How Might We Worship God?

Sermon Passage: Hebrews 13 (a focus on verses 9–15) | Preached to SGF | 2-21-2021 

By Peder Kling 

A Jumbled-Up Farewell? 

Today, we are beginning the last chapter in Hebrews. And, like many concluding chapters in our New Testaments, Hebrews closes with what seems to be a jumbled up list of final exhortations, or commands. I heard one minister describe the end of 1 Peter as “a stream of consciousness”. It almost feels that way, even here at the end of Hebrews, doesn’t it? It seems as if the author of Hebrews is closing up the letter with whatever pressing instructions he might have that comes to mind.

 

But if you look closely and categorize the various exhortations under different themes, there’s actually some really helpful stuff here to consider. 

 

Putting the Exhortations Together

I categorized these exhortations under three categories. And, we can put these categories together in a logical order that makes sense.

 

1. The first and most fundamental exhortation in this chapter is that we must press on to worship God through Jesus Christ. That's most clear in verses 9–15. Verse 15 brings us to the height of these verses when it says, "Therefore, through him let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God". All our worship must be sanctified (i.e., purified) by his sacrifice, offered "through him". Worship is not simply about Jesus in the sense that it seeks to worship Jesus; worship is about Jesus in the sense that only Jesus makes worship possible. So, that’s the thrust of the first kind of exhortation in these final words in Hebrews. That's going to be our focus today.

 

2.  The second kind of exhortation in this passage shows us one way we can keep our worship tied to Jesus, and thus sanctified/pure before God. In two places of this passage, we are called to imitate godly pastors who are committed to Christ, and submit ourselves to them. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way”, Isaiah tells us (53:6). Whether you like it or not, the Bible regards God’s people to be like stupid, wandering sheep who need a shepherd. Our chief shepherd is Christ—he is “the great shepherd of the sheep”, our passage reminds us in verse 20. He laid his life down for his sheep. But he also gives his sheep under-shepherds, pastors who are appointed and ordained by the Spirit through the church so that God’s people would keep their eyes on Jesus, and offer worship to God through him rather than through all the other ways our creative and fallen minds can think of. So, next week, we will look at that sort of exhortation in this chapter–we’ll address that hot-button question of spiritual authority in the church, and why it’s important for us as we desire to keep our worship pure and acceptable to God, through Christ Jesus.

 

3. The third kind exhortation is that, in this pure worship of God through Christ, we are to also have fruitful worship. We are to pursue “brotherly love” (v 1). Or, as verse 16 says, we are to “do good and share what [we] have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God”.  Whatever good we do in this life ought to be a sacrifice to God, an act of worship to him through Jesus Christ. Whether it’s loving your neighbor (verse 1), showing hospitality (verse 2), praying for and supporting the persecuted church (verses 3, 18, and 23), or you yourself being persecuted (verse 13), or keeping the marriage bed pure (verse 4)—whatever you do needs to an act of worship through Jesus Christ. You get done with a day of work, and you wonder if God is pleased with you work—what do you do? You offer your work to God through Christ’s sacrifice. You say to God, “God, I know I committed sins, and that my work to your glory today is tainted with all kinds of sins and impurities. My love fails and has false motives, I get prideful after I pray—but, be pleased to accept my work as a sacrifice to you through the purifying blood of Christ.” As 1 Corinthians 15:58 reminds us, “be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, because in the Lord your labor is not in vain”.

 

So, those are three kinds of exhortations that I see in this passage and how the build upon one another. That’s three sermons, right there. I just wanted to give you a heads up of where we are going as we close this study in Hebrews. File that away in your mind, let it help you understand the general thrust of this closing chapter.

 

Three Lessons on Offering Worship "Through Him"

So, today we are going to consider that first category of exhortation—we must press on to worship God through Jesus Christ, and why that is so important. Look specifically at verses 9–15, where this comes through the passage most clearly.

 

Heb 13:9 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. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. 11 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. 12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. 15 Therefore, through him let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.

 

There are three lessons in these verses which help us understand why proper worship through Jesus’s sacrifice is so important. I’ll just walk you through these three lessons one by one. 

 

The First Lesson on Worship: It Needs to be Sanctified

The first lesson we learn in this passage is that worship must be done through Jesus Christ’s work on the cross so that it would be sanctified and acceptable before God. That’s verse 12—it doesn’t get more clear than this. “Jesus suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.” 

 

Did you get that? Jesus suffered in order to sanctify the people—you and me—from our sins. He suffered to make youholy and acceptable before God. Without that sacrifice, you’re not holy or acceptable. We aren’t even talking about your worship at this point—we’re talking about you! But just so we get this understanding correctly, if you’re not sanctified and acceptable before God, your worship isn’t! Not even the best works you do before God are acceptable before him.

 

Yet Christ did suffer to sanctify us—and therefore, we can offer worship that is sanctified. That’s the logic in this passage. Since you’ve been sanctified Christ’s sacrifice, “therefore”, (jump ahead to verse 15), “through him let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God”. Do you see that? "Through him" let us offer praise—through him who sanctifies us for heaven, and therefore, our worship too.There isn’t even a glimmer of mankind or man’s worship that will ever be acceptable before God if it is not offered through Christ’s sacrifice. 

 

This really is the main point of the book of Hebrews, isn’t it? These are the concluding few paragraphs in this letter, so you might expect a concluding, summary statement that highlights the main message of the whole book. This is it—Christ Jesus was put to death as the sacrifice which finally and definitively made God’s people and their worship holy and acceptable. 

 

Worshipping Through Him "Who Sits in Heaven"

Think of a few of the high points in Hebrews that pertain to this matter. Hebrews 8:1–2 gives us a good summary statement on this matter—

 

Heb 8:1   The point in what we are saying [with all this discussion in Hebrews about Christ’s priestly ministry and sacrifice] is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 2 a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man.

 

So, the most important thing you need to know in all this priesthood and Jesus stuff that Hebrews talks about is this—Jesus is seated in heaven, and as he is seated, he is ministering to you. Now, why is that so important? “He’s seated in heaven”—what does that mean? Well we know from the opening statement in chapter 1 that “after making purification for sins, he sat down” in heaven. So, Jesus sitting down doesn’t mean he’s done working. It means he has dealt with sin. But then—there’s that detail about heaven that keeps popping up all over Hebrews. What does it mean that he sat down in heaven?  There’s a lot of talk in Hebrew about Christ ascending to heaven and sitting down. 

 

  • we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens (4:14)

  • it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. (7:26)

  • the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, (8:1) 

  • if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven (12:25)

 

So, he’s passed through the heavens, he’s a priest in heaven, his throne is there, and because he warns us about his wrath from heaven, we better listen to him.

 

But, chapter 9:24 gets to the heart of all this. You see, the OT priests mediated the worship of God’s people from earth, with earthly sacrifices that needed to be made every day, for every sin. They would enter the temple with the blood of bulls and goats, and they do their various rituals according to God’s instructions so that God’s wrath would be propitiated—turned away—for a moment. But then, there’s Jesus’s sacrifice. He didn’t enter the temple with his sacrifice. He entered heaven itself—in the immediate presence of God. Chapter 9, verse 24 says this—

 

Heb 9:24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things [the temple was just a copy—it was itself a barrier between God and man!], but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.

 

He entered God’s presence with the sacrifice of himself—his body and soul. A sacrifice that would bring our iniquities directly before God so that God would pour his wrath out upon them, and be satisfied in his justice. Jesus took that upon himself—but not in a temple. He took it to God’s immediate presence in glory itself, and being accepted, Christ sat down in heaven because sin was dealt with in heaven, the very presence of God.


So, the sacrifice that was offered for your sins was not offered to God in Jerusalem on mount calvary. The sacrifice was slain there, but it was brought to God in heaven, and accepted by God there, so that we who receive the benefits of that sacrifice might also be accepted in heaven, through Christ. 

 

Again, as verse 12 of our passage says, “Jesus suffered … in order to sanctify the people through his own blood”.  Sanctify means to make holy and set apart. We have been set apart to be a heavenly people. Our sacrifices and our worship go straight up God in heaven—not to some temple in Jerusalem or anywhere else. It’s a great privilege that we have in Christ, through his sacrifice. It’s why we can pray so boldly; it’s why we regard our worship services as a time of the week when heaven comes down and meets God’s people directly—or perhaps, we are brought up to God, as our worship ascends to him like a pleasing aroma. Last week’s passage in chapter 12 reminded us that we are worshipping with the saints who have gone before us—the great cloud of witnesses. Through this sacrifice that was made and accepted in heaven, we ourselves have come to “the heavenly Jerusalem, and to the innumerable angels in festal gathering… and to Jesus” himself whose blood speaks a word of God’s approval.

 

So, what this means, then, is that all our worship is brought to directly God in heaven, and accepted through Jesus Christ. One former pastor (Hughes Oliphant Old, in his bookWorship) writes that a fundamental principle of Christian worship is that 

 

"it should be done in the name of Christ (Col 3:17). We begin our worship as Christians by being baptized in his name (Acts 2:38). It is in his name that the congregation is assembled, remembering the promise that when two or three are gathered together in his name he is present with us (Matt 18:20). Jesus frequently taught his disciples to pray in his name (John 14:14; 15:16; 16:23)… To do something in someone’s name is to do it as the agent of someone else. It is to do something in the service to someone else. When we pray in the name of Christ, we are praying in his service; we are continuing the ministry of intercession that Jesus himself began on the cross."

 

This pastor then goes on to say that in the NT, preaching is done in the name of Christ, commands are given in the name of Christ, the giving of tithes and our good works are done in the name of Christ. Our fellowship is in his name—every part of our worship must be done in his name, lest it is left untouched by his blood and righteousness, and it remains exposed for what it is: unholy and defiled by our sin, and the curse we bear, exposed to God's consuming wrath.

 

Worship isn’t just offered to Jesus, it’s offered through Jesus. We must remember this. It will keep our worship humble, and it will keep us secure in God. We will never have to ask the question, “will God be pleased with our worship?”. We’ll never be left wondering, “should I have been doing something else, that God might be pleased with me?”. In 1 Corinthians 15:58, we are commended to "always abound in the Lord's work, knowing that in the Lord your labor [i.e., worship and service to him] is not in vain".  The blood of Christ is that sure-fire answer of assurance which says, “you are accepted”, even with your impurities. If you commit your ways to be done to him and through him, you will hear “well done good and faithful servant”, for you held fast to the confession of your faith—that Christ’s sacrifice is your most fundamental hope for acceptance before God.

 

So again, this is all coming from verses 12­–15. “Jesus suffered…in order to sanctify the people through his own blood”, then verse 15, “therefore let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God.”. His sacrifice makes us a people sanctified—or set apart—for heaven, and we must worship him through that same sacrifice. 

 

But I want to think about verse 12 a little more. In this verse, you have a reference to the two parts of OT offering for worship in the temple. First, there’s the preparation of the offering—the bull was prepared a certain way to be slain in a particular manner. This was not the offering. This was the preparation that God appointed to make the offering acceptable. The preparation comes first, then the offering. You prepare an offering a certain way that God approves of, so that you can present the offering. In verse 12, “Jesus suffered outside the gate”—that’s the preparation. He prepared his own body as a sacrifice, in a particular manner, “in order that” he might offer it as an offering which would “sanctify his people through his blood”. Do you see the reference to the preparation and the offering itself, there? 

 

So, how did Jesus prepare his body to be an acceptable offering for our sins? Well, for one, he prepared it by keeping it unstained through the 30 plus years of his life. He never sinned, so God was pleased with him. But this passage pulls out a different nuance that pertains to his preparation. Verse 10 begins to describe something that may seem strange to you—it pertains to the Levitical laws about priests eating the meat of animals that were sacrificed. Verses 10–12 tell us this,

 

10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. 11 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.

 

What’s going on here? On a typical day, priests were allowed to eat meat from certain sacrifices they offered—it was part of their reward from God for their service. But there was one sacrifice every year that could not be given to the priests for food. After the blood was poured out in the temple, and certain parts were burned on the altar, then the rest of the animal, with all its meat, would be thrown outside of the Israelite encampment, and burned. The whole animal was devoted to God, for God consume it. The sacrifice I’m talking about here is the annual sacrifice offered by the high priest for sins on the day of atonement. 

 

And our passage today connects this sacrifice for sins on the day of atonement with Jesus—and, the connection is awesome. The annual sacrifice for sins was burned and destroyed outside the camp—verse 12, “so also Jesus suffered outside the gate”. That’s how he prepared his body as a sacrifice. It was a sacrifice prepared just like the annual sacrifice for sins, because Christ intended to offer it to God for the sins of his people, to sanctify them and set them apart for heaven.

So, this brings us to the second lesson on our worship. Because Christ’s sacrifice was prepared outside the camp, the author commends us to follow him as we leave our loyalties to this world behind, and go to Golgatha. What this means, then, is that worship is done where Christ died—outside the camp.

The Second Lesson on Worship: It’s Done Outside the Camp (vv 14–16)

Look with me at verses 14­­–16. 

 

14 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 [you know, that city that you were sanctified and set apart for?]. 

 

Do you hear the call to Jesus in this passage? This is a call to “go to him”—where is he? “Outside the camp”. So, we’re supposed to go to him “outside the camp”. Now, what does that mean? Remember—Hebrews was originally addressed to Jews who wanted to be inside the camp. They wanted to be inside Jerusalem, offering their own sacrifices inside the camp, fulfilling the law on their own and bringing their own honor to themselves inside the camp. To leave the camp meant disgrace—excommunication from the community, the very disgrace Jesus endured. So to say it in a word—to go “outside the camp” in this exhortation means to leave the culture and the world as we know it, and to go to a place of reproach and persecution. 

 

Then, the author reminds his Jewish audience that leaving the camp for Jesus means you get a better camp—a better city and identity to look forward to. “For here we have no lasting city”, verse 14 says—Jerusalem didn’t last. And I’ll say for our purposes here—America won’t either. As our American culture becomes increasingly liberal and resistant toward Christianity, we need to recognize that to be a Christian is to leave American culture. To be a Christian is to leave the camp of America, and to bring shame upon yourself. That’s where we are—but, in doing so, you get an eternal city.

 

What’s astounding is what Hebrews says next. In the next verse (verse 15), we learn that our endurance through the reproach we receive outside the camp should be a an act of gratitude and worship. That’s why this is a lesson on worship, not just persecution. Look at verse 13–15 again.

 

13 let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. 15 Through him, then (i.e., therefore) let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praiseto God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” 

 

Do you see this? We are called to offer a sacrifice of praise outside the camp. Why? It’s the only offering we can bring to God, in light of what Jesus has done for us. The sin offering has already been prepared outside the camp, and offered to God in heaven. Jesus did that—he paved the path for us from Golgotha to glory, so that we might not fear anything when we leave the camp for that heavenly city we long for. He secured that city—he secured glory for us! So, we now have the freedom to identify with Jesus outside the camp and offer our own sacrifices to him—offerings of praise. Our verse describes them as praise offerings of fruit, not sin offerings of blood. “Let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name”. Fruit, not blood! That’s what you get to offer to God! Sweet, lovely fruit. Fruit like praise, love, joy, peace, patience and endurance through suffering, kindness, goodness, self-control—all growing out of gratitude to God for the freedom you have in Christ. 

 

I literally looked up every instance of the word “offering” in the NT this week, and the only kind of offerings Christians are to give deal with an offering of thanksgiving. That’s why Paul commands us to “give thanks always”—why?—"for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you”. That’s what the Christian life is all about. And, this means that when you go outside the camp by aligning your loyalties to Christ rather than the world, you turn that persecution into praise offerings to Jesus as you use your lips continually acknowledge his name as precious. 

 

So, to recap, our worship must be offered through Jesus Christ who sanctifies us and our worship; and it is done outside the camp where we will get persecuted. And lest we miss it—worship will bring persecution. We need to hear that in our day as pastors are getting fined and thrown in prison all around the world for holding worship services. And individual Christians are likewise being persecuted more and more because of their devotion to God’s ways. They’d rather worship God through their business or education, than to bow down to cultural agendas or pressures placed upon them. We worship outside the camp—and, it’s going to be visible. You’re devotion to God is going to make people uncomfortable, and they will think lesser of you for it. But, in that persecution and disgrace, we offer up sacrifices of praise to God because we have a heavenly city to look forward to.

 

Now, there’s one more lesson about worship in this passage which we haven’t talked about yet. Verse 9 gets at this in a beautiful way.

The Third Lesson on Worship: It Strengthens Us (verses 9–10)

Since worship is done outside the camp where we will be persecuted, we need strength. That’s the point of verses 9 and 10.

 

9 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. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat.

 

Now, this verse may sound strange. Why the contrast between grace and food? Again—this is an extrapolation of what I said earlier about the priests not being able to eat from the sacrifice made on the day of atonement. You see, in not allowing the priests to eat of this food, God was saying two things the priests on that day. First, he was saying that he needed the whole sacrifice so that sins might be forgiven. Forgiveness requires a great sacrifice. But I do think there was a second, perhaps implied, statement God was saying to the priests by not allowing them to eat of the sacrifice on the day of atonement. He was saying to them—“your food today is not physical; it’s spiritual. Its grace. Eat and drink forgiveness of sins. Feel the freedom of a guilty conscience lifted. Taste and see that the Lord is good! That’s your food today, on this special day of atonement. And, it will give you a strength far greater than any food might give you”. 

 

In other words, the priests were to find strength through their worship—in their gratitude to God as they experienced God’s word of forgiveness through their sacrifice. You may have noticed that this verse calls you to be strengthened by God’s grace—not by worship. But how do you get strengthened by God’s grace? You receive it, and respond to it with worship and gratitude. Does gratitude not strengthen a soul in anguish, perhaps even more than food? Worship God and be grateful to him for his grace and forgiveness, and so be strengthened.

 

Now, this raises the pastoral question: Do you regularly and diligently drink from the satisfying and eternal fountain of God’s forgiveness to you in Christ? Have you lifted yourself from the burden of identifying with this world—with your family situation, or your current struggle, or your job? You have an identity of forgiveness and acceptance before God to lay hold of! And, in that forgiveness, you have every other blessing which the eternal and omnipotent God has for his people. “For all the promises [and blessings] of God find their Yes in him.”, 2 Corinthians 1:20. Because Christ made us right with God, we can claim all the promises God has made to his people—promises for strength, protection, security, hope, and wisdom.

 

“Do not be afraid, for I am with you. Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” 

 

That’s what God says to his people in Isaiah 41:10. That’s true for you in Christ, today. And it is an act of worship for you to receive it—how could you not worship God with gratitude and joy in response to that sort of promise, and that strength from God when he is pleased to give it to you? 

 

Conclusion

So today, we focused in on what it means to worship God through Jesus Christ—and, why it’s so important. We’ve also seen that worshipping God is something we do outside the camp. We have to leave all loyalties to this world behind, and follow Christ to a place of shame and mockery so that we might receive his grace and offer our own sacrifice of praise to him. Lastly, we would do well to recognize that worshipping God strengthens us as we draw near to him for grace. So, do not neglect your chief duty—to worship God and enjoy him forever, through Jesus Christ, in everything you do.

 

Next week, Lord willing, we will consider one way we keep this worship pure before God—through submission to spiritual authorities.