Something just kind of occur to me yesterday, an epiphany if you will. I was listening to a podcast on the book of Daniel. The book of Daniel was written to show the Jewish people how to stay Jewish in exile, how to stay true to worshipping Yahweh while living in a society that demanded they give up that worship in favor of the gods set up by the Babylonian empire, including worship of the empire itself.
Jeremiah the prophet had written a letter to the exiles during the generation before Daniel that might put some light on how Daniel lived within that empire. Daniel participated in Babylonian life. He did not separate or seclude himself. As a matter of fact, despite the fact that he wound up in both the fiery furnace and the lions den for staying true to worshipping Yahweh, Daniel (like Joseph in Genesis) eventually rose to be second in command of the empire he lived in.
Which brings me to my point today, something Jeremiah wrote in that letter to the Jewish exiles in Babylon. There were false prophets among the Jews who were telling them that they’d be returning home in six months, maybe a year tops. They just couldn’t wrap their heads around the fact that things just weren’t working out the way they had always assumed they would. Yahweh was not going to lead them to physically conquer the world. There were simply other nations bringing more force and might to bear than they could muster.
This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the captives he has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem: “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! So, here is part of Jeremiah’s message – you’re going to be here for awhile! Grab your snickers, get your popcorn. This is not going to be a short visit. You’re not going home anytime soon. “This is what the LORD says: “You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:10-11 NLT. Not six months, not a year, but seventy years!! So…you’re never going back to what you called home. This is your ‘new normal’. Your great grandchildren, maybe, will return. But you will not. Not the message the exiles wanted to hear, but a hard truth.
So go ahead and build your houses. Eat, drink, get comfortable. Make this your new home, because it IS your new home. Get married and have children. Marry off your sons and daughters. Yahweh has not forsaken you. This may seem like a disaster, but stay true and He will prosper you, not destroy you.
And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare. And there it is!! This is the message that had sunk in by the time Daniel came along. This is the message that sound very much like the message Jesus brought about 600 years later – ““You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.” Matthew 5:43-45 NLT. The Jews were exiled into a nation that was not Jewish, yet there charge, their challenge, was to remain Jewish in that hostile territory.
We are challenged today as Christians, to remain Christian. Actually, proclaiming yourself a Christian is not challenging, the majority of Americans still check that box. The challenge we face is the challenge to actually follow Christ. Christ does not live inside that box that we check.
So, here’s my epiphany from yesterday. And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare. We live in a small world today. We live in a world with many different views, many different cultures. We all share a common space, common ground, called planet Earth. Christianity has devolved into so much rock throwing and name calling. We feel the change in our culture, in our nation, and we don’t like it. We want to fight it. But, the harder we fight, the more ground we lose. The harder we fight, the more we lose Jesus as Lord.
Jesus is Lord means that our domestic and foreign policies are laid out in the sermon on the mount. Blessed are the poor, the humble, the merciful. Blessed are the peacemakers. Turn the other cheek. Love, not hate, your enemies.
In our common space called planet earth, we live among many different groups of people. Secularists, atheists, Muslims, practicing Jews. We claim Christ as savior, we know that He died for our sins. But we choose to live by the sword. We don’t love and pray for our enemies. The world looks at us and believes that Christians stand for hate, not love. They would be stunned to hear some of Jesus’ greatest sayings. “God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth. God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied. God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy….God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God. God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” Matthew 5:5-7, 9-10 NLT. Are we humble? Do we thirst for justice? Depends on how you define it. We have our criminal justice system where we love to lock people up and condemn them. We think that “Justice” = “Judgement”. And we are the judge of all things good and evil.
Are we merciful?
Do we work for peace? What would the rest of the world say?
How are we with being persecuted?
How are we with turning the other cheek?
How are we with loving our enemies?
How do we treat our immigrants?
We live in a world that is not always Christ-friendly. But as Jeremiah told the Jews in exile, we are to work for the benefit of our city, our world. We are to pray for the welfare of the world we live in, because our welfare is determined by its welfare.
We don’t have to love all the systems and designs of this world. But we do have to participate. We can’t just build a wall, literally or symbolically, and pretend everyone else does not exist. We can’t just write off everyone who is not like us. Not every Muslim you see hates you and wants to kill you. And truth be told, he/she believes you hate them and want to kill them.
We live in a city where God has put us. We all live in that city, whether Christian, Muslim, Jew or gentile. Our city today is the entire planet. We are to be working for the peace and prosperity of the city in which we live, because in its prosperity we will find our prosperity. Are we being the bright lights of the world, or are we contributing to the darkness of hate, anger and brute force? “But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.” Matthew 5:39-42 NLT. Christian love can be a hard love. We are living now in a society that has largely turned against us. Part of he reason they have turned against us because we define ourselves, very often, by all the things and people that we ourselves are against. We forget, that at our very core, we should be defined by what we are for – people. We are to love God and love our neighbor.
How do we know if we are loving God? We know we are loving God when we love our neighbors.
How do we know if we are living our neighbor? We know we are loving our neighbor when we love our enemies.
Think about it.
“This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the captives he has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem: “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.””
Jeremiah 29:4-7 NLT