Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A BETTER COUNTRY (Hebrews Chapter 11)

Hebrews 11:13-16, “These 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. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.  If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”

As many as an estimated one million people immigrate to the United States every year.  They come here supposing that they will find a better life than what was their experience in the country that they left.  They deemed America to be a “better country” and took the necessary steps to get here.  Though far from perfect, we are privileged to live in a country such as ours.  But there is still a far better country than this one.

The readers of this epistle were tempted, under the threat of persecution, to return to their Jewish religion.  The author encouraged them to endure by faith according to the example of the Old Testament patriarchs like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  They lived as strangers and exiles on earth.  By faith they overcame obstacles thinking not of the land they had left behind, but what God had prepared for them.

The believer in Christ is an alien here and a citizen of a better country (Cf. Philippians 3:20).  We enjoy many privileges as citizens of this country, but this world is not our home.  As long as we are here, we “groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling” (2 Corinthians 5:2). 

Jonathan Edwards once addressed the need for us to maintain a heavenward perspective: “God is the highest good of the reasonable creature; and the enjoyment of him is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied.  To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of earthly friends, are but shadows; but the enjoyment of God is the substance. These are but scattered beams; but God is the sun. These are but streams; but God is the fountain. These are but drops; but God is the ocean.--Therefore it becomes us to spend this life only as a journey towards heaven, as it becomes us to make the seeking of our highest end and proper good, the whole work of our lives; to which we should subordinate all other concerns of life. Why should we labor for, or set our hearts on, anything else, but that which is our proper end, and true happiness?” (The Works of Jonathan Edwards; Banner of Truth).

The Scottish preacher John McNeill liked to tell about an eagle that had been captured when it was quite young. The farmer who snared the bird put a restraint on it so it couldn’t fly, and then he turned it loose to roam in the barnyard. It wasn’t long till the eagle began to act like the chickens, scratching and pecking at the ground. This bird that once soared high in the heavens seemed satisfied to live the barnyard life of the lowly hen. One day the farmer was visited by a shepherd who came down from the mountains where the eagles lived. Seeing the eagle, the shepherd said to the farmer, “What a shame to keep that bird hobbled here in your barnyard! Why don’t you let it go?” The farmer agreed, so they cut off the restraint. But the eagle continued to wander around, scratching and pecking as before. The shepherd picked it up and set it on a high stone wall. For the first time in months, the eagle saw the grand expanse of blue sky and the glowing sun. Then it spread its wings and with a leap soared off into a tremendous spiral flight, up and up and up. At last it was acting like an eagle again. 

God would have us, as believers, to act like eagles.  Much better to soar into glory than to scratch in the dirt.  It is good to be a heavenly-minded Christian desiring a better country!

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