In Jeremiah 29:10-14, we read a story of a group of people who had everything going for them, and then their lives got turned upside down and shaken up over and over as well.
We’ve heard it said that God loves us and has a wonderful plan for our lives. It’s easy to agree when we like the plan. But sometimes, things in our lives take a turn.
The same thing is true of the Jewish people in Jeremiah 29. The year is 597 BC. God is judging the nation of Judah because of their unfaithfulness. The Babylonians have attacked Jerusalem. They’ve taken 3000 prisoners back to Babylon, including the king, the court officials, and the craftsmen. And the Jews are saying “This isn’t supposed to happen to us! We’re the chosen people! We’re the apple of God’s eye! What is going on?”
The Babylonians invade the land of Judah in 597 BC, the captives are probably thinking, “This isn’t going to last long. God is going to come through for us like He always does! The prophet Hananiah said in Jeremiah 28 that in two years, God will break the yoke of the king of Babylon, and we will be free! We’re coming back home! Praise God!”
But in Jeremiah 29:1-6, Jeremiah writes a letter to the captives in Babylon. And basically, he says “You’re not coming home for a while. Build houses and settle down. Plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters. Be fruitful and multiply.” In other words, ‘You’re not ready to go home because I have plans for you right here in Babylon.”
And then in verse seven, Jeremiah says, “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
And the Jews would have been thinking, “You want us to pray for the community that carried us into captivity? Jeremiah, have you lost your mind? These people are the enemies of God! These are the people who ransacked the city of Jerusalem! How can you ask us to pray for these people?”
And then down in verse ten, God says something else that would have gotten the Jews riled up. He says “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place.”
The Jews had to be thinking, “You mean we gotta live in this rotten country for the next 70 years? Most of us are going to be dead by then! What kind of a plan is this, God?”
But if you look at the Old Testament, you will see that God accomplished great things in the lives of His people during those seventy years.
Number one: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were three of the captives that were taken to Babylon. They went on to become three of the best administrators that the country ever had.
Number two: Daniel was another one of the captives that was taken to Babylon. And because Daniel was able to interpret the dream of King Nebuchadnezzar, he was made ruler over the entire province of Babylon.
Number three: With Daniel’s help, Nebuchadnezzar becomes a believer in God. In Daniel 4:37, he says, “I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride He is able to humble.” This beautiful moment in the king’s life would probably not have happened if it weren’t for the presence of the Jewish people in the land of Babylon.
Number four: Because the Jewish people were able to live in peace under the leadership of Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar, they had time to write some of the greatest books of the Old Testament. 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Psalm 137 were all written during this seventy year period.
Number five: Most important of all, during this 70 year period, the Jewish people were beginning to realize that they needed to get right with the Lord! They were beginning to see that they needed to apologize for the mistakes of the past. Jeremiah 4:18 says that “Your own conduct and actions have brought this upon you.”
How many of you have ever had someone say, “Your own conduct and actions have brought this upon you?” I probably heard that a million times as a child growing up. But there are times when we need to hear it. And this time, the Jewish people need to hear it. Because for years, they have been under the impression that because they are the chosen people, and because they are the guardians of the temple of the Lord, they can live their lives any way they please. And God says in Jeremiah 7:4, “Do not trust in deceptive words. If you reform your ways and change your actions, I will let you stay in the land.” But they didn’t listen. And God is using these seventy years of exile to show the Jewish people where they went wrong. And what they need to do to make things right.
So when you look at the big picture, you can see that God is working behind the scenes in the hearts and in the lives of the Jewish people. Even though they can’t see it.
God’s plan isn’t always what we thought it was going to be. But God’s plan is always best. Even if we don’t understand it at the time. Even if we can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Even if we would never have chosen this path for ourselves.
And that brings us to Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord.” And then Jeremiah says that “God has plans to prosper you and not to harm you.”
When I talk about God prospering us, I’m not talking about everyone in church winning the Powerball jackpot (as appealing as that may sound). I’m talking about enjoying the everyday blessings of God that are mentioned in verses 4-6. The blessings of a place to live, food to eat, families to love, and communities to pray for. All of these things are a sign that we are experiencing God’s plans to prosper us and not to harm us.
Then Jeremiah says that God has ‘plans to give you a hope and a future.’ For the Jewish people, that meant going back to the promised land. But for us, it means going UP to the Promised Land.
If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you have a hope and a future that goes far beyond the parameters of this life. You have a hope and a future where you will be living in eternity with God himself. You have the hope that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. You have the hope that God will someday be finished with the work He’s doing in your life, and that you will reign with Christ forever and ever! You have a certain hope that God’s promises in your life will come true.
In fact, the whole message of Jeremiah is that the word of the Lord always comes true. In the first 25 chapters of Jeremiah, God says over and over again, “I am going to judge the nation of Judah because they have forsaken the Lord, the spring of living water.” And that’s what happened. Because the word of the Lord always comes true.
And in Jeremiah chapter 30:3, God says “The days are coming, when I will bring my people Israel and Judah back from captivity and restore them to the land I gave their forefathers to possess,’ says the LORD.” 50 years later, the Medes and the Persians conquered the kingdom of Babylon. And the Jews were allowed to go back home. Because the word of the Lord always comes true.
And in Jeremiah 31:31, the Lord says “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. With this covenant, No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ’Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
630 years later, God ratified this new covenant when He sent Jesus Christ to die on the cross for our sins. And because of what Jesus Christ did for us on that cross, we all have an opportunity to know the Lord for ourselves. We all have an opportunity to be forgiven! This helped prove once and for all that the word of the Lord always come true.
And because the word of the Lord is coming true in our lives, we need to reach out to the God who makes His word come true. Jeremiah 29:12-14 says “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me and I will listen to 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 will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which carried you into exile.”
It is clear that based upon verses 11-14, that God wants us to prosper, he wants to take care of us. But I want you to look closely at the condition of them being able to re-occupy the lands they were taken from…
In order for the Jews to get their lands back, they had to obey. They had heard God, but now they had to obey. How did they obey in this situation? They had to call on him, come to him, and pray to him. And they had to do it with all of their heart. THEN, they would find God, and THEN they would bring them back from captivity.
I don’t know what is holding you captive in your life today, but if God is not first in your life, and if you are not earnestly seeking after HIM, then you can’t expect to find your new beginning. Today, will you seek him? Will you search for him with all of your heart? God wants to release us from the captivity that has hold of us, and help us prosper…but He can only do that when we look for God before we look for anything else.