Friday, September 23, 2016

Exiles

Revelation shows us that God designed us to live in his presence. The final picture of Revelation is that of redeemed men and women living in the presence of God on the new earth. (Rev. 21-22) As the Westminster Shorter Catechism says, God created us to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

This gives us something to look forward to. It gives us hope.


It also creates a tension in us. Being redeemed, we want to know God and be in his presence. We want the world to be put into submission to him. Instead, we see rebellion against God everywhere and everywhere the effects of that rebellion. 


God does not resolve this conflict for us in the present age. Instead we live with constant reminders that this world in this age is not aligned with God or us. This conflict keeps us from getting too comfortable with this world. It redirects our focus to God from material things. It makes us long for the new creation.


That is why the Bible refers to us as strangers. We see Old Testament pictures of this in the exile. The Israelites lived in Babylonia, but it was not their home. They never fit in there completely if they worshipped God, not conforming to Babylonian standards and religions. They were strangers longing for another home. That home had a temple where God’s presence dwelt in their midst (before it was destroyed).


Peter understood this and used it as a metaphor for the Christian life. He wrote to Christians in Asia as “elect exiles”. (1 Peter 1:1) He also called them sojourners. (1 Peter 2:11) A sojourner is someone staying someplace temporarily. If you take a business trip to Los Angeles from your home, you are a sojourner there. You dwell there for a time, but it is not be your home. Peter was reminding them that the world of the Roman Empire was not their home. They needed to look forward to the future home and live according to the standards of the one who makes that home for them. Therefore, Peter says, as sojourners and exiles abstain from the passions of the flesh. In other words, do not adopt the standards of this world. Rather live as a citizen of the next world, one dominated by the presence of God and complete holiness. When we read this text, we read it as Peter telling us this world, and whatever country we live in, is not our home. We must not adopt its ways. 


Hebrews 11 speaks of the faithful as “having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. It says “For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had the opportunity to return. But as it is they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” (Hebrews 11:13-16


There are two ways to deal with this tension. One is to give up and surrender to the standards of this age. It resolves the conflict, gains you acceptance with those devoted to this age, and provides some temporary relief. 


This is not the Biblical way. Paul told us not to be conformed to the world, but transformed by the renewing of our minds to know what is good, acceptable and perfect in the will of God. (Romans 12:2) 

Instead of giving up, of conforming, or even hiding away, let the conflict drive you to focus on God and to experience his presence. You do this in prayer, Bible reading and in worship. Long for the next world. Recognize your status as a stranger, exile and sojourner.


And remember your hope: eternity in the presence of God in the new creation.

 

 

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