What Does it Mean to Belong with God as Exiles on Earth?

Belonging

I took you from the ends of the earth,
from its farthest corners I called you.
I said, ‘You are my servant’;
I have chosen you and have not rejected you.
So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
(Isaiah 41:9-10)

Because we are called and chosen, we can entrust ourselves to God. Because God has named us as His servant, we know that He is our God and we do not need to fear. Our place of belonging is not ultimately in a land or in a place but with our God.

And because our home is with God, then all places become places of home as God is there. We are simultaneously displaced and belonging, refugees on earth and returnees in God. Each place we step is a place of alienation from that place while simultaneously being an experience of homecoming in God.

The difference is not just one of perspective but of reality in God through Christ. We say, “I do not belong here,” in terms of place, while also saying, “I do belong here,” with God who never leaves us nor forsakes us.

Ironically, we all search for belonging yet often feel we do not belong. We seek belonging in a friend group, a hobby group, a social group, or a religious group, but we still often struggle with a sense of disconnection and alienation. How is it that we can both apparently belong and feel like we do not belong? What is it that is wrong with us that this pervasive sense of alienation occurs?

I’d like to suggest that it is because we need a different sort of belonging. We seek belonging through external connection or place, but it is inner, spiritual belonging that we truly seek and that truly changes us. We were made for God and, as St. Augustine so memorably writes, “our hearts are restless until they rest in You, oh God.” When we come to the place of rest in God through yielding ourselves and our destiny to God, that is the beginning of our journey to belonging.

It is not that place is irrelevant, but that the first place we need to belong is with God. When we let go of our wildly surging press for belonging in this place with this people, then we are open to understand our chosenness in God and our calling from Him. At that transforming encounter with God through Christ occurs, we also find a restful home in God that enables us to rightly engage with the world around us. We live in simultaneous alienation and peace, displacement and contented rest. We do not belong, but we do.

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.
(Hebrews 11:13)

July 4th: 4 Considerations for the Church

As we celebrate the independence of our nation, here are four thoughts that we would do well to consider as believers in the United States.

  1. Remember: When we come to July 4th, we remember. We remember our history as a nation; we remember sacrifices given over time; we remember who we are as Americans. The concept of remembering is important. It is important to remember good things, so that we might not take them for granted. It is also important to remember things that are not good, that we might work toward change on them. As an increasingly rootless society with little to no sense of our past, we need to move into the future and face the present in light of our past. Memory is important for us as people. July 4th gives us a time to stand in the living memory of our nation. It is a practice that should be normal for those of us who consider ourselves Christians. As Christians we are called to run the race of life within that “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1)—the saints past, present, and future who have gone before us. We need to remember who we are.
  2. We Are Citizen Exiles: As we live on earth, we are legally citizens of specific nations and states. I am a citizen of the United States of America. I am thankful for the many benefits I enjoy as a citizen of this country, while also recognizing the shortcomings of our country. I work for change where it is needed, and I also savor what is good. However, as the Apostle Peter wrote in his first epistle, we are “aliens and strangers in the world” (1 Peter 2:11). Even though we are legally citizens of certain countries on earth, we will never truly belong here. Because the great confession of the Christian faith is “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9), we also remember, as Paul writes elsewhere, that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20).  So, as we mark this holiday with fellow citizens of the United States, we do well to also remember to live in the tension as citizens of heaven whose primary allegiance is to King Jesus and ultimate home is in the presence of God.
  3. Seek the Common Good: When the prophet Jeremiah wrote to the exiled Israelites in Babylon, he gave these instructions: “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7). Although we are citizen-exiles, we exist here for God’s glory by seeking the common good of the city and nation in which we live. We do not belong here, but we must steward our lives here to the glory of God and the benefit of those around us. Our nation, the United States of America, is the place where God has ‘exiled’ those of us who are citizens of it. We honor God when we seek the common good of this place. The common good is developed by recognizing the benefits and shortcomings of this nation, and seeking to bring them to all equitably. We fail to honor God when we seek only our own benefit and not the benefit of releasing the resources God has given us into the community around us.
  4. Celebrate True Freedom: As we mark the freedom we enjoy as a self-governing democracy in this nation, we must simultaneously not lose sight of the fact that political freedoms—even freedom of religion—cannot compare to the true freedom that we experience as followers of Christ. Paul writes to the Galatian church, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). Paul is speaking to that early gathering of believers about the essential spiritual freedom we experience through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. While many of the early disciples and contemporaries of Jesus expected Him to institute a new earthly kingdom, He instead started a revolutionary movement of living free with God in the fully available Kingdom of God. Any celebration of freedom within our nation is small compared to the boisterous celebration of freedom available in Jesus Christ for now and unto eternity.

Jesus the New Israel

Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness, James Tissot, Brooklyn Museum

As part of my message this past weekend on Daniel 12, “Faith at the End of All Things,” I shared a list of parallels about how Jesus is not only Savior and Forgiver, but also takes all the history of Israel into Himself and becomes the new Israel as the Messiah. A number of people asked if I would share that list, and so I’m doing that here.

A Messiah will come and bring hope and life for humanity. He will be like the Son of Man figure in Daniel 7, worthy of worship and like God. But he will also take all the history of Israel into himself and bring its fulfillment through His life death and resurrection. And so:

  • Jesus’ humble birth at the edges of civilization parallels Israel’s humble beginnings as a nomadic tribe of Abraham.
  • Jesus’ baptism parallels Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea after the Exodus
  • Jesus’ testing in the desert for 40 days parallels Israel’s wandering in the wilderness for 40 years
  • Jesus’ teaching and miracles as God’s tabernacle in flesh parallels the building of the tabernacle and temple where heaven touched earth in God’s presence
  • Jesus’ death on the Cross parallels the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and the overrunning of God’s people
  • Jesus’ burial in the tomb parallels the exile of God’s people from the Promised Land
  • Jesus’ resurrection in the tomb parallels the double exodus of liberation from slavery in Egypt and liberation from exile in Babylon
  • And Jesus ascension to the Father’s right hand parallels the future resurrection that awaits humanity at the end of our lives and the cataclysmic end of human history at Christ’s return

This is why, with Peter, we can celebrate Jesus as not only our Forgiver and Savior, but the resurrected bringer of hope with God for humanity.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).

Faith at the End of All Things [Daniel 12]

I concluded our series on the book of Daniel last weekend at Eastbrook Church by focusing on the final words of the book found in Daniel 12:5-13. This concludes the final vision of Daniel, which is also the longest vision, stretching from 10:1-12:13. This message brings together themes of persevering in our faith and the hope of the resurrection.

You can view the message video and sermon outline below. You can follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

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Summary Chart on Daniel’s visions

Daniel Series GFX_App WideIn my message this past weekend at Eastbrook Church from Daniel 10:1-12:4, “Faith and the Final Vision,” I shared a chart that I adapted from Sidney Greidanus‘ book Preaching Christ from Daniel. I want to thank Pete Briscoe for recommending the book to me because it has been an invaluable resource, along with many other resources, as I’ve preached through Daniel over the past months. You can download the chart as a PDF in landscape formatting here. However, I’m also inserting it into this blog post in portrait orientation below.

Daniel 2 Daniel 7 Daniel 8 Daniel 10-12 Kingdom Dates
Head of gold Lion with eagles’ wings     Babylon 605-539 BC
Chest and arms of silver Bear with one side higher than the other Ram with 2 horns, 1 longer King Cyrus (10:1)

Three kings (11:2a)

Fourth king (11:2b)

Medo-Persia 539-331 BC
Belly and thighs of bronze Leopard with 4 wings, 4 heads Fast goat with 4 horns Warrior king (11:3)

Kingdom divided to four winds (11:4)

Alexander (Greece)

 

4 generals

 

331-323 BC

 

Kings of south (11:5-20)

Kings of north (11:6-20)

Ptolemies

Seleucids

323-63 BC
Contemptible one (11:21-35) Antiochus IV 175-164 BC
Legs of iron

Feet & toes of iron and clay

Monster with iron teeth, 10 horns     Rome 63 BC-AD 476
10 kings Present period
Stone smashes statue God burns the monster Little horn destroyed The king (11:36-45)

King destroyed (11:45)

Time of anguish (12:1)

Antichrist Final days
Mountain fills the whole earth Kingdom given to son of man and God’s people   God’s people delivered (12:1)

Resurrection (12:2; 12:13)

The wise exalted

Kingdom of God Everlasting
From Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from Daniel (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2012), 344.