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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:God’s Thoughts toward Us
Text:Jeremiah 29:11 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Covenant faithfulness

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 138:1,4                                                                  

Ps 37:1,15,16

Reading – Jeremiah 28:1-4; Jeremiah 29:1-32

Ps 90:1,2,5,8

Sermon – Jeremiah 29:11

Hy 71:1,2

Hy 66:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved, how much do you think about the future? Where would you like to be, this time next year, or in five years? Or do you wonder what lies ahead for your children, your loved ones? We all know that we’re only a vapour. Our life is like the wildflowers which quickly fade. We can try plan the future, yet life can change in a hurry. So how can a person get through all the ups and downs of ordinary life? How do we know that the ending is going to be good?

We have questions about tomorrow. Yet a child of God meets it all with confidence. No matter how long or short we’re on this earth, our future is secure. Whatever happens, we know God has a good plan for us, his children purchased with precious blood.

That’s the message of Jeremiah 29:11, “‘For I know the thoughts that I think toward you,’ says the LORD, ‘thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.’” Now, I would guess that we’ve probably all heard this passage before. It’s really well-known. You can find Jeremiah 29:11 on greeting cards. You come across it in devotional books or Christian novels, on inspirational artwork and Bible covers and keychains.

It’s a well-known text, and for good reason. It’s a beautiful statement of God’s faithfulness and God’s purpose. In our trouble or uncertainty, God speaks powerfully through these words. And if you think about it for a moment, that’s an amazing thing. For this is an old text, in an old book, one written many centuries ago. Yet this passage is able to speak directly to believers today—us included. That’s the power of the Word of God! It’s living and active. Over time it doesn’t lose any force, but in Christ it actually gains even more meaning.

The first to receive encouragement from this text were our brothers and sisters of long ago—around 600 years before Christ—the people of Israel. Except they no longer lived in Israel, the land that God had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But when the book of Jeremiah was written, a good number of God’s chosen nation was in Babylon, in exile.

Some time before the prophet ministered, the Babylonians had risen up in military strength. They conquered nation after nation in the Eastern Mediterranean. And around 597 BC, they set their sights on the little country of Judah. The Babylonian armies besieged the capital Jerusalem, took the treasures of the temple, and carried off many captives.

To be sure, there were Israelites left behind in the land. The people of Judah even had someone sitting on the throne in Jerusalem, acting like a king. Yet the nation was only a faint shadow of what it had been before. For the land was a mess. The king was a puppet of the Babylonians, who were really the ones in charge. As for those who had been taken into exile, they had it even worse. They were bullied by their captors. They faced the pain of living far from home, in a pagan place, polluted by idols and an unclean people.

On top of everything else, some false prophets showed up. They began to confuse the people with their words. These prophets preached both to those left behind in Judah, and preached to those who were in exile. And the message that these prophets brought was that this captivity was going to end, and very soon.

We read one such prophecy, that of Hananiah, in chapter 28. In Jerusalem he prophesied to those who would listen, “Thus speaks the LORD of hosts, the God Israel, saying, ‘I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two full years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the LORD’s house that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon. And I will bring back to this place… all the captives of Judah who went to Babylon” (vv 2-4).

Good news: the exile is almost over! “Before you know it,” Hananiah said, “the captives will be safe and sound. They’ll be on their way back to Jerusalem, and they’ll be free to rebuild and restore. As for the wicked king of Babylon, he’s going to be bulldozed very soon. And then all this will be little more than a bad memory!”

This message of the prophets sounded really good. What they were saying was hopeful, and optimistic. Too bad it was false. God would destroy the king of Babylon—Isaiah had prophesied that already. And God would bring a remnant back to the land—that was his promise, too. But not yet. Not within two years. The timeline was all wrong.

God didn’t want his people to have a false sense of confidence about the future. God didn’t want his people carried away in excitement by a message that wasn’t true. This is where Jeremiah comes in. He was back home in Judah, and God told him to send all the exiles a prophetic word from the LORD. Jeremiah was to give them a message by way of letter.

The letter Jeremiah must write to them is realistic. It doesn’t pretend that life for the exiles was all sunshine and happiness. Direct and honest, the letter is also filled with a good measure of well-grounded hope. For God tells them to be patient for the day of deliverance. Be patient, because that day is surely coming. And while they wait, this is how they should live during those years that they’re still in exile.

This is what God said: “Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit.  Take wives and beget sons and daughters… that you may be increased there, and not diminished. And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the LORD for it; for in its peace you will have peace” (29:5-7).

Do you hear what God is saying? Don’t think that you’re going home soon. Don’t pack your suitcases and get the mail forwarded to Israel. No, God tells his people to carry on. Continue with your lives in that foreign place. Don’t give up on life because it’s hard, and don’t hold onto a vain hope, but for the time being, make the most of where you are.

Beloved, this is still useful wisdom for us. I think we’re all learning to recognize that this earth isn’t our true home. We realize that in this hostile world, we are but ‘aliens and strangers.’ In this godless time, we don’t fit in—or we shouldn’t fit in! Just like the Israelites in Babylon, you could say, we are exiles, citizens of another place. As Paul writes to the Philippians, we are citizens of heaven!

As people who don’t quite belong, we can get discouraged about living in this world. It’s not always easy. We have to deal with many of the effects of sin, in illness and death and temptation. And we live in a society that is turning against Christ and his believers. From day to day, we endure a lot of pressure. There are so many corrupting influences on us and on our children, through media, through society, through other pressures. Sometimes we look at all the struggles of living in this evil place, in this evil time, and we just want Christ to return on the clouds. So that’s our prayer: “Come Lord Jesus.” And we should pray that.

Even so, God calls us to live here, and to live now. In the words of this ancient letter of Jeremiah, God calls us to stick with it and to carry on. Carry on for as long as you have life, carry on until that day when Jesus returns.

We’re not supposed to give up on this world, broken as it is. But God calls us to make homes, get an education, work hard at our jobs, get married (perhaps), have sons and daughters, and enjoy all the blessings that He gives. God even calls us to pray for the nation in which we dwell, “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life” (1 Tim 2:2). While we’re here, the LORD calls us to use our gifts, and build up his church—all so his kingdom might come.

This is such a good reminder of our purpose in living in this time and place. God hasn’t put us here to pursue our own vain dreams of glory or happiness or wealth. Don’t make the same mistake as Hannaniah the false prophet. Don’t be naively optimistic that things are going along just fine and that happy days are just around the corner. Don’t expect that Christians are going to be well-liked and respected in our society. Don’t expect that Satan will spare you from temptation, just because you’re a nice person. No, anyone who seeks to walk faithfully with Christ will face challenges and hardship. That is realistic.

But neither are we supposed to be negative about our time here. Remember, God has given us life for a great and holy purpose. During these days and years, we must do all we can to serve God, wherever He has put us.

That is the message of the prophet: Glorify God! Glorify God as young people, as husbands and wives and singles, as mums and dads, as workers and owners, as residents of this country and good neighbours to those around you, as members of his church.

Is that what you’re doing, beloved? Do you really keep your eyes fixed on the reason that you are still living here? Do you honour the true purpose for all the opportunities God gives you, all your blessings? Do you seek to “redeem the time,” to serve God with whatever He has entrusted to your care? As children of God, are we making the most of the present time?

For the Babylonian captives, we said there was no sense seeking an early release from their trouble. They had to realize that God put them there for a set length of time. As God writes in 29:10, “After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform my good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place.” The exile, difficult as it was, wouldn’t last forever. One day God would take them home.

Judah had to see that through the hardship of the exile, God was teaching them. He was teaching them about the consequence of sin. But God’s discipline had a more positive reason, too. God wanted them to learn to put their trust in him. When they were in Israel, they had so often turned to other gods, and relied on other nations. The lesson of trust that they found so hard to learn back at home, they’d have to learn now. When you have nothing else, you finally realize how much you need God.

God has the same purpose in hardship today. When we suffer in this life, God sends it to us for a good and loving reason. Some of us suffer terribly with physical illness or chronic pain. Some face the mental struggles of depression and anxiety. Maybe strife and tension are afflicting your marriage and the relationships with your children. Or you have a lot of disappointments and regrets because of things that just haven’t worked out in your life—the life that you planned hasn’t happened.

Why does God send these hard things? It’s not because we’ve been bad and we need to be smacked around. The child of God has had his sins fully punished in Jesus Christ—fully, once and for all! Yet the Father wants to teach us. He wants us to rely on him. He wants us to trust in his good timing, to trust that God is never too late, and God is never too early. He wants us to depend on his gracious will, for every single day, to trust that it’s right, and He does no wrong.

That truth is the climax of Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles. It’s the truth that our faithful God always has a good intent for his people, “‘For I know the thoughts that I think toward you,’ says the LORD, ‘thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.’”

So often we don’t know our own thoughts. Our thinking is muddled, our ideas are fuzzy, our plans for the future are confused and conflicted. But God ‘knows his thoughts toward us,’ He says—his mind is perfectly clear. He tells the exiles that He has a plan for what is yet to come.

This means God wasn’t caught off guard by their hardship—He had thought it through carefully. So even if they had to spend three more decades in exile, it was God’s good plan.

And God doesn’t delight in our troubles and adversities. He has his thoughts toward us, and they’re not thoughts of “harming” us. Rather, God says He has plans to give peace to his people. The word ‘peace’ translates the Hebrew ‘shalom.’ Shalom speaks of wholeness, in mind and spirit and body. It speaks of being right with God—where before there was conflict, now there is a good harmony with the LORD.

That is what we need more than anything. The exiles didn’t need every material thing and pleasure, and they didn’t even need to be in the land of Israel again. Neither do we need our every need met and wish satisfied. We also don’t need our future revealed. But what we need is peace. We need the blessed status of being right with God, not having all our sins counted against us but being accepted by him once again.

With these beautiful words, the LORD tells his sinful people that He won’t cast them off forever. Rather, He’ll restore them again. And these words are the same message of grace to us, centuries later. For us, God has plans of peace! God wants us for himself. He wants us near him. He loves us, and He wants us to love him.

And if we have peace with God, then everything else is extra. If God has given us salvation from sin through Christ, then we know He’ll provide us with every other thing we need!

As we said, we’re in the dark about what lies ahead of us. Will there be joy and blessing and happiness and good times? For sure. But will there also be trouble for you? You can actually count on it. Will there be disappointment in your future, and illness and even death? Definitely. About tomorrow we can’t say more than that. Yet we don’t have to be scared. For our God says we have a hope and a future!

For those who received this letter from Jeremiah, this was the good news that they needed. God would give them a new day. They’d go back to their inheritance. The temple will be restored. The fields will be sowed and harvested again. And one day, the long-awaited Saviour will come. God has not forgotten you!

Likewise, God knows what will happen to us, every single day, every moment. He knows your future, and He promises that through it all, you can have peace. Through it all, He will be our faithful and gracious God. What a great promise!

Whenever God grants his promises, He also teaches us about our obligations. God wants us to make the covenant our own and to work with it. That’s what He did through Jeremiah’s letter too. See how right after our text, God says: “You will seek me and find me, when you search for me with all your heart” (29:13). Having told them the good news, God urges his people to seek him truly. Even living in that foreign land, they have to repent from sin, and to follow in God’s ways. That’s always the way we’ll be blessed, through the way of seeking God.

Such is the beauty of the covenant, that going to God is never a one-way street. When you draw near to him, He’ll come near to you. That’s his promise, “You will find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

Be assured that when you seek after God, you will find him. When you try to have a deliberate closeness with the Lord in prayer and devotion, and when you flee far from everything that displeases God—putting away all sin and filth—then God will surely answer you with a real sense of his nearness. He will come near.

But as we seek God, let us be patient. As was true in the days of Jeremiah, God’s plans are not the same as our plans. His timeline is often very different from ours. And that’s not an easy thing. Think again of the heartache that it caused those exiles: they’d have to endure seventy years in foreign captivity! Seventy years of waiting. Seventy years of struggling with that feeling that perhaps God had forgotten them. When you look at your life, seventy years is an impossibly long time. When you’re waiting for the doctor’s phone call, seven days feels impossibly long. But this text gives a rock-solid foundation for trust. Whatever the timeline for our life, God will not break his Word.

Trust that your God will provide. Trust that He will guide your steps. He’ll keep renewing your heart and forgiving your sins and restoring your hope. That is the greatest expectation we could have for the future: that our God will be faithful!

So seek this God, whatever your condition. And keep your eyes on God’s plan, the plan that He has told us about in his Word. We should be like the saints in Hebrews 11. Speaking of the patriarchs, the prophets, the people of Israel, the author writes, “They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. They admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own…. They were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them” (vv 13-16).

Like the Old Testament saints, we haven’t received all that is promised. Like them, we are aliens and strangers. Like them, we’re not at home here, so we look for a different country. And for the sake of Jesus Christ, the Father is getting ready for us an eternal city. That’s what we long for, above all—that better country, eternal and glorious.

So aim for it. Let eternity be your compass point, the reality that orients every aspect of your life. When you look at your life from the viewpoint of eternity, you quickly see whether you are investing in things that will last. With your energy and ambition, are pursuing what is worthwhile? Are you still looking for an everlasting kingdom? Or are you expecting too much from this world and present life? Today, are you living in a way that fits with what God is doing, or are you living for yourself and building your own future?

Our text reveals God’s thoughts toward us—and because they are God’s thoughts, these words are a sure and lasting hope. So many of our fears and worries about the future never come true. But God’s plans always do.

As you go forward, you can build on God’s declaration, a promise that is sure and trustworthy in Christ Jesus. He says, “My beloved people, I know the thoughts that I think toward you, thoughts of peace and not of evil. For I shall give to you, my children, a future and a hope.”  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2021, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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