Out of The Camp; Into The City (Hebrews 13: 8-12)

Remember the theme of Hebrews: Jesus is better compared to all the religious things the writer’s largely Jewish audience thought of as amazing. You are going to see it again here: better altar, better high priest, better sacrifice for sin, better city to think of as home. It’s a very Jewish section, one in which the images don’t mean as much to us as it did to them – but let’s give it a shot. 

Jesus the Anointed One is always the same: yesterday, today, and forever.  Do not be carried away by diverse and strange ways of believing or worshiping. It is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by regulations about what you can eat (which do no good even for those who observe them).  We approach an altar [1] from which those who stand before the altar in the tent have no right to eat.  In the past, the bodies of those animals whose blood was carried into the sanctuary by the high priest to take away sin were all burned outside the camp.  In the same way, Jesus suffered and bled outside the city walls of Jerusalem to sanctify the people. Let’s then go to Him outside the camp [2] and resolve to bear the insult and abuse that He endured. For as long as we are here, we do not live in any permanent city, but are looking for the city that is to come. Through Jesus, then, let us keep offering to God our own sacrifice, the praise of lips that confess His name without ceasing. Let’s not neglect what is good and share what we have, for these sacrifices also please God. (Hebrews 13:8-16)

I started compiling a list this week of what it looks like for us to move “out of the camp” that keeps moving and uprooting us and toward an eternal, permanent city. The more I thought about it, the more I was drawn to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, one in which he describes the good life with God, a place where we are actually made to flourish. The Beatitudes presented in the gospels are as follows:  

Blessed are the spiritually poor—the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
Blessed are those who mourn (repent)—they will be comforted 
Blessed are the meek — they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness—they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful—they will be shown God’s mercy.
Blessed are those who are pure in heart—they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers—they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness—the kingdom of heaven is theirs. 
(Matthew 5:3-11)

Of the two main Greek words that Matthew could have used for “blessed,” he chose makarios.This word was used by the Greeks and Romans to describe the highest state of happiness and human flourishing, the kind of life that the gods enjoy. Strong’s Concordance describes the biblical use this way:  

“Makários ("blessed") describes a believer in enviable("fortunate") position from receiving God's provisions (favor) – which (literally) extend ("make long, large") His grace (benefits).

 So when Jesus talked about the makarios,the blessed ones, it was a direct challenge to the standards of ‘the good life’ in the impermanent cities of Athens, Rome and even Jerusalem vs. the good life in the permanent, eternal kingdom of God.  

In the wisdom tradition, ‘makarisms’ declare the blessing of those in fortunate circumstances… and declare their present reward and happiness.In the Prophets, makarisms declare the present/future blessednessof those who are presently in dire circumstances, but who will be vindicated at the… coming of God's kingdom (Isa 30:18; 32:20; Dan 12:12).”[3]

Makarios are the “poor in spirit.”These are the ones who understand their situation: they are broken and bound in chains to sin. The first beatitude gives the correct diagnosis: our spiritual illness makes us sick unto death. To partially quote the first step in a lot of recovery groups, “We admit that we are powerless, and our lives have become unmanageable.” We need a Savior. They are ‘blessed’ because recognizing the problem is the first step toward heavenly citizenship.

The opposite is pride. Cursed, or Miserable, are the proud,those who think they are all put together. They are damaged and enslaved by sin, but they have no idea. They would say, if they were in a group, “I believe that I am powerful, and I can do this my way.” 

The hardest kids to coach, the hardest people to counsel, the hardest musicians to train are not the ones who know they are terrible; it is the ones who think they have it all together.  Only by stopping my attempts to live in the kingdom of me, where I struggle to control everything, can I enter the kingdom of God.

 

Makarios are the mourners,This is not simply the sad. The mourners are not simply aware of the problem; they grieve their spiritual loss. They are already thinking and feeling about the situation the way God thinks and feels about it. But they, too are makarios,because they will be comforted – that is, they will find salvation. They know they are sick; they want the cure; they turn their treatment over to the doctor. They will be okay.  

In contrast, “Miserable are the hardened.”They know there is a problem, but they convince themselves that they will be okay, or that’s it’s nothing to be worried about, or simply that nothing matters. They detach the proper emotion from this reality. Their sinful brokeness might even become a point of celebration, something they brag about.  

Mourners are blessed, because they are not only aware of the problem, they confront their own sins and see them for what they are. They will be comforted . This is from parakaleo;their repentance – and the salvation that follows - will offer evidence that stands up in court.[4]

 

Makariosare the harnessed (gentle, meek or humble).  The same word is used in the Greek for domesticated animals, like bulls who pull a plow or horses that pull a chariot. There is a similar image in Job of the war horse pawing as he waits for his rider before entering the battle. They are the ones who are willing to be harnessed into the service of the Kingdom. They know that they alone are wild and untamed; they need to be controlled, because on their own they will just tear things up. They know that a life harnessed in the right cause can be strong in the service of something greater than themselves. 

In contrast are those who want to remain wild.They don’t want a constructive or a structured life. They don’t want authority; they want to do their own thing, follow their own heart, put their strength toward themselves. They are all about the self.

The meek, the harnessed, are the blessed, because there will be a day when the True Owner of the earth will pass an inheritance on to them, the ones who know what it’s like to be stewarded, and so know how to steward well in turn.   

 

The first three beatitudeslay a foundation: an awareness of our sinful brokenness; the humble surrender of repentance before God that leads to salvation; and the ‘harnessed’ servanthood that follows.  We see three requirements for entering into life with God. There are no shortcuts. You can’t get around these.  If you are in the Kingdom, but don’t feel as if you are experiencing life in the Kingdom, re-examine this part of your life.

Makarios are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. This is a worldview shift. While in sin, a person hungers for riches, money, honors, and physical pleasures. He never considers spiritual riches, or may even think they are a waste of time. But the fruit of brokenness, humility, and repentance is the longing for spiritual satisfaction.

These hungry folk have understood the problem; they have mourned their condition, and realized the answer was to live a life in submission to God. Their strength has been harnessed in God’s service, and now they are beginning to hunger and thirst for the right things – specifically, for righteousness, a life that has the stamp of divine approval.

Now, for the first time in the Beatitudes, we see people seeking for God.  They are glad God pursued them, but they are now pursuing Him as well.They are not content simply to be. These people are blessed, because God will “reward those who diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). 

This is a good reminder that before we think about what we should do for Christ, we should think about who we should be in Christ. We talk about needing to be filled so we can be “broken and spilled out” in service to others. Here’s how we get filled. We crave righteousness- right standing/right living with God and others. 

In contrast, the miserable are those who are spiritually lazy.They are hungry, but pursuing the food in the permanent city is hard, so they pursue the same stuff that never satisfied them before, and which will always give what C.S. Lewis called “an ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure.” 

When we do as the Psalmist said, and we “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8), we will want more. And the “filling up” on this side of heaven is a glimpse of what we will one day ultimately experience. 

 

Jesus’s next category is the first category that specifies righteous action.

 

Makarios are the merciful, those who reach beyond themselves and toward others.Being merciful involves understanding the proper use of authority. Whenever the merciful are in a situation where their actions can have an impact, they have the opportunity to show mercy. With power comes responsibility, and the merciful are always thinking about how to pass on the mercy they were shown. I just watched Spiderman: Far From Home. The contrast could not have been more clear between two people with power: one used it destructively; one used it mercifully. One brought death; one brought life.

 In contrast, the miserable are the merciless,those who take every ounce of power they have and try to turn it into a pound. Literally, they pound people with power. They are users of others to benefit themselves.  If the merciful think of their responsibility toward others, the miserable and merciless think of other people’s responsibility toward them. 

The merciful are blessed because the mercy that they show to others will be returned to them by a merciful God (which is the primary meaning of this text). [5]  

 

Makarios are the “pure in heart.”These are the uncorrupted. Such people are experiencing an interior that is clean and healthy, almost a return to innocence lost. The idea of cheating a friend or stealing from work or ignoring the desperate would be a fleeting thought at most. The pure in heart are blessed, because they not only mirror God’s life, they participate in it. They will catch even more glimpse of God’s nature and become formed into the image of Jesus as they participate in His character. This is a state where not only our minds – our worldview – mirror God’s mind, but our emotions do too.  

The miserable, then, are devious, the corrupt in heart.They wallow in their plans to take advantage of, use and harm others, either for their benefit or just because it gives them some kind of perverse pleasure. The pure in heart will see a “gradual unveiling of God” [6] in this world, and an unveiled sight in the life to come. 

 I wonder, sometimes, if we are pursuing our desire to see from or hear or feel God in the wrong way. Who sees “the gradual unveiling of God in the world?” Not the pursuer of conferences, miraculous experiences or prophetic words. Those aren’t bad things, but they aren’t what Jesus said is the means by which to see God. It begins in our hearts (and I suspect is part of the “filling” from craving righteousness and showing mercy).

 

Makariosare “the peacemakers.”Herewe take another step outward. If mercy has to do with the generous use of power, just as God generously used His power for us, a desire for peacemaking will be a result of experiencing the peace God has made with us through Jesus. [7]

 This is a difficult move, because we are not just “peace keepers.” That is what the merciful do, I think. Peace makersseek out hostile environments and craft peace.  We think of it often as what happens in war zones, or in genocidal countries, but it can happen in your house, in this church, at school, at work, among your friends…

 In contrast are the miserable, those who disturb the peace.They either have not experienced the mercy and peace God or they don’t care enough to consider what it looks like to pass it on. They leave a trail of discord behind them wherever they go. It’s gossip, unforgiveness, the love of drama and the creation of it when there was none, violence, harshness, deliberate offense. Instead of seeking out situations in which to make peace, they bring strife with them everywhere they go. 

The blessed of God’s kingdom mourn the lack of peace and take action to make peace. Truly, then, we are children of the God of peace (Romans 16:202 Corinthians 13:11) and Jesus, who is our peace (Ephesians 2:14). We will be recognized as being what we claim we are.

 

Makarios are “those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness.” In this group, we find those whose desire for right has been translated into action. They are bold; they are willing to pay the ultimate price for the sake of the Gospel. 

The cause for which we suffer is crucial. Notice they are not blessed simply because they have managed to get people mad at them. If the commentaries are correct, this is the kind of persecution in which Christians suffer a personal loss specifically because they refused to violate their conscience. We must discern the cause for which we suffer a personal loss. Not everything hardship that comes our way is persecution for righteousness’ sake. Sometimes, people push back because we are fools in the most Proverbs sense of the word.

In contrast are the comfortable, the ones who choose the easy way, the path of least resistance. They will never be persecuted for taking a righteous stand, because they don’t stand. They will never be reviled for the sake of Jesus because they don’t do anything in the name of Jesus. The claim it, but they have taken His name in vain. 

 

The Beatitudes have bookends. We started with the poor in spirit inheriting the Kingdom –the entrance into kingdom life now through salvation.  We end with the persecuted inheriting the kingdom, which I suspect is a reminder that heaven awaits those standing in allegiance with Jesus. 

 To summarize:

"You enter the makarios permanent kingdom as you realize you are a broken, sinful beggar before God's door; you let this brokenness lead you to surrender your life to your Savior and Healer, Jesus Christ; and you allow your heart, soul, mind and strength to be harnessed in the service of the Kingdom.  

You participate in the permanent kingdom when you use your righteous, harnessed power in the service of others; you hunger for more of life in the Kingdom with the King; you reach out to others in compassion Then, as your purified heart and mind see “God’s ‘unveiling in the world, ” you work to bring true harmony and reconciliation to the world, and you are willing to pay the cost of belonging to Jesus. 

Now, you are out of the camp and participating in life with God in a permanent city grounded in the truth, power and love of Jesus. The kingdom of heaven is yours in part now and in its fullness in the life to come. You have received and are receiving God's provision and favor, the extension of His grace to you. You are looking toward the city that is to come. 

 The writer of Hebrew gets the last word (in this post an in his book):

Now may the God of peace, who brought the great Shepherd of the sheep, our Lord Jesus, back from the dead through the blood of the new everlasting covenant, perfect you in every good work as you work God’s will. May God do in you only those things that are pleasing in His sight through Jesus the Anointed, our Liberating King, to whom we give glory always and forever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21) 

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[1] “Probably refers to the cross, which marked the end of the whole Aaronic priesthood and its replacement by the order of Melchizedek, of which Christ is the unique and only priest. no right to eat. The priests could not eat the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement, but we can partake of our sacrifice, so to speak—through spiritual reception of Christ by faith (see Jn 6:48–58). We have a higher privilege than the priests under the old covenant had.” – NIV Study Bible

[2] An allusion to Moses' pitching "the tent of meeting" outside the camp and to the people's going out to it (Ex 33:7). 

[3] From the New Interpreter’s Bible. http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/allsaintb.htm

[4] https://biblehub.com/greek/3870.htm. Also, this is the foundation from which we get parakletos, the Holy Spirit who is our ‘legal advocate.’ We get a lot when we let our broken sinfulness turn us to Jesus!

[5 ] The commentaries on Matthew 5:7 at https://biblehub.com/commentaries/matthew/5-7.htmmake this clear. 

[6] Cambridge Bible For Schools And Colleges

[7] "Pursue peace with all men, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord." (Hebrews 12:14).