have interest in one altar for all time.
Now let me just explain that. Christians instead are to give central importance to one great aspect of the faith: that Christ died for them. The reason why God is able to give you grace is because Christ died for you. That He was a sacrifice for you. He shed not the blood of bulls and goats, like under the old system, but He shed His own blood. Therefore we have a sacrifice which some cannot enter. Some cannot come to this altar and partake of this altar. The bodies of animals offered on the day of atonement were not eaten, but they were actually burn outside the camp.
Look at the passage again because it is a difficult one. It is the most difficult passage in the book of Hebrews. It says in verse 10:
we have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat.
This is the question I had when I was looking at this passage: when was an offering in the Old Testament eaten and what did it signify? So I want to try to help you through this. As we do this and as we begin to grasp some theology here, keep in mind that the altar identifies the offerer with the sacrifice. With certain offerings, the individual further identify himself with the altar and sacrifice by eating some of the sacrifice. In other words, the offerer brought their offering to the tabernacle and they brought it for a particular reason. Then that offering was to be taken and then that offering was to be offered up as a sacrifice.
Some of the sacrifices were never eaten. You never partook of the sacrifice in that way. But some, you not only had it offered for your sins in the Old Testament by the priest, but then you partook of what was left. The parts that they didn’t burn was given to the people who offered it, to eat it. I’m saying that for this reason: what offerings? Let me just think of one in the Old Testament that people actually ate part of the offering once it was offered. Well, the peace offering was one of them. The peace offering was either a cattle or sheep or goat. The offerer had to make sure that the offering was a male or female, perfect without blemish.
They would kill it and cut up the animal. Of course the priest would take the animal, splash the blood on the altar. Then parts of the animal were burned and other parts, like the fat, was burned also, because the fat was considered the best part of the animal. It showed that the worshipper was giving their best to God. That was the significance of the peace offering.
There’s two principal differences of the peace offering. The peace offering follows the burnt offering in the Old Testament, the grain or the cereal offering, because, like them, it is one of the offerings when burned, it produced (the Bible says it like this) a soothing aroma to the Lord. In other words, the Lord smelled the offering and it was pleasing to Him. It made the relationship between God and that particular person offering a pleasant relationship, a wholesome relationship.
So, the first principal difference was that the peace offering was an optional sacrifice. It could be offered by a person whenever they felt like it. In other words, they could say: you know what, the Lord’s been good to me. I recognized it in my life. I’m going to bring to the Lord a peace offering. It was not required. It was a free will offering from the person’s heart.
A second principal thing about this particular offering was that the worshipper was allowed to eat part of the animal himself. He was allowed to partake in what he offered to God. Some of the animal was burned. Some was eaten by the priest. The rest was returned to the worshipper for his own consumption.
So the peace offering was a festival meal, eaten in or near the rear of the sanctuary. The ceremony usually concluded with the worshipper and his family or friends joining in this meal and they ate the rest of the meat.
In fact, many scriptures mentioned this. In Deuteronomy, it says in chapter 12:
there you shall bring your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the contributions of your hand, your votive offerings,
(which was considered also part of peace offering)
your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herd and of your flock. There also you and your household shall eat before the Lord your God, and rejoicing all your undertakings in which the Lord your God has blessed you.
When a person brought this peace offering, he was required to make sure he came in a state of ritual purity. In fact in Leviticus 7 it says:
but the person who eats the flesh of the sacrifice of peace offerings which belongs to the Lord, in his uncleanness, that person shall be cut off from his people.
That’s significant. Here’s a person who wants to offer a peace offering, but they still remain unclean before God. In fact, the very offering that was going to make them have a better relationship or fellowship with God now has excluded them from the assembly. It has put them outside the assembly. See, the purpose of the peace offering was fellowship with God.
It was in the first division of Leviticus, God’s foundation of fellowship was sacrifice. The second part was that of the man’s condition before God. A man could bring a peace offering just to thank God for what’s going on his life. A man could bring a peace offering, or another way of putting it a votive offering, and that offering too was offered before God. It is a freewill offering and that was to be eaten. Then he could even bring a freewill offering to God. Like Leviticus 7:16 says, if the sacrifice of his offering is a votive or freewill offering or one brought voluntarily, it shall be eaten on the day that he offers his sacrifice. On the next day, what is left may also be eaten.
Something spontaneous happens in offering a peace offering. The person was devoted to God. A person wanted to worship God. A person want to worship Him because they understood and they experienced the goodness of God in their life. Like the psalmist tells us:
willingly I sacrifice to You
. It was a willingness from the heart that they sacrificed. The peace offering was very often related to the covenant, where the people were to offer peace offerings in gratitude to God. The peace offering typically is seen as a joyous occasion, and a sacred meal that went along with it, for opportunities to rejoice before the Lord.
The bottom line really is this: the burnt offerings represented thanksgiving and dedication to God. The voluntary peace offering just told of happy fellowship with God.
Now back in Hebrews, the offerings that he’s talking about there is the Day of Atonement. On the Day of Atonement, you did not participate in eating the sacrifice. The whole sacrifice was taken outside the city and burned there.
I believe that there is a connection here related to the altar, the sacrifice, and to the eating of it. In other words, if you want to identify yourself with the altar and the sacrifice and have happy fellowship with God, it won’t be by eating some of the sacrifice. Why?because it’s all finished. It’s done. The old covenant is done. You cannot improve your relationship and your fellowship with God based on a freewill peace offering to God and what you partake of eating it. That’s over. It’s done.
In other words, if you do not have this altar in this verse right here, and that altar is Christ, then you have not yet identified with Him and therefore have no salvation.
He is saying, laying out for us, that: if you have not come to this altar – Christ, then you are excluded from eating because you are not at peace with God by the blood of Jesus Christ. You are still under the old system which could never take away sin. Hebrews 10:11 tells us:
every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.
If you do not come to the altar of Christ, you’re still in your sin. There’s no peace offering. There’s nothing to eat to bring you into fellowship with God.
It is God’s final new covenant, it is Jesus’ blood, that confirmed the new covenant promise. It is true and binding to all who believe it. What did it lead to? It led to the remittance, the forgiveness, the cancellation of sins of the sinners. That is where the person is now accepted by God and finds fellowship with God. That is the only place they can find it.
Again in Hebrews 9:22:
according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
Another way of saying: listen, without Christ there’s no forgiveness of your sins. Secondly, you will still be unclean, cut off from God, excluded from eternal salvation, and barred from entry into the eternal city. That’s why he says in Hebrews 13:14:
for here we do not have a lasting city.
He’s saying to the people: listen, there is no lasting city here in which you go and you worship God. That is done. That’s over. Instead, it says:
we are seeking a city which is to come.
There’s that promised city of Zion, which is given to those who believe, who come to the altar of Christ.
A third thing is that he says to them: not only you without Christ you have no forgiveness of sins. Not only without Christ you have no eternal city. But thirdly, without Christ you have no relationship with God. You’re out of relationship with God because you have refused access to God through Jesus Christ the Son.
Look back at verse 10 of chapter 13 in our text, because this is the way he puts it there. It says:
we have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat.
Hence we have a sacrifice which some cannot enter.
I said last week that those who serve in the tabernacle or at the tent are those who wish to remain under the old covenant. The emphasis would be that if you want to stay within the narrow confines of your works based religious system that is devoid of grace (and of course in this case it was Judaism), you cannot benefit from the only sacrifice which really matters. Therefore you cannot share the great sin offering of all time, the sacrifice of Christ.
Such people have no right to eat the eternally satisfying provisions of the new covenant. There’s no sacrifice they can bring. There’s no peace offering they can bring. There’s nothing they can do. Why? Because you can’t eat the sacrifice. The only thing you need to do is believe it. Receive it.
The sacrificial imagery brings to mind the sin offering of the annual Day of Atonement. Under the old covenant, the priests were entitled to use the sacrificial animals as food after they had been offered, but that did not apply to the sin offering on the Day of Atonement on that occasion. The sacrifice was burned in its entirety. That’s why in verse 11 of chapter 13, it says:
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.
On the Day of Atonement, there was no participation in the eating the offering. It was completely burned. That means all the offering was presented to God. None of it was available to any priest or any family member that could partake of it.
So in chapter 13 verse 12, it says:
therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate.
Now if You want to identify fully with the altar, that is the sacrificial death of Christ, there’s several things that he was telling the people there that they must do.
It gets back to what I just said not too long ago, where I said that a Christian is really someone who must realize that he cannot have two things. He cannot have two altars. He must just have one. That one is where Christ died on the cross. So, he’s saying to the people here who he’s writing to: you must leave the holy city Jerusalem. Why? You have no abiding city. You must leave everything that that represented.
A second thing he’s saying to them is that you must leave the old system for the new. Whatever significance and importance the old covenant traditional ceremonies, regulations, and standards of Judaism once had, they are now invalid. Why? Because now there’s only one altar and that alter is Christ. God now does His work completely outside the camp of Judaism, outside the camp of all religious systems. Especially if those religious systems are work based, that you must do something to earn God’s acceptance. All those systems are debunked by the sacrifice of Christ. Today they are debunked.
Someone who puts their stock in a religious system or in the church, they’re going to be in for a rude awakening. They must now leave that works based system and go completely outside of it, to Christ and Christ alone. In fact, the temple they were to leave. The altar they were to leave. The sacrifices they were to leave. The rituals they were to leave. All ceased to be part of God’s program. All of those things, all they ever were were signposts, pointing to the complete fulfillment in Jesus Christ. All of them.
Everything you read in the Old Testament, all points to Christ. Therefore you must leave it. You must leave your philosophy. You must leave and you must go outside all these things for salvation and sanctification.
That’s why in verse 13, it says:
so, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach.
Remember for a Jew, to bear the reproach means giving everyone and everything up and going forth to Him.
Why? Because Christ alone is our nourishment. Christ alone is our only access to God. We have one altar and that is Christ. Everything else pointed to Him.
So what strengthens our faith? Grace, extended to you and me, someone who never would deserve it and could never earn it. How does grace strengthen me? By thinking of that and by knowing it is absolutely free. Grace could never be taken back once it is given by the Giver.
So if you finish the race, it will be because you are growing in your knowledge of the great amazing grace of God. Not only did these Jews come to believe that and know that, it gave them fuel and boldness to finish the race and leave all that they knew that was dear to them. It will do the same for all of us today.
We must go out to Christ and leave everything and follow Him the rest of our days. What do we follow? You follow those who keep the word primary and Christ supreme.That’s what we follow. If we follow that, we will grow and become strong and become bold someday.
You know already that life is short. You can’t even believe now you’re as old as you are. When you thought: 50 years old, man that’s old, and now you’re past that. Or you’re very close to it. Or you’re around the corner. But life is short. So give it all to Christ. That’s what he is saying here. You can’t have a bunch of stuff going on here. You can’t have your own little system, your little philosophy.
When you talk to people and they say: well, religion is too personal and I have my own thing going. Wait a minute – that’s what he’s trying to get at here. There is no such thing. You are actually under God’s wrath and condemnation. If you think that way and if you die that way, you have no altar where your sins were paid for. You have not had God’s grace given to you. You are going to head where God’s grace will not take you and that’s hell.
Do you see what you have? You see how amazing grace is? I pray that you would, because that’s where your strength comes from. And that’s where it’s going to be maintained. Nowhere else. Let’s pray.
Lord, this morning, again I thank you for very difficult parts of scripture. But I pray, Lord, that there was some understanding that came through this passage. So your people, Lord, would not be fooled. They would not be merely led along the wrong stream or down the wrong stream. But they would be discerning. That everyday they would understand what the grace of God has done for them. Everyday they would be strengthened by that. Every day they would know there’s nothing they could add to what Christ has done. There’s nothing they can do at all whatsoever to keep their salvation, because Christ has secured at all.
He’s taking care of everything. We have a bright hope and future, even though in this world our tent pegs are loosely fastened. We know we have a city, an eternal city, whose builder and architect is God himself. And that’s the promise we have. We know, Lord, that we can trust you.
I pray, Lord, that you would make your people leaders that can be imitated in their faith, because their eyes are fixed upon you, because their heart is in the Word of God, that their mind is thinking about it. In their life, there’s only one supreme person and that’s Christ himself.
And so I pray Lord that you would give us boldness to speak forth the gospel of Jesus Christ to those who haven’t heard it yet. Lord, continue to strengthen us by the Word of God. I pray this in your name. Amen.