Exiles and Sojourners.

Christianity, Religion

“Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.” 1 Peter 2:11

“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ…” Philippians 3:20.

One of the central themes of the Bible is homelessness. This thread runs throughout both Testaments and creates an apparent uniformity between the Old and New Testaments. Throughout the Scriptures, there are two common ways in which this motif of homelessness plays out: exile and sojourning, or traveling and wandering.

The theme of homelessness appears in the very first chapters of the Bible; in Genesis 3, mankind is forced out of Eden as a result of the Fall. Because of sin, humanity lost access to the home that God had created for them and thus became exiles in creation. From the beginning of Scripture, we learn that mankind is in spiritual exile, and the rest of Scripture is about God leading man back to Himself.

The process of returning from exile would be long and leads to the secondary homelessness motif of sojourning. God set in motion humanity’s return by calling Abraham to leave his homeland and to follow Him to a land that He would give to him. If Abraham did this, God would bless all the nations of the Earth through Him. Abraham followed God, and for the rest of his life, Abraham was a sojourner–a traveler, a wanderer, a pilgrim–following God to the Promised Land. This narrative repeats itself throughout the narratives of the Genesis patriarchs and culminates in the Exodus narrative with Moses leading Abraham’s descendants out of Egypt back to Canaan–back to the land promised to Abraham. This return to the Promised Land–just like man’s return from spiritual exile–would not be easy. The Israelites would continue to test God while en route to Canaan, and this ultimately resulted in their being forced to wander and sojourn in the desert for forty years. The sins of the generation being freed from slavery in Egypt forced Israel to be exiled in the wilderness until that generation died, and then a new generation would inherit the Promised Land. The land would be inherited; however, after several generations, because of sin and spiritual infidelity to God, exile came again. The cycle had repeated itself: just as Adam and Eve were forced into exile due to sin, Israel would be forced into exile because of its sin. It would seem that man was no closer to being delivered from spiritual exile at the close of the Old Testament than he was at the first moment of his exile. God, however, was still at work.

Fast forward several hundred years: the Babylonian Captivity had long been over, and the Jews allowed to return to their homeland. Jesus of Nazareth was preaching throughout the Judean countryside. The message that He preached did not sync with the established teachings of works, self-righteousness, and slavish devotion to the Law that the other rabbis taught. Instead, Jesus preached a radical message that the Kingdom of God was here and that those who genuinely sought to please God were going to live a life of complete reliance upon God for everything–as wanderers would need to rely upon someone else to provide for them. Furthermore, Christ taught that the committed and sincere follower of God would understand that, since we are all exiles and sojourners, we must love and take care of one another. His teachings reinforced the narrative of homelessness and sojourning; a man once approached Jesus and told Him that he would follow Jesus anywhere. To be sure that this man understood this part of the cost of being His follower, Christ told him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head,” (Luke 9:58.) In His own life, Christ embodied the motif of the sojourner; He was the New Adam, the New Abraham, and the New Moses.

Many began to recognize that Jesus was the Messiah, the Anointed One, who was sent by God to restore Israel and to be the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham to bless the nations. Many thought that He would be a leader like Moses, who led Israel out of slavery in Egypt and wandering and exile in the desert, or like David, who ruled Israel when they were faithful to God; before they were exiled again. Maybe Christ would overthrow Roman occupation of Judea and recreate the Kingdom of Israel, as it had been in David’s day, and things would be as they should; Israel would once again occupy and inhabit the Promised Land. Then the exile would indeed be over.

Christ did come to end the exile, but not a political exile; He came to end the much more severe spiritual exile. Christ came to end the exile that was begun when Adam and Even were forced out of Eden; He came to restore humanity’s relationship with God. He would do so, not by force or by revival, but by letting His enemies kill Him. His death and His blood would complete the long and arduous process that God had planned to bring mankind back to Himself. Fallen humanity was now redeemed, and those who were redeemed would one day enjoy the home that God had prepared for them.

With the spiritual exile over, the task now became a waiting game. Christ’s disciples and followers had to teach the successive generations that, as redeemed followers of Christ, we are still in exile–not spiritually, but physically. This world is not our home; we must not be conformed to it, nor must we be swayed by the goings-on of this life. Our home–our citizenship, as Paul said–is somewhere higher and better; it is in the realm of God, in the Kingdom of Heaven. We are sojourners, just as Abraham was, following God where He leads us, waiting eagerly to be taken to the Land of Promise. We must live differently from the world while we are here, as Peter encouraged us. We must remember the high price Christ paid to end our spiritual exile and live accordingly.

Christ broke the cycle of homelessness and exile. He died to end our spiritual exile and to give us a home with God. The spiritual exile is over, but we are still physical exiles in this world. We are sojourners here. This world will pass away, our home with God is eternal; our citizenship does not belong to nations, our citizenship is in the Kingdom of God. Remember that and travel on, pilgrim.

Artwork: “Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress,” artist unknown, 17th Century.

Cut.

Christianity, Religion

“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” Acts 2:37.

 Jerusalem was crowded with Jewish pilgrims visiting the city for the celebration of Pentecost fifty days after Passover, and the time was right for a mighty movement of God.  The Holy Spirit had just descended upon the followers of Christ who were assembled there together.  Being led by the Spirit, Peter got up to preach to the masses.

Peter’s sermon was powerful. He began with the prophet Joel and described how the coming of the Spirit fulfilled prophecies made by Joel and signaled that the “last day” had now been reached. He continued on through the Psalms and showed how David pointed forward to Jesus in his writings; showing that Jesus is Adonai and Messiah. Peter proclaimed the good news–the gospel–that this Jesus who was crucified and died was now alive, and that all who called upon His name would be saved.

Peter had come a long way; fifty days earlier he was cutting off the ear of one of those who had come to arrest Christ in Gethsemane. After that, he had denied knowing Jesus–not once, not twice, but three times; he even cursed Jesus’ name with his third denial. Peter was bold and brash, he acted before he thought. Now, only fifty days later–and after being filled with the Holy Spirit–he was preaching the first sermon of the Christian era. He was a fisherman from Galilee, utterly untrained as a teacher, yet he was teaching the Scriptures better than any rabbi had. He had been transformed by the Spirit.

The Spirit moved mightily in those hearing Peter’s words. Acts 2:37 tells us that they were “cut,” literally pierced, to the hearts. They were filled with the conviction of their sins and allowed to see the truth before them that Jesus is the Messiah. This cutting to the heart echoes the Old Testament prophets and is connected to the most fundamental of all Israelite customs: circumcision. We see this merger between the two when Moses commanded the Israelites to “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn,” (Deuteronomy 10:16). Jeremiah echoes this appeal in his prophecies when pleading with the people to repent of their sinful ways.  People needed to change their hearts–cut away the sin and excess– and follow God, yet they could not make this change through their own strength or actions.

The Spirit was the tool by which God would change the hearts of His people. The Spirit is transformative and regenerative. It provided the means of circumcising their hearts, and it presented them with a renewed spirit. Those whose hearts the Spirit cut and transformed would now be able to walk according to God’s statutes and commandments. They would now be able to be His people.

The Spirit is still at work and cutting hearts today. It can still transform lives. It has been poured out upon all mankind and is seeking to circumcise the hearts of those who feel the pierce of conviction. Submit to it, be baptized in the blood of Christ, be filled with the Spirit, and let it prune away the dead sinful skin of your heart. Allow it to transform you, just as it transformed Peter, and just as it transformed 3,000 people who heard him preach that day.

Devour.

Christianity, Religion

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”  1 Peter 5:8

One needs not to look far to see that the adversary is actively on the prowl in this world; the evidence is abundant and staggering. With every passing moment and each news update, we see where the devil has once again struck and left the sadly familiar characteristics that are his calling cards: anger, hatred, chaos, bloodshed, and death. The “prince of this world” is on a rampage, fighting an insurgency war against goodness and against God’s world, and attempting to destroy all that is in it.

Peter wants his readers to understand the gravity of the situation. He likens the devil to a roaring lion, stalking after its next victim. Those reading Peter’s letter in the Frist Century AD understood this illustration, just as we do today. Lions are the peak predator in their environment; lions show no mercy. A lion will rip to shreds that which it catches. If a person found themselves in the path of a lion, there is very little they could do to protect themselves. The lion is bigger and stronger than the person, and could quickly run the person down should they attempt to flee. What a real lion could and would do to a person physically, the devil can and will do to a person spiritually.

Satan can devour us in many ways today; he studies his prey as he hunts them and he knows their weaknesses. He can take anger and distrust of others and turn it into an all-consuming hatred and rage that drives one to kill. He can make a proclivity for using powerful substances and turn them into a seemingly unbreakable addiction. He can cripple us with our lusts, our fears, and our insecurities. He can take our shame and regrets and turn it into guilt that makes us feel unlovable and unredeemable. The devil is a crafty hunter, and his traps are tailor-made for each of us.

Peter’s advice is simple and straightforward: be sober-minded and watchful. We must always be on guard and on the lookout for this lurking predator. We must always be prepared; for he will pounce the very moment, we let our guard down. Additionally, Peter goes on to say that we must “resist him [the devil], firm in your faith,” (1 Peter 5:9). When we are confronted with the devil and his snares, we have our faith in Christ and the Holy Spirit at our disposal to combat him. We must remember the teachings that Christ gave us in our battles with the devil. When Satan wants us to hate, we must remember that Christ calls on us to love our neighbor—everyone we encounter– as ourselves. When Satan wants us to have anger in our hearts, we must remember that Christ told us to leave our sacrifices at the altar to go and first reconcile ourselves to our brother. When Satan wants to consume us with fear and anxiety, we must remember that Christ taught us that God takes care of the birds of the air and the lilies of the field and He will undoubtedly provide for us. When Satan lures us with lusts, we must remember that Christ taught us to be pure in heart. When Satan crushes us with guilt and seeks to make us feel unloved and worthless, we must remember that Christ loves us so much that He was beaten, mocked, despised, humiliated, crucified, and died to free us from bondage to sin and guilt and to restore our relationship with God. 

Christ has already won the war; though the adversary seeks to do as much damage while he still can. We must remember Peter’s call to be on guard and to be watchful, as we can be assured the devil is stealthily watching and waiting for us to slip.  We must stand firm in our faith, hold close to Christ, and prepare for the fight. We must remember the similar words that Paul wrote to the Romans, “do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good,” (Romans 12:21).  Hold fast, stand firm, and be on guard.

Artwork: “Saturn Devouring His Son,” Francisco Goya,  1819-1823.

DNA.

Christianity, Religion

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature…” 2 Peter 1:3-4

The Second Epistle of Peter was written late in the Apostle’s life, most likely near the time of his death. Even as Peter is writing this letter, he seems to know that his time is short, and he is seeking to leave with his readers in the church a few final words of wisdom, advice, and exhortation, while also reinforcing sound doctrine. Though this epistle is brief, it is filled to the brim with true teachings.

Peter’s central focus in 2 Peter is addressing false doctrines. Even at this early point in the history of the church, there were already beliefs creeping in that need to be combatted and eradicated from the community of believers. Peter understood that false teachings represented a significant threat to the infant church, and the believers must be on the lookout for it, especially if he would soon be leaving them. Orthodoxy must be established, and Peter saw to it that he did his part in developing it.

Peter’s approach in helping the believers to identify false teachers is unique: he begins by reminding them just how much Christ has changed them. The follower of Christ—“those called to his glory”—now has a new heart and been filled with a new spirit. Due to this regeneration of heart and spirit, the believer is able to enjoy something previously impossible for them: to partake of the divine nature. As in creation, when God made man in His image, in the re-creation, Christ puts into man something which man lost in the fall; he injects us with a sort of “divine DNA.” He infuses us with His spirit so that we can finally live how He calls us to live. Christ goes beyond merely adopting us as His children; He gives the believer His own nature—he infuses us with his “genes”—so that we might be as His own children. Just as a child exhibits traits and characteristics of their parents, we now should exhibit the traits and characteristics of Christ.

Peter goes on to say that we should supplement—exercise, work out, develop further—this nature by developing spiritual disciplines that are consistent with being followers of Christ and partakers of His nature. Just as one would exercise their physical bodies to improve performance and strength, we should seek to strengthen our spiritual natures with virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. What Peter is saying is that we should seek to develop further the divine nature that Christ gave to us by exemplifying the characteristics that Christ himself embodied.  In living this sort of life, one will bear fruit, and according to Peter, one’s fruit will separate the authentic follower from the false follower. Those without the infusion of the divine nature will not bear fruit consistent with being followers of Christ, and their teachings need to be avoided.

Peter wants his readers to remember that they are to be different from everyone else.  He wants those reading his letter to confirm their calling, to live it out, to make it real. Christ demands that we be different from all those around us, just as God commanded Israel to “be holy for I am holy,” (Leviticus 11:44). Israel was never able to live up to this expectation due to their disobedience, but we have no excuse. Christ died and rose again to be able to recreate our hearts and spirits and to infuse us with His own nature so that we might lead lives that are holy and righteous and under His will. He injected us with this divine DNA so that we might be His holy people, and through this, He empowers us to live the way He commands us to.

Live as Christ expects you to live; live a life that is worthy of Christ’s death. Exhibit the divine nature with which you’ve been infused.

Photo credit: limitedscience.com