An Enduring City

Distant Skyline

Hebrews 13:14 “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.”

A number of times through this book of the Bible, the place where we live and all that it contains is referred to as a “city.” This is no comment on the importance of farms, but cities tend to be the center of culture, trade, industry and invention. They represent our achievements and possessions as well as the home in which we live.

Note that he does not say, “Here we do not have anything at all.” The longer I’m here, the more I accumulate. When I graduated from college, everything I owned fit in a Chevy Citation hatchback. A decade later, with four children at home, we held two rummage sales each year just to keep from being buried under an avalanche of clothing, furniture, and small appliances. Is there an adult reading this who wouldn’t need some sort of truck to move all he or she owns?

But our “city” and its contents are not enduring. Nothing lasts. My wife and I have owned three sets of washers and dryers. We are on our fourth refrigerator. Week by week there is always something to replace or repair–cars, homes, even body parts. None of it endures.

The same applies to the institutions that guide and govern the earthly “city” in which we live. If our world lasts so long, someday the United States will end up on the ash heap of history, just as every world power before it has. Even our church is not immune. American Christianity is shrinking at an alarming rate. Between one hundred and two hundred churches close every week. Jesus promises the faith he established will endure, but the shell in which it is handed on may not.

“Here we do not have an enduring city.” The slow death and decay of our possessions, our institutions, even our bodies, is a result and a reminder of the sin that infects us. God has cursed it all so that it does not become an obstacle to our return to him. Our hearts have surely wandered far from his when, even so, we prefer the possessions that rot and crumble in our hands, the corrupt and failing institutions under which we now live, to the imperishable world he has prepared for us.

God has given us something more. “We are looking for the city that is to come.” Many years ago my wife’s grandfather asked her if there was anything in his house she would like to have. There were two things she had always admired, both of them made by his own hands: a small drop leaf table and a knickknack shelf. They were promised to her that day. It was only after her grandparents died that they passed to us. Now they are proudly displayed in our home.

In a similar way we possess a far superior “city” to the one in which we now live. We don’t hold it in our hands yet. We are “looking for it.”  But God’s promise makes it just as certainly ours as if we were already there. Receiving this city also involves a death: the death of Jesus in payment for the sins that would have denied us this gift. God’s promise of forgiveness, and all he sacrificed to make forgiveness possible, make us sure this second city will also pass to us. If we are taking stock of our lives, our inventory would be incomplete without it.

This city that is to come has everything our current home lacks. “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp…On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there…Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse” (Revelation 21:23, 25; 22:1-3).

Instead of death and decay, the river of life, unpolluted, and the tree of life, bearing its fruit, healing the nations, and ending the curse. Instead of failed and failing institutions, God and the Lamb on the throne, giving light to a city so secure its gates never need to be closed or locked. Regardless of how much you have lost, whom you have buried, what you haven’t completed, how hard it is to get by–this is the greater part of what we have. As you take stock of your life, don’t forget your real estate in the city that is to come.

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