Scripture Reading: Philippians 3:17-21
“Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live accordingly to the pattern we gave you. For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 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.”
This coming Sunday, I will be preaching on this passage from Philippians. I will be preaching at a church that I have never been to and I always like to use this sermon on “Citizens of Heaven” when going to an unfamiliar place. It is really my favorite and best sermon and I don’t get to use it as often as I would like. So I hope that the congregation that I will deliver this message to on Sunday will be blessed and encouraged by its meaning.
Paul in his letter to the Philippians, called the Christians at Philippi, ‘citizens of heaven’. Philippi was a prosperous Roman colony and so the citizens of Philippi were also Roman citizens. But Paul wanted these early Christians to realize that they were first and foremost – citizens of an even greater land – he wanted them to know that they were citizens of heaven.
My grandfather, Cleve Simmons, was a deacon in his church, he was a farmer, and he was a good Christian man. I spent a lot of time with him as I was growing up, and he always had many stories about his life to share with me. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, these stories taught me many valuable life lessons that help to guide me even today. My grandfather was wise in the way that you should live your life in order to please God.
He had so much wisdom that he would pass on to me throughout my teen years. He believed and had a deep faith in God, and he did not doubt for a second, that God was with him each and every day of his life. He believed in treating other people fairly, helping out those in need, and loving his neighbors as well as his family. That was the kind of life that he tried to live out in his small farming community in Banks County.
My grandfather lived all of his 89 years in his beloved Banks County. In fact, he rarely traveled outside of the state of Georgia. Whenever I would ask him to take a day trip with us to Atlanta or to go on a short vacation with us he would always answer me the same way, he would say, “Son – I haven’t lost anything there – so there’s no need for me to go.” He was a citizen of Banks County and the United States and he was proud of that. But more importantly, he knew that he was a citizen of another place, a place that he couldn’t see but he knew that it existed. He was also a citizen of heaven and that was one journey that he looked forward to.
He and I talked a lot about heaven. He would tell me what he imagined heaven to be like and how glad he would be to see his family and friends that had gone on before him. He was dedicated to living a good Christian life while here on this earth and showing kindness and offering help to those less fortunate. He attempted to live out his life here on earth as a citizen of heaven.
The book of Hebrews tells us, “Here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come.” It is that promise of a future home in heaven that should help us to become better people here on this earth.
I was with my grandfather on the night that he passed away and left this earth. He would be conscious one minute and then he would drift out on us the next.
When I walked into his hospital room that night, he opened his eyes and said “Hey son, it’s good to see you.” He would continue to be in this world for a few minutes and then he would have visions of heaven which he would describe out loud to those of us present. I knew that he was about to experience that beautiful heaven that he and I had so often talked about and wondered about.
He saw his brothers and he called them by name. And then he drifted out on us again. I have often wondered about his arrival in heaven and who was there to greet him among his family that had gone on before him. I often wonder who was in his welcoming committee in heaven.
His last words to me were, “Son, it’s good to see you”, and I imagine that when he arrived in heaven he was also told, “Son, it’s good to see you, welcome home to the place that I have prepared for you, for eternity.
I can’t wait to tell the story of my grandfather, and how to live as a citizen of heaven, to a different audience of believers this Sunday!