Go to Him Outside the Camp

On what we now call Palm Sunday, almost 2,000 years ago Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a humble donkey. He was welcomed by people who had heard him preach—among whom were the poor, the diseased, the disenfranchised and outcasts, all of whom shouted “Hosanna!” to Jesus (Matthew 21:9, 15).

Many Christians think “Hosanna” has always been defined as a joyful worship word. It hasn’t. Hosanna means “save us now”— it was a cry of desperation, shouted at Jesus by the crowds as he entered Jerusalem. Most who greeted Jesus with “Hosanna” wanted physical relief from their physical problems and afflictions—but, in addition, there may well have been some who were at the end of their spiritual rope and hoped Jesus could save them spiritually.

Many Christians have traditionally called Palm Sunday the beginning of Passion Week—a week which started on a Sunday with Jesus’ triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem, and then, within a few days, the cheers that initially greeted him were overwhelmed by jeers. Passion Week is an ugly story of back room plotting—it’s a story of the despicable lengths to which established religion, ostensibly dedicated to love and service, will go when it’s threatened. Passion Week includes the themes of back stabbing, bribery, corruption and betrayal.

The events of Passion Week include Jesus’ last meal with his disciples, which we have come to call the Last Supper, followed by his arrest, his scourging and his trumped up, illegal religious trial. His trial was followed by an appearance before Pilate, the Roman governor who could not find him worthy of the death sentence that the religious leaders of that day demanded.

So Pilate, ever the politician, found a way to try to please everyone. Appealing to a Passover tradition that allowed a prisoner to receive freedom, Pilate offered the bloodthirsty mob a choice—they could choose one person to be set free. The mob would determine which one of two men would be spared, while the other would be killed in the most humiliating and painful way known at the time.

Pilate asked the crowd if he should spare Jesus, who had done no wrong, or Barabbas, a well-known, notorious prisoner (Matthew 27:16) who had apparently done little other than wrong. The mob decided that Barabbas should be spared and set free.

Jesus was tortured, then forced to drag his own cross outside the city—for by law the death to be imposed on him and two others could not take place within the city walls. Jesus and the two others being crucified that day were deemed so contemptible and despicable that they had to be killed outside the city—on top of a garbage dump.

And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.—Hebrews 13:12-14

Let’s focus on four themes in this passage:

1) First let’s discuss this term outside the city gate.

As we mentioned earlier, Jesus was crucified outside of the city of Jerusalem—for their laws would not allow criminals to be put to death within the walls of the city. The irony of this reality is staggering! Here was Jerusalem, the crowning glory of the Jewish nation and religion—not only killing God in the flesh, but insisting that Jesus, God the Son, could not die within its city walls!

The term “gate” is a reference to the geographical boundaries of the city of Jerusalem. In that day and age, cities surrounded by walls normally had two gates for access—one for commercial traffic and another for pedestrians. The gate was considered both the point of welcome as well as the most vulnerable point at a time of attack. The gate was the border, the beginning and the end of the influence of that city and its culture/religion.

The religion of Jesus’ day drove him out of their city and their religion to a garbage dump where they discarded all their other trash. Jesus was considered garbage to the religion of his day. Jesus is still regarded as rubbish by Christ-less religion today. Religion hasn’t changed—and neither has Jesus (Hebrews 13:8).

2) Now let’s consider the term outside the camp.

We can understand the word “gate” as a reference to the city of Jerusalem, but what about the word “camp”? Our passage says that Jesus suffered outside the city gate (Hebrews 13:12) and urges us to go to him outside the camp (Hebrews 13:13). Before discussing what it means to go to him, let’s discuss what outside the camp means.

The book of Hebrews uses the word “camp” here as a way of bringing the entire old covenant religion into view. The word “camp” is a clear and obvious reference to the nation of Israel, living under the old covenant, as it traveled in the wilderness, making camp for 40 years, before they entered the Promised Land. The word “camp” is telling us that Jesus left religion behind. He left the camp—he left the ceremonies, obligations, stipulations and commandments of the old covenant behind.

We must first remember the original audience who read these words in the book of Hebrews. The entire book is written to Hebrew Christians—that is Jewish Christians. They were faced with the temptation of wanting to go back into their religion, just as the Old Testament nation of Israel was faced with the temptation of wanting to return to Egypt, where they had been enslaved and mistreated for four hundred years (Acts 7:6).

Having just left the bondage of physical and spiritual slavery they suffered in Egypt, the nation of Israel was now experiencing the freedom God provided them, but they yearned for the security of bondage (Exodus 16:3; 17:3; Numbers 11:4-6)! They had grown accustomed to being enslaved and mistreated both physically and spiritually—it was all they had known. The grace of God gave them freedom, but they found it difficult to walk by faith—they wanted to return to what was familiar and comfortable. They didn’t like the idea of not knowing where their food would come from the next day—at least in Egypt they knew that the Egyptians, to whom they were enslaved, would give them three square meals a day.

In a similar way many Hebrew Christians were homesick for the old covenant—they too were uneasy depending solely on God, and living by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). They thought of their old customs and beliefs, their old feasts, their old rituals and their old ceremonies. They had been taught, as they had all “grown up” within the Jewish religion, to despise all other nations and religions. But now, some three decades after the death and resurrection of Jesus, they had received the new covenant. They had accepted God’s invitation to leave their old religion. They had received Christ, but they had times when they wavered.

These new Jewish Christians no doubt fondly remembered the time when they believed their status as Jews of the old covenant made them better than any other race of people. Now they were being told that Jesus died for all mankind, and that Jews were no better than any other race. They were tempted to return to their Egypt—their religion assured them that they were better than anyone else. They were still under the influence of a lie that has affected humanity down though time. The lie is a false promise. The lie is simply this— if, says religion, you as its follower will simply relinquish your freedom and let it rule you, then you will be spiritually superior and better than anyone else. God will love you more!

The lie is alive and active within the world of religion today. If you will just be a devout Muslim, the religion of Islam assures you that you are far better than Buddhists, Hindus and Christians. If you are a Sunni Muslim, then you will have been indoctrinated to regard Shiite Muslims as inferior scum, filthy unbelievers who must be put to death. Within the world of Christ-less religion the same assurances are given—if you will just become a faithful Baptist/ Methodist/Anglican/Catholic—then you are far better than those “other” Christians (if in fact those “other” Christians are even Christian at all)! Cults offer the same kind of lie: if you will just become an obedient Jehovah’s Witness, Scientologist, Mormon (the list is endless), then you are assured of being special, exceptional, unique and better than others.

Hebrews 13:12-14 is a warning to us as Christians not to go back to the specific religious camp where we were once held in spiritual bondage. We are urged to leave our past religion behind. Don’t fall prey to its lies! Don’t allow yourself to entertain those lies that once made you feel special, even as you, in your personal Egypt, were being enslaved and mistreated. Don’t fall for the subtle seductions again, the beguiling promises of your former religious taskmasters. Now that you are free in Christ, don’t fall for the lies the particular religious camp where you were held in bondage promised you as it stroked your vanity and your desire to be better than others.

Here’s the lesson of Hebrews 13:12-14, as we remember Jesus’ triumphant entry into the city of Jerusalem, and the events that followed, leading up to his crucifixion and victorious resurrection, one week later.

• On Palm Sunday Jesus entered into Jerusalem, the very heart and soul, the symbolic headquarters of the religion of his day—for the purpose of putting an end to Christ-less religion once and for all.

• On Palm Sunday Jesus entered into the back stabbing, treachery, politics, bribery and corruption of institutionalized religion. He endured humiliation and pain—an illegal trial, trumped up charges, torture and an excruciating death on his cross—to save you and me, and so many others, from the lies and slavery of religion.

• On Palm Sunday Jesus entered into the darkness and evil of religion to overthrow and overcome it, and to set you and me free.

• On Good Friday, Jesus left the city and the camp, carrying his cross. He invites you and me to follow him, walking outside of the gates of the city of religion, leaving its camp, and to never look back. He invites you and me to follow him, embrace God’s amazing grace and forsake Christ-less religion.

Let us go to him outside the camp!