Aliens and Strangers

I have sometimes thought, somewhat longingly I confess, of some of the places I have been privileged to visit in my life. I thought about the great cities I’d visited, like Paris, London, Rome, San Francisco, Copenhagen, Singapore, Hong Kong and many others. In every place I visited, even in the cities with which I felt a greater affinity, such as London and Hong Kong, I was a stranger.  

 To see something of what I mean, please allow me to share with you something from Andrew Bonar’s memoirs of his friend and fellow-minister, Robert Murray McCheyne. They are about to sail from Genoa to the Holy Land via Egypt and McCheyne writes home before they depart:

“A foreign land draws us nearer to God. He is the only one whom we know here. We go to him as one we know; all else is strange. Every step I take, and every new country I see, makes me feel more that there is nothing real, nothing true, but what is everlasting.… One thing I know, that I am in the hands of my Father in heaven, who is all love to me—not for what I am in myself, but for the beauty he sees in Immanuel” [Slightly adapted from Bonar, Andrew. “Robert Murray McCheyne”, p. 107. First published 1844. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust. Italics mine].   

Friends, in this world where we are, as Peter reminds us, we are “aliens and strangers”, [1 Peter 2:11, NIV]. So, more and more you and I must draw nearer to God. We must go to Him whom we know, for as the world in rebellion against God becomes more and more of an alien environment, it becomes increasingly strange. It does not fit with the reality of the everlasting kingdom of God and we do not fit with it. But though that is the case now, it wasn’t always so and I was reminded of Paul’s words in Ephesians 2: 11-13: “Therefore, remember you who are Gentiles by birth… remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ” [NIV].  

As I read this, despite being a stranger to that world now, I feel a certain affinity with those who are “separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship of God’s kingdom, the ones who are foreigners to God’s covenant of love, without hope and without God in the world.” It’s not that I long to be back there, but that I long that they were where I am; not “far away but brought near through the blood of Christ”.

McCheyne feels that too, as he sits resting under a palm tree at Balteen, a small village in Egypt. Andrew Bonar recalls that: “he was excited to deep emotion… at the sight of a row of poor wretched Egyptians, who gathered round us. “O that I could speak their language and tell them of salvation!”  [Ibid, p. 109].

As Christians we know that we are in the hands of our Father in heaven – not for what we are in ourselves, but for the beauty he sees in Jesus, Immanuel, God with us.  We look at our friends, family, neighbours, work colleagues and we see on the outside people just like us. We may need to look with new eyes and see them as ‘poor, and wretched’ just like we were. ‘We can speak their language! We can tell them of salvation!’ This is why we’re here after all.


‘This world is not our home – TRUE!’ We are just passing through – TRUE!’ But on our way home we cannot pass by those without hope and without God along the way. Remember we were once like them.’

Reaching out together,

Pastor Frank.

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