Christians often feel that they do not fit into the society in which they are living. Our values are increasingly regarded negatively, our activities are at best treated with indifference or with derision. Such attitudes crop up in many areas of life. The danger is that we slide into self-pity, yet this experience is nothing new. God’s people have always had to deal with such issues. We will consider Hebrews 11:13 Aliens and strangers.
1. Abraham the wanderer
Hebrews 11 gives significant attention to Abraham, who obeyed God’s call ‘to go to a place he would later receive as an inheritance’ (v8). He lived as a nomad in Canaan and did not personally experience the fulfilment of the promise in this life. He was ‘like a stranger in a foreign country’ (v9). It was with the eye of faith that Abraham could envisage the land as the possession of his descendants. This was God’s will for Abraham and the next generations – ‘they did not receive the things promised (v13). Abraham knew that his ultimate goal was a heavenly city (v10) and that he was only passing through this world. That sets the pattern for God’s people – pilgrims on the way to glory.
2. Alienated from God
The theme of ‘aliens and strangers’ did not disappear when Israel took possession of Canaan. Note the statements by David (Psalm 39:12) and Solomon (1 Chronicles 29:15). Such statements are a recognition that the only way in which people may stand in the presence of God is if he graciously allows them. We are separated from God by our sins (Isaiah 59:2). That is man’s fundamental problem. Our sinful separation from God can be addressed only by his gracious provision.
3. Bearing our sin
That gracious provision is embodied in the person and work of the Lord Jesus. What was beyond our capacity, he has done for us. Jesus was treated as an alien and stranger in his public ministry – in John 8:48 the Jews say, ‘you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed’. Ultimately he was crucified outside the city, condemned as a criminal. On the cross he took the alienation of his people as he bore their sin (1 Peter 2:24), bearing their God-forsakenness (John 27:46). He has done all to end our alienation from a holy God.
4. Living as aliens
The good news for believers is, ‘you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellowcitizens with God’s people and members of God’s household’ (Ephesians 2:19). Our standing before God has been transformed. But as children of God we continue to live in this present fallen world into which we do not fit. We are called to holy living ‘as aliens and strangers in the world’ (1 Peter 2:11). All of life is to be brought under Christ’s lordship, conscious that, though we enjoy the good things of God’s creation, we are pilgrims going to better things, among people who do not share our faith and hope.