Exile. If you are like me, you automatically get a picture of a remote desert island. Perhaps you think of Napoleon Bonaparte who was exiled twice; once he was exiled to Elba and another time to St. Helena where he eventually died. Maybe you think of the fictional Robinson Crusoe who was marooned on a remote island.
We can all understand the idea of exile. It is being forced away from home.
Perhaps you have been in a situation where you were forced away from home. Maybe you were kicked out of home at some point. Maybe you were forced away from home when a landlord sold their property. Maybe you faced family tragedy that caused your home to be torn away from you.
Perhaps you have never had to leave your home, but you have lived in a place away from home where you felt like an outcast. Maybe you moved away from home to a place that was very clannish, and you were always reminded by word or atmosphere that you did not belong.
If none of that rings familiar, all of us have experienced at least a small taste of exile back in 2020.
Perhaps the year 2020 should have been labeled “The Year of Exile” for some. Living in NY was a vastly different scenario with COVID than OK was.
For over a year, we were not permitted to go places that we wanted to go. Even going to the grocery store was an odd experience. We planned to have family travel to see us in the Christmas season, but it was cancelled due to travel restrictions. There was an empty feeling of exile. Nowhere felt like home.
Exile creates certain feelings in your heart. If you were forced to leave your home, you may have a longing to be back home again. Nowhere else on the planet will ever feel like home, but you cannot go back home. If you have lived in a place that was closed or clannish, maybe there was just a longing to fit in.
In the COVID situation there were feelings of anger toward those in authority who limited movement or put other restrictions. Exile creates a feeling of fear because things are so different than normal.
Exile, longing, and lament go together. In exile individuals are saddened by their separation from home and family. There is also a longing to be home.
Whether you have sensed the experience of exile or not, you are an exile. Every human being is in exile.
Let’s return to the beginning in Genesis 1-3. In Genesis 1-2 we see God create the world, create mankind in His image, give mankind dominion, dwell with mankind, and warn mankind not to eat from one forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 3 we see that Adam and Eve rebelled against God, and God sent them from His presence.
Genesis 3:22-24 says,
Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” 23 therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.
The Lord drove Adam and Eve out from His presence. Sin has brought separation from God. Mankind has been sent away from the home he was created to enjoy in God’s presence. Mankind is in exile. This has been our condition ever since Genesis 3.
Zooming in on a particular people group we see the Jewish people. God had rescued them from Egypt to be His covenant people and to fulfill His promises to Abraham. He called them to live as His people as a light to the non-Jewish nations of the earth. They were to be God’s kingdom of priests. They were to live faithfully to His promises. If they were faithful to the covenant, God would bless them and keep them in the promised land. However, they rebelled against God over-and-over again. Once again, rebellion led to exile. God sent the people away into exile in Babylon for seventy years.
Even when the people came back into the land, it was not the fulfillment of the promises found in Isaiah 65-66. They were still captives. Their land was changing hands between warring nations. They were controlled by the Babylonians, the Medes and Persians, the Greeks, and at the time of Jesus’ first coming they were controlled by the Romans.
As we revisit Simeon and Anna they were living in a time where Israel was living in exile in their own land. The pagan Romans and the wicked Herod controlled them. As the carol “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” puts it, they were sitting in lonely exile. All seemed at a loss.
As we consider the exiles from Adam and Eve to the nation of Israel, it is a dark scene, but it is not without glimmers of hope. Think back to Genesis 3. Do you remember that there was a promise made in the Garden of Eden right after Adam and Eve sinned? In Genesis 3:15 God said to the serpent:
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.
As God sent mankind into exile, He promised that He would make everything right again through the Seed of the Woman. As God drove Adam and Eve away there was hope that it was not forever.
Consider the Jewish people being sent into exile. As God warned them through the prophets that He would send them away to exile He also promised that they would be comforted and brought home again. Before the time of the exile Isaiah wrote these words of prophecy:
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. (Isaiah 40:1-2)
Before Jesus’ birth they had been brought to the land, but where was the comfort? Where was the One who would bring comfort to God’s people?
Simeon awaited that comfort, the consolation of Israel, and he saw the Lord Jesus. God the Son became man to dwell with His people and bring comfort to them.
There was a group of people, a remnant of believers in the Lord, waiting for the redemption of Israel. Anna spoke to them about Jesus. He is the Redeemer.
As Zechariah said at the birth of John who prepared the way for Jesus:
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people 69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, 70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71 that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; 72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, 73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us 74 that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.’ (Luke 1:68-75).
Jesus Christ is the One who came to deliver His people. He has come to save His people from our sins (Matthew 1:21). He came and died in the place of sinners to give eternal life to all who turn to Him. This is not only a promise for the Jews but for all people groups. All who come to Jesus Christ are brought back to God.
As Paul told the Ephesian church in Ephesians 2:11-13:
“Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”
Paul goes on to say that Jew and Gentile both have access to God the Father through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:18).
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God (Ephesians 2:19).
May I summarize this in a short sentence? In Jesus Christ we are home.
We have been brought back to our Father. We have access to Him, not only as God but as God our Father. We have been made part of His household. The time of our wandering is over. At least this is the case in one sense.
Yet, we know that we are not home, yet. We are home, but we are not home. We look at the world, and it is still raging against God and against His Anointed (Psalm 2). We do not see the fulfillment of all of God’s promises, yet. We still experience the pain of loved ones dying, pandemics, rejection, suffering. Isaiah 65-66 and Revelation 21 have promises that are not complete. We are not living in the unveiled glory of God. All things are not made new. Not yet.
We live in a time of already and not yet. We are already home, but we are not yet home.
Peter says that we are exiles in this world who have God as our Father; we are to live in the fear of Him who purchased us with the blood of the Lamb (1 Peter 1:1, 17-19). This world is not our home; we are citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20). We await the Lord Jesus’ coming from heaven. As we meditate on this world not being our home, we grow in longing for the time when God will dwell with us again (Revelation 21:3).
As we wait for Jesus’ glorious appearing and for God to make all things new, let’s not get comfortable in the time of our sojourning. Instead, let’s embrace the exile and live as exiles. Let’s hold on to the longing that exile brings and long for Jesus to come. Rather than trying to remove longing for home, let’s channel that to be longing for God and the new creation’s completion. Let’s take all the longing that death, sickness, isolation, and suffering bring and channel that into longing for God to dwell with us.
Let’s live as people who are on a journey for home rather than living as people who are already home. Rather than looking to this world to satisfy the longings we have for home, let’s joyfully live with longing, knowing that someday God will wipe away all the tears of longing we have shed (Revelation 21:4).
Have you ever cried because you wanted to go back home to see family and friends you haven’t seen for a while? Have you ever cried for our final Home because you long to see Jesus? Perhaps that is an application from this meditation; maybe we should take time to cry for home.
As the famous gospel song puts it:
I’m kind of homesick for a country
To which I’ve never been before.
(Squire Parsons, “Sweet Beulah Land”).
May that be the longing of our hearts. May we show it in our emotions and in the way we conduct ourselves in our time of exile.
Let’s also take all the sorrow of our exile and use it to tap into the longing that is in the unsaved world. Those who do not know Jesus Christ are in exile in every sense of the word. They long for comfort and are looking in all the wrong places for it. By grace, let’s live in holiness during the time of our exile and tell the lost about the Prince of Peace the Lord Jesus. With longing for all things to be made new, let’s take opportunities to tell those who are still alienated from God that Jesus has come and died for sinners to end alienation for those who come to Him. Let’s seize the opportunities to warn God’s enemies that Jesus is coming again, then invite them into the comfort of knowing His forgiveness. Let’s invite them Home through the Way, the Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:6).