Heavenly Clarity

Reposted from The Cripplegate.

One of my favorite Christian stories is Pilgrim’s Progress. First published in 1678, the full title of John Bunyan’s classic is The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come.

The well-known allegory follows a man, who comes to be called Christian, as he flees from the City of Destruction and enters through the narrow gate, finding eternal life at the cross, and feeling the heavy burden of his sin fall off and roll away.

As he journeys along the King’s Highway toward the Celestial City, he encounters many dangers and temptations along the way—from Vanity Fair to Doubting Castle until he finally crosses the River of Death and reaches his destination.

One of my favorite scenes takes place when Christian and his traveling companion, Hopeful, make there way to the Delectable (Delightful) Mountains. There they meet a group of shepherds who seek to encourage them as they continue on their journey.

These shepherds take Christian and Hopeful to what Bunyan describes as, “a high hill, called Clear.”

There Christian and Hopeful are given what Bunyan describes as a “perspective glass” (what we might call a telescope), and as they look through the lens from the top of this mountain peak, they get a glimpse of the gates of the Celestial City in the distance.

As they leave that place, Christian and Hopeful sing a song, having been greatly ministered to by these shepherds and encouraged to continue strong for the remaining part of their journey.

I love that part of Bunyan’s story for several reasons. First, I appreciate that the mountain peak is called “Clear,” because nothing brings greater Clarity to our lives then to be reminded of our heavenly destination.

Second, I love Bunyan’s notion of a “perspective glass” as a reference to the Word of God, because it is the Scripture that gives us a proper, eternal perspective.

Third, I resonate with the hope that reverberates throughout this passage. Christian and Hopeful are nearly depleted by their journey. They come to a place where they need rest and encouragement. And they are rejuvenated, in large part, by being given a glimpse of their glorious destination.

1600 years before Bunyan penned his classic allegory, the author of Hebrews encouraged his readers in a way that is similar to the shepherds in Pilgrim’s Progress. Like Christian and Hopeful, the readers of this epistle found themselves in the midst of severe trials and temptations.

This letter was likely written in the late 60s of the first century, shortly after the Great Fire of Rome in AD 64. When Emperor Nero blamed Christians for causing that fire, believers throughout the Roman empire (and especially in Rome itself) became the objects of severe persecution. They were arrested, tortured, and brutally murdered—simply for their allegiance to Christ.

Many of these believers had converted from Judaism. Since Nero’s persecution did not target the Jews, these Jewish Christians were tempted to renounce their Christian faith and return to Judaism. Doing so meant they would immediately avoid the threat of Roman persecution.

And so, the author of Hebrews writes to encourage these Jewish Christians to stand firm in their faith. In fact, this letter reads more like a sermon than an epistle. It is a solemn charge to these readers to stay true to Christ, even in the face of severe hostility.

Throughout the letter, the author of Hebrews explains that Jesus is better than Judaism. He is better than the angels, better than the Mosaic law, better than the sacrificial system.

The readers are warned that to revert to Judaism would be to abandon the way of salvation—because the law cannot save, and the Old Testament priesthood cannot save, and animal sacrifices cannot save. Only Jesus saves. He is the Great High Priest and the Once for all Sacrifice for sin.

But Hebrews not only issues severe warnings, it also reminds its readers of the supreme hope they have in Christ.

Like the Shepherds in Pilgrim’s Progress, the author of Hebrews directs his readers to look ahead to the Celestial City. It is that eternal perspective that provides them the clarity they need to think rightly about their present circumstances.

In Hebrews 11:10, the author points to the faithful example of Abraham, noting that “he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”

Again in Hebrews 11:16 we read, “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 a city for them.” Part of the motivation that fueled the faith and obedience of these Old Testament heroes like Abraham, is that they were looking ahead to their heavenly destination.

In Hebrews 12:22 this same theme continues: “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels.”

Through the Lord Jesus Christ, we have the promise of one day entering the heavenly city and dwelling in the presence of God Himself.

This emphasis in the book of Hebrews (and the rest of the New Testament) is one every believer needs to remember. If we are to honor Christ and follow Him faithfully in this world, we must not lose sight of where we are going. As Paul reminded the Philippians: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20).

Just a glimpse of our heavenly home is enough to bring the kind of clarity we need. As we gaze into the “perspective glass” of Scripture from the top of Mount Clear and see what the Bible reveals about our heavenly home, the priorities of this life come into much sharper focus. Only when we keep our destination in mind, keeping our eyes fixed on Christ, are we properly prepared to run the race of this life with endurance.

On the other hand, when we lose sight of our eternal destination, we can quickly become weary and discouraged.

In 1952, an American long-distance swimmer named Florence Chadwick set out to swim the 26 miles between Long Beach and Catalina island. She had already crossed the English channel twice, and would later swim the straits of Gibraltar, the Bosporus, and the Dardanelles.

On this particular day in 1952, swimming towards Catalina, a thick fog set in. As a result, Chadwick was unable to see her destination.

Wanting to give up after many hours at sea, she kept swimming for another hour before she finally told the boats that were accompanying her to pull her from the water. She could not see the shore, and so she called it quits.

To her dismay, she discovered she had stopped only a mile from her destination.

Two months later, she tried again. Once more, a thick fog set in. But this time, Florence reached her destination. Her secret? As she was swimming, she said that she kept picturing the Catalina shoreline in her mind. Focusing on her destination made all the difference. And that is how Florence Chadwick became the first woman to swim the Catalina Channel.

As we navigate the journey of this life, it is so easy to get lost in the fog of everything around us, so that our perspective becomes clouded and our eyes lose sight of the prize.

In those moments, what is needed is clarity. The clarity that comes from gazing into the perspective glass of Scripture and reminding yourself of who you are and where you are going—a pilgrim who is merely passing through this world on your way to the world to come.

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