“Thus says the Lord:
Keep your voice from weeping,
and your eyes from tears;
for there is a reward for your work...”
— Jeremiah 31:16 (NRSV)
Rewards for good work are bound up in the theology of return from exile.
We might think, “What has ‘exile’ got to do with us?”
Redemption is Return from Exile
Countering default assumption, theology of redemption was born from the Old Testament, not the New. Abraham’s relationship with God proved that (Genesis 12 onward). A case might also be made for Noah (Genesis 6–7). Continually that redemptive theology has played itself out through the thirty-nine canonical books under the Old Covenant.
The idea of redemption is nothing more elaborate than God scooping down to pick us up from the barrel bottoms of our own unregenerate selves.
All who are saved were once lost in their irreconcilable sin—or so they thought, until a Saviour was known. The Messiah, Jesus, expunged the cost of the sinner’s sin. Though saved persons may continue to sin, because of the fallen nature, their redemption at Jesus’ stead is of the nature of a return from exile.
So far as good work is concerned, the most important good work we can do is accept the work of the cross. That is, for us, redemption from exile—for all of us were in exile; and all are released at their acceptance of the work of the cross and belief in the resurrection.
This is the simplest, most comprehensive form of redemption from exile in the entire history of humankind. There is but one condition: acceptance.
What Redemption and Return from Exile Will Truly Mean
Blessing is a superficial rationale for the redeemed. The Lord always meant for a deeper transaction to take place. After all, there is a hope beyond us; enduring through our children, and beyond, so long as the godly agenda of hope exists.
The hope in Jeremiah’s passage for the remnant returning from exile was that tear-borne days were ending. Hope for a future they could believe in was on the horizon (Jeremiah 29:10-14). They knew they were in for no holiday as the remnant caravan returned to the holy city. There was much work to do.
It is common, and almost cliché, that we are saved to serve.
The fact of redemption, and our return from exile, has meant we’ve been freed from a scourge for a purpose. And that purpose is to make good the lives we have; for righteousness, justice, and equity (Proverbs 1:3; 2:9)—to be hewn in the mode of action.
Exiles were we all. But this is no longer the case. Where once there were tears, and justifiably so, there is instead reward for the work of acceptance: because of the cross, “It is finished.” (John 19:30)
When we’re saved, we have freedom and meaning in our work for the Kingdom, and it’s a delight to join the work God already has underway.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.