You want to upset a large number of people in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye? Say something that seems unpatriotic; say something that runs contrary to their political opinions and even some confirmed believers in Jesus Christ begin to squirm in irritation.
I do accept that biblical truth must be contextualized so we need to be careful when we use those truths as guides for our lives today. To live in the image of Christ doesn’t mean we must be carpenters, unmarried and the itinerant preachers. I wish to make the point that the OT & the NT have much to say about believers in God viewing themselves as pilgrims on the earth.
Hymns like, This World is Not My Home are not much favored right now with those who are excited about creation theology. Still, there are passages such as Psalm 119:19 where the psalmist feels and says because he feels that he is a pilgrim on the earth (so he needs God’s word to guide him). Ainsworth called it a “mood” more than a conviction and I believe his intent is correct even if the word “mood” isn’t quite the right word. There’s something that gives the earth and the fine things of the earth a “passing” sense even if it’s because the human is like a passing breeze (Psalm 78:39). Because they reflect deeply on God, the everlasting God, others don’t mind taking the everlasting hills and the entire creation as realities that are passing away (Psalm 102:23-27). Don’t you sense that yourself sometimes?
But texts like the following are more to the point here. Hebrews 11:8-16 speaks of Abraham & Sarah, Isaac & Rebekah, Jacob & Rachel who through ups and downs yet trusted the God of the promises even though, “They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”
I don’t wish to work closely with these closing words, I just wish to stress that “people who say such things” are the kind of people who see themselves as pilgrims looking for “a city” built by God and not by conquerors or politicians; they are looking for a country promised by God and not by some form of government or economic or military structures. Take Canaan. It’s repeatedly called the “promised” land or “the land of promise”. See Deuteronomy 27:3; Genesis 15:7-21 and elsewhere.
It’s true that battles were fought to secure it and there were laws enacted to shape life as it was to be lived in it but it remained the “promised” land that God had promised. Regarding Israel this had particular significance but it remains true that God gave land to nations other than Israel: Moab, Ammon, Philistines and Syrians are named in the OT and more broadly, all people. See Amos 9:7; Joshua 24:4; Deuteronomy 2:9, 19; Acts 17:26
The Hebrew writer wants his readers to view themselves as pilgrims just as 1 Peter wants his brothers and sisters who are part of the New Covenant to see themselves as a people on a pilgrimage. And here we are 2,000 years still waiting, still trustingly waiting, still pilgrims waiting for the completion of God’s promise of eternal life. Hmmm, are we?
We are GOD’S pilgrims. The country we look for is NOT created by human government structures or national entities. The One who promised whatever paradise turns out to be is God Himself and no one else!
That truly remarkable man, Henry Alford, had this inscribed on his grave: Diversorium Viatoris Hierosolymam Proficiscentis
(“The lodging place of a traveler on his way to Jerusalem”).
We will pay attention to Romans 13:1-7 and we will pay attention to 1 Peter 2:11-17 but we will pay attention to them in light of Acts 4:10-20.
It is only those of us who enjoy the blessings that God provides through (and often in spite of) governments who rest their future in kings, presidents and prime ministers and get all exercised if someone puts their nation and government in its place under God. A psalmist (20:7) listened to those who were big on the strength of armies and the words of the wise ambassadors and he let it be known that well-being didn’t lie in these. “Some trust in chariots and horses” he sang out, “but we will remember the name of the Lord our God.”
Hear the word of the Lord across the entire spectrum of biblical literature and listen to Isaiah 31:1-3 which is a word to the People of God. The king and his advisors huddled together in fear of Assyria; they looked forward, they looked backward, they looked inward and all around but they never looked up! They sought wise advice from every quarter and cared nothing that God is also wise.
“Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the Lord. Yet he too is wise and can bring disaster; he does not take back his words. He will rise up against that wicked nation, against those who help evildoers. But the Egyptians are mere mortals and not God; their horses are flesh and not spirit. When the Lord stretches out his hand, those who help will stumble, those who are helped will fall; all will perish together.”
This world as it currently is or is currently governed is not our home. But if things are well with us and with our loved ones, if it look like they might even be improved and we and ours will have it better it’s easy to be content with this world and not look for “a heavenly country” and “a city” built by God. The temptation to trust in chariots and horses, to trust in the wisdom of the wise is very real. God once made it clear to the most powerful man in the ancient world that He could rule the world through any ruler though he be a donkey (Daniel 4, with special attention to 4:30).
We’re not to withdraw from the world! We couldn’t even if we wanted to! But the People of God need to make it clear that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the hope of the world and the People of God need to understand that their “parish” embraces all the nations of the earth. His People don’t exist for themselves. The Church of God can’t feed and clothe and shelter the abused of the entire world—they can’t provide that but they can provide a gospel and that gospel is NOT: “Your final hope depends on getting the right kind of human government.” And if the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ pays lip service to that truth but openly denies it by its fear and fretfulness and turns to chariots and horses and “wise” ambassadors to “extend” and sustain the Kingdom of God that will send a clear message to tormented nations.
One aspect of the gospel of God to and for the abused and suffering world from the assured and trusting People of God is this: “God sees and knows! He will right all wrongs and the assurance that He will do that is the resurrection of the abused and suffering Jesus of Nazareth who for the human family embodied and embodies eternal victory over the hordes of satanic vampires that feed on and suck the blood out of the helpless!
And that truth is true whether or not it is being heard
by the millions who live in despair at home or abroad.