18. Door to Life

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 18. Door to Life 

Gal 2:20    I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

I stated in a recent meditation something that may appear obvious but perhaps because it is we so often miss it, and that is that before there can be resurrection, there had to be death first. We have in the earlier meditations considered very lightly I might say, the crucifixion of Christ and his resurrection, but we have now moved firmly into the area of considering what are the implications of that death.

In our verse above, from Galatians, Paul suggests what we might call a parallelism in his life to that of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. It is a very powerful verse containing great truths.

The first thing we might note is the way he considers the life he now lives. The heart of it, he says, is that “Christ lives in me.” It is the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, who now indwells every Christian.  How we so often take this incredible truth for granted; Christ lives in me!

The second thing, Paul claims, is that this life is no longer ‘me’ orientated, no longer ‘me’ directed or motivated, this life of his (and mine and yours) is now Christ orientated, Christ directed, Christ motivated. He considers (and by implication he wants us to consider it true for us too) that the life he had previously, has been ‘crucified’ or put to death, so that the new power of Jesus could come in and raise up a completely new life. That is all about power.

Third, the foundation of this new life is faith, faith in Christ. Faith, the New Testament tells us, comes by hearing. You and I have heard the Gospel, we have read it in the book, we have it clearly before us and we have responded to that, and it is all about Christ. No Christ, no Gospel, no salvation. Our faith is focused on him.

Fourth, at the heart of this belief is the fact that Jesus, “loved me and gave himself for me.” Jesus’ death wasn’t just a ‘legal’ act done for mankind, an amorphous mass of people. No, Christ, because he is God, could see each one of us and he uniquely died for me, he uniquely died for you. He saw me, and he saw you. He loved me, and he loved you, and it was that love that took him to the Cross where he died for me, died for you – and then rose again so that we would believe.

What an amazing declaration Paul makes. I died to my old life so that I could rise with a new one, a life in which Christ now lives. I live it by faith in the Son of God (yes, who indwells me) who came to earth, lived out his life to reveal his Father in heaven, but who then died as a sacrifice for my sins so that I might be forgiven, and then he rose from the dead to secure my faith. Now it is him in me. Incredible!


26. Life

Short Meditations in John 5:  26. Life

Jn 5:26  For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself

Sometimes in scripture the most simple of verses have the most profound of meanings. “As the Father has life in himself.”  We live every day without much thought about the wonder of it. We even take it casually when we hear that Mr. John Smith has died at the age of 52. It is more shocking, and it pulls us up when a child dies or someone dies in an accident but mostly we take it for granted that one day will follow another. I am at an age that, fifty years ago would have been considered old, but I anticipate not dying tomorrow. On today’s standards I could live for another twenty-five years. The truth is that we take ‘life’ for granted but people do die and life comes to an end. For us it is fragile. If I stay out unprotected in freezing conditions, I will die. If I fall into the sea and can no longer swim, I will die.  I could have a heart attack and suddenly life is not here.

The thing about ‘life’ is that we have little control over it. We know that if we don’t do the normal things expected of a human being – eat, drink, take exercise, we will die, for we are not immortal and so something could happen that means we no longer have life. But this is not true of God. There are a number of things that make Him substantially different from us, but this is perhaps the main one. He IS immortal, He needs nothing to sustain Him.

I wonder if this particular characteristic (apart from Him being so big) is what makes Him scary and makes people fall down before Him. In His real presence does a person suddenly realise that here is someone utterly different from ‘me’? This someone has life but not as we know it for His is not reliant upon anything else – oxygen, food, drink – this being just exists.

But even more, this being has the ability to impart ‘life’, the ability to make something live and become someone, a living sentient being. Why do we struggle with the thoughts of Adam and Eve when we realise these things? But now Jesus has been taking us into the spiritual realm and has been speaking about spiritual life, life that means interacting with The Divine Being and, similarly, this Being is the One who has the capability of imparting that.

But wait a minute, that is what Jesus is now claiming, that he too has life in himself that is reliant upon no one and nothing and, even more we have already seen, he can impart that life – physical and spiritual – to whoever comes to him for it. Now this puts him on a par with the Father – he is God! We have said previously that he makes subtle inferences in respect of his divinity, but this is not so subtle!

21. Life Givers

Short Meditations in John 5:  21. Life Giver

Jn 5:21  For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it

It might be a scary thought that new birth only comes when God gives it, if it wasn’t for His love and the knowledge that in reality He wants ”everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9) and it is only our own stubborn and foolish hearts that keep us from receiving all of His goodness through salvation. His desire is to bless us and bring us to salvation, to raise us from the (spiritual) dead.

This looks a funny verse at first sight. “The Father raises the dead”. It is God the Father’s sovereign actions that prevail. Although there is a unity in the Trinity, the Son always submits to the Father in whom is all authority. So the Father seeks to bring us back to Himself and in so doing He rescues us from spiritual death (separation from Him) and imparts life to us, the life of His own Holy Spirit, eternal life. But it starts with the Father. As we have said before, He always initiates the activity.

But then we find, running parallel to this, the Son also gives life to whoever he will. We have seen previously that the Father shows the Son all that He is doing, all that is on His heart, and the Son joins in that activity, so here, when the Father desires to raise a person from their spiritual death, the Son does likewise; it is a joint Father and Son activity and, of course, it is the Holy Spirit who is imparted to bring that new life. Whenever new birth occurs, the entire Trinity is involved.

Note the final expression, “to whom he is pleased to give it.” Even as we said the Father’s desire is for repentance to come and salvation to follow, by implication it also pleases the Son when he is able to bring another person into his Father’s kingdom. There is indeed rejoicing in heaven when every new birth takes place.

Perhaps we cannot emphasise this enough that it is the desire of the Godhead to bring salvation to mankind. Three times in the book of Ezekiel we find God’s desire declared in this manner, for example: “I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” (Ezek 18:32).

Some people seek to portray God as a vindictive, nasty being who just delights in bringing destructive judgment on mankind. Nothing could be further from the truth!  The whole point of Jesus coming to the earth and dying on the Cross was to open the way for us to be saved. God wants to bless us and that can only come through His salvation through Jesus, because while we live our self-centred ‘old lives’ we won’t be open to receiving His direction and thus His blessing that He wants to bring to us.

31. The Resurrection and the Life

Focus on Christ Meditations: 31. The Resurrection and the Life

Jn 11:25,26    Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.

The context for this saying is very clear and obvious. Lazarus has just died and Jesus is going to raise him from the dead. That is implied in the story before this and it is what follows. Life, death and resurrection are the foundation of this incident. There is leading up to this saying an interesting discussion, although discussion does not really describe the interaction between Martha and Jesus. Observe: When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.”  (v.20) From Luke’s little account of the home of Mary and Martha (see Lk 10:38-) we know that Martha was the ‘get up and do’ sister and so it is that when Jesus comes it is Martha who goes out to meet him.

See her opening words: “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (v.21) These are words of reproach. She knows Jesus is a healer and so if he had been there he would have healed Lazarus – and they had sent word to Jesus but he hadn’t come! But then she says something interesting, “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” (v.22) Now it is probable that the messenger they had sent to Jesus came back with his answer: “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” (11:4) The thought of Lazarus coming back to life after he had been dead and buried some time was just beyond her reach and yet somehow, somewhere in the depths of her mind, there was some glimmer of hope even if she did not understand it herself. Verse 39 shows her mind is on the physical reality – if the grave is opened the body will smell for it must have already started to decay.

Jesus prompts her: “Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” (v.23) That sounds hopeful, but when? “Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” (v.24) She is a good Jew and well taught and so knows this teaching. It is in the face of this that this strange and, at first sight, incomprehensible word of self-revelation is spoken: “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.” (v.25a) Now before we try unraveling this, look at what follows: “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (v.25b,26) In the face of the teaching of the final resurrection of the dead (see Rev 20:12,13 and 1 Cor 15:12-) it would appear that Jesus is saying that he is the cause of all being resurrected from death to face God at the Final Judgment, but of course at that moment it will be every person who has ever lived, believer and non-believer, so such a general understanding would have little significance. No, there must be a further meaning to what he is saying.

Look again at verses 25b and 26. Jesus puts forward two possibilities, both about believers in Jesus. First, even though someone dies, they will live. So this puts forward the idea of life after death. The second one speaks of never dying. Are those contradictions? No, they are one and the same. We may appear to pass through physical death but that is not the end for us; we continue living with God, i.e. in reality we never ‘die’. We may appear to die physically but in reality, no, we continue on.

The apostle Paul wrote along these lines to the Romans: “if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Rom 8:10,11) When we are born again, Christ by his Spirit indwells us. In respect of God, our starting point is that our body is lifeless or ‘dead’ but our spirit is alive to God but then because the Holy Spirit is there within us, He imparts ‘life’ to our physical bodies so that in both body and spirit we are raised up or resurrected to be alive to God. This is how healing can come about, by the indwelling power within us. Yes, our physical body is still subject to physical death, and yet there appears a promise in scripture that somehow our whole being – new body and spirit will be raised in eternity (check out 1Cor 6:14; 15:20,23; 2Cor 4:14; Phil 3:21; 1Thess 4:14) There is a mystery here but without doubt we will receive new spiritual bodies, bodies not limited as they are now (ponder on 1 Cor 15:35-44).

We have seen in earlier word-pictures Jesus as the Bread of Life, the one who imparts life to enable us to live. We have seen him as the Light of the World, and we observed that light is necessary for life to occur and continue. There have been references to eternal life but this present word-picture presses that home more vigorously; it is a life that prevents death, a life that continues after physical death has occurred and a life that will even enable us to have some tangible, expressible ‘body’ after death and on into eternity.

This opens up a whole new world of speculation, but we will have to wait to experience and understand the reality of it when it happens. In the meantime, we can look into the future with hope. This present life is not all there is! The path ahead of us stretches away into eternity but changing and improving all the way. If you have ever read C.S.Lewis’s last Narnia book, ‘The Last Battle’, you will remember he sought to convey this wonder and the cry “further in, further up” was the cry that kept coming, all going on from one degree of glory to another in eternity.

To speculate and ponder on: whenever our hopes are dashed by the enemy or by the world and Sin, just remember Jesus is in the business of resurrection. Speaking of Abraham going to sacrifice Isaac, the writer to the Hebrews declared, “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.” (Heb 11:19) Whenever our hopes or ambitions die, remember Jesus is in the business of resurrection by bringing himself into the equation, but as with our new bodies in 1 Cor 15, remember what he raises up may not be the same as that which died – but it will always be gloriously better! Hallelujah!

42. Ezekiel (3)

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 42.  Ezekiel (3)

Ezek 40:3,4    I saw a man whose appearance was like bronze; he was standing in the gateway with a linen cord and a measuring rod in his hand. The man said to me, “Son of man, look with your eyes and hear with your ears and pay attention to everything I am going to show you, for that is why you have been brought here. Tell the house of Israel everything you see.”

When I started off this series it was, I have come to realise, with a sense of naivety when I thought about one or two verses per book. To create meaning we have had to do far more than that, and now, as we find ourselves still in Ezekiel, we are about to embark on the most strange highlight in these studies, that which covers Ezekiel’s temple in chapter 40 onwards. Ezekiel I have characterised, like Isaiah and Jeremiah, as a mountain of prophecy, but perhaps a mountain range might be more appropriate and when you come to the end of the range, there you have this further ‘mountain’ covered in cloud and with a massive question mark over it.

Indeed this is going to be the strangest ‘meditation’ in this series for here is the thing about this part of Ezekiel:  First it is clearly dated as having come fourteen years after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple within (40:1), second it is a vision (40:2), third in the vision Ezekiel sees in great detail the measurements of a temple (ch. 40-42),  fourth, more than once he is told to take great note of what he sees (40:4, 43:10,11 44:5), fifth, the glory of the Lord comes to this temple (ch.43), sixth the detail includes the priesthood and working within it (43:18-44:31, 45:9-24), seventh, there are details about apportioning the Land, layout and use of it (45:1-8, 47:15-48:35) and eighth,  IT WAS NEVER BUILT and these things never followed!

So the question arises, why were these nine chapters written down and never followed? What is the point of them being here? Why bother to read them? Let’s answer those in reverse order.

Why read them? We can only make suggestions. First we read then because for one reason or another they have been included in the canon of Scripture, first by the Jews who compiled the Old Testament scriptures, and second by the early church fathers who accepted it. Second, we might also add that within these chapters there are a number of passages with more details that exhort the Israelites of Ezekiel’s day to repent from their past and live out a new future, a continuation of the earlier parts of the book, if you like. Third, there is also a sense of holiness as the glory of the Lord is seen again, now filling this visionary temple, and with a general sense of holiness which comes through in these chapters.

What is the point of them being here?  Well, we may make several suggestions. First, in the day when the exile is well and truly under way, and the exiles have lost their temple, even though Ezekiel and Jeremiah have both prophesied restoration to the Land, this long, detailed section on the temple declares loud and clear, “God has NOT finished with His temple, His intent is still that He will dwell in the midst of His people.”  Second, they continue that sense of ‘heavenly otherness’ that is common to parts of Ezekiel, a challenge almost against humanistic thinking. We are left with questions that only God will answer. Third, they open up a whole new area of hope, for the Israelites of Ezekiel’s day, and the Jews of today. Why? Because the vision has not yet been fulfilled.

That leads us to think about the different ways these chapters can be seen. Commentators over the years have come up with a number of suggestions. First that this was never meant to be taken literally, that perhaps it is just meant to convey spiritual truths, or that it may even be a description of a heavenly temple. Second, that it should be taken literally which opens up the possibility that the people of Ezra’s time simply failed to build to this scale. The alternative is that it will yet be built in the future, maybe in the thousand year ‘millennium’ period of Rev 20:4 and you know the fun thing about all this – we just don’t know! What a challenge to those who feel insecure in their faith and feel they have to have everything neatly buttoned up and understood!

But let’s finish with a fairly brief reference to a beautiful few verses in chapter 47, the vision of the river flowing out of the Temple. It appears, first of all, flowing out from under the threshold of the temple (47:1). As it flowed it became a deeper and deeper river (47:3-6) and where it flowed down into the Dead Sea, it turned it into fresh water (47:8), and wherever it flows life bursts forth (47:9). On its banks fruit trees grow in abundance providing both food and healing (47:12). No interpretation is give and so we are just left to surmise for ourselves.

Whatever else it might say, it must speak of the life that flows out from the presence of the Lord, life that grows greater and greater the more it flows out, life that brings life, and life that transforms and changes that which is dead into a vibrant living environment. Two observations: first this flows from the presence of God portrayed by this temple in this vision. Second, this is the very life that flows forth from heaven through the Church today and even on a bigger scale through the kingdom of God in whatever form that is expressed – the blessing of God on earth.

And so a final question: does this mean that this long-winded picture of the temple is just God’s way of catching our attention to say, “I have a plan, a detailed plan of how I will bring my presence to the earth so that life can flow forth bringing transformation to this sin-weary world”? Does He further say, “I simply make the point that you will not fully understand it, but this plan is there and it will be fulfilled through my Son, Jesus Christ”?

Well, to get the most out of this study you are going to have to read chapters 40 to 48 so if you want to, copy, paste and print this study and keep it beside you as you read those chapters. You’ll only need half an hour and who knows what the Lord might pick out to speak to you. Be blessed.

6. Man on the Throne?

Meditations from Ezekiel: 6.  Man on the Throne?

Ezek 1:25,26   Then there came a voice from above the expanse over their heads as they stood with lowered wings. Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man.

So we have considered the angelic beings revealed as a unity, four living creatures and the wheels that accompany them and now, nearing the end of the chapter we are allowed to see past them, so to speak.

Reality conveyed Symbolically: The creatures come to a halt and Ezekiel hears something: “Then there came a voice from above the expanse over their heads as they stood with lowered wings,” (v.25) and as he look he sees, “Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man.” (v.26)

Now in a conversation with the Samaritan woman, the Son of God declared, God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit,” (Jn 4:24) but we are looking in on a vision that Ezekiel had in which God seeks to convey to this human being, realities of heaven and of Himself, and so everything that we see must be symbolic, picture form of reality that is beyond human comprehension.

As we have commented before the reality of the vision itself was so ‘other-worldly’ that it was confusing to the observer which is why we read just now, “was what looked like a throng of sapphire.” Was it a throne of sapphire? No it’s a vision and that is how it appears to this limited human mind. But it does give the impression of being a throne, a seat where a ruler sits. As for ‘sapphire’ all we can say is that this was a stone highly prized in the ancient world, and so we are shown what appears to be a throne made of the most costly and precious material.

The God-vision: It was on this throne that we read “was the figure like that of a man.” Again notice the word, ‘like’. This in reality wasn’t a man but in the revelation that is how He shows Himself to Ezekiel. Why should God show Himself to us in human form? Well, first, perhaps it is to identify with us and let us identify with Him. If we simply speak of God as Spirit, that is difficult to comprehend.  Scrabbling to define spirit I have suggested ‘energy with personality’ but even that defies our understanding. Second, even though that may be God’s intention, the reality is still far from a normal human man, as we’ll shortly see.

Ezekiel then sees, “I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him.” (v.27) So the lower half of this figure appears ‘normal human’ (with which we can identify) but the upper half is something else! He’s like glowing metal as if just having come out of a foundry, so full of fire and light, and brilliant light thus surrounded him. The apostle John spoke of the Son of God, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” (Jn 1:4) This is the truth; this figure IS life, all life emanates from Him, energy, power, and it is seen in the form of light that blazes forth from Him when revelation allows even a tip of the reality of Him being shown to mankind.

Impact: But then we read, “Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him.” (v.28a) Do you see what this is saying? This light that pours forth from Him impacts everything around it and everything is revealed in a myriad different aspects of that light. We refer to a rainbow as an expression of this light split up into the spectrum in water droplets that form a cloud. Here His light is shed on everything around Him and it reveals everything in this wonderful way. His radiance reveals the immense variety and beauty of the reality that God has brought into being at the beginning of all things. If you and I had been able to stand there the many facets of the wonder of the Lord would be reflected in us as we stood there reflecting His glory (ponder on 2 Cor 3:18 in the light of this).

Whenever God is revealed through revelation to us (for there is no other way we can see or even discern Him) it is His wonder or His glory that we behold.  His life, His light, is what impacts us and when it is shown or revealed in our human, material context, it comes as bright light in clouds as we have noted before. But when it is revealed, it impacts those who see it: “This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking.” (v.28b) So incredible was this vision that it seemed to sap all the energy of Ezekiel and in the vision (or maybe literally) he fell on his face. It was too much to behold and maybe it also left him feeling he was unworthy of such a sight.

Perhaps the apostle Peter caught something of this when Jesus took his boat and performed a miracle: “When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Lk 5:8) Peter may have been a brash fisherman, but did Jesus, I wonder, choose him because he was so good at seeing the reality. We see another example of it where we read, “Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” (Mt 16:16,17) Peter ‘saw’ it!

How have we coped with this vision in this first chapter? Our response reveals our spiritual state, our spiritual health, if you like. Jesus often spoke about how it needed people with open hearts to God to discern the wonder of the truths that he was bringing. If you feel you need it, ask the Lord afresh to open your eyes to the wonder of this amazing, almost bizarre, chapter. Remember it is prophetic reality being conveyed through symbolic pictures, God seeking to convey to us realities.

First there was the reality of the angelic body, shown in such a way as to convey a host of truths about the host that inhabits heaven – beings who serve God but ministering to mankind, coming with the might and authority of God (like lions), coming to serve the will of God (like Oxen) and coming with the revelation of God (like eagles) – a host that is utterly united in purpose, to serve the Lord, who move at great speed to do that and who herald Him and glorify Him. An example for us! Then there is the Lord Himself, revealed as the supreme ruler who identifies with His human creation and yet who cannot but pour forth the life that is His, that is seen as incredible power, revealed as light, one with us but utterly different from us. This one alone is worthy of our worship. Pray that these will be more than mere words for us.

66. A City to Come

Meditations in Hebrews 13:  66.  A City to Come

Heb 13:14   For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

At times the Christian life is a strange contradiction of feelings. For example, we have already considered the subject of contentment in an earlier study but now we come, in our verse above, across a familiar experience that is unhappy about the status quo and longs for something better. Perhaps we should first put this verse in context.

Recap Context: The writer has taken us through a number of practical issues, for example, marriage (v.4), avoiding love of money (v.5), realizing that Jesus is our helper and is always with us (v.5,6) and is always the same (v.8), but that we have leaders to act as examples for us (v.7) as we struggle to counter false teaching (v.9), remembering we have a much better access to our Saviour than the people of old did (v.10) and yet one who was rejected thus brining us a life that is often one of rejection (v.11-13). All of these things speak of a Fallen World in which we live where we have to resist temptations and battle untruths and opposition.

Something Better? It is not surprising, in the light of all this, that sometimes we are left feeling, “There must be something better than this!” Indeed there is something inside us that yearns for something better that God has for us and it is in respect of these feelings that the writer now says, For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” (v.14) Much of the struggle is to do with people. Even within the church there are people who seem to fall far short of what we might expect of the people of God, and outside it there are certainly people with whom we often do not feel comfortable.

Desiring Real Community: We long for a community (for that is what a ‘city’ is) that is not constantly changing, that is not constantly expressing stress and conflict. In one sense it is good that life is constantly changing and we are glad that circumstances change and we’re able to move on, but the next set of circumstances so often are little better. It is true inside church and outside it. The bigger the church the less obvious are the tensions but look deeply into any smaller church over a period of time and you will see the stresses and strains of being human beings; delivered from being in bondage to sin, yes, but nevertheless so often handling life in a less than perfect way. There must be a better way!

Back in chapter 11 we have the gallery of faith, the heroes of faith from the Old Testament, headed up by Abraham who had an amazing relationship with the Lord, only exceeded by that of Moses with the Lord, but when he received his call to go to a new land, he went as a nomad looking for something better, a city or community or people built by God: “For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Heb 11:10) Thus now we have an exact echo of that. Just like Abraham we have received a calling and we have responded to it and gone and followed the Lord, and yet as wonderful as that is, we are so often left feeling, there must be something better than this.  In chapter 12 we caught a glimpse of ‘this’: “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.” (Heb 12:22) The ‘City of God’ is in fact heaven, the dwelling place of God. That is our destiny.

Back in chapter 11, the writer explained this all more fully: “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. 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.” (Heb 11:13-16) Let’s examine this passage more fully.

The people of faith: All these people were still living by faith when they died.” (v.13a) It is a life of faith right up to the end (or the beginning!!!) That is what they were and that is what we are, people of faith, and in that we are not failures and we do not fall short.

And yet! “They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.” (v.13b) Despite being people of faith they had not received the full package, everything promised by God. That is how it is this side of eternity.

Still looking:  People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.(v.14) All these people had this same feeling of life falling short of what they wanted, of there being something better ‘just over the horizon’ we might say.

A Different Country:  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.” (v.15,16a) It wasn’t as if they yearned to have a ‘retake’ of their past years. No, they wanted something better.

Accepted: “Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (v.16b) It didn’t matter that they were dissatisfied with their past experience, they were people of faith and indeed it was their awareness and their faith that pleased the Lord.  So many other people are content with the world that they know and just want more of it – more money, more prestige, more fame, more possessions, more experiences.  The fact that all these things are tainted with sin which makes life ‘second best’ doesn’t appear to matter to them and until the Holy Spirit comes and convicts they rarely say, “There must be something better than this.”

So where do these thoughts leave us. First, with a reminder that we live in a fallen world where things go wrong, circumstances are sometimes bad and people even worse and, it seems, life seems ‘second best’ i.e. it could be better! Second, it is not wrong to yearn for a better experience, indeed it is an awareness not only of this world but of the world God has put on our hearts, the world yet to come. So, third, despite this we need to take hold of the grace of God to remain faithful and true to Him while we live and work out our time on this earth. Reach out for the better where you can and don’t accept second best if that is possible.