Where Is Our Citizenship?
I want to begin this sermon by telling you that I enjoy my life. The Lord has been good to me. The blessings He has showered upon me are immeasurable. Yet, as I consider the Scriptures before us today, I recognize the temptation involved in enjoying the life the Lord has given us on this earth.
The temptation we face as we enjoy the blessings of God in this life is that we often become lacking in our thirst for heaven (repeat).
I am so thankful for the blessings of God in my life, but I fear that they often serve to increase my love for this world rather than serve to increase my love for the One who made this world. And as I consider the role of suffering in our human existence, I see that it, too, impacts how we view God.
Given that I have had 3 funerals in 4 weeks, and given that I have had close dealings with the families involved, I have thought a great deal about death and suffering this past month. And as I have looked to the Scriptures to make sense of pain and death this is what I have observed: In pain and suffering, God means to create in us an appetite for heaven.
Let's be honest, if our life on this earth was perfect; if we were all healthy, wealthy, and comfortable, we would never want to leave this place. We would not be able to imagine heaven as an improvement on our existence. But our life is not perfect. We face trials daily. And how do we view suffering and death? We hate it.
I want to tell you this morning, that nothing upsets me more than to see someone in pain. I want to tell you what you already know--death stinks. But even death has a purpose. Death reminds us not to be too comfortable with our earthly existence. Death reminds that this is not our home.
The apostle Paul makes this point when he tells us in verse 20 that "our citizenship is in heaven". Beloved, if heaven is indeed our home, then why is our appetite for heaven so weak? And if heaven is our home, why don't we talk about it more?
I fear that the answer is because our minds are constantly on earthly things. Of course, we must attend to our earthly affairs with diligence and, indeed, we should enjoy our time here. Yet, at the same time, Paul is clear about this: To set one's mind only on earthly matters is to act in an unchristian manner. In verse 18, Paul talks about those who are "enemies of the cross of Christ" and, in verse 19 he talks about those whose "end is destruction". These people, Paul explains, are people who "set their minds on earthly things"(v.19).
The challenge for the Christian then, is to attend diligently to our earthly affairs while having our mind set on heaven.
Surely the word citizenship provides us with a helpful analogy. I want you to imagine that you are on vacation in a foreign land. You have left your family and friends behind in order to travel overseas. Now, just because you are not home, doesn't mean that you can't enjoy yourself. Nobody goes on vacation to have a bad time.
Some of my most exciting times have been when I have been vacationing in a different country. But do you know what? Not once have I ever been tempted to take up residence there. Even if we have the most exciting 2 weeks imaginable, we always look forward to coming home, don't we?
In the same manner, we should enjoy our life on this earth, but we should do so knowing our existence here is but a day-trip in contrast to our eternal fellowship with Christ in heaven.
Friends, this is not some abstract concept we are pondering here. The fact that we are citizens of heaven has tremendous implications on how we are to live our lives here on earth. Perhaps the most obvious application of this truth is that we are to be governed by the heaven's laws.
Paul tells us in 2Corinthians 5 that, in heaven, our desire will be to please the Lord. But even while we are on this earth, Paul insists that pleasing our Lord should be our greatest ambition (2Cor. 5:9). This is why we are taught to pray, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven"(Matt. 6:10).
The ways of heaven are not simply meant for eternity, but they are intended to be manifest in the lives of God's children on this earth.
If we govern our lives on earth by heaven's laws, people should notice. Whenever I visit the Southern United States, it doesn't take long for someone to figure out where I am from. If "my accent", as they call it, doesn't give me away, my choice of words and the type of preferences I have always do. For instance, have you ever walked into a McDonald's in the U.S. and asked for vinegar for your french fries? Or have you ever asked for a serviette to clean up a mess you made? If you have, you know exactly what I am talking about.
In the same way, those who live by heaven's ways will develop a vocabulary and a lifestyle that will mark you out as distinct. Our citizenship in heaven is more than a passport for eternity, it should remind us of how we should carry ourselves here on this earth.
Let me, once again, pick up the analogy of travelling abroad. What typically happens once you are away for more than a week? We tend to lose touch with what is going on back home. And, if you are at all like me, you begin to search for a newspaper that will report about what is going on back home. Even better, is when we begin to receive letters from our homeland. When we are away from home we long to hear news about our home.
Let me ask you, if you are a citizen of heaven, do you long to communicate with your homeland? You see, the Bible is our up-to-date newspaper for heaven. It is that letter written in love by our Heavenly Father. How strong are your passions to read about your real homeland? If our citizenship is truly in heaven, then our heart should be set on it even while we are engaged in worldly activity.
This passage of Scripture is so important to me for it reminds me of my primary task as a minister of Christ. My primary task is not to bring growth to this church. My primary task is not to have programs running in perfect order. My primary task is to help you develop a passion for Christ. And, in developing your passion for Christ, I want to foster in you a longing for heavenly glory.
The plain truth that I want you to see today is that our existence in heaven will be better than our existence on earth. I fear that very few Christians can even comprehend this truth. Rather than view themselves as citizens of heaven, many speak of heaven as if it was some strange foreign land. I have heard many people express anxiety over whether there will be pets in heaven, whether there will be golf in heaven, and whether there will be cold beer in heaven.
And what is behind these questions, to be sure, is this question: Will heaven be fun?
Charles Spurgeon, when he preached on this text, began his sermon with the statement, "There can be no comparison between a soaring (angel) and a crawling worm." Will heaven be fun? You bet it will be.
There will be no cancer wards in heaven. There will be no starving children in heaven. There will be no violence, discrimination, or disrespecting of individuals in heaven. The imagery of the prophet Isaiah on this subject is beautiful, "The wolf and the lamb shall graze together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox"(Isa. 65:25).
In heaven there will be no more death or sin. Heaven is perfect. And friends, we who believe in Jesus Christ are citizens of this glorious place.
Our earthly existence is but a day-trip when compared to eternity. Enjoy your time here. Enjoy the green pastures and the quiet waters, but when you walk through that dark valley in this life, remember where you citizenship is--remember that our greatest passion should always be to "dwell in the house of the Lord forever"(Ps. 23:6). Amen.