Our Mission In Exile
Many generations had passed since the old glory days of King David. Jerusalem had been sacked by the Babylonian king named Nebuchadnezzar. The bodies of the dead Israelites were stacked and burned in the Valley of Hinnom. This was the same place that previous wayward kings of Israel (or more specifically the kings of southern kingdom of Judah) allowed God’s people to sacrifice their own children by fire to the false god Molech. Interestingly enough, when we read Jesus in the Gospels and he talks about “hell”, in nearly every case the Gospel authors use the Greek word “Gehenna” which means “Valley of Hinnom.”
So In 586 B.C., the remaining survivors of this vicious onslaught who did not end up in this “hell” were hauled off into captivity in the city-state of Babylon. This was a historic crisis for the covenant people of God. What were they to do now? What was God’s game plan for his people while they were in exile?
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce...seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Jeremiah 29:4-5,7
What a seemingly odd command. Babylon is a wicked empire, shouldn’t God’s people attempt to defeat it through violence and war the same way the Babylonians defeated them? Or perhaps they should at least protest and picket on the streets to try and win a culture war? That probably makes a lot of strategic sense. But to seek it’s good, to work to see the city be blessed? This is your strategy, God?
Yes, and this has actually always been God’s strategy for His people. From Abraham, who was was blessed so that “all the nations of the earth [would] be blessed,” (Gen. 22:18) to Israel who was to be a nation of priests mediating God’s goodness and his vision for creation to the world around them (Exodus 19:5-6), to the ultimate embodiment of this in Jesus whose entire mission, death, and resurrection was done because “God so loved the world.” (John 3:16)
The religious landscape of America, Minnesota, and likely your own neighborhood has shifted over the past 50 years. Perhaps some of you who have lived through this cultural shift feel more and more as if Christians are in exile. What should be our mission now?
Perhaps God’s mission for us today isn’t all that different from his strategy for the Jewish people in Babylonian exile. What if instead of fighting a failed culture war, we embraced a call to be faithful sojourners in cultural exile? What if we worked to see the flourishing of our city without any conditional demands that people must first hold to the same beliefs as we do before we blessed them?
So frequently we may think that if we can’t, in a sense, “seal the deal” and get people to an explicit profession of faith or to come to church with us that we’re somehow failing, but “salvation belongs to our God.” (Rev. 7:10) You don’t have to save the world, but you can bless it by simply seeking to see your neighbors , coworkers, friends and family be blessed and flourish.