Great Promises from the Prophecy of Jeremiah #1 :
“For I know the plans I have for you ... plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope… You will seek me and find me , when you seek me with all your heart …”
[Jer. 29: 1-14]
I am thinking of a number of reasons for preaching from the book of Jeremiah during this month of prayer and in preparation for 2017. Here are some...
In Chapters 29-31, we find a series of messages to the Jews who were carried into exile in Babylon, under the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar, around the date 586 BC. Whilst this is not a happy situation, God has a message of hope to His people who are in exile. God’s ultimate purpose is to bring them back in to their land. He assures them that He continues to love them with an everlasting love (31:3), but the demonstrations of true love can sometimes be tough. So, Chapter 29 is a chapter in which God says some hard,realistic but loving things by way of a letter written by Jeremiah to His beloved people in exile. Jeremiah has to remind them that they are in Babylon, a place not of their choice, by God’s design, and that this design was meant for their good.
Vv.1-3 This is a letter from God by the hand of Jeremiah from Jerusalem to the exiles in Babylon.
Vv. 4-23 contain the message of the letter. The message in essence was that the Jews would be serving a 70 year exile in Babylon (v.10), and God wanted them settle down in this time, and to stop living in the past. He wanted them to lead productive lives : “Build houses… plant gardens… marry… have children… increase and do not decrease…”. God commanded them not to be dissatisfied and militant, but “to seek the welfare of the city… to pray for it… since in its welfare would be their welfare!” (vv.5-7) Wise words, and utter applicable to us. For many of us, Windhoek is not our home town, or choice of city to live in. But we have been placed here by the providence of God. Settle down and pray for the welfare of Windhoek, for in its welfare you will find your welfare!
There was another matter to consider. False prophets were trying to deceive them, making them restless and dissatisfied, telling them that they would not be in exile for long and that they would return to Jerusalem soon (vv. 8,9). The problem of false prophets is a perpetual problem for us. Who is talking to you at this time? God, by His Holy Spirit inspired Word, or is it your sinful nature/desires or some false prophet talking to you? The rest of the chapter, from vv. 15 - 31 deals with this scourge of misinformation, which so often undermines the godly tranquility and rest to which God calls His people.
In this context false prophets cannot stand the thought of God sending His people into a long exile. They do not like the thought of suffering for the purpose of sanctification at all. They do not see the value of the cleansing effects which suffering and trials under the hand of a good God can bring. Like the modern false prophets they preach that everyone deserves health, wealth and happiness. In Jeremiah’s own words, they constantly preach “peace, peace , when there is no peace” . This certainly is not true of Jeremiah. As the true prophet of God , he must speak the Word of the Lord. A key phrase in Jeremiah is the phrase “the WORD of the LORD came to me”, which is used over 50 times. The Word of God teaches us that God uses suffering in a sanctifying way.
In 1989 John Piper presented a biographical paper on the life of Charles Simeon (1759 -1836), an Anglican Evangelical pastor, at the annual Bethlehem Baptist Church Pastors Conference. In his fifty-four years at Trinity Church, Simeon became a powerful force for evangelicalism in the Anglican church. However for much, if not for most of his long and effective ministry, Charles Simeon endured incredible hostility. John Piper’s paper was entitled “Brothers, we must not mind a little suffering” . This is an excerpt from his paper :
“In April, 1831, Charles Simeon was 71 years old. He had been the pastor of Trinity Church, Cambridge, England, for 49 years. He was asked one afternoon by his friend, Joseph Gurney, how he had surmounted persecution and outlasted all the great prejudice against him in his 49-year ministry. He said to Gurney, "My dear brother, we must not mind a little suffering for Christ's sake. When I am getting through a hedge, if my head and shoulders are safely through, I can bear the pricking of my legs. Let us rejoice in the remembrance that our holy Head has surmounted all His suffering and triumphed over death. Let us follow Him patiently; we shall soon be partakers of His victory".
God’s purpose for the little suffering that Israel had to endure at this time was never designed for evil, but for good, and this thought forms the background to our text in verses 10 -14 :
God promises them here that, although they would not return quickly to their homeland, they would certainly return in time,… after a 70 year period. Now, in the life of a person that is a lifetime. Imagine, having to live a lifetime in a place not of your choice. It naturally begets discontent, and so godly men and women have often cried, “How long, sovereign Lord?” We, in Southern Africa ourselves have lived in a spiritual drought for at least 30 years. We have been pummelled by false prophets, and the spread of a pseudo - Christianity has been alarming. Many sincere Christians are asking that question, “How long, oh Lord will we have to endure this?” How long will the true church be scattered and disunited? Martin Luther in his time, saw the Roman Catholic as a type of Babylon, as He spoke about the Babylonian captivity of the church. The 16th century Reformation broke the Roman yoke as many men and women were led into the freedom that the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ has brought.
Now, please take note, and take courage. Although we may sense frustration with the general state of the church, not being in the place that she should be, be assured that it will come in God's time, and be assured that will be the best time- the right time. With regard to the supreme promise of God regarding the coming of a Messiah, to deliver not only Israel, but the whole world , i.e. all nations from the bondage of sin , the apostle Paul said: “… when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son….” (Gal. 4:4,5); “For while we were weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6)
The promise here to Israel in exile in Babylon, a foreign land of foreign customs and foreign religions, is that God will fetch them and bring them back. Though they are dispersed, among the nations, God will gather them from all the places where He has scattered them, and He promises to gather them and gather them again into one body. The supreme fulfilment of this promise is of course when the whole church, past, present and future shall be gathered in heaven!
This is God’s promise in v. 10. This is in accordance with God's purposes concerning them in v.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 knows the plans that He has for us. Very often we do not know our own thoughts. We struggle to understand and make sense of events that seem to be contradictory in terms of our understanding of God’s goodness. Now we may be uncertain, but God is never unsure or uncertain within himself. He, the omniscient, all knowing God knows the beginning from the end for He is the Alpha and Omega. He knows the way, for He is the Way , the Truth and the Life! Sometimes we doubt whether God’s plans and designs for us are good, but we must trust God. He knows what He is doing, and we must believe that his designs for us are beneficial, even when it seems that God's designs are all against us. The fact remains that He says that He does these things for our good and not for evil. There will be a beneficial outcome in time, though perhaps not when we expect it. We need to be patient until the fruit is ripe. And this is true for ourselves. To illustrate, I would like to quote again from John Piper’s biography on the life of Charles Simeon. Piper writes …
The most fundamental trial that Simeon had —and that we all have — was himself. He had a somewhat harsh and self-assertive air about him. One day, early in Simeon's ministry, he was visiting Henry Venn, who was pastor 12 miles from Cambridge at Yelling. When he left to go home Venn's daughters complained to their father about his manner. Venn took the girls to the back yard and said, "Pick me one of those peaches." But it was early summer, and "the time of peaches was not yet." They asked why he would want the green, unripe fruit. Venn replied, "Well, my dears, it is green now, and we must wait; but a little more sun, and a few more showers, and the peach will be ripe and sweet. So it is with Mr. Simeon."
We need to learn that in God’s economy things take time, and we must always remember that every soul is made for eternity. And even if you do not get to your earthly Jerusalem , the city of your dreams in this life , then , if you have hoped in Christ in this life you certainly will find it in the New Jerusalem, where the Lord Jesus has gone now to prepare a place for you. In the exercise of His plan , Peter says that God is not slow to fulfill His promise (1 Peter 3:9), and if it is a trial like these Jews underwent in Babylon, or whatever trial you may find, be assured that this trial will not last forever. Even death will not separate you from the promises of God.
This shall be in answer to their prayers to God. (Jer. 29:12-15. ) In exile, Israel will learn to pray: 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.
Matthew Henry’s commentary upon this is lovely: “When God is about to give his people the expected good, he pours out a spirit of prayer, and it is a good sign that he is coming towards them in mercy. Then, when you see the expected end approaching, then you shall call upon me. Note, Promises are given, not to supersede, but to quicken and encourage prayer: and when deliverance is coming we must by prayer go forth to meet it.
So, let us enter 2017 prayerfully, fully expecting deliverance from our own Babylonian captivity. God, in His goodness sometimes gives temporary relief on this earth by sending us into a pleasant arbour (Pilgrims Progress), but we always remember that this earth is not our true home.
In the meantime we settle down, have families , grow gardens and multiply. We shall be content, knowing that our heavenly Father is directing all of history and all of the future to a glorious end ! Amen.
 Jer. 6:14, 8:11
 Revelation 6:10 ; Psalm 6:4; 13:1,2