Immaculate. Astonishing. Pristine. Breathtaking. Probably no adjective could capture the grandeur of Solomon’s Temple, particularly to the people of ancient Israel. It was a masterpiece, the apple of the nation’s eye. No wonder the prophet Jeremiah wrote an entire book lamenting its destruction (what we know as Lamentations). Not only was the Temple a work of architectural art, but it was also the heart of the Jewish sacrificial system. Thousands upon thousands of goats, calves, bulls, and goats were slain as pictures of the coming Messiah. With such stark symbolism, it’s perhaps a bit surprising that the crucifixion of Christ did not take place on the Temple Mount. Surely God could have providentially allowed for that to happen. But He didn’t.
The writer of Hebrews tells us the Jesus “suffered outside the gate,” where “the bodies of the animals whose blood was brought into the holy place” were burned (13:11-12). Jesus’ great atoning sacrifice took place not in the Temple, where sacrifices and offerings were made for hundreds of years; but where their carcasses were disposed of. Why would God have chosen for His Son to die, not on the most hallowed ground of the Promised Land, but where carrion was burned? Several times throughout Hebrews, the writer has reminded his readers that the Temple, despite its splendor, wasn’t the substance but the shadow. “Don’t be too attached,” he says. “Jesus is better than all of that.”
Now, in his closing instructions, he tells them, “Let us go out to [Jesus] outside the camp, bearing His reproach.” But that’s not all—surprisingly, the author also tells his readers that outside the gates they’re to offer sacrifices. I suspect that this would have surprised the original audience: “Sacrifices? But you said they weren’t doing anything anyway! I thought Jesus’ sacrifice was a once-for-all deal! Make up your mind!” The author explains. These aren’t the same offerings your forefathers made—bulls, goats, rams. These are sacrifices of a heart changed by that once-for-all sacrifice at Calvary. Without that sacrifice to take away sins, these sacrifices are worthless too. These please God, Jesus appeased Him.
The author actually mentions three of these heart-sacrifices, but I’ll comment on just the first: the sacrifice of praise to God. Let’s look at the full verse:
“Through Him, then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” (13:15).
First, of all, we learn that this sacrifice is through Jesus. Whether it’s in the form of a check in the offering plate or our very bodies, every offering we bring to God is only ever because of Jesus. We don’t give anything to God because it will earn us favor with Him. That favor was already purchased by Christ. The entire book of Hebrews is a thesis proving Jesus’ superiority as our Great High Priest, the one who offers the sacrifice, is the sacrifice, and has ended all sacrifices for sin. One job of priests, however, is to act as mediator between the people and God. Through Christ, our Great High Priest, we can draw near to God with confidence (Heb. 4:16) and offer this sacrifice.
Second, we see that this is an ongoing sacrifice. It’s not a yearly offering, not a monthly offering, or even a daily offering. It’s a continual offering. It must not stop. That means that eating or drinking, resting or working, scrolling or trolling, we are to be making this sacrifice. “How could I ever do that?” you wonder. Remember, this is done through Christ. Because our hearts have been changed and we are united with Him, our hearts and our lips can offer continual praise.
Next, we see that this is a sacrifice of praise. Those two ideas seem at odds with one another. I’m not typically too keen on any type of sacrifice. It’s painful. (If it isn’t, it probably wasn’t much of a sacrifice in the first place.) Praise, however, connotes joy, thanksgiving, rejoicing. So, how is my praise a sacrifice? If I am praising God, then I’m obviously not praising something else—namely myself. When my heart is bubbling over with gratitude, I am choosing not to indulge in self-congratulations. Boasting is jettisoned. Ego is stymied. My glory means nothing. God’s glory means everything. So, there is an element of sacrifice wrapped up in thanksgiving. I have to give up all claim to honor to make this sacrifice. That’s certainly not something I can do on my own. That’s why it must be offered through our Great High Priest.
Finally, we learn that this sacrifice is fruit. That means that it’s a harvest of what has formerly been sown. I have an apple tree in my yard, but I would never pick a single apple if someone hadn’t planted that tree years ago. Likewise, no farmer would ever reap a single ear of corn or stalk of wheat without first planting the seed in the ground. In the same way, gratitude to God is the harvest of a heart that’s been changed by our Savior’s sacrifice on the cross. When I accepted that sacrifice and traded in my heart of rebellious stone for a heart of flesh on which God would write His very Word, the seed was planted. However, you know as well as I, gratitude doesn’t just come. It’s a seed that must be lovingly cultivated, watered, fertilized, and weeded. Right now, one branch of our apple tree has been overtaken by moths. They have spun a web around the whole thing with their larva cocooned inside with the fruit. Yes, there are apples there, but they’re revolting, diseased, and worthless. Left to its own devices, the fruit of my heart will be like those apples: infected with pride, complaining, criticism, and cynicism.
Just one verse before we learn about the sacrifice of praise, the writer, having told his readers to go outside the camp, tells them that right now we don’t have a city that will last, but we’re looking for one that will. That’s a major theme throughout the epistle, and it helps us again here. When my heart is fixed on that city “whose Architect and Builder is God” (11:10), a thankful heart is cultivated. When my heart is anchored to the Reward of a Kingdom that cannot be shaken (12:28), gratitude is watered. And when the eyes of my heart are fixed on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of the faith (12:2), weeds are pulled up, the harvest of praise ready to appear.
So, let’s go outside the gates of the Temple to the cross where the once-for-all sacrifice was made, and through our great God and Savior continually offer up a sacrifice of praise!