“Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach. For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.” (Hebrews 13:12-14)
Various cities in the Middle East fuss over which is the most ancient. Among the contenders are cities like Jerusalem, Byblos, Jericho, and Damascus. The debate often spars over definitions involving the claims of uninterrupted habitation, the presence of the oldest ruins, and so forth. Some argue with archeology while others dig up their evidence from the writings of age old historians.
The writer of Hebrews would not have taken sides in this squabble. He had his sights much higher than any earthly city. He had read the Biblical record of city builders like Nimrod, Pharoah, and Nebuchadnezzar. He was not ignorant of the glories of Niniveh, Pithom, and Babylon. However, he was not too impressed with their splendor and power.
All of that dazzle was now sealed and useless in the coffins of history. Yes, they had risen, and they had shined. But, their glory had forever fizzled out.
It was a different class of man and city that caught the author’s eye. These were Old Testament heroes who had shown a distinct aversion to sinking their roots into earthly soil. In one way or another, many of them forfeited temporary homes in favor of deeds to heavenly mansions.
Enoch simply walked away and disappeared.
Noah built a boat and said goodbye to every place he had ever known.
Abraham turned his back on Ur of the Chaldees and headed for the Promised Land, only to keep on living in tents when he arrived.
Moses had grown up in the luxurious palaces of the Nile, yet he voluntarily chose to leave that all behind and take off for the desert with a multitude of complainers. Why? He had discovered that the reward for bearing Christ’s reproach was worth infinitely more than all the treasures of Egypt.
Even Rahab the harlot came to set her priorities by this rule. With no hesitation that we know of, she exchanged her house on the wall for the fantastic, but unknown, inheritance with the children of God.
Yet all of these examples were mere shadows of the Perfect One who would descend into the manger at Bethlehem. This Man ministered for three intense years with less of a home than foxes or birds. At the end of His ministry, He walked right into the heart of Israel’s most important city to be cruelly beaten and shamed . . . but not to die.
He would not even die inside an earthly city.
The anonymous writer of the epistle wants to emphasize his point. Those who name the Name of Christ do not seek permanent residence on earth. They don’t expect to or want to continue here.
So, what do I look for? Are my eyes focused on the stuff of this world? Do I quietly yearn for the stability of the visible, tangible things of this earth? Do I get antsy if others have more, or better, or prettier?
Then maybe I am still seeking a city down here.
Dear Father, open my eyes to see your city. Tune my ears to hear its music and prepare my heart to worship its Builder.