In two books I’ve read recently cities have featured as key places around which the stories have been written. The first book is the Charles Dickens’ classic ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ and the second is Alexander Dumas’ ‘The three Musketeers’. In both these classics the cities of Paris and London are the settings for much of the intrigue and action of the characters. Paris seems to have been regarded as the more dangerous place, and yet also the place where some of the main individuals found their homes and identity. As the writers developed their stories, the picture they presented of the French capital of the 16th and 17th century wasn’t inviting, and, indeed, was rather terrifying. London wasn’t so good either, I have to say! These two novels aren’t easy to read, but contain insights into the depravity of our fallen human nature.
In the book of Hebrews, the writer also has two locations in mind. The first is referred to as ‘the Promised Land’. Abraham and his family “by faith made his home in the Promised Land like a stranger in a foreign country” (Hebrews 11:9). However, Abraham didn’t regard this wonderful land as being his final destination, so he lived in tents because ‘he was looking forward to the city without foundations’ (Hebrews 11:10). However good the land which flowed with milk and honey was, it wasn’t good enough!
In Chapter 13 the writer depicts a Christian’s life on earth as going ‘outside the camp’, that is being free of the boundaries of this fixed terrestrial location. As Christians we are also not bound to the constrictions of tradition, expectations from others, or, in this context, Judaism (Hebrews 13:13). However good the environment may seem at the time, it’s not to be regarded as a place of final fulfilment or happiness. Jerusalem in Jesus’ time was regarded as the centre of God’s blessing on His people, yet He was removed ‘outside the camp’ both to suffer and also, metaphorically, to meet with His followers.
In the same way we’re encouraged to look forward beyond this life to the ‘city that is to come’, because ‘here we do not have an enduring city’. It’s tempting to look on places and people that have been a blessing to us as something more than they are. People and places change and fade away. They’re not enduring cities. However, the dwelling place of God in heaven, where we shall one day be with Him for ever, is a place of permanence, everlasting joy and peace. It’s somewhere to look forward to. We don’t understand where and how it will be, or even when. But we shall enter that city, and we shall have eternal blessing there.
It’s hard to look forward to something as intangible as that enduring city, but then, that’s what faith’s all about. As we pursue the things of this life that God calls us to, enjoying the temporal blessings of now, let’s keep in mind that these things will pass away, but eternal life in God is what it says – eternal. And that means there’s an eternal dwelling place for us to look forward to. Hallelujah!
Prayer: Lord, we do thank You for the blessings of this life, for the good gifts You send us and the people we enjoy relationship with. We confess it’s tempting to put our effort into building things that aren’t going to last – our houses, careers, and possessions.. Help us, we pray, to keep an eternal focus, always looking forward beyond this life to that which You’ve promised us with You in heaven, so we don’t get distracted from Kingdom living by the cares of this world. Amen.
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