“Strangers and Exiles”Categories: Sermons
For the past several years, one of the most hotly discussed political topics in our country has been the subject of immigration. In America today, there are millions of people who, rather than being citizens of the United States, are citizens of somewhere else. Even though according to the laws of the United States, they do not belong here, they have come here anyway, and many of them live for years or even decades in a country that is not their own.
I’m not up here to weigh in on that political debate. Instead, I want us to remember that, even though they have been overlooked by both political parties, there is at least one other group of people living in the United States that doesn’t belong here either. I refer, of course, to Christians. Even if we were born and raised in the U-S-of-A, our citizenship is still in heaven, not here, and if we want to go there, we’d better put that heavenly citizenship first!
This always have been true of the people of God. The Hebrews writer captures this idea beautifully in Hebrews 11:13-16. Let’s spend the next few minutes unpacking this text, learning what it means for us to be strangers and exiles on the earth.
First, it means that WE SEE AND GREET THE PROMISES. Our example here is Abraham and the patriarchs. God gave them the land promise, the nation promise, and the seed promise, but all of them died before those promises were fulfilled. Even though they would never see those fulfillments on earth, they looked toward them and welcomed them.
So too it must be for us. God has made us many promises, but the greatest of them, the promise of eternal life, is something that none of us will see on earth either. Nonetheless, if we want to walk in the footsteps of Abraham, we too must welcome this promise. We have to look forward to it. We have to greet it.
The only way for us to do that is through the word. I’ve found that the older I get, the more the promise of heaven means to me. We need to turn to the Scriptures constantly to reaffirm our trust and joy in that promise. Every time we read about eternal life, we need to say, “That promise is about me,” and we need to remember the promise through every moment of our lives. Let’s be sure that our eyes never turn anywhere else!
Second, if we are truly strangers and exiles, it means that WE SEEK A HOMELAND. It’s hard not to have a homeland. I think some of the most pathetic people on earth are refugees. There’s been a war or a famine that has driven them from their homes, and so they’re living in a squalid refugee camp someplace else, counting the hours until they can go to where they belong.
That’s supposed to be us too. We often sing, “This world is not my home,” but sadly, there are many Christians who are acting awfully comfortable in the refugee camp! Our priorities tell us where our true homeland is. Let’s think about the way we spend our money, our time, and our energy. Would somebody who watched us for several weeks conclude that we were striving with all our might for heaven, or would they say that our hope was set on the things of earth? Refugees are not content. Refugees do not behave like they plan to stay indefinitely. If that’s how we’re acting, maybe our citizenship isn’t where we think it is!
Third, if we’re strangers and exiles, WE DON’T LOOK BACK. Here, let’s pay attention to the language of Hebrews 11:15. The Hebrews writer doesn’t say of Abraham and the rest that they didn’t go back to the land they came from. Instead, he says that they didn’t think of the land they came from. This isn’t a passage about action. This is a passage about the heart.
Let’s consider ourselves here. We’re all here assembled in the Lord’s name. Presumably, that means that we haven’t turned our back on Him and returned to Satan’s country, the dominion of darkness that we came out of.
However, our hearts are another subject altogether. Are we here because we think we have to be here, or are we here because we want to be here? Do we hate our former sins, or do we long for them because we miss them terribly? Are we pressing on toward Canaan, or are we looking back over our shoulders at the pleasures of Egypt?
If the latter, we need to pay attention to the writer’s warning. He notes that if the patriarchs had wanted to go back, they would have had opportunity to go back. So too for us. Sometimes we sing, “I know the Lord will make a way for me,” but I am confident that if our hearts love sin, the devil will make a way for us too. People who want to go back will get the chance. Only if our hearts are right will we inherit the promises.
If that’s the way we live, though, the Hebrews writer says it will have two important consequences. The first is that WE HAVE GOD FOR OUR GOD. Specifically, the text says that God is not ashamed to be called their God. That’s an idea that we could stand to think more about. There is one way that we can live that will make God proud of us, that will make Him happy to claim us as His own on the day of judgment. On the other hand, there’s another way that we might live that will make God ashamed of us. He will look at our disgraceful actions and say, “No, I don’t know who they are. They don’t belong to Me.”
We might think that a Christian would have to behave pretty badly to make God ashamed of them, but in reality, the shame-causing activities are the things that we just got through studying. If we don’t see and welcome His promises, God will be ashamed of us. If we take earth for our home instead of seeking heaven for our home, God will be ashamed of us. If we constantly think of the sinful life we left behind, God will be ashamed of us, and wouldn’t that be an awful thought? Obviously, the personal consequences are terrible, but even beyond that, God has given me so much. I don’t ever want to be somebody who makes Him feel embarrassed and ashamed!
Finally, if we are strangers and exiles on the earth, WE HAVE A CITY PREPARED FOR US. First of all, note that this is the ultimate evidence that God approves of us. Rest assured that nobody He is ashamed of is going to dwell in His presence for eternity! Instead, we will be there to glorify Him, which shows His conviction that we do, in fact, glorify Him.
Second, the preparations that God and Jesus make show us that we don’t have to fear disappointment. You know, if we spend our lives seeking the things above instead of the things on the earth, but there actually is nothing waiting for us above, that would stink! In Paul’s words, we would be of all men most to be pitied.
However, we don’t have to worry about that. We have reason to believe that God is, and if God is, God is faithful. If God is faithful, when He tells us that we have a city prepared for us, we can trust Him. Whatever we go through here to get there, it will be worth it!