Strangers and Pilgrims

Hebrews 11

David Brandt Berg


“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

This word “substance” in the Greek was “hupostasis.” At the time of King James when this translation was made, the scholars did not know exactly what that word meant. They chose a good word, “substance,” because they could tell by the way it was used that it meant something very definite, concrete, very sure. So they agreed on using the word “substance” because it obviously brought out what the verse meant.

But they had not been able to find it anywhere. They scoured Greek literature, they scoured the classics, and this word was nowhere to be found. They were mystified about what in the world it could mean, and didn’t find out until the British had Palestine and began to do a lot of archaeological work there to try to uncover old villages and towns. They dug up a village in northern Israel near Caesarea, as I recall, Caesarea Philippi, and there in the ruins of an old burned inn where apparently this wealthy Roman woman had been staying, they found her little casket of precious jewels and papers, a metal casket that had lasted through the years.

When they opened it, they found some of these papers still intact. They were still decipherable. There was a whole series of documents, and at the top of each document it said “hupostasis.” And it turned out they were the title deeds to her properties.

She had come from Rome to Israel to inspect these properties she had bought. She was obviously a rich land speculator, and after the Romans conquered Palestine, they were probably able to buy up land pretty cheap. So she had come with her title deeds to see her properties. She knew they were hers because she had the title deeds—which guaranteed that the properties were hers.

With that in mind, now read the verse:

“Now faith is the title deed of things hoped for.” In other words, if you’ve got the faith, it’s just like you’ve got the title deed in your hand. Here was a lady who apparently had never seen the properties before, because she’d bought the title deeds in Rome. She might have heard a description of them—because I’m sure they didn’t take any Polaroid pictures—and she was coming to see them for the first time. But she knew they were hers because she already had the title deeds in her hand.

So faith is like having the title deed. Somebody gave me a car once, a dear old Kaiser. They don’t make them anymore, but it was a nice car then and way ahead of its time. It was streamlined and brand-new, and through the mail they sent me the title to the car. I’d never ever seen one. I hadn’t the faintest idea what the car looked like. There was the title deed; they’d signed my name on it, and I had a car. I knew I had a car. I didn’t necessarily know what kind of car, but I had a car; though I’d never seen it, I had the title deed. So “faith is the substance of things hoped for,” the title deed to things hoped for, “the evidence of things not seen.”

One thing that moving frequently as a child did for me was that it taught me that everything in this world is transitory, changeable.  People who are accustomed to changing and adapting to new situations and new places are not afraid to change. They’re not afraid to try to change the world if they can, which we’re trying to do.

There was one thing which that constant change did for me; it taught me that no place was ever permanent. I would never always be in the same house. I would never always be with the same people. I was always having to leave things behind, and I would always be going someplace new, meeting new people, staying new places.

There was one thing besides that which it taught me to be sure of: There was only one thing I could always take with me that never changed—the Lord. It taught me that the Lord was always the same, and He always went with me wherever I went. It really helps you stay close to the Lord when you don’t know what the future holds. And who does? You don’t, I don’t, only the Lord knows. Sometimes He tells us, sometimes He doesn’t.

I used to sing a song about the future, that sometimes maybe the Lord throws a veil over the future and it’s best for us not to know. The things we need to know He tells us, sometimes the things we want to know He tells us, but most of the time He leaves the future known only to Him.

I believe it really helped me to learn to love the Lord more, trust Him more, think of Him more, and stay closer to Him, because He was the only thing that didn’t change. Even people around me changed. I had new governesses, new teachers, new friends, but the Lord never changed. So He was very close and dear, and I think it helped me learn to love Him more and trust Him more and appreciate Him more, because He was all in my life that didn’t change.

You have the most precious possession that you could possibly have, and that’s the Lord, that’s Jesus, and that’s one possession you’ll never have to give up, never have to forsake, never have to leave behind, never have to give away and lose. You can give Him away as much as you want but never get rid of Him. You’ll always have Him and He’ll always be near. He’ll never leave nor forsake you, even to the end of the world (Matthew 28:20).

“By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed” (Hebrews 11:8). He was being given the title deed to it; God was promising it to him. But he’d never even seen it, never been there; maybe he’d hardly even heard about it for all we know.

“And he went out, not knowing whither he went.” I’ve got to admire a guy with guts like Abraham! How could he stand to do it? “By faith.” And what did he do when he got there?

“By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles”—tents—“with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise.” By faith he went there, and when he got there in this strange land among strangers, how was he able to stand it? How could he bear to go to a strange land that he knew nothing about, had never seen before, and then live there with strangers, no doubt people of a strange tongue? In the tenth verse it tells us:

“For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” Because he knew he wasn’t going to stay there forever; he knew he was going someplace which is going to last forever, “which hath foundations.” In other words, was never going to be moved, foundations that are going to be permanent. There have been oodles of cities that had foundations, but they didn’t last. This city has foundations built by God and it’s going to last forever!

“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them and embraced them.” And what were the promises? How come they all died and never got these promises? What were they really looking for? A heavenly city whose builder and maker is God, a permanent home! “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.”

So why could they be happy to move, to leave one place and to live someplace strange? Because they confessed they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. “For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.” What country? “They desire a better country, that is, an heavenly!”

And then comes the corker. Here comes the payoff! What’s their reward? They are not satisfied with this world. They are willing to keep on moving to obey God and serve the Lord, so what does God have to say about them? “Wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God!” What that really means is that God was proud of them.

“For He hath prepared for them a city!” He’s got a city for you and me where we’re not going to have any passport or visa problems. So we’ve got a lot to look forward to.

Lord help us all to have that pilgrim attitude and not be afraid to change. We’ve often said that moving is like dying. You leave the old life behind, the old house, old associations; you can’t take much with you. We even take more with us when we move sometimes, more junk than certainly we’ll ever be able to take out of this life, but it’s a type of dying. However, we can begin a new life.

It’s been my experience throughout my life that nearly everything I gave up, if we even gave up houses and lands, the Lord gave us in this life a hundredfold, a hundred times more. Once in a while it’s been a little hard. Once in a while there’s a little hardship. Once in a while, it’s a little difficult. But usually when we come through, things are better than they were before. Although there are greater battles, there is also the enjoyment of greater victories in the end when the battle is over. So thank the Lord for it all.

Your will be done in each life, to get out of that life what you want, Lord, and to put into that life what you want, and to do Your will to bring many, many more lives into Your kingdom for Your glory, in Jesus’ name, amen.


Copyright © The Family International


Author: Frederick Olson

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.

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