Citizens of Heaven

Philippians 3:17-4:1

Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.

           

Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen! Our text today is our Epistle reading and the sermon is Citizens of Heaven.

A young woman was married for less than a year and decided she would cook the Easter meal for the whole family. The day approached and she started to prepare the dinner by cutting two inches off one end of the ham and placing it into a roasting pan. Her husband was watching and was filled with curiosity so he asked, "Why do you cut two inches off one end of the ham?" She said that is the way I’ve always done it, that’s the way my mom taught me. "But why, he continued to ask?" She finally gave in and said she didn't know why she did it. So she called her mom and asked, "Why do we cut two inches off the ham when we cook it?" The mother replied, "I don't know, I learned from your grandma, and that's the way we’ve always done it. Why don't you ask her?" A moment later she called grandma and asked, "Grandma why do we cut two inches the ham before we cook the ham?" The grandmother responded, "I don't know why you cut two inches off your ham, but I always did it because the pan was two inches shorter than the ham!"

We are creatures of habit and traditions. Paul in today's lesson is dealing with traditions and not just traditions but covenants that had become holy habits. Habits are hard to break and often become a law in our lives. The Judaizers were insisting that these new Christians live according to the covenant created for the Jews. They went so far as to say if you weren't circumcised you weren't saved. They put the grace of God second to the works of man. In other words, it was works righteousness and not the work of the cross that saved. They insisted that what they did and believed was the only right and holy way that people could be saved. To them only Jews, true Jews could be saved.

Paul wanted no uncertainty about salvation. In verse 3 Paul gives us a description of the true Jew, "the Christian."  In verses 4-6 Paul tells us that once he was blameless so far as the Law was concerned. But, in verses 7-11, he tells us that once he learned of justification by faith all of these fleshly regulations became meaningless. He now considers them as mere garbage. He has found the most important thing, the imputed righteousness of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  In verses 12-16 he dwells on sanctification, the inevitable result and by-product of justification.  As Luther said:  "Faith alone justifies but faith is never alone." In our text today Paul talks about being molded into the image of Christ.

Paul addresses the Judaizers from the position of being a Jew that's above reproach. He now directs the Philippians to follow his example of what it means to be Christian. Not by putting one's self under the law but by living under the Gospel.  He says: "Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you." Paul says, imitate me and others of the faith; follow our examples; according to the pattern we gave you. Not just Paul, but many of the fellow redeemed. According to this pattern. The actual Greek for pattern is Tupon or Tupos it means to trace or make a copy. But also means: to make as from a mold that has been hammered into shape.

When I was a kid my parents gave us a mold maker for Christmas. It made small cars from lead or pot metal. You would heat the metal in a miniature pot and pore it into the mold. The metal would cool and we had metal car. We made dozens of these cars each one alike. The key to using the mold was to completely melt the metal. To use a mold you must melt away the previous form. So is Paul telling us that we should be like him and all the other examples? Yes, as in living a sanctified life. Yes as an example of one saved by grace alone and that's what we are talking about. Our fellow redeemed serve as a mirror, a reflection of the image of Christ. Verse 18: "For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ." Paul and others are nothing more that a reflection of the cross of Christ. Christ life, Christ suffering, Christ death, Christ resurrection. Paul is calling the believers to imitate Christ.  To be molded by the cross of Christ. That's the mold to dictate the shape of our lives. For it is Jesus who is God, the God of the Cross and Paul points to the end for those enemies of the cross, the enemies of the Gospel in verse 19: "Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things."

Ever since Mel Gibson's movie the Passion came out, every year around Easter, someone will ask me about it. What did I think of it? I enjoyed it but I am not going to go into that. What I’ve noticed is that many news people, media critics, night show hosts, the list goes on and on. But many of these people have absolutely hated the movie. They have a range of reasons, too gory, too violent, foreign language the list goes on and on. I believe, "To understand and appreciate the movie you must see it with eyes of faith." As a Christian it may very well be hard or even too much for us to handle. But not because you don't understand it, but because Jesus paid such a great price for our sin and that price may be hard to handle. Even in our day: "many live as enemies of the cross of Christ." 1 Corinthians 1:18 says: "For the message of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."

For those who hate the cross their god is self. Their passion is in what they can consume. What can be owned, what can be experienced, what can be put into subjection! Paul warns that even the most religious will fail if they base their salvation on the acts of the flesh for the cross is non-sense to them, foolishness. And we too should shed tears for them, for the end will be severe, "for their glory is in their shame." It is by Christ alone and His cross that we have salvation, nothing done with human hands, as Paul says earlier, "not by works lest any man should boast."   

You see it's all given to us as part of "our citizenship in heaven." What does it mean to be a citizen? At Paul's time it meant the benefits from that homeland. He was Roman and it meant, protection, fair hearing concerning legal matters, a right to request an audience with emperor, and he would be laid to rest on his native soil. In return he would be loyal to his homeland.

What does this mean if your citizenship is in heaven? Much the same thing,

·         Protection 2 Thessalonians 3:3 "But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one."

·         How about fair hearing concerning legal matters?  "1 John 2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous One." 

·         What about the right to request an audience with emperor? Philippians 4:6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

·         And finally what about being laid to rest. Philippians 4:20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, 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.  

Being a citizen of Heaven means you have eternal life. You are given a place of rest in a place of immortality, where death has no hold. That price was paid by The Prince of Peace -Jesus Christ. And He will come again to take all the citizens of heaven home.

The question is how does one become a citizen? Things have become muddied in our time about how one becomes a citizen. Today you may become a citizen by taking test, marrying into a family, maybe even paying some money. But it wasn't always that way. It originally was a birthright. You didn't earn it - you didn't pay for it - You were born with it. Not by works or by deciding one day you wanted to be a member of that kingdom.

For us Christians our birthright was in the water of our baptism.  When you were baptized you were born again in the Water and Word.  You died to the kingdom of sin, death and the devil, which held your citizenship and birthright. And through baptism you were reborn into God's Kingdom. From that moment forward you have been a citizen of Heaven. You've had all those citizens' rights and privileges. And Paul desires you remain there and therefore says in verse 4:1: "Therefore, 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!" Stand firm in the Lord by imitating Paul and other faithful believer's lives, by being molded by the Cross of Christ. By hearing God's Word, read, mark and inwardly digest it, by confessing your sins and receiving absolution, by knowing you are a citizen of heaven. As Citizen of Heaven you should desire to partake of heavenly feast, a foretaste of the feast to come.

For this is the New Covenant established by Jesus Christ freeing you from the bondage of the old covenant. The New Covenant where Jesus' blood gives you the forgiveness of sins. Where you and all the company of heaven laud and magnify the Lord evermore praising Him and glorifying His name.  The New Covenant where Jesus says take eat this is my body, take drink this is my blood, all this for the forgiveness of your sins.

You are God's people, members of His Kingdom, fellow Citizens of heaven. All praise honor and glory to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, our savior Jesus Christ. By His blood you are set free, and you are made His people, citizens of His Kingdom, Citizens of Heaven, right now and forever more. - In Jesus Name, Amen!

 

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN