A Lasting City (Hebrews 13:9-16)

Sometimes it seems as though the world has lost all sense of fixed points.  Truth, we’re repeatedly told, has become relegated to matters of personal perspective.  As John Dominic Crossan once put it, “There is no lighthouse keeper.  There is no lighthouse.  There is no dry ground.  There are only people living on rafts made from the own imaginations.  And there is the sea.”

In his book Searching for God Knows What, Donald Miller paints us a picture of life at sea.  He calls it his “lifeboat theory.”  Huddled together, we tend to identify ourselves with stronger people, and distance ourselves from others.  Socially, this might mean we try and look and act like those we consider our social betters—and try not to let ourselves get associated with the socially awkward or the outcasts.

But Jesus did the opposite.

In Hebrews 13, the writer presses home the idea of identifying with Jesus:

9 Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. 11 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. 12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. 15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. (Hebrews 13:9-16)

Our world is indeed swirling with an ocean of “diverse and strange teachings.”  Those of us in the lifeboat would fare socially better if we found the strongest and most socially acceptable teachings and followed then.  And you can bet that today we have our fair share of those who construct a whole set of code words to define the religion of the day.  Tolerance.  Justice.  Privilege.  Equality.  Such noble words can hardly be argued against, right?  Yet to believe in Jesus is certainly to be associated with a backwards way of thinking, to be labeled a bigot—or worse.

It’s not going to get better.

Perhaps instead we should be grateful to endure mere mockery and not martyrdom—though all the while remembering that many around the world (and in the Middle East during this era) who have indeed shed blood for their faith.

But no, even for us, it hurts—to lose friends, to experience ridicule. But we can be confident that Jesus—our perfect sacrifice—suffered “outside the gate,” on a hilltop known as the place of the skull.  And it’s there that we find what social analyst Peter Berger once called “a confrontation of our perception of society with the figure of Jesus Christ.”  It’s safe inside the Christian bubble, Berger would say.  Safe to think that if we keep ourselves safe and secure, manage to raise moral children we can remain unspoiled by the harsh edges of a hurting culture.  But this “figure of the crucified one…continues to haunt both the oppressors and the oppressed.”  Christians are therefore faced with “the demand to follow this figure of the crucified one.”

“This demand calls us to an exodus, not only out of Egypt of social mythology but also out of the Zion of religious security.  The exodus takes us out of our holy city, out past the scene of cross and resurrection, and beyond the desert in which God is waiting.  In this desert, all horizons are open.”

It’s no wonder, then, that the writer of Hebrews tells us that good works “are pleasing to God” (13:16), because there’s a good chance your faith will make everyone around you uneasy—if not angry.  And we, united with Christ in his death and resurrection, are given the soul-stirring power to endure.  Endure ridicule.  Endure suffering.  Endure hardship.  Jesus will not make life better—but he promises a “lasting city” to come at the time of his return.

For now we occupy dust-swept streets and the driving rains of cultural opposition.  We look not to man for our approval, nor to our earthly city for comfort.  We look instead to another set of streets, streets where joy flows like a river from heaven’s throne.  A city where persecution and suffering fall from our eyes like scales, that we might behold the risen Savior with gladness.  When we go there, we go there with Him, a Savior who shows us a place with neither sorrow nor shame, and we walk on the streets that have no name.

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