Outside the Camp
This is a surprisingly beautiful expression of God's love. But it sneaks up on you.
It starts out in the Old Testament with the sacrifices that happened on the Day of Atonement. That was the day when the priest brought a sacrifice into the Holy of Holies. It was to atone for the sins of the nation. The blood was placed on the Mercy Seat. It was blood shed in the place of every Israelite, a sacrifice of an innocent in place of the guilty. By this point you should be thinking, "That is about Jesus, the innocent spotless Lamb of God offering Himself for the sins of the world."
After the sprinkling of the blood the sacrifice was taken outside the camp to be burned. Because of carrying the sins, the sacrifice was not acceptable among the people of God. It was to be cast out and forsaken.
The Letter to the Hebrews talks about "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."' (Hebrews 13:11) Outside the camp is the place of banishment and forsakenness.
And then it makes this connection, "So Jesus also suffered outside the gate ..." (Hebrews 13:12) Jesus did not make His sacrifice in the temple, taking the place of being a clean and holy offering -- although He was. He was perfect in sinlesness. But He went "outside the camp" being made one with all that is unclean. It is the same astonishing theme. The Holy Son of God, stands with me, takes His place with me, identifies with me. That is why He could pray the prayer that belongs to sinners, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" "Outside the camp" -- it isn't the right place for Him, but it is the place He chose to be.
I needed Him to be there, because that was where I was, "outside the camp." That's where we have all been ever since Adam and Eve had to leave the garden. But Jesus comes to us in our separation, so that He can bring us back into communion with God. We have the Son of God going all the way into the furthest darkness of our lives. He takes the guilt, the judgment and the death, receiving from us what He does not deserve. And then He gives us His innocence, His righteousness and His life.
There is a hymn, "A Canaanite, She Comes to Pray". One of the verses reads:
"Outside the camp, He came to win,
My soul for God, And bring again,
Mankind into Communion,
Unraveling our twisted faith
In Satan's lies; Christ's faithful death
Has healed our separation." (Sung to the tune of "O Little Flock, Fear Not the Foe")
Jesus brings the truth to us once again. We have a loving and merciful God, who, when we had fallen into sin, did not abandon us. He came to bring forgiveness. And He came to put the lie to everything the devil has been peddling. God does not hate us. And He does not take away the joys and blessings of life. "God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16) And Jesus said, "I came that they might have life and have it abundantly." (John 10:10)
Jesus is the love of God revealed to us, so that we no longer fear the wrath of God. Instead we are called and warmed by His grace and mercy. We have a Savior who became the Sacrifice; and a Savior who Started our resurrection by rising from the dead Himself.
Lord Jesus, You came to my darkness and brought the light of life. You came to dispel all the lies that led me astray and speak Your life-giving truth into my soul. You came to pray my sinner's prayer and give me Your prayer. You came into my separation and brought me back to God. You came to face down hell and open the gates of heaven. You came into my curse and brought the blessings again. You came to share my death and bring me into Your Easter. How can I thank You dearest Friend for all Your grace and mercy. Help me to walk in the countless blessings You give, to rejoice in them and not take them for granted. Amen.
Rev. Mark Willig
Pastor Willig is pastor emeritus of Friends in Christ Lutheran Church.