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An Independence Day Sermon

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I preached this morning on Hebrews 11:13-16. I am deeply grateful for the freedoms I enjoy as a citizen of the United States, and I am so thankful for the men and women of the armed forces of my country, who protect my freedom, and help extend that freedom to others. But I am also cognizant that my citizenship in the USA is not my ultimate allegiance.

These are my notes from today's sermon, so they are a bit rough and incomplete. But I think you'll be able to get the gist of it.

“A Better Country”

An exposition of Hebrews 11:13-16

Preached at Trinity Alliance Church

On Independence Day, July 4, 2010

by Denes House

“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” (Hebrews 11:13–16 ESV)

These all died in faith – they had not yet received the fullness of what they were looking for, but they saw them and greeted them from afar. How’s that? How did they see them? In God’s promises, and in the beginnings of their fulfillment – in the form of descendants, and downpayments on the land. How did they greet them? They took God’s partial fulfillment, His symbolic fulfillment, as a token of the total fulfillment to come. They trusted God.

And they acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. Acknowledged internally, but also publicly.

“resident alien” → “permanent resident” → “naturalized citizen”

It’s hard to contemplate living an entire life as a stranger or an alien.

They were unwilling to go back (v. 15) to being at home in this world. Better free aliens than citizen slaves. I have decided to follow Jesus – no turning back, no turning back. “Abraham said to him, “See to it that you do not take my son back there.” (Genesis 24:6)

That does not mean that we can’t be good citizens of the United States, in our time here on earth. The Apostle Paul, throughout Acts, exercises the full rights he had as a natural-born citizen of the Roman empire. He is grateful for his citizenship, even when the empire itself was not acting righteously. He was aware of and utilized all of the privileges that citizenship offered him. And when John the Baptist, or Jesus, or Paul, preached to men in military service, they never called them to abandon their responsibilities to their nation. Christian faithfulness does not preclude military service. Both Jesus and Paul explicitly call on their followers to pay their taxes. Being a citizen of heaven does not mean abandoning your rights or responsibilities on earth.

Home is where the heart is.

God has given us a great country – just like He’d given the Israelites a beautiful land

God has promised us a better country – that no one has yet reached; our country is great, but not ultimate.

The Founding Fathers were looking for a better country. “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Seeking a homeland – it’s not wrong to desire a place to call home. Psalm 107 talks about the people that God has redeemed, and describes them as people who “wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to a city to dwell in; hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them.” But when they cried to the Lord, He delivered them, “He led them by a straight way till they reached a city to dwell in. For He satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.” (Psalm 107:4,5, 7, 9)

How do you behave if you are looking for a better homeland?

They are almost done making a movie out of my favorite book in the Chronicles of Narnia, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I wonder if a lot of my favorite scenes and lines will be in the movie. The movie is about a quest, aboard the sailing ship the Dawn Treader, to sail east from Narnia and to discover the fate of seven Narnian lords, exiled by the evil King Miraz. Near the end, King Caspian, King Edmund, Queen Lucy, and their friends are trying to decide whether they should continue sailing East, or turn back West to Narnia. Reepicheep the mouse is on a quest of his own, as he states in this thrilling speech: “My own plans are made. While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, or shot over the edge of the world in some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise and Peepiceek will be head of the talking mice in Narnia.”

A better country – he is no fool who gives up something good to get something better. Is Reepicheep a fool for being willing to risk his life for a country he’s never seen? No! Your life is the most precious thing to you. But he held even that lightly.

Achieving God’s Purposes involves taking Faith-filled risks

God can make this a better country – if we hold this one lightly.

He has prepared for them a city – past tense. The hope that they had is not a hope in something that will be made in the future. It is in something that is already built, but will be obtained in the future.

It challenges our cowardice – risk everything!

It rebukes our materialism – cling to nothing!

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