(Hebrews 11:13-16)

“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. 14 For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. 15 And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. 16 But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.” (Hebrews 11:13-16; KJV)

We thank God for the message that was preached by Preacher Yap during our annual National Day Outing at Labrador Park. The message was based on Hebrews 11:13-16, and reminded us what it means for Christians to be strangers and pilgrims here on this earth.

The “strangers and pilgrims” in this passage are none other than Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (c.f. Hebrews 11:8-12). The term “strangers” (xenoi) focuses on the foreign and alien nature their sojourning while the term “pilgrims” (paredidēmoi) emphasises the temporal nature of their dwelling. All three lived as nomads, “dwelling in tabernacles” as they moved from place to place in the land of Canaan.

Abraham was the first nomad. In Acts 7:2-3 and Genesis 12:1-5, we read about how God called Abraham out of the Ur of the Chaldees. Abraham left his own country by faith, not knowing the identity of the other land which God has promised him. It was only at the arrival at Shechem that God revealed Canaan to be the Land of Promise (Genesis 12:6-9). God also covenanted with Abraham concerning Him making of Abraham a great nation from which the Messiah will be born.

However, Abraham did not gain immediate control of the Promised Land. He lived as a nomad till his death. All he saw was the birth of Isaac and Jacob. He did not see the birth of the nation of Israel. Neither did he see the birth of the Messiah. The same goes for Isaac and Jacob. “These all died in faith, not having received the promises”, yet being firmly persuaded that all the promises of God will surely come to fulfilment.

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob faced great difficulties and dangers as “strangers and pilgrims” in the land. Being nomads, they were greatly threatened by the city-dwellers who can attack them anytime. Nevertheless, they never returned back to the land from which they came from, that is, the Ur of the Chaldees. Why is that so?

The basis for their perseverance as “strangers and pilgrims” is the promise of a “better country”. They understood the implications of the covenant promises. The land of Canaan is but a part of the whole grand plan of redemption. It is the land from which the Messiah will be born. This Messiah will be the one who will defeat sin and death. The final destination is not the land of Canaan, but heaven itself.

But why is “heaven” the “better country”? Is it because of the streets of gold, or the gates made of one gigantic pearl? While this writer is sure that the physical beauty of heaven will be far greater than any present on this earth, the superiority of this city goes far beyond the externals. The true beauty of the city lies in its holiness and the abiding presence of God. “And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away . . . And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it.And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there.And they shall bring the glory and honour of the nations into it.And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Revelation 21:3-4; 22-27) Abraham, Isaac and Jacob strongly desired and strived to be found in the better land of heaven. They knew they were just temporary residents of this earth but permanent citizens of heaven. They were heavenly-minded, and thus persevered in their lives as pilgrims.

Dear reader, how about you? Are you also of a citizen of heaven? If you are a pilgrim bound for heaven, then your desire must be for heavenly things, and not for the things of this earth.

Sadly, Singapore has turned into a highly materialistic society. This is evidenced by the two casinos, which are the epitome of greed and covetousness. We hope that Christians will not be found in the casinos, but will their covetousness lead them to speculate in stocks and shares? Unless we remind ourselves that we are but pilgrims bound for heaven, we can easily be tempted by a worthless pursuit of power, fame and fortune.

Herein is an admonishment for parents. Many spare no effort to tutor their children in English, Mathematics, Science and Music. These are good for preparing children for life on this earth. But let parents also take time to teach them the things of heaven. How sad it would be if parents are found in heaven but not their children!

On a happy note, this writer had the privilege to talk to two parents who desire to have good devotional material for their children. They also spare no effort to bring their children for prayer meeting. We hope that more parents will follow suit and bring their children for prayer meeting to learn God’s Word and pray. Heavenly-bound pilgrims must prepare their children for heaven.

Let us conclude with the following injunction from God’s Word –

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth,
where moth and rust doth corrupt,
and where thieves break through and steal:
But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven,
where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt,
and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
(Matthew 6:19-21 KJV)

 Preacher Clement Chew