A little boy, all alone in a park, dressed in Cubs gear. He hits, pitches, and catches with determination. He chats up his teammates, shakes off the catcher’s signal, flies around the bases for the go-ahead score as the roar of the imaginary crowd celebrates the win. Goodbye, someday; today we are victorious, and that triumph is all the sweeter for the long, long wait.
This past week every American who wasn’t an Indians fan became a temporary Cubs fan, as those perennial losers sought to end their long wait for a World Series Championship. It’s hard to imagine a more devoted fan base for a more spectacularly unsuccessful team, but this time it was meant to be: there are 108 stitches in a baseball, and this championship win was 108 years in the making. That’s a long time to wait and hope, to persevere and endure, to remain loyal and true.
What are you waiting for? Is there a goal, an accomplishment, an achievement you aim for? What yearnings energize your plans and daydreams? Do you want a restored relationship, a prodigal returned, a physical healing, or the approval of a disapproving someone? Listen to your prayers: what hopes do you bring to God more often than anything else? Unfulfilled dreams cause wear and tear on a soul like nothing else: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick: but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. “ (Proverbs 13:12) Given the world we live in, many of us endure useless yearnings this side of heaven. Jesus is the bridge between our deferred hopes and our longings fulfilled, the One who moves us from a sickened heart to the tree of life.
Hebrews 11, often called the “Faith Hall of Fame,” lists great men and women of the Bible whose faith is so persistent that God Himself praises them for it. But there are a couple of moments where the writer of Hebrews pauses to remind us that even these spiritual giants “all died in faith, not having received the promises…” (v.13) These men and women avoided that sickness of heart that comes with a hope deferred because they saw God’s promises from afar off, they were assured of those promises, they embraced those promises and they confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth (11:14 NKJV).
There are some key ideas here. First, great men and women of faith put their hope in God’s promises, not in their own personal dreams. This is not to say that our personal dreams don’t matter- they do, and God cares tenderly for us in them- but most of our hopes focus on this life, while His aim is eternity. Earthly sweetness always fades; heavenly sweetness never ever will. As thrilling as World Series glory has been, the ecstasy of victory has probably already begun to fade for the Cubs. Chicago has parades and celebrations still to come, but none will match the fleeting euphoria under the ballpark lights on November 2. Slowly but surely Cubs players and fans will move on, and before long the realization will set in: it’s time to begin again, train again, perform again. The expectations will be a little bit higher next season, the pressures a little heavier. This seems normal to us because we have never rested for long, satisfied and complete. We cannot even imagine what it will be like to stop yearning for more, but Hebrews 11 folks encourage us to long for heaven more than anything earth has to offer.
Secondly, the heroes of Hebrews 11 saw by faith what they could not possibly see with their eyes: Jesus on the cross, dying to redeem us and resurrected to fit us for heaven. The faithful lives they lived were “evidence of things not seen.” (11:1) They knew that God had promised them a “homeland… a heavenly country” (v. 16) and they saw it from afar off, by the eyes of faith and through the distance of time and space. Yet they were assured of God’s plan through Jesus and even embraced it. (11:13) “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! Oh what a foretaste of glory divine…” They knew that all the good things of this life are just a foretaste of the life to come, and should be enjoyed as such. Earthly pleasures- like a championship, or a game well played, or a long hot bath after a tough loss- serve only to whet our appetite for what God has in store for us. We don’t stop with an appetizer, expecting to be satisfied, but we push on for the full banquet God has for us in heaven. This is what it means to embrace something that is still afar off, persevering as our faith heroes did.
Finally, when those godly believers confessed they were strangers and pilgrims, they acknowledged that they were just passing through this life. By definition pilgrims journey from an ordinary place to a holy place, so this life is not a destination but a passageway into the next. When you are headed for the Rocky Mountains, you don’t stop at the foothills and think those are as beautiful as it gets; the foothills energize you to press on to the truly spectacular vistas ahead. Take a glance at the vistas that await us:
A new heaven and a new earth... a holy city where God Himself will be with us...He will wipe away every tear from our eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things will have passed away... He is making all things new... He will give freely of the fountain of the water of life to him who thirsts... the city will have no need of the sun or the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God will illuminate it... the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light... its gates shall not be shut at all... There will be a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God... the tree of life will bear twelve fruits, and its leaves are for the healing of the nations... There shall be no more curse... We shall see His face, and His name shall be on our foreheads. There shall be no night there; we will need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God will give us light. And He shall reign forever and ever... (Revelation 21, 22)
And then we will say, “Goodbye, someday! TODAY we are victorious!” And enjoying His triumph with Jesus will be all the sweeter for the long, long wait.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus!