Hebrews 13:1-8, 14
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As we look back at 2020 and 2021, the pandemic years, there are lots of things we would like to forget. Masks, lockdowns, shots, illness, and maybe most of all, how much people argued over everything. But as in everything, there has been some good that has come from the pandemic years, though many probably don’t see it that way. The good is that, maybe more than ever in our lifetimes, we have been reminded of the truth the writer to the Hebrews shares with us tonight. We have no permanent city here.
A sickness that spreads around the world, to which no one is immune, and for which there is no instant treatment should remind you that your life here on earth is not permanent. We all know that, but we only tend to remember it when something forces us to remember, like a pandemic, or a cancer diagnosis, or a near miss accident that we realize could have been fatal. Being reminded of our mortality is uncomfortable, but God reminds us of our mortality often. Already in Genesis chapter 5 he tolls the bell of mortality as he lists name after name, ending each genealogy with the same truth, and they died. We heard from Ecclesiastes that there is a time to give birth and a time to die. Paul reminds us that in Adam we all die. And in another place the writer to the Hebrew reminds us that man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment. People can try to ignore it all they want but of the two things that are said to be sure, death and taxes, death is the only one that is an absolute.
It’s good to be reminded that we have no permanent city here because then we will be looking for something that is permanent. We will realize that God has put eternity in our hearts. He has given us an eternal soul and we had better think about where we will spend eternity.
When people are reminded of their mortality, they all tend to become philosophers. They might adopt the philosophy that, since life is short, and they don’t know what will happen when they die, they might as well make sure they complete their bucket list. They might adopt the philosophy that, if there is a God, he must be a good guy, so they really don’t have to worry about anything. When they die, he will treat them well no matter what. They might adopt the philosophy that as long as they try to do more good than bad they will be ok, they will either be reincarnated in some higher form, or exist in a good and happy place somewhere. But there is only one philosophy that is based on fact, only one belief about eternity that comes from someone who has lived, died and come back from the dead to tell us the truth.
By God’s grace, you have had leaders who spoke the word of God to you. They shared with you The Faith, which was also their faith. They shared the clear teaching of Jesus and all of Scripture that when anyone dies their soul goes to one of two places, either heaven or hell. There is no other place. And when Jesus returns in glory everyone’s soul will be reunited with their resurrected body and they will spend eternity, body and soul, either in heaven or hell. They taught you that Jesus was born to live and die in your place so that you would never have to worry about where you will spend eternity. They taught you that Jesus promises that all who believe in him, that all who look to him on the cross just as the people in the desert looked at the bronze snake trusting in God’s promise, have eternal life. Heaven is a free gift of God given to all who trust that Jesus lived and died as their substitute, and rose again as their victorious king.
If the pandemic made you remember your mortality, and then made you think more about where you will spend eternity, that’s a good thing. If you then remembered what you were taught about The Faith, or were moved to learn more about what the Bible says, that’s a good thing. Having been reminded that you do not have a permanent city here, if you are looking for the city that is coming, one that is permanent, one where there is no sickness, pain, death, or anything bad, that’s a good thing. Now you have a new, a proper perspective on life.
As you realize that your life on earth is not permanent and you can’t take anything with you when you die and you realize how much love God has shown you in Jesus, you might find it easier to show brotherly love. As John writes, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another, and Jesus makes it clear that means not just our friends, it means even our enemies.
As you realize that your life on earth is not permanent and nothing really belongs to you, you might find it easier to show love to strangers, to show hospitality. Abraham and Lot entertained strangers who turned out to be angels. But even better than that, what if your love for strangers enables you to share God’s word with someone and God uses what you shared to bring them to faith in Jesus. What if you make a friend you may never see again on earth but who you do get to see again in heaven? What could be better than that?
As you realize that your life on earth is not permanent and marriage is something only for this life, you might be moved to do all you can to help each other grow in faith and resist temptation. Hopefully you want the person you love most on earth to be with you in heaven, even though marriage doesn’t exist in heaven.
As you realize that your life on earth is not permanent and that everything you have will be destroyed when Jesus returns in glory, you might find it easier to keep your life free from the love of money and be content with what you have, the present things. Like Paul, you can learn the secret of being content in any and every situation in life when you trust God’s wonderful promise: I will never leave you. I will never forsake you. Or as God says through Isaiah, Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands. Or as Paul says, if God did not spare his son, how will he not give us all things along with him? And, Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
These are his promises to us in Jesus. They aren’t conditioned on what we have done or will do, but on what Jesus has already done for us. It is because they are God’s promises to us in Jesus that we can say with confidence: The Lord is my helper, and I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?
O, it’s true. There is a lot that man can do to us. Just look at Jesus on the cross. Pick up information from “Voice of the Martyrs.” There are a lot of things other human beings can do to us, including end our lives. But Jesus reminds us that we are not to fear the one who can destroy the body. We are to fear, give the greatest possible respect to, the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Luther understood this when he wrote, “take they our life, goods, fame, child and wife, let these all be gone, they yet have nothing won, the kingdom ours remaineth,” that enduring city, that eternal city that we are looking for, is still ours. Because of what Jesus has done for us we have the title deed to a place in that city that no one can take away from us.
We have faced a lot of uncertainty in the past year plus. The virus mutates. Guidelines change quickly. Friends and relatives might be healthy one day and sick or in the hospital the next. We are reminded over and over again that we do not have a permanent city here. But there is one thing we can be absolutely certain about because that certainty is based on the promise of the one who is the same yesterday and today and forever, who does not change like shifting shadows. His promise stands firm and unchanging. Because of what he has done for us we have an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. Because of what he has done for us we do have a city that is permanent, a place in heaven with him.