A long time ago, there was a popular praise song that we always used to sing; the lyrics in-part were “we bring a sacrifice of praise into the house of the LORD.” This is a reference to Hebrews 13:15, saying that we should continually offer such a sacrifice to God. This phrasing has always puzzled me. Because in my human mind, the word “sacrifice” always implied cost, or some kind of a victim. Often times we hear preachers say that in order for our praise and worship to mean anything to God, it has to “cost us something”, and this left me even more confused because it really wasn’t costing me anything to praise God – as a matter-of-fact I enjoyed praising Him! So did this then mean that my praise was worthless?
I struggled with this thought for many years, and it led me into a performance-driven, merit-centered mentality where I was trying to give something of value back to God, which I naturally assumed was my own works and efforts; my performance and law-keeping. However, this idea is not actually supported in scripture. In-fact the Bible is very descriptive regarding what the real sacrifice of praise is which we are to offer, and this is precisely what we will be studying today.
So let’s begin today by reading Hebrews 13:8-16:
“Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.
Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein.
We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle.
For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp.
Why Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate.
Let us go forth therefore to him without the camp, bearing his reproach.
For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.
By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.
But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”
Right in verse 8, we see something vital; something that is often quoted by legalistic pastors in a negative way: that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. They use this verse as a fear-inducing sledgehammer to try and scare people into keeping rules and obeying laws, yet we see that this verse is in a completely different context from that idea. The context here is faith, the truth of Christ, the reality of who you are in Him. It’s not about your performance, but about Jesus’ performance for you. That is exactly why verse 9 follows verse 8. Verse 9 says not to be carried about – in other words, don’t go running from one place to another, don’t jump around from here to there, searching after this “new truth” or that “amazing revelation” or whatever the hot topic of the day is; because many of those are diverse and strange doctrines. Many of them are counterfeit.
Do you know that the best way to tell a counterfeit dollar bill, is not to study the flaws in the various counterfeiting methods, but to actually study well the genuine bill. When people want to be able to tell the difference between a counterfeit piece of money and a genuine piece of money… the best way is to study the details of the genuine bill or coin. And likewise we are told what the genuine doctrine is here right in verse 9: for it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace… it is grace that is the foundation of everything! It is grace that establishes your heart and upholds you – because God is a God of Grace and this grace is the very grace of Jesus Christ. The Law was given by Moses but Grace and Truth came by Jesus Christ! (John 1:17)
Verse 9 then goes on to say that it’s good for your heart to be established with grace; not with meats that don’t profit those who are occupied with them. Here’s what that looks like… It is possible to know a lot of “meat” from the Bible; a lot of interesting facts, supposed deep truths, doctrinal positions and knowledge; it’s possible to have fed on all of these things – but still not have your heart established in the grace of Jesus Christ. You see, all of those other things won’t profit you, they will occupy you, they will take up your time, but they will not profit you. The only truth that matters here is grace… the truth of Jesus Christ. Anything else is a diverse and strange doctrine. It may have the appearance of meat, but it is rancid meat; it will not profit you.
We often judge people by their performance. We see someone serving in the church, and we see their “good works” and we assume that they are more spiritually enlightened; that they are on a higher status level, or that they are more holy… we think that they are offering better sacrifices. And so in verse 10 we see a contrast; a comparison is being made between the sacrifices offered by those which serve the tabernacle, and us. The verse says that we have an altar where they have no right to eat from. Now that’s a powerful statement! Back then, the tabernacle, the mishkan, the dwelling place was a physical tent where God dwelled. Under the Old Covenant, the priests, the Levites served the tabernacle according to the very specific laws, because that was were the presence of God was.
The people never gathered in the tabernacle, only the priests were permitted to enter. The sacrificial animals were offered in the outer court not in the tent of meeting, and people only ever gathered in the court under the open sky and in the open air.
Today in the New Covenant, God does not dwell in a physical building or structure. The tabernacle and temple of God today is not a building, but you are the tabernacle and temple of God. (1st Corinthians 3:16-17, 1st Corinthians 6:19, 2nd Corinthians 5:1, 2nd Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 2:19-22)
So verse 10 says here that we have a different altar, one that those who serve the earthly tabernacle do not have a right to eat at. Why? Verse 11 continues: Because those earthly sacrificial animals were burned outside in the courtyard and then their blood was brought inside the temple by the high priest for sins… remember that this is compared with Jesus; under the Old Covenant, these earthly, imperfect animal sacrifices were slaughtered and burned outside the tabernacle in the outer court, their earthly, imperfect blood was collected by the priest and brought into the sanctuary and offered to God.
In contrast verse 12 shows us how Jesus is a better offering, He also suffered outside the gate [of Jerusalem] that He might sanctify His people with His own blood. Unlike the earthly and imperfect bulls and goats offered by the earthly, imperfect priests at the earthly tabernacle; Jesus offers His divinely perfect self, and sheds His divinely perfect blood, which is able to fully sanctify His people – something which the old temple sacrifices could never achieve.
We then have verse 13, which is an encouragement for all those who come to the realization of what these verses are saying. Everyone who truly receives the Gospel of Grace in Christ will suffer ridicule and shame, even from those who should be their brothers and sisters in the faith. The Jewish believers here, the Hebrews, were being tempted to leave the Grace of Christ in favor of their traditions; they were being mocked and ridiculed by the Jewish community… their brothers and sisters. And that still happens today for believers in Christ. There is a backlash against the message of Grace – even within the church. There is a pull to return to works, to strive for a kind of pseudo-holiness based on the efforts and performance of man rather than the blood of Christ – which as we read here in this verse, is all we need for holiness. And as we stand in the Grace of Christ and resist such ideas, the mainstream Christian community will see us as heretics and many will ridicule us. Here though, we are encouraged to also go outside of the camp, bearing His reproach. This reproach is actually an encouragement, remember that Jesus said blessed are you when men revile you, persecute you and say all manner of evil against you for His sake (Matthew 5:11). The natural person who believes that they have some goodness in themselves and their own efforts, hates the Gospel of the Grace of God because it crushes their pride. And there are many of those people among the body of Christ today.
But rejoice, verse 14 gives you the best possible reason – we do not have an enduring city here and now, but one is coming.
Then we have verse 15, and it starts with the foundation: By Him therefore, and this needs to be absolutely clear that there is absolutely no other means by which to accomplish what this verse is saying than by Him, it is by Jesus, by His sacrifice, by His finished work, that we are able to continually offer the sacrifice of praise. It is the (definite article) sacrifice of praise. Jesus is the sacrifice, do you see it? He is the sacrifice of praise which we are to offer continually. He is the one on our altar. And how do we offer it? By our works? By our performance? No. With the fruit of our lips, giving thanks. My friend, if you truly want to offer a sacrifice to God today, it is not by your efforts, performance or law-keeping, it is by the fruit of your lips, simply say ”thank you.” to God. I promise you that He will love it!
Then in verse 16, we see But to do good and communicate, forget not. And this English phrasing no doubt has caused some confusion. The actual Greek word used for “do good” is eupoiia, which means to love that which is good, to adore it and embrace good – remembering of-course that the foundation is Christ Jesus. And the word “communicate” there is koinōnia which means to fellowship with… but not just fellowship, it means intimate, close fellowship – not the typical kind of fellowship that you find in most churches were people gather sing a few songs break off into little cliques and then go home… but close, personal fellowships, where people know and care about each other. It is close-communion… and very few people even know what that is like today.
The sacrifice of praise which we offer today is thankfulness to Christ, with our lips, simply saying thanks to God, meditating on His word (which in Hebrew is hagah meaning “say to yourself”). Remembering the truth of Christ and never letting it go. And this is the foundation upon which everything is built. (1st Corinthians 3:11)
And when you begin to wonder if such a “simple” word is acceptable enough to God, remember that every time that you express thanks and praise to God with your lips, you are testifying to the truth of Jesus Christ, you are offering the sweet aroma of His Son, because the Holy Spirit is who enables you to praise. Even unregenerated people can do works, and works cannot save or sanctify; but it is the Spirit that empowers us to worship (John 4:24)
So remain in the truth of Christ and offer the real sacrifice of praise… Jesus.