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We were not created to be pilgrims. In Eden, God made a home for man before He made man. We long to be settled, to be in a place where we belong. A disciple of Christ, however, is called to resist making his permanent home in this present world. Hebrews 11, along with other passages in the New Testament (for example, 1 Peter 2:11), describes our identity as that of “strangers and exiles.”

This pilgrim calling will inevitably produce feelings of homesickness. Homesickness has a way of pulling our hearts toward the past to relieve the discontentedness of the present. We want to return to some former life to find security. Abraham experienced this longing. He did not find contentment in the land that was promised. He lived in tents with Isaac and Jacob (Heb. 11:9). Hebrews makes clear, however, that he and his children knew that the solution was not to return to Ur: “If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return” (v. 15).

Abraham and the other old covenant saints could endure their rootless identity only by faith. Indeed, Hebrews 11 presents an impressive catalog of faithful saints, a hall of fame of belief. It might seem as though the author’s point is for us to look back to recover something they had. Look back to the good old days. Look back to find out how they exercised powerful faith.

Our home is where Jesus is. Until we are in heaven with Him, we remain exiles.

The trajectory of Hebrews 11, however, is decidedly future-oriented. Our attention is not drawn back to these godly men and women and their ability to conjure up extraordinary faith. We are not called to look back at them to admire some special power they possessed. Their significance in this chapter is primarily to direct our attention away from them and toward the object of their faith. Their role was that of witnesses (12:1). Their hope was in Jesus.

This should not surprise us. The entire book of Hebrews implores us to fix our eyes on Jesus. Chapters 1–10 present Jesus as superior to angels, as greater than Moses, as the better Joshua, as the rightful High Priest, and as the true sacrifice. It would be out of place, then, if Hebrews 11 were to have us take our eyes off Jesus and put them on His followers. These saints’ faith was great because their faith was in Christ.

While we might expect that old covenant believers needed to look forward toward the fulfillment of their hope, it might not be as clear to us that our hope remains ahead. Christ has accomplished our salvation. We are justified; the work of the cross is finished. Yet our faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1). Jesus has run ahead of us, but our race is still before us. Our home is where Jesus is. Until we are in heaven with Him, we remain exiles.

This means that we must learn, as these saints of old did, to treat the present world as a foreign land. Following Christ might seem unnatural in this world. Walking by faith will frequently make us discontent. Hebrews 12 encourages us not to grow weary when our path runs against the grain of this world. These are not signs that we are on the wrong course. We should feel like strangers. We should not feel at home. We must lose our hope in what this world can provide before we will be open to what God has ahead of us. Trusting that God has prepared another city for us means that we must refuse to put down ultimate roots in this world. We can still love and care for our neighbors without clinging to the same things that they do. We must be strangers not just in our conduct but in our hope.

Finally, our sojourn is not completely rootless. We are not to be strangers and exiles alone. The cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 11 reminds us that there is a community in which we can be rooted and make our home. We can make our home there because Christ is there. When we gather as the church, Christ promises to be among us (Matt. 18:20). It is when we come together as a community that the citizens of this better country, past and present, worship the Savior in their midst. Exiles unite, helping each other on this journey to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering” and to “stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:23–25).

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