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Hebrews 13:9-16: Three More Reasons To Not Be Led Away

Our text this week is found in Hebrews 13:9-16. It says, “Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.


The main exhortation in this text is found in verse 9, ‘Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings...’. We have already looked at vv. 7-8 which are two exhortations that are intended to help us to not be led astray by strange doctrines.


The exhortation to ‘not be led away by diverse and strange teachings’ is also supported by the points that come after it.

  • Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened in grace…(9) A graceless heart cannot be freed from sin and it cannot produce a strong life which produces a mouth that is full of thanksgiving. (12:28, 13:15-16)

  • Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for we have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. (10) A graceless and faithless heart does not come to Christ for grace but instead they engage in religious pursuits that cannot impart grace. Amos 4:4-5 gives us a picture of this. We read, “Come to Bethel, and transgress; to Gilgal, and multiply transgression; bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three days; offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving of that which is leavened, and proclaim freewill offerings, publish them; for so you love to do, O people of Israel!

  • Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. (14) A faithless and graceless heart will look to the things of this world instead of looking to the kingdom that will not be shaken and to the King who is enthroned there.


The word ‘for’ shows up three times and these statements will make the three points that we will look at today. He says,

  • Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. (9)

  • We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. (10-11)

  • So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. (12-14)


These statements show that a believer has grace in the heart, a better altar, a better kingdom. Because of these three things our hearts can respond appropriately to verses 15-16, “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” We will discuss these verses more next week.


The first point that the author of Hebrews makes is to “not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them.” (9) A believer can be led away from Christ by many diverse and strange teachings.


When we come under the sway of these false teachings we begin to desert Christ (Galatians 1:6) We loose the blessedness and joy that we once enjoyed (Galatians 5:15-17). When we desert Christ we also begin to not walk in love towards God and His people (5:13-15).


The diverse and strange teachings that are spoken of in our text are teachings which are strange and foreign to Christ and His teachings. These are strange and diverse teachings that are contrary to scripture and to the apostolic teaching and the faith that was once and for all passed down to us. In this context these diverse and strange teachings have to do with external practices which give a false confidence and hope but they cannot produce grace in the heart. The teachings and the practices associated with these things have a form of godliness but they do not have any real power towards godliness (2 Timothy 3:5-7).


What is ‘good’ as it pertains to religion?


Good religion is that which provides grace to the heart. The London Baptist Confession says, “The elements of religious worship of God include reading the Scriptures, preaching and hearing the Word of God, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in our hearts to the LORD, as well as the administration of baptism and the Lord’s supper. They must be performed out of obedience to Him, with understanding, faith, reverence and godly fear.” (LBC 22)


Is it your desire this morning to worship God and receive grace in the heart through the hearing of the Word of God and obedience to it? Is your heart prepared by grace to have understanding, faith, reverence and godly fear?


These Jewish Christians were tempted to return to Judaism and to the religious practices of the Old Covenant. These external practices could not provide the internal grace that their hearts so desperately needed. These worshipers could offer countless sacrifices, tithes, prayers, do good deeds, and attend all the feast days but it would not be efficacious to the worshiper. They could go to the Temple and give to the priests sacrifices of sheep, goats, and bulls but these things would not make them right with the LORD.


We must ask ourselves,

  • How does this text apply to us?

  • Do we look to external things for confidence regarding our acceptance before the LORD?


If you were to ask so many people these questions they would point you to some external thing. They will say, “I prayed a prayer.  I attended church faithfully. I have been a good person.” These things are no different than a Jew who would say, “I offered my sacrifices, I attended the required feasts, I prayed often, I tithed from the first of my income, I performed all the required washings, etc.” We must ask ourselves, “Do I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?


It is easy to look at the church of Rome and see that they added many external things which they believed ‘provided grace’. Yet, we protestants can easily do the same. Many of us believe that our churches must have the right lighting and the right sounding worship songs to have a meaningful worship experience. The preacher must be hip, cool, eloquent, and entertaining. The author of Hebrews, however, reminds us that we must look to Christ and His message to have our hearts established in grace.


Point #2 we are told, “We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through His own blood.


Here the author of Hebrews is referring to the most important day on the Jewish calendar- Yom-Kippur (Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16). On that day the LORD commanded that two goats were to be brought before Him. The High Priest would lay his hands on one of the goats and then confess the sins of the people which represented that the sins of the people were being put upon the goat. Then someone would immediately take the goat away from the people into the wilderness. The other goat would be sacrificed and its blood would be offered in the Holy of Holies.


Unlike so many of the other sacrifices that were made throughout the year the goat that was sacrificed could not be eaten by the high priest, the Levitical priests or the people. On the Day of Atonement that animal was taken outside the Temple precinct and it would be thoroughly burned and consumed outside the camp.


There was no more significant day on the Jewish calendar than the Day of Atonement. This was such an important sacrifice that was being made for the sins of the people; and yet, not even the high priest could partake in that offering. The high priest was at the very top of the religious hierarchy but even he could partake in this sacrifice. Thus the author of Hebrews says, “...those who serve in the tent have no right to eat” of that sacrifice. (They cannot achieve eternal life through these things!)


The Christian, however, has ‘an altar from which those who serve in the tent have no right to eat’. What the high priest, the Levitical priests and the people of Israel could not do we can now partake in every day.


How do we do this? We do this through our faith in Christ (John 6:32-63). Let’s read John 6:53-58, “So Jesus said to them, truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise Him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.


Jesus says in John 6:47-48, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life.” Eternal life and participation in Christ is by faith. This is the privileged altar of all who will come to Christ outside the gate to be sanctified. When Jesus said these words so many people rejected it. (60) So many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him. (66). Only the 12 remained whom Jesus Himself had chosen (70).


Under Old Covenant the worshiper would take their offering to the priests and they would sacrifice that animal and sprinkle the blood of that sacrifice on the altar. After these things were done the priest and the people would take a portion of the meat from that animal and eat it. (This is clearly seen in the celebration of the Passover.)


You can imagine how comforting and assuring these things would be for those worshipers. They would think as they partook in these sacrifices that the LORD was near to them, that He had forgiven them, that their sins had been covered and they had been cleansed, and that they had peace with God. And yet, the author of Hebrews could not speak more clearly when he says that these things “have not benefited those devoted to them.”


What benefit did they think they were getting from all of this? Peace with God, Acceptance & Approval, Forgiveness, Salvation, Eternal Life, a Clear Conscience. However, these things did not benefit them! These things only come through faith in Christ.


The third point that the author of Hebrews says that those who wish to be sanctified in Christ must go outside the city and share in His reproach. We read, “Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.


A group of us are watching some lectures about Martin Luther. We have seen that as the LORD began to call Luther he felt compelled to defy his fathers wishes and drop out of law school to become a priest. This provoked Martin’s fathers anger and displeasure no little bit. Later Luther would be compelled to go outside the acceptable bounds of the church and of the Holy Roman Empire to fulfill his calling.


R.C. Sproul asks, “How could one man from an obscure town in Germany stand against the whole Roman Catholic Church alone, stand against the whole holy Roman Empire alone, and defy all these profound authorities without submitting? What drove him with such passion?” Luther was being called by God and given grace to ‘go outside the camp and bear the reproach’ of many.


How difficult, how impossible, it would be to go outside the camp and bear Christ’s reproach without the grace of God. It seems so hard, it is actually impossible, for us to abandon our fathers house and our inheritance in this world apart from the grace of God. The rich man in Mark 10 wanted to inherit eternal life but he would not give up his riches to follow after Jesus. When Jesus told him to do this we read that he was, “Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” (22) Jesus’ disciples asked, “Who then can be saved?” Then Jesus said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (26-27)


Psalm 45 is a love song about a princes who has to leave all that she has ever known to marry the King (the LORD). In that psalm we read these words, “Hear, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear: forget your people and your father’s house, and the king will desire your beauty.” (10)


As you read this psalm you wonder why verse 10 even needs to be there? Everything that has been said about the KING and His kingdom has been wonderful and desirable. And still it is only the grace of God that makes the princess’ heart break from her past, her family, her community and be married to the King. We begin to see this grace in Psalm 45:1-2 we read, “My heart overflows with a pleasing theme; I address my verses to the king; my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe. You are the most handsome of the sons of men; grace is poured upon your lips; therefore God has blessed you forever.” (1-2)


The queen leaves her father’s house and his ways even though the decision to leave seems to be a difficult one. On that journey to the new kingdom there are many dangers, trials and times of testings. However, with each step her heart is separated from her homeland and it is being joined to the new kingdom and to the King who lives there. By the time she reaches the gates of this majestic city her heart is experiencing the fullness of joy and gladness.


Is this not the same journey that every believer is called to embark upon? We may wonder how we can come out to Jesus and endure the loss of all things and the reproach of our former people? We do this by the grace of God.


All who make this journey soon find that there are others who are making this journey- the church. They are a greater blessing than all that we have left behind. (45:16) With every step out of the kingdom of our fathers we get closer to the kingdom to which we are heading. With each step we find that the scenery is nicer, the people are kinder, the justice and righteousness of this kingdom is all that we hoped it would be. In just a little while we will be led into the presence of the King where we will behold Him who is strong and majestic and Him who is full of righteousness, justice and meekness.


On this journey let us sing the stanza from the hymn ‘Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above’ these words, “Thus all my toilsome way along I sing aloud His praises, That men may hear the grateful song my voice unwearied raises. Be joyful in the Lord, my heart! Both soul and body bear your part: To God all praise and glory!


We have learned today that the choice to leave is easier to make than we thought if the heart has received grace, been sanctified unto the LORD and if we have been given the faith to come to Him. Because of these things we will express our gratitude by coming to Christ outside the gate and then “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” (15) As we come to communion this morning we look to Christ our King and we acknowledge His name with gratefulness and praise for all He has done for us.


I had asked this question earlier, Is it your desire this morning to worship God and receive grace in the heart through the hearing of the Word of God and obedience to it? Is your heart prepared by grace to have understanding, faith, reverence and godly fear? Let us then take a moment to prepare our hearts for communion so that we can receive much needed grace as we look to Christ as pilgrims, exiles and sojourners in this world.

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