Growing up in Tennessee, I always highly anticipated our summer breaks. These breaks usually began during the last week of May and went all the way to September. Yes, three full months and then some! All of June, July, and August! How I loved summertime! There were so many fun things to do in the South. We lived on the edge of an enormous forest with miles of nature trails to explore and tree houses to build and fish to catch in streams and lakes and ponds. For me, just the anticipation of our summer breaks would brighten and positively influenced the entire month of May. As Christians—spiritually speaking—we need to learn how to live in the month of May, being filled with a joyful expectation of our glorious, eternal home described in the Book of Revelation:
I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (21:3-4).
A wonderful, everlasting, pain-free summer is around the corner for us! If you ever take a vacation in a beautiful resort location such as Hawaii, Costa Rica, or the Caribbean, just the anticipation beforehand can fill your heart with excitement. Living with anticipation can brighten our entire outlook on life no matter how dark it may presently be. It’s good to know that we’re on our way to heaven! The anticipation of my upcoming summer breaks helped me to joyfully endure the boredom of those long, afternoon May classes. But you can hardly call that enduring suffering!
I once read about a faithful pastor who was suddenly fired by his church board. He was an older man, and when the board members saw how quickly the church down the street was growing after they hired a young pastor, they decided to take similar action. The seasoned pastor replied to their abrupt decision to immediately fire him by saying, “Ok. That’s fine. I’m going to heaven soon, anyway.”
One of the concerned board members replied, “Pastor, what are you saying? Have you been recently diagnosed with a terminal illness?”
“No,” he calmly began. “But Jesus saved me and has an eternal paradise prepared for me in heaven one day. Surely between salvation and heaven, He’ll take care of me, no matter what I have to face in the meantime.” With such a godly response those board members began to question their hasty decision!
I understand there are some people in our churches who are so heavenly minded they really are no earthly good to anyone. From my observations through walking with God for almost forty years, I’d say that less than one percent of us are too much “in the clouds.” The problem almost always is on the other end of the spectrum, as C. S. Lewis pointed out:
If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.
Looking back over my childhood, when the spring months would fill me with anticipation about my upcoming summer break, I would often sit in the back of the class near the open windows. Looking out over the sun-drenched meadow across the street from our school, hearing the sounds of many songbirds, watching the robins hopping across the yard, smelling the freshly cut grass and blossoming flowers, feeling the warm breeze on my face—I was practically experiencing my summer break right then and there! The confines of that little classroom I was stuck in suddenly became quite bearable. And this is the prevailing mindset we find, from the beginning to the end, within this Epistle to the Hebrews.
The powers of the world to come are even now breaking in upon our present situations. Even now, through heartfelt worship, we can get glimpses of the radiance of Jesus’ eternal glory. Even now through prayer, we can enjoy foretastes of what is to come. We all can experience the winds of heaven blowing anticipation into our longing souls causing us to pray, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10, KJV).
Let’s look at some of the many references to heaven in Hebrews. As we do, we can begin to smell heavenly fragrances and feel its breeze coming through the open windows. And not only that, we will find invitations to come now into the presence of the Lord and have heavenly encounters with God.
Hebrews, Chapter 1 ends with, “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” The first person I witnessed to, as an eager missionary in New York City, was a young guy named Bobby. He told me that while installing a new window in his apartment, he fell backward out of the windowsill from the fifth floor. He said an invisible hand caught him as he was falling and miraculously pushed him back up into his apartment. He told me with deep conviction, “I’ve always believed it must have been an angel.” And I replied, “That’s awesome! God must know that you will eventually get saved, so He sent an angel to minister to you that day.”
That sounded cool, but is that what this Scripture teaches? That God sends His angels out to minister only to those who He knows beforehand “will [eventually in their future] inherit salvation”? One problem with that interpretation is in this Epistle the word salvation and especially our “eternal salvation” (5:9) is a future event and not just our initial commitment to following Christ. Our salvation is seen as culminating once we reach heaven, although it begins at conversion. Back to more heaven Scriptures…
In Hebrews, Chapter 2, the writer informs us that, “It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking.” The world to come (which for believers is heaven) is the overarching theme throughout the entire Epistle, about which we are speaking.
“Signs, wonders, miracles… gifts of the Holy Spirit (Chapter 2:4) are also described as “the powers of the coming age” (6:5) that some believers begin to experience in this life.
The Pastor is referring again to heaven in Chapter 2, verse 10: “In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.”
Heaven is in view in Chapter 3: “We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end” (v. 14).
Inheriting the promises of heavenly glory is in mind in Chapter 6:11: “We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized.”
In Chapter 9, verse 28 we read that our salvation will be completed at the coming of the Lord: “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”
Chapter 10 also says that our salvation will be fully realized at the coming of the Lord: “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For, In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay” (vs. 36-37).
In Chapter 11 we see that Abraham was looking forward to the heavenly city: “He was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (9-10).
Hebrews 12:22 says, “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.”
In Chapter 13 we see that all God’s people are to follow Abraham’s example, longing for the city that is to come: “Here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come” (v. 14).
Job once declared his faith in God by saying, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21b, NKJV). And likewise, we can see in Abraham’s life that he obtained a Promised Land by faith, and by faith he let it go. By faith he obtained a promised son, and then, by faith, he let him go:
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise...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, admitting that they were foreigners 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.
How did Abraham express his faith in his heavenly home, the city to come? Two ways: 1. He lived in tents instead of focusing on building permanent structures, and 2. He confessed that he was just passing through, such as in Genesis 23:3-4: “Then Abraham rose…and spoke to the Hittites. He said, ‘I am a foreigner and stranger among you.’” Instead of building a permanent house with foundations, he chose to abide in a temporary tent, acknowledging he was a pilgrim heading to a city that has permanent and eternal foundations. Again, verse 7 says, “He lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.” Jacob declared to Pharaoh, “The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty…and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers” (Genesis 47:9).
By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.
How was Abraham able to let things go? Specifically, how did he let the Promised Land go and let the promised son go? Verse 17 says, “He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son.” We too need to embrace God’s promises of present help and future glory. When our faith rests in God’s character and His unfailing faithfulness, His promises to us of present and future blessings will fill us with “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow” (Lyrics from the hymn, Great Is Thy Faithfulness).
We need to deeply receive the present and future promises, so we too can, by faith, let go of anything and everything God asks us to let go of for His sake, including our very own lives, if necessary.
Revelation 12:11 (in the King James Version) says, “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.” The NLT says, “They did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die.”
Moses let go of quite a lot because he focused instead on the better heavenly rewards to come: By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward (11:24-26).
How could anyone decide that mistreatment and suffering is a better choice than the pleasures and treasures of this life? Because the heavenly blessings to come are better than the earthly: better, longer, and richer. Actually, much better, much longer, and much richer!
These original recipients of this Epistle may have been financially blessed by God in their past. But soon after their conversion, by faith they “joyfully accepted the plundering of their goods,” (10:36) and they were forced to let them go. They may soon have to let go of even more than their earthly goods; their very lives also as they faced the “shedding of blood” (Hebrews 12:4). To people facing martyrdom in their immediate future, being told how Abraham and Moses let go of everything near and dear to them would be appropriate. They could find consolation in the fact that some people, by faith… “were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith…” (Hebrews 11:35b-39a)
The Pastor does not say in the next chapter, “In your struggle against sin, you have not resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” He says, “…you have not yet resisted…” Sounds like a prophetic warning that soon they would have to not love their life to the point of martyrdom.
Abraham and Moses were shining examples of being so heavenly minded that they could endure anything. Another shining example was these very believers when they first were saved, which was some time in their past after they were first converted to Christ. It’s time to move on to the most shining example of all, the One who did resist sin to the point that He’d rather shed His precious blood than to not drink the cup of intense suffering the Father gave to Him to drink, on our behalf.