Today’s Scripture focus: Philippians 3:17-4:1
We sat there in the office signing papers, taking pictures, and paying our money. I had made a special appointment, picked the boys up early from school, and showed up at the Post Office at the appointed time. We were taken back behind the place with which I was familiar – P.O. Boxes, mail slots, and the front counter personnel.
“Why do we have to get a passport?” the boys wanted to know.
“Well, you are going to need it when go on our mission trip this summer” I responded. I tried to explain that this little blue book with an eagle on the front, a picture inside, and a computer embedded in its cover were the proof of our citizenship. It told the government that we belong to this country and gave us permission to come back into our country once we returned from our trip. I tried to keep it simple, but they still didn’t understand. They half-smiled for their picture, we paid our money, and then we waited. A few weeks later, the package arrived in the mail and it was official, our boys can travel out of the country with their shiny new passport and they can return home, assured that they have a place here because of their citizenship.
As I read today’s passage, I thought about this. Paul, in his letter to the church at Philippi, clearly states a truth that I think we pay lip-service to but don’t think through its implications. “But our citizenship is in heaven,” Paul writes. Yes, we live currently in this world, but our true place of belonging, our true home is not here, but with God. This is not the only time the New Testament writers expound on this theme. “We are ambassadors for Christ,” Paul writes to the church at Corinth. In 1 Peter we read, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,” (emphasis added) and later, “I urge you as aliens and strangers in the land . . .” (1 Peter 2:9, 11). The message seems pretty clear: this world is not our home.
One of the key messages of Jesus during his ministry was the announcement of a new kingdom that was coming to pass. In fact, his first sermon (as recorded in Matthew) echoed the message of John the Baptist, who said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The Sermon on the Mount could be seen as a description of what this kingdom would look like and the kind of community Jesus was calling its citizens to be. For with a new kingdom comes a new king. Membership in the kingdom means allegiance to Jesus as the only rightful king. Is it any wonder, then that the power structures of Jesus’ day felt threatened by him? Is it any wonder that they drummed up false charges and hung him on a cross? We feel confident that there was more to the cross than this, but it was definitely not less than this.
Which brings me to my point today – if we are called to be citizens of a new kingdom in which Jesus is the only rightful king, what is our passport? What is the sign that shows that we belong? What papers identify us with this crucified king? We must take on the cross of Jesus.
As Paul puts it, there are many who are enemies of the cross – they live life on their terms, their bellies are their gods, they have their mind set on the things of the earth (power, possessions, success, etc.).
Citizens of this other kingdom don’t live that way. They have their mind set on the things of the Spirit, they lay down their life, they die to this old way of life, they are born again, and they are obedient to Christ. Christ is their only king and their allegiance goes to him and him alone. Though they are present in this world, their true citizenship is elsewhere.
So let us glory in the cross – the cross of our King, the cross of our salvation, the cross of our citizenship – and let us carry our passport boldly, with humility and grace.
Prayer: God, thank for the cross. Though it be the source pain and death, let me find in it your glory and my citizenship as a member of your kingdom. Amen.
* Note: This blog post is part of a series of reflections for Lent. The passages are based on a booklet Steven wrote for Ecclesia, the church he pastors in Fairview, NC.