We are currently right in the middle of a 3-week teaching series called “Exiles, Pilgrims, and Ambassadors”
And for these 3 weeks, we are looking at each of these 3 identities we have as Christ followers, and how they uniquely define how we should interact with the world around us.
This morning, we’re going to look at the 2nd word of our series: Pilgrims.
And kind of like we did with the word exiles last week, we need to undo (or at least expand) some definitions that come to mind first.
Because when I say pilgrims, and what are you thinking of?
By the way, April showers bring May Flowers, but what do May Flowers bring?
Pilgrims! HA! J
Now, in a way, there are some parallels between the Pilgrims of Thanksgiving and what the Bible means by the concept of Pilgrim
Because here’s a definition for pilgrim
Pilgrim: a person who goes on a long, and often difficult journey, to a religious place.
The Pilgrims of 1620 that fled England, and then Holland and came over to Plymouth Rock
They came because they wanted to be free from the State Church, so they could practice their Christian beliefs as the Bible told them to.
And so they faced this long, arduous journey across the Atlantic (where their ship almost wrecked) to a place they could practice their faith in freedom.
So, some similarities there.
Another way to think of the word Pilgrim is a “religious pilgrimage”
We can see examples of pilgrimages in both the Old & New Testaments.
For instance, Jews would go on 3 pilgrimages a year for festivals like Passover, where they would make the long difficult journey to go to Jerusalem.
And the New Testament makes the case that Christians are not only exiles, like we talked about last week, but also pilgrims on a journey to another land…our true homeland...of heaven.
Let’s take a look at the Bible
Our passage today is in Hebrews Chapter 11
This is a chapter in the Bible that talks about the great faith of the believers from the Old Testament.
So far it has referenced Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob, and their great faith while on earth.
Let’s take a look at our passage now:
(Hebrews 11:13-16) – NIV
13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
#1: ADMIT YOU’RE A PILGRIM
Okay, let’s start talking through this passage
And just as we talked last week about “how to live as exiles,” let’s talk this week about “how to live as pilgrims”
Here’s the first point:
How to Live as Pilgrims:
#1: Admit you’re a pilgrim!
Did you see that word “admit” in verse 13?
The Christian believer is to admit, to say, I know hardly anyone else is living like this, but I admit it, this world is not my home…I’m on a journey to somewhere else.
I admit it…I’m a pilgrim.
Look first to the end of verse 13
The writer says that these faithful believers admitted they were foreigners (like exiles) and strangers
Usually that word strangers is translated sojourners…or, in many translations, pilgrims.
It’s the same idea.
It’s talking about someone who’s just temporarily in another land
And as we see in this passage…on a journey to a better country.
And that is how the Christian is to look at their life here on earth.
We’re on a journey, and our journey starts out with a very, very quick stop on earth, and then it continues on in the heavenly country!
But faith that we’re actually walking towards the “heavenly country,” is sometimes easier said than done.
Look at verse 13 another time:
It says: “They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance”
Or as the start of the verse said, “they died while they were still in faith.”
They believed they were journeying towards heaven…
They got a small taste of it at times…
but they did not fully experience it here on earth.
And so it takes faith to ADMIT…”I’m a pilgrim.”
This Biblical topic of pilgrims makes me think of what is the best-selling book of all time (out of all of the books that were originally written in English): The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
If you’ve never read it, let me highly recommend the children’s version to all of you
The original book was written in 1678, so the style of English is quite difficult to read nowadays
Pastor Josh and I talked this week about how we both tried to read it once and gave up because the Old English was so difficult.
But the modern-day kids version… is INCREDIBLE!
(Show Little Pilgrim’s Big Journey”)
… I actually mentioned this book in my Reading List to you this year, “Little Pilgrim’s Big Journey” is fantastic. My kids love this book.
I brought it and put it out on the Lobby Table if you want to peak at it!
I LOVE this book…
Honestly, I think of it almost every week when I think about my faith. Not joking.
If you don’t like long picture books, read the chapter book for young readers…
(Show “Little Piilgrim’s Progress,” )
It’s called “Little Pilgrim’s Progress” by Helen Taylor
Just ignore the “little pilgrims’ part,” it’s for you too…but in words you can understand.
It’s on Audible as well.
But the basic premise of Pilgrim’s Progress is this:
It’s about a man named Christian who reads in a book that there is an amazing place called “The Celestial City”
And as he reads about it, he becomes convinced that he must:
#1) Leave the city he’s lived in his whole life “The City of Destruction”
And #1) find a way to rid himself of this burden on his back…that he’s just now noticed (which is his sin)
And the story, is an allegorical story of his faith…as he experiences forgiveness, and then goes on this long journey (as a pilgrim) towards his final destination…the Celestial City
All of the people and places he encounters along the way are allegorical representations of the things we encounter (the temptations, the obstacles) on our pilgrimage, as Christians, towards heaven.
My hero, Charles Spurgeon, liked this book so much, he read it over 100 times.
But one of the things that first jumps out at you when you read Pilgrim’s Progress is that Christian, the main character, is mocked mercilessly when he decides to leave his hometown “The City of Destruction” to become a pilgrim
Because if you truly ADMIT you’re a pilgrim, and that this life is incredibly short, and so therefore, your main aim is to follow Christ and to get others to also follow & leave the “city of destruction”
That admission is going to affect how you spend your money, how you spend your time, and a host of other things…
And a lot of people are going to think you’re downright weird for being a pilgrim, and not just someone who looks like everyone else in “the city of destruction”
#2: PILGRIMS KEEP LOOKING FORWARD
Okay, let’s look at the next point for how to live as a pilgrim
How to Live as Pilgrims:
#1: Admit you’re a pilgrim!
#2: Keep looking forward!
The true pilgrim keeps their eyes on the prize…looking ever forward towards the amazing glory that awaits us when we meet God face to face in heaven…
We see our fellow pilgrim the Apostle Paul write about this:
(Philippians 3:13b-14) – NIV
But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
And we see it right here in our passage in Hebrews as well.
Look at verses 14 & 15 again
(Hebrews 11:14-15) – NIV
14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.
And when, as a pilgrim, you’re on a journey towards heaven, or the Promised Land, you have got to keep looking ahead.
The temptation to go back was the temptation that ever-plagued the Israelites in the Old Testament.
After God rescued them from slavery in Egypt, they had to journey through the desert to get to the promised land.
And that pilgrim’s journey through the desert was incredibly difficult.
And so they kept looking backward, instead of forward
And they kept saying, “Let’s go back to Egypt! In Egypt, our food was wonderful!”
And the leaders have to keep reminding them: “But we were slaves there!”
Pilgrims are to keep looking forward…to keep seeking that heavenly country.
As the very next chapter of Hebrews says, we are to:
(Hebrews 12:1b-2a) – NIV
Run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus,
Where are your eyes this morning?
Because this world will try and draw you back in.
But how does the Pilgrim, the Christian avoid it?
They keep looking forward!
Verse 15 tells us that the reason the Pilgrim marches forward towards heaven is because their mind is there…on heaven…
It’s not on earth.
Colossians 3:2 tells us we are to set our minds on things above
I think again, of The Pilgrim’s Progress where the main character Christian is tempted in so many different ways, and by so many different people to just give up his difficult journey as a pilgrim, and go back to the City of Destruction
Once when facing a great enemy (one like the devil), Christian thinks of turning to run back, but he reasons to himself that there is no armor for his back, and so instead, he presses on, he turns forward to fight with the armor that had been given to him
And indeed if you study the Armor of God passage in Ephesians 6, (the armor that God gives us to fight our spiritual battles as pilgrims) there is no armor for your back.
Don’t run back to the world.
It cannot satisfy you, especially once you’ve begun to get a taste of eternity.
YOUR DESTINATION IS FAR BETTER
This leads us to our third point on how to live as pilgrims
How to Live as Pilgrims:
#1: Admit you’re a pilgrim!
#2: Keep looking forward!
#3: Remember your destination is so MUCH better!
You can find this truth in the beginning of verse 16
(Hebrews 11:16a) – NIV
16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one.
I believe Christians ought to not only study what the Bible teaches about heaven, or the new heaven & new earth…
But pray about it, sing about it, dream about it.
Set your minds on the fact that you are going to be with God and His glory…and it’s going to be FAR better than this place.
We will be with God
Suffering will be over
His city will be glorious
And there we will know TRUE love and joy and peace…all of the fruits of the Spirit that, at present, we only feel in small doses.
And when we rightly remember that we are pilgrims, and that the place we are going far exceeds the place where we are…
…then we can let go of trying to find all of life’s fulfillments, here, in the desert.
This is, in many ways, harder for humans to do than ever before.
I read a lot of biographies, and especially from the 1800’s.
And in every biography of that time (and certainly before that), each family lost not just 1, but 2, or 3, or 4 children to childhood diseases.
Sometimes fathers would die young
Mothers would often die in childbirth
Poverty was extremely common
Staying warm was often the hardest thing, no sanitation systems, and on and on we could go
And so no one in those days (though they certainly had their own problems, sins, & idols)
But no one looked at this harsh world and said, “You, world, were made to give me ultimate pleasure, joy, and satisfaction”
It was so much more obvious to people in those days, that this world is a temporary land we pass through on a pilgrim’s journey to somewhere else.
But in present day, we’re living in some of the first generations where people actually believe, and even expect, to find happiness, satisfaction, and fulfillment from this life on earth.
But if you’re looking to find your deepest sense of meaning through your income, your career, or even your family, you won’t find ultimate satisfaction there.
Because you weren’t created to have your deepest desires fulfilled in the desert, but in the promised land.
C.S. Lewis once said it this way:
If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or to be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death. – C.S. Lewis
And so I think this is a question for all of us:
“Are you looking to find all of your longings fulfilled here on earth?”
If you are, you will only eventually meet despair instead.
So many do.
I feel like there is another suicide of someone I know or once knew, almost every other week now, and I’m sure many of you are having the same experience.
But if you can hear the sound of my voice right now, and you are at your wits end… please, remember this:
You weren’t meant to find your deepest sense of satisfaction here…and through the things of this world.
I think of the woman at the well in the Bible, who had already been married 5 times, and was trying to find life in the lusts of the world.
But when she meets Jesus, he tells her that if she would drink from the Living Water he offers, she wouldn’t have to keep going thirsty.
And it’s in following Jesus Christ, the son of God, that you begin to taste what life is really all about
And while that taste is amazing, we know as pilgrims, that what is to come, is even greater.
GOD PREPARES A PLACE FOR THOSE WHO KNOW HIM
Let’s look now to the last part of our passage.
(Hebrews 11:16b) – NIV
Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
For those who have trusted in God, and are walking towards Him, God has prepared a city for them.
He’s prepared a specific place for you in Heaven the Bible says in John 14.
Walk towards it…no matter what may come as an obstacle…walk towards it.
But I beg of every single person in this room, please remember that this life is short.
The great pastor and thinker Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said it this way:
“The moment a man realizes that he is only a pilgrim in this world, that finally he has to die and to face God, and that there is all eternity before him, his whole outlook on life changes.” -- Martyn Lloyd-Jones
See, when you fall in with the rest of the culture…and you spend all of your hours trying to get into a good school, or getting the best job, and working 70 hours a week, or trying to be fit, or successful, or you name it…
…you lose sight of the more important things.
We did an entire teaching series once called The Rope.
Where we had a 100 foot rope (which, I would have shown to you today, except I brough it all the way to Africa…and left it with a pastor there)
And we said imagine this rope represents the timeline of your existence, but pretend it goes on and on…out the door, out the parking lot, out of Blaine, and keeps going on forever.
And then we had a tiny little section of it colored in Red.
And said, this tiny little part represents your time on earth.
The rest will be in eternity…heaven or hell.
And when you think about your existence that way, the question of “am I right with God,” is it not, the most serious and most important question of life?
Because all of us have sinned against God…a holy God.
And that sin is what keeps us out of heaven.
God is holy, His country in heaven is perfect…sin is not allowed to be there, to taint it.
We must be forgiven by God if we are to enter.
And we gain forgiveness by believing that God loves us so much that He sent Jesus to die on the cross…as a substitute…a sacrifice for our sins.
And if we believe that Jesus died for us, the punishment for our sins goes upon Jesus, and we can be forgiven.
And know God, and start a relationship with Him…where He will help us navigate this difficult life as a pilgrim…as we walk towards eternity with Him.
Have you made that decision to follow Jesus…to be forgiven?
If you haven’t, I encourage you to do so today.
And so let’s just have everyone bow their head and close their eyes for a minute
If you need to do that today…
To believe Jesus died for you, to make Him your savior and your leader.
To say, “You know what, I want to be a Pilgrim…I want to not just stay in the City of Destruction with everyone else…I want to follow you”
You can do that right now, and He will come into your life.
It’s pretty amazing.
If you need to tell God for the first time today that you want to Make him your savior and Leader, to be forgiven,
I want you to have a “line in the sand moment,” where you tell him this…where you invite Him in.
And so if you need to believe in Jesus as your Savior & Leader for the first time today, I want you to stand up where you are right now
Repeat after me
I confess to you, that I have sinned against you.
But God I believe, that you sent your Son Jesus, to take my place
And God I thank you, for forgiving my sins.
And now I commit, to following you, with my life.
As everyone still has their eyes closed, for those of you standing up, you just made the most important decision of your life, and I believe that requires some more information…
So here’s what we’re going to do to get you that…as everyone has their eyes closed, I want you, in just a second, to walk back out to the lobby where it will be quiet.
You won’t walk out there alone.
There are others standing with you, and our follow-up team is going to walk out at the same time with you
And I, and our follow-up team are going to get you some extremely important resources & next steps to get you started on the most important journey of your life.
If you’re part of this church, and your friend or family member is standing up right now, PLEASE come out there with them.
All right, you can all go now.
As they’re walking, I’m going to thank God in prayer. Let’s pray
Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN
You may use this material all you like! We only ask that you do not charge a fee and that you quote the source and not say it is your own.