When your child lays in bed at night and wonders again and again if her confession of faith really counted, have you ever pointed her to the story of the Flood? Or the Exodus?
When you have doubts about your own salvation, do you look for comfort in the Exile? Or the Diaspora?
These Old Testament stories are more than Sunday School lessons in Christian behavior; they are a collection of evidence that God is faithful to His promises – to His people – through every circumstance and every generation. When we read them, we learn that He will never abandon His beloved, no matter what. These are the accounts that sooth the sin-weary soul.
These are the accounts that build our faith in God.
Consider the time of the Exile and the ensuing Diaspora. After the Jewish people were exiled from Jerusalem, they wondered if God’s covenant with them was still “on”. They probably lay in their beds and doubted their salvation, just as we do ours at times. They had every reason to wonder: God had continually beckoned them to repent of idolatry and disobedience, but they didn’t. They were very much just like us.
They were facing circumstances that shook their faith.
God allowed the terrible suffering of attack, exile, slavery, and dispersal to correct, heal, and win His people back. Their beloved Jerusalem was destroyed along with the city wall and the temple. Their families were torn apart, and their culture, land, and community were completely uprooted.
The safety nets that had given them a sense of peace with God – the temple, priests, prophets, land, and community – were all gone.
All that remained was God himself.
Years after the exile, when King Cyrus the Great allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem, some returned only to discover that the land was in disarray and the rebuilding project was difficult to jumpstart. Though they were back home, they wondered, “Are we still God’s people?”
Countless others chose to stay in Persia where they struggled with the same question.
For Jewish people living in the Diaspora – after the exile – the big, theological question was, “Are we still God’s people?”
The books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and 2 Chronicles answer the Jewish people who returned to Jerusalem.
The book of Esther answers those who stayed in Persia.
In every case, the resounding answer is, “Yes. You are still God’s people. Count on Him to keep His covenant.”
When we read Scripture, one day at a time, our faith in our covenant-keeping God grows. For example, we can look for His persistence and faithfulness in the book of Esther: just when everything tangible about God has disappeared, He’s still there orchestrating events and directing hearts because He tenaciously loves His people.
Look for His faithfulness in every Old Testament story you know: notice again and again that His love does not depend on our merit or perfection, but upon His just, faithful, and loving character. Then look at the Cross, where every Old Testament story finds its home and rest: there we see the one person full of merit and perfection – Jesus Christ – who embodies God’s love for us all along.
Usually, when we doubt our salvation, we are actually doubting our own merit, doubting our ability to live up to God’s standards. In such doubting, we are spot-on. However, we must remember that the truth of our inadequacy is only part of salvation. Our salvation does not rest in our recognition of our own failures, weaknesses, and sins. Our salvation rests in Christ alone, who loves us and gave His life for us.
The essence of salvation is trusting this God who keeps His promises, soothes our doubts, and saves the day every time we cannot.
“I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8: 38-39
“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” from Romans 10