What do you long for in life? What do you one day hope to have? What do you think will make you happy? Advertisers are really clever at tapping in to what we long for. They make us think that what we have will make us happy. For the last few years I've been struck by the advertising hoardings that surround the Park View housing development on Durham Road. The hoardings say: 'Imagine it. A new home. A new beginning. A new place to make your home.' Around that hoarding are pictures of Saltwell park in all its beauty, images of couples cosying up on a couch and families enjoying each other's company. I think it's clever: it taps into something we all long for…to enjoy beauty, to enjoy relationship...to be at home. But could Park View, or any other development, ever deliver all that it promises? Is the 'Park View' life, as good as it is, all there is to long for – or is there something better?
Abraham, tonight's example of faith, longed for something better than this world could offer. Abraham's faith meant he longed for heaven.
What I want us to see tonight is this: Faith means being homesick for heaven. The Hebrew Christians had started well in the faith, but were in danger of losing their homesickness for heaven. In the early days they kept their faith in God's promises despite persecution. Tough times were coming again, and they were wondering if was all really worth it? They were tempted to give up on Jesus, and return to their old life of Judaism. So the writer holds out Abraham's example to them and us. Why? Abraham too received promises from God. He too faced difficulty as he put his faith in God's promises. What kept him going was his hope of heaven. Abraham's example tells us to be homesick for heaven.
So how can we imitate Abraham's homesickness for heaven? As we look at the text I want to draw out three ways we can imitate Abraham. Firstly we are to live as refugees, secondly we are to look to God's faithfulness, and thirdly we are to long for home. My first point is
1. Live As a Refugee.
Abraham as we heard earlier in Genesis 12 was a man who was called by God to leave his home and go to land God would show him. God made some promises to Abraham: promises of land; of being made into a great nation - and a nation that would bless all peoples on earth. So Abraham left home and started travelling to a new home – even though he didn't know where it was. Abraham was a refugee, he'd given up his home and was looking for a better place. Let's look at Hebrews 11.8-9, for some more light on the issue:
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.
We're told Abraham made his home in the promised land like a stranger. He lived there but other people lived it in; he never owned the land. The result was Abraham lived in tents – like a refugee. Why would he do that? A camping holiday is nice, but living in a tent in not nice – especially when you're 75! Let's look at verse 10:
For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
The writer of Hebrews tells us that Abraham was looking forward to a heavenly city built by God. Abraham, as he waited for God to fulfil his promises, somehow realised God would fulfil his promise not just by providing the land of Canaan, but ultimately in providing a heavenly country. Abraham left all that he was familiar when God called him. He lived in a tent as refugee among a land of strangers. He never really settled because he was homesick for heaven. Heaven was the homeland he knew he was going to. If we are trusting in Jesus, God has called us through the gospel. We too have left an old life for a new one. We too are refugees living among strangers looking forward to our real homeland in the new creation. That's the parallel the writer of Hebrews wanted his listeners to draw between themselves and Abraham.
What does it mean for us today? We imitate Abraham not by selling our homes and living in a tent instead. We imitate Abraham by adopting his refugee attitude. So we don't live this life as if this is it. A few years ago if you were young and trendy you might have said 'YOLO!' It means, You only live once. It's a phrase that is used to justify trying to find your happiness in this life alone. But I wonder if Abraham's catchphrase might have been 'YOLOT'! You only live twice. He could put up with being a refugee because he knew that one day the tents would give way to a city built by God.
Think of when we go camping or use the less than luxury accommodation at the church weekend away, we don't mind putting up with less room or living out of a rucksack, because we know it's only temporary.
We need to apply that refugee attitude to our lives. Let's take our homes. On Location, Location, Location, Britain's premier property TV programme, the presenters Phil and Kirsty talk about finding your 'forever home.' A forever home is one that is so big, so lovely, so well located you don't need to move again ever. Abraham knew he would never find his forever home in this life; he knew his forever home was in heaven. This is great news because we don't have to pressure ourselves of thinking our life is a failure if we haven't lived it up in style, and travelled the world twice. If we're trusting in Jesus we need Abraham's refugee attitude. So if you love your home, thank God for it, but don't get too attached. You're not going to live there forever; it's only ever temporary accommodation! If you do not like your home, then praise God, because you're not going to be there forever. Heaven is your home! This should totally transform our attitude to our possessions too.
In Hebrews 10.34 the writer says the Hebrew Christians joyfully accepted the confiscation of their property because 'you knew yourselves you had better and lasting possessions.' Having a refugee attitude allows us to have possessions without them possessing us. Trusting in Jesus means our best possession, eternal life with Christ, cannot be taken away from us.
Let's apply Abraham's refugee attitude to our hopes. His hopes were forever changed when God called him. And God's calling of us through his gospel should change our desires too. We should be looking forward to heaven.
I was speaking to a friend of mine a few weeks ago. He's about to graduate from his degree and is looking jobs. I asked him what his hope was in life. He said, ' A happy life – a family, a house, a job.' I pushed him and said do you think it's possible to have a perfectly happy life? To which he answered rather honestly, 'O.K – I'll settle for a reasonable life then.'
For Abraham that would be far too small a hope. Abraham didn't settle his hopes on a reasonable life in the promised land! He didn't hope for a semi detached in Canaan! His hope was something far greater – a heavenly city built by God. And if you're trusting in Jesus, that is your certain hope too.
If you're chasing a YOLO life you will never be satisfied. If you're happy with a 'reasonable' life there is so much more! But we can only know life to the full, eternal life that truly satisfies, if we put our faith in Jesus. Don't miss out on eternal life - life to the full!
We can apply Abraham's refugee attitude to our priorities too. Abraham's certain hope of heaven changed his priorities in life. At an old age he left the life he'd built for a new life shaped by God's promises. The promise of heaven changed his priorities and enabled him to put up with temporary discomfort. Last year a couple from this church left Gateshead to move to the Middle East. The gospel had changed their priorities and enabled them to put up with discomfort. What they did I'm sure was quite shocking to their colleagues at work. They gave up a nice home, nice jobs, nice schools for their kids for the gospel. I'm not saying those things are bad. I'm not saying we all should do what they did. But it's worth thinking through how much would our ambitions for ourselves, our children or parents shock our colleagues? Are our priorities just the same as our neighbours? Knowing the hope of heaven should change our priorities, and enable us to live as refugees!
2. Look to God's Faithfulness.
Look to God's faithfulness. In Genesis 12 God makes Abraham truly epic promises. Not only would he be given a land, but he promises a 75 year old, that he will become father to a nation which would bless all peoples! Let's see what chapter 11.11 tells us:
By faith Abraham, even though he was past age--and Sarah herself was barren--was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
Abraham became a father at the age of 100. Those 25 years between God's first promise and the birth of Isaac weren't straightforward to say the least. Abraham made some big mistakes, so God had to keep reminding Abraham of his promise. But the writer tells us that Abraham became a father because he considered God faithful. He believed God would keep his promises – even against the evidence of his senses! And so God did the impossible of making Abraham and his family into a great nation. God's promise to Abraham was unique. But he does make truly epic promises to us in Jesus. He promises us forgiveness of sin and eternal life if we keep our faith in Jesus. So the writer of Hebrews encourages us in chapter10.23 saying
Let us hold us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
Just as Abraham's confidence was in God's faithfulness so should ours be too. He is faithful to his promises of rescue in Jesus.
Abraham looked forward to God's promises being fulfilled too. In John 8.56, Jesus says:
Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it, and was glad.
This is tricky but Abraham in some sense knew the promises God made to him, wouldn't ultimately be fulfilled by Israel living in the promised land, but by God's people being brought into the new creation by trusting in Jesus. He rejoiced at the thought of seeing Jesus' coming, and was glad at the thought of it. If Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing Jesus' coming, but only ever welcomed it from a distance, how much more should we rejoice at seeing God's promises to Abraham being fulfilled.
Abraham's family turned into a nation, and from that nation came Jesus. Jesus who died for the sins of the whole world, so that by faith in him, all nations can be blessed with forgiveness and eternal life by God.
We've seen those promises fulfilled. God is faithful. We are yet to see the promise of the new creation fulfilled. But God is faithful. Let's keep looking to God's faithfulness as we look forward to heaven. The way to develop homesickness is to keep considering his faithfulness.
Finally, how else can we imitate Abraham? We are to
3. Long For Home.
In Hebrews 11.13 we come to a bit of a summary. The writer tells us that all of the heroes he has mentioned, like Abraham, did not receive what they were promised. Abraham had not received the land of Canaan as an earthly inheritance. He saw what was promised from a distance; hence Jesus can say Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day. Let's read from verse 13:
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.
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob lived as refugees on earth making it clear they were longing for something better. What was that? Look with me at verse 14:
People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had 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.
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were all homesick for heaven. They lived as refugees longing for a better country – a heavenly one. The word 'longing' shows us that Abraham's heart was set on coming home to heaven. If he had been thinking about the country he had left, he would have returned. But he never did because what God promised him was far better than what he left. He didn't give up being a refugee because he knew his temporary discomfort was worth it in the end.
What can we learn from Abraham? We too like Abraham are refugees heading home to heaven. And sometimes it is tempting, like the Hebrew Christians did, to think is it really worth it? It's tempting to think what if I could just go back to my old life. Or perhaps if we grew up in a church family there is part of us that wonders, 'Would my life be better if I wasn't following Jesus?'
Abraham knew his old life wasn't worth going back to. He knew heaven was better than anything the world could offer – so he kept on living in tents longing for heavenly city. For many of us there will be great costs to following Jesus: perhaps being single; perhaps missing out on promotions because you won't compromise; perhaps moving far from family, or perhaps being seen as odd by your loved ones for following Jesus. But Abraham says there's something better than all this life can offer – a heavenly country. Abraham says to us the cost of being a refugee is worth it. Keep going because one day discomfort will give way to glory.
We really need to help each other long for heaven too. Earlier in Hebrews the writer says to the believers in 10.25:
let us encourage one another – and all the more as we see the Day approaching.
Surely part of encouraging each other will mean talking of the day when Jesus ushers in the new creation. Having spent a few weeks in this passage I realise I don't think on, never mind talk enough about my hope of the new creation. Let me encourage us all to talk more of our hope of heaven in everyday life.
One of my friends has spent a couple of years in Cameroon working in a Christian hospital, often with malaria patients. One of her main observations was that the believers talked of heaven regularly. My doctor friend said the believers would visit family members in hospital and often say things like, 'There'll be no malaria in heaven!' How often do we look at the difficult circumstances of life and use them as a reminder that the in the new creation there will be no more illness, loneliness, crying and death? Let's encourage each other to long for that better country by talking about it.
Let me encourage you to talk about your hope with those outside the church too because the gospel offers something incredibly attractive. Park View's advertising is attractive because all of us long for its offer of beauty, relationship and home. But Park View or any other development can't deliver that kind of happiness.
Only the new creation can deliver true beauty, relationship with God that truly satisfies and be the true home we all long for. Only there will God live with his people.
The greatest aspect of heaven will be living with God. There's a nineteenth century American folk song called 'Wayfaring Stranger' which really captures this homesickness for heaven. Let me read you the final verse:
"'ll soon be free from every trial
This form shall rest beneath the sod
I'll drop the cross of self-denial
And enter in that home with God
I'm going home to see my saviour
Who spilled his precious blood for me
I am just going over Jordan
I am just going over home"
This song wonderfully points us to our greatest inheritance – seeing our saviour. Look with me at 16b for our greatest inheritance:
Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
God is not ashamed of those who put their faith in his promises. That means he delights in us; he calls us his own; he prepares us a home. Enjoying God for eternity will be our inheritance.
If your faith is in Jesus – heaven is your home. So live as a refugee; look to God's faithfulness and long for home.