Jesus ruined everything.
“The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. 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.” (Hebrews 13:11-13)
In the mindset of the Jews, the blood sacrifice at the tabernacle (and later, the temple) was one of the key elements of their identity as God’s chosen people. Here was something that was prescribed to them by God, as a way to not only assure forgiveness of their sins, but also to set themselves apart from the rest of the world. Theirs was a system of exclusivity – salvation was for the Jews, and them alone. The bodies of the sacrifices were taken “outside the camp” because they were unclean, unworthy, and unwanted. In fact, it was God Himself that told them to do it that way, so that the dead bodies would not corrupt the purity of the sacrifice. They didn’t fit into the clean, orderly religious system, so they were discarded.
Then Jesus came and yes, ruined everything.
“Again Jesus called the crowd to Him and said, ‘Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a man can make him “unclean” by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean'” (Mark 7:14-15)
“While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and ‘sinners’ came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and “sinners”?’ On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.'” (Matthew 9:10-13)
“Peter replied… ‘I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.’ The voice [from heaven] spoke to him a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean’ … Talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. He said to them: ‘You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean'” (Acts 10:14b-15, 27-28)
Something needed to happen, to fundamentally change in order for God’s salvation to be accessible to all. That change was Jesus’ death on the cross, and the radical part is this: He worked salvation for us outside the camp. He went around the stodgy religious traditions of His day, choosing to be seen as an outcast, rather than as the King he really was. Furthermore, He decided that His redeeming work would be done in such a way that it would be available to EVERYONE, not just the “chosen ones” who fit into the pretty, polite religious community. Then He went even further, not only showing the way by His example, but instructing His followers to do the same (“He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.'” Mark 16:15).
Now here’s the real question… are we willing to go “outside the camp” ourselves?
Think about it like this. Are we willing to live lives that don’t make sense to those around us, that set us apart and mark us as outcasts, in order to obey the will of the Father, or are we more concerned about “fitting in” and being accepted by the world? Are we willing to “bear the disgrace He bore” in order to really follow Him, or are we content to just “play church” on Sundays and try not to stand out too much the rest of the week?
“Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27) “Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” (John 15:20)
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” (Matthew 5:11)
Or think about it this way. Are we so concerned about keeping our churches nice and clean and respectable that we cast away people who don’t fit in to our mold of what “God’s chosen people” should look or act like? Do we spend our time making sure everything is perfect in our sanctuaries that we ignore the “sinners” who are dying to live? Have we so quickly forgotten of ourselves that that “I was blind but now I see!” (John 9:25b)
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” (Matthew 23:13)
Or think of it in yet another way. Do we focus so much on doing the right rituals and procedures that we think God wants, that we forget to go outside the camp and seek Jesus Himself? Do we get more satisfaction out of being good church-goers and being respectable to our fellow Christians that we refuse to go outside of our habit patterns to really follow Christ?
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence… You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Matthew 23:25, 27b-28)
No, no NO! May it never be! If we really are serious about following Jesus then we must be willing to break the mold, color outside the lines, and live beyond the box of “Churchianity” that we are so comfortable in. For our standards and values, it’s time we took a stand and said no to the compromises of the world, being bold and firm in our convictions that right is right and wrong is wrong and not worrying about the opinions of others. But we must balance this with a genuine love and openness to EVERY ONE of God’s children. This means skaters and preps and jocks and homosexuals and democrats and republicans and communists and libertarians and Muslims and Jews and atheists and even those harsh and judgmental souls who call themselves Christians but are too blinded by their own self-righteousness to see that they do more harm than good every time they open their mouth.
Think about it, are we so pious and perfect ourselves that we don’t hurt others by our words? Do we never sin and fail and stumble in our walk? Were we always saints, or were we once blind ourselves. Of course! We must go to the ones who are hungry and thirsty and show them the love and grace of the Lord Jesus, so that they can say they have “tasted that the Lord is good.” (1 Peter 2:3) This means we must learn to go to all those who are “outside the camp” and draw the distinction between what they do, and who they are. We must follow the example of Jesus, whose message was at the same time, “Go now and leave your life of sin”, and “Neither do I condemn you” (John 8:11). It is not our place to either condemn or judge our fellow man, or to say that “you’re ok, I’m ok” and ignore the reality of sin. It is simply our job to love and reach out and follow the example of Jesus in the name of the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Here’s the rub, the only way we can ever do the first two of these examples is by following the third. Move out from the stale safety of church business as usual, and go seek Jesus “in a solitary place”, outside the camp. “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing” (Hebrews 10:25a), but at the same time let us stop worrying about being good church-goers and start worrying about being good Christ-followers! We can get so wrapped up in wanting to do things to impress our fellow believers that we forget about pleasing our Lord. “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.” (Matthew 15:8-9, quoting Isaiah 29:13)
When we are more interested in the approval of Jesus than the applause of our peers; that’s when things get really exciting. It will usually mean stepping out in faith and doing things differently than the norm, but isn’t that what Jesus did Himself?
So to put it simply, how do we live “outside the camp”? First, “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29b), and be more concerned about personally seeking Jesus everywhere than we are about not “rocking the boat” of our church traditions. This doesn’t mean bucking authority or abandoning the family of God in a local church fellowship, but rather embracing the body while having the courage to not depend solely on religious habits to get us closer to God.
Second, we must learn to love and accept ALL the people that God brings across our path, showing them that while we may not agree with or condone their actions, we lovingly embrace them as people because God loves them just as much as He loves us, and it is only by His grace that we are any different (but NOT “better”) than they are.
Finally, when we can truly reach out and show God’s grace to everyone, no matter how different they are from us, then we will find the strength and courage to stand firmly for our own convictions and live bold lives of vibrant faith, not being swayed by the winds of either secular or church culture, but truly following Jesus and His Word, no matter the cost.
If we can do this, if we can learn to live outside the boundaries of stagnant security and comfortable compliance, then and only then will we find Him “outside the camp”, and once we have found Him there, it won’t take much to find Him and share Him everywhere else as well.