“By faith Abraham, 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. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” – Hebrews 11:8-10
The tourism industry does a good job of stirring interest in would-be travelers for exciting destinations. They tell you what’s on offer like affordable flights, reception worthy of kings, luxurious hotel accommodation, beautiful sites to see and relax, finger-licking meals, you name it. The aim is to make you want to visit. So people add such well-publicized destinations to their bucket lists and save up for travel.
Jesus did something similar to his disciples. He told them, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2-3). What was the Lord doing with this futuristic promise? His aim was to whet the appetite of his disciples for their eternal home. When Adam and Eve fell, this world was also broken; broken by sin, it lost its ability to be a satisfactory home for our hungry souls. The book of Ecclesiastes says that God “has also set eternity in the hearts of men” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). That means nothing in this world, not its highest pleasures and comforts can meet the hunger and thirst that God has placed in the human heart. That hole is a God-sized hole that can only be filled by God himself. Knowing that God has gone ahead to prepare another home where his children can be with him and enjoy him forever.
Faith for the Journey
Abraham exemplified for us, what kind of attitude we ought to possess in anticipation for that city. “God called Abraham to travel to another place that he promised to give him. Abraham did not know where that other place was. But he obeyed God and started traveling because he had faith” (Hebrews 11:8). When called to leave the comfort and familiarity of his father’s house, the patriarch obeyed and embarked on the journey to the unknown, out of faith. The kingdom that Jesus told the disciples he was going to prepare also requires faith to travel to. Many have also gone ahead of us in this race. What kept them going was their faith in the promise of a heavenly kingdom. One mark of Abraham’s faith was obedience; obedience even when he was ignorant of his destination. Does that mark your faith too? Do you have your heart set on the promised land and walk in obedience even now? Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, so you’d be forgiven to think that once Abraham’s faith had landed him in the promised land, he would lay it aside. Not Abraham, “By faith he made his home in the promised land.”
A Nomadic Heart
“By faith he lived as a foreigner in the promised land, as in a strange land, living in tents [as nomads] with Isaac and Jacob, who were fellow heirs of the same promise.” – Hebrews 11:9 (AMP)
A nomad has no fixed residence; they move from place to place mostly as animal escorts. They normally live in tents –temporary accommodation that can easily be dismantled when it’s time to move. This man had arrived in the land he had been promised yet he lived like a nomad. He had a nomadic mindset. This mindset was so deeply-rooted that he passed it on to his offspring, Isaac and Jacob, who were co-heirs with him of the promise. Think of it: in the process of relocating, you pack your belongings; when you arrive at your destination, you unpack. Sometimes you nail some stuff to the walls, a sign of ‘temporary permanence’. That may even be in a rented apartment. These men arrived in a land they had been promised yet they lived as aliens and strangers. How come you are in a place where no one has promised you and you are so comfortable? You are in need of a nomadic mindset, a heart that does not see this earth as a permanent home but as a tent and is ready to move whenever the pegs are pulled.
A City which God has Designed and Built
Why did Abraham arrive at the promised land, yet live in it like a nomad? “Abraham did this because he was confidently waiting for God to bring him to that strong heavenly city whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10). The best cities you have seen or visited or plan to visit, are designed and built by men. They may suffer traffic congestion, air pollution, crime, power outages and failing infrastructure, to mention but a few. Even the materials that are utilized to build those beauties are borrowed from God’s creation. Abraham didn’t settle for that. Even after arriving in the place God had promised to give him, he refused to ‘settle down’; he had his eyes fixed on a better city. He looked for a city with strong (real) foundations; ones that cannot be moved, not by the strongest of earthquakes. God himself planned the city. He didn’t contract that to anyone. He himself is the architect of this city. Pause for a moment and consider what it means for God to be the architect who designs a city. How glorious! When it came to building it, the best construction firms with the most intelligent engineers do not qualify to build what God has planned for those who love him. He built it himself. Hallelujah! Jesus told his disciples that the mansions in that city have many rooms, enough for all the redeemed. If it were not so, he would have told us. That’s why Abraham couldn’t make even the promised land a home where he would relax. Why relax here when there is a better place that God himself has designed and built? You can now see why that rich man was called a fool. His ground had just yielded a good harvest and the next thing he was telling himself to take life easy; eat, drink and be merry (Luke 12:16-21). He didn’t have a nomadic heart but one that dwelt in places and situations that were to be seen as transient.
A Glimpse of the City
Isn’t it interesting that the Bible ends by giving us a glimpse of the city designed and built by God? John, in Revelation 21, called it a Holy City, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. He goes on to say in that city, God will wipe every tear from the eyes of his people. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain. The city’s brilliance, the Apostle said, was like that of a very precious jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal. The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The great street of the city, he said, was of pure gold, like transparent glass.
The book of Revelation is an apocalyptic book and its language is meant to create vivid images in your mind and get you to think. Just take a moment and imagine the kind of place God is preparing for you. Think of your reception on arrival; think of the seat reserved for you at the marriage feast and what music will be there; think of the time you’d spend with the beloved Christ. Whether it is a metaphorical or literal city, it is most definitely a place – a place God has designed and built and is waiting to welcome you to.
A Crisis of Hope
I’m afraid that many Christians go through life without the hope of heaven constantly before them. We live like this earth is a permanent home. But the hope of heaven is important if we are to function properly. The anticipation of a reward is a motivation for present effectiveness. The saints of old who have gone before us kept the hope of heaven always before them and spoke often about it. Little wonder they were so effective for the kingdom here on earth. The Apostle Paul said he “would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Thomas Brooks said, “It is no credit to your heavenly Father for you to loath to go home.” C.S. Lewis asked: “if we really believe that home is elsewhere and that this life is a ‘wandering to find home,’ why should we not look forward to the arrival?” These men labored here while having their hearts firmly fixed on the city designed and built by God. You should too. They lived like this because “they were longing for a better country–a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16).
Peter reminds us that we are “aliens and strangers in the world” (1 Peter 1:11). Ask yourself, do you long for that city? In spite of all the challenges you face in this world, if you were asked to leave for heaven now, would that fill you with joy? Or would you ask to be allowed to ‘achieve’ some things before you leave? Lot’s wife captures the hearts of many of us. Or the men who were invited to a banquet but all asked to be excused to do other things first, do their attitudes represent you? “If our hope in Christ is good for this life only and no more, then we deserve more pity than anyone else in all the world” (1 Corinthians 15:19).
Hearts Set where Christ Is
If God has a city he has personally designed and built, and is waiting to welcome you; if part of why Jesus has gone away is to prepare a place for you, what should be your response to that? Paul says, “set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:1-2). Do that because you have been raised with Christ and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. As God’s child, your citizenship, after all, is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). In God’s mind, even “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Jesus promised in John 14:3 to come back and take us to be with him in the place he is preparing. That’s the best part: that Jesus is for us not a utilitarian savior who takes us to enjoy a heaven without him, but one who is preparing a place where we would be with the one we love, world without end. Until then, keep waiting, with your heart fixed where he is.