STUDIES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.”
We often hear life spoken of as a journey. It’s easy to understand why. In the course of life we are always on the move. We pass through the stages of life from childhood to adulthood, from middle age to old age. We move through years of education, then on to the world of work where we may proceed from one job or career to another, and finally to retirement. Life often takes us from place to place: from our childhood home to a place of our own, from a small house to a larger one, from one city to another.
Life can be called a journey also in the sense that it has a destination. And though individual life journeys vary greatly and in many ways, their destination is always the same. It is the grave.
Our passage from Hebrews tells us that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob thought of life as a journey. They referred to themselves as “strangers and pilgrims,” travelers passing through a foreign land. And they were travelers who were not afraid to reach the destination of their earthly pilgrimage. They did not fear death. Rather, they “died in faith”; they ended their journey in the world believing that death was not the final destination for them. They believed that the end of life in this world meant the beginning of life in their true homeland, the heavenly country that God had provided for them.
Why would they believe such a thing when all they saw with their eyes is what we see, namely death and burial at the end of earthly life? It was because they had God’s promises and believed them. They believed in the Savior Who was to come from their descendants, the one in Whom all the families of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:3). In the promised Christ, they had the hope of deliverance from sin and death. They looked for the resurrection and eternal life with God, where all the sorrows and troubles of this world would be things of the past.
As believers in Christ, we can view our lives in the same way that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob viewed theirs. Our life is not a journey in the way that the unbelieving think of it. It is the journey of a foreigner in a strange land. We do not intend to stay for long; only as long as God wants us to stay. We regard our time here as important, for we know that God has put us here in this dark world to serve as lights shining with the Gospel of Christ. But we do not dread the end of our travels here, for we, like the Old Testament patriarchs, have from God the promise of our true homeland, the heavenly country that He has prepared for us. We have from Jesus the promise that He has gone to prepare a place for us and that He will come again to take us there.
Our passage closes with another word of comfort. The writer tells us that God was not ashamed to be called the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He called Himself their God long after they had died, a fact that Jesus said proved that they were still living (Matthew 22:31-32). They had gone to that heavenly country, that homeland that they had hoped for based on God’s promises. We may be certain that God is not ashamed to be called the God and Father of those who believe in His Son Jesus Christ, for Jesus assures us that we have a place in the Father’s house (John 14:1-6).
John Klatt is pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Loveland, Colorado.