Jeremiah 29:11. 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.
This is one of those verses in the Bible that Christians really love to quote. It’s all over Pinterest and Facebook, greeting cards and coffee mugs. It’s really popular at graduations and it’s a great “life verse.”
But then other Christians seem to be standing off to the side, arms crossed, declaring that the verse is being taken grossly out of context and declaring that it simply isn’t for us Christians today.
Jeremiah’s famous words come as the people of Judah are being taken into exile, dragged out of the promised land and away from Jerusalem and the temple. They are enslaved and separated from their homes and families. Like their forefathers, they will be strangers in a strange land.
Hananiah, a false prophet, said that the exile would only last two years. But then Jeremiah refuted Hananiah’s false prophecy. The exile will last seventy years, not two, Jeremiah declared. This generation will die in exile in a foreign land. Your children’s children will be slaves to King Nebuchadnezzar. This is the plan God has for you.
Jeremiah’s message was far from good news to the hearers. Living in exile is not what any of us wants. We want a forever home. We want peace and prosperity. We want ease and good fortune.
And what about the covenant God made with Abraham? What about the promised land? What about blessings? Has God forgotten these promises? Has he gone back on his word? This is the question the people were asking. And it’s the question we’ve all asked at one time or another over the course of our lives.
It is in this context that now we are ready to hear the hard yet hopeful words of Jeremiah 29:11. God’s plan for us is to live in exile. An exile that will possibly last beyond our lifetime. But within that exile God wants us to experience welfare (shalom) not evil. How? By embracing our exile and making it our new home (29:5-6). Oh, and by praying for our enemies, and seeking their welfare and prosperity.
Jeremiah 29:7. 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.
How on earth could we embrace this message? Peace within exile? That sounds backwards. It makes no sense. How is it even possible? Because God has given us a future and a hope. God’s primary work is in changing us, not in changing our situation. He wants us to trust that he hasn’t abandoned us in our exile. In fact, he wants our exile to draw our hearts back to him.
Jeremiah 29:12-13. 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.
So does Jeremiah 29:11 apply to us or not? Yes. Just not the way we usually think.
In Christ, we are exiles (1 Peter 2:11). Strangers in a strange land. We long for an eternal city that we cannot see. We are immortal creatures left dealing with mortality. We know deep inside that none of this is right, none of this is our destiny, none of this will satisfy.
But we also know that we are not cursed in exile forever. Christ has taken our curse on the cross. And he has placed in us the promise of all of his blessings. The promise of an eternal home with him. The promise of a future and a hope.
Many want to find in Jeremiah 29:11 a promise of earthly blessing and prosperity in this life. But the truth is far better. The truth of Jeremiah is the same truth spoken by Jesus:
John 16:33. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
The promise of tribulation, exile, suffering, broken dreams is better?
Yes. Because exile is what God uses to transform us into the image of Christ. Exile draws our hearts into Jesus’ heart. It moves us to find our hope in God alone, rather than in our current situation, prosperity, or blessing. And when we do, we are free to bring the welfare of Christ into our “Babylon.”
“To live is Christ” means that exile is God’s plan for us. But it is not his final plan. Living in the presence of Christ in his eternal city is our future and our hope. And for now, trusting that Christ lives in us as we live in exile.
Do you see yourself as living in exile?
You in Christ
In Christ we have a future and a hope of eternal glory. How does this empower you to love and serve within your exile today?
Christ in you
How can you bring welfare (shalom) into your place of exile today?
Playlist: Future Hope
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