Generous Sacrifices: Hebrews 13:12-16 – Sermon from March 23, 2014

Note in this passage that those who identify themselves with Christ are not at home in the world, and so we should live in a way that is generous to God and generous to others. If what we have and where we live are not permanent, then we have no need to hold on to them tightly. Listen for that theme in this passage.

10 We have an altar from which the priests in the Tabernacle have no right to eat. 11 Under the old system, the high priest brought the blood of animals into the Holy Place as a sacrifice for sin, and the bodies of the animals were burned outside the camp. 12 So also Jesus suffered and died outside the city gates to make his people holy by means of his own blood. 13 So let us go out to him, outside the camp, and bear the disgrace he bore. 14 For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come. 15 Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name. 16 And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God. (Hebrews 13:10-16, NLT)

There are two sacrifices we are reminded to offer in response to our identification with Christ: proclamation sacrifice and sharing sacrifice.

Proclamation Sacrifice

One of the most profound revelations I encountered in studying this passage is that Jesus Christ is the worship leader in the church. This may not be new to you, but maybe this is a new way of thinking about it. Verse 15 says that through Jesus we offer a sacrifice of praise to God.

What does Hebrews 7:25 say about what Jesus does forever on our behalf?

…he [Jesus] is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.

Look also at Hebrews 2:11-12:

So now Jesus and the ones he makes holy have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters. For he said to God, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters. I will praise you among your assembled people.”

The only way we get to God is through Jesus, and Jesus is always interceding for us. Jesus is singing along with us! Not only that, Jesus is providing a way for us to praise God. Why is this such a big deal? Let’s look at the content of our proclamation…

What does it say in Hebrews 13:15? It says that we are to give thanks, or acknowledge or profess the name of God. What is really being said here is that our praise flows out of knowing God. When Scripture refers to someone’s name, it is usually encompassing all that makes up a person.

When we offer praise to God, we do it out of our knowledge of who He is. Implied here is a call to know God and out of that knowledge, through Jesus Christ, we praise Him. Proclamation sacrifice is not just the act of singing praise to God, but it also includes knowing God. This is not just knowing about God, it’s really knowing him.

Here’s an example. I love pie. The other day I was sitting in Country Cappuccino, and I overheard someone say that they really enjoyed the lemon meringue pie they just ate. In that moment, I knew that the pie was good. Why? Because someone said so. But, it’s not good enough to just hear that the pie is good. I want to experience the goodness of the pie. So, I did. I went and bought a piece of pie. I ate it. It was good. In fact, it was better than I expected. But, I unless I ate the pie, I would have never known just how good it was. And now that I have had a piece, I am overflowing with praise about how good that pie was.

You see? We can’t just know about God’s goodness. We need to taste it. Our praise of God will overflow out of the experience of God’s goodness, not just knowledge about God’s goodness, and not just out of our own experiences, but also the experiences of others. Let’s face it, if we base our praise of God only on our own experiences, we will fail to praise God continually, because our experiences are not continually good.

But if our praise is based on the goodness of God that we have tasted and seen within the community of his people, it will be continuous because God is always doing things in the community of his people that we can give him praise for, even if it is the hard things.

Let’s look at the second sacrifice mentioned in this passage…

Sharing Sacrifice

Imagine you are getting things packed up for a family vacation to Paris. Among the clothes, snacks and toiletries you pack, there is one thing you will not want to forget: your camera. Why is it that we feel the need to take pictures of our vacations? Think about it… if you want pictures of Paris, you can just go online and find millions of pictures, and the pictures you’ll find online will probably be much better quality than yours.

Most people would say that we take pictures because we want to remember our experiences. That’s true. But there is deeper reason, and this reason has become particularly evident in the last several years with the development and growth of online photo sharing networks. Prior to the development of digital cameras in the 90’s, approximately 2,500 photos were taken around the world per second. It is estimated that in 2011, we were taking about 11 thousand photos per second. By the fall of 2013, Facebook users had uploaded more than 250 billion photos to the site, and averaged about 350 million uploads per day, which is about 4000 photos each second. That is staggering!

Back to Paris. Why do we want to take pictures of Paris, when we can find millions of better pictures online? Here’s why: we love to share our experiences. God has created us to be sharing people. In fact, I’ve heard it said that no experience in life is complete until it has been shared with someone else. Of course, there are exceptions. But, it’s amazing how true it is! Think about the last time you saw a beautiful sunset. It is wonderful to just sit and watch the sun go down, but the experience is so much better when I can share it with someone else.

The desire to share, however, is different when we believe that sharing means losing. When we think that sharing something means giving it up, we tend to hold back. Although we are created as sharing people, our desire to share vanishes upon the realization that sharing may mean losing what we love.

Every parent here knows that when you buy a child a toy, that toy is usually only enjoyed for a short time… That is, until another child is found to be enjoying it. Isn’t it true? Why do you think that is? A toy can quickly become boring, but as soon as another child finds it to be fun and interesting, it suddenly becomes fun and interesting to every other child in the room. This is a natural inclination we all have toward wanting what other people are enjoying. The sin known in the Ten Commandments as covetousness is a distorted version of a God-given human characteristic we all have.

There is something to be had in the act of sharing that is far more valuable to the well-being of our souls than keeping a prized possession to ourselves. Think again about our children with the toys. When a child wants a toy that another child is enjoying, what he is really desiring is not the toy, but the joy that the other child has. This is why TV commercials rarely tell you about the products they are selling. Rather, they show you how much another person is enjoying their product. They sell you on the positive experience of using the product, not the actual product itself.

Back to Paris one more time. You are not taking pictures to show people where you’ve been. Everyone has seen pictures of the Eiffel Tower. You are taking pictures because you want to share the experience of being there.  When we are sharing our pictures, we are not doing it with hopes that others will see what we have seen, but to enjoy what we have enjoyed. The God-given desire we all have that has been distorted by sin is the desire to share what our hearts find most fulfilling. And, the desire to have what gives others deep fulfillment.

Let’s take a moment and reflect back to the first part of the message. I said that praising God flows up out of our tasting the goodness of God. Bring that idea into this current idea. Remember how our experience of God is finally fulfilled… By sharing our joy with God himself in the act of praise. It is also experienced by sharing our joy with others.

But, without Christ, we can’t do either. So, see how significant our identity with Christ is?

Verse 15 says that it is through Christ that we can praise God. It is only through Christ that we can experience the full joy of the goodness of God. Amazing! And it is through Christ’s Spirit that we can praise God together, not only through singing, but through sharing in the blessings he has given us.

This brings me to the main point of verse 16. Let’s look at it again:

…don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.

Every one of us has something to offer other people, even if it is something seemingly insignificant.  This passage is telling us to not forget to share what we have with others. This is good not only because it will benefit others, but because in our act of sharing, we find a greater fulfilment than if we keep things to ourselves. God made us to be sharing people.

There is also a hard part to this command. We are not only meant to share the positive experiences and gifts in life, but we are also meant to share in the difficult times and the burdens of life. Look at verse 13: “let us go out to him, outside the camp, and bear the disgrace he bore.”

Because we are identified with Christ as his followers, we must share in the shame that Christ experienced in his crucifixion. I’ve heard this same principle explained this way: when we have someone to share life with, our joys are increased and our burdens are decreased. This is usually stated in the context of a wedding, but I think it applies to the entire community of God’s people. We are meant to share our joys and burdens with one another, not in order to become more holy, but in order to have a deeper, more satisfying experience.

This message is kind of funny in a way. We all know that we are supposed to share; we learn this lesson as children. However, sometimes we need to hear a simple message, in a new way, so that this simple truth will grow deeper roots and bear more fruit in our lives together. I hope that is the case with this message.

I want to close by explaining how it’s possible to practice these acts of sacrifice. Because we all know that sacrifice is easier said than done.

The entire way of life for Christians is based on the fact that we are not permanent residents of earth. We have something better coming. Based on that, we really have nothing to lose on this planet. Verse 14 says that on earth we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.

Everything we are searching for on earth is ultimately found in heaven. We can have the strength to share in our joy and our pain, our celebrations and our burdens. We can empty ourselves of everything we have because we have something far better on the way.

While we are here, we share with one another our joy and our difficulties. We share our gifts, our abundance, and even what little we have. Not because we expect more in return here on earth, but because we have more than we can imagine coming our way when this life passes on and we make our move to our true home.

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