Hebrews 13: 12 – 13

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.

I am reading a book by Bill Johnson titled, When Heaven Invades Earth. In chapter 15 he refers to this verse in the course of his explanation about the unpopular position revival often has in the body of Christ. We know that the church leadership did not welcome Jesus with open arms. In fact, they persecuted him. So, Johnson’s assertion that Jesus was outside the popular group rather than inside does not come as a surprise. Still, I found myself rather taken aback by this scripture and the writer of Hebrew’s position that we, too, must be willing to endure reproach in order to meet Jesus where he is.

Of course, this verse refers specifically to the fact that Jesus was crucified “outside the gates” of Jerusalem. It is symbolic of his entire ministry. He never quite fit in with the established church which is amazing in itself. How could God not fit in with the church? Better question, does God fit in at our churches today? That is a frightening question.

Apparently, in order to fit in with God and with Jesus, sometimes you are going to suffer the reproach, or the criticism, of the church. This is not a comfortable suggestion. I don’t want people figuratively throwing tomatoes at me and I am pretty sure you feel the same way.

We all know that to the world of the unsaved, we are peculiar people. There is no surprise if I tell you that you may be estranged from your more worldly friends or that your unsaved family may shun you. The challenge in today’s scripture is that in order to follow the moves of Jesus, you may find yourself an outcast among your church friends. Following Jesus exacts a price and that may mean that you are an outcast among the saved. Jesus isn’t standing still. He has a big picture revelation he is ushering into the world but it comes in one little small revelation at a time. Jesus said, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now (John 16: 12). This scripture is so big that you just need to see it in some other translations too. Tree of Live version: “I still have much more to tell you, but you cannot handle it just now,” God’s Word translation: “I have a lot more to tell you, but that would be too much for you now,” and finally, the Passion translation: “There is so much more I would like to say to you, but it’s more than you can grasp at this moment.”

You see, Jesus has so much more to show us and tell us. That necessarily means we will have to assimilate new thoughts, new ideas. He wants to and will lead us into all truth but it is more than we can take in at the moment, more than we can absorb at one time. Therefore, he sends bits and pieces and all these are fitting together into his masterpiece. If he showed us the whole painting, it would overwhelm us. Truthfully, the little pieces tend to overwhelm us. In addition, if we truly follow him and accept the revelations he shows us, we will likely be ostracized by the church. Following Jesus tends to foil the traditions of the church. That is why the writer in Hebrews lets us know that if we are sincere about our boast to follow wherever Jesus leads, we should prepare ourselves to be outcasts even amongst our brothers.

This is a bitter pill, I know, but better to be with Jesus, even in the discomfiture of his beliefs than to be cozily ensconced in dead theology and contented church tradition. Remember how Jesus taught about not seeking man’s approval? Well, you get your chance here. As you listen to God in your heart, you are going to discover challenges to your own personal theology. You will also learn new truths in Christ and challenges to our way of doing things. We must be a people willing to follow Jesus wherever he leads and let the chips fall where they may. It ain’t easy, but it is the way!

Rites, Ritual and Religion

Mark 2: 18                 Amplified

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting [as a ritual]; and they came and asked Jesus, “Why are John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fasting, but Your disciples are not doing so?”

Yesterday we looked at the Sacraments. We saw how the observance of them can vary between denominations. I wish to reiterate that there need not be war over the proper number of sacraments or how they are observed. In contrast with the Old Testament, there is very little specified in the New Testament about feasts, rites or rituals. Largely, churches and denominations have developed ritualistic patterns which meet the needs of their congregation. Further, there is enough diversity among the Christian churches that every person ought to be able to find a system of worship which meets their individual need. What is important is that we practice a true faith.

Some of the less formal and less ritualistic churches bemoan the pomp and circumstance of the ceremonial services but I have discovered that we all have created a system of rituals. Even in the least formal of churches you may find some patterns emerging. That is okay. It is acceptable to develop practice patterns with which we are comfortable as long as we do not begin to serve them instead of the Lord Jesus.   

This is the main point. In the Old Testament there was great emphasis on the feasts and other forms of ritualistic worship and how they were to be conducted. The celebration of the Jewish faith had, to a greater degree, a corporate expression. In the Christian faith, so much of what calls us to higher ground happens within us. If we then choose to express that with pot luck dinners or high mass we may. We must, however, keep our focus on that spiritual reality which is happening within us as Thomas á Kempis suggested. The sacrament, feast or song is not the worship. It is the gift we give God from our hearts which matters, and truly, that is all that matters in the end. You won’t go to hell for not practicing the sacraments but you can practice all of the sacraments and never connect with Jesus in your heart. This is the important concept and we really must embrace it. 

May I be so bold as to say that it is not communion which is holy? It is the honor, dedication, servitude and, most importantly, the love which you give to the Father that matters. Some people find that practicing the sacraments, especially communion, helps them to connect with that part of their heart which loves God. To my way of thinking, the sacraments are about giving, at least as much as they are about receiving. This is a subtly but an important point and one which makes a great deal of difference to our Father. As we take communion are we doing so in order to receive from the Father? Perhaps we hope to receive the grace Kempis wrote about. Or, do we eat the bread and drink the cup in order to remember what Jesus did for us? Perhaps we should not say “receive” communion because it is supposed to be an offering of remembrance and thanksgiving. “When He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, ‘This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me’” (1 Corinthians 11: 24). It is almost like raising your glass in a toast to the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings. He has already given us everything. He has already done for us everything. Now we honor him in recalling all that he has done and all that he is.

Tomorrow I wish to share with you two final thoughts as you consider the role of the sacraments and other rituals in the Christian faith. Let your heart be at peace. We will see what Jesus teaches so that we can know that we are building our houses on the rock. Be blessed.