“The people who have accomplished the most in this life have had their hearts and minds fixed on the next.”
“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised but only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had the opportunity to return. Instead they were longing for a better country- a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God; for he has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:13-16)
In my recent sermon to my home church on their hundredth anniversary, I had the privilege of talking about the faith of my father, Rev. Robert A. Rieben. His faith was simple and profound. He really believed that God existed and rewarded those who earnestly sought him. (Hebrews 11:6) He was always looking ahead, on the move. He drove fast and walked fast. When we walked together in a mall, I could not keep pace with his 70 year old gait. He lived his life looking ahead, in a hurry, driven by the promises of what Christ would do in the future for any man or women who believed His promises.
After looking at some of his earliest sermons, I think Abraham was his model. Like Abraham he received a call from God to leave his home and follow Him to a place he would later receive as an inheritance. He immediately obeyed and went even though he did not know where he was going. (11:8) And, like Abraham, he lived in tents. (Hebrews 11:9) He could never settle down in one place on this earth. This world was not his final destination. “For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (11:10) This future city was permanent and eternal with solid foundations never to be moved or uprooted.
My father’s words revealed he was sure of what he hoped for. His actions revealed he was certain of the reality of the One that his human eyes could not see. (Hebrews 11:1) He spoke with authority. He served with humility. He lived with integrity. And, though dead, he left an enduring and awesome legacy.
The writer to the Hebrews is dealing with some Jewish Christians who are tempted to “shrink back” from the faith. Troubles stretched out were eroding their once strong, confidence in Christ. (10:32-34) The writer urges them to persevere so that they might receive the things promised. (11:35-36)
So, to encourage them, he points to the heroes of the faith that have gone before. Under the weight of great troubles stretched out over time, their confidence remained strong and was rewarded. One of the distinguishing characteristics of the heroes of Hebrews 11, is that they never received the final and ultimate things that God had promised them. “All of these people were still living by faith when thy died. They did not receive the things promised. They only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.” (Hebrews 11:13) Abraham, the “Father of faith,” was still “looking forward to the city with foundations whose architect and builder was God,” when he died. (11:10)
Moses also “regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.” All of God’s people are “aliens and strangers on earth because they are looking for a country of their own,” “longing for a better country -a heavenly one.” (13-16)
So, patriarchs and prophets, apostles and martyrs, pastors and missionaries, teachers and salesmen, all possess the same life-changing, heart-fortifying hope: The promise of a better country, a heavenly one. This hope is not motivated by escapism nor the fear of death. It is a sure and confident conviction that Jesus has gone ahead and prepared a place for us that far outshines any treasures or pleasures of the “Egypt’s” of this world. (25-26)
The great motivation of every Christian who has done the most in this life has been the sure and confident hope that our great reward awaits us, not in this world but the next. We are free to suffer and sacrifice, now, in this world, because we are looking and longing ahead for what awaits us when our time here has ended.
Let me emphasize the importance of the power of this hope. Jesus, “the author and perfecter of our faith, endured the cross, despising its shame,” for one reason: “The joy set before him.” (12:2) We are to fix our eyes upon his example. (12:2-3) To the degree that we really believe that, indeed, look forward to that, is the degree to which we will live a life that genuinely glorifies and pleases God.
There are many promises fulfilled in this life. Abraham has a son. Moses delivers a nation. The Messiah comes. But, the great promise, the one for which we were created to receive, lies in the future. All of the heroes of the faith were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised. (11:13) This country was not their own. They were looking and longing for a better country- a heavenly one. (11:14-15) And because they held on to that one promise, dying but still hoping in and seeing it from a distance, “God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (16)
My father faced death with the same unshakeable confidence in the future that he had all the days of his life. He trusted God without the slightest twinge of fear or regret because he was looking and longing forward to his final and eternal reward. The sure and certain promises of God are a great motivator and stabilizer in all of the battles and struggles we go through on this earth. This kind of faith, future faith, pleases God and produces perseverance.
The people who have accomplished the most in this life have had their minds and hearts fixed upon the next. Ask the Lord for this kind of faith. The kind that looks and longs for joy in his presence, with eternal pleasures at his right hand. (Psalm 16:11)