August 30/31, 2014

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Main Text: Jeremiah 29:4-14

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 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. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord.

10 “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. 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. 12 Then 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.

When we consider the day that we live, it is important for us to realize that God has us where He does for a purpose. Sometimes, we can be misguided in our thinking when we don’t accept the reality of God’s placement of us in time and location. Where you are (in vocation, location, life-stage, etc.) is not accident and God has purpose for all seasons of your life–the valley-filled seasons and the mountain top moments.

In our passage today, we read a letter that was sent to those living in exile in Babylon. The nation of Judah had been captured and many had been taken to Babylon. This type of deportation was commonplace among conquering nations in this portion of world history. Nations would use this time of captivity to influence and inculturate the most prominent and skilled members of their victim nation. The goal of this was so that the dominant nation could gain larger influence over greater areas and continue to conquer and rule.

The letter that was sent, was delivered to those members of Judah living in Babylon and it was God’s instruction to them on how they were to conduct themselves. In this letter, we find very practical instruction for how Israel was to be God’s People in this foreign place that God had sent them. God had purpose for those in captivity and exile, and those purposes did not always align with their desires.

If we’ve learned one thing from this series, it is that God doesn’t change. God’s plans do not change. His plan has always been to do what he has done in human history. This is sometimes a difficult reality to grapple with because of the finite nature of our thinking to learn new information. God doesn’t learn new information. He knows all. Our plans shift and adjust and change. His plans remain.

The exiles in Babylon were longing for their escape from the empire that had taken them from their land into captivity. There were some voices within the Israelite community that were speaking comforting words to the Israelites that weren’t actually true. These were false prophets that claimed to speak the words of God, but really were telling lies to the people to try to ease their pain and itch their ears or tell them what they wanted to hear (Jeremiah 6:14, 28, 29:24-32).

God Sends Us As Residents (29:4-6)

God’s People were instructed to live productive lives in Babylon. They were instructed to have families, plant gardens, build houses, etc. This is not the mindset of a political refugee, but rather, that of a resident. They were told to multiply in Babylon and not decrease.

A cursory reading of Israel’s history may cause one to think that Israel’s role in God’s redemptive plan was over at this point in history. Israel fell headlong into idolatry and God seemingly cleaned the slate. However, as we read Jeremiah’s letter, we realize that God had great purpose and plans for this time for the Israelites, not only to work repentance into their hearts but to have them be a blessing to those around them.

As God’s People today, we are sent to be productive members of our society. Our role as Christians is to bless those that God has placed around us–our neighbors, our co-workers, our teachers, our doctors, our families, etc. We are residents here. The question is not “What purpose does God have for my life?” but rather “How does my life fit into God’s redemptive mission?”

This idea is principally seen in the life of Christ. The Gospel of John says “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). It is this idea of residence, presence and nearness that we see reflected strongly in the incarnational work of Christ in his coming to our human level.

God Sends Us As Missionaries (29:7-9)

God’s mission is massive. His plan of redemption is something that affects all of creation. Even the trees, the soil, the sky, the chimpanzees, the zebra–they wait eagerly and groan/long for redemption (Romans 8:22). This is profound when we consider that the work God has done in our hearts is evidence to creation of the greater work that will be accomplished in the future. Your faith in Jesus speaks loudly to creation of the power of the Gospel.

In the Garden, there was a harmony and peace that was experienced between God and His creation that was unmatched. This true satisfaction is described using the Hebrew word Shalom. This word speaks of the fulfilling relational connection that existed between creation and Creator. Sin breaks shalom. It destroys peace. It ruins lives. It corrupts. When we, as redeemed people, live our lives as missionaries, we bring shalom to where God has sent us.

In Jeremiah’s letter, God instructs the exiles to “seek the welfare of the city”. The Hebrew word that is translated “welfare” is the word shalom. They were instructed to live on mission in a land that had taken everything away from them.

The greatest missionary work ever accomplished was the missionary work of Christ is coming to us to proclaim the Kingdom of God. He is our example when we consider what it means to be a missionary. We should desire to be a missionary in our neighborhood, our workplace, our baseball teams, our social clubs, etc. because Christ’s missionary work is the reason we have been reconciled (made right) with God.

God Sends Us As Visionaries (29:10-14)

The Israelites were exactly where they needed to be and where God desired them to be during that portion of history. God’s plans had not been thwarted but rather upheld. His redemptive work was being accomplished through the Israelites as they learned what it meant to ‘bless the nations’ which was their purpose as a nation and a people to “be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2).

Can you imagine what it must have been like for the Israelites to seek to bless those that were responsible for their demise? They were to bless a nation that ripped them from their homes, sought to eradicate their culture, destroyed their cities and plundered their riches. How would you feel if you were told to bless those who willingly persecuted you? This was what God required of them and it was not merely their behavior that God wanted to change, but it was their desires. They needed open-heart surgery to align their desires with God’s. This was the avenue of pain that God had laid before them to not just bring them back to the their land, but bring them back to Him.

We should have vision for what God is doing in us and through us to bless others. Jesus gave us vision for what this blessed life looks like: Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11-12).

 

Further Discussion

This week, as you reflect on the message, think of friends, co-workers, neighbors, family etc., that you could meet with to have a time of mutual sharing and fellowship as you open God’s Word together.


Read: Jeremiah 29:4-14

In what ways do we relate to those in exile that Jeremiah is writing?

What would your thoughts have been towards the Babylonians if you were an Israelites during the exile, considering they took you from your land, we brainwashing your young and influential and had destroyed your cities?

In what ways is an “exilic” mindset towards our current culture perhaps more beneficial for us, as Christians, to embrace in the day that we live?

Take a moment to share about a time when you knew that you were “called” or “sent” to a place for a purpose.

Why is it important for us to live with an awareness of our purpose as a ‘sent’ people?

How is this idea reflected in the Gospel message to us?