God's Plan for His People Jeremiah 29
AN ANCIENT MAN WITH A MODERN MESSAGE
"“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. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me. When you seek me with all your heart, 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. “Because you have said, ‘The Lord has raised up prophets for us in Babylon,’ thus says the Lord concerning the king who sits on the throne of David, and concerning all the people who dwell in this city, your kinsmen who did not go out with you into exile: ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, behold, I am sending on them sword, famine, and pestilence, and I will make them like vile figs that are so rotten they cannot be eaten. I will pursue them with sword, famine, and pestilence, and will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be a curse, a terror, a hissing, and a reproach among all the nations where I have driven them, because they did not pay attention to my words, declares the Lord, that I persistently sent to you by my servants the prophets, but you would not listen, declares the Lord.’ Hear the word of the Lord, all you exiles whom I sent away from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, concerning Ahab the son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah the son of Maaseiah, who are prophesying a lie to you in my name: Behold, I will deliver them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he shall strike them down before your eyes. Because of them this curse shall be used by all the exiles from Judah in Babylon: “The Lord make you like Zedekiah and Ahab, whom the king of Babylon roasted in the fire,” because they have done an outrageous thing in Israel, they have committed adultery with their neighbors’ wives, and they have spoken in my name lying words that I did not command them. I am the one who knows, and I am witness, declares the Lord.”
Many people have a fascination with the future. For some it may be rather mild, you know the kind of person who reads their horoscope every day in the newspaper. For others their fascination with the future is a little more intense and they choose to try and learn about the future by perhaps going to have their palm read, or they may even go so far as to go to someone who has a crystal ball and have them peer into the future. The reality is you can’t discern the future by having your palm read or by peering into a crystal ball. That does not mean that you can’t know what the future holds. God has revealed the future to us in the Scriptures. The future of mankind has been revealed to mankind in the pages of God’s Word.
This is a comforting thought for God’s children. There are so many times in our lives when we wonder just what it is that God is up to. Secretly or maybe not so secretly we ask the question ‘God what are you doing”. We want to know what God is doing in our lives. Let’s apply this to the church. Many times we wonder just what it is that God is up too. We wonder what does the future hold for our church.
I’m sure the people of Judah had many of these same thoughts as they found themselves captives in a strange land. The predicted judgment of God that had been proclaimed through the prophet Jeremiah has finally come. The land has been destroyed; the city of Jerusalem has been destroyed. The Temple at Jerusalem has been dismantled. Many of the people of the land have been killed as family and friends watched helplessly. The best and the brightest of the people of Judah have been led to Babylon where they will spend the next seventy years in captivity. As the realization of their situation begins to sink in the questions began to form in their minds “What are you doing God?” “God, we are your chosen people, you are not going to throw us off for someone else are you?” all reasonable and important questions.
God anticipates their questions and in another act of mercy and grace He shares with them the answers to their questions about the future. What does God say to them concerning His plans for their future?
Before we get to the specifics of what God said, we need to understand to whom God said it to. Many of us read the Scriptures through a self-centered lens. What I mean by that is that God makes numerous promises to His people in the Scriptures, and many of those promises are made to His covenant community of people. Such is the case here. God’s promises for their future were not made primarily on an individual level. These promises, this revelation of God’s plan was made to the community of exiles from Judah. Yes, there are some personal implications that can be drawn from these Scriptures but first and foremost these promises were made to the group not the individual. Therefore the primary emphasis for us this morning is concerning the future of God’s people as a whole. We need to view these Scriptures in relation to God’s community of believers’ before we begin to apply them to ourselves individually.
What does God say to us this morning as a church first and then as individuals second.
1. WE MUST BE PATIENT WITH GOD’S PLAN
First of all God lets them know that they are going to have to have patience while His plan for them is being worked out. Where does God tell them that they are going to have to be patient? He lets them know that part of His plans for them will not take place until their time of captivity was completed. Part of God’s plan for His people would not happen for seventy years. God as part of His plan for their future reveals that He is going to bring them back to their land, He is going to re-gather them from all the lands that He has driven them to. But that was not going to happen for seventy years.
In light of the fact that they were going to be in Babylon for seventy years the Lord wanted them to settle down and live a normal life while they were waiting for God to work out the plan that He had for them. Why do I mention this? I mention it because as we practice patience that does not mean that the life of the church cannot be productive while we are waiting for God’s plan for us as a church to be worked out. We know from God’s word that the future is promising, the future is hopeful therefore we operate based upon that knowledge. We make progress even as we practice patience. We continue to minister as we wait. We continue to reach out as we wait for God’s plan for us to be worked out. We need to be productive even when it seems like God is not doing much.
The implication for our lives is pretty clear. The solution to our problem may not come tomorrow. The answer to our prayers may not come today. It may not come next week. It may not come this year. It may not come for years. God wants us to have patience as He is working out His plan for our lives. Young ladies if marriage is part of God’s plan for you please be patient while God brings your mate to you. Don’t settle for the first ole boy that comes along. Young men, the same applies to you, wait patiently while God implements His plan for your life.
How can impatient people practice patience? Let me give you two ways.
First of all patience is produced in us as we are filled with the Holy Spirit. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." (Galatians 5:22-23ESV)
Our impatience is a sign that we are not living a Spirit – filled life. The primary way that we can be patient people is by being filled with the Holy Spirit. One way that we as a church can be a patient church is by being filled with the Holy Spirit.
There is a second way that we can learn to be patient is by reminding ourselves of the promises that God has made to us about His plan for our future. God said to the people of Judah "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." (Jeremiah 29:11ESV)
We can be patient as we continually remind ourselves of the kind of plan, as we remind ourselves of the kind of future that God has promised us. God says my plan for you is one of wholeness and not evil. My plan is for you to have a future, not a dead end; my plan for you is one of hope, not despair.
Not only must we be patient with God’s plan we must also…
2. WE MUST HAVE CONFIDENCE IN GOD’S PLAN
The reality is confidence in God’s plan is confidence in God. Notice what God says “I know the plans that I have for you.” God makes His plan and God knows His plan. If you read verses 10 -14 the personal pronoun “I” is used repeatedly by the Lord. God says “I know the plans I have for you.” Although we may not know all the details of God’s plans for us, we can be confident in His plans because He knows His plans and He knows all the details. He has told us that his plan for us is a good plan; He has told us that His plan for us is promising.
The God who knows His plan is also the God who is going to carryout His plan. Again as we read the verses that follow verse 11 God lists everything that He is going to do. God says when you pray I will hear you. God says when you seek me I will be found by you. God says I will restore your fortunes. God says I will bring you back to the Land. God says I will re-gather you from all the places I have driven you. As a church, as believers we do not have to be anxious about the future, we don’t have to live in a constant state of worry and anxiety. When we express those emotions we are actually showing that we don’t have confidence in God’s plan for our lives. When we express those emotions we are actually showing that we don’t have confidence in God that He will do what is best for us. God is so gracious to us, He knows our struggles and in the person of Christ He identifies with our struggles and so He assures us that His plan for our future is a good plan, it is a promising plan and it is a plan to give us hope.
If you are a believer you are already experiencing God’s good plan for your life. Your salvation, your redemption is God’s good plan for your life. Your redemption is a promising plan. Your redemption has secured your future, and your redemption has provided you with all the hope you will ever need.
Let’s go back to the condition that the people of Judah were in. They were exiles, they were being held captive against their wills. I’m sure that they had a pretty pessimistic attitude about their situation. But God’s plan for them was one of promise. God’s plan for them was that one day He was going to change the situation that they were currently experiencing. God’s plan was to one day have them released from their captivity. God’s plan was to one day have them brought back home. But keep in mind that was all going to take place sometime in the future. That part of the plan would not be completed for seventy years.
If God’s plans are for the future then we must be careful to not complain about the present. How easy is it to fall into the pity party mode. No one has ever had problems like mine! No body has ever been married to a man like I’m married too. No one has ever has such a jerk for a boss like I have. No one has ever had to put up with such sickness like I’ve had to. When you are tempted to fall into this line of thinking you need to remind yourself of two things. Number One God‘s plan for your life is always a good plan but God never said it was going to be an easy plan. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that God’s good plan means that you will never have any problems. Problems are really blessings, though at the time we are experiencing the problem we have a hard time recognizing it as a blessing. Let’s think about two men and a woman whose lives demonstrate that although God’s plans for their lives were good they were not easy.
First let’s think about Joseph. You know the guy who was daddy’s favorite. Whose wardrobe contained a multi-colored coat. He had eleven brothers and ten of the brothers had it out for him. The ten brothers threw Joseph in a pit and he ends up as a slave in Egypt. But it gets worse for him. He ends up in jail. Through the providence of God Joseph rises to a position of prominence in the Egyptian government and through the plan he devised he saved the land of Egypt from starving during a famine. Again through the providential working of God Joseph is re-united to his ten brothers and when they discover who is was they were more than just a little bit afraid. But what did Joseph say to them? "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today." (Genesis 50:20ESV)
God’s plan for Joseph was a good plan but it was not an easy plan!
Consider Daniel. He was among those who were captured and carried into captivity in Babylon. He was among those whom God made these promises to. Again the plan of God for the people of Judah of which Daniel was a part was a good plan but was it easy for Daniel? Hardly! Daniel was attacked by his co-workers, he was persecuted for his faith and when it seemed like it couldn’t get any worse he was thrown into a den of hungry lions. Not an easy plan but it was a good plan.
Remember Ruth? She wasn’t even an Israelite by birth. She married a Hebrew. He died. She is a young woman who suddenly found herself all alone. Do you think being a young widow is easy? Of course not! But was the overall plan of God for her life good? Yes, guess who was a distant relative of Ruth? If you read Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus Christ here is what you discover. "The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse," (Matthew 1:1-5ESV)
Did you catch it? Did you hear who was tucked away as a relative of the Savior of the world? It was Ruth!
God’s plan for our lives is always good but it is not always easy! Therefore we as Christians must live by faith! The simplest definition of a Christian is one who trusts in the promises of God for the future but he acts on those promises in the present! As Phillip Ryken says “the Christian acts on God’s promises before they are fulfilled.” The exiles were comforted when they had faith in the promises of God. You as Christian will be comforted when you too have faith in the promises of God.
But not everyone has faith in God’s promises. That is what verses 15 – 23 deal with. Without going into great detail I’ll just mention the consequences that those who didn’t believe God experienced. God first of all deals with those people who were left behind in Judah. In spite of God’s predicted judgment that they had already experienced they still were listening to the false prophets who were telling the people that the exile was not going to last seventy years, it was only going to last two years. Because the people didn’t believe God because they didn’t have faith in God’s promises they were going to experience judgment. "thus says the Lord concerning the king who sits on the throne of David, and concerning all the people who dwell in this city, your kinsmen who did not go out with you into exile: ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, behold, I am sending on them sword, famine, and pestilence, and I will make them like vile figs that are so rotten they cannot be eaten. I will pursue them with sword, famine, and pestilence, and will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be a curse, a terror, a hissing, and a reproach among all the nations where I have driven them,"
Then God mentions two men by name. "‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, concerning Ahab the son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah the son of Maaseiah, who are prophesying a lie to you in my name: Behold, I will deliver them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he shall strike them down before your eyes. Because of them this curse shall be used by all the exiles from Judah in Babylon: “The Lord make you like Zedekiah and Ahab, whom the king of Babylon roasted in the fire,” because they have done an outrageous thing in Israel, they have committed adultery with their neighbors’ wives, and they have spoken in my name lying words that I did not command them. I am the one who knows, and I am witness, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 29:21-23ESV)
If they had believed what God had already said, if they had faith in God’s promises then they wouldn’t have been running around and telling the people that the exile wasn’t going to last all that long, just a couple of years and we will all be back home. But they for whatever reason they choose to tell the people a lie! What was the result? They were “roasted in the fire” by Nebuchadnezzar.
Not everyone believes what God says, not everyone has faith in what God says, and for each one who does not believe the Lord, who does not have faith in the promises of God they experience the judgment of God! God’s plans for wholeness, and a future and a hope only apply to those who believe Him, they only benefit those who have faith in His promises.
What do we see here? We see salvation illustrated. Who experienced the good plan of God in their lives? Was it those who believed in God’s promises or the ones who didn’t believe God’s promises? Who is it that experiences the salvation that is freely offered by God to all through Jesus Christ? Is it those who trust in the promise of God or those who don’t trust in the promises of God? Obviously salvation full and free is only experienced by those who believe God, by those who have faith in what God has said.
The second thing that you need to remind yourself of when you are tempted to complain about your present circumstances is to remind yourself of the potential benefits that a believer can experience while they find themselves in less than ideal circumstances. What is that benefit? That brings us to another aspect of God’s plans for His people.
3. WE MUST UNDERSTAND THE GOAL OF GOD’S PLANS
What is this future and this hope that God says He has for His own? "Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me. When you seek me with all your heart, 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." (Jeremiah 29:12-14ESV)
God’s plans for us are personal! Their hope and their future is God! God is going to do a work in their hearts so that instead of going after idols and false gods they will come to Him! Notice all the words of relationship that are used here. You will call upon me. You will come to me. You will pray to me! It is as if God says finally you will pay attention to me, which has been my goal for you all along! Notice this isn’t just a one sided relationship. God says when you call upon me, when you come to me, when you pray to me, I will hear you! But more than that, more than just discovering that God is going to hear their prayers they are going to discover something of even greater value – they are going to discover the One who answers their prayers! Notice what God says “You will seek me, and find ME! When you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you!”
These are encouraging words to all those who have a desire to know the Lord. He can be found! God wants us to find him and so instead of remaining distant He came near to us in the person of Jesus Christ! If anyone has an honest and an earnest desire to know God, God makes them a solemn promise that if they seek Him with all their heart they will find Him! Do you want to know God? Then seek Him diligently! The writer of Hebrews wrote “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him." (Hebrews 11:6ESV)
Listen carefully, a spiritual seek whether they know it or not what they are looking for is Jesus Christ! Jesus is the way to God (See John 14:6), Jesus is the Savior of the World (See Matt. 1:21), and Christ is the answer to all of life’s questions. Jesus Himself said "“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened." (Matthew 7:7-8ESV)
There is certainty in the words of Christ. Don’t doubt Hs word! Belief in His words leads to life! Belief in the Words of Christ leads to eternal life a relationship with the Father that will last for all eternity.
God told Abraham in Genesis 15:1 “I am your shield, your reward shall be very great! The reward that would be very great was God himself!
God’s plans are the very best plans. As one pastor wrote “What could be better than a good, gracious, well-known plans that lead to a wonderful relationship.