As parents we’re always, one way or another, making plans for our families, especially our children. Melissa and I are smack dab in the middle of raising older teenage boys and one of those plans is trying to determine whether college is on the table. If so, which college, what major, how much can we afford, and so forth. If college isn’t on the table – and I’m not convinced that every child is college bound. There are plenty of young adults that have personalities that lend themselves to getting into the workforce and learning on the job skills and trades. So, if college isn’t on the table for our boys, then what jobs and interests are there for them to pursue.
In addition to all of that we’re trying to make plans for retirement. We’re considering plans that include caring for aging and widowed parents. We’re making plans for holiday gatherings, and thinking about the plans for the coming week. As your pastor, I have to carve out time in my weekly and monthly schedule to plan for sermons and Bible teaching. I work with our staff and Deacons and Church Council to make financial plans, and ministry plans, and worship plans. All of us are involved daily, weekly, monthly, yearly and so on, in some sort of planning.
Today, as we conclude this 4-week sermon series on hope, I want to take you to one of the most beloved and beautiful and encouraging passages of hope in all the Bible. It is a section of Scripture that tells us that God has a great plan for us, as a church. It teaches us that God has a positive future for us, as a people. And it contains a principle that tells us God has not brought us this far only to leave us and forsake us, but rather that He has a great plan and a great purpose for us. We have no idea just how great and glorious His plans are for us. His future for us is intensely positive. He has plans for us that include spiritual success and eternal glory.
So, let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to Jeremiah 29. As you’re finding your place, however, I need to begin with a little disclaimer, a little warning, a little correction. It’s very important that we understand the context of these verses, and that we understand who the original audience was and what these verses meant for them in their immediate situation before we move to making application for our own times. If we don’t start here, then we run the risk of misinterpretation and misapplication and twisting God’s Word to say what we want it to say, rather than hear it for what it is – God’s message to His people.
With that being said, let me set the stage for us. God is the speaker. Jeremiah is the writer. And God’s people – specifically the people of Israel – are the audience. This is a letter that is tucked inside the larger writings of the prophet Jeremiah. It’s a letter that God has dictated, if you will, to Jeremiah to deliver to the people of Israel who are living in a foreign land, and who are living under captivity. Yet, this letter contains a message that was intensely positive in a time that was intensely painful.
These words came at a time when God’s people desperately needed to know that they had a hope and a future and that God had plans for them, as His people. As this was given in this hour and this day they were living outside their land. They were under God’s divine discipline. It was at this time that they so desperately needed to hear these words from their God – that I have plans for you, and they are plans for your welfare and they are not plans for your calamity. I have a plan for you to take you into the future and you ought to be filled with hope this very moment and this very hour. I believe this is God’s message for us today.
Today, I have four things I want us to see. But before we consider the first point, let’s read these verses together. Jeremiah 29:1-14:
1 These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 2 This was after King Jeconiah and the queen mother, the eunuchs, the officials of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen, and the metal workers had departed from Jerusalem. 3 The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. It said: 4 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But 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. 8 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, 9 for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord.
10 “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek Me and find Me, when you seek Me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
God’s Word Was Sent
The first point I want us to understand is that God’s Word was sent (vss. 1-3). God spoke to His prophet, Jeremiah, and gave him the content of this message. Jeremiah, in turn, sent the letter from Jerusalem to the spiritual leaders of the nation of Israel that had been taken into exile in Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. Now we know, from the end of the Book of Jeremiah (chapter 52) exactly how many people were in exile at this time – 3,023 Jews – probably referring only to the adult male population. So, it’s quite possible that there would have been as many as 10,000 Jews that had been taken captive against their will. And Jeremiah wrote this letter, as it was given to him by the living God, and he gave it to two men: Elasah the son of Shaphan and Germariah the son of Hilkiah to deliver to the people of Israel. So, God’s Word was sent.
But I also want to pause and make sure that you understand that this letter was nothing more and nothing less than the inspired and infallible Word of God. I want you to take your eye and follow along with me through the entire chapter and notice an unmistakable theme. Look at how verse 4 begins: “Thus says the Lord of hosts…” Look at verse 8: “For thus says the Lord of hosts…” Look at verse 10: “For thus says the Lord…” In the middle of verse 11 we read this phrase, “declares the Lord…” In verse 14 that phrase is mentioned twice. Let your eye come down to verse 16: “Thus says the Lord…” Look at verse 17: “Thus says the Lord of hosts…” In verse 19 we see that little phrase again (twice), “declares the Lord…” Verse 20 begins this way, “Hear the word of the Lord…” Verses 21 and 25 both begin, “Thus says the Lord of hosts…” Verse 30 says, “Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah…” Verses 31 and 32 say, “Thus says the Lord…” And the passage ends with that little phrase again, “declares the Lord…”
It’s unmistakable. It’s impossible to read Jeremiah 29 and not hear the thunder of this chapter – again and again and again – that this is the Word of the Lord. It’s unquestionable. It’s the inspired and inerrant Word of God. If there’s one thing that we (at Mountain Hill) want, it’s to be known as people who believe that the Bible is the Word of the Lord.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers, wrote this many years ago and it’s still true today: “This volume is the writing of the living God; each letter was penned with an Almighty finger; each word in it dropped from the everlasting lips; each sentence was dictated by the Holy Spirit. Albeit that Moses was employed to write its histories with his fiery pen, God guided that pen. It may be that David touched his harp and let sweet Psalms of melody drop from his fingers, but God moved his hands over the living strings. Solomon sang songs of love and gave forth words of consummate wisdom, but God directed his lips. If I follow the thundering Nahum, when his horses plowed the waters or Habakkuk when he sees the tents of Kishon in affliction. If I read Malachi when the earth is burning like an oven. If I turn to the smooth pages of John who tells of love, or the rugged chapters of Peter who speaks of fire devouring God’s enemies. If I turn aside to Jude who launches forth an anathema upon the foes of God, everywhere I turn in the Bible I find God speaking. It is God’s voice, not man’s. The words are God’s words, the words of the Eternal, the Invisible, the Almighty, the Jehovah of the ages.”
So, it was God’s Word that was sent to the exiles. Not Jeremiah’s word. Not Nebuchadnezzar’s word. Not some unknown, anonymous, author’s words. It was God’s Word. And you and I can take comfort in hearing these words today.
God’s Wisdom Was Shared
Beginning in verse 5, what we find contained in this letter from God was divine wisdom – wisdom for daily living, wisdom to help God’s people live successfully in difficult times. Do you need that today? Do you need God’s wisdom to help you live successfully in a difficult world? You better believe it. We all need God’s wisdom, and so we read very practical advice. In verses 5-7 God basically says, “Listen, you’re going to be here a while, so go ahead and build houses and raise your kids – give them in marriage and have grandchildren. This place where you are is going to be home for quite some time.”
Now this is how Jeremiah 29 is often misquoted. People don’t realize the context of the verse was divine discipline. They don’t realize that God was punishing His children for their disobedience. But that’s what’s taking place. The Jews had been living in the Promised Land for 490 years prior to this time. And one of the pieces of wisdom that God had shared with them when they came into the Promised Land was that every seventh (7th) year was to be a sabbatical year. They were supposed to let the land rest. But they disobeyed that little piece of God’s wisdom and said, “Hey, thanks but no thanks, God. If we work on the seventh year, then we can make even more money, we can be even more productive. Let’s not rest on the seventh year.” So, one of the ways that God got their attention was to allow them to be taken into captivity. Jeremiah 29:10 tells us that they’re going to be in captivity for 70 years. If you do a little math and take 490 years and divide that by 7 – representing the sabbatical year – you end up with 70 years. God says, “Hey, you didn’t listen to my initial wisdom concerning the sabbatical year, so I’ll get your attention.” Now, to be fair, there were many other reasons that God allowed them to be taken captive as well. They were turning to idols and becoming more and more like the pagan nations around them. So, it wasn’t just this sabbatical year issue.
But the point is this: this isn’t just some short detour from their normal way of life. If you were among the elders and older generation, then there’s a good chance you’re not going back to your homeland. You’re going to die in captivity. So, the instruction that God gives them here is very basic: settle down and live your lives. And notice verse 7, “But 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.”
Now wait a minute. This is a pagan city. This is a secular and godless city, and yet God is telling them to seek its welfare. God says, “I don’t want you to be needlessly offensive. I don’t want you to be provocative when you don’t need to be. Rather, I want you to be a peacemaker. I want you to love your enemies. I want you to live in a way that would honor me, while you’re there living in this pagan land. Intercede for this city, because when it prospers you will prosper.” So what God is saying is this: don’t be troublemakers, you don’t need to be needlessly irritating, rather you need to seek the very best for the city and town and country where you’re living.
Isn’t there some wisdom here for us too? We’re living in a pretty pagan and godless society today, aren’t we? Shouldn’t we seek the welfare of our communities? Shouldn’t we seek to be peacemakers, if at all possible. We don’t need to be needlessly irritating and offensive. Now don’t misunderstand me. When we share the Good News of the gospel and let people know that they’re sinners in need of a Savior, that message will oftentimes sound offensive. It will oftentimes seem irritating, but that’s not what I’m talking about. We need to love our neighbors even while we hold out the truth of God’s Word. But there’s a way to share the truth in love and there’s a way to share the truth in arrogance and irritation. Let’s not compromise the Word of God, but let’s also find ways to speak with grace and love.
God’s Warning Was Sounded
Look at verses 8-9, “For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in My name; I did not send them, declares the Lord.”
Now there are two things that I need to clarify for you. When you look back at verse 1 you’ll notice that this letter was sent by Jeremiah to the spiritual leadership of the nation of Israel, and that included priests and prophets. So, what gives? Well, apparently what God is saying here is that there are false prophets among the crowd. There are self-proclaiming preachers among the Jews. There are people that want the authority and the power that comes along with being a spokesman for God, and so they just took it upon themselves to do that. They weren’t called by God. They didn’t surrender to the call of ministry. They’re frauds. They’re imposters. And God warns the people to be on guard against their message, because it’s not coming from Him.
In fact, if you flip back one chapter to Jeremiah 28 this is what you’ll read: In that same year, at the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the fifth month of the fourth year, Hananiah the son of Azzur, the prophet from Gibeon, spoke to me in the house of the Lord, in the presence of the priests and all the people, saying, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the Lord’s house, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon. I will also bring back to this place Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and all the exiles from Judah who went to Babylon, declares the Lord, for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.” (Jeremiah 28:1-4)
And if you continue reading that chapter you’ll discover that God did NOT tell Hananiah that He would return the people in two years. Look at Jeremiah 28:12-17: Sometime after the prophet Hananiah had broken the yoke-bars from off the neck of Jeremiah the prophet, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “Go, tell Hananiah, ‘Thus says the Lord: You have broken wooden bars, but you have made in their place bars of iron. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have put upon the neck of all these nations an iron yoke to serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and they shall serve him, for I have given to him even the beasts of the field.’” And Jeremiah the prophet said to the prophet Hananiah, “Listen, Hananiah, the Lord has not sent you, and you have made this people trust in a lie. Therefore, thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will remove you from the face of the earth. This year you shall die, because you have uttered rebellion against the Lord.’” In that same year, in the seventh month, the prophet Hananiah died.
The greatest danger to God’s people while they were in an ungodly place wasn’t the people of Babylon. It was the false teachers within their midst. It was the false prophets that were saying, “Hey guys, don’t worry. This is all going to be over in two years.” They were lying to the people. They were offering a message that they knew the people wanted to hear.
And folks there are false prophets today saying, “Hey, God spoke to me in a dream and this is what He said. Hey, I have a new revelation for you today. God’s going to deliver you from your sickness in 6 weeks. God’s going to bless you with financial riches this coming year. God’s going to restore your broken marriage or your strained relationship with your child. God’s going to see to it that Donald Trump is President for the next four years.” And God can do all of those things, for sure. But we need to be very careful who we’re listening to and how they’re proclaiming God’s message. Because it’s a very dangerous thing to claim to speak for God when He hasn’t said what you’re saying He said. In Hananiah’s case it meant death.
God’s Will Was Sure
That brings us to the last point I want us to see, and it’s actually the main thrust of these verses: God’s will was sure. We pick up in verse 10, and this is what we read, “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.” What God is saying is this: I have a calendar and I have already marked the date when I’m coming back for you. Yes, you’re going to be here for a while, but I know when I’m coming back for you and I’ll be right on time.
Now look at verse 11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” God says, “I have a master plan for you as a people.” It involves where you will be and when you’ll get there. And I just want to break verse 11 down and look at a couple of the specifics of what God is saying here.
First, notice that God knows the plans. He knows fully well what He’s about to do with His people. He knows every detail of His plan. There’s nothing out there that God hasn’t already considered. There’s nothing that could happen or will happen that God isn’t already aware of. And the same is true for me and you. God knows His plans for us.
Second, these plans are carefully designed by God. Notice that these are God’s plans. These aren’t the plans of the people of Israel. These aren’t Jeremiah’s plans. These aren’t Nebuchadnezzar’s plans. These aren’t the plans of some consulting firm. These aren’t the plans of some ecumenical council. They were extremely well-thought out. Nothing was left to chance. Nothing is left to blind fate. God is the great designer.
Third, notice that these plans are blessed. The Bible says these plans are for our welfare and not calamity. God is not scheming their demise. God is not planning for their failure or destruction. God is planning for their welfare. That word “welfare” in the Hebrew is actually the word shalom – the Hebrew word for “peace.” These are plans for their good. Who would ever want to go against God’s plans for their life, and yet we do it all the time. I find great hope in the fact that we’re not alone. God goes before us and behind, and He’s right there beside us all the way. All we have to do is be willing to submit ourselves to His plans, rather than our own.
Fourth, notice that these plans are graciously given. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Do the Israelites deserve a future at this point? No, they’ve been disobedient and rebellious, that’s why they’re in captivity. Yet, despite their rebellion, God is already making plans to bless them. God’s out in front of this entire scene and He’s making plans to bless His disobedient children. Sounds a little bit like you and me, doesn’t it?
Listen to these words from Ephesians 2:4-7, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raise us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
Or how about this from Romans 5, “[B]ut God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Fifth, and finally, notice that the goal of these plans is a future and a hope. Now, in one sense the Jews were always going to have a future. You and I are going to have a future. As long as we’re breathing and taking nourishment there’s going to be a future for us. It might be a future measured in minutes or days or weeks, perhaps even years. But that’s not the point of this word. The future for God’s children is always great and glorious. The best is always yet to come. Why? Because God’s plans always point to hope. Hope that’s not uncertain, but hope that’s grounded in the reality of Christ Jesus.
So, as we reflect on this most glorious and beautiful promise of hope in God’s word, may we seek Him with all of our hearts. May we call upon Him. May we pray to Him. May we seek to glorify God in all that we do, knowing that He already has great and wonderful plans for us and our future with Him.