“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 11:16
Take a few seconds and read the above verse from Hebrews again. This may be a difficult passage to grasp on a week in which we celebrate the birth of our beloved United States. It can be downright countercultural to suggest there might be a better country than the U.S., even when that better country is Heaven. However, that idea of Heaven as the supreme nation is exactly what the author of Hebrews meant to convey, and he wasn’t alone in his conviction. The Apostle Paul wrote about a greater, heavenly citizenship (Phil. 3:20) and urged us to keep our minds on things above rather than on earthly things (Col. 3:2). The Apostle Peter described Christians as a people called out as a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9). Jesus Himself told us to seek the kingdom of God above all else (Matt. 6:33).
Making Heaven your primary country of allegiance can be a difficult transition in terms of patriotism. One of the reasons for this difficulty is the fact that the U.S. has a strong Christian history. It is no secret that our forefathers modeled Christian ideals in forming the nation, and those ideals have continued to be a strong influence in even the most liberal areas of the U.S. On a global scale, the Lord has used the U.S. as a great sending nation for Christian missionaries. In terms of military operations, men and women of the U.S. have sacrificed life and limb, often with the underlying conviction of Christ-honoring stewardship of this nation. These truths make it difficult to grasp what the author of Hebrews was trying to convey, that, first and foremost, we should be patriots of Heaven.
The Christian influence on the U.S. and the great sacrifice many have made for this country tend to obscure Scripture’s model of patriotism. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob certainly had as much reason to love their earthly country as we do ours, but if they had not purposefully subdued earthly patriotism for the sake of Heaven they would never have been citizens of God’s kingdom. If Abraham would have held on to an earthly patriotism, he never would have left his homeland of Ur and helped establish the Promised Land. If he had clung tightly to his own idea of a prosperous nation, he would not have obeyed God in offering up Isaac (who was to be the future of the nation). If Jacob had held on to an earthly patriotism, he never would have left the land of Canaan for Egypt as God intended. In other words, when the author of Hebrews said these forefathers of Israel desired a better country, he was not dismissing the fact that they loved their earthly country. The author was simply stating that these men loved their heavenly country so very much more than the land on which they lived! Because they held their earthly patriotism as subordinate to their heavenly patriotism, the author of Hebrews could say with confidence that “God is not ashamed to be called their God,” and, “he has prepared for them a city.”
Eastern Hills, let us keep all this in mind as we prepare for the Independence Day service this Sunday morning. We want to show gratitude for our earthly country and pray for its wellbeing, but more importantly, we want to exalt Christ as supreme and turn our eyes to His heavenly kingdom, setting our minds on things above, not on earthly things. The Eastern Hills staff has carefully designed Sunday’s service to do just that. So, I look forward to joining together with you this Sunday in thanksgiving for our earthly country, but, in a much greater measure, celebrating our heavenly one!