The Faithfulness of God - Jeremiah 29:10-14
A family friend of ours started out as a dishwasher at a restaurant chain in my hometown when he was a teenager. He probably needed money for gas and trips to the movies with friends. It was a fairly typical first job, one that I’m sure all of us can relate to.
But over the years he continued to stay with that same restaurant as it grew and opened up over 50 locations. This man gradually moved up the ranks as a host, waiter, a manager.
And now, nearly thirty years later, he is a senior executive of Western Sizzlin. He worked his way up from the lowest-paying position to one of the highest-paying positions of the company.
We’re all familiar with this type of story. A worker whose loyalty to a company for years and years ended up moving him up the ladder and paying dividends in the long run.
Because loyalty was a valued employee trait. In many places it still is, but it doesn’t seem to be as valued as it once was, especially in this country. According to a recent survey by Bureau of Labor Statistics, "the median number of years that wage and salary workers had been with their current employer was 4.2 years in January 2016 -- down from 4.6 years in January 2014."
The study shows that people are spending less and less time with one company, which conflicts with conventional wisdom.
Conventional wisdom says that you stay with one company as long as possible in order to climb the corporate ladder. And generally, this approach works. My family friend is an example of this. The longer you were with one company, the more successful you tend to become.
But this philosophy also has its drawbacks. Whenever a company goes through a round of layoffs and longtime employees wind up getting fired - they’re incensed. A company that they’ve been so loyal to has been disloyal in return.
They’ve worked for them for so long that they’ve earned the right to keep their job. It’s the law of reciprocation.
But let me ask you this: Is it possible that longtime employees that have been fired are angry because they believe they’re entitled to their job?
I believe this entitlement mentality has snuck into the church. You and I easily believe that if we read our Bible, go to church, and treat our neighbors with respect, then God owes us His favor and blessing.
And I say “blessing” because I think that’s become a church code word for success.
Jeremiah 29:11 has become a popular verse used to support this prosperity thinking. If I just do good things and work hard, God has to make me prosper. God, I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine.
The problem is we demand blessings from God even when we’re not faithful to Him.
But here’s the amazing truth: Despite the fact that you and I are unfaithful to him - He is still faithful to us.
Jeremiah 29:11 demonstrates God’s faithfulness in three ways: First, despite our unfaithfulness, God is at work. Second, despite our unfaithfulness, God is just. And lastly, despite our unfaithfulness, God is gracious.
We see first that: Despite our unfaithfulness, God is at work
In order to understand Jeremiah 29:11, you and I need to understand the big picture of the book of Jeremiah. The central focus of Jeremiah is the Lord’s troubled relationship with His rebellious people; Israel.
Jeremiah was the prophet chosen by God for a burdensome task: To relay the message to Israel that God wasn’t happy with them. They had strayed from God, turning to other idols, and Jeremiah’s message was one of bad news. The people of Israel didn’t want to hear it.
In fact, his prophecies were so despised that there were threats against his life. People didn’t want to hear messages of exile and of their need to repent.
That’s why Jeremiah is often called “the weeping prophet.” He messages were unpopular and fell on deaf ears.
Interestingly, two famous artists - Michelangelo and Rembrandt - both depicted the prophet Jeremiah in their paintings. And in both depictions Jeremiah is sitting, his hand on his face and his eyes downcast.
He was dejected, despondent, and downcast because people would not honor his message, God’s word.
And it’s with this in mind that we approach Jeremiah chapter 29. Chapter 29 is a long passage consisting of letters between Jerusalem and Babylon.
These letters were during the Babylonian exile. The Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar controlled Judah and exiled some of her people.
During this exile, the Israelites were forcibly removed from their land in Judah and taken to the foreign nation Babylon.
It’d be like North Korean troops landing here in South Carolina and taking some of the people here back to the North Korea. I’m not sure who they’d want to take… but we’re pretending! Maybe that’s a little overly simplistic, but I think you got the idea.
Verses 1-15 are Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles. The exile was divine punishment from God for their unfaithfulness to him.
Remember too that God had made a covenant with the people of Israel. And with any covenant there are promised blessings and curses.
Deuteronomy chapter 28 lists the curses that God promises if they break the covenant:
The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. The Lord will bring you and your king whom you set over you to a nation that neither you nor your fathers have known. And there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone. 64 “And the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other... 65 And among these nations you shall find no respite, and there shall be no resting place for the sole of your foot, but the Lord will give you there a trembling heart and failing eyes and a languishing soul. 66 Your life shall hang in doubt before you. Night and day you shall be in dread and have no assurance of your life.
Does any of that sound familiar? Doesn’t it sound exactly what they’re experiencing in the Babylonian exile?
But then you read verse 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, speaking through the prophet Jeremiah, is telling the exiles that he has a plan for them despite the fact that everything is in chaos.
A plan for their welfare. A plan to restore them.
I’m a big fan of the animated Disney movies, and one of my personal favorites is Aladdin.
In the movie, a peasant boy, Aladdin, falls in love with a beautiful princess named Jasmine. He thinks that in order to impress a princess, he needs the wealth and status of a prince - two things he doesn’t have.
Luckily, Aladdin stumbles upon a lamp. He rubs the lamp and out pops a Genie, granting him three wishes. In order to impress Princess Jasmine, he uses his wishes to create a persona - Prince Ali.
For most of the movie, Genie is kept secret. He’s at work in the background, bringing Aladdin’s wishes to fruition.
Do you view God in this way?
It’s easy to read Jeremiah 29:11 and view God as a genie, operating in the background of our lives and prospering us according to our wishes.
And while we do need to trust that God is working out his plan of redemption for our lives, we can’t tell God what to do. God sovereignly controls all things. God is at the center of all things.
It’s easy to wonder: God what are you up to? I thought I’d be in a serious relationship by now. I thought I’d be in a more stable career? Or why is my relationship with my family falling apart?
It’s hard to trust that God is working out his plan especially if we don’t immediately see it or understand it.
And because of this - it’s easy to trust in things other than God. It’s easy to put our trust in people, organizations, or institutions rather than God.
It’s a trust issue. Do you trust that the Lord is in control over your future?
Despite your unfaithfulness to him, do you trust that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose?
Because it’s easy to question and doubt God’s plan, it’s also easy to question His justice.
We see second, that despite our unfaithfulness, God is just
When you read about God allowing a foreign nation to overtake and exile His chosen people, it really doesn’t seem fair.
He should protect them at all costs, right? But that’s not what he does.
God tells them to settle into their Babylonian captivity. Verse 10 says, “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.”
70 years they’ll be exiled.
Earlier in verse 7 God says,
“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”
A lifetime will be spent exiled in a foreign land, and God tells them to make the best of a bad situation.
He tells them to seek the welfare of a foreign Babylonian city. In other words, God expected them to assimilate with the Babylonians.
When people assimilate they typically accept the religion and customs of that nation. That’s why God instructed his people not to associate with other nations over and over again.
So, is this fair of God?
First, it’s important to understand that God doesn’t get pleasure out of punishment.
How many times do the Scriptures say that the Lord is slow to anger? God has a very long fuse and he typically doesn’t pour out his wrath all at once. And before the exile, God gave his people warning after warning after warning.
Second, suffering is not pointless.
There are several things that the Lord was trying to teach the people of Israel by allowing them to be exiled, but the primary one was to call them to repentance.
He sent trouble upon them in order to turn them back to himself.
Ezekiel 33:11 says,
As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?
God wants the wicked to turn from his evil ways.
God wants repentance.
That’s why God says, “Then you will call upon me…” in verse 12. God knows they will pray prayers of repentance after their period of exile.
God’s punishment served a greater reason which was to bring the people to repentance. But in the midst of it, I’m sure it was difficult to see his purpose.
It calls to mind how the disciples must have felt at the crucifixion. Despite Jesus foretelling of his death to them over and over again it was still shocking.
It was disheartening. It was unfair. They were crucifying an innocent man.
But God turned the greatest act of injustice into the greatest display of love in all of human history.
He turned the greatest evil into the greatest good.
The people of God were being exiled because of their unfaithfulness to God. And just as the Israelites were unfaithful to God, so are you and I. God requires faith from faithless people.
The issue isn’t really the justice of God. The issue is your sin and my sin in light of a perfect and holy God.
We can often respond incorrectly in light of this passage. Too often you and I get angry with God when we encounter difficult circumstances. But God might be trying to evoke a different response.
Here’s a tough question: Could the Lord be calling you to repentance when things aren’t going your way?
Certainly that’s not always the case… but it could be. Or do you just harden your heart towards him? He wants you and I to repent often and repent quickly.
Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
Are you aware of your sickness and its cure?
God certainly doesn’t bring the hammer of justice down as hard and fast as he possibly can. Remember he gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
Lastly, we see that despite our unfaithfulness, God is gracious.
In the context of what we know about what’s going on here in Jeremiah I want to ask you a question.
Would God have been just to leave the Jews in permanent exile? Why couldn’t God have said, “You broke the covenant and now it’s over?”
I think the answer to that question is that God would have been perfectly just to force them to permanently assimilate with the Babylonians.
But he didn’t do that. He promised in verse 10 that after 70 years “I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.”
God promised to bring them back to Judah. God is faithful despite their unfaithfulness.
But the Lord goes even further. Look at verses 12-14 with me.
“you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”
God graciously says he will hear them when they call upon him. Think about those years and years of rejecting God, but he says in these verses that he will be found by them.
God tells the exiles that although they are living in a foreign nation he will continue to be with them spiritually.
But God goes even beyond that. He says he’s going to physically return them their homeland.
God wasn’t required to do any of that. He did it entirely out of his grace and mercy.
Think about that. God displays grace and mercy even in the midst of judgement. Because that’s what the exile was - God’s judgement.
But even in the midst of sadness, pain, and hurt - God’s grace is still present.
Have you ever walked out of your house only to walk back in because you forgot your sunglasses.
So you start tearing the house apart looking for them… and then someone tells you they’re on your head.
Or you start looking for your wallet, only to realize it’s in your pocket.
Or you’re running around looking for your keys and they’re in your hand.
It’s always embarrassing when the thing you’re looking for is in the most obvious spot.
So often we look for grand displays of God’s grace in our lives we miss His grace right under our nose.
You can find the grace of God in the mundane if you look for it.
It’s only by God’s grace you have a great marriage.
It’s only by God’s grace you have a loving family.
It’s only by God’s grace that all your needs are provided for.
I mean the list goes on and on. But really, God’s grace is seen most profoundly in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
But sometimes the things that are the most familiar lose their meaning.
But is the grace of God displayed through the work of Jesus Christ so familiar to you that it’s no longer meaningful?
A better question might be: has Jesus Christ ever meant anything to you?
We see in Jeremiah 29:11 that God does have a plan for you. It is for your welfare, it’s not for evil, and it is to give you a future and a hope.
But maybe not in the way you expected. God isn’t necessarily coming alongside you to help you fulfill your dreams and aspirations. We’re not promised tomorrow, and we’re certainly not promised health, wealth and prosperity.
Jeremiah 29:11 is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ. God’s faithfulness to you doesn’t rely on your strength. It relies on the work of Jesus Christ.
That’s why you need him. You need him as much today as you did yesterday and will tomorrow. You and I have wandering hearts just like the Israelites. We’ll never have enough faith to satisfy God.
We need the perfect life and obedience of Jesus Christ to stand in on our behalf. But faith in him means even more.
If you’re born again, and you trust in Jesus Christ for the eternal salvation of your soul you will never be a victim of this life even though you might get diagnosed with an illness, have family struggles, or lose your longtime job.
One person said commenting on Jeremiah 29:11 that,
“You are being conformed into the image of Christ—by sharing in his suffering—and your ultimate end is not as a victim but as a victor, a joint-heir with the King.”
You’re promised ultimate victory, a heavenly reward, not because of anything you have done - but because what Christ has done for you. You see God is faithful and his plan is for your welfare, it’s not for evil, and it is to give you a future and a hope.