Hope - Jeremiah 29:11
Preached at Sunset Canyon Baptist Church on 8/31/14
Hope - Jeremiah 29:11
by David E. Little
Prayer: Father God, please look out for Lonny and his family while they are away. Be with our church as we move into the fall and two services, be with us as we try to witness for you in the fallen world.
There was a man who, by most counts, lived a God-fearing life. We will call him “Rob.” He had a good job that was prestigious and earned money for him and his family. Rob was a deacon at his church, sang in the choir, and taught Sunday School. He was a good father and a pretty good husband. Rob played baseball with his kids, worked in the yard, and played golf, for starters. In short, life was good to Rob and his family.
Some of you all have a piece of that life – and y’all are blessed.
God says He has a plan for us in Jeremiah 29:11.
Jeremiah 29:11 says in the NIV: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
For Rob and his family that plan looked pretty good. From Rob’s standpoint, one can have a view of God’s plan, and it works pretty well from 21st Century American standpoint.
But is that what the Bible is talking about in Jeremiah 29:11? Let’s look at Jeremiah before we get back to Rob and his family’s story.
Jeremiah is talking to a people who have been exiled. The Israelites, from years of not doing what God wanted, have been exiled. (at the hands of the Babylonians in 597 BC - the Conquest of Jerusalem p. 544 NASB Study Bible). This section of Jeremiah is called the Book of Consolation to interpreters, and in a sermon by Jeremiah to the exiled people of Israel, he tells them not all is lost in their exile. Rather, God has something planned for them. They just need to seek after God with all their heart to get it.
Let’s look at the interpretation for today’s listeners. Israel had gone against God, after He called them to Him. In Isaiah 41:8-10, the Bible says
Isaiah 41:8-10 New International Version (NIV)
8 “But you, Israel, my servant,
Jacob, whom I have chosen,
you descendants of Abraham my friend,
9 I took you from the ends of the earth,
from its farthest corners I called you.
I said, ‘You are my servant’;
I have chosen you and have not rejected you.
10 So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
Sounds pretty good for Israel, doesn’t it. Yet they turned away from God, first taking a King, and worshiping other “Gods,” like Baal and Asherah, time and time again. For that, the Israelites were judged by God. The Northern Israelite Kingdom fell to the Assyrians in 722 BC (p. 523 NASB Study). Jeremiah, where we take our Scripture today, was of the Southern Kingdom, the Kingdom of Judah. They were also were judged by God by their exile from their home and their Temple for 70 years in Babylon.
What does it look like, to be in exile? You are God’s chosen people. God brought you out of Egypt, after 400 years in captivity, by pressing ten plagues upon Egypt, and parting the Red Sea. Then, after Israel still did not get that God loved them and wanted them to worship God only, God had them wander the desert for 40 years, to get a new batch of people to take to the promised land. These are the remnant of those people. They were chosen, placed in the promised land, had a Temple for God to come and dwell in! They were protected by God, had their lives (if they were devout) given to God, and their daily practice was to worship Him in all ways. Then, God had enough. They were conquered, which was something unknown to them (and unheard of in their minds). Their Temple was destroyed. God’s Temple. They were uprooted and taken across the desert to Babylon – a strange place, with strange customs, strange gods, and even their names were change (remember Shadrach, Meshach and Abegnedo – whose Isrealite names were Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah). Most of all they had, in the minds of some, no connection to Yahweh!
(Daniel 3:16-18 New International Version (NIV)
16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us[a] from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”)
Jeremiah 29:10-12 (NASB)
10 “For thus says the Lord, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans that I [a]have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.”
What a blessing for the people to hear that in a foreign land, from one of the prophets of God! It’s not over. This, too, shall pass. Israel and Yahweh will be together again!
The Asbury Bible Commentary puts it like this:
God has set a time for the punishment of the exiles; when that set time is completed, he will return to them with his gracious promise. Judgment is not the last word God proclaims to the sinners. With his grace he reaches out to them to give them a hope and a future. This promise is, however, conditional. In order to enjoy the benefits of God's grace, sinners must call upon him, and seek him with all their heart (29:10-14).
But Israel (and we, today) has to seek God with all their hearts! But what does that mean, and how is it related to Hope?
Bethany Hamilton was a young surfer. She was amazing and at the top of her game. Bethany was young, attractive, and had an athlete’s body that could ride a wave on a surfboard and do so much more! Talk about awesome – she was going to sites like Hawaii, California, Australia, and Indonesia, to name a few, and was a professional surfer.
Bethany was in Kauai, Hawaii, at the top of her game, when the most shocking thing happened. She was attacked by a shark! She survived, but the accident nearly took Bethany’s life. Bethany swam in to shore, despite the pain and her injuries, including remnants a left arm that had to be taken off at the hospital.
So was Bethany in exile? She had a promising career, with money, fame, friends, and the professional surfers all gone in an instant.
That’s not the end of the story, though. She, after time, returned to professional surfing – with one arm – and tells the story about her faith in Bethany’s book and the movie about her, Soul Surfer! She even has a website bethanyhamilton.com. I invite you, if you haven’t already, to get the book, see the movie, or go to the website and view the world from Bethany’s eyes! She is a true woman of faith!
Did God have a plan for Bethany? Did He prepare a future and a hope for her? But she came back and excelled? What about people who don’t come back or excel....
Nick Vujicic (Voijicic) comes to mind. He is an Australian that was born with no arms and no legs. He has, to quote Nick, a “my little chicken drumstick” for a foot, and does marvelous things with his body (including swimming!). He tells the story of him at eight, thinking that he would never amount to anything, and contemplated suicide, saying “I can’t even put my arm around my wife.”
I’d say Nick was in exile. Born with no arms or legs, he didn’t have a chance, from the worldly view (and his, before he found Christ). Can you imagine the stares he got, that he laughs about now! I can. Even today, I can walk in a room and everyone notices me and how different I am! Was Nick in exile? Listen to his words “I can’t even put my arm around my wife.” He wondered if he could even have a wife...
But Nick discovered faith in God that could move mountains. Now, he is a comic that goes around the world making people laugh, telling them how to get along, and telling them about faith in his own way. Check him out on Youtube and see it for yourself. It is amazing when people think they have problems until they see a man with no arms or legs! It sure makes me think twice about a pity party! And, Nick even got married to a wonderful, beautiful wife Kanaye, and has a beautiful baby son Kiyoshi!
Did God have a plan for Nick? Sure seems like God did, even in spite of the world’s view. Did God have a hope and a future? You bet. Nick came back spiritually and excelled!
But let’s get back to our story.
Something also changed for Rob and his family. Something dramatic. Something that changed them forever. Something we hope that no family has to deal with, but life in this world is unfair by the world’s standards.
It happened that at age 40, “Rob” and his family had to deal with a stroke.
If you haven’t already guessed it, “Rob” is me. David Little. I lived what seemed like a Godly-life - though I am fraught with sin - but there were holes (and still are, by the way!) in my devotion to God. I had the world in the way. I had pride in the way. The bottom line was, if God didn’t provide it, my Marine mentality was pick up my rucksack (or backpack) and do it myself. That “surrender” was only partially there. Maybe some of you are like I was....
Fortunately, God wasn’t through with me. When I came back out of the anesthesia-induced coma after four days, there was no choice in my mind. I had to completely surrender because my body, my mind, and my speech were unable to do anything but drool down the side of my mouth. Oh, I could do a few more things, but you get the point!
I talked to God during the two weeks after my stroke, asking Him with a damaged brain “why”? Why didn’t you just take me? Why does my family have to baby-sit me? Why do they have to deal with less of me? Why does my wife have to have another person to provide for? On and on and on ... I, too, was in exile in my own way! All that I had known was gone in a minute or so.
I’d like to say that God spoke to me. There are times when that happens, but not this time. There was silence for two weeks, and then, God laid it on my heart “there is a plan for you. A purpose for you to be on this earth. So get on with it!”
Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Not my plan, but God’s. Not my hope, but God’s. Not my future, but God’s!
You see I had, it seems, what I needed through the trials – a relationship that started when I believed that Jesus Christ had come as MY Savoir. Had lived a sinless life, and died for ME. Had conquered death, had overcome Satan, and had risen again! Had come to live in ME, as the Holy Spirit – a relationship that God had longed for was complete!
It was complete because I had surrendered my Free Will to the Holy Spirit and believed that what seemed impossible was actually true. I had begun my journey, my walk, with the Triune God before age 40. I thank the Lord every time I think about it for the hope was in me before my stroke!
So what about Jeremiah 29:11 and what does it teach us today. Well, it teaches me the following:
God has us, who believe in Him.He has us and is watching over us.With sin in our lives and in this world, He still guides and protects us (i.e., we will still be with Him forever);
God has a plan for us.He guides us through this world, and directs us.We are not in exile!We may not like it, but He is making us more like Jesus Christ through our trials and tribulations.I may not like the stroke and all that it did to me and my family, but it was in God’s plan for my life.Romans 8:28 says that “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, and have been called according to His purpose,” and I rest in that.
God’s is, ultimately, Jesus.There are times when the Old Testament looks forward and speaks of Jesus, even though it is talking to the people of that time, too.Like Isaiah 53, which was written 740 years before Jesus, but which speaks of the Christ, in poetic language:
Isaiah 53 NIV
4 Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
Jeremiah 29:11 is one that reaches across time, too. If you have Jesus in your heart, then you have the peace that surpasses all understanding (from Philippians 4:7)! In other words, if you have Jesus, then you have everything! You are not in exile! You have the Kingdom of God or Heaven in you, as the Gospels of Matthew and Luke say! This life that we have here on earth is a passing thing. There is so much more that you have in store for you!
When you boil it all down, then, God gives us HOPE. We may not like it for selfish reasons (or at least, I may not), but He gives us Hope in the midst of our struggles!
I am a broken man. I freely admit it, and am grateful for it. Because that broken man can now tell you about what God has done for me and my family. Jesus is the reason I am standing before you today, and is the reason I am God’s child here and forever more!
My story goes on to show everyone what hope is in the life of a believer. It is amazing that I am here walking, talking, and visiting with you! I am 39 hours into Seminary, and a husband and a father again (though I am broken). I’m not perfect, and neither are you. That is why we have Christ (who was perfect!).
What I have done is witness to you about my plan. You have a story, each of you. That story tells of your relationship to the Triune God. That story will touch someone else in this world through the Holy Spirit that only you and your story can touch. Again, not you, but the Holy Spirit. Go and tell the story of God in your life to someone, and believe – and sometimes watch – the Holy Spirit at work. You will be surprised, because you might be blessed, too. I hope I have blessed you today. You certainly have blessed me and my family for seventeen years!
Father God, Creator of All Things, You are such a blessing to us. You give us Hope when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death for You are with us. Yahweh declares that His children are not in exile! Let us walk in the Hope so that others can see. We pray it in the name of Jesus, Amen.