Audio Library

New Residence

 

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.
He will dwell with them, and they will be his people,
and God himself will be with them as their God.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes,
and death shall be no more,
neither shall there be mourning,
nor crying, nor pain anymore,
for the former things have passed away.”
Revelation 21:3-4

The 2002 film Antwone Fisher is the true story a young man orphaned at birth by his imprisoned mother. He grew up in orphanages, foster care, and reform schools and was abused at every one of them. He joined the navy at 18, and soon all his pent-up anger came out. After several fights, he was ordered to get counseling. The Navy psychologist was named Jerome Davenport (played by Denzel Washington). Dr. Davenport told Antwone that for his healing he must find his roots.

Eventually Antwone found an aunt and uncle in Cleveland who took him to see his mother. She was living in a squalid apartment complex. When he told her who he was, she wept without making eye contact. She would not answer his request for some explanation for her abandonment, she just stared straight ahead and cried. Antwone kissed her gently on the cheek as a sign of his forgiveness and then walked away, dejected. He gets back in the car and his aunt and uncle take him to their home. He shuffles to the door in obvious defeat. He must have thought, “I’m all alone, unwanted, I don’t belong.” However, when he opens the door, he is greeted with a cacophony of cheers, welcomes, and introductions. He’s hugged, kissed, pinched, and slapped on the back by a house full of relatives he never knew he had. “I’m your cousin! I’m your uncle! I’m your auntie...” on and on Antwone’s long lost family connect their histories to his forgotten one.

On one end of the family room French doors are opened to a dining room where the table is laden with a feast. There are mashed potatoes, fried chicken, fruit salad, pancakes and every imaginable form of tasty food. He was adored. He was made to feel he belonged. Sitting around the table were the elder men and women of the family. Finally, the matriarch sitting at the table tapped to quiet everyone. She slowly motioned for Antwone to draw near. When he sat beside her, she took his face in her strong, wrinkled, arthritic hands and staring deep into his eyes said softly, “Welcome.”[1]

Just like Antwone’s family, God brought home to you. By tabernacling among us in the flesh, Jesus brought family to us. We were strangers, outsiders, rebels against his Kingdom, but God so wanted us to live with him forever he sent his Son to make us his sons and daughters. He left his home to come to earth. He was born to poor parents who were turned away from the inn. He left his belongingness in heaven in order to bring us into a belonging relationship with the Father. He was even cut off from his Father, so we could become children.

Throughout the Bible, we see a common refrain from beginning to end: “I will be your God and you will be my people.” That reality has vast implications and he made it true by his Advent.

 

His People

The old Scottish rendering of the Twenty-Third Psalm says, “No more a stranger or a guest but like a child at home.” Jesus not only brought a home to you, he brought a family to you. Think for a moment about what this new identity can do for you.

New identity. Human beings, made as they are in the image of God, are in need of identity. Just being a person is not sufficient; everyone is looking for some identification outside of himself or herself. The farther people are from seeing their identity in Christ, the more desperate their quests become. If we are not living confidently in our identity as children of God then we look to earthly sources to provide it. We may search our ancestry so that we can identify ourselves by a certain ethnic group or by famous people we are related to. We may wear certain brands or clothes bearing names of teams or groups. These can be expressions of vain and desperate efforts to find identity outside of Christ. And as such they will never succeed or satisfy.

The Bible gives us a far better, permanent, and purposeful source of identity. By embracing the Christ who came to earth in the flesh, we become “God’s people.” That is not one alternative among many other viable ones. We were all created to live as God’s people. And the desperate efforts to find identity ultimately reveal that we inherently know that such is our true identity. But in our sin we want to suppress it. Today God calls you to end your vain quest to find your identity in anyone or anything but him. He calls you to come home through Christ and claim your identity as his people. When you come to Christ, you have the satisfying sense that you belong.

Living in your identity as the people of God will produce a confident life because you will find new purpose.

New purpose. When you realize you belong to God it will change the way you live. God frequently calls us “his people” in Scripture. And often the benefits of being his people are mentioned alongside. Consider just a few of those benefits. As a result of being God’s people, the psalmist says we have “strength and peace” (Ps. 29:11). Elsewhere he says we are the sheep under his care (Ps. 100:3), that we are “close to his heart” (Ps. 148:14), and God’s “delight” (Ps. 149:4).

Because we are his people, Isaiah assures that God “comforts” (Is. 49:13) and defends us (Is. 51:22). God uses almost embarrassingly complementary language to describe our beauty to him as his people. Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth he calls us his “inheritance” or “portion” (Dt. 32:9) and his “treasured possession” (Dt. 7:6; 26:18). In fact, he says we “sparkle in his hand like jewels in a crown” (Ze. 9:16). In the Gospels, Jesus is clearly identified as the one God sent to “help his people” (Lk. 7:16). And what is the primary way in which he came to help us? The angel declared that Jesus would “save his people from their sin” (Mt. 1:21).

So what difference should all of those benefits make to those of us now identified as God’s people? The Old and New Testaments make it clear. If you are God’s treasured possession, saved from the punishment of your sins by Christ’s death, then you are called to live holy lives according to his commandments.

 

Our God

Not only does God identify us as his people, he dares to identify himself as our God. The stupefying fact of the incarnation is God has come to us in orderto become our God. It would be amazing enough for him if he merely annexed us as his people and yet remained at a distance, but his grace is such that he came into our world not only to be near us but like us. And it is even more amazing when we think that he came near us in order to love us.

Jacques Ellul said, “Everyone needs a place” and God has brought one to you in the Church. And in the Church you are beginning to experience what this world will be perfectly when it is all obviously ruled by Jesus. In fact, his reign is so certain you may begin now to live in the confidence of it. You may know no matter where you are under heaven or what kind of loneliness or opposition you are experiencing, you are at home with your God.

In the earliest days of the Reformation, Urban de Saralonga, ambassador of the Margrave of Monferrat and confidant of Cardinal Cajetan, urged Martin Luther to recant. He warned unless he did Frederick would no longer be able to protect him. “Then where will you be?” he asked Luther. “Under heaven,” Luther quickly replied.

Near. God did not become distant from us; we became distant from him by means of our sin. As long as we remain in rebellion against him, we find ourselves trying in vain to hide from him. We try to achieve distance from him in our minds by denying his existence. Or we try to avoid his gaze by hiding our sins under the cloak of darkness. Or we try to escape any reminder of him by avoiding Christians or church or the Bible. We can even attempt to put him at arm’s length by thinking about him only as a theological or scholastic exercise.

But none of these efforts ultimately work. Every human being knows in the core of his conscience that he was created to live in nearness to God. And the more we strive to deny that the more lonely, disconnected, and disoriented our lives feel. What John promises in this passage is the restoration of the intimacy and companionship experienced between God and Adam in the Garden of Eden. While that intimacy begins now by virtue of the Spirit’s living in us, it will be fully realized in heaven.

Dear. But it gets better. Not only has God promised to be near us as our God, he identifies himself as our Father. This is more than the relationship between a king and a subject in a garden for a day. While there may be appreciation in such a relationship, there is not necessarily warmth and love. God drew near to us in Christ so that he could become our dearly beloved Father. But you say, “That may be true but it is not in this text.” It is in this text by implication, because this text records the fulfillment of a promise Jesus made in chapter 3:21. There Jesus promises that those who overcome will sit on his throne as he sits on his Father’s throne. At first glance it may appear that our salvation is up to our overcoming. However, Jesus is saying that because our lives are united to his, they will follow the same pattern as his. He will enable us to overcome in this life as he overcame and then he will enable us to reign as he does. But for our purposes I want you to see that if our lives follow his pattern because they are united to his, it means that God has become our Father too and we will reign with our Father in eternity.

At a previous church I pastored, I was approached one Sunday after corporate worship by a young man. He began to tell me how he liked our church but felt he did not belong. He had been a drug addict, and although he had now been clean for some time and was out of rehab, he felt he did not belong among all the other people in that church who he was convinced had everything together.

I pulled him to the side and began to tell him about our congregation. I didn’t point anyone out specifically, but I began to tell him that there were those in our congregation who were alcoholics, workaholics, those addicted to money and material wealth, those with estranged families, one who had recently been released from prison for crimes I couldn’t bear repeating. On and on the list went. He finally looked at me with a smile and said, “I think I could fit it here.”

Jesus came to earth to make you his people and to be your God. He did it despite our desiring everything to the contrary. And he did it to give you a new identity, resulting in a new purpose and so that you could become his people who he holds near and dear to his heart.

 

[1]Antwone Fisher (A Mundy Lane/Todd Black Production, 2002), written by Antwone Fisher, directed by Denzel Washington.