A pilgrim is a person on a pilgrimage. A pilgrimage is a journey, usually a long one, made to some sacred place for religious reasons.
Living in a multicultural society such as Singapore, there is a certain degree of exposure to various other religions. In particular, the Muslim’s religion of Islam and the Muslim’s pilgrimage to Mecca, is known as the Hajj. The Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca is essentially a re-enactment of the rituals of the prophets and teachers of old. Pilgrims symbolically relive the experience of exile and atonement undergone by Adam and Eve after they were expelled from heaven, wandered the earth, met again and sought forgiveness in the valley of Mecca. They also retrace the footsteps of Abraham’s wife, Hagar, as she ran between the hills of Safa and Marwa searching for water. Lastly, the pilgrims also commemorate the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son. In summary, the Muslim’s pilgrimage to Mecca is a physical journey with the purpose of bringing about a deep spiritual transformation, one that will make him or her a better person. If such a change from within does not occur, then the Hajj would just be a physical and material exercise devoid of any spiritual significance.
A Christian’s pilgrimage is not a ‘once- in-a-lifetime’ journey to Mecca but instead, a ‘lifelong’ journey towards heaven. The Bible relates a pilgrim to a stranger on the earth (Heb. 11:13 and 1 Pet. 2:11). A pilgrim is therefore not just taking a break from his earthly endeavours but one whose citizenship is in heaven. Thus, this pilgrim is one that has no place on this earth. The pilgrim is merely passing through this earth, heading towards his final destination – heaven.
It is important to emphasise that this journey towards the “city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God”, is made by travelers eager to return home and not by tourists who are in a foreign land taking a holiday from their busy and hectic life. Pilgrims are also neither like expatriates who choose to settle in a foreign country due to career choices. Most ‘ex-pats’ are where they are because that is where they want to be, but a Christian sojourner has no desire to be where he is, except to serve God in the calling he is placed in.
Although the pilgrim is not of the world, he is in the world and he needs to live in the world. However, the pilgrim is a stranger in this world, a foreigner who has a different culture and a different language. The true Christian pilgrim is therefore always struggling with how he should live a life in a world that he is called to live in and yet not belong to it. How can a Christian pilgrim then be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, and at the same time a stranger to the world? The answer to this seemingly paradoxical question is simply in the question itself.
A Christian pilgrim witnesses by living a ‘strange’ life. In Hebrews 11, the heroes of faith lived lives that were in contrast to the teachings of the world. Their attitude towards this earthly life and the things associated with this earthly life was represented by the tents they lived in. The tent-life demonstrated their contentment to live upon the surface of the earth. They had tents which did not have any lasting foundations. The tent-life allowed the sojourners not to be weighed down, to be able to move at a moment’s notice. It was not that Abraham could not afford to build a house for himself and his family. Genesis 13:2 tells us that “Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold.” But rather, Abraham knew that he was not called to hold onto earthly possessions of silver and gold. Imagine how hard it would be for us if we were to be the rich men of this world and live in rugged tents, denying ourselves earthly treasures when such treasures would come so easily. Indeed, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (Mk. 10:25)
“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Heb. 11:13).
Another important point to note from this verse is that the pilgrims listed in Hebrews 11 “all died in faith”. The heroes of faith taught us by their examples that we are to be faithful in our various callings even though our lives are short and temporary and we are but passing through. A calling is simply the current vocation one is in. It can be a student, a parent, an employee or an employer, a husband or a wife. The way to be faithful in our earthly callings or in all that we do is found in Romans 12:1 – “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”. As Martin Luther once said, “The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.” In other words, being a faithful pilgrim means that we are to do our best in all that we do for the Lord, not just in the church, but in our pilgrim’s journey. To be a faithful pilgrim is to serve God faithfully in our earthly callings.
To remain faithful as pilgrims requires God’s grace. The path for a pilgrim is long and treacherous, filled with temptations which the devil sets about us to destroy the church and the people of God. Again, this is nothing new to the Christian pilgrim as the Bible has already forewarned us in 1 Peter 5:8 – “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour”; and in Matthew 7:13-14 – “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Therefore, it is necessary for a pilgrim to prepare for the journey ahead.
There are many ways in which God preserves the Christian pilgrim through this difficult journey. One of which is through means of fellow pilgrims to encourage each other on the path towards heaven. (Heb. 10:24-25 – “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”) What then is fellowship? The word fellowship denotes a relationship that is dependent on more than one individual. It is an action word that involves doing something together and not just being together. The meaning of Christian fellowship goes further in that the basis for such fellowship is Christ. (1 Cor. 1:9 – “God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.”) Therefore, Christian fellowship is not just doing anything together, but doing God’s will together.
Christian fellowship is first built up in the church where fellow pilgrims confess the same truth. This has to be the case because the church on earth is a picture of home to the pilgrim as he journeys to his true home in heaven. The life in the church is a small taste of what life in heaven would be like for the Christian pilgrim. The fellowship a pilgrim has with other pilgrims in the church serves to strengthen him as he makes his pilgrimage home. The analogy of a tourist comes to mind again. A Christian pilgrim is not like a tourist because tourists pays others to carry his luggage along the trip. For instance, on a hiking trip a tourist pays a porter to carry the load up the mountain. Pilgrims, on the other hand, share each other’s burdens along the difficult path. A better picture would be an illustration of fellow soldiers making a long march together. Not only do soldiers share one another’s load, but they also have to encourage each other throughout the entire journey, to push each other to press on and even carry an injured comrade if need be.
There is, however, an end to this earthly pilgrimage. The pilgrim will not have to wander forever in a strange land. By God’s grace, and only by God’s grace, the pilgrim will enter into the “house with many mansions” that is prepared by Christ. This is the hope that a Christian pilgrim has that causes him to endure through this pilgrimage.
2 Timothy 4:7-8 – “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”
Written by: Boaz Leong | Issue 40