Now, it would be easy to give a romanticized, rah-rah sermon about how we can move from rags to riches, grave to glory, valley to mountaintop by faith based on Hebrews 11:8-12, which we looked at yesterday. But Hebrews 11:13 stops us dead in our tracks, reminding us that we will live as strangers and exiles, and not as victorious, conquering heroes. In fact, we will make sacrifices in life that will not be rewarded before death.
The author of Hebrews writes this:
13These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. (Hebrews 11:13)
Dying Before Receiving the Promises
One of the hardest truths about Christianity is this: we are to walk by faith and to live by promise, but we will not receive the fulfilment of God’s promises in this life. We, like Abraham (and all saints who have gone before us) will die in faith, not having received the things promised–unless, of course, Jesus returns before we die.
Put another way, we are to expect uncertainty, doubt, and disappointment in life. We are not promised the full measure of what God has prepared for us, and so we have not reason to look for satisfaction in this life. On the one hand, God holds out the promise sheer joy and pure delight as we enter into the fullness of his kingdom; but on the other hand, God holds back the fullness of his kingdom until we pass into the world to come.
Living as Strangers and Exiles
Welcome to the conflicted, confusing world of a stranger (sojourner) and an exile! Strangers and exiles, by definition, are people who are living in a foreign land for an indefinite period of time. Perhaps they left their homeland to leave a bad situation, whether from war, famine, or persecution. Or, perhaps they were forced to leave their homeland, either by being ejected into exile by their own authorities, or captured and carried off into exile like the people of Judah who were carried off into Babylon.
This is our story! We read over and over again in Scripture that our home is not found in this world. In the closing section of his letter, the author of Hebrews reminds his readers again that their home is not on this earth:
14For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. (Hebrews 13:14)
But also, consider what Paul writes to the Philippian church:
20But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:20)
Our citizenship is in heaven, and we longingly await the transformation of our bodies so that we might inherit the world to come.
Then, Peter reminds us that, on the one hand, we have a magnificent share in the nation and family of God, but that, on the other hand, we are sojourners and exiles in this world:
9But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
11Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. (1 Peter 2:9-11)
And even our Lord Jesus himself specifically prays for us as we wrestle with the tension of being in the world, but not of the world–a tension he himself faced during his time on earth:
11“And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one….14I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world….18As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” (John 17:11-18)
Counting the Cost–and the Value–of Discipleship
In Luke 14, Jesus warns us that we ought to count the cost of discipleship before undertaking the path that he sets out for us. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die” (The Cost of Discipleship, p. 89). While Christ does promise us life, he also promises us death–a dying to ourselves and a dying to the pursuit of the world.
As strangers and exiles, we face sacrifices that simply will not be resolved before death. We must sufficiently count this cost, or we will look like fools when we are forced to turn back after having begun our journey with Christ.
But at the same time, following Jesus is about joy, and the sacrifices are worthwhile. Although we will not see the full reward for our sacrifices in this life or in this world (although we will see the reward in part), we know that we will receive far more than we could think or imagine in the next life and in the next world.
In this way we, like Abraham, see the promise of Christ, and we greet the reward of the heavenly kingdom from afar. We learn to love and long for the better country, even despite the sacrifices we have to make in order to inherit it.
And more on that subject tomorrow.