On Occupying, Part 3: “Strangers, nomads and pilgrims” (Guest Feature) and One More Thing on “Who”

Entire series here

This part of the series features an article written by fellow blogger Colin Markham whose other articles have appeared prior. Colin blogs at Fellowship of St. Peter – Christian spirituality and fellowship 

In Part 2, I discussed the most important “Who” element of all “occupation” information, i.e., Jesus Christ, both our Commander in Faith and Commander in Chief.

The discussion below is an excellent, formal exegesis of another “who,” as in the Body of Christ, that is to say, the born-again, Spirit-filled collective fellowship of believers.

You might say this spiritual “new birth” makes us, then, “strangers, nomads, and pilgrims” here.

But here on a mission.

It’s always encouraging and strengthening to be reminded of the particulars of that before we head out to share this Good News in each our own mission field, as it were.

(Note: some emphasis is added to the article.-PBN)

Oh, Before the Feature, One More Thing on “Who”

As to who we the strangers, nomads, and pilgrims are, we are young, old, rich, poor, educated, non-educated, men, women, and children.

We are of all races, nationalities, cultures, abilities, and every socio-political status.

We’re found in all professions, trades, institutions, geographical locations, halls of power, and neighborhoods.

We fail and succeed, get sick and heal, sink and soar.

We seem pretty much like every other human on the planet except for our status in Jesus Christ.

In short We. Are. Everywhere at our Father’s business in both visible and invisible ways.

Satan and his minions may have to wait to conjure up evil until it gets dark and everybody has gone home.

But believers have only to await the What, Where, When, Why, and How promptings of the Holy Spirit to proceed…(there will be much more on these particulars in posts to come).

Now to the feature.

Strangers, nomads and pilgrims

by Colin Markham

(Quotations from Scripture are taken from the Jerusalem Bible)

All these [1] died in faith, before receiving any of the things that had been promised, but they saw it in the far distance and welcomed them, recognising that they were only strangers and nomads on earth. People who use such terms about themselves make it quite plain that they are in search of their real homeland. They can hardly have meant the country they came from, since they had the opportunity to go back to it; but in fact they were longing for a better homeland, their heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, since he has founded the city for them….for there is no eternal city for us in this life but we look for one in the life to come (Heb 11.13-16, 13.14).

Strangers, Nomads, and Pilgrims Then

The Old Testament contains several references to wandering nomads. This describes the lifestyle of the patriarchs, Abraham and his progeny (see Gen 12.1-9, 13.1-18), who migrated from a distant land to settle in the hills and plains of Canaan. Today they would be called Bedouins, dwellers in the desert who encamp from place to place, from one oasis to another, without city walls to enclose and protect.

Elsewhere, Israel is portrayed as a ‘wandering Aramaean’ who had suffered various tributions and had called on God to rescue them.

The Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, our toil and oppression; and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with mighty hand and outstretched arm, with great terror, and with signs and wonders (Dt 26.5-8; cf. Ex 1-18).

How does the nomadic life relate or compare to the life of a Christian? We can answer this in a number of ways.

Strangers, Nomads, and Pilgrims Today

Firstly, what Abraham and the patriarchs saw with their ancient eyes was a far-distant vision, one which now bathes us in light, the light of God. We have come into their inheritance through faith, for Abraham is our father in faith. The Jews are descended from Abraham. Christians are also descendants of Abraham in the sense that his faith preceded the coming of the Law, when Israel sojourned in the desert prior to their conquest of the promised land. Exodus 19-24 describes the covenant and how God ratified it through Moses. The Law was a temporary measure to regulate the life and rituals of the Hebrew people, anticipating their establishment in a land given them by God. But the promise to Abraham still held:

Abram bowed to the ground and God said this to him, ‘Here now is my covenant with you; you shall become the father of a multitude of nations. You shall no longer be called Abram; your name shall be Abraham, [2] for I make you father of a multitude of nations (Gen 17.3-5).

The covenant with Abraham predated the Mosaic covenant and was not conditioned by adherence to the Law. The Abrahamic covenant therefore reaches over and beyond legalism and looks to a heart-faith, an innate love and fidelity to God. This was promulgated by the Incarnation, through the intermediary figure of Jesus Christ, the Messiah. A Christian has therefore arrived at a sacred destination. He is settled, rooted and immersed in the Spirit in a worldwide community of faith that transcends the boundaries of ethnicity, language or denomination. Christ’s qualifications as mediator are manifold:

He bears God’s image as well as man’s likeness (Phil 2.6-8; Heb 2.14-17)
He is both sinless and sin-bearer (Is 53.6-10; Eph 2.3-18)
He endures God’s wrath and brings God’s righteousness (Rom 5.6-19)
He is both sacrifice and priest (Heb 7.27, 10.5-22)
Christ took our nature (1 Jn 1.1-3), died a substitutionary death on the cross (1 Pet 1.18-19), and reconciled us to God (Eph 2.16). In the Old Testament, various ‘types’ are fulfilled in the person and work of Christ.

Secondly, the nomadic life symbolises something transitory. Here again, the Old Testament helps us to unpack the theme. Psalms 39 and 90 point to the brevity of life:

I am your guest, and only for a time, a nomad like all my ancestors. Look away, let me draw breath before I go away and am no more! (Ps 39.12-13, cf. vv. 4-6; Ecc 8.6-8, 11.7-9).

Our days dwindle under your wrath, our lives are over in a breath – our life lasts for seventy years, eighty with good health, but they all add up to anxiety and trouble – over in a trice, and then we are gone (Ps 90.9-10; cf. Pr 4.10, 10.27).

Since our existence here on earth occupies such a brief moment in eternity, we hold close to our hearts the promise of salvation to eternal life, a promise that has borne reality in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christ ushered in the Kingdom of God, a limitless spiritual realm which we enter through the grace of God. We can choose to accept or reject the invitation. This is a stark choice of immense significance to the course and conduct of our life. The Kingdom of God means ‘righteousness and peace and joy brought by the Holy Spirit’ (Rom 14.17). To reject such a marvellous gift is a tragedy, a great loss and one that grieves God. Those who choose to enfold themselves in themselves, to attempt autonomy, are no better than wandering rootless nomads, without hope and without the goal of eternal salvation. What we receive through baptism in the Spirit is a call to holiness. We are called to be saints, sanctified ones, to practise heroic virtue in our lives, to put into effect the moral imperatives of the Sermon on the Mount, to live the Beatitudes. The fatalistic words of the psalms, quoted above, are transformed into something fresh and new and hope-filled in Christ, and once the Spirit lives in us and enlivens us, we become citizens of God’s kingdom. Unlike the souls who trek long distances to worship at holy shrines, we are permanent pilgrims with an all-pervading desire to love and serve God wherever we are, mediating Christ through whatever spiritual calling we receive from God’s hand.

Thirdly, there is another sense in which the mode of our pilgrimage should concern us. In these times of growing hostility towards religion – especially Christianity – it is imperative that we heed the warnings of Scripture to distance ourselves from evil influences. Such warnings abound in the Psalms (see Pss 7, 10, 12, 37, 52, 59, 64, 94, 140, 141, 142), in the Book of Proverbs (see Pr 1, 2, 5, 6, etc.) and Ecclesiastes 6 and 9.  The word pilgrim comes to us from the Latin peregrinus, which means ‘foreigner’ or ‘stranger’. In this sense Christians should be strangers to wrongdoing and avoid associating with evil-doers, thus placing themselves in danger. We are to reject worldly values and remain firm in Word and Spirit. Some key texts are:

Mt 5.10-12 – enduring persecution, cf. 1 Pet 3.13-17
Mt 5.20-26, 33-48 – moral integrity, the pursuit of peace, cf. Mt 5.9; Phil 4.4-9; Jas 5.12
Mt 5.27-32, 19.3-12 – the sanctity of marriage, cf. 1 Cor 7.1-11; Eph 5.21-33; 1 Pet 3.1-7
Mt 6.1-6, 7.1-6, 15-23 – hypocrisy, profanity, false prophets, duplicity, cf. Mt 23.1-36
Mt 6.7-15, 7.7-11 – the right way to pray, cf. Rom 8.26-27
Mt 6.19-21, 24 – greed and the dangers of wealth, cf. Lk 12.13-21; 1 Tim 6.7-10, 17-19; Jas 4.13 – 5.6
Mt 6.25-34 – trust in Providence, cf. Lk 12.22-32
Mk 12.28-34 – the centrality of love, cf. 1 Cor 13; Rom 8.31-39, 12.3-21; Phil 2.1-5; 1 Jn 4.7 to 5.4
Jn 8.12 – living in the light, cf. Jn 12.35-36, 14.1-27; 1 Jn 1.1 – 2.11
Rom 1.18-32 – impiety and depravity, cf. 1 Cor 6.12-30
Gal 5.16-26 – the contrast between self-indulgence and living in the Spirit, cf. Col 3.1-17
1 Tim 4 – false teachers, apostasy, cf. 2 Tim 2.1 – 4.5, 2 Pet 2, Jude 5-23
Jas 1.2-15 – trials, temptations
Jas 2 – double standards, corruption
Jas 3.1 – 4.17 – evil thoughts, slander, aggression, violence
1 Jn 2.12-17 – detachment from the world
1 Jn 2.18-29, 4.1-6 – beware of the Antichrist
1 Jn 5.5-21  – faith overcomes the world; protection from the Evil One, cf. 1 Pet 5.5-11

After many decades the rise of liberalism has largely supplanted man’s spiritual quest, to the extent that the Christian faith is now marginalised and often ridiculed. We see in these political forces a monstrous evil assault on two millennia of Christianity, a heritage that formerly underpinned and informed the moral conscience of nations. This drift into darkness has been exacerbated, even assisted, by the many churches that have been infiltrated by malign forces and have succumbed to secular values. Those who hold to the true faith have been cast adrift by backsliding and intolerance. In many places it is barely possible to find a community of faith that captures hearts and minds as Christ intended them to be. Mankind has reached a point of no return. All that is left is a remnant of faithful souls, islands in a spiritual desert increasingly subject to the whims and torrents of atheistic cultures.

The Tenets and the Good News 

For those who remain in the Spirit, and those who aspire to spiritual enlightenment, here are the central tenets of our faith:

We have been rescued from this present wicked age by Jesus Christ who sacrificed himself for our sins, in accordance with the will of God our Father (Gal 1.4-5). We receive ample assurance of salvation in the person and work of Christ, if only we follow Him in word and deed by adhering to the moral principles He set out in the Beatitudes (Mt 5.1-12) and throughout His mission. Through Christ, humanity has been redeemed, reoriented to God’s original beneficent plan for man’s destiny. We are therefore enjoined to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and we must love our neighbour as ourselves (Mk 12.29-30). We have been sanctified by the offering made once and for all by Jesus Christ (Heb 10.10) and empowered to do God’s will through the gifts of the Spirit (Acts 2.1-3, cf. Lk 24.49; Rom 12; 1 Cor 12.1-11, 27-30; Eph 4.7-13).

We are not strangers or nomads but faithful disciples, steadfast to the end – which is inexpressible joy in eternity.

If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, that man will save it. What gain, then, is it for a man to have won the whole world and to have lost or ruined his very self? For if anyone is ashamed of me and of my words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his own glory and in the glory of the Father and the holy angels
(Lk 9.23-26).

[1] Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob
[2] Meaning ‘father of many’

 

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