Saturday, 16 March 2013

Where is the promised land?

"For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles." Galatians 2:8

Peter was a messenger of Christ to Israel, the chosen people of God. His ministry was focused on reaching the Jewish people with the gospel. He so identified with his people that Paul even had to correct him for returning to Jewish customs whilst in Antioch (see Gal. 2:11-14). Reading Peter's letters, therefore, gives us a glimpse of his heart for the Jewish people and God's purposes for Israel and the Church.

God's message to His people 

The Good News that "Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God" (1 Peter 3:18) was Peter's message to the Jewish people. He was greatly concerned about the outcome for "those who do not obey the Gospel" (1 Peter 4:17). In Peter's mind, "the end of all things" was near (1 Peter 4:7) and so his letters carry a sense of urgency about Christ's return and the Church's readiness to meet her Master.

Strangers in the world

It is interesting to note how James and Peter address their letters to "the twelve tribes scattered among the nations" and "God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia" (James 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1). It seems that both writers primarily have their Jewish brothers in mind who have come to faith in Christ through the Gospel. Rather than calling their Jewish brothers to return to Jerusalem or "the promised land," the believers are encouraged "as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul" and to "live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us" (1 Peter 2:11,12). God's purpose for His people is that they live as members and citizens of His Kingdom in this world wherever they are. He is not gathering His people to one place but has scattered His people among the nations to be salt and light for His glory (see Matthew 5:13-16)!

Where is the "promised land"?

God's people are not to live for the seen but for the unseen real. Abraham lived by faith in the unseen reality of God's land, promised to him and his ancestors. 

"All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens 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" (Hebrews 11:13-16).

Even Moses "regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king's anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible" (Heb.11:26,27).

The message of the writer to the Hebrews, the Jewish people, is that Christ is the fulfillment of all that was forshadowed in the old covenant. "The copies of the heavenly things" (Heb. 9:23) all pointed to the reality of the invisible Kingdom that is found in Christ. God's people are not supposed to be returning to a physical land but are to be waiting in great expectation for the new heavens and the new earth, "to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God" (Heb. 12:22). Jew and Gentile believers eagerly await a "better country" and the city God has prepared for them!

Let us live godly lives as aliens and strangers in this world as we eagerly await the glorious appearing of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ and the revelation of our heavenly home!

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