Scripture Reference: Jeremiah 29:11
Hope is a quality to which we all aspire. Hope is what enables us to get out of bed in the morning and go to school, work or whatever the day holds for us. Hope is also the strength in our backbone that allows us to withstand storms of trouble and pain. In short, hope is what keeps us going! Only when hope is absent do we truly understand its importance.
If ever anyone had the right to lose hope and not want to keep going, it was the Jews who were the original recipients of the letter from Jeremiah (Jeremiah 29:1–11). The key to really understanding this passage is the time when it was written and the historical significance. The estimated date of writing is shortly after the people of Judah have been taken into captivity by the Babylonians in 597 BC. They were ripped from their homeland, displaced and brought together with a people who did not follow their God or the customs of their culture. They were desperate to hear a good and encouraging word, which made them very vulnerable to the false prophets who predicted a quick and easy fall of the people of Babylon and therefore, a victorious return to freedom for them. They wanted something positive to hang their hats on and to restore their hope. They latched on to that hope and were expecting things to turn around quickly so they could go home and live out their lives as they wished.
Lest we judge them as unholy and unwise, we must stop and ask ourselves how many times we have wanted something so badly that we have believed when someone assured us we would get “it,” whatever “it” was, that we deserved it, and that it was indeed God Himself who would give it to us. This sounds an awful lot like the prosperity doctrine we hear so frequently from televangelists who have quite a following.
Just like the Jews of that day, we have been guilty of trying to determine what God has in mind for us and of using any means to discover it. When was the last time you looked at your horoscope or took one of those silly tests on Facebook to see what your future held? We laugh when we are 50 and Facebook tells us we are going to have a son by the end of the year. But what if we have a daughter who is hoping to be married—could that be the son? Or maybe when it tells us we are going to get that house we have been dreaming about; or come into some money if we will only forward a picture of a wad of money. Or maybe you are dissatisfied with your job and take one of those tests to see what you were really meant to do. These may be silly examples that we might not take seriously, but they illustrate how much even we as Christians want to know the future. How much we want God to reveal His plan to us.
The Jews of Jeremiah’s day turned to so–called prophets and heard what they wanted to hear, but then they received the first recorded letter of the Old Testament from a true prophet. Let’s read together what Jeremiah has to say. (Read Jeremiah 29:1–11, NIV).
According to Jeremiah, they were to get comfortable where they were because they were in for a long stay. They were to build houses, expand their families and even support the foreign government that was holding them captive. That couldn’t possibly be God’s plan—or could it?
Just like the Jews when we don’t like the Lord’s plans we cry out: “But God! That is not what I had in mind. I don’t want to work for this guy who is so rude and mean. I don’t want to live in a house in this city. My family is from the country, and I want to raise my children over there where there is a good school district.”
Nevertheless, God has a plan and it isn’t just about you or me as individuals, but a plan to give hope to the entire world. Some of the very first words of Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life are, “It isn’t about you!” What?! Of course, it is! And yes, in some ways it is, but it’s not only about you or me.
We really love it when we personalize John 3:16 and say, “God so loved (Susie or Mike) that He gave His one and only Son, so that (Susie or Mike) shall not perish but have eternal life.” And yes, He did. He loves each of us as individuals that much. But the truth of the matter is that God so loved the WORLD that He gave His son so that WHOEVER believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. That is a big task. He has been at work planning it out and bringing it to pass since the beginning of time. And yet, we can be assured of His care for us based on Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”
The scholars tell us that the dispersion of the Jews to various countries and at various times in history was intended to accomplish several things:
First, to show other nations that the Jews were different because they were God’s people. And therefore, to show others what God’s people were to be like. Secondly, as discipline for not following God’s plans in His way. And additionally, to show God’s love and faithfulness throughout all time and in all circumstances.
Many Christians today don’t look at the Old Testament or they view it as antiquated or irrelevant in light of the new covenant recorded in the New Testament. However, a thorough study shows us that God is true to His word and faithful in fulfilling His promises in both the Old and New Testaments—throughout all time and eternity. We can trust in Him.
Psalm 22:4-5 says, “Our fathers trusted in You; they trusted, and You delivered them. They cried to You, and were delivered; They trusted in You, and were not ashamed.” Each time Abraham, Moses, and Aaron saw God fulfill a promise they built an altar of remembrance and encouraged the people to tell their children and grandchildren all that their God had done, so that they too could believe and be confident in relying on and trusting in Him.
Each of us has read the scriptures and heard modern day stories of how God has answered prayer and revealed the truth of the Gospel to individuals who have come before us. In the time of the Old Testament, they only had stories that had been passed along verbally. Once people started writing those stories and histories down for us, we began relying on the written word to reinforce the truth. That is why orthodox Jews memorize so much of the Old Testament as a reminder of what God has done and will continue to do.
Psychologists today tell us the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Of course, that is not completely true, because we know God redeems us and changes us and makes us new creations. But left to ourselves, we will indeed repeat the mistakes, sins and behaviors of the past. In contrast, God in His wisdom and might has shown us He is the same today, yesterday and forever. He alone is trustworthy because He has repeatedly delivered the nation of Israel and each of us from our difficult circumstances, our sins, and those who have sinned against us. David wrote in Psalm 57:2, “I cry to God Most High, to God who fulfills His purpose for me.” Jeremiah reminded the people of Judah of God’s love and purpose for them in chapter 24 of Jeremiah. Let’s read together Jeremiah 24:1–7.
The people of Judah needed to be reminded how much God loved them and that He had not forgotten them. They needed to know without a shadow of a doubt that God was watching out for them and had a plan and purpose not only for their exile but for their future. How easy it would be to feel forgotten and neglected in a foreign land among foreign people who worshipped foreign gods. They were to hope in the true God despite being in exile for 70 years. That is nearly two generations. How easy it would be to feel forgotten and therefore forget to share the hope of God with the next generation. Their people had already wandered in the wilderness for a generation; it was the second generation that finally entered the Promised Land. Once again, they needed to hold out hope and share the confidence of past deliverance for the next generation to believe there was a God who loved them and looked out for them.
In chapter 24, God tells Jeremiah, “I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am the Lord. They will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with all their heart.” And in chapter 29 He says, “’When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill My good promise to bring you back to this place. 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. Then you will call on 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 I carried you into exile.’”
There is a promise and an expectation. The promise of a successful future, a hope, a return to their homeland, and a relationship with a God who listens and answers prayer. The expectation is that they will put their hope in Him and Him alone. That they will be obedient to Him and seek Him with all their hearts.
We like to focus on the promises of God but must remember the expectation as well. Just like the exiles of Judah, we are asked to live faithfully with God in a land where people do not understand or appreciate our commitment to Him. We need to seek Him with all our hearts and put all our hope in Him and His promises rather than in this world or our own strength and abilities.
Jesus used everyday examples to teach His disciples. If you have ever tried to remove ivy from a wall or garden, you know that the tendrils of ivy climb and grip the surface so tightly that only the most determined effort can dislodge them. Ivy is also capable of weathering the extremes of both heat and cold without withering and falling away. When you place your hope in God, you are clinging to Him in the same tenacious way that ivy clings to brick and mortar. When the sun is warm and the rain is gentle, grow like the ivy—strong and hearty, reaching and moving as you strengthen your grip on God’s never–failing love. When the strong winds of life blow and storms beat on you, have confidence in God who is strengthening you and equipping you to hold on to the promise He gives of watching out for you and giving you the promise of a hope and future in Him. *May His Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
*Adapted from the Devotional Moments of Peace in the Presence of God, Bethany House, Minneapolis, 2004.
And now, may you be strengthened and encouraged by sharing in the prayers of the women of our congregation:
1 – Thank you, God. for the gift of faith that brings me hope and drives my fears away.
2 – Lord God, hold tightly to the hope that anchors my heart to yours, for my hope is ever and always in You.
3 – God, I thank You for restoring hope to my heart and peace to my mind. You are my Savior and my God in whom I trust.
4 – God, please fill me with hope as I speak often with You. Remind me that You are always by my side, helping me to see through the tears to the promise.
5 – Thank you, God, for the words of Psalm 31:24: “Be of good courage and He shall strengthen your heart, all who hope in the Lord.” Will you do that for each one of us here today?
6 – Jesus, when my future seems to be clouded by the fog of daily living and filled with the stony paths of this world, I will place my hope in You—in Your strength and faithfulness.
7 – And we end with this affirmation from Psalm 71:14: “As for me, I will always have hope; I will praise You more and more.” And all God’s people say, AMEN!
*Some of these are adapted from the prayers included in the devotional Moments of Peace in the Presence of God, Bethany House, Minneapolis, 2004.