“But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.” —2 Peter 3:13
Have you ever thought of your own thorn in the flesh as your having to live in a place that makes you unhappy? We all have to live somewhere until we die, and, for many, it is a case of very unhappy living conditions.
Unhappy living conditions might have been Paul’s thorn, because he let us know that being an apostle was the opposite of living in luxury. I think of many big-name preachers today who live in luxury and easy life provided for them by tithes payers.
Are you aware that there is a sense in which the main issue in both the Old Testament and the New Testament has to do with living conditions? The Old Testament stresses again and again the matter of living conditions. Moses and the people of Israel lived in a desert, and they were looking for a land flowing with milk and honey. The thrust of the Law was that if you obey, certain happy living conditions will follow. If you disobey, the opposite will follow. (See Deuteronomy 28:1-61.) In the New Testament, sadly, the Jews’ expectation of the Messiah had to do entirely with living conditions. They thought that when Messiah came, He was going to change living conditions for them and set them free from Rome. This is why they couldn’t cope with the thought that their Messiah would end up on a cross. Jesus warned them, for He knew exactly what they were thinking. He said in Luke 17:21, “The kingdom of God is within you.” Jesus put it like that so they would understand that this present world is not all there is.
The writer of Hebrews listed some names of the greatest heroes of the Old Testament:
“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.” Hebrews 11:13
This world was not their home.
They were strangers in this world
Aliens in this land
And their behavior was dictated by the fact that this world had no hold on them. Their treasure was banked someplace else because their eyes were fixed on a heavenly destination.
Or as Hebrews 11:16 says:
“… they were longing for a better country— a heavenly one.”
That’s an echo of what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21
You see, their’s was the kind of mindset that impresses God.
Because of how they lived, Hebrews 11:16 says:
“… God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”
So, what did these people did- that was so impressive? They invested in the Kingdom of God.
Of all the men listed there Abraham’s investment was one of the most difficult because God took him through a journey that would lay precedence for the coming champions.
Abraham didn’t just invest in God by giving an offering, or walking with God, or building his work schedule around God. Abraham went much farther than that. He gave up everything to follow God.
He left his home and his family. He walked away from everything that he’d once held dear so that he could obey the call of God. He literally became an alien and a stranger… a nomad wandering about the countryside. All because he “believed God existed and that He was the rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” This world was not his home, he was just passing through.“…when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” Hebrews 11:10
He (and the others listed in Hebrews 11) realized they were aliens and strangers in this land. Their treasures were laid up somewhere beyond the blue.
Now… how does that apply to us?
It applies to us because these cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 11 were given to us as examples of how WE ought to live. They were all held up as being people of great faith because this world was not their home. They were in the habit of investing their lives, their jobs, and their families in a God who they knew existed and Who is the rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. In order to become like them we’ve got to learn to think like those who don’t belong to this world.
Now, that’s hard to do… even for the most committed Christians
ILLUSTRATION: one church had struck oil on its property. Instantly they called a congregational meeting & adopted 3 resolutions.
#1. They decided they would pump as much oil as they possibly could.
#2. They would distribute the oil money equally among the members.
#3. They would not accept any new members.
If you’re like me you’re thinking to yourself – “what’s wrong with them people? Have they forgotten why the church exists? Of course they had! They forgot that this world was not their home, they were just a passing through. they forgot that church is the bedrock and foundation of Truth, to bring in more members into the Kingdom.
The problem for them was that they allowed the potential wealth of the oil field shackle them to this world. The lure of ready money made them desire to be citizens of THIS world, not citizens of the one to come. They weren’t aliens here, they weren’t strangers, but land owners.
Jesus had a man approach him who had that very problem. Mark 10 tells about a young man who came to Jesus and asked Him “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Luke 18:18
Jesus listed the commandments and the man responded to Jesus “’Teacher, all these I have kept since I was a boy.’ Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’” Mark 10:20-21
Did the young man do that? Did He sell all that he had to give to the poor… No! Why?
Mark 10:22 tells us “At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.”
The young man’s wealth SHACKLED him to this present world.
When Jesus asked this man to sell all that he had – give it to the poor and follow him, Jesus was giving the man the tools to break free of the power money had on him. Jesus was giving the man ability to break the chains that held him to this world.
Possessions and money have the most potential to chain us to this world – to rob us of our ability to be aliens and strangers in this world. And because of its power money can easily make individual Christians become like that church that sold the oil and kept all the money for themselves. Money made them forget why they existed and made them become self-absorbed. That church no longer invested in God, instead invested in only itself. It’s members focused only on their own needs… in their own wants. Not on God. Matthew 25:31-46
…When Jesus asked this man to sell all that he had – give it to the poor and follow him, Jesus was giving the man the tools to break free of the power money had on him. Jesus was giving the man ability to break the chains that held him to this world.
This is admonition to the household of God, we do not include the ousiders who had gone to make pact with the devil to gain the fantasy fairy world. Money, gifts, possessions, wordly acquisitions can do the same thing to us. It can cause us to forget why we (as Christians) exist. It can cause us to become self-absorbed and to become so tied to this present world that we invest only in ourselves.
God is calling you and me to live with an eternal perspective. In Hebrews 11 we are told that Abraham lived by faith as “an alien” in this world, “looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:9-10 ). Isn’t that interesting? Abraham did not consider his arrival in the Promised Land to be the fulfillment of God’s promises to him. Rather, he lived yearning for his ultimate reward, namely, life with God in an eternal city — the new Jerusalem.
In Hebrews 11:13 it says that all the heroes of the faith who are listed in that chapter lived their lives as “strangers and exiles on the earth” because they desired the city which God had prepared for them. The book of Hebrews concludes with a reminder to us that in this world we do not have a lasting city. Instead, we are to seek “the city which is to come.”
Jesus is adding rooms to that city right now to accommodate the members of His body (John 14:1-4 ). Let us therefore live as aliens and strangers in this world, never becoming comfortable with it. Let us live looking for the coming of the Lord (2 Timothy 4:7-8 ).
And let us live praying for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6 ), realizing that in doing so we are really praying for the return of the Lord, for Jerusalem will never experience true peace until the Prince of Peace returns.
For some people, their only reward is in this present life. But Paul said, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17).
May the Lord help us ALL