Our Changeless Example and Our Eternal Home

Hebrews 13:7-14 / Philippians 3:18-21

The Reverend Bryn MacPhail / November 13, 2005


            Our world is changing rapidly. Technological advancements abound; fashions come and go; farms are turned into residential neighbourhoods; corporations buy corporations; even our societal values have seen significant change—some for the better, some for the worse.


            While change is not always a bad thing, I think most of us recognize the need for some things to remain the same. I am grateful for what I read in the final chapter of The Book of Hebrews. Here we read about our unchanging God, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, and forever” (13:8).


            What an important statement this is! Here we are being told that the One who is “the exact representation of (God the Father’s) nature” will always be   the exact representation of (God the Father’s) nature” (1:3).


            We are being assured that the One who was once “able to come to the aid of those who (were) tempted” will always be “able to come to the aid of those who are tempted” (2:18).


            We are being informed that the One who once served as the perfect High Priest continues to serve as our High Priest, making intercession on our behalf (4:14).


            We are being comforted by the reminder that the sacrifice of Christ remains the means through which sinners are reconciled to God (10:10-12).  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, and forever” (13:8).


            What was true about God two thousand years ago remains true today. More than that, what was true about God from the beginning of creation will remain true for all eternity.


            It appears that the author of Hebrews introduces the unchangeableness of Christ to make two important points: First, he references the unchanging nature of Christ to communicate, by implication, the unchanging nature of the doctrines relating to Christ. The author of Hebrews wants his readers to know that these things are not merely true for them today, but are true for all people for all time. For this reason, they should not—and we should not—“be carried away by varied and strange teachings” (13:9).


And, secondly, it appears that the author of Hebrews references the unchangeableness of Christ in order to excite in us a thirst for our future home within the heavenly kingdom. We see this in verse 14, “here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.


It seems to me that Christians don’t speak very often about “the city which is to come”. My experience is that it usually takes a funeral to get us onto that subject. And yet, the author of Hebrews presents this subject matter, not in response to death, but as a governing principle for life.


In the same way our actions are influenced when we bring to mind what Christ has done for us in the past, the author means for us to be influenced as we contemplate what Christ has yet to do for us. In other words, we should be as stirred by Christ’s promises for the future as we are by His past and present blessings.


Admittedly, this is difficult for us. We have been raised to believe that “a bird in the hand is worth more than two in the bush.” As a result, our view of heaven is that we’ll enjoy it when it is time but, until then, our focus will be on God’s present blessings.


I am so thankful for the blessings of God in my life, but I fear that these blessings sometimes cause me to be unduly attached to this world.


By contrast, I have noticed that suffering tends to produce the opposite result. As I survey the Scriptures, attempting to make sense of pain and death this is what I have observed: In suffering, God means to create in us an appetite for heaven.


Let's be honest, if our life on this earth were perfect; if we were all healthy, wealthy, and comfortable, we would never want to leave this place. We would not be able to imagine heaven as an improvement on our current existence. But our life is not perfect. We face trials daily. And how do we view suffering and death? We hate it.


I want to tell you this morning, that nothing upsets me more than to see someone in pain. I want to tell you what you already know—death stinks. But even death has a purpose. Death reminds us not to be too comfortable with our earthly existence. Death reminds that this is not our home.


The apostle Paul makes this point in his letter to the Philippians, chapter 3, verses 20, 21, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we eagerly wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory.


Friends, if heaven is indeed our home, then why is our appetite for heaven so weak? If heaven is our home, why don't we talk about it more?


I fear that the answer is that our minds are constantly on earthly things. Of course, we must attend to our earthly affairs with diligence and, indeed, we should enjoy our time here. Yet, at the same time, Paul is clear about this: To set one's mind only on earthly matters, in such a way that they become our focus, is to act in an unchristian manner (Phil. 3:18, 19). The challenge for you and I then, is to attend diligently to our earthly affairs while having our mind set on heaven.


Surely the word citizenship provides us with a helpful analogy. I want you to imagine that you are on vacation in a foreign land. You have left your family and friends behind in order to travel overseas. Now, just because you are not home, doesn't mean that you can't enjoy yourself. Nobody goes on vacation to have a bad time.


Some of my most exciting times have been while vacationing in a different country. But do you know what? Not once have I ever been tempted to take up residence there. Even if we have the most exciting two weeks imaginable, we always look forward to coming home, don't we?


In the same manner, we should enjoy our life on this earth, but we should do so knowing our existence here is but a day-trip in contrast to our eternal fellowship with Christ in “the city which is to come” (Heb. 13:14).


Friends, this is not some abstract concept we are pondering here. The fact that we are citizens of heaven has tremendous implications on how we are to live our lives here on earth. Perhaps the most obvious application of this truth is that while we are on earth we are to be governed by the heaven's laws. This is why Jesus taught us to pray, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven"(Matt. 6:10).


The habits of heaven should manifest themselves in the lives of God's children here on earth. And, I submit to you that if we govern our lives on earth by heaven's laws, people will notice.


Whenever I visit the Southern United States, it doesn't take long for someone to figure out where I am from. If "my accent", as they call it, doesn't give me away, my choice of words and the type of preferences I have always does. For instance, have you ever walked into a McDonald's in the U.S. and asked for vinegar for your french fries? Or have you ever asked for a serviette to clean up a mess you made? If you have, you know exactly what I am talking about.


In the same way, those who live by heaven's ways will develop a vocabulary and a lifestyle that will mark you out as distinct. Our citizenship in heaven is more than a passport for eternity, it should remind us of how to carry ourselves here on this earth.


Let me, once again, pick up the analogy of traveling abroad. What typically happens once you are away for more than a week? We tend to lose touch with what is going on back home. And, if you are at all like me, you begin to search for a newspaper that will report about what is going on back home. Even better, is when we begin to receive letters from our homeland.


Friends, if you are citizens of heaven, do you long to communicate with your homeland? You see, the Bible is our letter from heaven. It is that correspondence written in love by our Heavenly Father who longs to dwell with us.


How strong are your passions to read about your homeland? If your citizenship is truly in heaven, then your heart should be set on it even while you are engaged in worldly activity.


The plain truth that I want you to see today is that our existence in heaven will be better than our existence on earth. Our experience in the city which is to come will greatly outshine our experience in this temporal city.


I fear that very few Christians can even comprehend this truth. Rather than view themselves as citizens of heaven, many speak of heaven as if it was some strange foreign land. I have heard many people express anxiety over whether there will be pets in heaven, whether there will be golf in heaven, and whether there will be cold beer in heaven.


What, I think, is behind these questions is another, very basic, question: Will heaven be fun?


Charles Spurgeon, commenting on the difference between heaven and earth, writes, “There can be no comparison between a soaring (angel) and a crawling worm.” Will heaven be fun? You bet it will be.


There will be no cancer wards in heaven. There will be no starving children in heaven. There will be no earthquakes or tsunamis in heaven. There will be no violence, discrimination, or disrespecting of individuals in heaven. The imagery of the prophet Isaiah on this subject is beautiful, "The wolf and the lamb shall graze together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox" (Isa. 65:25).


In heaven there will be no more death or sin. Heaven is perfect. And we who believe in Jesus Christ are citizens of this glorious place.


Our earthly existence is but a day-trip when compared to eternity. Enjoy your time here. Enjoy the green pastures and the quiet waters, but when you walk through that dark valley in this life, remember where you citizenship is--remember that our greatest passion should always be to "dwell in the house of the Lord forever" (Ps. 23:6). Amen.