New Year 2018 God’s Plans to Prosper You
Jeremiah 29: 1 - 14 Some verses that are taken out of context make us smile, like one often found above changing tables in church cry rooms: “We shall not all sleep, but we all shall be CHANGED.” “Beware the Instagram Bible” - Beware the Instagram Bible…those filtered frames festooned with feathered verses, adorned in all manner of loops and tails, bedecked with blossoms, saturated with sunsets, culled and curated just for you. Beware lest it become for you your source of daily bread. It’s telling a partial truth… Its perfect squares are friend to the proverb, the promise, and the partial quote, leaving laws, lists, land allotments, and long-stretching lessons to languish off-screen. It comforts but rarely convicts. It emotes but rarely exhorts. It warms but rarely warns. It promises but rarely prompts. It builds self-assurance but balks at self-examination. If the prosperity gospel offered us all the things, the Instagram gospel offers us all the feels. It preaches good news in part, but we need the whole. It may move us in the moment, but it cannot sustain us through the storm. My fear is that while our text for today has been copied on plaques and posters, it has not always been clearly understood in context: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
God has used this verse in many of our lives to fan our faith to help us hang on with hope in hopeless situations. No doubt these words are a lifeline for many going through tough times. My aim today is that by considering this text in context, our understanding and appreciation will grow in depth and breadth so we can apply this text to our individual contexts. But first, we might need to do some deconstructing before we can reconstruct what it really means. Check out what God wanted Jeremiah to do in 1:10: “See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” Instead of plucking this verse out of context, we’re going to plant this passage in the garden of God’s glorious grace. Here’s a summary of what we’re going to learn today: God will not always do what we desire but He will always do what He decides.
Considering the Context 1. Who? Jeremiah was both a prophet and priest who ministered for 40 years during the reigns of 5 different kings. He’s been called the “weeping prophet” because of all the pain he experienced while proclaiming God’s message. His message was one of repentance but the people rejected both the message and the man. We’re also introduced to the Babylonians, who were a ruthless and barbaric people. They were the superpower and the terrorists of the ancient world, functioning much like ISIS does today. Their leader’s name was Nebuchadnezzar. Because of the idolatry of God’s own people, God used the Babylonians to discipline and destroy Jerusalem.
2. What? The Book of Jeremiah reads more like a notebook or scrapbook of news clippings that are not necessarily chronological. The book is both prophecy and preaching. Jeremiah calls for repentance over 100 times as he warns people of impending judgment while offering grace and mercy if they would but turn back to God. Here are a couple of verses that have had an impact on my life… • Jeremiah 1: 4 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” • Jeremiah 2: 13 “My people have committed two sins: they have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”
3. When? God’s people were grouped into 12 tribes. After the death of Solomon, a division occurred with the 10 tribes in the north known as Israel and the 2 tribes in the south known as Judah. • In 722 BC, God sent the nation of Assyria to attack Israel and disperse the 10 northern tribes. • Judah should have learned their lesson by watching what happened to their brothers and sisters in the north, but unfortunately their idol worship led to God mobilizing the Babylonians over 100 years later to attack and destroy Judah and the capital city of Jerusalem. 605 BC – After Jeremiah warned the nation for 23 years the Babylonians bust into Jerusalem and took King Jehoikim away in chains along with sacred objects from the temple. This is when Daniel and his friends were taken into exile. • 597 BC – 8 years later, all but the poorest were taken into captivity and all the gold in Jerusalem was sent to Babylon. This is when Ezekiel was sent into exile. • 586 BC – 11 years later, the Babylonians destroyed the city walls of Jerusalem and burned the temple to the ground.
4. Where? Jeremiah is still living among the ruins in Jerusalem after 597BC when he sends a letter to the Jews now living as exiles under the control of Babylon, which is modern day Iraq.
5. Why? Let’s jump off from this question and look at –
5 Lessons We Can Learn - 1. Submit to God’s Sovereignty v. 4 This is the same thing we must settle as well. • Recognize who God is. God refers to Himself with 2 titles – “the Lord Almighty” - the transcendent, mighty and all-powerful God - and also “the God of Israel” - He is in relationship with His special people. To put both of these names together, God is powerful and personal, He is majestic and mine. • Respond to what God does. God sent the exiles “from Jerusalem to Babylon.” This is repeated in v. 7 “I have carried you into exile.” Nebuchadnezzar took them into exile, but he was simply the instrument God used. I’m sure this made no sense to the people and sometimes what God does doesn’t make sense to us either. Listen. Settle this now. He is God and you are not. God’s train doesn’t run on your track. He does what pleases Him, not what pleases you. He is the potter and we are the clay. His ways are not our ways and we have to be OK with that. “Everything is either caused by God or allowed by God, and there is no third category.” God will not always do what we desire but He will always do what He decides.
2. Bloom Where You’re Planted It’s easy to moan about how bad things are, how pagan our culture is and to retreat from where God has placed us. There was that temptation when God’s people were in Babylon as well. Psalm 137: 1, 2, 4 “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps…How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?” But, like they used to say in Israel, “There’s no use crying over spilled milk…and honey.” God gives them 2 commands: • Settle down v. 5, 6 What God says next is surprising. Instead of moaning and complaining about their culture, they were to settle in and settle down. • Saturate around v. 7 They were to build their houses but they were also to open their doors. They were to influence and impact by seeking the city’s success and prosperity as well as peace among the people. They were to live on mission where God had planted them by pressing on, knowing that God had a purpose for His people in the place where He had put them.
3. Flee False Promises v. 8, 9 One of the biggest challenges Jeremiah had was dealing with the “prosperity prophets” who were promising peace and a short stay of only 2 years in Babylon. Be careful about prosperity preachers today as well. Prophecies of peace and financial favour don’t necessarily mean that God wants everyone to be healthy and wealthy. Some pastors misuse this to say that God never wants anything bad to happen in our lives. Before v.11, we have Jeremiah 21: 10 which I’ve not yet seen printed on a coffee mug: “I have determined to do this city harm and not good, declares the LORD. It will be given into the hands of the king of Babylon, and he will destroy it with fire.” We must avoid fake news and fake faith. God will not always do what we desire but He will always do what He decides.
4. Trust God’s Timing “When we don’t wait on God, we will always wish that we had.” We can trust God’s timing because… • God will fulfill His promise v. 10 Let’s just admit that 70 years is a long time, a lifetime actually. One pastor writes, “No matter how bad it gets, it can only last a lifetime.” That means many of the exiles will never return, but their children and grandchildren would. You can count on God’s promises. • God has plans for His people v. 11 Now we come to this terrific text. Here are some implications and applications of this verse: A. God is thinking about His people all the time. The word “you” means He cares for the people He has called to himself, which would be His church today. B. God also cares for people individually. Isn’t it comforting to know that God is thinking about you? Don’t you love it when someone says, “I was thinking about you all day.” It’s mind-blowing that there are over 6 billion people on the planet and yet God has thoughts about you! Psalm 139: 17, 18 “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand.” C. God alone knows what He’s doing. God will not always do what we desire but He will always do what He decides. Before the captivity, God’s people were prone to idol worship. This 70-year time of exile seemed to cure them of that! D. God desires good for His people. The word “shalom,” which refers to wholeness and peace. God is great and good and gracious and like Joseph declared, He loves to bring good out of that which may look bad. E. Our future is bright. The Hebrew here literally reads, “to give you an expected end.” Philippians 1: 6 promises that He will finish what He has begun in our lives. We’re not home yet, but we will be soon.
5. Seek Him Wholeheartedly v. 12, 13 Don’t miss the connection between v. 10, 11 and v. 12. God’s promises and plans should compel us to call out to Him. Jeremiah 33: 3 “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” This is a good reminder that we can’t be passive in our relationship with God: “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” We’re called to not be half-hearted but whole-hearted. Are you seeking Him with all you have? When you long after the Lord, you’ll find what you’re looking for in life. Don’t put this off because one day it will be too late. Isaiah 55: 6 “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near.” I love the promise - v. 14. Don’t you love that God will not ultimately abandon His people or abdicate His promises? God will not always do what we desire but He will always do what He decides.
As we participate in Communion, let’s remember what the Saviour did for us as we seek Him now with our whole hearts. • Time of Confession 1 Corinthians 11: 27 - 29 • Time of Reflection 1 Corinthians 11: 23 – 26
Communion propels us out into the context of our community. Let’s settle into our cities and saturate the communities where love is most needed as we bloom where He’s planted us.