Text: 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.
Why we should think about heaven
- Because we know we don’t belong here
Hebrews 11:13 — These all died in faith, not having the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.
2. Because we know we belong there
Hebrews 11:14-16a — 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).
3. Because we know we belong to God
Hebrews 11:16b — Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared for them a city.
- If you feel out of place in this world, don’t worry, that is a good thing.
- If you find yourself longing for heaven, don’t worry, that is a good thing.
- If you can’t wait to see God and dwell in His presence, don’t worry, that is a good thing.
Opening: Let’s begin with a question: How often do you think of heaven? A lot … a little? Maybe you are so focused on the here and now that you really don’t have any time to think about it. On the other hand, I suspect there are a few of us who seem to be consumed with heaven. It makes sense that our answer to the question depends a lot on our quality of life at the moment. If we’re sailing along and enjoying God’s blessings, we probably are more satisfied with things and looking forward to the next day and the day after that. If every day is a struggle and find it hard just to get out of bed in the morning then maybe it’s all we can think about. This may surprise you, but people have been thinking about heaven since the dawn of time. The writer of Ecclesiastes recognized this. He said, “God has also set eternity in the hearts of men (Ecclesiastes 3:11).” This is his way of saying that we know this life of flesh and blood is not the end of the story for us. Mankind is meant for more. A lot of people who read the Bible think that heaven is more of a New Testament concept since Jesus spoke often of it. In the Sermon on the Mount alone He mentions it seventeen times! And let’s not forget that the Apostle John received a vision from the Lord that was mostly about heaven. It’s found at the end of your Bible in the book of Revelation. But Scripture also reveals that the Jews of the Old Testament knew about heaven and thought often of what it would be like to spend eternity with the Lord there. This includes the patriarchs … men like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. From our text for this morning in Hebrews 11:13-16 we see that they had set their hearts on a place outside of this world, though they could not see it with their eyes. Still they did not doubt its existence, but continually took it by faith in the promises of God.
This is now our fifth message in the series, Unstoppable Faith. We’ve talked about the kind of trust in God that helps us to live with purpose and meaning in this life, while knowing that something far better awaits us in the next. And it isn’t only believers who think about heaven. Lots of people wonder what it’s like. For many, their vision of heaven begins with pearly gates and an angel who is standing by ready to interview those who hope to enter. Perhaps you’ve heard this story. It’s about a man named Fred who, upon his death, was quite timid when he first approached heaven mostly because he wasn’t sure what to do. Eventually he made his way to the entrance where he met the angel who guarded it. The angel explained that before Fred could be admitted, he had to share a purely unselfish, kind deed he performed for someone on earth. Fred thought about it for a minute and then said, “I’m having trouble thinking of any, but I do have this one that you might be interested in. One day I was walking alone and I came upon a little old lady who was being mercilessly harassed by a huge guy who was standing beside one of those great big motorcycles. He was verbally abusing her and I began to worry that he might even do something worse.” “What did you do?” asked the Angel. “Well, I just stepped right up and pushed over the motorcycle just to distract him. Then I kicked him real hard in the shins and while he was bent over, I told the old lady to run for help.” “Amazing!“ said the Angel. “That’s not all,” continued Fred, “While he was grabbing his shin, I hauled off and gave the guy a great shot right to his jaw with my fist.” The angel looked at the man, took into account his slight build and timid nature and began to question the authenticity of his story. “Umm, and just when did you perform this heroic deed?” That’s when Fred stopped talking, took a look at his watch and replied, “Oh, about two or three minutes ago.” Whether heaven is only minutes away for some of us or we have years to go before we step into eternity, all of us are going to discover for ourselves that it is real place inhabited by those who put their trust and faith in God and in His Son Jesus Christ.
Yes … heaven is real and it should matter to us. You ask why? Well the writer of Hebrews gives us THREE REASONS from Hebrews 11:13-16 WHY IT IS WISE FOR US TO CONTINUE TO THINK ABOUT HEAVEN … why, as followers of Christ, we should keep on believing in a place that we cannot touch or see, though it is as real, or even more so, than the world we live in.
Reason #1 (Why we should think about heaven) Because we know we don’t belong here (Hebrews 11:13 — These all died in faith, not having the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar (from a distance), and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth). As I mentioned in a previous message, neither Abraham nor any of his descendants for more than five centuries were regarded as citizens in the land of the Canaanites. They were always thought of as sojourners! In case you’re wondering this is a person who is only a temporary resident of a certain place. Abraham was never afforded any of the rights that others possessed who called it their home. Still he didn’t waver in his faith but with spiritual eyes saw the things promised by God and greeted them from a distance. The last phrase (from a distance) is important because it tells us what he and his descendants were really thinking about. They did not consider this world as their homeland. They knew they would always be strangers and exiles on the earth. To them everything but heaven would be a foreign country in which they were passing through. But that was okay with Abraham. He not only accepted this reality, but confessed it. The word means to ‘agree with‘ something. It’s as if he was saying, “I get it. I know that I will never be at home on the earth and that’s okay with me. I don’t belong here anyways.” Illustration: Over my lifetime, I have had the privilege of travelling to many different countries. In fact, I’ve been on five of the seven continents. Though I have enjoyed my time in most of them, I always looked forward to coming back home. Why? Because being in a foreign country can be uncomfortable and even unnerving. I remember when I was a visiting a missionary in Indonesia. If you’ve never been there, I can’t adequately describe what it is like to drive on one of their roads. There simply aren’t any rules! On a two lane highway, you will find people driving both directions regardless of the lane they’re in. One time while we were in route to a meeting, we made a left hand turn from the left lane and had a motorcycle plow into the left side of our car because he was trying to pass us on the side of the road. And guess what! We didn’t even stop. The man got up, waved at us with one finger and we drove on. And the food isn’t quite what you’re used to either. I learned quickly not to ask what we were eating, just to smile and force it down! And it is equally unsettling to hear people talking loudly and pointing at you when you have no idea what they’re saying. I remember when our missionary overheard an irate national doing this very thing. Without a word of explanation, he told us to get in the car and we left immediately. Listen … as much as I enjoyed seeing the sites and visiting with our missionary, I was ready to come home at the end of the trip. “Why,” you ask. Because I was very aware I was a stranger just passing through a foreign land. Isn’t that how all true believers feel about being on the earth? We know we will never feel at home in this life, because we’re merely on a journey, a pilgrimage, if you will, to a better place.
Reason #2 (Why we should think about heaven) Because we know we belong there (Hebrews 11:14-16a — For people who speak thus (talking about Abraham and his descendants) 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). The great evangelist John Wesley who is known as the father of the Methodist movement used to say, “Our people die well.” Now that may sound kind of morbid, but really, shouldn’t all believers in God want to die well, especially when we know where we’re going and that it is a far better place than the one we’re leaving behind? Lest some people would conclude when they read that Abraham was seeking to return home that he was thinking of the land of Mesopotamia where he grew up, the writer of Hebrews makes it clear that he was not. As a matter of fact, when Abraham sent his servant to find a bride for his son Isaac, he insisted that he ‘not go back there’ to look for one. Abraham had the means to return to his earthly homeland had he so desired. He could have chosen to ignore God’s promise and done it at any point. But Abraham was a man of faith who believed that the Lord had in store for him a better country … a heavenly one. Now this passage doesn’t tell us too much about it, but others do. Consider what the Bible says in Revelation 21:11-27 about the apostle John’s vision of heaven: (1) He saw a city illumined by the glory of God (See Verses 11, 23) where there will be no moon or sun to light the way, because the Bible tells us that God is light (See 1 John 1:5) and His Son is the light of the world (See John 8:12) ; (2) He saw a city surrounded by a great high wall with twelve massive gates, three facing each direction. These are positioned to limit access to only those who enter the right way (See John 14:6) and to remind us that the Gospel is for all men no matter where they come from (See Verses 12-14); (3) He saw a city that was prepared for believers who have lived throughout history. The gates were named for the 12 sons of Israel, while the foundation stones were named for the 12 apostles (See Verses 12-14); (4) He saw a city adorned with precious stones and with streets of gold (See Verses 18-21); (5) He saw a city that, unlike the old Jerusalem, had no temple, because the Father and the Son are the temple (See Verse 22); (6) He saw a city that never shut its gates because there was no fear of an invading enemy (See Verse 25); (7) He saw a city that could never be corrupted by sin (See Verse 27); and (8) He saw a city that had a river running down through the middle of it called the River of the Water of Life and on both sides the Tree of Life. After all, no one will taste death in heaven. The curse will itself be cursed (See Revelation 22:1-3). Picturing heaven as it is depicted in Revelation, who wouldn’t get excited about going there? Abraham desired it and we should too.
Reason #3 (Why we should think about heaven) Because we know we belong to God (Hebrews 11:16b — Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared for them a city). Because they trusted in the Lord, He was not ashamed to be known as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Here the writer of Hebrews mentions a city prepared for them just like he did in verse ten. What makes this city called the New Jerusalem special is not only what I just mentioned to you about how it is described in Revelation 21, but something else as well. It is the place where God dwells. That’s what it says in Revelation 22:3 — the throne of God and the lamb will be in the city. It goes on to say that when we finally get to heaven we will see His face and His name will be on our foreheads. When Moses asked to see God’s glory in Exodus 33:18, he was told “No man can see my face and live” in verse 20. So Moses was permitted only to see God’s back as He passed by. But in heaven, the words of Jesus will come true and everyone whom God has made pure in his heart (Matthew 5:8) will get to see God. And that’s not all … but just as the followers of the beast in the great tribulation will bear his mark on their foreheads (Revelation 13:16-17), so everyone in heaven will be the name of God upon their foreheads emphasizing His ownership (that’s why we call Him Lord) and likeness on us all. We belong solely to Him.
Applications: Like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who were merely sojourners passing through to the land of promise, we don’t belong here either. As believers our citizenship is in heaven. And we belong to the One who is the object of our faith … God. Now here are a trio of thoughts to help us as we wait for His upward call in Christ Jesus.
- If you feel out of place in this world, don’t worry, that is a good thing. This world is under the control of the Evil One. While he is currently being restrained by the Holy Spirit, Satan still has enough influence to blind the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot understand the things of God (1 Corinthians 2:14). And so they go about looking for anything under the sun to give them purpose and satisfaction in life only to be disappointed each time. Listen … nothing in this world, not power, wealth, relationships, influence, fame, sexual indulgence or anything else it has to offer can bring us life. This can only come from God. Illustration: Have you heard of the Stockholm Syndrome? It comes from the following event: On August 23, 1973, Jan Erik Olsson, out on parole from prison, attempted to hold up a bank in Stockholm, Sweden. When the police showed up, Olsson took four people as hostages. A stand-off between Olsson and the police lasted six days. At one point during the standoff, Olsson called Sweden’s Prime Minister to say that he would kill the hostages. He put one of the hostages, Kristin Enmark, on the phone. She said to the prime minister, “I am very disappointed in you …. I think you are sitting here playing with our lives.” Despite Olsson’s threats to kill her, Enmark eventually decided she felt safer with the bad guy than the police. In fact, she wasn’t the only one. Other hostages actually resisted rescue attempts and later refused to testify against their captor. Some even raised money for his defense! Now whenever you a hear news of a hostage who identifies more with their captors than their rescuers, their condition is referred to as the Stockholm Syndrome. Many years after the incident in Stockholm, Kristen Enmark summed up what had happened: “It’s some kind of a context you get into when all your values, the morals you have, change in some way.” That’s also what happens to everyone who has been taken as a hostage by Satan to do his will. They see their values and morals change until they’re just like the one who holds them captive. So if you don’t care for the things of this world, that’s a good thing.
- If you find yourself longing for heaven, don’t worry, that is a good thing. I’m not encouraging you to be so heavenly minded that you’re of no earthly good. But on the other hand, Christians should live with one eye on heaven, knowing that’s our destiny.
- If you can’t wait to see God and dwell in His presence, don’t worry, that is a good thing. The Psalmist asked only one thing of God … to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple (Psalm 27:4). That’s what we’ll all get to do when we go home to heaven.
Conclusion: One of the most difficult things about being a Christian is that while we long for heaven, we must be willing to wait until God calls us to come home. According to the apostle Peter, the scoffers say: “Where is this coming He promised (referring to when Christ will come again for us) … Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation?” (2 Peter 3:4). But Scripture reminds us that the Lord’s delay in returning for us means that more people have the opportunity to put their trust in Christ. “The Lord is not slow about keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” Still, Peter poses this question to those of us who are looking forward to that day: “What kind of people ought you to be (in the meantime) (2 Peter 3:11)?” His answer: “You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the Day of God … to a new heaven and a new earth in keeping with His promise” (2 Peter 3:12-13). Here is a story that can fill in what “looking forward” might mean. When the middle son of a Christian couple named Ben was very young, he often heard about the importance of surrendering his life to Christ. And to his credit, Ben seemed well-attuned to the heart of God; he exhibited the selfless and kind tendencies that would take some a lifetime of spiritual growth to acquire. So it disturbed his parents when their little boy stubbornly resisted their invitations for him to put His trust in Christ as Savior and Lord. He would offer no explanations; he would simply tell them in his preschool English that he wasn’t ready. Ben resisted for several months until, finally, one morning as they sat around the kitchen table eating breakfast, he announced that he was finally ready. He then got up from the table and went upstairs. His mother and father looked at each other and then followed him. Perhaps they were expecting to find Ben on his knees in prayer, but they didn’t. Instead, they found him folding his Star Wars pajamas into his Sesame Street suitcase. The mother said, “Ben, what are you doing?” He answered, “Packing.” “Why?” she asked. “To go to heaven,” he said. It took them a moment, but finally the light went on for his parents and they understood why he previously hesitated to decide to follow Christ. He thought that in so doing, he would have to leave them and take up residence at that moment in heaven. (Pause) Come to think of it … maybe all of us should see it the same way as little Benjamin: we should have our hearts so fixed on being with the Lord in heaven that any attachments of our earthly life pale in comparison. We are, after all, “aliens and strangers on earth … longing for a better country—a heavenly one” just like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.