The Company of Pastors

Tim Keller: On Exile and Going Home

One of the primary ways that Tim Keller preaches Christ-centered sermons is by showing how the broad themes of Scripture can only be resolved in Christ.Keller.faculty

Here is a write-up he did for a City to City intensive in 2013 where he traces the theme of Exile and Coming Home. (The copy I received had a few typos that I have cleaned up.)

Homecoming and Exile:

Home is a place where life fully flourishes—spiritually, physically, and socially. It is, therefore, a place of rest and shalom. It is a place where physical life and health is sustained, where our most intimate love relationships are nurtured. The story of the human race, however, is one of exile and a longing for homecoming. Death and disease have marred and ruined God’s good physical creation. Also, society is a Babel—selfishness and pride, exploitation and violence mar and ruin human community. The world as it is not our home. We were made for a place without death or parting from love, without decay, disease and aging. We are, therefore, ‘exiles’ and ‘aliens’ here. Why? Because the human race turned from God to live for themselves, and, therefore, were turned out of the Garden of God and banished from the face of God, our true home. We are alienated from God, our true selves, one another, and from the creational environment.

The Question:
“How can we be brought home? How can the creation be healed and restored? How can death and decay be overcome?”

Jesus Christ took upon himself our alienated state. He was exiled for us. He was born away from home and wandered without a place to lay his head. He was crucified outside the gate, and even cast out of the presence of God (“My God, why have you forsaken me?”) so we could be brought in, brought home. He then defeats death through his resurrection. He will reconcile ‘all things’ (Col.1:16-20) and make the world again into the Garden of God. (Rev.21:1-8)


The Garden of Eden was our true home. There we were perfectly related to God, self, others, and the physical environment (culture). It was the place of perfect shalom—full human flourishing and interdependent, interwoven relationships. God ‘rested’ and we rested. This did not mean that there was no work, but that all things were in perfect harmony, and therefore it was the perfect home.


Sin is choosing self-centeredness over God-centeredness. This is the choice we made in the beginning, and this led to the breakdown of all our relationships. We’ve spoiled our home. We are alienated from God (spiritually,) from our true selves (psychologically), from other human individuals and groups (socially,) and from the natural environment (physically). We were therefore into exile, out of the garden, to wander. Cain, the quintessential ‘lost’ person, is a restless wanderer.


The patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—were called by God to bring his salvation into the world. God tells them that they will receive a land where their descendants can live in blessing and peace (Genesis 12.) However, throughout their lives, they are wanderers who never receive it the promise. In this, they point us to the truth that no country in this world can be our true home now. Even the ‘land of promise’ made to Abraham’s descendants is only a foretaste of final home. Heb 11:9-10 Finally, at the end of the era of the patriarchs, the children of Israel live in Egypt, separated from their true home.


By his mighty hand, God helps Israel escape exile and slavery in Egypt and brings them to the promised land. This is a new major stage in God’s salvation of the world. It is a foretaste of the ultimate escape from exile and the ultimate homecoming. The exodus creates a people who begin to experience a measure of God’s rest (Psalm 95) and healing (Exodus 15.) As far as Israel obeys God, it begins to experience a measure of flourishing, vital community, and joy. Israel
Despite this foretaste, Israel could not re-create the true home the human race needs. They continued to make the same choice of their ancestors Adam and Eve. They continued to turn away from the Lord and as a result life in the land was a misery. Eventually, they lost the land completely, as a penalty for their sin (Nehemiah 9.) The exile to Babylon is again the sign of the human condition, the exile of the human race. However, the prophets describe a return from exile that will mean forgiveness of sins (Jeremiah 31/33) the new birth (Ezekiel 36/37) and even a whole new re-created world. (Is 35. 52)


The Jews return home from exile, but they are still oppressed, under Roman domination. Many recognize that the ecstatic predictions of homecoming in made by the prophets have not been fulfilled. Israel is still, in the most basic sense, in exile. They’ve been brought home, but they are in no way home. Is this the end?


Jesus shows his power over broken nature (the storm,) over demons and inner brokenness ( the demoniac,) over sickness and even death. He has the power, in other words, to restore our true home. How can he do it? Jesus leaves his own true home (Phil 2,) wanders without a home (Mt 8:20,) and is finally crucified outside gate, a sign of exile and rejection (Heb 13:11-12.) He takes our place. He experiences the exile that the human race deserves. He is alienated and cast out so we can be brought home. This is summed up in Luke 9:30- Jesus death and resurrection are the ultimate Exodus, the ultimate escape from exile. When he rose from the grave, he broke the power of death and is a living foretaste of the new heavens and the new earth that will be our true home.


The way Christians live with each other in community is a foretaste of the Shalom and rest that we will experience fully in the end. Matt 5:17-We are a city on a hill—foretaste of the shalom of the future city. 2 Cor 5:8 – Through faith in Christ, when we die we go ‘home’ to be with the Lord, and yet the true home is not a spiritual one but the new heaven and new earth in which we have our resurrected bodies (2 Cor 5:4.)


By virtue of his death and resurrection Jesus reconcile and re-unite ‘all things’ (Col.1:16-20) and make the world again into the Garden-City of God. (Rev.21:1-8) Our final and true home is the city of God—renewed world (Heb 11:16.) The City of God is the Garden of Eden renewed and restored–shalom. And when we get there, we will say something like what Jewel the Unicorn said at the end of the Chronicles of Narnia: I’ve come home at last! I belong here. This is the land I’ve been looking for all my life though I never knew it!



He normally says that there are about 20 of these inner-canonical themes.

I really hope his new book, Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism has more of this in it.

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