There Is a New Country!
In Peter Jackson's 2003 movie adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, the Dark Lord Sauron sent an enormous force of Orcs, trolls, and Easterlings to besiege the city of Minas Tirith and overthrow it during the War of the Ring. The commander of his army, the witch-king of Angmar, brought numerous siege engines and towers and catapulted incendiary missiles into the lower city, setting it ablaze. By nightfall, the Orcs brought out their largest battering-ram, called Grond, which managed to penetrate and destroy the city's gate. Though Gandalf and the soldiers of Gondor defending the city fought bravely, they were overwhelmed by the Orcs and trolls pouring through the broken gate and had to retreat to second of the city's seven levels.
Throughout the night, the Sauron's forces engaged in pell-mell combat with the exhausted soldiers of Gondor, inflicting heavy losses. The defenders of Minis Tirith would fight, but then retreat to the next level of the city. Eventually, the Orcs and trolls pushed them to the fifth level. As Gandalf and the remaining soldiers of Gondor stood at the ready, waiting for a troll with an exceptionally large hammer to break down the door and allow the Orcs to stream in for the final slaughter, his friend Pippin ruefully commented:
With these words Pippin, though not looking forward to meeting death breaking through the door, was encouraged by this hope and set his face forward with resolve. Whatever happened, he looked beyond his current circumstances to a new and better country.
In the southernmost portion of ancient Sumer (Mesopotamia) was a land called Chaldea (in modern-day Iraq), and the most important Sumerian city located on the western portion of the Euphrates River was called Ur. The land of Chaldea contained wealth beyond imagination, and Ur was preeminent in knowledge, culture, and commerce. It is said by some that the history of this region exceeded that of the land of Egypt at the height of its greatness.
It was into this environment that Abram was born, growing up in probably the most advanced culture of his day with all the comforts and modern-day conveniences it afforded. It was from here that God called him to leave the familiarity of home to travel to a new land, where he would become a great nation and a blessing to the whole world.
Abraham wandered from place to place in this land his innumerable descendants would receive as an inheritance, not making any permanent dwelling, but living in tents. Though not seeing the fulfillment of the promise, he trusted God to accomplish it long after his earthly journey was done. As a foreigner, a stranger in a strange land, he looked even farther into the future with gladness to the One who would establish his permanent dwelling in the new country to come (John 8:56).
The apostle Paul saw this new country as well when he spoke of a vision he received where he was caught up to paradise and heard indescribable words no man was permitted to speak (2 Corinthians 12:2-4). He could have been a great scholar of Judaism, in time enjoying perhaps greater renown and honor in the Jewish community of his day and today as Gamaliel his teacher (Galatians 1:14). But he considered Jesus, the builder of the new country to be far more precious.
Paul recognized, as Abraham did, that he was a sojourner on earth with no permanent home, even our bodies being as temporary as a tent. No matter the afflictions he faced for proclaiming the gospel, he considered them of little weight in comparison to being in the new country with the Lord (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
Paul saw his real home from a distance, and he was so eager to be there that he considered the tearing down of his earthly tent preferable to remaining in it.
John, the disciple closest to Jesus, heard Him promise that He would go on ahead of him and the other disciples to His Father's country, where He would prepare dwelling places for them so that when He returned, they would be where He is forever.
When he saw His Lord risen from the dead, He knew even more than ever before the reality of the new country. It fueled his drive to preach the gospel and make disciples for Jesus Christ. During the reign of Roman emperor Domitian (81-96 AD), according to the early church historian Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 260-c. 340 AD), a persecution of Christians took place. During this time John was arrested in Ephesus and summoned to Rome, where he was cast into a cauldron of boiling oil (Foxe's Book of Martyrs). Miraculously he was not harmed, so John was exiled to a small Greek island in the Aegean Sea called Patmos.
Life was extremely hard in this desolate place, but the risen and glorified Jesus appeared to John and gave him a panoramic view of the new country (Revelation 21-22), where God forever wipes away all tears, pain, turmoil, separation and death. This view more vivid than before, not so distant as when he walked with Jesus in Galilee, gave him encouragement and hope to persevere in his current tribulation. Like Abraham, Paul, and the faithful before him, he knew that he was a pilgrim on earth passing through to a far more permanent and better home. He was given a glimpse of the new country and longed to be there.
A passport is an official document issued by a government identifying a citizen. It certifies nationality and grants formal requests for admittance and safe passage from foreign countries. Possession of a passport in a foreign land signifying a citizen of the United States of America has been considered something of great value in the world for many decades. Should a U.S. citizen find himself in a country in the midst of a crisis or disaster that threatens his safety, he can go to the U.S. embassy with confidence that his passport will make available the significant resources of the United States to grant him safe passage back home.
The city of Philippi (present-day Filippoi in northern Greece) was located on the major Roman road known as the Via Egnatia. It was "a leading city of the district of Macedonia, a Roman colony" (Acts 16:12). Whether by birth or by purchasing it with a large sum of money (Acts 21:27-22:1-29), the Romans there greatly valued their Roman citizenship with the rights and privileges it granted, much like many born or naturalized Americans today value U.S. citizenship.
As a Roman citizen himself, born in the city of Tarsus (modern-day Tersous in southeastern Turkey), the chief city of the Roman province of Cilicia, Paul shared this appreciation for Roman citizenship and on occasion took advantage of its benefits. However, he reminded the believers in Philippi the inestimable worth of citizenship in the new country.
This world with its oppression, war, disease, brutality, genocide, and death is not all there is, even though it may seem like it sometimes (2 Peter 3:9-12). But there is something much better and everlasting coming.
There is a new country!
Like Abraham 2,000 years earlier, the apostles, the early Christians and believers through the centuries trusted God's promises and looked forward to "new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells" (2 Peter 3:13). We, too, who trust in His promises will join them. All who believe the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) receive a citizenship that never fades away or ends. It cancels the old citizenship in the domain of darkness and re-births it in the kingdom of the Son of God (Colossians 1:13-14).
Walk with an eager tread as those who have passed out of death into life (John 5:24), face adversity with patience, and continue faithfully working for the Lord, knowing that your hope is not in vain, but is steadfast and sure.
Jesus is the one and only passport to the new country!
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