“These all died in faith, although they had not received the things that were promised. But they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth. Now those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they were thinking about where they came from, they would have had an opportunity to return. But they now desire a better place – a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
I enjoy traveling. We don’t do it often, but there’s just something exciting about going somewhere, especially somewhere new. Still, as much fun as it may be, the whole time I’m gone, I am surpassingly aware of one very important fact: I’m not at home. As a result, even though I will adapt some to whatever my current environment may be, I am only ever going to go so far. The reason for this is simple: I’m not staying long. I will eventually return home. For all the ways I may adapt, then, I don’t want to make myself less fit for home by the effort, so I will only ever go so far. Otherwise, I will intentionally stick out as I live with home in mind. This is, of course, a metaphor for our life in Christ. Let’s talk about it.
So far, we have seen the author of Hebrews recap the stories of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah. He will yet mention the names and stories of several more individuals which we’ll talk about over the next couple of weeks, Lord willing. Here, though, he pauses to offer a bit of a mid-stream summary. To each of these individuals we’ve looked at, God made pretty incredible promises about good and great things happening in the future. Well, we don’t know specifically about any promises that were made to Abel and Enoch, but we can lump them into the original commands and promises to Adam and Eve.
More importantly, each one of these individuals committed their lives in obedience to God in the midst of circumstances which did not lend themselves to supporting such faithful obedience. And they did all this in spite of the fact that they never saw the end of the promises they were made. Think about that one for a second. This fact is what makes the stories of these folks worth telling. It is why they are held up as paragons of faith by the author of Hebrews. These folks committed themselves to a path of faith because of the promises God made to them…and then they never saw those promises fulfilled in their lifetimes.
Think for a minute about the amount of patience that took. Think about the amount of faith that took. They were so convinced of the truthfulness of God’s promise that they were willing to commit their lives to something they never actually saw. Most of us have trouble waiting in line at the grocery store or getting stuck in traffic. Can you even imagine committing your entire life to something and then not seeing that thing happen? What would possess someone to do such a thing?
Let me suggest two things and then we’ll be done for today. One is from me; one is what the author of Hebrews highlights here. The first thing that enabled these folks (and others like them in the centuries since) to stay so committed to God’s commands over the long haul was their trust in this future promise. But that itself came from their understanding of His character. They were willing to trust in Him because they knew Him. Faith is living out a belief in something we cannot see on the word of someone we trust. Trust is a relational word. It is only built in the context of a relationship. These folks had incredible trust in God because they spent time getting to know Him. The more and better they came to know Him, the deeper and more robust their trust became. And the deeper and more robust their trust became, the more willing they were to lay their lives on the line for the promises He made to them. That’s faith in action.
The second thing is what the author points out here: These folks and others like them lived with their eyes set on something beyond the horizon of their individual lifetimes. They were looking to something beyond this life. They understood that as followers of God, they had committed themselves to a kingdom that was not of this world. It was an eternal kingdom. It was an eternal kingdom they were going to enter once their time in this life was completed. That didn’t mean they sought to cheapen or unnecessarily hasten their time in this world, but neither were they going to let the things of this world distract them from it living toward it.
In one of his books, C.S. Lewis talks about the charge sometimes made of Christians that we focus too much on heaven and need to get our heads out of clouds and give attention to the things of this world which are right in front of us. Lewis argues that thinking is exactly backwards from how things should be. When we focus only on this life, that’s all we will get. We will do things and make decisions only with this life in mind. We will go to great things to safeguard and secure our lives here with as much comfort and pleasure as we possibly can. That kind of shortsighted thinking will lead to no small number of headaches and heartaches along the way because this life is finite and fleeting. When we focus our attention on heaven – the eternal kingdom waiting for us in the future – we will make decisions invested with much greater wisdom. We will do things to make our current home more like our heavenly one which will make them better for everyone around us. Such a proper ordering of priorities will allow us to walk by faith even when we don’t see the end of our faith in this life. Indeed, we aren’t looking for the fulfillment of our faith in this life. We are looking beyond that.
If you are a follower of Jesus, as you go through this life, keep this truth in mind: Your stay here is temporary. It is temporary and there is an eternal life waiting you when this one has reached its end should our Lord tarry. For all the traveling you do from here to there, you are not home. You are a temporary resident. Adapt to a certain degree, but don’t make yourself too cozy. Don’t blend in too fully. You will be able to relax completely when you finally reach home.