Posted by: Billy Marsh | July 31, 2007

III. Sojourners: Hebrews 11:15 (A) What Have You Left To Follow God?

The Good Shepherd

“If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.” Hebrews 11:15

Those ones whom God explicitly commended for their faith just so happened to live lives of continual journeying. Especially here in this context, the patriarchs always considered themselves sojourners even as they settled in Canaan. Apologist, Church History scholar, and Oxford theologian Alister McGrath writes, “The image of a journey is perhaps one of the most important ways of stimulating the Christian imagination, and sustaining the hope of heaven (A Brief History of Heaven, 171).”

If you’re a Christian, Heb 11:15 should be true of you at least in one objective aspect, namely that you have left a land in search of the Holy City. Abraham was called to leave his home in search of an unknown, promised land. Jacob was sent back to Mesopotamia to find a wife away from Canaan. Joesph traveled down a long, hard journey to become a great Egyptian leader after being sold into slavery by his brothers. Moses did not count the treasures of Egypt as of any value and instead journeyed ending up at the Mountain of God, thus, traveling back to Egypt only to soon lead the exiled people of God on a new journey back to the promised land. Jesus left his heavenly dwelling place in exchange for not having a home and no place to lay his head (Lk 9:58). The Apostle Paul endeavored upon three missionary journeys and spent much of his life unsettled and in prison. Even the beloved disciple, John, traditionally has been believed to have spent his final years exiled on the Isle of Patmos.

So, what can we deduce from these examples in light of v. 15? That the meaning of this verse was not intended only to communicate a metaphorical concept, that is, leaving earth to arrive at heaven. Here in the context of Heb 11 and in the whole canonical scheme, it is very obvious that on earth, Christ’s disciples are often required to uproot and to leave all that is familiar in order to make the journey that God has set before them. That journey could consist of moving your family to become missionaries in Ecuador to the Auca Tribe, or it could involve leaving home and making the drive to Fort Worth, Texas to begin a very long journey through the theological educational system (a.k.a. “the wilderness”).

However, Christian transvision must not be lost. Even though most of the heroes of the faith mentioned in Heb 11 did in fact traverse many miles on earth without ever really settling in a homeland, vv. 10 & 16 still inform us that they were seeking a city whose builder was God, that is, a much better country. These people had a faith that believed in a objective promise. Their journeys were not leaps of faith into the unkown abyss. The Scriptures indicate that they were fully aware of the reality of God’s promise and their anticipation of the time when hope possessed that which it substantiated.

The warning in v. 15 is easy to understand and to apply. Many biblical images come to mind immediately as I dwell upon those whom were tempted in returning to the place from where God had called them. For instance, Jacob had to literally flee from Laban just to get back to the land of his fathers. An even more obvious example would be the Israelites in the wilderness constantly being disheartened and conquered by unbelief. Their first response after hearing the spies’ report of Canaan was, “Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt (Num 14:3)?”

However, the Sojourner mentality does not dwell upon the past nor upon the place where God has removed them. I have noticed it myself during various trips back to the Carolinas. I am often tempted to wonder what life would have been like if Kim and I had gone to Southeastern instead and remained close to home. Then, I begin to rationalize for a moment the possibility of a transfer. It would just be easier, more convenient, and it would make a whole lot of people happier. Alas, those thoughts last but a moment, like a vapor, here today and gone tomorrow. My heart is like Frodo’s. After his long journey to the Mountain of Fire, the Shire could not satisfy his pilgrim heart. Only a better country could meet that need and bring true rest, peace, and everlasting joy. And so it is with my own heart. Grounding my being in an ideal that focuses on the promises of God and the hope of heaven enables me to come before the Lord on bended knee willing to be sent here and there in his perfect time at his bidding. There is too much joy in the journey for me to swap it for mediocrity and the fleeting pleasures of the American Dream.

“But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”

~ Acts 20:24 ~

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