My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. (Philippians 1:23–24)
Not everyone sees the same power and beauty in the cross that we do. The love on display in those nails annoys and nauseates millions or more. For them, those wooden beams are not beautiful, precious, or inspiring.
If you grew up surrounded by Christians, you may have never realized just how offensive our gospel really is — the news that we are so horribly and hopelessly wicked that God had to send his Son to die for our forgiveness. When many hear about Jesus, they don’t smell hope, life, peace, and joy. They smell death (2 Corinthians 2:15) — exclusivity, boredom, brutality, slavery. They run, like hell, from him.
The apostle Paul knew people who hated what we love about the cross, “many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (Philippians 3:18–19). They never think of heaven. They sin carelessly, happily, even proudly. They worship, all day every day, at the altar of what they want — food, sex, approval, money, anything and everything but God. And their end is far worse than crucifixion.
What We See in His Wounds
Whether we can admit (or remember) it or not, we were all once one of them (Ephesians 2:3), carrying out our worst desires, despising what God has said and done, careening with the world into the awful arms of judgment, refusing to see any love in the cross. As enemies of the cross, we looked into the wounds in Christ’s hands and feet, and we saw and felt no love at all.
Paul describes a different response, though, in the next verse.
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:20–21)
While many mock and reject the love we see in Jesus, some fall more in love with the unexpected and undeserved Savior of our souls, the infinite and almighty Lord we enjoy to obey, the Treasure worth everything we have ever had or dreamed to have. We have found a love worth waiting our whole lives for. We are not ashamed of or offended by the cross anymore, “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).
Where We Belong
Now, when we look into his wounds, we see unprecedented compassion and mercy, we see power and authority beyond compare, we see the greatest love there could ever be.
And in the greatness of that love, we realize where we have always belonged. The world has never truly felt like home, because we belong in the presence of God, where there is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11). Trials, conflict, sickness, and disappointment all feel foreign, because they are meant to make us long for another life, another world, another home. The nails of Christ have made us citizens of somewhere better, a land flowing with milk and honey and God.
While millions despise the cross, love their sin, and fix the eyes of their hearts on this earth, we wait for a day beyond what we can see.
Where We Belong for Now
If we love Jesus, wherever we live on earth, our citizenship is in heaven. We belong to him and with him — no more sin, no more pain or persecution, no more waiting. If we still live somewhere here on earth, though, then God has decided that we belong here for now — and he has embedded that belonging with its own loving purpose. He wants our belonging above to make our time below all the more meaningful and fruitful.
Paul felt the tension of wanting to enjoy heaven with God while being sent into the world by God. He writes,
My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith. (Philippians 1:23–25)
If we, though citizens of heaven, still live here on earth, it must be because we need to spark or encourage someone’s joy in Jesus. If Christ has brought us from utter darkness into his light, if he has lifted us from the pit into the wonder of his presence, if he has raised us from sure death to endless life, this is why we still belong here for now. God plans to move and speak through us as he draws more of his enemies out of sin to his great love — to himself.