We conclude our robust conversation on Hebrews Thirteen. Starting in verse 10, we begin to see the conclusions of The Book of Hebrews. We have an altar from which we have been invited to participate, at least in part. We look at what this passage about the altar would have sounded like to a Jewish audience. Exploring the Old Testament as well, we discover a little more about our place in this world and within the Kingdom of Heaven.
Introduction and Context
So let’s look at Hebrews 13 and pick up the context of where we’ve been. You know that we started in Hebrews 12:25, and we started with “See that you do not refuse him who speaks.” This is coming out of the contrast between Mount Sinai and Mount Zion.
Mount Sinai was a very scary event. God spoke. There were miracles and flashes of lightening and all that sort of thing. But even so, it wasn’t nearly as impressive and as intimidating and as attention-getting as Mount Zion will be.
Last time God spoke the earth shook at Mount Sinai, the author says. And next time he speaks, the whole world is going to be done away with and replaced with a new and better world, fitting of course with the overall theme of the book: A better priest with a better sacrifice under a better covenant, a better king with a better administration and in a better world inviting us to participate as both through the word mixed with faith.
Verse 28. “Therefore, since we’re receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.” Missing out on what God has given us as an opportunity in this life is a tragic outcome, and it’s something to be very concerned about as the book of Hebrews makes clear to us.
So after he has gotten our attention, he has hopefully connected with our emotions and made us highly concerned that we certainly don’t want to miss out on this.
Then he starts giving us some direction. And we basically saw in our list a lot of things that have to do with teamwork: Be a good team player. Let brotherly love continue. Don’t forget to entertain strangers. Remember the prisoners as if chained with them. Have a great marriage. All these things have to do with interconnecting with people who are within our sphere of influence.
And we said that the core of this behavior was connected with 13:5, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have—” because you basically have this attitude: “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?”
And this fear contrast is something we see throughout scripture. We see don’t fear man; fear God.
And then we see the opportunity here to have our inside motivation connected with serving God and it changes how we interact with other people.
So today, what we’re going to look at is starting in verse 10, and this will be the last part of chapter 13. So he’s told us this teamwork. Have a good connection with your wife, with your husband, with your fellow believers. Remember those who rule over you, the ones who are watching over your souls.
And then we come to 13:10. “We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to him, outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For here we have not continuing city, but we seek the one to come. Therefore by him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips—”
We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. It seems an odd transition to our ears. Let brotherly love continue. That kind of makes sense. Entertain strangers. This is all daily living type stuff. Have an honorable marriage. Have an attitude of thankfulness. The people who rule over you, remember them. Don’t get carried away with strange doctrines.
And then, suddenly, we have an altar from which we have no right to eat, the body of those animals whose blood is brought in the sanctuary is burnt outside the camp. What’s that talking about? It’s kind of weird, really, right?
Remember, though, the audience here is all Jewish. This is not going to be weird to them. So let’s try to get into the head of the audience here and see what’s going on.
“We have an altar from which those who serve in the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought in the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp.” Anybody know what that’s referring to?
I don’t think it’s the scapegoat. The scapegoat happens, I think, during the Day of Atonement, which is an annual event. They have two goats, and they take one of them and let them go. But they don’t burn that one. That one doesn’t get done.
Numbers 19:2. “This is the ordinance of the law which the Lord has commanded, saying: ‘Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring you a red heifer without blemish, in which there is no defect and on which a yoke has never come. You shall give it to Eleazar the priest, that he may take it outside the camp, and it shall be slaughtered before him; and Eleazar the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger, and sprinkle some of its blood seven times directly in front of the tabernacle of meeting. Then the heifer shall be burned in his sight: its hide, its flesh, its blood, and its offal shall be burned. And the priest shall take cedar wood and hyssop and scarlet, and cast them into the midst of the fire burning the heifer. Then the priest shall wash his clothes, he shall bathe in water, and afterward he shall come into the camp; the priest shall be unclean until evening. And the one who burns it shall wash his clothes in water, bathe in water, and shall be unclean until evening. Then a man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and store them outside the camp in a clean place; and they shall be kept for the congregation of the children of Israel for the water of purification—” It’s for purification from sin.
19:10 “And the one who gathers the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until evening. It shall be a statute forever to the children of Israel and to the stranger who dwells among them.”
So anybody ever hear of this before, that red heifer sacrifice? It’s kind of an arcane reference, isn’t it?
So I read a little bit on the internet about the red heifer sacrifice. I don’t necessarily give it a lot of credibility, but it’s what I had available to me. Some of these articles said that this red heifer sacrifice, even though not much is known about it only took place a few times, because, did you catch what was happening? They take this red heifer, female cow, that’s not been worked as an oxen, they take it outside the camp, and they burn everything just to get the ashes. And they store these ashes outside, and they use a little bit of the ash to put in the water of purification for the other ceremonies.
Did everybody catch that?
So this article said that to the knowledge of whoever was writing this, there had only ever been a few red heifer sacrifices ever even done because you just need it for a store of ashes, and you just need to do another one once the ashes run out.
So it’s kind of an interesting situation here because the writer of Hebrews has gone through this really practical stuff we understand: interacting with other people, interacting with people in the body, and then all the sudden he’s talking about this red heifer sacrifice.
What’s the point?
Well, let’s just hold the tension on that for a minute—so he’s got this red heifer sacrifice, then he makes a connection—let me do that next and then we’ll go back and hopefully tell you how this fits in.
So in Hebrews 13:15 it says, “Therefore by him—” Jesus “—let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to his name. But do not forget to do good and share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”
So he’s making a connection here with whatever happens in this red heifer sacrifice and verse 13, “Therefore let us go forth to him, outside the camp, bearing his reproach.”
So somehow bearing his reproach is connected with a sacrifice of praise from our lips which is connected to the sacrifice of doing good and sharing.
So let’s go back and let me give you a little bit of a sequence here and hopefully we can make sense of this.
Hall of Faith
Let’s go back to Hebrews 11, and let’s start with this string of witnesses. This string of witnesses begins in an interesting place; and of course it ends with Jesus—the string of witnesses.
11:1. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.”
So here’s the first person in this Hall of Faith. It starts with this person and goes to Jesus.
11:4. “By faith Abel—” So the first person in our Hall of Faith string is Abel. What was it that Abel did? “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.”
By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice. Through that he obtained a witness. Through that witness God testified of his gifts. And though he’s still dead, he still speaks
Now I don’t know about you, but both of these things are confusing to me, and I’ve scratched my head about this red heifer sacrifice and about why Abel is the first guy in this string for a long time. So I’m going to give you my best shot today, what I think’s going on here. This isn’t particularly easy.
Well, first, let me tell you something that I think you might find interesting. The Greek word in Hebrews 11:2 that’s rendered testimony is the same as the Greek word in verse 4 that is rendered witness, is the same as in verse 4 God testifying. Testimony, testifying, witness, they’re all exactly the same word. Anybody have any idea what Greek word that is?
Martyreo. Does that sound familiar to anybody? Martyr. This word means witness. A martyr is just a witness.
It’s said in church history that the church was built on the blood of the martyrs, which is, I think, a true statement.
I have read guys who said that if you want to be an overcomer, one of these well-done-good-and-faithful-servant type people, you have to be a martyr; and I think that’s accurate.
But in this sense, the sense of living a witness that people see the life, sometimes you die for it. Most people don’t have to die. But the idea is to live a witness.
So the first entrance to the Hall of Faith is someone who lived their witness in a way where it was seen. And it wasn’t just a whole big crowd to see Abel. There weren’t that many people around. His brother saw it, and he didn’t like it; and he killed him for it.
So in this particular case, Abel actually did die for his witness. And he’s dead. Abel’s dead. And we’re still talking about Abel. Why are we still talking about Abel? Because of his witness. And God put his story in the Bible.
But are we talking about what Abel said? What are we talking about? We’re talking about what Abel did. Because he lived what he believed. Do you see that? He was a witness. He was a witness of faith. And because of that witness, that witness is still speaking. The witness is speaking.
11:4 “—God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.” What we do in our lives is speaking.
He had a sacrifice that spoke.
Let’s look at this string of sacrifices. Go back to 9:26. “—He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” This is part of the outline of Hebrews: a better priest with a better sacrifice under a better law. One time put away sin.
Chapter 10:1. “For the law having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect.” We’re talking about animal sacrifices. Jesus has one sacrifice that puts away sin forever. Animal sacrifices can’t get the job done.
Verse 3. “But in those sacrifices there’s a reminder of sin every year.” Not only do those sacrifices not get rid of sin, they remind us of it.
Verse 5. “Therefore, when he came into the world, He said: ‘Sacrifice and offering you didn’t desire‑‑‑‑’” That’s not what you send me here for because it wasn’t good enough. “In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin you had no pleasure.”
Verse 8. “Previously saying, ‘Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin you did not desire—” The repetition is starting to mount. God did not send Jesus to perpetuate the animal sacrifice system.
Verse 10. “By that will—” the will of God “—we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus once for all.”
Jesus’ sacrifice was offered. Was Jesus’ sacrifice something he said or something he did? It was something he did. And that sacrifice is speaking.
Verse 11. “And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this man, after he offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God.” Why did he sit down? He was done! He was elevated to the throne.
Verse 26. “For if we sin willfully after we receive the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.” These animal sacrifices aren’t going to do you any good. What there is is consequences for your sins.
11:4. “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain—” And that sacrifice speaks even though he’s not alive anymore.
12:22. You haven’t come to Mount Sinai. Mount Sinai is a scary place, but you haven’t come to Mount Sinai. “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and the church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect. To Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel. See that you do not refuse him who speaks—”
What Abel Did
See Abel was the first guy in the Hall of Faith because he believed God, and he did what God asked him to do, and that cost him his life. He was a witness. He was a witness of doing what God asked him to do.
Well, Jesus is also a witness of what God asked him to do, similar to Abel. But Jesus’ blood is not only better than all the animal sacrifices that can’t take away sin, it’s not only better than all the animal sacrifices that remind us of sin, it’s better than the sacrifice of Abel that was a great witness. But this witness of Jesus is even greater because his blood is available to us to enter the Holy of Holies to have our hearts and consciences sprinkled and cleansed so we can do good works. That was in chapter 9.
The blood of sprinkling speaks. Abel speaks. His actions speak. Why? Because of what he did. Jesus speaks. Why? Because of what he did. Yes, God has given us the word. He has given us the Bible, and that’s incredibly important to us. But he also gave us the living word, and the actions of Jesus speak.
What was the action of Jesus doing? Look back at Hebrews 12:1 This is the culmination of chapter 11. “Therefore we also, since we’re surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses—” these Hall of Faith we’re going to study starting with Abel “—let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame—”
What Jesus did is he despised the shame of man and said, “What can man do to me? I’m not going to be afraid of man. All they can do is kill me.” And they did.
But he lived a life that said I’m going to focus on pleasing God. And because of that, his name was lifted above every name. And his life speaks because he’s a witness.