Pilgrims in a Strange Land


06, January, 2021Posted by :Zach Ellsworth

Jeremiah 29:4-5, 7 says,

“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…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.”

Whatever your take on American politics might be, one thing is painfully obvious: America is sick. What’s a Christian to do in such trying times?

First, we need to all bear in mind that we are more like Israelites in Babylon than Israelites in Israel. We are pilgrims in a strange land. While we are Americans—or at least live in America—our home as Christians is with God. Our citizenship is from heaven.

The kingdom of Israel was to be ruled according to God’s law. They were to be a righteous and holy people—a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:6). The Israelites would have never dreamed of converting Babylon into a new Israel. That was never the point. Israel—not Babylon—was to be a holy kingdom. And you can’t have an Israelite kingdom when Babylon is king. No, the Israelites were waiting for the day that God would bring them home, restore them to their land, and establish their kingdom once again (Jeremiah 30:3).

The church—not the United States—is called to be a holy people, a kingdom of priests (Revelation 1:6). The church—not the United States—is to be ruled according to God’s law (Matthew 22:36–40, Galatians 5:14). The church is not to make a church out of America anymore than Israel was to turn Babylon into itself. The hope for Israel was leaving Babylon and returning home. The hope for the church—the hope for Christians like you and me—is peace with God in Christ, not Washington D.C.

All that being said, the Israelites would have been very concerned with the affairs of Babylon. If Babylon viewed them favorably, living faithfully would be much easier. Worshipping God would be much easier under a king who thought more highly of the LORD than not (whether or not the king himself was faithful). But were that favorable king to die and a new, less favorable king rise to power, the Israelites would have never been concerned about “losing Babylon”.

As the American Church, we have much to be thankful for. In so many ways America is significantly better than Babylon. And we should hope for, pray for, and work for America to be a godly nation. The more aligned America is with God’s law, the easier it will be to live faithfully. The more stable America is, the more stable we can be in our endeavors to love God and our neighbors.

But our hope is not in America as a Christian Nation. We can desire that America be governed Christianly in order to live lives pleasing to God more easily. And we can be sad to see America in turmoil, and nervous about what it might mean for our ability to live as Christians. But we must not despair about “losing America”. The church—not America—is God’s Holy Nation. And no less than the King and Judge of all Creation has given us his word that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).