Let me ask you a question — What would cause a person to whistle out of tune? You may say, that’s easy – they just aren’t musically talented. But what if there was a whole group of people who whistled out of tune – and they all were out of tune in the exact same way?
Strangely enough, that’s exactly what happened a number of years ago when musicians noticed that errand boys in a certain part of London all whistled out of tune as they went about their work. Somebody came up with the idea that maybe it was because the bells of Westminster were slightly out of tune. And it turns out that was indeed the case. Those boys had heard those bells all their lives and they didn’t know there was anything wrong with the bells, and without even thinking about, they had copied that faulty pitch.
I want to suggest to you this morning that the same thing can happen to us in the spiritual realm. We live in a world that is very much “out of tune” with God. And if we grow up listening to the world around us, we can get out of tune ourselves without even realizing it.
If you have your Bibles, turn with me to Hebrews chapter 13. Let me give you just a little bit of background into this passage.
Throughout the book of Hebrews, the writer has spent a great deal of time on doctrinal matters. But as he begins to bring this book to a close, he talks about some matters of practical Christian living. Because the essence of Christianity is not how many facts we can cram into our heads. The essence of Christianity is how we’re able to take the things we learn and live them out in our lives from day to day. So, in chapter 13, the Hebrew writer talks about some specific practical mat¬ters. He answers the question, “What difference should everything I’ve been talking about up to this point make in the life of a Christian?”
And so, in verses 1-3, he talks about showing love, hospitality and sympathy. In verse 4, he mentions the need for sexual purity. In verses 5 and 6, he deals with covetousness and talks about the importance of being satisfied with what we have. In verses 7-9, he encourages these Christians to be steadfast in their faith.
And then in verse 10, he begins talking about the importance of being separa¬ted from the world. And this is where I want us to focus our time this morning.
It’s a message that I think we desperately need to hear in the church today. I’m sure you’ve seen some statistics about our young people – how more than 50% of them will leave the church as soon as they leave home.
And so, a lot of people are wondering, why do so many young people leave the church? And, personally, I don’t think that it’s the philosophic dangers that we sometimes worry about. It’s not their exposure to atheistic humanism in the schools that challenges their faith in God. It’s not the challenge of science and the evolutionary hypothesis that causes them the most trouble.
Rather, I think what causes most of them to give up on their faith is that they don’t want to be seen as different from their friends. They understand that the consistent application of Christian morals will make them completely different from the world they want to be a part of. And, in the end, that’s what costs them their faith.
It’s a struggle that perhaps our young people understand to an extent that their parents can’t appreciate and their grandparents can’t really under¬stand at all. Because in years past, there was a time in this country when it a lot easier to have a deep Christian commitment.
Back in the “good old days”, Christianity was accepted as the norm. Everybody held religious beliefs and everyone in the neighborhood went to church on Sunday mornings. When it came time for a revival, hundreds of people were anxious to turn out and had, in fact, many of them been looking forward to it for months. In those days, Christian moral standards were appreciated. And all of that made it relatively easy to hold Christian beliefs.
But I don’t need to tell you that that’s not the way it is today. Today we live in a society where Christianity doesn’t have much place at all in public, except to be ridiculed. Socie¬ty’s values now run completely and totally contrary to New Testament teach¬ings.
The world today is obsessed with sex like never before. Sexual activities apart from marriage are considered acceptable and normal by more and more people. The concept of commitment, especially in the area of marriage, has all but disappeared. The idea of self-discipline has been replaced by a doctrine of self-gratification. And things like honesty and integrity are just memories of a past generation.
I don’t think there’s any doubt but that it’s more difficult today to be a follower of Jesus Christ. It is no longer considered respect¬able to hold religious views. And the effect of a constant exposure to this world’s attack on Christian values sometimes leaves us wondering if perhaps we’re out of step with the rest of the world.
Sociologists tell us that much of what we believe and know comes not just from our own investigation and analysis, but from society around us. In other words, from the time we are a young child, we come to believe certain things about the world simply because “everyone knows it’s that way”. And we believe these things because it seems silly to question what everybody knows is true.
Let me give you an example. With a show of hands – How many of you believe that the earth revolves around the sun? (those of you didn’t raise your hands, we need to have a talk after worship). All right – the second question: How do you know the earth revolves around the sun? Think about that for a moment. Have you ever actually proved it yourself? Have you done the calculations? Can you be absolutely certain as a result of your own experience? Of course not.
You say, “But it’s been proven by scientists.” OK, I’ll give you that one. So, tell me who proved it, and how did he prove it? Chances are, you don’t know. And let me tell me something that may surprise you a bit. The only reason – let me repeat that, the only reason — you believe that the earth revolves around the sun is because that’s what you’ve been taught all your life. Think about that for a minute and let it sink in.
The only reason you believe the earth revolves around the sun is because that’s what you’ve always heard from the time you were a little kid. That’s what your parents told you. That’s what your teachers told you. It’s an accepted fact simply because “everybody” knows that it’s true. And if someone were to stand up and say, “I believe that the sun revolves around the earth” then you would immediately dismiss him as a crazy person because it’s contrary to what every¬body knows to be true.
That’s why Christopher Columbus was seen as a crazy man. Everybody knew that the world is flat, and if you sail far enough you’ll fall off the edge. Everyone knew that to be a fact because it’s all they heard from the time they were little kids. And for someone to stand up and say otherwise was utter foolishness.
Now, it’s one thing for that to happen in the realm of science. But I want you to look at what happens when that occurs in the moral realm. From the time a young child begins to learn anything at all, he is bombarded with the message, “Sex is all right whenever you want it, however you can get it.” He may learn that message from his parents. He certainly learns that message from television and movies. He learns that message from his friends. He learns that message from the songs he listens to. So he grows up thinking, “It must be true because everybody says it is.” It’s the accepted view of society.
Then someone comes along who says, “No, no, no — Sex is intended by God to be ful¬filled only within the marriage relationship.” And what happens? That person is dismissed as a crazy person because it’s contrary to what “everybody knows” is true.
I firmly believe that the greatest threat to the survival of the church is not some new piece of scientific evidence that will shatter our convictions. Rather, our greatest threat is the fact that we must hold a set of views that is unacceptable to the majority of people. In order to be a faithful Christian, we have to be very different from the world. And the truth of the matter is that some of us haven’t been very successful at that!
The readers of the Hebrew letter were faced with the same problem — the problem of being different. Their Christianity made them painfully differ¬ent from their society, which was just as immoral as today’s society is. It also made them different from their friends and family, who were mostly Jews. And so, they were brand¬ed as different. In fact, one of the main reasons that some of them were thinking about leaving Christ and going back into Judaism is that they were tired of being different from everybody else around them.
So the Hebrew writer deals with this fear that his readers faced – a fear of living outside the realm of public respectability. He starts by talking to them about Jesus and he reminds these Christians that Jesus wasn’t exactly someone who fit it. In fact, he died “outside the camp.” Therefore we, as Christians, need to be willing to live outside the camp.
I. Jesus Died Outside the Camp
“We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.” (Hebrews 13:10-12)
Because this was a letter written to Jewish Christians, the Hebrew writer reminds these Christians of something in their Jewish past. Now you need to understand that sometimes when an animal was sacrificed by a Jew, the whole animal wasn’t burned up and part of the meat was eaten — either by the Jew who offered the sacrifice or by the priests. But none of the meat from a sin offering was eaten because the entire animal was totally burned up (Lev. 6:30). Then the ashes of that sacrifice were thrown outside the camp. They were considered to be unclean, and they were dumped outside the camp in what amounted to a large garbage heap.
The Hebrew writer wants us to see how fitting it was that Jesus was crucified outside the city of Jerusalem. He wants us to realize that Chris¬tianity didn’t begin with a great deal of public acceptance. Jesus didn’t receive any medals recognizing him as “outstanding young man of the year” in Jerusalem. There was no “eternal flame” burning for Jesus at the Jerusa¬lem National Cemetery. Rather, he was killed on a cross.
And we are reminded that the actual crucifixion took place outside the city walls of Jerusalem. Jesus died at Golgotha, the place of the skull, a place outside the realm of acceptance and respectability. As George MacDonald put it, “Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves, on the town garbage heap….the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble.”
The cross means a lot of things, but first and foremost it meant shame and reproach. Jesus was rejected by the establishment, by society. And the message of the cross was a continu¬ing source of rejection for the early church. As Paul wrote, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” (I Corinthians 1:22-23).
Because “everybody knew” that good men just don’t die on crosses, and so the message of the cross was foolishness to the Greeks and it was a stumbling block to the Jews. Jesus died “outside the camp.”
II. We Must Be Willing to Live Outside the Camp
“Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.” (Hebrews 13:13).
If Jesus died outside the camp of respectability and acceptance, then why would we think that Christians should be spared the experience of going through the same thing? As Jesus put it, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:18-20).
Jesus said that the attitude of the world toward his apostles would be hatred because of the fact that they were obvious¬ly very different from the world around them. The fact that we follow Jesus makes us different.
A life of faith has always meant living a life that’s different from everyone else. That was true of the heroes in the 11th chapter of Hebrews. Joseph wasn’t a great man because he adopted the moral values of Egypt. Daniel wasn’t a great man because he ate the same thing that everybody else did, so he could fit in.
The Hebrew writer says our faith takes us “outside the camp” in a world where Christianity seems absurd to most people. The significant thing, though, about Hebrews 13:13 is the reminder that the place where we belong as Christians is outside the camp.
We need to understand the importance of this message. In fact, I believe Christianity will not survive unless we understand this mes¬sage. It is essential that we come to see ourselves as “outside the camp” of the world’s value system. And we must accept the fact that in doing so we will be seen as different from the world – sometimes radically different.
Now, I’m not talking about isolating ourselves from the world. That’s what the medieval monks tried to do. They thought that if they could just isolate them¬selves from wicked people, then they would be isolated from sin as well. So they built a wall, put all the sinners on the outside and kept themselves on the inside.
But that’s not what I’m talking about. Jesus stressed the need for us to be an influence of salt and light on the world around us. And, to accomplish that, we have to be in the world.
Rather, what I’m talking about this morning is the problem that develops when we begin to adopt the same goals of the world, when we’re immersed in the things of the world, when we talk like they talk and have the same priorities they do. When that happens, then we become totally indistinguishable from the world. We’re no longer different and we have become comfortable “inside the camp”.
We have to realize that Christ calls us to take on a set of standards that this world thinks is foolish. Paul said in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world.” Or, as the New Living Translation puts it, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world.”
There’s a word that the Bible uses to sum up what we’re talking about — sanctification. The word sanctification or sanctify literally means “to be set apart.” The noun form of this word means “those who have been set apart” and it’s usually translated as “saint”.
Those of us who are Christians are to be saints — sanctified, set apart. And, to do that, we have to be different. The temple was a sanctified building be¬cause it was different from all the other buildings. The Sabbath was a sanctified day because it was different from all the days of the week. And Christians are a sanctified people because we are to be different from the world around us. We’re dif¬ferent because we follow Jesus. We’re different because we’re governed by a different standard of right and wrong.
And we need to understand that the world around us will not always understand or appreciate those things that mean so much to us. There will be times when we will seem totally “out of touch” with the reality of things.
And that’s one of the reasons we need our times together. Let me share with you the results of an experiment that will help to explain. And to do this, I need to get some input from you, so don’t be afraid to speak up. Thinking about the stereotypes we have, who’s better at math – men or women? (we usually think of men as being better at math than women). Now, again, thinking about our stereotypes, which race is considered to be the best at math? (we usually think of Asians as being best at math).
So experimenters wanted to know – how well would Asian women perform on math tests? And the results were quite interesting. If, prior to the test being taken, an emphasis was placed on the fact that they were women, they tended to do poorly. But, if an emphasis was placed on the fact that they were Asian, they tended to do very well. The psychological term for that is “stereotype threat” – which simply means that we tend to perform at a level based on what is expected of us.
What does that have to do with those of us who are Christians? And the answer is, quite a bit. We are children of God who live in this world. And every day, we are given a test in spirituality, in holiness, in sanctification. If we are constantly reminded about the fact that we live in this world, then we will tend to do very poor when we are tested. But if we are reminded of the fact that we are children of God, then we are more likely to do well when we are tested.
That’s why we desperately need our time together. We need a reminder of who we are, and who we belong to. It’s hard for us to maintain our identity if we feel alone. But we’re not asked to follow Christ alone outside the camp. We share with a community of believers who share the same convictions. With the strength that comes from this fellowship, we can venture out into a hostile world as we attempt to influence that world to follow us as we follow Jesus.
III. The City Which is to Come
“For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” (Hebrews 13:14)
The Hebrew writer reminds his readers why we’re willing to be different, why we’re willing to be looked down upon. Because we are “looking for a city that is to come.” There is a reward — a goal — at the end of our journey. We leave to go outside the camp because, like Abraham before us, we are searching for “a city whose builder and maker is God.”
Before Sueanne and I make any trip, we have to consider whether it’s going to be worth it or not. We have been known to drive as many as 2,000 miles in one week, seeing old friends, visiting with family, going to see our children graduate from college or to see our children get married. All of those things make it worth it. But if we were driving that far merely to see the biggest ball of twine in Minnesota (and yes, you can drive to see that), then I would turn around and come home early. If there’s not something at the end that makes it all worthwhile, you’re going to quit traveling.
That’s what the Hebrew writer is saying here. No, the Christian life is not easy. Sometimes it gets very tiring. But there is something at the end of our journey that makes the journey worthwhile. But the only way to get there is to be willing to follow Jesus outside the camp. And to do so is to mark yourself as being different. It is to subject yourself to the reproach of the world around us.
We’re not far from the Outer Banks of North Carolina where you can see the Wright Brother’s memorial in Kitty Hawk. That monument is dedicated to Or¬ville and Wilbur Wright, the two men who launched the modern age of flight. But if you had read about the Wright Brothers in the newspapers of their day, you would have gotten the idea that they were a couple of strange eccentric men who were out of touch with the real world. You see, they lived in a day and age when men said that it was physically impossible for us to fly. After all, if God meant for man to fly, he would have given us wings!
But the Wright brothers had a vision of flight, and they vowed to pursue it. And now, decades later, all the laughter of the critics has been silenced, drowned out by the roar of aircraft and spacecraft that has taken us to the moon and back.
The Wright brothers left the camp of the usual way of thinking because they had a vision of the way things could be. In that vision, they saw that man could fly, and the only way that they could pursue that vision was to suffer the unkind words of unkind critics. But they were willing to do that, and because of that, we owe them a debt of gratitude.
As Christians, we must also be willing to leave the camp of our culture. Through Christ, we have a vision of what man’s destiny can be. There is an opportunity for us to experience fellowship with God. But the only way to get there is to leave the camp of respectability and acceptance by society.
If you’re not a Christian this morning, we invite you to become one. In extending that invitation, we are not simply asking you to agree with a cer¬tain proposition or to accept a certain doctrine. We are inviting you to follow Jesus outside the camp. We are inviting you to accept his values and his ideals, and to leave those of society behind.
And if you choose to do that, you will run the risk of incurring the ridicule and scorn of the people around you. But you will be on your way to a heavenly city, a city where God is. And, in the end, that’s all that is going to matter.
Or perhaps you’re a Christian who, in the past, has traveled outside the camp to be with Jesus, but you’ve returned to camp because you’d rather be like others around you than bear the shame that can come in following Christ. But God has not called us to live in the realm of respectability, so this morning, I challenge you to live “outside the camp”, to be willing to bear the disgrace of the one who bore disgrace for you.