A Better City (June 2)

Hebrews 12:1-2, 18-24; 13:10-16

Comment


Charles A. Trentham in The Broadman Bible Commentary comments on the image of “outside the camp” in this passage in Hebrews 13:

“To go to him [Jesus] involves willingness to go outside the camp, bearing abuse for him. Here the Christian commitment of faith is described in three graphic pictures:

(1) Outside the camp means where the cross is. Jerusalem was the sacred city. No crucifixion could occur within her walls. Therefore, the Son of God was taken outside the walls of the city to the rugged brow of Golgotha. If we go to him, according to the writer of Hebrews, we too must go outside the Holy City, outside the comfortable sanctuary, and be willing to walk the road of the cross. Because Christ died for us, we must die to those things that causes his death.

(2) Outside the camp means also to be on the march. The camp, referred to in Leviticus, was the one abode of light in a dark wilderness; but the Land of Promise lay beyond. Only those who ventured out of the known light into the darkness by faith could hope to find the Land of Promise. In the book of Exodus, the camp was the only place of safety. To venture outside the safety of the camp was often not to return. But Jesus walked the perilous road outside the safety of the camp into a world that did not know him, in order that the light of God might shine through earth’s darkness. He walked as a trailblazer, the pioneer of our faith.

(3) To go outside the camp means that we must believe in an unseen world. We must believe in the city of God more than we believe in anything on earth. Nothing is  more destructive of Christian faith than building an organization and imagining that it is an abiding city to be equated with the city of God.”

The Broadman Bible Commentary: Volume 12, “Hebrews,” Charles A. Trentham (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1972), pp. 95-96.

Reading the Scripture

Here are some ways you might read the scripture or tell the story:

•    If you are like me, you might find Hebrews difficult to follow at times. Maybe The Message version will help (maybe not):

Hebrews 12: 1-2 Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God.

18-21 Unlike your ancestors, you didn’t come to Mount Sinai—all that volcanic blaze and earthshaking rumble—to hear God speak. The earsplitting words and soul-shaking message terrified them and they begged him to stop. When they heard the words—“If an animal touches the Mountain, it’s as good as dead”—they were afraid to move. Even Moses was terrified.

22-24 No, that’s not your experience at all. You’ve come to Mount Zion, the city where the living God resides. The invisible Jerusalem is populated by throngs of festive angels and Christian citizens. It is the city where God is Judge, with judgments that make us just. You’ve come to Jesus, who presents us with a new covenant, a fresh charter from God. He is the Mediator of this covenant. The murder of Jesus, unlike Abel’s—a homicide that cried out for vengeance—became a proclamation of grace.

10-12 The altar from which God gives us the gift of himself is not for exploitation by insiders who grab and loot. In the old system, the animals are killed and the bodies disposed of outside the camp. The blood is then brought inside to the altar as a sacrifice for sin. It’s the same with Jesus. He was crucified outside the city gates—that is where he poured out the sacrificial blood that was brought to God’s altar to cleanse his people.

13-15 So let’s go outside, where Jesus is, where the action is—not trying to be privileged insiders, but taking our share in the abuse of Jesus. This “insider world” is not our home. We have our eyes peeled for the City about to come. Let’s take our place outside with Jesus, no longer pouring out the sacrificial blood of animals but pouring out sacrificial praises from our lips to God in Jesus’ name.

16 Make sure you don’t take things for granted and go slack in working for the common good; share what you have with others. God takes particular pleasure in acts of worship—a different kind of “sacrifice”—that take place in kitchen and workplace and on the streets.

•    Audio:
o    The Bible Experience: The Complete Bible (“presented by a stellar ensemble of today’s top-name actors, musicians, clergy, directors, and award-winning producers.” Available from Keith).
o    Faith Comes by Hearing: You’ve Got the Time (Dramatized New Testament we used a few years ago during Lent. Available in the library and the church office.)

•    Video:
o    WatchWord Bible, New Testament on DVD is available in the library. (These videos display and read the text in Contemporary English Version with background pictures, video and sound. Not exactly dramatized or all that exciting, but could be another way to read the text.)

Teaching Suggestions
•    The Formations Study Guide (p. 29) refers to the film, Places in the Heart. Use the information provided in “Reflecting” and show the video clip of the final communion scene posted on the webpage.

•    I am planning to run a marathon next Saturday, June 8. No doubt it will take endurance and perseverance for me to make it 26.2 miles to the finish line. I will not be carrying anything that I don’t absolutely need. I will not be doing any sprinting. I will not be running fast. I am not certain I will make it, but if I do the last miles will be painful. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that the Christian life is a marathon that lasts a lifetime and that it can be a struggle as it was for Christ who endured the cross. In what ways is the Christian life like a marathon race?

•    The Formations Teaching Guide (p. 25) in an activity, “Running the Race,” suggests displaying some race equipment for a discussion. I’m sure Ernst Crown-Weber, who owns, Danville Bike and Footwear, can help with this activity or I’d be happy to help.

•    A Cloud of Witnesses cheering us on: Name some of the witnesses past and present that encourage us in our marathon race of faith. Glen Taul wrote a history of Lexington Avenue Baptist Church (found on our webpage: /history-75th-anniversary-histo/ ). Share this history with the class. Skim through the timeline remembering those witnesses who have shaped Lexington Avenue Baptist through the years. How can they be an encouragement and witness for us even today? (See also, “When hope grows dim, we can study past examples,” Formations Study Guide, p. 33).

•    Jerusalem City: For pictures and articles about the city of Jerusalem in Jerusalem at the Time of Jesus (Leen and Kathleen Ritmeyer, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2009), in the library.

•    Nada: The Formations Study Guide (p. 33) notes, “As Jesus’ sisters and brothers, we identify with him and join him in the unclean places, on the outskirts, and on the margins,” and Hebrews 13:16 instructs us, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have.” A team is in Nada this weekend, repairing homes, working with children, fellowshipping with adults and celebrating graduates. The team has gone on your behalf to “do good” and “share” with a community that is considered by some to be on the outskirts. Pray for the team, for the Nada community, the Nada Baptist Mission, and for Paula Settle, missionary in Nada.

•    Hymnals are available if you need them for the Formations Teaching Guide activity, “A Familiar Hymn,” (p. 27). Call the church office or see Keith if you would like to use hymnals.

Resources

I have set aside a shelf in the library with resources for Sunday School teachers. I will place there resources of general interest and some specifically applicable to current lessons. Other resources are kept in my office.

•    Jerusalem at the Time of Jesus (Leen and Kathleen Ritmeyer, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2009).

•    The Broadman Bible Commentary: Volume 12, “Hebrews,” Charles A. Trentham (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1972).

•    For additional commentary on the text see these commentaries in our library:
o    Mercer Commentary on the Bible (Mercer University Press, 1995)
o    Harper’s Bible Commentary (Harper & Row, 1988)