“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Peter 1:1 NKJV).
There is something special about a home-coming, whether it is after a long day at the office, a week’s vacation, or an extended absence of months or years. That special something is magnified if you are a particularly loyal citizen of your country and have been absent, and even more when your return coincides with events or memorials of special significance.
I returned home from two weeks in Nepal only a few hours prior to the celebration of our nation’s birthday – July Fourth. This remains one of the very most special holidays which I observe, because of the love I have for this nation in which God has blessed me to live. I am, to borrow a familiar lyric, “Proud to be an American.”
Few nations can boast of a degree of national pride and loyalty to equal that traditional in these United States. Of those who might argue their right to the claim, ancient Israel and Rome stand out.
Israel had great pride in being the chosen nation of God, bound to him by covenant and promise. Their exclusive (as they perceived it) claim upon the Lord led to a fierce allegiance to their nation.
Rome stood in a unique position as a conquering empire to whom its subjects swore their loyalty and allegiance. She was awarded divine status as the goddess Roma, giver of law, peace, order and prosperity. Kings bequeathed their nations to Rome. Citizens beseeched her to come and conquer, delivering them from inefficient despots.
The Apostle Peter addressed his first epistle to Jewish Christians living in Roman territories, many of them probably with the status of citizens. It is interesting that he calls them “pilgrims.” This word is alternatively translated as sojourners (travelers), and frequently combined with “strangers” as a description.
The significance of this designation is that in Peter’s eyes, and presumably in the eyes of his audience, their true allegiance was neither to Israel nor to Rome. They were now Christians, citizens of the Kingdom of the Son of God (Colossians 1:13). It is that Kingdom that was truly their home and to which their loyalty was given.
It is not easy for an American to make such a commitment. We love our country. We believe it to be a God-given blessing. Many have risked, or given, their lives in its defense. Others sacrifice and serve it in other ways. We make no apologies for our national love, nor for our conviction that we live in the greatest nation which has ever existed.
Except for one! The Kingdom of Heaven, established by Jesus Christ, is even greater and compels even more loyalty and love. It is eternal. It bestows far greater blessings. It possesses greater treasures. This Kingdom, also known as the Church which Jesus built (Matthew 16:18) is our true home. Any earthly abode is just a temporary visit. There we are sojourners, travelers, and strangers. But in the Kingdom of God we have a home from which we can never be taken and in which we can never be harmed. Let us look forward always to our final homecoming.
“And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).