Sunday, October 8, 2017

AMBASSADORS FOR CHRIST (Part 3)

To help us understand part of what it means to be a Christian, the Apostle Paul likened our position to being an ambassador for Christ.

In the previous two posts, I spoke much of what that position entails. However, there is another aspect in the life of an international ambassador that helps us to understand the Christian life. When considering what it means to be an ambassador for Christ, it is also helpful for us also to consider the existence of the foreign embassy. 

The Embassy as an Overseas Extension of Home

Embassies are interesting and rather unique places. The embassy is the seat of representation of a foreign country within another country. It is also often the dwelling place of the ambassador.

The first embassy that I ever visited was the US Embassy in New Delhi, India, when I was not yet even twenty years old. I remember my visit well. I was living in a small village in northern India in a situation far different from the life I had left not long before in Wisconsin.

After being in my village in India for some months, I made a trip to New Delhi and visited the embassy. I had spent the months before in my village and the neighboring areas eating the local food in dark, little tea stands and in the homes of friends. I had grown to like the cuisine of the country folk well enough, but by now I was eager for some American food. So upon my arrival on the embassy grounds, the first thing that I did was to go to the restaurant there. To my great delight, the embassy restaurant looked a little like a Denny’s or a Perkins restaurant in the US, and had a real menu that was printed in English.

Because of local customs and religious beliefs in the village where I lived, and because meat simply was not available, I had eaten no meat for all those months. So as I sat down at the table, I did not need to look at a menu. I already knew what I wanted before I entered. I ordered a steak and a baked potato. As I looked around me and saw the food that was being served, it appeared to me that everything that the restaurant served had been imported from the states: the meat, the coffee, even the catsup. I still remember being impressed by the catsup. Certainly, I must have been American.



In my situation of living in India, what I had missed at that time was the culture of the United States. I missed its food, I missed knowing the standings of the major league baseball teams, and I missed my friends and family. This was in the days well before the internet had even been conceived, and even before international television cable news.

When I lived in my little home in a village of northern India, I felt entirely isolated from my home country. It would not have mattered if there had been international cable news on TV, because I had no TV. There were not even newspapers, and I could pick up no English on my static-y radio.

For me, going to the embassy represented a time of rest. The embassy was a place that reminded me of home where I could again remember what it was to live in my own culture. Sitting in that restaurant, hearing English being spoken around me, and eating an all-American meal, it seemed to me that I had returned to the United States.

In a sense, I had. 

The Embassy as a Home Culture

The embassy grounds in New Delhi are literally United States territory, as are US Embassies around the world. All of them fall—not under the jurisdiction of the local government, but of the United States. The same is true, of course, for the embassies of other countries that are located in Washington and in other various capitals of the world.

Embassies are said to be extraterritorial. That is, the premises of the embassies are part of the sending nation’s territory, not that of the host country. In each case, the right to exist in this way is granted by the host government. So widely recognized is the sovereignty of embassies that even local firefighters cannot enter onto embassy grounds without consent.

For this reason, in countries where there is no political freedom, opponents of the regime in power sometimes seek asylum in the embassies of free countries. The dissidents are, in effect, fleeing to another country that is within the borders of their own country, seeking and asking for protection.

Of course, we can see the similarity of the existence of governmental embassies in foreign countries to our own situation as ambassadors for Christ. If indeed we are Christ’s ambassadors, certainly there is a sense that we are living apart from our true home. This reality is greater than is sometimes evident. The Apostle Paul says that our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). If our true citizenship is in heaven, it is obvious that heaven is not where we are living now.

We may not realize that we are living apart from our home in the same sense as I did when I was living abroad, because we do not remember at one time living in heaven and then having left it. However, there are similarities. As citizens of heaven, it is true that we are living in a foreign culture as we live here on earth. Whether or not we can define it or identify it within ourselves, there is a sense that our deepest desire is for our home culture. We experience yearnings for something that we cannot define and which cannot be satisfied by anything on this earth.

It is true that there are those amidst us who do not miss the culture of heaven. This is one of the points that Paul was making in his letter to the Philippian church. There are some who may claim a heavenly citizenship, but who are “enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things” (Philippians 3:18-19, NAS). Their appetite is only for things of this world.

However, for true ambassadors of Christ, this world increasingly becomes less attractive. We grow tired of continually being surrounded by the values of the world. We long, just for a time, to go to a place where life reflects more of our home culture. 

Longing for Home

The ancient Israelites knew what it was to live in a foreign land. Throughout their history, they had to endure several exiles and deportations. Sometimes, however, their desire for their own culture was not because they were living in a foreign land apart from Israel. Even in their own promised land on earth, the land of Israel, the true worshipers of God became weary of the culture of the world.

In the book of Psalms, there are fifteen short songs (Psalms 120-134) that the Israelites would sing as they traveled on one of three yearly pilgrimages to worship in Jerusalem. At that particular time, the people were not living as exiles, except in the sense that all heavenly citizens are exiles in this world. Nevertheless, like us, they sometimes felt like exiles.

“Woe is me,” each pilgrim would sing as he or she walked along, “for I sojourn in Meshech. For I dwell among the tents of Kedar” (Psalm 120:5, NAS). These two places were locations in Asia and Arabia. The pilgrims were not really coming from these places, but so tired had they become of being among people who had no respect for God, they felt as if they lived far from their homes. “Too long has my soul had its dwelling with those who hate peace. I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war” (Psalm 120:6-7, NAS).

So they sang as they traveled along. Even though they lived within the borders of their own country, they saw in the culture around them people whose “only god was their appetites,” as the Apostle Paul would describe these sorts of people a thousand years later (Philippians 3:19). The culture in which the pilgrims were living at that time only hungered for worldly things. 

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from whence shall my help come?
My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.    Psalm 121:1-2 (NAS)

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD.”
Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.    Psalm 122:1-2 (NAS) 

The Embassy As a Sanctuary

What the pilgrims were seeking was sanctuary. They lived in an environment that was hostile toward God, so they were overjoyed at the prospect of going to the house of the Lord. 

“May peace be within your walls, and prosperity within your palaces.”
For the sake of my brothers and my friends, I will now say, “May peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the LORD our God I will seek your good.
Psalm122:7-9 (NAS) 

Like those ancient Israelites, as ambassadors for Christ, we also need a sanctuary. Taking again the example of earthly embassies, these are often the places used by individuals where they can flee if they are being persecuted for some reason. Houses of worship, although they have less legal grounds than do embassies to offer sanctuary to those in trouble, also often fulfill this role.

It is no wonder that we often call houses of worship “sanctuaries.” They serve many of the same purposes that embassies serve in the world. Even though the places of worship may not have absolute local legal grounds to offer sanctuary, they do fall under the dominion of the heavenly kingdom. This is not because of any inherent nature of the building itself, but because they have been set aside and dedicated to the Lord. It is there that an ambassador for Christ may go to be renewed—to remember his home culture. 

The Embassy As a Home

However, it is not only the house of the Lord that offers sanctuary. As ambassadors for Christ, we have a sanctuary that is much more at hand. It is a place where we may find refuge from the culture of the world.

Joshua, at the time when he was leading the early Israelites after they had returned to Palestine, was an old man. He pointed out the location of this embassy to his people and told them where they could establish and preserve a Godly sanctuary while living in the world. He told the people this: 

If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.    Joshua 24:15 (NAS) 

Joshua told the people of God that their sanctuary from the world should be their own homes. During the time in which Joshua spoke, the Israelites were having the same problems that many contemporary households in the United States are having today. The Israelites were relinquishing the sovereignty of their own homes and were allowing foreign gods to enter. Their houses had ceased to be sanctuaries.

Joshua further urged them, “Put away the foreign gods which are in your midst, and incline your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel” (Joshua 24:23, NAS).

To this admonition, the people responded, “We will serve the LORD our God and we will obey His voice” (Joshua 24:24, NAS). 

The Embassy as Sovereign Ground

The sovereignty of the embassy grounds carries great importance. As I mentioned earlier, in many regards, the laws of the host country do not apply on embassy grounds. The United States embassy in any foreign country is under the United States jurisdiction. What is more, if I, as a US citizen should find myself at odds with the local government, I am able to go to the US embassy for protection. If I am in the wrong, I will no doubt have to face the consequences. However, if I am in the right and if it is a case of outright persecution, the embassy offers me protection.

This status of the embassy is lost, of course, if sovereignty is surrendered. In many of our homes, we are losing the sovereignty that would protect us from the world. We are allowing foreign gods into our homes so that the homes of many Christians are becoming indistinguishable from those homes of non-Christians. The way that we treat each other with disrespect in our homes is the same way as in other homes. The television shows and movies that we watch are the very same shows and movies that the world watches.

This is not to say that we must allow nothing from the world to enter in, but do we not see that if what enters our homes is an affront to our values and goes contrary to the culture of the kingdom of heaven, we are compromising our sovereignty?

The security of the home has, in many ways, been lost and is in great danger of completely disappearing. It is a sad commentary of the loss of sovereignty when we see that the life-style among Christians is today often indistinguishable from that of the world.

We have allowed foreign gods to enter. We have forgotten the importance of sanctuary.

As ambassadors for Christ, we have here an important principle. The homes in which we dwell should be places that are beyond the reach of Satan’s realm. I do not wish to imply that we need not obey local law, but I do wish to say that we need not allow Satan’s grasp to reach into our homes. Our homes are sovereign ground and are not under the jurisdiction of the Evil One, as is the rest of the world. His law may not enter, because our homes have the protection of Christ. We are Christ’s ambassadors. 

The Embassy As a Consulate

There is one very last point that I wish to make about being an ambassador for Christ. It also has to do with the concept of the embassy as a consulate. A major role of the consulate in any country is to act as an agency in the granting of visas to travel to their country. This is especially true for US Embassies around the world, for it is the goal and the dream of many in other countries to travel to and to reside in the United States.

This should also be a function of our homes and churches. Those of the world need to have the assurance that if they are seeking to become citizens of the kingdom of heaven, they can find what they are looking for in our homes and in our churches. This is another reason that we must be careful to retain our distinction from the rest of the world. If those of the world come to our homes and see only fighting, corruption, and division, how will they know that they have come to the right place for their answers? They think that they will find no sanctuary there.

The prophet Isaiah writes about this occurring in the last days concerning the house of the Lord. He says that, in the search of sanctuary, the nations will stream to it: 

Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that He may teach us concerning His ways, and that we may walk in His paths” …And He will judge between the nations, and will render decisions for many peoples; and they will hammer their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war.

Isaiah 2:3-4 (NAS) 

The world today is the domain of Satan. This evil enemy of all that is good has the world living under his deception. It will not always be so, Isaiah says. In the future, there will be a time when the nations will recognize that in their search for truth, they can find peace in God’s ways and in his paths. However, even in these dark days of the present time, there are those in the world who recognize the deception and are searching for the truth. They are looking to learn the ways of the Lord so that they may walk in his paths.

As ambassadors for Christ, it is our task to assist them in their quest. Our churches and our homes should be embassies of light in the midst of much darkness, and we are to be available to show them the steps that they must take to transfer their citizenship from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God.

We are ambassadors for Christ.

 

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