Your Citizenship Is In Heaven
Second Sunday in Lent – Philippians 3:17-4:1
Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. 18For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. 20But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. 1Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!
What does it mean to be a citizen? Different countries have answered that question in a variety of ways. In the Roman Empire, your parents had to be citizens for you to be considered one. If you weren’t a citizen, you could earn it by serving in the military. Among the ancient Greeks, you were a citizen if you were rich enough…and if you were a man.
Of course, probably the most rigorous citizenship in all of history was Israel’s. You had to be born into one of the twelve tribes to be an Israelite. However, Gentiles could become Israelites. God said, “Foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord…and who hold fast to my covenant—Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar.” Still, we only have a couple examples of Old Testament Gentiles who actually became Israelites.
What about our nation? What does it take to become a citizen of the United States of America? I don’t have to tell you that this is an important issue in this election year. Now don’t worry, we aren’t going to talk politics this morning. We are, however, going to talk citizenship.
In our country there are two ways a person can become a US citizen. The first way is probably the way you did: birth. If you are born to citizens you, too, are a citizen. That’s the easy way. The hard way is a process called naturalization, and it can take years. A person who wants to become a citizen needs to apply; then needs to be accepted; then needs to be fingerprinted and photographed; then interviewed – which includes a test; and then at the end of it all, the person takes an oath of allegiance.
That’s quite a process. Be thankful you didn’t have to go through it. What a blessing it is that you were born into an American family. Millions of people all over the globe daily wish they have what you have. And, of course, most days we take our citizenship for granted.
But our American citizenship isn’t the only thing we take for granted. This morning the Apostle Paul reminds you where you really belong. “Our citizenship is in heaven.” Pretty amazing, isn’t it? You belong in heaven. You have a place in heaven.
However, most days you probably don’t even remember that. I suppose it is similar to our American citizenship. We don’t realize how good we have it until we see those who don’t have it.
I’ve never traveled to a third-world country. But if you listen to those who have, they share a newfound appreciation for the blessings we have here. We don’t have to wonder where our next meal is coming from. We can trust the water we drink. We have electricity and cars and roads.
The same is true with our heavenly citizenship. I don’t think we realize just how blessed we are to have that. The daily temptation is to look at the pleasures around us. Rather than fixing our eyes on our heavenly home we get caught up in what our sinful world has to offer. Paul quite blatantly summarizes what that looks like. “Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame.”
And why is that the perception of the world? Paul summarizes it for us. “Their mind is on earthly things.” What earthly things have been on your mind? When Paul says “Their god is their stomach” he is talking about people who fixate on themselves. We think about what we can get. We say things to hear what we want to hear. We do things that make ourselves feel good, even if it is at the expense of others.
These are such strong pulls in people’s lives that Paul implored the Philippians with tears to avoid them. For us the tears usually come later, after we have given in to sin all over again. We might be citizens of heaven, but we sure are good at acting like citizens of this sinful earth.
Have you ever wondered about Jesus’ citizenship when he was on earth? We hear about it exactly once in the Gospels. And wouldn’t you know it, it was during his passion history. After Jesus was betrayed, put on trial and brought before Pontius Pilate, Pilate asked about Jesus’ citizenship. “When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod.”
The only time Jesus’ earthly citizenship came up was for Pontius Pilate to dodge his responsibility of having to sentence Jesus to death. Of course, when Herod sent Jesus back, Pilate had Jesus put on the cross anyway. And that was how the man whom no country wanted, died for the people of every country. Our destiny had been our destruction. But instead of destroying us, God the Father sent our destruction onto Jesus.
You probably didn’t do anything to become an American citizen. You didn’t have to pass a test or sail across the ocean. You simply were born into your citizenship. The same is true of your citizenship in heaven. You didn’t do anything to earn it. You didn’t even choose it for yourself. You were born in to it through the waters of Baptism and through God’s Word.
Remember where your citizenship is as a Christian. You really aren’t someone who has dual citizenship: here on earth and then in heaven. This life is temporary. In fact, it is more like you have a work visa here while your actual true citizenship is in heaven.
Americans who go to work in other countries have to get a work visa. Put simply, they have to serve a purpose in the country they will be staying in. They won’t be in that foreign country forever – but while they’re there they have to work. When their work is done, they go home.
You are a foreigner here on earth. Like Abraham in the Old Testament you really don’t have a permanent home here. It is like you are on a work visa from the Lord. You are here to serve a purpose. The Lord uses us as his representatives and he reminds us to act accordingly. We share our faith with those around us. We live our faith. And at the end of our lives, when our work is done, our Lord brings us home to heaven. After all, heaven is where your citizenship is. Heaven is where your home is.
“And I shall surely stand There at my Lord’s right hand.
Heav’n is my Fatherland; Heav’n is my home.” Amen.