A good test of whether we are in fact a true disciple of Jesus Christ or not is found in times of opposition and persecution. When we are attacked for our public stance for Christ, how do we respond? Do we resolve to stand firm and endure the hostility, or do we back away and decide that being reproached for the faith is just too hard?
Jesus promised that his followers would face hardship, rejection and persecution. Jesus experienced this, as did the prophets and the disciples. It is the normal life of the Christian. But sadly we everywhere see professing believers preferring to receive the accolades of the world and the praise of men than to stick their necks out for Christ and bear the reproach and scorn that he endured.
Warnings against men pleasing are found throughout Scripture, and the choice is clear: to seek to please men will mean displeasing God, while seeking to please God will mean displeasing men. We must choose whom we will seek to curry favour with.
As Paul told the Thessalonians: “We speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority” (1 Thess. 2:4-6).
Preaching the gospel will always result in displeasing people. In Hebrews 12:2-3 we read about “fixing our eyes on Jesus”. He is “the pioneer and perfecter of faith” and is described in this fashion: “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
He put up with the scorn and the hostility of sinners as he performed his mission. We are to do the same. Indeed, in the very next chapter the author of Hebrews picks up this theme again. In Heb. 13:11-14 we find these words:
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. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.
As with the whole of this important New Testament book, we must know something of the Old Testament to fully appreciate the significance of this passage. A key OT text being appealed to here is Leviticus 16:27 which reads: “The bull and the goat for the sin offerings, whose blood was brought into the Most Holy Place to make atonement, must be taken outside the camp; their hides, flesh and intestines are to be burned up.”
The writer of this book has been stating repeatedly that Jesus is the ultimate Day of Atonement sacrifice. The Yom Kippur sacrifice and the sacrifice of Jesus both occur outside the city gate of Jerusalem. Verses 13-14 offer an application of this truth. As George Guthrie puts it:
Believers must reject the tempting security of Judaism and be resolute n their identification with Christ. Throughout the book the author has encouraged his audience to go into (“enter”) God’s “rest” (4:11) or the heavenly Most Holy Place (4:14–16; 6:19–20; 10:22). Now, however, he challenges the hearers to “go out.” The “camp” represents the religion of Judaism, grounded in the tabernacle rituals of the old covenant. For the listeners to turn their backs on Judaism will mean rejection and “disgrace,” such as that experienced by Christ.
Of course today believers do not have to worry very much about the reproach of Judaism, but the reproach of the world – and of carnal and compromised Christians – is a very real concern. To stand strong for Christ will make you not just unpopular but actively hated and reviled.
If this was true for Christ it will be true of his serious follower. Let me finish here with the sermon “Suffering outside the camp” delivered by C. H. Spurgeon on January 3, 1858. He speaks to this issue with his usual relish and passion. Here is part of that powerful sermon:
If I turn to the pages of history to find out the best men who ever lived, do you know where I find them? I never find them among those who were called, “respectable,” in their time. There, in the pages of history, I see great names— Erasmus and others, mighty and learned men—but, on a dirty-thumbed page, I see the name of Luther associated with such epithets as, “dog, adulterer, beast,”… And I say, “Ah, this is the man whom God chose, for he went outside the camp!” That list of great divines, of schoolmen and of theologians you may wipe out without much regret—but this man outside the camp—he is somebody, depend upon it! He is the man whom God has blessed!
Turn to another list of archbishops, bishops, deans, rural deans, rectors and curates. There they are, all as respectable as possible, and great volumes of their sermons may be found on bookshelves, nowadays, with the dust of years upon them! I read their names. There is one, there is another, there is another—but there is nothing special about any of them! At last, I find a picture by Hogarth—a caricature of a man preaching with devils coming out of his mouth, and underneath it written, “Fire and brimstone!” I look at the portrait and I say, “Look, that is Mr. Whitefield!” Ah, there is the man of the age, depend on it! That man, all black, charged with crimes that Sodom never knew—that is the man! Not the curate in the other picture who is preaching to a congregation all asleep—but this man, here, that is abused, that is laughed at, that is mocked—this is the man who is somebody!
So you may go on as long as you like and you shall always find that those “intruders into the ministry,” as some call them, those that the parliament of parsons dislikes, those that the great mass reject and laugh and scoff at—those are the very men whom God blesses! So, if you go outside the camp, you will be in very good company. The great and holy men of years gone by have all been put outside the camp. If an ungodly throng have thrust out our fathers and have said, “Get you gone, we want you not,” it is true—their children build their sepulchers and then they thrust us out. What if it is so? We are content to share the lot of so goodly a parentage! We think it a high honor to be thrust out of these gates whose only glory is that good men once passed through them, and whose great disgrace is that good men pass through them the wrong way—not into them, but out of them! So, Beloved, be you content to be cast outside the camp.
But mark, going outside the camp in itself is nothing—it is suffering outside the camp that is the great thing. Making myself different from everybody else is nothing—it is suffering for the Truth of God’s sake that is the truly noble thing! It is being crucified with Christ that is honorable! It is not my being a Sectarian or a Separatist. It is not your going outside the camp that is any good —it is your suffering outside the camp that proves you to be a Believer. O Christians, if you have to do the same, rejoice!
So are you being driven “outside the gate” as you stand for Christ? Are you experiencing rejection, opposition and hatred because you refuse to deny your Lord or water down the gospel? Then you are in very good company. Stand strong, and one day you will receive your commendation from Christ himself.