This summer, I have been greatly encouraged through reading the works of John Bunyan. In his work Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, John Bunyan concludes his Preface with the following thought:
"My dear children - The milk and honey is beyond this wilderness. God be merciful to you, and grant that you be not slothful to go in to possess the land."
I've pondered this simple, yet profound thought over the past few weeks because it brings me back to a foundational Christian truth - the hope of redemption. A cursory reading of the Apostle Paul's writings will show us that Paul constantly meditated on and lived in light of this truth. As sinners who have been justified by His grace, we are called to rejoice in this hope (cf. Romans 5:2, 12:12) and we are told to fix our hope and expectation upon this reality (cf. 1 Peter 1:13). From the perspective of the Apostles, this hope encourages us to be patient through tribulation (cf. Romans 5:3, 12:12), and this hope serves as a chief motivation to pursue holiness (cf. 1 John 3:3). Furthermore, meditating on the hope of our redemption produces a sense of urgency in the Christian life. We are exhorted to recognize that our salvation is near and thus, we should behave as those who are aware that the day of the Lord is near (cf. Romans 13:11-13). For this reason, our lives should be marked with sober-mindedness (cf. Ephesians 5:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:6; 1 Peter 4:7) and patient endurance through suffering and affliction (cf. James 5:8; Revelation 13:10, 14:12).
A question that should be raised is whether or not many of us (as Western Evangelicals) have lost this sense of urgency. In recent years, I've rarely heard Evangelicals speak about the urgency in which we should live the Christian life; rather, I've heard more and more Evangelicals become very focused upon cultural engagement, typically using Jeremiah 29:5-7 as a justification. Although one's view of eschatology does affect how one views the future, this should not affect how we interpret and live in light of the exhortations to fix our hope on the appearing of the Lord Jesus.
So how can we apply Jeremiah 29:5-7 in a way that is consistent with the eschatological focus given by the Apostles? First, we must note an important difference between our modern context and the Jewish context during Jeremiah's prophetic ministry. Although we are exiles in this world (cf. 1 Peter 2:11), our exile is not due to judgment. God has not moved us from Jerusalem to Babylon as judgment; rather, He has rescued us from within Babylon so that we have dual citizenship (cf. Philippians 3:20). This means that the biggest reminder that we need is that this present world is not our home. If we are honest, we naturally feel very much at home in this present world because this is where we were born. We do not need much encouragement to build houses, grow wealthy, get married, and have children. If we aren't careful, we will naturally gravitate toward a life which has more in common with the American dream than with Biblical Christianity. This is one reason why we are commanded to store up treasure in heaven; Our Father knows where we naturally store our treasures. We don't need any encouragement to make ourselves move at home in this present world. Rather, we have a far greater need to be reminded that our home is in the new Jerusalem.
Second, in contrast to Jeremiah 29:7, we must recognize that we do not know how long our exile will last. This has led some unbelievers to mock the New Testament's teaching on the imminent return of Christ (cf. 2 Peter 3:3). Because of the seeming delay of our Lord's coming, it is very tempting to naturally live as if Jesus will never return. As believers, we must never allow the mundane nature of our everyday activities to push the hope of our redemption to the back of our minds. As mentioned previously, we should stand ready for Christ's return at any moment; we should not be found sleeping.
Third, we must recognize Jeremiah 29 holds out the glorious hope of the fulfillment of God's promises to His people. The argument of Jeremiah 29 is that the exiles should not seek to overthrow the Babylonian empire because they have a much greater hope that the city of Babylon. After 70 years of judgment, God will answer the prayers of the Jewish exiles and restore them to Jerusalem. In other words, Jeremiah 29:11 is the main point of the chapter because their hope is not that God will bring prosperity to Babylon, but that He will return the Jewish exiles back to Jerusalem. As Christians, we have an even more glorious hope. Thus, the primary message of Jeremiah 29 to us is to live in the light of our future hope--to live now in this world as citizens of the world to come, neither ceasing to do good to all those around us now (cf. Galatians 6:10), nor becoming so friendly with this present world that we find ourselves enemies of God (cf. James 4:4).
To my shame, I must admit that I do not meditate on and rejoice in this future hope as much as I should. Because my life is not marked with physical persecution, it is much easier to become focused on the various problems and irritations of day-to-day life. It is much more tempting to center my life around my professional goals and ambitions and thus, to take my eyes off of the glory of the world to come. However, as Jesus and the Apostles warned, the day of the Lord will come as a thief. The Day of the Lord will supernaturally disrupt the normalcy of all of our lives. For those who are united to Christ, we will rejoice with exceeding joy because our redemption is complete. On that Day, we will know that all of our earthly treasures are transient and we will know the sufferings of this present world are not worthy to be compared to the glory we will have (cf. Romans 8:18). For this reason, as the Apostle Peter states, "what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God" (cf. 2 Peter 3:11). As John Bunyan wrote, may we not be slothful, but rather let us be diligent to be found in Him. Let us fix our hope completely on the grace to be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ.