Our religion involves a lot of ritual foods, including the ceremony that Christians refer to as the Eucharist, but the writer of the book of Hebrews warns his readers to steer away from sacramental interpretations of ceremonial foods. This discussion of Hebrews 13:9-14 brings the central conflict behind the epistle into sharp focus.
Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited. We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.
–Hebrews 13:9-14 (NASB)
I have no idea what happened to sermon forty-four. It’s not in the list at the Beth Immanuel website. We seem to be missing the previous week’s sermon which probably covered Hebrews 13:1-8. I guess we’ll have to live without it.
But Lancaster says something compelling about today’s sermon. He says that the whole summation of the entire epistle can be found in these verses. Really?
However, we have to be willing to accept some speculation on his part about the meaning of the “varied and strange teachings”. There’s no way to know for sure what they really were, but Lancaster has a theory. The thinks that these strange teachings were some odd, mystical interpretation about the meaning of the sacrifices, particularly the peace and sin offerings, which are the only ones that were eaten.
Lancaster guesses that some teachings were being circulated, probably by the Sadducees who were in control of the Temple, stating that unless the priest actually eats of the sacrificial portion in the presence of the person making the offering, the offering was ineffective. Or unless the sin offering were completely burned, the sins were not forgiven.
Again, this is pure guesswork on Lancaster’s part, but I thought it sounded sort of like the following:
“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.’ You fools and blind men! Which is more important, the gold or the temple that sanctified the gold? And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the offering on it, he is obligated.’ You blind men, which is more important, the offering, or the altar that sanctifies the offering? Therefore, whoever swears by the altar, swears both by the altar and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it. And whoever swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it.”
Swearing by the Temple vs. swearing by the gold in the Temple; yeah, that sounds like a strange and diverse teaching, too. Lancaster believes the writer of the Hebrews letter was saying that the priesthood was circulating strange teachings about the animal sacrifices indicating they meant far more than they actually did. This was an attempt to pile on more pressure, since the readers of the letter, the Greek-speaking believing Jews, had been exiled from the Temple, the priesthood, and the sacrifices. If these Jews thought that not offering sacrifices meant, on some mystic level, that they were exiled from God, they might actually abandon faith in Messiah for the sake of offering korban.
Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited.
But God’s grace and favor doesn’t come from “mystic food”, it comes from faith.
Lancaster offered the example of the Catholic Church from the Middle Ages to the present. Even in the present-day Catholic Church, the Church can refuse to offer the sacrament of the eucharist, Holy Communion, to a Catholic who has gone against church teaching, perhaps by supporting abortion rights for example. It is a terrible shame to be excommunicated and many Catholics are successfully manipulated by the pressure to at least publicly change their beliefs so they can regain access to Communion.
This is sort of how Lancaster sees what the Jewish letter readers were going through.
Except, like the eucharist, the sacrifices are not “magic food”. Simply offering and eating doesn’t impart or remove God’s grace and blessing apart from the believer’s faith and devotion to God. Verse 9 says the heart is strengthened by grace, not food. It also says that if eating the “magic food” was so effective, how come the corrupt priesthood of Sadducees was still so wicked?
We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat.
This verse could be one of the proof texts used by the early Catholic Church to justify the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion as a sacrament that replaced the Temple sacrifices (and no doubt more than a few Protestants also believe this). The people who have no right to eat of the sacrament, in this scenario, are the Jews, unless they convert to Christianity.
Lancaster’s take is different from the traditional Christian interpretation, and follows along with what he’s taught about the rest of the epistle. He’s saying that the earthly Temple is a reflection of the Heavenly Temple, and that the Heavenly altar has “food” that those who serve in the tabernacle, that is, the earthly priesthood, have no right to eat, not because they’re priests or Jews, but because of their wicked hearts and actions.
The next several verses metaphorically compare the national sin offering to the Messiah’s death.
For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. herefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach.
The blood of the sin offering was to be taken outside the camp which in those days was outside the walls of Jerusalem. This is where the Master was executed, outside the city walls. The letter writer says that we too should be willing to share in the Master’s reproach, for just like he was, they also have been rejected from the larger community, like lepers, ostracized, seemingly abandoned. But if they are worthy of the Messiah, then they would be willing to suffer, even to the death, for the sake of their faith and the promise of the Messianic Age to come.
What Did I Learn?
I would have missed most of those details, but by now, I’ve stopped reading the parts of Hebrews not covered by the sermons I’ve heard and I’ve been willing to listen to Lancaster’s explanation first. That’s probably a fault of mine, and in retrospect, I should have read ahead to see if what I’ve learned so far could help me in anticipating what comes next.
Be that as it may, I wouldn’t have gotten the comparison of “magic” sacrificial food to the eucharist and the artificial manufacture of a sacramental system created to replace the Temple practices. The sacrament of Holy Communion also requires a priesthood, so you can see how the earliest foundations of the Church were predicated on replacement theology or supersessionism. And even though the Protestant church doesn’t emphasize the necessity of frequent taking of the eucharist, they haven’t done away with it either, accepting the fundamental underpinning the Catholics established, that the wine and the wafer mean something, and that a Christian cannot be complete without accepting Communion.
Lancaster made another point, a big one, that really spoke to me. He compared Messianic Jews and Messianic Gentiles to those put “outside the camp”. He compared us to the readers of the Hebrews epistle. Those of us who identify with the Messianic Movement are largely to completely rejected by both mainstream religious Judaism and mainstream Christianity in all its denominations.
Judaism not only rejects those Jews who accept the revelation of Yeshua as Messiah, but absolutely rejects the Gentiles who have come alongside Israel through faith in Messiah. Of course this is also true of the Church. I know what it’s like to maintain a Messianic theological and doctrinal framework within a local church environment. Everyone was nice and friendly and accepting of me but not of most of what I had to say. And for the Messianic Jew, the Church has no problems with that person as long as they convert to Christianity and surrender any form of Jewish practice beyond a token Passover seder or maybe building the occasional sukkah.
Lancaster states that Messianic Judaism is based on a completely different set of theological assumptions than Christianity. But it’s a set of foundations that he believes are correct, and in fact, represent a major “course correction” in the deviated trajectory Christianity has charted over the past nearly two-thousand years.
If the foundation of Christianity is “out of whack,” the only recourse is to tear down the structure and rebuild it from the ground up. That’s pretty radical talk, and I can’t imagine too many Christians who would quietly accept such words.
Lancaster was quick to point out that he feels brotherhood with all Christians as fellow disciples of Messiah, but on an institutional level, he has little in common with them.
So if we are reviled and rejected by Jews or Christians for our beliefs, perhaps we are partaking in the Master’s suffering in some small way, and bearing his reproach.
For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.
This is why we’re willing to suffer. Our hope isn’t in this world or the present institutional state of the Church. We are waiting for the city to come, “New Jerusalem,” if you will, the Messianic Age.
I should note that Lancaster believes the Hebrews letter writer didn’t know that Jerusalem would be leveled a few short years in the future, but the Holy Spirit knew, so portions of this letter, including the above-quoted verse, are prophetic. Once there was no Temple, the believing Jews could only turn to the Heavenly Temple and the Heavenly High Priest, Yeshua.
This is where our faith lies, not in Heaven but in the future Messianic Kingdom come to earth. The price we pay is to share in the trials, the reproach, and the rejection of the world around us including many or most religious institutions. But in that rejection, we must not give up our faith in our Master, lest we lose our reward in the world to come. Too many Messianic Gentiles have lost their faith in the Master and converted to Judaism as their “true love.”
Like Abraham, God sent us out from the accepted and the familiar into an unknown territory and requires that we accept a promise of what we can’t see or touch or hear (see Genesis 12:1-4). We endure difficulties today for the sake of the fulfillment of the future. It’s as if we are approaching the end of a Passover seder and we say symbolically, “Next Year in (Messianic) Jerusalem.”
I must say that listening to this particular sermon brought up some of the same issues I discussed in yesterday’s morning meditation. It’s difficult to discuss the theological and doctrinal differences between traditional Christians, Messianic Judaism, and Hebrew Roots without at least potentially stepping on someone’s toes. How do you say that you love your fellow brothers and sisters in the faith and yet also acknowledge some of the extreme differences in viewpoint?
Next week, I’ll write my review of the final sermon in Lancaster’s Holy Epistle to the Hebrews” series.