“For we do not have an enduring city here; instead, we seek the one to come. Therefore, through him let us continually offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.”-Hebrews 13:14-15
Giving thanks is hard during difficult circumstances. We know this, even though our own current difficulties admittedly pale in comparison to those in other places and times. Still, 2020 has been a difficult year. How do we give thanks in times like these?
The dynamic of praise in poor times is a distinctive of Christianity. As we read in the book of Hebrews we find out that some in the original recipients had been imprisoned, some mocked, and some had their possessions confiscated (Heb. 10:32-34). They had not yet suffered martyrdom, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t coming (Heb. 12:4). They were steadily losing face in the eyes of their neighbors, coworkers, and family because of their faith in Jesus. Things were likely to get worse.
So why should they continually praise or give thanks to God? Why should we? We find some compelling reasons in the immediate context of verse 15:
1. Praise God because no amount of shame or suffering can undo our sanctification by Jesus.
One reason we are able to continue to praise God is because Jesus was crucified “outside the camp”—“Therefore, Jesus also suffered outside the gate, so that he might sanctify the people by his own blood” (Heb. 13:12). This imagery focuses on rejection and shame. Being outside the camp meant being shamed and unclean, but Jesus bore that shame to make us holy.
2. Praise God because Jesus redeems us despite rejection by the world. The author of Hebrews shockingly encourages his readers, “Let us then go to him outside the camp, bearing his disgrace” (Heb. 13:13). He urges us to willingly follow Christ potentially out of the camp of approval by our friends and neighbors. Being shamed by a segment of our culture is no reason to complain. To bear his shame is not only possible, it is necessary. But it is not defeat. We’re safe outside the camp because that’s where we’re with Christ.
3. Praise God because this isn’t our home. The author of Hebrews reminds us we do not have an enduring city here, but “we seek the one to come” (Heb. 13:14). We can endure marginalization or suffering because Jesus suffered outside the camp and was victorious. We look to the heavenly Jerusalem for encouragement, and that is an enduring city. It’s no fading promise; it’s the eternal city. Note that our reason for continued praise is not hope that our culture will come around. We need not seek satisfaction or vindication in our earthly cities, or be robbed of our praise when they fail.
In light of this faith-driven eschatological mindset, we can give thanks in terrible times. We can continually offer praise in spite of less than ideal circumstances or even tragic ones. Our great High Priest made the sacrifice, and he is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Reflecting on this concluding theme of praise in Hebrews, F. F. Bruce said,
“So in a day when everything that can be shaken is being shaken before our eyes and even beneath our feet, let us in our turn give thanks for the unshakable kingdom which we have inherited, which endures forever when everything else to which men and women may pin their hopes disappears and leaves not a wrack behind.”
It seems like a lot of things are shaking right now. Outside the camp we have a bullet-proof, recession-proof, pandemic-proof, election-proof, death-proof basis for continual thanksgiving and praise: Jesus’s sacrifice on our behalf. Let’s give thanks looking to the enduring city to come.