An unknown Latin composer in the twelfth century penned the famous words, “O come, O come, Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel.” We will hear and sing these words this Christmas season, but many believers will completely miss the important message the songwriter was trying to convey.
God’s people are still in exile and need a deliverer.
Exiles in Spiritual Bondage
This same idea is expressed in the opening chapters of the book of Matthew. Matthew, writing to a Jewish audience, alludes to the Babylon exile (Matt. 2:18). Even though some exiles returned from Babylon and rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem, they are still in spiritual bondage and need a savior.
Matthew will argue through the rest of his gospel that the ultimate liberator is Jesus Christ, the only one who can deliver his people out of the bondage of sin and death.
The Apostle Peter picks up on this same idea of exile in his first letter:
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ: To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance (1 Pet. 1:1-2).
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul (1 Pet. 2:11).
But wait, Peter is obviously talking to believers like us who, by faith in Christ, have been delivered from sin and death. Why is he calling us exiles?
The author of the book of Hebrews gives us the answer when he talks about the Old Testament saints who were saved by their faith in the Messiah to come.
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. (Heb. 11:13, ESV).
They, like us, who have been delivered by faith are still exiles because we live in a broken world that is not our eventual home. Like these Old Testament saints, we wait for the second advent when Jesus will return in power and make all things new. He will restore a new heaven and earth, free from the curse of sin—a place where we will live with him forever.
Spiritual & Physical Exile
The Bible talks about two types of exile: spiritual and physical. Those who do not know Jesus as Savior and Lord are in spiritual and physical exile, while believers remain only in physical exile until the second advent, Christ’s second coming.
As we celebrate Christmas by remembering the birth of Christ, we need to also look forward to his second coming. A time when He shall truly ransom captive Israel by delivering them (and us) from this broken world. But waiting is not all we do.
Actively Waiting for the Second Advent
He has equipped us to work for his Kingdom in this present time. We are to be active witnesses to the age to come breaking into the present age. The Bible gives a good picture of what this looks like in the story of Daniel.
Daniel and his friends saw the destruction of their homeland, the death of their family members, and the destruction of their holiest place of worship by the Babylonians. They were forcibly relocated to a strange and foreign city far from home. It must have been hard to “work for the peace and prosperity of the city” (Jer. 29:7, NLT), the city that had caused them so much pain. Yet Daniel faithfully obeyed God’s call and worked for the shalom of the city of Babylon and in turn experienced shalom himself. He also added his work to God’s redemptive work, and in some small way, gave all of us a glimpse of the way things are supposed to be.
Like Daniel and his friends, we too are in “exile,” captive in a temporal, fallen, sinful world and looking forward to a time when Christ will return and bring complete restoration. But rather than passively wait for that day, we are to actively participate in the world because God calls us to “work for the peace and prosperity of the city” in the here and now. That was what we were created to do. And because we have been redeemed from sin and death by the Prince of Shalom, we can fulfill our destiny to fill and subdue the earth, and in doing so, glorify God, serve the common good, and extend the Kingdom of God.
Take the Offensive Position
Matthew, in the fourth chapter of his gospel, quotes the Prophet Isaiah, “the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Matt. 4:16) The apostle John also picks up on this powerful symbolism of the power of light in the early chapters of the book of John. Finally, in the opening chapters of the book of Acts, believers are filled with the Holy Spirit, making them children of this powerful light. As John Piper writes in Desiring God:
So be of good cheer. Christ has overcome the world of darkness (Jn. 16:33). “Believe in the light that you may become sons of the light” (Jn. 12:36). Take the offensive this season. Raid the darkness. It cannot overcome the children of light.
Merry Christmas from everyone at IFWE.
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