Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Outside the Gates

                Our women’s study group has reached the point in John’s gospel, where we look at the Cross of Jesus Christ. Last time our group met, we unpacked the trial and the scourging of our Lord together. Most of us could hardly speak, and we found ourselves awed and full of wonder at what our Lord and Savior took upon Himself for our sakes. This portion of our study, now leads us to the Cross, the place where our Lord took upon Himself willingly the sins of the whole world. This place of humiliation became glory, this place of shame became exalted, and this place of suffering became our peace and hope.

                As I began studying and reading the final verses of Chapter 19 this morning, one thing stuck out at me. I have read it before, but we all know that God’s Word is living and breathing, and no matter how many times we read it, it will always speak to us and teach us if we have open hearts to hear and receive His word.
                “And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, where they crucified Him, and two others with Him, one on either side, and Jesus in the center.” John 19:17-18 NKJV
                As I looked deeper into the meaning of Golgotha, I discovered that it was outside Jerusalem, it was not within the city walls. To get there you had to go through the Damascus gate. According to some commentators it contained a small garden, which John references in 19:41. It was also called Golgotha because some believed skulls of the condemned were left there, and it was known as being a public place of execution. There are many different commentators who say many different things about this place of Jesus’ death, but what or where it is exactly, is not the point. What I found interesting in my study was that it was outside the gates, it was outside the walls of Jerusalem.
     “For the bodies of these animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore, let us go forth to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach.” (Hebrews 13:11-13)  Jesus suffered outside the camp, outside the confines of Jerusalem. I see a picture here, a picture of what it means to be a Christian, what it means to be a believer. I see here that we too are supposed to go outside the gate.
                It saddens me when I see people hurt by the confines of religion. It hurts me when I see them being hurt, judged and condemned because they do not practice their faith the same way someone else does. When did our personal conscience and convictions begin to define our faith? Is not the sacrifice of Jesus Christ what is to define our faith? Is not His cross, His suffering, His blood to be the one common thing that we, as Christians, have in common? If this is the case, then why are so many “Christians” putting so many laws and traditions upon one another? Jesus suffered outside the gates. He suffered and died and was put to death for the sins of man, and He did it outside the confines of the Jewish religion. They rejected Him, they rebuked Him, they reviled Him, and yet He died for them.
                A few days ago a pastor posted a comment on one of the social media sites I belong to. He stated that we (as Christians) need to put away the denominations, the laws of our church organizations and come together as one Church in Christ. Too many times people are led to believe that they have to conform to what that particular church believes before they can come to Jesus. They are told to clean up before coming, or they are snubbed because they do not fit their idea of what one should be. If Jesus was willing to leave the religious leaders, if He was willing to go against the traditions and systems that man had put into place and die outside the camp, then why are we trying to bring Him back in?
                The comments that followed this pastor’s post shocked me. So many of his “brothers and sisters” in the Lord tore him down for his comment. Some outright denounced him and other pastors and what they believed. Some of them spoke ill towards other denominations, and dragged that denominations “traditions” into the mud. I was shocked because these were so called “Christians”. Did not Christ die once for all? Did Christ not willingly take the reproach of the religious and carry His cross outside the gate? Yes, He did. So why then are we as the Church trying to bring His sacrifice back into the confines of religion and tradition? What matters most to you when you meet someone new? What should matter is that they know Jesus. That’s it. Why is this so hard?
                I do believe (and this is my opinion) that we have put our personal convictions into our faith and made them “laws” for others to follow. If a homeless man, still drunk from the bottle of whiskey he drank came walking into your church, what would the response be from the congregation? What if a prostitute, just coming from her latest job walked into your church, what would your congregation do? Would you tell them to go and get cleaned up and then come back? Would you hug them, open your arms and ask them to sit beside you? Would you offer them food, would you offer them prayer? Would you offer them a place to stay until they could get back on their feet? Would you be willing to go outside the camp to show them Jesus, and what He did for them? Would you be willing to be the light of Christ, who suffered for them, died for them- all outside the camp?
                Unfortunately, and this saddens me, I think that the majority of churches today would turn their nose up, or “counsel” them on their behavior. Should we not let the sinner come to the sacrifice before we try to force them to eat of it? Should we not give them a chance to see Jesus for themselves before we put our personal convictions upon them? What would Jesus have done? He would have opened His arms wide, hugged them both and shown them the glory of His grace. Shouldn't we be doing the same?

               If Jesus was willing to leave the confines of the religious system and step outside the gates to suffer shame, reproach and humiliation, shouldn't we also? All that matters, all that should matter, is that a sinner has come to your church to know who this Jesus is. For whatever reason, for whatever motive, God has drawn them and they have walked through the doors to your sanctuary. What are you going to do now?
Jesus suffered outside the gates. He carried His cross, the burden of every sin ever committed and ever to be committed upon His back. He carried it, nailed it, paid for it and finished it- once for all. All, everyone, yes, even those who we turn our nose up at, or decide are not good enough to be in our clique. All means all, my brothers and sisters- all means all. Let us be people of God who are willing to go outside the camp, willing to bear one another’s burdens outside the gates and help sinners to the foot of the cross. Isn’t that what our lives are all about as Christians? To lead sinners to the cross of Jesus Christ and to show them the glory of His salvation as we live it out before them? If not, then what exactly are we doing?

                I pray today, that if you are searching for Christ, search outside the gates - outside the camp, outside the gates, outside where He waits for all to come to Him and proclaim His grace. May the Lord Jesus Christ open our hearts to sinners, for we are sinners too. Once for all He took it all- and that is all we need. Amen and Amen.