A Word for Today | Hebrews 11:13-16
Hebrews 11:13-15 describes the life of faith as a pilgrimage in a foreign land: believers “acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.” The writer of Hebrews renders this with two words, the first of which is xenoi, meaning “aliens.” This was a pejorative term indicating outsiders. It describes not merely a person from another place, but someone who doesn’t fit in or belong. The other term is paredidemoi, or sojourners. These are people who are passing through to a destination somewhere else. This is what Hebrews says about Abraham and those who follow him in faith. By admitting they are aliens and strangers, believers “make it clear that they are seeking a homeland” (v. 14) in the world to come. This seems to have been a teaching greatly stressed in the early church. One very early document, the Epistle to Diognetus, speaks of this subject in strong terms: “[Christians] dwell in their own countries, but only as sojourners. . . . Every foreign country is a homeland to them, and every homeland is foreign… Their existence is on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven.”
When God called, Abraham willingly left everything and in this he shows what faith requires. Faith leaves one home and then seeks another home: “They desired a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Heb. 11:16). What makes people spend their lives as those passing through, except that they are headed somewhere dear to their hearts? Abraham lived as a pilgrim here because of his eagerness to have what can only be possessed by faith in the world to come. His home was elsewhere, with God and the city God had prepared, so it was only natural for him to live the way the he did.
This viewpoint inevitably reshapes our attitude towards life and death. Death itself is terrible. But for those who trust the Lord, it becomes the gateway into life. If we believe this, then we will set our hearts not on things here, but there beyond life’s horizon. A famous preacher expressed this attitude in a letter to a friend announcing the death of his dear beloved wife: “I have some of the best news to impart. One beloved by you has accomplished her warfare, has received an answer to her prayers, and everlasting joy rests upon her head. My dear wife, the source of my best earthly comfort for twenty years, departed on Tuesday.” It is not that this man felt no sadness at the loss of his wife, but that he understood what death meant for her. It meant finding and reaching the home and joy she long had sought. Christians by faith have seen better things in another place. Our treasure is there and so our heart follows. Therefore, we gladly accept the fact that we are sojourners here, because this tells us we have an inheritance there. As the well-loved hymn puts it, we will “cherish the old rugged cross, and exchange it someday for a crown.”
In Christ’s Love, Pastor Phillips
 Venn, announcing the death of his wife, cf. J.C. Ryle: Holiness (Darlington, UK: Evangelical Press, 1979), 190.