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From Exile to Promised Land

• Greg Boyd

The Bible is not just a text to study. It is a way to hear and know God through the central story of Jesus who delivers us from exile.

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Until the invention of the printing press in the 16th century, no one owned or read their own Bible. In contrast, today most Christians own their own Bible, or Bibles, and we have access to an endless stream of versions at the tip of our fingers on our smart phones. Never has the Bible been more available, and yet, Bible reading among Christians has been declining since the 1960s. Many people know a lot about the Bible through study, but there is often a lack of sitting with the Bible to commune with God. Through simply reading or hearing the Bible, you give yourself a chance to enter the story to allow it to shape you.

In Matthew 5:17-20 Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” This passage shows that Jesus believed the entire Hebrew Bible to be the divinely inspired story of God, and he believed this story had to be fulfilled in him.

In this sermon, Greg explores two questions. First, how does putting Jesus at the center impact how we read the Scriptures devotionally? Secondly, how does Jesus complete the storyline of the Bible? To address these questions, Greg looks at two passages.

In 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, Paul wrote that Jesus died for our sins exactly like Scripture says and that he rose from death exactly as Scripture says. Where exactly does Scripture say this? While we might say that it points to one or two passages from the OT, in actuality, Paul is referring to the OT as a whole.

In Luke 24, on the first Easter morning, we find two discouraged disciples walking on the road to Emmaus. Jesus explained how everything in the Law, Prophets and Psalms—the whole Bible—has to be fulfilled in him. Everything in Scripture points to and culminates in Messiah suffering and rising so the forgiveness of sins could be preached in his name to all nations.

From this we can make a couple of observations about what this means for reading Scripture devotionally. First, notice that Jesus needed to open their eyes to recognize Jesus and had to open their understanding of the Word of God to show them how to read the Bible in this Jesus-centered way. We must read the Bible asking Jesus to open our eyes to find Jesus in it and to allow God to do all he wants to do through Scripture.

Second, this challenges the common idea that there is only one meaning to every Scripture, an idea that is based on secular humanism that was developed in the 17th century. There are many places in the New Testament where the authors saw deeper meaning to Old Testament passages that the original authors did not directly intend. Greg illustrates this by showing how Matthew 2:15 uses Hosea 11:1 to point to Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament in a way that Hosea did not originally see. Then in Matthew 2:17-18, Matthew quotes Jeremiah 31:15 and uses that passage to look for Jesus at the center of the story.

Matthew, writing under the influence of the Holy Spirit, sees a deeper meaning in these passages. He is suggesting that, even though the Jews of his day live in an area of the Promised Land, they are still in exile. Exile isn’t just about where you’re located.  It is about being ruled by and suffering under foreign powers instead of being under Yahweh’s direct rule. In the Jeremiah passage it refers to “Rachel’s weeping.” This comes in the context of a promised new covenant. The weeping is a longing for deliverance, and the Lord promises this deliverance is coming in the form of a new covenant that will bring joy. Here Matthew identifies Jesus as the one who will finally deliver Israel out of their captivity, and ultimately turn Rachel’s weeping into joy.

This leads us to our second question: How does Jesus fulfill the Old Testament?

The Bible tells a story of God creating humans, giving us a vocation to love God, self, others, earth and animals, so God’s will is done on earth as in heaven. It’s a story of humans rebelling, becoming estranged from God, coming under demonic powers, falling into idolatry and going into exile. The rest of the Bible is about God pursuing his people who have entered exile to restore them and the world so that they might be blessed to be a blessing.

God does this by raising up descendants of Abraham, which includes Jacob and Rachel, to be a means of restoring the world. As such, Israel stands in for the whole human race.

God calls his people, “his Son,” and delivers them out of Egypt, but as we’ve seen, Israel continually rejects God. They fall back into bondage to demonic powers of idolatry and return to the captivity of exile.

Even though Israel fails to be faithful to God, God chooses to be a faithful covenant keeper on behalf of Israel. Yahweh himself becomes a descendent of Israel, standing as a representative of all Israel, and thus a representative of all people. While ancient Israel was faithless, Jesus is faithful. He came to lead his people out of exile, which is tied to deliverance from sin and symbolized by the Lord’s Supper.

Jesus’ resurrection declares that the exile of Israel—and therefore of all humanity—has ended. All sins have been forgiven. The destroying angel has been defeated. The power of idolatry has been nullified.

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Topics: Discipleship

Sermon Series: Sermon on the Mount, The Law of Love


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Focus Scripture:

  • Matthew 5:17-20

    Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

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