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God’s Word for You

Hebrews 11:14-16

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, December 16, 2014

14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 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.

When Lot ran from Sodom and headed across the salt plains to escape the destruction of the city, he made it out with his life and the lives of his two daughters. They were the only ones who survived. Abraham, looking down into the valley the next day, “saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace” (Genesis 19:28). Peter calls Lot a righteous man, “distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men, for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard” (2 Peter 2:7,8). But our author here in Hebrews does not include Lot in his list.

The exclusion of Lot isn’t a judgment of his character—many, many Old Testament believers are not listed here, because a massive list would be out of place. We get the point without being reminded of Nehemiah, Naboth, Nebuchadnezzar, Nahum, or Naaman’s servant girl. But Lot? Here was a man who ran away from destruction and sought a better country, only to scramble to find a cave to call his own in the hills on the other side of the Jordan. But our author’s point—and perhaps the reason he includes this passage here, in the place where Lot might have appeared in the list—is that these particular examples of faith are people who were not running from a worse life to a better one, but left a perfectly fine life for something they knew nothing about except the promise God gave. So he says that they “longed for a better country—a heavenly one.”

The city God has prepared for us, for all who wait for Christ to return, is the eternal paradise of heaven. This is the city described in the closing chapters of Revelation and hints from Jesus himself, a place that is both heaven and earth, both city and forest-park, a paradise where we will live and thrive and be fulfilled in our work and know the pleasure of praising God with a pure heart and true worship in every act. Breathing itself will be like music, each spoken word like a hymn, each sentence a hymnal or an opera, and every step a dance. Johann Bengel, a German Lutheran professor (1687-1752) said, “How great may we suppose the splendor to be that must belong to it (heaven), since it is God Himself who shows it!”

Heaven is different from everything else mankind waits for. When we anticipate a day off, the day never lives up to our expectations, and is often wasted or used up on some fruitless enterprise. When we look forward to a movie or a book or some other entertainment, it is too often if not always spoiled by something—an unthinking person in line who gives away the plot, or a bad performance, or an author whose otherwise interesting story is marred by his foolish atheism or some obnoxious or extreme political view. But heaven? Heaven will exceed our every expectation. Do not fall into the foolish temptation of thinking that you won’t like heaven because there won’t be some singular pleasure there that you don’t think you can live without. Don’t imagine that you’ll be bored because you can’t imagine the Lord’s domain providing you with enough variety or spice or because you’ve become too accustomed to having a surfeit of earthly pleasures. Understand that absolutely any negative thought about heaven is the work of the devil in your head. Chase him out. Sweep him clean of your desires. Trust in God’s forgiveness and in his promises, and wait for the spectacular blessings that will come. This is the city prepared for you. You only need to wait and trust in your Savior.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

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