Philippians 3:17-21: Your Citizenship is in Heaven

The pastor is ready as he plans to proclaim Christ to the people.  Born in 675 AD in Devon, England, Winfred, whose Latin name is “Boniface,” travels to Germany at age 44.  Most of the Germanic tribes are still pagan, and he brings the Gospel with him.  Through forests and valleys, he goes, starting several monasteries.  These become self-sustaining outposts to deliver the dead-and-risen Lord to the Germans.

Now 78, Bishop Boniface readies himself for preaching.  Without warning, an armed band attacks his camp.  Soon struck down by the blood-spilling sword, he dies.

Many years later, an old woman recounts what she witnessed as a child.  For among the treasured items found at the Fulda monastery is a book with a deep cut in its pages of parchment.  The book, which Boniface held, contained a sermon from Ambrose of Milan in the 4th century, which he planned to preach.  The title?  “The blessings, which follow death.”

The Bishop, who brought Christianity to those northern reaches of Europe, understood we are citizens, not of earth, but heaven.  For this life is a pilgrimage, a valley flowing with many tears.  The pure bliss of eternal radiance and splendor is our real home.

Think back to remember the thrill of our soldiers coming home from war.  Sometimes, they returned as former prisoners.  Oh, they kissed the ground, and they danced, with tears of gladness filling their eyes.

Such is the joy of believers as they depart this bleak and barren place.  The prison camp of sin is no more.  In eternity, they drink from “springs of living waters,” where “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev 7:17).

Yes, we are residents of the paradise of God’s presence.  Those who died devoted to Christ are now closer to the end goal than we are.  For, in death, their fallen ways also die, unencumbered with sin, which still infects us.  Now, they no longer need to repent, for they are free at last.

Not so with us.  Each of us needs to turn from sin, for a fallen flesh is still part of our being.  With us, however, are those saints in glory, the “vast a cloud of witnesses surrounding us,” rejoicing when one of us repents (Heb 12:1, Luk 15:7).

Oh, the citizenship of never-ending joy is ours!  Again, consider the American in an enemy confinement.  The foreign foes make sure their prison and procedures make escape impossible.  Nothing our warriors can do will free them, forced to live in the hope of what may come.  In allegiance, they trust their nation will not forget them, no matter what their captors say.  For only an outside rescue will liberate them.

The same is true for us.  From conception, a jailhouse of sin is imprisoning us.  Nothing we do can turn us into citizens of heaven, for we are born enslaved.  Do you want proof?  A young child throwing a tantrum when the toy he wants is beyond his grasp.  Unlike prisoners of war, we may or may not realize our subjugation by sin.

Thank the Lord He is and remains faithful, providing the outside intervention we need.  The incarnate Victor, Jesus, came to save us.  On the cross, He crushed the evil tormentor under His feet, breaking the chains of our every misdeed and failing, delivering us from the bondage of the devil’s destruction.  Into death itself, He entered, tearing mortality apart.

The closest suffering of hell a Christian will undergo is on this earth.  For the non-Christian, life in this world will be his nearest experience of heaven.  Death is not the terrible end of everything.  No, like Bishop Boniface planned to preach, death becomes the doorway into continual delight.  By our Redeemer’s resurrection, He leads us forth into freedom, as Moses of old brought Israel out of captivity to the place of flowing milk and sweetest honey.

The faithfulness of Christ and the Spirit’s gift of faith changes our residency from unending darkness to endless light.  Joined to your Lord in the life-giving water, united to Him in His Supper, trusting in Him by the proclaimed Word, He brings you into His Father’s kingdom.

Do you sometimes doubt your citizenship?  Don’t contemplate within to find your assurance.  To do that is like trying to pick yourself up by pulling on your ankles.  What’s in you, within yourself, is the problem—your corruption and all its destructive effects, marching you closer toward death’s door.  So, beyond all your ability, the cross-borne Redeemer approaches to be your eternal deliverance and confidence.

So, don’t wrestle within—but come to where Christ comes to you!  Only He restores You with His Father by His saving work on the cross, delivered to you here and now.  Your identity originates from the water and Spirit, through which God enlivens you (John 3:3, 5).  The Breath from the Father, sent by the Son, breathed life into you, inscribing your name in the book of life before the Almighty’s throne.

To remain alive throughout your time in this desolate terrain, you need actual food and drink; if not, you will die.  Born by the Holy Spirit, so also must you spiritually drink and eat, where the nourishing Spirit works through the Word to feed you.  So, Jesus comes here to provide you with en-Spirited food—Himself.

Not only does the Source of everlasting life birth us in baptism, but He also feeds us.  In this new birth, the life-bestowing Spirit in you is breathed alive, glowing deep in your being.  The divine Love inside you is to grow and flourish as He nurtures you.  For He strengthens you as you eat His sacred Food, as you trek toward your home above.

In this time, as we travel, we show our real home is in heaven by how we live.  So, we survive, not on loaves of fear, but on the Bread coming down from the reaches of the Father’s glory!  The air we breathe is nothing less than the wind of God’s Spirit, rushing down upon us where and when He promises.  By our words and actions, we reveal who we are, pointing others to the Promised Land during our wilderness journey.

So, we anticipate the day when Christ will free us from the futility of this incarceration.  In this lifetime journey, our hope and confidence grow, not from the abundance of our earthly homes, but in Jesus.  In Him, you inherit a heavenly mansion.  The end of your life is not to create fear or despair.  No, the death of your sin means the Creator will bring forth a new reality, fashioned in righteousness and blessedness forever!

Now, we all should realize this, but our life here may consume too much of us.  In our travels below, our eternal home may dissipate into a forgotten, distant dream.  Be wary of being too caught up in our earthiness here.  Do not let yourself drift away from your Liberator over death and lose your divine identity.

With heaven as our home, living in transitory housing, we are but strangers, treading on foreign soil.  In your daily vocations, keep one eye on your tasks of service and the other on what awaits you.  Be like the Israelites who rebuilt Jerusalem after their exile in Babylon.  Fighting off marauders, “the laborers who carried the loads worked with one hand and held a weapon with the other” (Neh 4:17).  Like them, we are dual-focused, fulfilling our callings while we strive to keep “our eyes on Jesus, the Founder and Finisher of our faith” (Heb 12:2).

Listen again to our Epistle reading, “Our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).  So, we press on, while He reveals Himself to us now in His Word and the Sacrament.  Through these ways, Christ desires to be present among us, comforting us in sorrow, leading us in truth, and strengthening us to face our conflicts.  With what He gives, we can face the failings of our physical bodies.  For He is with us all the way, caring for us as our Deliverer from death into life everlasting.

The cross proves the trustworthiness of Jesus.  So, He will come for you at the hour of death.  In your final breath, He will lead you into His homeland of righteousness and beauty.  So we wait, trusting in God to take us through in His way and time.

Now, we gather as heaven’s citizens, though we still walk this earth.  Those whom we love, who died relying on their death-defying Lord, dine at the unending Feast above.  Here, we unite with them for a sliver of time, eating the bread and drinking the wine, in which Jesus chooses to be with us.  For He is both with us and with His saints above.  So, with them, we join “the city of the living God … with myriads of angels in festive gathering … with the spirits of the righteous made perfect” (Heb 12:22-23).

Oh, how we long for Christ to return when He transforms our bodies to be like His glorious body.  In perfect, incorruptible and immortal bodies and souls, we will be with our Triune God, shining in resplendent triumph.  The present separation we experience is but a moment compared to the ceaseless homecoming above.

Don’t set your hearts on the trappings of this world.  For, in the end, they will dissolve into dust.  Nourish your belief in Your Rescuer by His manna from heaven—His Word and His Sacrament of His body and blood.

In faith, our hearts and tongues can arise and sing, “When I tread the verge of Jordan, bid my anxious fears subside.”  Through “death of death and hell’s destruction,” our conviction will cry to God, “land me safe on Canaan’s side” (LSB 918, st. 3).

Yes, we are bound for eternal exaltation, “a better country—a heavenly one” where your Father prepares a city for you (Heb 11:16).  For His love will conduct you through the dark of night and entrenched despair.  A Love to carry you all the way home.  Amen.