Jeremiah’s Letter to the Exiles
Open Your Bible
Jeremiah 29:1-32, 2 Kings 22:3-13
Are you sitting down? I mean, comfortably? Is everything in order around you—dishwasher running, floors swept, dinner in the oven, finances in order, the right color of throw pillows on your bed, exciting opportunities on the horizon, and peace within and all around you? Sometimes the stars align and all our circumstances seem to be exactly under control. I like to wait for that moment to start writing. Or to sit to read my Bible. I used to feel like I was waiting until I was married to really start living. But now that I am married with a family of my own, there’s always one more piece I determine to be missing from the puzzle—one more excuse to keep me from faithful obedience.
It’s hard to lean in and flourish when you’re waiting for everything to be perfect. Judah was in exile, living in Babylon, with every reason to give up and just spend years sitting angrily with their arms crossed. But Jeremiah calls them to walk in ordinary obedience, to be a blessing to the nation they are in. “Pursue the well-being of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the LORD on its behalf, for when it thrives, you will thrive” (Jeremiah 29:7). They had every reason to hate the Babylonians, but they were deported by the righteous judgment of God, who was now calling them to repent, and walk in ordinary, daily obedience.
Often we want our repentance to be a single extravagant display of remorse. Then, after we think we’ve made a big enough deal about how sorry we are, we want everything to go back to normal: we want to have our own way again, and we want the consequences—the deportations, so to speak—to be reversed. But here we learn much about the true nature of grace and a relationship with God: repentance and forgiveness, obedience and blessing.
First, true repentance isn’t focused on the removal of consequences. It is a return to obedience. Genuine remorse for sin produces a heart that turns away from sin and loves righteousness, no matter the circumstances. Second, God’s forgiveness isn’t really even about circumstances. We can’t judge our position before God simply by how well we seem to be doing on the outside. His forgiveness begins by changing our hearts and our spiritual position before Him. Our temporal circumstances are a secondary matter. Third, God calls us to obedience at all times. Repentance produces obedience, and grace bears the fruit of obedience. Obedience is the right response to every circumstance, whether good or ill. And ordinary, daily obedience—loving our neighbors, being fruitful, making disciples—is to be a continual mark of God’s people.
We are called to be a blessing, even to our captors. Though this runs counter to every human inclination, it should be no surprise. It is, after all, at the heart of God’s covenant promise to Abraham: “All the peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3), and in Christ’s command to His disciples: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
Every judgment of God is a gift of His mercy and grace. Even in a foreign land, God promises His people the grace of His presence: “I will be found by you” (Jeremiah 29:14). As He forgives their iniquities, He gives them Himself, and beckons them to share their knowledge of Him with the nations. This is the call that has gone out since the beginning of the world: repent and believe in the one true God. Be fruitful and multiply. Go and make disciples. For the kingdoms of this world will “become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and he will reign forever and forever” (Revelation 11:15, ESV).
We are all sojourners in a strange land, wanderers like Abraham, like Israel and Judah. Christ calls us to allegiance to a kingdom that is not of this world: to pray to Him and search for Him with all our hearts (Jeremiah 29:12–13). He calls us to remember that whether we are in our own land or in exile, we are ambassadors for His kingdom. The ordinary obedience of believers is perhaps the chief defense to a watching world, the beauty of the gospel pointing to the glory of the kingdom of Christ.