Faithlife Sermons

Exile 1: Exiled From God's Presence

Exile  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Home is an important idea for humans. We know to have a home is so much more than having shelter; so much more than a place where our possession and family are gathered together. What is home? Home is where we find safety and security. Where we find rest and belonging. Where we find community and life-giving relationships. Where we find purpose and meaningful work. Where we find love and support. These are what we long for when we are homesick. We long for the place where we experience all of these things. Having a home is so important to us and our wellbeing.
But even those of us who have what we’d consider good homes know that these things are not always present. Our home isn’t always a place of love and support. It’s not always a restful space. Sometimes it can be lonely. We lose a job, we fall ill and our home is no longer a place of security. And in those moments, even though we are home, we feel displaced. We feel homesick, even though we’re home.
At some point in our lives everyone experiences this feeling of displacement. While we know we should feel at home in the world, because this is the only place in the universe that we’ve found that can support our lives, because this is where we were born, this is where our family has lived for generations, this is where my whole existence rests - we should feel at home in this world, and yet so often we don’t. So often we long for a home in the truest sense of the word, where peace, joy, rest, and love are persistent realities.
The Bible recognizes that fundamental experience of our lives. In fact, the Scriptures were born out of that longing. You may not know this, but the writings of the Bible were assembled by a people who experienced this longing for home on a level few of us have or ever will. In 586 BC, the people of Israel were crushed by the global superpower of its day, the empire of Babylon, and thousand upon thousands of Israelites were chained and marched into exile. They were forced to live in a land that was not their home, and the trauma of that exile would go on to color how they perceived the world and how they would tell their story.
During the season of Lent we’ll be looking at this theme of exile, and we’ll do so for two reasons. First, because it will helps us better understand the Bible itself. Think about it. Have you ever been getting to know someone, and the friendship is becoming deeper, and you learn of a really difficult time in this person’s life? Some traumatic event that they experienced? Doesn’t the knowledge of these things help us better understand who they are and shed better light on their lives, their actions, the way they see the world? Well the authors and framers of the Bible were marked by this tragic event of being exiled from their homes. That experience shaped how they told their story in the Scriptures, so as we trace this theme of exile throughout the Bible, the Biblical story will come alive to us in a new way.
But the second reason is because exile often describes our own experiences in life. This desire for a true home where we can find true love, true security, true rest, true community. On some level we know that the world where we live now is not our true home. It can’t be. Because if it were, well it leaves a lot to be desired doesn’t it? This world is not the home that it ought to be.
But if this home is not as it should be, then we have to ask what happened and is there any hope for us? And those are exactly the two questions the biblical framers set about to answer as they recorded their story: why did the exile happen, and is there any hope that we’ll be brought back home? And this morning we’re looking at the very beginning of that story. Using language from their own experience of exile to Babylon, the biblical authors explain that the reason we have this deep longing for a better home is because we’ve been exiled from the perfect home that was given to us by God. And so this morning I want to look at three things: first, we’ll look at the world God intended for us to call home and how we lost it; second, we’ll look at how Jesus deals with the cause of our exile by stepping into it himself; and finally, we’ll look at how the way of life that Jesus taught is the way back home.
The opening chapters of the Bible describe a paradise. It’s called the Garden of Eden, which is Hebrew for the Garden of Delight. Everything we could possibly need is provided for, because it was created specifically for us to inhabit. If ever there was a depiction in the Bible of where humanity is truly at home, the Garden of Eden is it. And as we read the first two chapters of the Bible, we learn three things about our true home.
First, our home is physical and it is here on earth. In the beginning, where does God desire for his creatures to dwell? Is it in a purely spiritual, heavenly realm up in the clouds? No! It’s here on earth, in a physical world with trees and birds and seas and fruit and human bodies. The Bible is clear on this: our true home is here on earth. But of course, the world in Genesis 1-2 is vastly different than our world today, isn’t it? That brings us to the second thing...
Our first home is characterized by peace. Just before everything goes wrong in chapter 3, we see, “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” What does that mean? It means there was peace among humans. There was no fear of being taken advantage of in any way. You could be completely vulnerable with one another, naked, and there was no whiff of shame. There was peace with nature! The Garden is full of fruit that is just falling off the trees for us. We’re hanging out with the animals and giving them names. There’s peace with God! He chats with us, looks out for us, and walks around the garden with us.
So Eden is this place where humanity is at home - at home with one another, at home with nature, at home with God. And isn’t this the antithesis of our world today? Aren’t these exactly the places in the life where we feel estranged? Do we live in a nation of peace right now? Are we at peace with nature? I’ve got a cousin in Texas, and I think I know how he’d answer that.
And the last thing we see in Genesis 1-2 is that Eden is a world where humans trust the ways of God. In the Garden is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which functions as a type of fork in the road for humanity. We can choose to trust God’s ways, the way he has set to rule the world, what he declares to be good and evil; or we can choose to not trust him, and rather trust ourselves, trust the way that we can rule the world. Now, we know the choice that humanity made, but we can also see what characterized our home in Eden. It was a world where we constantly choose to trust that God’s ways are good.
So this is our home. Oh how different it is than our world today. Eden is our world in a way we’ve never experienced, and yet it’s the home that we’ve always longed for. And the reason we’re not experiencing life on planet earth like this is because of what we read this morning in Genesis chapter 3. Rather than choosing to trust God, we took the fruit of the tree, declaring that we were going to live on our terms rather than the Lord’s, and look at the result. Verse 22:

22 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.

Here on the third page of the Bible we already see the language of exile: sent out, drove out. These are the exact same words used later on to describe the Israelites driven into exile by Babylon. Israel refused to trust the Lord, and the consequence was exile. But it’s not just a condition of ancient Israel, Genesis 3 makes the case that it is the condition of all of humanity. We’ve been exiled from our home, and one way to look at the story arc of the whole Bible is that Genesis 4 on is answering the question: how do we get back home? Isn’t that the question of our hearts? How does this world become the garden of Eden again?
This is where the gospel comes to play. The good news that Jesus announces is this: the kingdom of God has come, and it has come through me. The world that we long for has come, and it has come through Christ. How? Jesus deals with the cause of our exile.
Let’s be honest: we’re no good at diagnosing the true problem in the world. If you were to poll the people of this country and ask what is keeping us from living in a world that feels like home, you know what they’d say. Half of the country would say, “The Republicans,” and the other half would say, “The Democrats.” If you were to poll the people in Israel during Jesus’ day, they say something very similar, “The problem is the Romans.”
But throughout his ministry Jesus is always pointing us in the direction of the real problem - the real cause for our exile and the real issue that must be addressed if we ever hope to return home: that is the problem of our sin.
Jesus knew that there was no going back home so long as our lives were stained by sin. And he knew that we’d never be able to stop sinning, to stop living according to our own terms. And so he left his home with the Father and he stepped into our exile so that he could take upon himself all of our guilt, all of our sin, everything that had caused us to be driven from God’s presence - he absorbed it all on the cross for us.
This is why in our gospel reading, Jesus says that he is going to prepare a place for his disciples, and where is he preparing said place? In the Father’s house. With this idea of exile in mind, listen again to what he says:
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”
Do you see what Jesus is talking about? He’s talking about a return to a world where we are with God again, no longer in exile! When we are in God’s house. He’s talking about our true home in this world.
And I love this, Thomas says, “We don’t know where you are going! How will we know the way to the this place?” And Jesus says, “I am the way.”
Jesus is the way back home. There is no road home that doesn’t run through Christ. He alone is the way because he has dealt with the cause of our exile. This is why Paul can say in Romans 8, that “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” This is why he can go to say that though once we were exiled from the presence of God, now...
neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Jesus is the way back home. Jesus is the one who opens the doors of God’s house to the exiles of the world. He came for the exiles of the world. So much of his earthly ministry centered on those exiled from society: the poor, the sick, the leper, the blind, the lame, the foreigner. It wasn’t for show - it was his mission and his heart on display, to make a way for the lost and exiled to come home to the Lord.
And think about how far we’ve come. From exiles to sons and daughters of God. From those driven out to those invited in to dine at the Table of Christ. As we share in Christ’s meal this morning, I pray that you’d hear anew the call of Christ that beckons you home. There are many things in this world that claim to be the road that leads us to the place we long to be, but this morning as you take the body that was broken for you, would you place your trust in Christ alone. He is the way. He is the truth. He is the life.
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