Christian

The Way Back Home

What is home?

Right now, most of us are probably thinking less about what home is, and more about when and why we can leave our places of residence. If asked, popular definitions would probably range from “haven” to “bunker” to “cell”.

Really, at its most basic, “home” is a safe place. Sadly, not all living places on this earth are homes, and not all homes are living places. But home, by definition, is a place where a person always feels safe and loved, and to which s/he can always retreat for comfort and care.

All human beings have a common home: God’s presence. And we’re all sojourners, our earliest ancestors having left that home at the beginning of human history. We wander in a world filled with danger, hardship, conflict, uncertainty, and chaos.

It hurts. And it’s hard. And it’s scary.

And we long for home.

The good news? We can experience home even on this seemingly God-forsaken earth. And we can look forward to a day when God restores all creation to a state of “home”.

We just need to know the way.

But first, let’s look at where we come from and where we’ve been.

The (Un)Making of Home

God placed the first humans in a fertile garden that they were to care for and which would provide for all their needs. He Himself walked and talked among them. He gave them one simple rule to live by, but that one small “limitation” was far surpassed by the abundance He also gave.

They were at home in the fullest sense – in harmony with God, each other, and the world around them.

Until one day, they disobeyed the one rule God had given them.

Suddenly, their home seemed more like a trap and a nightmarish labyrinth. Suddenly, they were hiding at the mere sound of God’s approach, painfully conscious and ashamed of their vulnerability.

The garden itself hadn’t changed. God was there. The tree of life was there.

But they could no longer enjoy it. Their actions had thrown their harmonious relationships out of harmony.

In other words, home no longer seemed like home. Even as they hid within it physically, they had left it spiritually.

And then they were sent out of it, into a world marred by the consequences of their own sin. A world of scarcity, difficulty, conflict, and death.

But even as He disciplined them, God didn’t send them away empty-handed. Before He sent them out, He removed the flimsy fig-leaf clothes they had made for themselves in their shame, and replaced them with animal skins – possibly the first blood ever shed. And He made them a promise (though they might not have fully understood it then), that one day a Descendant of Woman would crush the evil now loosed on earth.

“So the Lord God sent him away…and stationed the cherubim and the flaming, whirling sword east of the garden of Eden to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Genesis 3:23-24, CSB)

The Unfolding of a Map

Millennia after that fateful moment, God made a promise to an obscure Mesopotamian man named Abram (later renamed Abraham):

“I will make you into a great nation,
I will bless you …
and all the peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.” (Gen. 12:2a, 3b)

Centuries later, after rescuing Abraham’s now-numerous descendants from slavery in Egypt, God directed them to build a tabernacle – a tent where He could meet with them.

The tabernacle was the place where God promised to dwell, to be present for His people when they needed Him. It could be carried with them as they traveled through the wilderness, wherever they went, until they reached the land He’d promised to give them as a permanent residence.

When they were on the move, God’s presence (visible as smoke by day and fire by night) led them. But when they camped, His presence moved to the tabernacle stationed in the middle of the camp – a tree of life in the middle of the desert.

Yet that holy place could only be approached with a sacrifice. Anyone who sought God’s presence needed their sins atoned for (“covered”) by the shedding of blood, usually that of a sheep, goat, or bull.

And there was only one entrance: on the east.

It was like God was saying, “Here! This is the way back to Eden! This is the way back to the intimate presence of God!”

But it was an imperfect way – “a shadow of the good things to come“. Only Israelites could worship there. And while laity could enter the courtyard, only a priest could enter the actual tent, and their activities there were precisely regulated. The privilege of experiencing God’s presence was heavily tied to the responsibilities of maintaining the holiness of the space and the people. And those responsibilities – including the various sacrifices – were ongoing.

Thankfully, though no one knew it then, the tabernacle (and its successor, the Temple in Jerusalem) was only a temporary way. A way to use until the Best Way could be opened. A way to remind humanity that coming needs a sacrifice, so that they could recognize the Best Sacrifice when He came to offer Himself.

The Opening of the Way

That Way arrived in the form of Jesus of Nazareth, the Jewish craftsman-turned-teacher living in Roman-controlled Palestine at the turn of the era. Born of a virgin, a descendant of Abraham, a faithful adherent to the Judaic law, but with an authority no one had ever seen before.

Being both fully God and fully human, Jesus lived a sinless life. He healed the sick, reached out to the marginalized, and taught people what a life lived in harmony with God looks like. When religious leaders became jealous of His growing popularity and offended by His teachings, they arrested Him and handed Him over to the Roman government. He was charged with subversion, beaten, mocked, and then nailed to a cross to die a slow, agonizing death.

When He breathed His last, His enemies thought they had won. The religious leaders thought they had disposed of a fraud and a wannabe-messiah. The Romans thought they’d done away with just another threat to the imperial peace. And the spiritual forces of evil thought they’d foiled God’s latest and greatest effort to restore humanity to Himself.

And Jesus’s followers? They thought all their hopes for a better world (not to mention their dearest friend and leader) had been extinguished for all time.

But they were wrong.

God was not surprised by the awful turn of events. In fact, Jesus had warned His disciples repeatedly that He was going to suffer. He even hinted at which disciple was going to betray Him to the religious leaders. When His captors arrived, He greeted them with composure, stood to be tied, and scolded the one disciple who tried to defend Him.

And at His trial, He spoke only to say the one thing that would seal His fate.

No, His life wasn’t taken from Him. He practically orchestrated its disposal. Because He knew that He alone could offer the sacrifice to end all sacrifices: Himself.

As man, He could act on humanity’s behalf, as a priest would. As God, He was perfect and innocent of sin, as all sacrifices were required to be. As God dying for man, He was worth more than all the sheep, goats, cattle, doves, and pigeons in the history of the world. His life was more valuable than the universe. And as life’s Creator, He owed it to no one.

Yet He chose to give it up. Because it was the only way to truly bring us and the entire creation “home”.

The hill on which His cross was placed is believed to have been just to the west of Jerusalem. To reach the place from within the Holy City, one would have to approach from the east, as Jesus Himself had done. And there He offered His sacrifice.

Jesus’s last words had barely faded when something physically and spiritually impossible happened: The dense veil closing off the innermost part of the Temple – the holiest place, where God was said to sit on His throne, where only the chief priest could go once a year on Yom Kippur – supernaturally ripped in half from top to bottom.

The Way was open.

A  Forever Home

There was one more thing left to be done. Achieved on the third day after Jesus’s death, it involved another open door – the door of an empty tomb.

If Jesus’s death allowed us to spiritually re-enter Eden, His resurrection allowed us to access the tree of life. We get to enjoy God’s presence not only in this life, but forever. And we get to look forward to our own resurrection and the renewal of creation.

And this hope is available to everyone. All we need to do is step through the door.

We do this first by believing that Jesus is who the Bible says He is and has done what the Bible says He has done. Then we confess our sins, ask for God’s forgiveness, and accept His gift of redemption, claiming Jesus as our Savior from sin and the Lord of our lives.

When we do this, God deems us righteous – worthy to enter His presence. We will continue to sin in this life, and need to confess and repent. But all our sins – past and future – are covered and atoned for by the blood of Jesus. No other sacrifices are needed; Jesus is sufficient for all humanity, for all time.

God’s Holy Spirit comes to stay with us for the rest of our lives, offering us the peace, joy, and power of God. He comforts us in our pain, guides us in our uncertainty, and carries us in our weakness. He helps us resist temptation, calls us to repent when we sin, and helps us live God-honoring lives. And He works on our hearts, slowly forming Christ-like character in us.

As long as we live in this world seemingly devoid of God’s presence, the Holy Spirit brings God’s presence to us. He is God in the tabernacle of our hearts, staying with us wherever we go.

Until, one day, we reach the promised land.

~

In a sense, coming home in Christ is less like stepping into a tent and more like stepping through a gate onto a holy road leading to a holy city

Yes, we can have home with us even on this earthly journey. But we’re also looking forward to arriving at a destination. A place to pitch our tabernacle forever.

Like the Israelites, we have made it home in the sense that we have God with us, so that even our travels through the desert are an experience of paradise. But, like them, we haven’t left bondage and gained God’s presence only to roam the wilderness forever (though even the desert with God is infinitely more blessed than anywhere else without Him).

No; once we join Him, He starts leading us somewhere.

We might not reach that destination in this lifetime. But by the grace of God through Christ, we will make it. Even if God Himself has to carry us.

That “somewhere” is the new creation ushered in at Jesus’s return.

If we die before that return, we will go to be with Jesus until Resurrection Day. Otherwise, we’ll meet Him when He comes to bring Heaven to earth. To end sin’s curse and crush the forces of evil once and for all. To make this currently inhospitable place into a residence of peace and harmony. A new Eden where He walks and talks among us.

All of it made possible through the cross and the tomb.

If you haven’t already entered that cross-shaped door, I welcome you to do so. God wants a relationship with you so much He gave up everything for you. Jesus shed blood to enable you to step through this door into God’s presence. Come in – He makes you worthy!

If you’ve already entered, rejoice! No matter where you go or what you experience, God is with you. His ever-sufficient grace is with you.

Until we meet Jesus face to face, remember: You’re in the presence of God! You’re home!

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus— he has inaugurated for us a new and living way through the curtain (that is, through his flesh)— and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, since he who promised is faithful.”

–Hebrews 10:19-23 (CSB)

 

 

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