Strangers and sojourners are lookers. You, young people, are lookers, along with all God’s people.
So scripture describes us.
This makes sense. If we are strangers and sojourners, we look for something beyond the here and now. We have a goal, something to which we look forward, something we seek and anticipate. That goal is heaven.
The scriptural model of looking is the patriarchs, especially Abraham, who is singled out in Hebrews 11:8–16. We do well to attend to the looking of this hero of faith, because it instructs us concerning our pilgrim life.
Abraham had a good life in the region of Mesopotamia. It was good in a material sense. Abraham was prosperous, even wealthy. He was surrounded by his family, and a member of the church as it existed in that day and in that place. Scripture implies this in Hebrews 11:15 when it speaks of the country to which he could have returned after being called by God to depart. If his abode and his life were not prosperous and pleasant, why would he have wanted to return? Yes, for Abraham everything was good.
Then God turned his world upside down by calling him to leave his comfortable life and to go to an unknown land that God would show him (Gen. 12:1).
This brings into focus a sharp contrast between the seen and the unseen, between the here and now and the future, between the earthly and the heavenly (for Canaan, Abraham’s ultimate destination, was a picture of heaven).
Let’s pause here to drive home this contrast by making application to ourselves.
Young people, let’s be honest: we have it pretty good, don’t we? We live in a time of economic prosperity, which means that we have comfortable lives. We have plenty to eat, and we don’t have to worry about where our next meal is coming from. We live in decent houses—palaces in comparison to the dwellings of many throughout the world. We wear respectable clothes and often the latest and greatest styles. Most of us probably drive adequate cars to school and to work. In short, our lives are affluent and quite predictable, so much so that often we run the danger of having our priorities backwards by looking for the seen and by seeking what is earthly instead of looking for the unseen and seeking what is heavenly.
Against this background, suppose that I came to you and said, “Rent a truck, pack up your belongings, and head south.” Besides thinking that I have a few loose screws, you would probably respond, “What do you mean, head south? Where? And exactly why should I do this?” Suppose further that I answer,”I’ll tell you when you get there. And you must go because someday you will own your destination.”
Now you are walking in Abraham’s shoes, according to Hebrews 11:8: “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.” Even after he arrived in Canaan, God’s promise to give him the land was not fulfilled in his lifetime, for he was never anything but a stranger and a sojourner: “By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles [tents] with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise” (Heb. 11:9).
What would you do if you were confronted with such a situation? You must make a choice, you know; that is unavoidable. You must choose between the earthly and the heavenly, between the present and the future. You can’t have it both ways, for the two are mutually exclusive.
Abraham had to make a choice too. It would be understandable if he chose the earthly option. He could see what he had in Ur of the Chaldees, for that was the here and now; he could see the country in which he lived and prospered. How tempting it must have been to make this choice! Speaking of the patriarchs, scripture points to this reality in Hebrews 11:15: “And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.” In contrast, the other option he could not see. When he left Ur he did not even know where he was going. All he had was a promise that eventually Canaan would be his, and even that promise never came true for him personally, but only for his descendants hundreds of years later. Hebrews 11:13 teaches that the patriarchs all died in faith, “not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off.” All they had was a distant glimmering of their fulfillment on the far horizon of history.
Yet Abraham made the right choice. He chose the path of obedience to God’s command and the life of a stranger and sojourner. From a purely earthly viewpoint his choice was not logical; it was not even reasonable, and certainly not wise. But choose he did. What was the reason? Hebrews 11:10 answers, “For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” He chose the permanent over the temporary, the divine architect and builder over the works of sinful man. How could he do this? Hebrews 11 says, “By faith.” He received from God the gift of faith (Eph. 2:8), and in the power of that faith he walked as a stranger and sojourner, desiring a better, that is, a heavenly country (Heb. 11:16).
Abraham chose his goal. Remember: life always has a goal, as we have pointed out on numerous occasions. It is in the very nature of strangers and sojourners that they are going somewhere. Their pilgrimage has a destination, for they are only travelers in this world, passing through on their way to the heavenly country that is theirs through the finished work of Christ. They are lookers; they cannot see their goal now, but they await it and expect it, scanning the heavens for a glimpse of their future blessedness.
Heaven is the end of their journey. We learn from 2 Peter 3:12–14 that they are those who are “Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God.” Again, “We, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” Because we “look for such things,” we must be diligent that we will be found of God in peace, without spot, and blameless. Titus 2:13 instructs us that we are to live as God’s people in the world, “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.” Finally, when Jesus in Luke 21 speaks of the signs of the end times, he admonishes that “when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.” For that day we with Abraham long with anticipation, for then we will no longer look for the city that has foundations. It will be ours!
Much more could be said about heaven. Originally I intended to write at some length on this important subject of the goal of strangers and sojourners. Then I heard that Rev. Garrett Eriks of Hudsonville PR Church preached a series of well-received sermons on heaven. He has graciously consented to adapt these sermons for Beacon Lights. Therefore the next three issues of the magazine will include guest editorials on heaven by Rev. Eriks.