Editor's Note: Every Week, DrydenWire.com publishes a submitted article in a weekly series from Pastor Brian Cole. If you would have a question for Brian or would like to learn more about him, visit his website or his official Facebook page.
Genesis Chapter 23 - Aliens, Strangers, and Death - Part 2
Last week we took a look at death and we saw that we don’t look at death as those who are without Christ and therefore without hope.
Outside of how we deal with death, I think there are also some very important lessons for us in this portion of God’s Word revolving around the idea of us being aliens and strangers within all this legal jargon starting in vs. 4.
We too are called to be strangers and aliens in this world, as the Apostle Peter reminds us in 1 Peter 2:11 - “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.”
Thinking about ourselves in this way would radically impact the way we think about life, death, and what’s beyond death.
First, how does being an alien and a stranger change the way that we think about life? For Abraham, it loosened his grip on the things that hold so many of us tightly in their grasp.
In this chapter, we see it in Abraham’s freedom to spend his resources generously in pursuit of God’s Kingdom agenda. It cost Abraham a small fortune to buy this piece of property, yet he didn’t even think twice about doing it because he understood that possessing this grave site served as a down payment on God’s promise. This expensive purchase makes no sense for a wandering nomad, except as a statement of Abraham’s faith that one day God’s promise would be fulfilled and the entire promised land would be his.
In faith, he trusted God to deliver on His promise, and so instead of taking Sarah’s body back to their ancestral home in Haran, he buried her in the land of Canaan. Abraham himself would later be buried on this same spot as we will see in Gen. 25, as also would Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Leah.
When Abraham’s great grandson Joseph was about to die down in Egypt, he gave instructions that he was not to be buried there but rather that his body should be put in a coffin so that he might be brought out of that place and reburied in the Promised Land.
To Abraham and his descendants, the field of Machpelah represented the firstfruits of the Promised Land. It was the down payment by God, which represented and assurance that one day the whole land would be theirs. That’s why Abe didn’t think to pay the outrageous cost for the property, his ultimate priorities impacted his earthly expenditures.
How we view our lives here on earth has a huge impact on what we spend our money on and how we view our possessions. If this world is our real home, then we should use whatever money we have to make sure that our lives are comfortable, filled with toys to entertain us, big houses to live in, impressive cars to drive, and so on. But if we are strangers and aliens here, then our take on these things will be different. We would never invest our time and energies in redecorating a hotel room in which we were planning to spend just a few nights.
If you think like an alien and stranger, your house will be a means that God has given you to show hospitality to fellow strangers and sojourners. Your car will be a vehicle to get you to the places where you need to go, not an extension of your personality. You will be able to abound or to be poor, because you will remember that this world is not your home and doesn’t define your value. The reality for most of us, including myself, is that we keep forgetting that fundamental truth.
How much of the power of our sin patterns flow from the fact that this world is not our home and we are actually aliens and strangers here? If your idolatry revolves around pleasing people, have you forgotten that you are not supposed to fit in here? This world is NOT our home!
If your idolatry lies in the area of possessions, you have overlooked the fact that none of your stuff will go with you on your last journey. When we use sin as a means of blocking out the pain and discomfort of this world, we are not thinking like strangers and aliens, because sinful escape simply imagines a different version of the present world, a world where all our romantic fantasies come true, or where all the people around us exist to serve us and meet our needs. Escape is actually just as “this world” - centered as any other form of sin - it just sees this world in a different form from the real world that confronts you right now.
You can see this in the situation of the very first readers of this story, the Israelites, who had gone out into the wilderness with Moses. They tried to escape the monotony and pain of the wilderness life by going back to an imaginary Egypt, a place full of leeks and garlic and melons, a place with pots of meat instead of boring old manna, yet without the bondage and suffering of the real Egypt they had just left.
Aliens and strangers, however, cope with the real challenges of life not by imagining a different form of the present reality, but by looking onward to the reality that is yet to come. Instead of thinking themselves back in an imaginary Egypt, aliens and strangers look forward to God’s promise of Canaan that still lay ahead of them.
If we truly had that confident anticipation, it would lead us into a lifestyle that increasingly holds on lightly to this world’s pleasures and possessions, a lifestyle that is able to endure the messiness, disorder, and brokenness of so much of our life here, because it remembers that this world is not our home.
The mind-set of aliens and strangers also has an impact on our response to sin, whether our own or others’. If this world is our eternal home, then we had better get our lives in shape here and now because this is all there is. That mind-set will make us impatient with the imperfections and failings of others, as well as puzzled over our own ongoing weakness and failure.
But if this world is not our home, and if we are aliens and strangers as long as we live here, then it will surprise us less when we discover that we ourselves are a work in progress, half-completed masterpieces that the Spirit is shaping, but which will be left incomplete until the day of our death or the day Christ returns. We are all under construction.
The perspective that we are aliens and strangers not only shapes our view of life, but it shapes our understanding of death as well. On the one hand it doesn’t trivialize death.
Hebrews says this of Abraham - “By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” (Heb. 11:9-10).
The mark of true believers has always been that - “They desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one”
Brothers and sisters, “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him to subject all things to Himself.” (Phil. 3:20-21).
As it was with Abraham, in times of bereavement, and even our own deaths, these are times to declare our hope. Just as Abraham bought the cave in hope, we must also declare our hope in the awesome benefits of salvation beyond this life.
In the words of Allen Ross - “The time of death (when the natural inclination is to mourn as the world mourns) should be the time of our greatest demonstration of faith, for the recipient of God’s promises has a hope beyond the grave.”
As Christians we are prisoners of hope! We are chained and barred in by hope! We cannot escape hope! We declare at death - “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth, and after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.” (Job 19:25-26).
We accept the challenge of Col. 3:1-4 - “If you then have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you will also appear with Him in glory.”
We feed on the reality that God “raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:6).
We focus on the eternal because all that is not eternal is eternally out-of-date, “For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:18).
And like Abraham, by faith we invest in the promise - giving generously of our possessions and wealth for the preaching of the Word to the ends of the earth, laying up indestructible treasures, investing our time and our whole lives in kingdom expansion. In doing so, we declare by faith that we are heirs of the promise, even if our circumstances declare it not so.
Even as he mourned his wife, Abe believed that death is not the end. Rather it is the doorway through which you enter into the full measure of your heavenly inheritance which God has prepared for those who love Him.
How do you get this kind of confidence in the face of death? The answer is in the person of Jesus Christ. The confidence Abe had in Gen 23 flowed out of the experiences he had in Gen. 22. In Gen. 22, God provided a ram to take his son Isaac’s place.
There was no death for Isaac, because God provided a substitute. That substitutionary ram that pointed forward to the spotless Lamb that God was going to provide for us in Jesus Christ.
So too, if you are going to face death’s profound challenge with peace, you have to know that in Jesus Christ God provided the offering that is necessary for you to stand forever in His presence.
Jesus has won for you the real inheritance, the real promised land that He has promised. Jesus was the ultimate alien and stranger, my prayer is that He is no stranger to you.