Out of Exile into Exile


Many of us cannot wait for the Covid-19 pandemic to be over, so that we can return to normal and get back to doing the things we want to do.  Lessons learned, and let’s move on.  About a week ago, I posted about John the Baptist and what we can learn from his unexpected circumstances.  I also quoted Psalm 90:12 – “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” – on another blog about learning from sickness.  As if on cue, I got Covid soon after.  Much of this week I’ve been too uncomfortable to sleep, but also without enough energy, physically or mentally, to do much of anything.  And it would appear I still have more to learn from the pandemic.

What do I mean?  Let’s take a look at the Old Testament life of David, and what he learned about trying to get back to normal.

King David’s Lost Decade
David had been anointed king at about age 16 but did not become king until about age 30.  Having already been anointed[1], David was forced into exile by the reigning king Saul, who tried to kill David multiple times.[2]  After this, David was kept by force from the throne he knew he would inherit for about 10 years!  When David says “wait for the LORD” he knows what he means from hard experience.  While David’s behavior in this time was not perfect, he provided some lessons for waiting on God’s deliverance from trials.

First, our timing to receive God’s promises is not God’s timing, and we must trust that His is better.  Warren Wiersbe notes that “It’s likely that David’s fugitive years are reflected in Psalms 7, 11–13, 16–17, 22, 25, 31, 34–35, 52–54, 56–59, 63–64, 142–143.”  These 22 Psalms are full of testimony of David’s faith that God would sustain him through all trials, that God was in still in control, and that God would always be proven faithful and true.  If God had anointed David king, He would get him there when He decided it was the right time.  Because David wrote these Psalms during his exile, Wiersbe says “God’s people today can find strength and courage in their own times of testing. Our Lord quoted Psalms 22:1 and 31:5 when on the cross.”[3]

Second, our power comes from God, and we must trust that He knows what it should and shouldn’t be used for.  On at least two occasions, David was given an opportunity to seize the kingdom from Saul by violent means.  To end his exile on his own terms and timing.  1 Samuel 24:1-7 and 1 Samuel 26:1-11 show Saul completely at David’s mercy, seemingly by God’s Providence, but David knew that if he struck and killed “the Lord’s anointed” he was betraying the Providence sustaining David during his years on the run.  Since David was also “the Lord’s anointed”, could he glorify God for preserving his own life, yet apply a different standard to Saul?  Would God bless David’s future kingdom if David trusted his own power, instead of relying on God’s power and timing?

David eventually rose to the throne and mourned the death of Saul, who took his own life on the battlefield rather than be captured by the opposing Philistine army.  David united the tribes of Israel under his rule, headquartered in Jerusalem, and led the way for the Temple to be built by his son Solomon.  While David’s grievous sins, including adultery and murder, had many consequences for himself, his family, and the nation, David always came back to his God and knew where his strength came from.

When forced back into exile by his son Absalom[4], David returned to the lessons of his earlier exile.  David always knew that salvation belongs to the Lord alone, but also seemed aware that salvation was not done yet.  He wrote in Psalm 17:15 – “As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.”  While the idea of a future, eternal life was vague in the Old Testament, David knew someday he would meet God and know Him more fully.  David knew that as long as he was on earth he was still in exile, awaiting the full salvation of the Lord, which would come in His power and in His timing.

The Lost Pandemic Years
The pandemic seems like an exile from normal life – the life we think we should be living and the life we think we can return to living once the pandemic is over.  God has promised heaven, how can this continue?  I will eventually be over Covid, and the pandemic will end.  However, what we call our normal lives are also lives lived in exile, waiting for the salvation of the Lord.  Our normal lives remain interrupted not only by sickness, but also by our sin: our impatience, our frustrated longing for justice, our temptation to take salvation into our own hands, and our inability to love as we would like to be loved.  It would appear I still have more to learn from the pandemic.

When we leave the exile of the pandemic for the exile of our normal lives, let’s keep Driving Toward Morning: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and ball the more as you see the Day drawing near.” – Hebrews 10:23-25

What is “the Day”?  It is not the day I get over Covid, or the day when the pandemic is no longer disrupting our everyday lives.  It is the Day where not only is every disease defeated, but also the Day we overcome all of our impatience and division and our longing for things to be set right.  It is the Day all of our desires are perfected, and in Him all of our perfect desires are fulfilled.  The Day we are no longer in exile and see the full salvation of the Lord.


[1] 1 Samuel 16:13
[2] 1 Samuel 19:10-12
[3] Wiersbe, Warren.  Be Successful (1 Samuel) (2001).  P. 135.
[4] See related post on Psalm 3, written by David at this time.

When Bad Things Happen to the Greatest Disciples


Did Jesus fail John the Baptist?  John was identified as “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight’”[1] prophesied by Isaiah.  John publicly announced the coming of Jesus, and soon baptized Him, then watched the Spirit descend on Him like a dove and heard the voice of the Father declare Jesus as the Son.[2]  Was testifying publicly about Jesus and His miracles John’s mission in life?  If so, why did John find himself in prison, unable to preach in the open?  As Matthew’s Gospel records, Herod Antipas, the Roman ruler of Galilee and Perea, had John arrested for criticizing Herod’s immoral relationship with his brother’s wife.[3]  While under arrest, John began to have some doubts about Jesus and sent messengers to Him, saying “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?[4]  To John, his circumstances didn’t make sense and he reached out to Jesus for an explanation.

Matthew, in preparing his gospel message, intentionally placed this question from John to Jesus after a long section about followers of Jesus meeting opposition and persecution in the world. If you have time, read Matthew chapters 10 and 11 now, or keep reading here and I’ll quote key verses and ideas as we go, starting with these:

A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.” – Matthew 10:24
Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” – Matthew 11:11

I think Matthew was making several points, starting with this: living like Jesus does not mean Christians will avoid uncomfortable circumstances, including criticism and/or persecution.  Circumstances are not always a sign we’ve done something right or wrong. In Matthew 10, when Jesus said “a disciple is not above his teacher” the context tells us that what He meant was that His perfect life and obedience led to the cross, and if we are like Him we can’t expect to be treated better than He was.  Still, we may be tempted to think that if we live the right life, if we preach the truth of the gospel perfectly, if we do everything we should, then we will not be like “sheep in the midst of wolves,”[5] but loved and admired by the world.  By moving right to the story of John in the next chapter, and saying “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist,”  Matthew is saying that not even the greatest disciple of Jesus who ever lived was exempt from the warnings of chapter 10, including “Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you sin their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.” – Matthew 10:17-18

Even the very best lives and preaching meet opposition, perhaps even more opposition from those who have no interest in the kingdom of God.

Second, by placing these stories side-by-side, Matthew shows that John the Baptist is an example for us when we have doubts[6].  In prison, John had doubts, but did not give up on Jesus.  If Jesus was who he said He was, then not only the warnings of chapter 10 apply to John and us, but also the assurances and instructions:

When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.” – Matthew 10:19
What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops” – Matthew 10:27
Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.  So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven” – Matthew 10:31

John sent disciples to Jesus not to ask for rescue or to complain, but to confirm whether He really was the Messiah.  When we have doubts, we can also seek and find comfort.

Third, there is always more God is doing than we are aware of.  Instead of commenting directly on John’s prison situation to John’s messengers, “Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.[7]  In other words, Jesus was doing everything the Messiah should be doing, and even with John sidelined from public ministry, the kingdom of God was advancing spectacularly.  John had the information needed to believe and should not be “offended” by his unexpected circumstances. God remained in control of the situation.

Lastly, the circumstances of our lives may be what inspire others to better follow Christ, although it may be invisible to us.  Therefore, our patience and faithfulness in those times, or even the way we express and deal with doubt, can be a powerful witness.  As “The voice of one crying in the wilderness,” John saw his audience as those coming out to see Him and be baptized.  From this perspective, being in prison made John feel useless or like a failure to his calling. What had he and/or Jesus done wrong?  But God (see related post on these two words), through Matthew’s Gospel, saw John’s audience as all future generations, who could be encouraged that even the “great” John the Baptist faced criticism, persecution, and even doubt.  John may have thought his purpose was to keep preaching publicly, but instead his example benefits other believers in ways that his freedom couldn’t.

Faith Over Circumstance
Don’t let circumstances determine your faith and willingness to serve Christ.  In Matthew 10, Jesus said political and religious leaders, and even our own families, will resist Christ in us.  Often, they will appear to succeed.  Also, some will tell us that when things aren’t going our way, we need to “have more faith”, “pray harder”, “go to church more”, and convince God to improve our situation.  They argue we need to fix something we’re doing and our circumstances will improve.  But this is not the message of John’s story, and Matthew made sure of that by the way he wrote it.  There is no record of Jesus or Matthew telling John the Baptist why he was suffering and in prison, or that he could do anything about it.  Jesus only asked him to trust.  However, when John was ultimately beheaded[8], he met Jesus face-to face again, but fully glorified, and I believe John understood.  There is always more to our circumstances than we can see or comprehend, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”[9]

If even John the Baptist was not exempt from the warnings of Matthew 10, neither are we.  But also, if John could trust his Lord and Savior to love and provide for him, we can too. Odds are that nobody reading this will face what John the Baptist faced, but his story helps in whatever circumstance God asks us to glorify Him in.

And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it…And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”” – Matthew 10:38-39, 42


[1] Isaiah 40:3, quoted in Matthew 4:3.
[2] Matthew 3:16-17
[3] Matthew 14:3
[4] Matthew 11:3
[5] Matthew 10:16
[6] Also, I recently posted an example from the life of Jeremiah the prophet.
[7] Matthew 11:4-6
[8] Matthew 14:10
[9] Romans 8:28

The Desires He Delights to Give


Does God give us what we desire, or does He decide what we desire?  Some of my earliest prayers I remember (I was probably about 6) are ones asking to wake up the next day with my room full of all the toys I wanted.  Naturally, I never woke up to a room full of toys.  God probably knew I would only ask for more, and there would never be enough.  That doesn’t mean I only prayed that prayer once…I learn slowly, but He is patient.

In later life, after understanding Christianity somewhat better, one of the first Bible verses I set out to memorize was Psalm 37:4, which says
Delight yourself in the LORD,
            and he will give you the desires of your heart.

But I still wondered: are the desires what He gives us, or is the fulfillment of desires what He gives us?  I now believe it is both.  In the times I genuinely seek Him, I find that He molds my desires, so they become more aligned with His character.  I also find that He directs those desires toward what will fulfill them.  While that fulfillment is not always immediate, I learn to trust from what He does fulfill that all will be made right in eternity and learn patience and peace.

When we truly delight in Him, we end up finding out that what we desire is righteousness; we also find out that He provides all the righteousness we desire and need.  We find those desires fulfilling rather than frustrating, we find that fulfillment durable rather than fleeting, and therefore find ourselves content rather than anxious.

However, we don’t always delight in Him, and we find ourselves conflicted and unfulfilled.

Therefore:
“Commit your way to the LORD;
            trust in him, and he will act.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
            and your justice as the noonday.” – Psalm 37:5-6

Today, pray we will find our delight in Him.

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