Sunday, January 1, 2017

GREAT PROMISES FROM THE PROPHET JEREMIAH #1 - Jeremiah 29:1-14 "For I know the plans that I have for you!"

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...

1.     Jeremiah  gives perspective and encouragement in  spiritually  challenging times, and we need  such insight today.
2.      There are a number of  wonderful texts  and promises in Jeremiah, such as this one in verse 11,12 which are quoted  easily  out of context. We do not want to minimize the joy and comfort that this texts brings, but we do want to use them  thoughtfully and responsibly, combining the text   with our own situation, as the Word of God is applicable to all  ages.
3.     We  find ourselves at the beginning of a new year.  The future is always daunting, and we always need to  trust the LORD  for that  which is to come. As for myself,   I am commencing my 28th year  with you. My desire,  as always, is to enter  into this year  thoughtfully and prayerfully, knowing myself to be in the hands of  a Sovereign God who knows what He is doing.  May the message of Jeremiah contribute  to that  understanding.

Context:

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” [1]. 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".[2]  

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?[3] 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.

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