Outside the Camp, from Roy Hession
Jesus says from the Cross, “See here your own condition by the shame I had to undergo for you.” If the moment the Holy One took our place and bore our sins He was condemned of the Father, and left derelict in the hour of His sufferings, what must our true condition be to occasion so severe an act of judgment!
The Bible says He was made in “the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom.8:3), which means that He was there as an effigy of us. But if the moment He became that effigy, He had to cry, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46), what must God see us to be? It is plain that God was not forsaking the Son as the Son. He was forsaking the Son as us, whose likeness He was wearing. What is done to an effigy is always regarded as done to the one it represents. That derelict figure suffering under the wrath of God is ourselves, at our best as well as at our worst. There for all to see is the naked truth about the whole lot of us, Christian and non Christian alike. If I cannot read God’s estimate of man anywhere else, I can read it there. In very deed, truth, painful and humbling, has come by Jesus Christ, enough to shatter all our vain illusions about ourselves.
However, not only has the truth about ourselves come by Jesus Christ but also the truth about God and His love towards us. Left to ourselves, our guilty consciences only tell us that God is against us, that He is the God with the big stick. We see Him only as the One who sets the moral standards for us, most of them impossibly high, and therefore who cannot but censure us when we fail. There is nothing to draw us to a God like that. But the Cross of the Lord Jesus gives the lie to all this and shows us God as He really is. We see Him, not charging us with our sins, as we would
have thought, but charging them to His Son for our sakes. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them” (2 Cor. 5:19). What we thought was the big stick was really His outstretched arm of love beckoning us back to Himself. In the face of Jesus Christ, marred for us, we see that God is not against the sinner, but for him; that He is not his enemy, but His Friend; that in Christ He has not set new and unattainable standards, but has come to offer forgiveness, peace, and new life to those who have fallen down on every standard there is. “The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” !is is what one writer has called “the surprising generosity of the Cross.” It not only surprises our guilty consciences but also melts and draws us, impelling us to return to Him in honesty and repentance, knowing that nothing but mercy is waiting for us.
There are no illustrations of spiritual truth like Old Testament ones; its ritual and history abound in them. Indeed, much of the ritual was instituted only to be an illustration of later New Testament truth. And we must not be thought fanciful in taking up such illustrations and using them, for the New Testament itself does so in a number of instances.
One such Old Testament illustration which the New Testament uses to show us the Lord Jesus is that contained in the Epistle to the Hebrews 13:11-13. “The bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach.”
What would the picture of “without the camp” mean to the Hebrew Christians to whom the apostle Paul was writing? They would be taken back in imagination to the days when their nation was in the wilderness. They would visualize that great, orderly encampment, with the sacred tabernacle in the centre of it. Around the well defined encampment they would visualise a no man’s land, known to all as “outside the camp,” and that place would be associated in their minds
with certain classes of people.
Outside the camp was where the foreigners had to live; those who were “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise” (Eph. 2:12). Such were not permitted normally to live within the camp. Outside the camp, too, were the lepers. Because of the contagious nature of that terrible disease, they were banished from the camp, uncared for and excluded from all the delights open to others. It was also the dread place of execution for law breakers and criminals. According to the law of Moses, the death penalty was to be imposed on
adulterers, sabbath breakers, idolaters and murderers by stoning, and outside the camp was where that took place.
In this passage, however, the apostle tells us what is perhaps the most gruesome detail of the place. It was the place where the bodies of those beasts whose blood had been sprinkled in the Holy Place for sin were burnt on the refuse heap. The body which had had symbolically placed upon it the sins of the offerer was burnt as so much sin cursed refuse, utterly abhorrent to both God and man. Day after day without the camp the smoke was going up, and the place was pervaded by the stench of it.
In all, that region outside the camp was not a pleasant place. It was the place of foreigners, lepers, criminals, and sin cursed refuse — a place to be avoided. Yet the Scripture tells us that it was the spiritual counterpart of that place outside the camp that the Lord Jesus went forth, bearing His Cross, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood. The actual place where He was crucified has a name as gaunt and grim as the associations connected with outside the camp of old — “a place of a skull” (Matt. 27:33). But the Gospel tells us that the place He went to was our place, and how glibly we often say, “He took my place!” But when we consider the place He actually had to take for us we get a shock, for it is then we see, as perhaps we can in no other way, what our true Place is, and what our true character is before God.
First of all, then, He went for us to the place where He was a stranger, even to His Father, the place of God-forsakenness. Hanging there on the Cross, He cried, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken Me?” Sin in its beginnings is the sinner forsaking God, but in its ultimate penalty it is God forsaking the sinner, and that is hell. That was the place to which Jesus went on the Cross, the place where God forsook Him. And He did so because that was our place. Ours was the curse He bore. Ours was the God-forsakenness which He endured. The logic of it all is inescapable; if the moment He took our place God forsook Him, what must our true place be before God? What truth shines from Calvary as to our dreadful condition before God!
Then, He went forth and took the place for us of a moral leper, as if He were one Himself. Indeed, that is inferred in the Scripture, “We did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted” (Isa. 53:4). Hebrew scholars suggest that the word “stricken” has the meaning of being stricken with the plague of leprosy. All through the Bible leprosy is an illustration of sin. It is a subtle disease. Beginning in a small way with only mild symptoms, it ends up as a ravaging monster, rendering the sufferer loathsome to the eye and bringing him to death. Sin, in its inception in our lives, may appear small, but in its culmination it is something utterly loathsome to both God and man, bringing the sinner to eternal separation from God. What contempt there is in the phrase “moral leper” when we refer it to another man! That was just the place the Lord Jesus was willing to take for us, that of a moral leper, loathsome to the eye of God. You ask, Why did He take so low a place? The answer is, He did so because He saw us to be just that, and He had to take that place if He was to save us. Therefore, Jesus hanging on the Cross outside the camp as a moral leper, is a declaration of my condition. If I did not know I was one in any other way I would know it by contemplating the place that Jesus had to take for me. What impurities, immoralities, and perversions stain so many lives today, yet are so carefully hidden away! But there, it is openly declared on the Cross before all men by the very place that Jesus took for us! And although we may think that these things may not have come to fruition in us as they have in others, Calvary declares that they are in us in essence and in embryo none the less.
Then, too, He went to the spiritual counterpart of that place where the criminals were stoned. “If He were not a malefactor,” said the Jews to Pilate, “we would not have delivered Him up unto thee” ( John 18:30). Jesus did not die on a bed, about which there is nothing disgraceful; He died on a Cross, and a Cross was a punishment about which there was a peculiar disgrace, for it was reserved only for criminals. Indeed, there was a criminal on either side of Him, and everybody thought that He must be one, too. They “did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted,” because of something that He must have done, and they “hid as it were their faces from Him.” And the astonishing thing is that He never disabused them. He did not say, as we would have done, “Please, oh please, do not think that I am here for anything I have done –I am here for other people’s sins.” Instead, He kept silent. He was willing to let them think He really was a criminal. He was willing to be “numbered with the transgressors” (Isa. 53:12) and to die as such, just
because He saw that that was our place, and He was willing to take it for us. The Bible certainly tells us that in essence we are all criminals in God’s sight. “Whosoever hateth his brother,” it says, “is a murderer” (1 John 3:15). Anything that is not true love for my brother is hate, and hate is murder. Again we read, “Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matt. 5:28). God says that the lustful thought is the same in His sight as the actual deed. But even if the Bible did not say any of these things about us, we would still know they are true, and our guilt would be evident to the world, for at Calvary that fact is openly declared by Jesus dying for us.
Supremely, however, Jesus was led forth without the camp in the same way that the bodies of the sacrificial beasts were taken to be burnt, as so much sin cursed refuse. No words can describe the moral depths which Jesus plumbed for us on the Cross. It is not too much to say that He was dying there as so much sin-cursed refuse, and only because sin-cursed refuse is what we are seen to be in God’s sight. There the smoke and stench of our sin went up from His blessed body. You and I may give one another the impression of being earnest, godly Christians, but before the Cross we have to admit that we are not that sort of person at all. At Calvary the naked truth is staring down at us
all the time from the Cross, challenging us to drop the pose and own the truth. This, then, is what Calvary shows us to be.
These are not just pictures of what we were, but of what we still are, apart from Him. No matter how long we have been Christians, nor how mature we think we have become, Calvary has something fresh to show us of sin today. For sin is like an octopus. Its tentacles are everywhere. It has a thousand lives and a thousand shapes, and by perpetually changing its shape it eludes capture. If we are to see sin in all its subtle shapes and forms, and prove the power of Jesus to save us from it, we need to pray daily:
Keep me broken, keep me watching at the Cross where thou hast died.
For only there do we know our need as sinners, and therefore of Jesus.
From We Would See Jesus, ch. 4.