“But our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
For the past several months we have been studying the Sermon on the Mount. The theme of which is the Kingdom of Heaven. In essence, what Jesus is doing is giving us insight into the personality of someone who has become a citizen of the kingdom of Heaven. He shows us in the Beatitudes the process whereby we will be transformed form sinner to saint and then in the rest of the sermon He describes for us what a transformed life will look like in practice. But the long and short of it is that He is talking about the kingdom of Heaven.
On earth, the kingdom of heaven is within us. That is, the hearts wherein Jesus is Lord, where He reigns, that is His kingdom. But Jesus tells us that there is a physical, spatial place called heaven, a place where those who love Him will physically and bodily spend eternity with Him.
I cannot remember when I last heard a sermon on heaven. Yes, here and there someone will say something about heaven. At funerals we may hear about heaven, and most people hope someday to go to heaven, but the reality is…most people, Christians included, have no real understanding of what importance Heaven is to their life here on earth or of what Heaven really is.
Let’s face it, the vision of heaven most people have is faulty at best. Most people have some notion that Peter is the gate keeper, that in heaven we’ll float around on fluffy white clouds, dressed in togas and spend our days strumming on harps. And you have the right to ask, “Where do they get this stuff?” More likely than from Hollywood.
In 1990, the movie Ghost hit the movie screens, and offered us another Hollywood vision of heaven and hell. The bad guys in the film are dragged off to perdition by a band of shadowlike sniveling demons and Patrick Swayse, the good guy, ascends into a heaven that is filled with light and music; obviously the director’s view of heaven.
According to the Washington Post, some 88 percent of Americans believe that Heaven is a real place ("Do Americans Believe in God?" Richard Morin, washingtonpost.com, April 24, 2000. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/polls/wat/archive/wat042400.htm). But before you get overly encouraged, an ABC News/Beliefnet poll found that some 43 percent of Americans believe that their deceased pets will go to heaven ("Do All Dogs Go to Heaven?" Dalia Sussman, abcnews.go.com, July 20, 2002, http://abcnews.go.com/sections/us/DailyNews/pets_beliefnetpoll010720.html). And many people today feel that heaven and hell alike are nothing more than what you make of life here on earth.
Whether it is because we are creatures subject to visual stimulation or because we prefer to have someone else do our thinking for us, I cannot say, but the truth of the matter is, the vision of what Heaven is like, for the average person in America today, has been shaped more by Hollywood thank by scripture
Scripture does give us glimpses of heaven:
- In Revelation 4 we are told that Heaven is a place of worship. In fact, that will be the greatest thing about heaven. We will spend all of eternity in the wonder and glory of our Lord, worshiping Him with the saints of all the ages.
- 2 Samuel 12:23 assures us that it is a place of reunions, we will see our loved ones there.
- 1 Thessalonians 4:10 tells us that it is our eternal dwelling place, it is not a place we will visit, it a place we will stay.
- And Psalm 73:25 says it is the place where God dwells, we will be with God.
- In Matthew 6:20 we are encouraged to lay our treasures up in heaven, it is the only place where true riches can be amassed.
- Revelation 21 comforts us by saying there will be no death or tears in Heaven and tells us the main street is made of pure gold and is like transparent glass
- And in 1 Corinthians 1:17 it is fitting that we are told to long for Heaven.
But even with these insights, we are not given a comprehensive view of what heaven is like. In fact, scripture assures us that in our fallen estate, we cannot even imagine the wonders of Heaven. 1 Corinthians 2:9 says, “What no eye has seen and no ear has heart, and what has never come into a man’s heart, is what God has prepared for those who love Him.”
As William Biederwolf said, “Heaven would hardly be heaven if we could define it.” And while our understanding of Heaven may be limited, that should not keep it from being in the forefront of our hearts and minds as Christians.
Turn with me to the book of Philippians, chapter 3, verse 20. (read text)
The context of our passage is that Paul, writing from a prison in Rome. He is encouraging the believers of the church at Philippi to lives that will glorify God. In this particular paragraph, which is comprised by 3:17 through 4:1, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he counsels the Philippian Christians, urging them to live their lives in consonance with their citizenship, which in Heaven, as opposed to living like the world around them.
There are three things I want you to see about heaven from this passage.
1. Heaven is our Home
The word translated “citizenship,” has an interesting background. It literally means a commonwealth, or a homeland.
In classical Greek it was used to describe a colony of foreigners who are residents in a foreign city while their citizenship and allegiance is elsewhere. So here, Paul tells us that as Christians, we are foreigners here, living in a strange land, a land that is not our ultimate home.
By telling us that our citizenship is not here, but in heaven, Scripture is reminding us of where our allegiance truly lies, not only of where our home really is but of the fact that as citizens of heaven we are ambassadors of heaven here on earth.
How would it change your view of life if God gave you diplomatic papers, making you an official ambassador from Heaven? How would it alter your choices in life if you knew that those around you were looking to you to see what Heaven’s King was really like?
The truth of the matter is, you and I are ambassadors from Heaven. 2 Corinthians 5 tells us that we are ambassadors for Christ. And as such we bear the responsibility of representation. We represent Christ here on earth. That’s part of what it means to have our citizenship in heaven.
Most of you have never lived outside of the United States, so it can be difficult to understand what it is like to be a stranger in a foreign land. But most of you have traveled. Most of you have been in countries which were not your home. You understand how disconnected you feel from a culture or a language that is not your own.
While serving as missionaries in Spain we went through several phases. When we first arrived we went through culture shock. Everything was strange. The language, the food, the signs on the road, the smells and way people acted, everything was strange to us. From there we moved to wanting to learn the language and culture. We attended the university, we studied everyday and step by step we began to learn more and more of our host culture and language.
At this point there comes a temptation in the life of every missionary. The temptation is to try and become a native. I saw many missionaries change their manner of dress, change their mannerisms, change everything trying to become Spanish. But the truth of the matter is, regardless of how much you know about a foreign culture, or how well you speak their language. You will never be one of them. You will always be an American, and that was something we came to terms with early on.
We were always strangers living in a foreign land. Yes, we spoke the language, yes we ate the food and had a rudimentary understanding of their culture, but we were always seen as Americans, and deep within our hearts, we knew where our homeland was. In fact, after the first year or so, we began to crave foods from the United States. We knew were to get Dr. Pepper and pop tarts, we even knew what restaurants in town served American food. We were longing for our homeland.
You see, the same is true for us as Christians. We are foreigners here on Earth. This earth is not our home, we are pilgrims, missionaries, sent here by God to accomplish His mission. As Christians we need to come to terms with this truth and embrace it.
Talk to any person living in this country who is from a foreign land and ask them about their homeland. It will amaze you how much they can tell you about the land of their birth, and often times it will move you to hear the sense of longing with which they speak of their homeland.
While life may be better for them here, while they may enjoy living amidst the opportunity and bounty of their host country, deep within their hearts, they still have a sense of being strangers in a foreign land. There is something within all of us which yearns for that which is familiar, which longs for our homeland.
Every time I travel, regardless of how exciting or impacting my trip may be, it is always a joy to return home, to come back to the United States, the land of my birth.
Scripture is telling us that as Christians, our ultimate homeland is Heaven. This earth may hold its allurements, it may hold its charms, the latent sense of God’s creative beauty still casts its shadow over the fallen-ness of all creation, but as born again believers, as those who have been adopted into the family of God, our homeland is Heaven. And as long as we are here on earth we are to be sojourners.
Hebrews 11, which records the heroes of faith, says, in verses 13-16.
“Those all died in faith without having received the promises, but they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on earth. Now those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been remembering the land they came from, they would have had opportunity to return, but they now aspire to a better land, a heavenly one.”
For all Christians, this earth is not our home. It is, as the Psalmist says in Psalm 63:1, “a dry and weary land.”
For many Christians in this world this earth is a dry and desolate place. For many of our brothers and sisters in foreign lands, in places where life is hard, countries where being a Christian could cost you your life, Heaven is something for which they long. It gives them something to which they can look forward. The persecution they endure, the struggle here on earth makes Heaven very attractive.
But for many Christians in our country, Heaven is the farthest thing from their mind. That brings me to my next point. Heaven is not here.
2. Heaven is not Here
Notice the words, “From Which.” These two words give us the clear understanding that Heaven is not here, but it is a place “from which,” Jesus will return. Scripture tells us that this earth is not Heaven, but that heaven is a tangible place where, in our resurrected state we will be with Jesus. In John 14, Jesus tells us that He has gone ahead to prepare a place for us and that He will return and take us where He is. Contrary to what some may say, Heaven is not a state of mind we can attain, it is not a utopian society we can create here on earth. Heaven is not here.
But from observing many Christians in the United States today, it would seem that Heaven is the farthest thing from their mind. It appears as though many believers in our country have taken the attitude that Heaven can wait, they’re just having too much fun here on earth to really want to go to heaven.
We need to come to a clear understanding that heaven is home and that is not here.
The old song we used to sing says,
“This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through,
My treasures are laid up, somewhere beyond the blue.
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.”
If many Christians today were to be honest, and they were singing that song today they’d have to change the words to something like this.
“This world is now my home, I think that I’ll make do,
My stocks and bonds I’m saving, for when my job is through.
My R.V. beckons me; the open road my fate,
Retirement is my heaven; eternity can wait.”
(Poem by Calvin Wittman)
Instead of sweet Beulah land, it’s sweet R.V. park. It seems that Christians these days have made a collective decision to buy into the surrounding culture’s idea of making earth our home.
As Alan Wolfe observes in his book, The Transformation of American Religion, “Whether or not the faithful were ever a people apart, they are so no longer; if they were singing the famous gospel hymn today, they would say that the old-time religion is no longer good enough for them. Far from living in a world elsewhere, the faithful in the United States are remarkably like everyone else.” (Wolfe, Alan "The Transformation of American Religion," Free Press, New York, 2003. Pg. 3.)
Folks, Heaven is not here, it is a place where we will go, after our work for Christ on this earth is through. After we’ve accomplished all He has called us to do, after we’ve spent the years of our lives serving Him, then Heaven is our reward. Our purpose for being here on earth is to accomplish the work of the kingdom of God. We are here to expand His kingdom, to exalt our God and to express His love. Our purpose for being here is not to try and make heaven on earth, but to work for Him while we are here with a view toward resting in heaven when our earthly work is done.
And while we give lip service to this truth, it seems to have little bearing on the average Christian life. Instead of spending our lives in His service, many people see their Christianity as something they do in their spare time. Yes, their faith is important to them, but not important enough to determine how they spend their time, their money or their energies. It is true that we have become remarkably like everyone else around us.
For many Christians, life on earth is just too enjoyable and they truly have taken the attitude that heaven can wait. Yes, someday, in the sweet by and by, they want to be with Jesus but they’d just as soon that day not be anytime soon. There are too many things they want to do, too many things they want to experience right here on earth.
A word of balance needs to be inserted here. As Christians we are not to walk around longing for death. We are not told to be morbidly obsessed with dying. We are to take the attitude of the Apostle Paul who in, Philippians 1:21-25
“For me, living is Christ and dying is gain. Now if I live on in the flesh, this means fruitful work for me; and I don’t know which one I should choose. I am pressured by both. I have the desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is far better, but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am persuaded of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your advancement and joy in the faith…” (HCSB)
Paul understood that heaven is not here. He understood that his purpose here was not to make a heaven on earth, but to work here on earth to insure that as many people as possible accepted the gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ, so that they too could spend eternity in heaven.
Heaven is our home, heaven is not here; and the third thing I want you to see is that Heaven is our hope.
3. Heaven is our Hope
Look at the last part of the verse, “From which we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Hope, from a biblical perspective is not something we merely wish for, something we dream might or could happen, but rather something fixed, something that is certain for which we are waiting.
In fact, the word translated, “eagerly wait,” in the Greek language is a single word. It literally means to intensely wait, eagerly expect or to anxiously anticipate something.
It is used in Romans 8:19 where “creation eagerly awaits for the sons of God to be revealed.”
And it is used again in Hebrews 9:28 where it says that the Messiah will appear a second time to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.
Here in our text it speaks of our attitude of anticipation and expectation as we wait for the Lord to return and take us to Heaven. It is in this sense that Heaven is our hope.
The early church lived with a very real sense that the Lord could return any day. In fact, in the face of persecution and suffering, they longed for the Lord to return and take them home.
That sense of anticipation and expectancy impacted the way they viewed the world, it effected the decisions they made, it changed the way they lived. They believed Jesus when He said in Mark, 13:35-36, “Therefore be alert, since you don’t know when the master of the house is coming, whether in the evening or at midnight or at the crowing of the rooster or early in the morning. Otherwise He might come suddenly and find you sleeping.”
You see, since Heaven is our home, since Heaven is not here, but it is our hope, that for which we eagerly await, with anticipation and expectancy, it should change the way we live, it should effect the decisions we make, it should impact the way we view the world.
In light of this knowledge, in light of the fact that heaven is our hope allow me to make several observations.
A. We are to wait expectantly – Earnestly awaiting heaven –
We are to expect His return – I was talking to someone the other day who was asking whether or not Jesus could come at any time. Their view was that because certain things had not happened, Jesus could not come just yet.
In Matthew 24 Jesus says, “Now concerning that day and hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, except the Father only…..That is why you must be ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
None of us can predict when Jesus will return. Faithful Christians from the first century on have lived with expectancy, with an anticipation that it could be today.
How many of us wake up each morning wondering if this could be the day the Lord returns? How many of us allow that possibility to influence our decisions, the stewardship or our time or our wealth? How many of us have that possibility at the forefront of our thoughts as we engage our lost friends and neighbors? How different would our lives be if we lived with an awareness, an expectancy that Jesus could come back today.
B. We are to walk wisely –
1 Peter 1:17 says, “You should conduct yourself in reverence during this time of temporary residence.” While we are here, until the Lord returns we are to be careful how we live, to live our personal and corporate lives in such a way that they would bring glory to God. You are the only bible many people will ever read. Your life is the only light that many will ever see shining through the darkness. You are the light of the world. Make a difference against the darkness.
C. We are to work faithfully – to be busy about the work of the Kingdom of God
Jesus tells us in John 9:4 that we must work while we are here on earth for night cometh when no man can work. Tragically, many Christians go through the years of their life, never aware of the purpose for which God has saved them. They go about pursuing the very same things which have enamored and enchanted their lost neighbors. They are oblivious to the fact that Jesus died, not only to save their souls from hell, but to save them so they could be His agents in this world. That is the long and short of it folks. We are here to work! No Christian should ever retire from the work of the kingdom. We will have all eternity to rest in heaven. While we are here, we are to be busy about the work of the kingdom of God.
Friends, if Jesus is your Savior and your Lord, this world is not your home, you are a sojourner, a stranger and a pilgrim here; the manner of our lives should reflect that. God has called us to be busy about His kingdom’s business; the activity of our lives should reveal that. God has placed His Spirit within us, to enable us, to change us; our lives should radiate that.
Is Heaven your home this morning? Have you ever come to a point in your life where you’ve asked Jesus to forgive you of your sins and accepted His gift of eternal life? If not, Heaven is not your home. But if you’d like to be certain that when you die you’ll spend eternity in heaven with Jesus, this morning Jesus wants to make heaven your home.
Christian, what about you? Are you living this life with an eternal perspective? Is the reality of Heaven ever in the forefront of your thoughts as you go through your days? What difference does the reality of Heaven make in your everyday experience and what difference are you willing to allow it to make? Perhaps this morning you need to rededicate yourself to living for an eternal purpose.