The Gospel and Resurrection

Recently, in our apologetics series in Friday night youth group, we went over the importance of the Resurrection. When it comes to apologetics and the resurrection, it’s often a matter of marshaling the textual and historical evidence to support the bodily resurrection of Jesus. As I studied Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 15, however, I was struck, not by any evidence that Paul gives, but by the central place that the Resurrection takes in his preaching. For Paul, the Gospel culminates in Christ’s Resurrection, and that has profound implications for present life, here-and-now. Here’s what I mean:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:1-2 ESV)

Paul promises to sum up the Gospel, the good news in which we are being saved. I think it’s important to pay attention to what he says here, lest we become deceived by all the other “gospels” out there (e.g. prosperity gospel, self-help gospel, etc). Well, let’s see what Paul says:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
(1 Corinthians 15:3-5 ESV)

This message should be familiar to evangelical Christians. Jesus Messiah, the perfect, spotless Lamb of God, died for our sins, taking the punishment of death on our behalf. God, however, did not abandon His Son to death, but raised Him on the third day. For many Christians, it’s easy to be too familiar with this message, to take it for granted. So let’s try to pay more attention to what Paul is saying here.

First, a preliminary remark: I know sometimes I tend to think of the death of Christ as the “main event,” so to speak. I mean, that’s where the action happens, right? That’s where my sins get forgiven so I can go to heaven when I die, right? Thus, the resurrection becomes more of an afterthought. It’s the thing that proved that everything worked out in the end…or something like that.Well, of course, the whole thing – Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection – is the Gospel, and it could be foolish for us to try to divide it up. I do think, however, that my way of thinking of the death as the “main event” may be a little misleading, and here’s why. In chapter 15, Paul wants to draw special attention to the Resurrection, and for good reason. Take a look:

Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
(1 Corinthians 15:6-8 ESV)

Paul continues to emphasize that Jesus appeared to people after his death. In other words, Jesus is alive again, and He still lives. Paul goes on to expand upon this theme in verse 12: Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?

So to recap, here’s the Gospel: Christ is not just proclaimed as dead, but as raised from from the dead! Now, why is this so important to Paul? Why all the emphasis on Christ’s resurrection and appearance?

A bit of context will help us here. As we can see from verse 12, there were some in the Corinthian church who didn’t believe in a bodily resurrection. Instead, they (likely) thought of the resurrection in quasi-spiritual terms. The “resurrection” (if there is one) is some ghostly, disembodied state. The conclusion that they drew from this was that it didn’t matter what you did with your earthly body, since it would be destroyed anyway. As a result you have people in the Corinthian church indulging in all sorts of immorality (i.e., the kind that you find in the earlier chapters of 1 Corinthians). The way that Paul fixes this is by pointing to the reality of resurrection.

First, Paul lays out the negative side. If it’s true that there is no bodily resurrection, then it’s also true that Christ wasn’t raised from the dead (vs 13). And if that is true, then the game’s up. This whole Christianity thing is one huge mistake. Preaching and faith is in vain (vs 14). We’re lying about God (vs 15). We’re still in our sins (vs 17). In fact, says Paul, if there’s no resurrection, then Christians are of all people most to be pitied!

You might think that last statement is an over-exaggeration by Paul. After all, people are wrong about things all the time. But Paul knows his Old Testament. He knows that, since the Fall, God’s plan and purpose has been to save a fallen world. Now, if there’s no resurrection and if Jesus isn’t raised, that means death isn’t destroyed. If that’s the case, then Jesus isn’t Lord. Death is. Death is the final master, the ultimate reality. In other words, the problem of sin, suffering and death has not been solved. Everything that’s wrong about the world is still wrong. It doesn’t matter what we do to try to fix it, because in the end, we will still die. To quote verse 32, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

Thankfully, it doesn’t end there, for Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead. Paul continues:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

(1 Corinthians 15:20)

What are firstfruits? Quite simply, they are the first of the fruits gathered at the harvest. In other words, Paul is saying that Christ is the first of the new humanity. In fact, he is the first of the New Creation. God’s plan to restore and save the world has come to its fulfillment, and the firstfruits, the forerunner, is the man Jesus Christ. Furthermore, those who belong to Christ will also be raised like him (vs 22-23). That is, in the same way that Christ was raised, we will be raised too. That’s why the resurrection is so important. If Christ didn’t rise from the dead, then neither will we.

Notice that Paul is speaking of a bodily, physical resurrection. As evangelicals, many times what we look forward to after death is “going to heaven,” where by heaven, we mean some disembodied, spiritual existence with God. However, when we look in the Bible, the New Testament writers are consistently looking forward to the bodily Resurrection. The real goal, the real focus is the resurrection – not just a spiritual resurrection, but a resurrection in which we receive glorified and immortal bodies.

Here’s where the rubber meets the road: what we do in this life matters. Because Jesus is alive, because he has conquered death, our lives are going to be radically different. So says Paul, “Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning” (15:34). The life we live now is lived in anticipation of the resurrection. Or even better yet: in the present, here and now, our calling is to learn to live the kind of life that will “characterize God’s new creation” (to quote NT Wright). That’s why we do the things we do as Christians. It’s not just an arbitrary system of rules. Being a Christian is nothing less than getting a head start on the New Life. You don’t have to wait until after death to start living eternal life. Being a Christian means you’ve died with Christ, but you’re also been raised with him. Eternal life starts now.

So again, let us listen to Paul’s exhortation to wake up. Let put away those petty sins that we think will satisfy us. Stop messing around with drunkenness, lust, pride, envy, and malice. Let us put away the things that the world values – status, wealth, comfort – and start pursuing love, justice, mercy. That’s why the fact of the resurrection is so important to us as Christians. It’s not just about getting it right or wrong. If Christ really rose from the dead, then those of us who belong to him get to share in the same resurrected life now. If Jesus didn’t rise, then we’re not just making an intellectual mistake; rather, we’ve lost the basis for the entire Christian life.

Self-Reliance, Materialism, and James

Be forewarned — today’s post is a rather gloomy post. Lately, I have been thinking a bit about the book of James. Famously, Martin Luther was not a big fan of the book; he thought it failed to mention Christ and the gospel enough times. Well, I think a more charitable read of James is that it presupposes the gospel. Hence, James is writing to those who already considered themselves Christians.

Given that James is writing to Christians, it is interesting to see how much they struggle with worldliness, so for the rest of this post, I want to reflect a bit about two manifestations of worldliness that our current culture especially demonstrates. The first kind of worldliness is what I’ll call self-reliance. Consider the following passage from James 4:13-17.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

Now, we might ask, “What’s so bad about having plans for our futures? After all, isn’t that wise stewardship?” The problem, I think, is the underlying attitude. James is writing against an attitude that focuses on our plans and purposes, rather than on God’s plan. This attitude is arrogant because it assumes that we have the ultimate say over our own lives. However, as James says, we do not know what tomorrow will bring. We cannot control reality. The fault is not in having plans for the future, but in having a belief that we are our own masters.

The second kind of worldliness relates to material possessions. It is discussed in James 5:1-6.

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.

This is a thorny passage, but I just want to point out two things. First, James emphasizes the temporary nature of material possessions, as if there were some who had an undue attachment to money. Second, he condemns the “rich” for the lack of justice in withholding wages from their workers. In our day, it has become popular to demonize the “1-percent” or the wealthy. But before we attempt to remove the speck from our brother’s eye, let us see if we have a log in our own eye. Do we, as Christians, have an excessive attachment to possessions? To worldly success? Is there justice in the way that we use and share our resources?

Self-reliance and materialism are, I think, two of the most prominent forms of worldliness among Christians today. We need look no further than within our youth groups. I see kids who are pushed to academic success, which is certainly a good thing, but when it comes to the Bible, they are functionally illiterate. I see parents who are more concerned about the worldly success of their child than they are about their child coming to the knowledge of the living God. We are blessed with so many things, yet I wonder if that has not trained us to be the most materialistic generation the world has seen. We make idols out of our smartphones, but justify it by downloading Bible apps.

Even if you don’t agree with what I’ve said, here’s one thing that we may agree on: my generation of young men and women must learn humility. For some reason, we think we are the latest and the greatest. This is even reflected in the church. Young Christians like me (especially those in high-school and college *ahem*) seem to think that we do the Christianity thing better than our parents, our churches…better than all those Christians in two-thousand years of church history. They are traditional, outmoded, and ignorant, but we are progressive, urbane, and enlightened.

Well, I am guilty of all that as well. I, too, am self-reliant, materialistic, and proud. What are we to do? Here is James’s advice to us; let us attend carefully to it:

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
(James 4:7-10 ESV)

Isaiah and the Armor of God

Ephesians 6:14-15

When we read about the armor of God in Ephesians 6, we often think of the spiritual resources with which the individual Christian has been equipped. “Each day when you wake up,” I’ve often heard said, “Imagine yourself putting on the the helmet of salvation, taking up the shield of faith, and arming yourself with the sword of the Spirit.” Such imagery is powerful and provides a ton of material for discussion.

In this post, however, I want to talk about some of the Old Testament references that show up in the armor of God passage. If we get some of the OT context, we’ll catch a glimpse of the cosmic vision that Paul has in mind throughout Ephesians. So, to refresh your memory, here’s what Paul says:

Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
(Ephesians 6:14-20 ESV)

The first part of this passage comes from Isaiah 59.

Truth is lacking,
and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.
The LORD saw it, and it displeased him
that there was no justice.
He saw that there was no man,
and wondered that there was no one to intercede;
then his own arm brought him salvation,
and his righteousness upheld him.
He put on righteousness as a breastplate,
and a helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on garments of vengeance for clothing,
and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak.
According to their deeds, so will he repay,
wrath to his adversaries, repayment to his enemies;
to the coastlands he will render repayment.
(Isaiah 59:15-18 ESV)

In context, this passage is referring to God working salvation for Himself. Finding no one who overcomes the injustice in the world (esp. in connection to exiled Israel), God Himself comes down as a warrior-redeemer and executes justice against the enemies of Israel.

The bit in Ephesians 6 referring to the “readiness given by the gospel of peace” also borrows imagery from – Surprise! – another passage in Isaiah. Take a look:

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
(Isaiah 52:7 ESV)

So I just bombarded you with a bunch of text from Isaiah. Why? I’d like to suggest that the Isaiah context helps us to understand the armor of God better and, in fact, fits very well with what Paul is saying about spiritual warfare. Remember, Paul tells us that our struggle isn’t against flesh and blood, but against “the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). We are engaged in the cosmic battle against the spiritual world-rulers that have dominion over the universe (cosmos) in the present age. But whose armor are we wearing? Not ours, but God’s!

Here’s why Isaiah fits. In Isaiah, the prophet envisions God arriving as a warrior-redeemer, much like He did in the days of Moses. Long ago, when the Hebrews were enslaved to Egypt, God acted decisively in the Exodus, contending against the rulers, gods and spiritual powers that had dominion in Egypt. As God acted in the past, so He will act in the future. For the prophet in Isaiah, God’s redemption of Israel from the Babylonian exile will be a New Exodus.

In Ephesians 6, we have God’s redemption played out on a cosmic scale. He is defeating the evil rulers and authorities and inaugurating His reign as the true King of the cosmos. If that’s so, why is it that Paul tells us to put on the armor of God, when it’s clear from Isaiah that it’s God wearing the armor and doing the conquering?

I think it has to do with what Paul says about the Church in Ephesians 3:

To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
(Ephesians 3:8-10 ESV)

In Ephesians 1, Paul explains the decisive plan that God has enacted in the death and resurrection of Jesus, setting Christ as the head over all things, “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Eph 1:21). This has resulted in the creation of the Church, the Body of Jews and Gentiles united in Christ. Thus, the wisdom and glory of God’s plan set forth in Christ is now demonstrated through the Church to all the spiritual rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

To pull it all together: God is in the business of reclaiming and redeeming the world for Himself from the spiritual world-rulers that have dominion in the present age. This follows – rather, fulfills – the pattern set forth in Israel’s Exodus and rescue from Exile. He is executing this plan in Christ and demonstrating it through the Church, the Body of Christ. In this sense, we – not merely as individuals, but as the Church – bear the armor of God. We are a “holy temple,” God’s presence in and for the world.

One last thing (I promise): how is God reconquering the world for Himself? What’s the means? I like how Paul puts it at the end of the section on the armor of God:

To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

It’s not new ideology, or better education, or faster technology, etc. ad infinitum, that conquers the world, but the bold proclamation of the Gospel. Amen, and amen, to the praise of His glorious grace.

Reading Scripture, Remythologizing Love

God is Love

I recently picked up a copy of Kevin Vanhoozer’s Remythologizing Theology: Divine Action, Passion, and Authorship. As an amateur reader, I’m not qualified to comment at length about his argument (I’m also barely 1/3 of the way through). Vanhoozer’s remythologizing is actually a response against certain strands of liberal theology, which “demythologize” God, debunking the idea that God is some supernatural being “out there.” To quote Rudolf Bultmann: “The question of God and the question of myself are identical.” Thus, liberal theology collapses the God/world distinction. In contrast to the demythologizers, Vanhoozer starts with the fact that God speaks. God is a God who communicates to us and says things about Himself. But Vanhoozer is not only serious about what God says, but also about how God says what He says.

At least, that’s what I’ve gathered so far (my apologies if you stumbled onto this blog expecting a review/critique of Vanhoozer’s work).

Well, all that heavy theologizing got me thinking about the relationship between God’s Word and my main area of service (youth group). In particular, I wonder whether the conscience of our upcoming youth takes its cues from culture or from the sound doctrine of Scripture. There is evidence, I think, that we’ve been lulled into thinking about God on our terms, rather than thinking about ourselves on His terms.

Take, for example, the way we talk about God’s love. As a volunteer in my church’s youth group (myself being a graduate of evangelical youth culture), I have seen how middle-school, high-school, even college age students latch onto the idea of love as the preferred way of thinking about, talking about, and relating to God. God loves us, we say, and we ought to love God back. Love is the catch-all term. No doubt, “God is Love,” as 1 John 4:16 says. Unfortunately, I fear that our concept of love is derived not from Scripture, but from our favorite worship song/band, Christian book, or (even worse) pop culture. Instead of seeking to understand the covenant-keeping love proclaimed in the Word, we content ourselves with speaking of God’s love in romantically-driven, politically-correct, or moralistic terms.

  • Romantically-driven: For example, how many of our favorite worship songs might as well be love songs? It’s a problem when replacing every occurrence of “God” or “Jesus” with your girlfriend’s/boyfriend’s name doesn’t really make a difference in the song.
  • Politically-correct: When we, in the name of love, condone lifestyles (not just homosexuality, mind you, but also, say, premarital sex) that are clearly prohibited in Scripture, we can be sure that our concept of love comes more from culture rather than from Christ.
  • Moralistic: Too often, our practice of Christianity amounts to being “nice” to each other so that we can all be “happy.”

This will not do. To quote Vanhoozer (quoting another author), “Projecting even our best thoughts about love falls short of the divine reality: ‘When we equate God simply with anything that is true, good, or beautiful, then it is those things which define God, rather than God who defines them’ ” (176). We must not make God in our own image, constructing a bigger version – an idol – of ourselves. Romantic love blown up to superhuman proportions is not the love of God. This is to commit the mistake of the Greeks, whose gods were merely humans, super-sized. It is to demythologize God, collapsing the distinction between Creator and creature.

Humans are prone to idolatry. To counteract this tendency, our patterns of thought must always be renewed by Scripture. Vanhoozer puts it well (161-2):

The solution is to focus on the form of Jesus Christ. While human individuals and societies image God inconsistently, the person of Jesus – and this includes his way of relating to others – is the “image of the invisible God” (Cor 1:15). The New Testament fills out with specific content what would otherwise remain abstract, identifying the image that Jesus makes visible with “true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:24; cf. Col 3:10-15). Even these notions need to be “earthed,” and we do this by identifying them with the concrete pattern of action, reaction, and interaction that characterizes the life of Jesus. That means attending to the Biblical mythos that renders his identity.

To understand God’s love rightly, we must look at Jesus Christ, and this means paying attention to what God has said in the Bible. Again, this is not the Jesus of pop culture, the buddy Jesus, or anyone other than the Jesus attested to and revealed in Scripture. Vanhoozer takes God’s speaking seriously, and so should we. To speak truly of God, we must allow His way of speaking of Himself to shape our way of speaking of Him.

This is not to say that worship songs or other secondary sources are unhelpful. These should serve a ministerial (pointing us towards God) rather than a magisterial (defining God for us) function. Songs extolling God’s love will lead us into the heart of worship only if our knowledge of His love is constantly being informed and renewed by Scripture. There is no true worship without an understanding of His Word.

So I’ll end this post where Vanhoozer begins his book – with God speaking in the Scriptures. Working through Vanhoozer’s Remythologizing has reminded me of the importance of reading the Bible and reading it well. “All Scripture is God-breathed” and has the power to change the way we live, think, and act. That’s something we all need to hear. May God have mercy on us, for unless He first speaks to us, our best thoughts will still fall short of His glory.

Jeremiah 29: Not Your Average Hallmark Greeting

Jeremiah 29:11

As I was reading Jeremiah today, I came across one of the most famous passages of the book, chapter 29 verse 11:

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

I can imagine this verse being set to a Hallmark card accompanied by an inspirational photo in the background. And in fact, a quick Google Image search of “Jeremiah 29” yields just that: dozens of cute/inspirational/tranquil etc. images, each with the text of Jer 29:11.

Well, I don’t want to spend my time bashing these images for being tacky or misleading (in the sense that they lead us to interpret the passage out-of-context). Jeremiah 29:11 certainly is a beautiful and comforting passage. But I’d like to suggest that when we read this verse in context, we aren’t just left with the fuzzy feeling of a Hallmark greeting. Instead, we gain a lasting impression of God’s redemptive grace.

First, consider the historical context. The passage is part of a letter that Jeremiah sent to the Israelite exiles in Babylon. Jeremiah 29:2 tells us that “[t]his was after King Jeconiah and the queen mother, the eunuchs, the officials of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen, and the metal workers had departed from Jerusalem.” You can read the full narrative of these events in 2 Kings 24. In short, the best and the brightest of Judah have already been exiled. The Zedekiah described in Jer. 29:3 is basically a puppet governor of King Nebuchadnezzar (Zedekiah will later rebel, and the rest of Judah will be exiled to Babylon). All of this is happening to Judah because of their sin and idolatry.

So what should we make of all this history? Well, the actual contents of the letter that Jeremiah sends to the exiles is surprising, given the historical context. Consider Jer 29:4-7:

Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters…But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

In other words, Jeremiah is telling the exiles that they are going to spend a long time in Babylon. This likely isn’t something they wanted to hear. Remember, Babylon is the enemy of Judah. Indeed, Jer. 27-28 is about how false prophets in Judah are promising that Babylon will fall and the exiles will return. As much as Jeremiah himself wishes that this were true (see Jer. 28:6), he is clear about God’s word: Judah will go into exile and live among the Babylonians.

To summarize, Judah is going into exile for her idolatry, and this exile is going to be longer than expected. Judah is experiencing the consequences of her sin; God is judging her. Jeremiah 29:11 isn’t just about God promising to do good and to bless people in general; Jeremiah 29:11 is about God promising to do good for Israel despite her radical unfaithfulness towards him. Thus, it is a testament to God’s continuing grace for His people despite their failure to keep the covenant.

Far from killing the good feelings we have towards Jer. 29:11, reading it in context humbles us before the majesty of God’s grace. The focus, as it turns out, isn’t on us, or even on Judah. The main speaker, the initiator, and the star actor in the passage is God. Jeremiah 29 offers a glimpse into the character of God. Here are several things we learn about Him:

First, we learn that God is sovereign and that his sovereignty is characterized by grace. In 29:14, God says that He is the one who has sent Judah into exile. Despite how it may look from a human perspective, Judah is not at the mercy of her enemies. Her exile is not just the story of the Babylonian war machine gobbling up another smaller nation as it tightens its grip on the ancient near-east. Instead, it is the story of God chastising his people and judging them for their unfaithfulness. Throughout all this, God-not King Nebuchadnezzar-is the one who is in control.

Since God is in control, exile does not spell the end of the Israelite nation. Carry on while you are in exile says God, because His plan for Israel is a plan for wholeness, for hope, and for a future. Even mighty Babylon will one day fall to the Persians (who will fall to the Greeks, who will fall to the Romans…), but there will always be a remnant of Israel. From this remnant, Israel will receive her Messiah, who will not only save Israel, but all of humanity from sin and death. God shows grace to Israel by preserving her in exile.

Surprisingly, God’s grace is also extended to the Babylonians, Judah’s enemies, through the Israelite exiles. Seek the welfare of Babylon, says God; pray to the LORD on behalf of its inhabitants. Yes, exile is a bad thing for Judah, but through all this, the Babylonians come into contact with the people who worship the living God–the people whose destiny is to become a blessing to all nations. Despite their failure to live up to their high calling, God’s people, by His grace, continue to be a priestly nation even while they are being judged in exile.

All that to say: Jeremiah 29 reminds us that God is sovereign, that He is gracious, and that His grace extends even to the enemies of Judah. God continues to be faithful, even when the Israelites have been radically unfaithful. Judah’s exile isn’t the end of the story for God’s people, but a chapter in the narrative of redemption that will culminate in the coming of Jesus Messiah. In this sense, Jeremiah 29:11 is not an ancient Hallmark greeting. It is God’s promise to remain faithful to his plans for redemption, a testament to His sovereignty and grace.