Our Home Country Is In Heaven
November 5, 2006
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
1. Today is All Saints' Day. [On] this day the names of those who have already finished their lives on this earth are published in the sanctuary. During the year five names were added to this list. The reason this register of names is placed in the sanctuary is that we believe that we are not disjoined from these persons because the God we are thus worshipping is also their God. There are also churches where the names of the called [to heaven] are engraved on the walls. It's to help them to always remember. Once a year we put up a picture with the names written on it. But, what we need to always keep in mind is the same. Whether alive or dead, we look up to the same Lord. On either side of the grave or beyond it, we're in the hands of the same God.
2. On this All Saints' Day, just ago, I read to you from The Epistle To The Disciples At Philippi, chapter three and beginning in verse seventeen. In particular, I would like for us to remember the words of "Our home country is in heaven" as a message given to us.
3. When Paul wrote this letter, he was in jail as a prisoner still under trial. He didn't even know how his life would be the next day. Furthermore, Paul's opponents had been going around in order to repudiate and destroy the work of Paul so far. In that way then, outside of the prison, a situation was developing where his work until now might come to nothing. Paul couldn't do a thing [to stop it]. In a space enclosed by walls like that, he was living his life, which may not see tomorrow.
4. But, if we ask what is special about the way Paul is here like this, I don't necessarily think we should say that [the way he is here is what's special]. He doesn't know how his life will be the next day. -- That's how we are, too. It happened [to him], that what he accomplished and accumulated might come to nothing. -- It's the same way for us, too. He is surrounded by walls on every side. -- As far as that goes, we too live within many different limits, and we are surrounded by every kind of thing that we can't bear by ourselves.
5. But, Paul who should have actually been shut down while in jail, made the declaration, "Our home is in heaven." In short, not even jail, in which Paul was physically shut, was something that bound him any more. His life was not bound because he was joined to heaven. In other words, heaven was always opened to him.
6. Those words are also given to us today. Can we too live and express along with Paul, "Our home is in heaven?" Or, are we living with those various ghosts of fear and unrest, discontent and dissatisfaction in the prison of our shut lives? It will be a major difference. By all means without fail, we want to make these words our own.
The Citizenship Granted As A Grace Gift
7. "Our home is in heaven." -- Paul wrote those words in addressing the church at Philippi. For those who read the epistle what Paul was saying must have really rung a bell. That's because the town of Philippi was a colony of imperial Rome.
8. While Philippi was one of the cities in Macedonia, it didn't have a Greek style way of life, but a Roman style. The greater part of the people living there had Roman citizenship. They had citizenship, and because of that they did enjoy a number of special rights. They were even proud because of it. They all lived claiming, "Our country is in Rome." Therefore, I'd say that when they read the words of "Our home is in heaven," the Philippian believers could get a hold of the imagery of those words right away.
9. "Our home is in heaven." That means that just as the Philippians lived as Roman citizens while staying in Macedonia, we live as heavenly citizens while being on earth. To live as a believer has that meaning. While in this temporary world, we do not live thinking only of this world, but we live as persons connected to heaven, as persons who belong to heaven.
10. In this way then, we could probably say that the faith way of life is quite similar to the every day way of life in the colony. However, on the other hand though, we must not overlook the fact that there are absolutely significantly different elements in saying "My home is in heaven" from "My home is Rome." It may make an analogy but there are also differences in them. While one is a citizen of Rome the main thing is one's relationship to the emperor. While one is a citizen of heaven the main thing is one's relationship with God. They are altogether different situations because with relationships with human beings people can effectively be deceptive on many occasions, but in one's relationship with God people can never successfully deceive him.
11. Please think about it. In the presence of God are we really people who can say with a chest full of pride, pointing to ourselves, that, "I am a citizen who makes heaven my home country?" Can we really claim to be fit as citizens of heaven? I don't really think we can. As we live in this world and society, we often ignore God and live as if he isn't there. For the most part we conduct ourselves indifferently towards heaven. All of that is plain to God. How can we say so naturally and expectantly, "Our home is in heaven" when we're like that?
12. When we honestly look back at ourselves, we will see that the statement of "Our home is in heaven" is one that nobody all by himself or herself on one's own merits can make. If we, the way we are, can still say "Our home is in heaven," it is only due to the special grace of God. Since there is the problem of our sin and rebellion, which is clear in the sight of God, we [can] only have God pardon us.
13. The special grace of God, indeed, is the cross of Jesus Christ. That we might be granted forgiveness of sin, Christ bore our sin upon himself, and fulfilled the atonement for sin upon the cross. For what purpose did Christ come? For what reason was Christ crucified? Why did Christ bear our sins upon himself? -- He did it in order that he might grant to us a heavenly citizenship, which is not a Roman citizenship. At the cross of Christ, we can first claim from the heart, that "Our home country is in heaven."
Our Home Is In Heaven
14. Truth be told, these words have deep memories for me. Exactly seven years ago on October 31st I performed a baptism for a certain person. The baptism was in a sterilized isolation room in a hospital. I will call that individual by "Mr N." Mr N passed away that next year in February. Mr N had not left the isolation room, for the four months [before the baptism] and then to the end. It truly was a faith lifestyle in a shut room.
15. He was the husband of a church member, and a university professor. He had many hand-scribbled research notes all around his room. Though I saw their contents I don't know what was in them, but I did see just one thing. [I saw that it looked like] he still had much more he wanted to write and to finish up. A lot of documents and books were piled up in that room. He still had a lot of things that he wanted to read. It was all still unfinished business. Mr N knew for sure that it would stay unfinished.
16. If it were Paul in jail doing the talking, what might he have said to him? I suppose perhaps he might have said, "I understand pretty much your feelings. I am also inside confined walls. I can't leave here. And I feel like everything that I have done is still unfinished and will stay that way. I'm in the same boat as you."
17. Mr N received baptism by sprinkling while living in the isolation room and when I visited him two days before he passed away he said to me in words that can never be said any better, "[We] shouldn't ever have any more questions [about our future]?" At first I didn't get what he meant, I wondered if it were a question, but he nodded to it with quiet approval.
18. "[We] shouldn't ever have any more questions [about our future]?" -- We should have more things to ask about. When a person is dying, one should have more things to ask about. [We talked about the fact that] your sins have been forgiven through the atonement for sin through the cross of Jesus Christ. [We talked about the fact that] God is with him as a person who has been forgiven of sin, and that since God is with him, he is quite okay, and that he should be at ease in his mind. I talked about this with him already at the time of his preparation for baptism. But, while I was in earnest prayer that I wanted him to have the gospel, which the Bible tells about, to be his own good news in a real sense, I spoke close to his ear and addressed him with all I had.
19. Sometimes we are to offer encouragement to "Hang in there, your condition will certainly be cured." Often times that is so important. But, there is a point when you don't. When that point comes, that kind of encouragement loses its meaning. And when it does come, and it is clear that everything is inside a wall of limitations and will end up unfinished, a person can no longer address or ask much. [It's that time when you've reached the moment when you address the fact] that your sins are given, that God is with you. [The person] has come to [his or her] final hope.
20. The following day, Mr N got to the point where he could barely communicate his will with words any more. While like that, I shared with Mr N one more message from scripture. "Our home is in heaven." It is God's message also given to us today. He gave me a deep nod of agreement. Oh, he knew he was fine now. Because he could nod in agreement with that message, [his] unfinished business, interruptions, restrictions, [and] limitations were, in their true essence, not problems at all.
21. Mr N, the day after, quietly went Home.
22. "Our home is in heaven." That's the message we are also given through the cross of Jesus Christ. Christ hung on the cross in order to grant us a heavenly citizenship. In Christ we, too, want to live as we express, "Our home is in heaven."