1500 years ago the church father, Augustine, wrote his classic work – The City of God. He compared the worldly “city” founded by Cain’s descendants with “the City of God” to which the descendants of Abel belonged.
300 years ago an imprisoned British preacher named John Bunyan wrote a book called Pilgrim’s Progress. It’s the story of a man named Christian who sets out from the City of Destruction to go to the Celestial City – that is, Heaven. The book tells of all the hardships along the way, of people who try to stop Christian from getting to the Celestial City – such as Apollyon and Giant Despair. Others characters such as Evangelist, Interpreter and Faithful help him on his way. Since Bunyan wrote the book, it is has been translated into more than a hundred languages. For a long time, it was the best-selling book in the English world, second only to the Bible.
It’s nothing new to portray the Christian life as a journey or a pilgrimage by faith through the troubles of this life to the eternal joys of heaven.
Limping up to Pharaoh’s throne, old father Jacob in today’s portion of Genesis refers to the “few and difficult” years of his life as “the years of my pilgrimage.”
After shepherding the people of God for 40 years in the wilderness, Moses realizes from the heights of Mt. Nebo that there is a promised land to which he is going far better than the land of Canaan could ever be for him.
All of the old heroes of faith “admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth…they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11).
That’s the way St. Paul and his companion Barnabas, on the first missionary journey, depicted the life of believers too – as a pilgrim’s progress of ups and downs. They said: “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”
Here, on the pages of God’s Book, we gain an uplifting view of things. We discover that the God who knows us better than we know ourselves, who knows everything there is to know about us, who knows all our sin and brokenness, knows that there is no sin so black that the blood of His cross cannot cover it, no crime so indelible that His blood cannot erase it.
It preaches to us also, as we each approach the end of our own pilgrimage, that we don’t have to rely on some faint hope that we’ve been good enough, or done enough.
We have an infinitely firmer ground of hope that will not let us down – that Jesus has been good enough – that Jesus has done enough – that for Jesus’ sake God is a gracious Father who will receive us into heaven – that Jesus has risen – and by His resurrection from the grave, He has guaranteed our own resurrection from the grave.
As with our Savior who went before us to redeem us and to prepare the way for us, we often find ourselves at some crossroads on this pilgrimage, pondering whether to walk away in faithless bitterness – or to step forward in God-given faith – our hand in His hand – to walk through the hardships to the home He has promised – where the chains of our earthly infirmities shall fall to the floor, where sadness shall flee before gladness, where winter shall melt into spring, where laughter shall run down like rivers, where nothing shall ever go wrong again.