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Chapter 23 verse 4 says, “I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing.” These shepherds are new leaders who believe in the one true God. God promised to raise new leaders for his people, including Jesus Christ. After about 70 years in exile, the people of Israel would return to their faith as well as their homeland. Two leaders that God raised for this purpose were Ezra and Nehemiah. They helped to usher in a new era for Israel.
As for Jesus Christ, we can see how he has been at the center of human history. He was born in Bethlehem as a descendant of David and died to atone for the sins of humanity. He brought what we call “the New Testament era”. When he returns, he will transform this world again. These are the kind of prophecies that Jeremiah gave us to look forward to.
Today’s message will center on Jeremiah chapter 29, verses 11 to 13. God’s promises in these verses are full of encouragement for us: “‘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.’” For the people of Israel exiled in Babylon, these promises must have encouraged them greatly. Today, we will look at the historical background behind this message of God through Jeremiah.
First, let’s read from verses 4 to 7: “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’”
It is crucial that we hold on to God’s promises and live with hope, no matter where we are, even if we are exiled or lose our country. God told his people that while they were in Babylon, even if they were only there temporarily, they should enjoy life, build homes, love their families, and pray for the people of Babylon that God would prosper their city. Those were God’s instructions for how faithful believers should live, even in exile.
After I married, I came to live in Shin-Matsudo and Minami-Nagareyama. In this new place, I resolved to pray for these cities and live with a sense of mission from God. Today I live in Ibaraki, but I still try to live with this sense of mission and pray for my city to flourish. Looking back over the past few decades, I’m amazed to see how both Ibaraki and Chiba have developed: many new businesses have appeared, Ibaraki Airport was built, and the Tsukuba Express line was also completed. I’m thankful for how these words from Jeremiah encouraged me as I prayed.
The people of Israel suffered when they were carried into exile, but verse 7 says “I have carried you into exile”—meaning that it was God’s plan. Nothing happens outside of God’s will. By the way, Nagareyama city has been greatly blessed. The current mayor of Nagareyama is a Christian, and his work has been noticed by many people across Japan. Wherever we are, our calling is to love God and our neighbors, and to pray for God’s blessing on the place where we live.
Jeremiah 29 talks about how God planned to bless Israel. Verse 10 says, “This is what the Lord 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.’” Though the people of Israel had sinned, they could turn back to God and start their walk with him anew.
Verse 11 says that God’s plan is give his people prosperity (though in the Japanese translation, the word is “peace”). This blessing is both spiritual and material. God will not abandon those who believe and return to him. He will watch over their lives. He will give them peace that cannot be shaken.
Furthermore, God promises to give his people a future. In time, he would send Israel a savior. And anyone else who believes in Jesus as Lord and Savior will be included into God’s people. Verse 11 says “I will give you hope and a future.” Through Jesus Christ, we have an abundant hope and future. Even if we are living in difficult times now, we possess the hope of heaven and eternal life.
Verse 12 goes on to say, “Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.” In a foreign land where they no longer had a temple to worship God, if they continued to love God’s laws, to pray, and to keep the day of Sabbath rest, God promised that he would listen to them. God also promised, in verse 13, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” The day was coming when they would no longer need a system of temple worship. So, although they were exiles in Babylon, they had the promise of many blessings from God.
Now I would like to return to an earlier part of Jeremiah, chapter 24. In chapter 24, God used the image of the good figs to describe the exiles in Babylon. He showed Jeremiah two baskets of figs. Verse 2 says, “One basket had very good figs, like those that ripen early; the other basket had very bad figs, so bad they could not be eaten.” There is a limit to our human understanding. It’s easy for us to think that the exiles taken to Babylon were forsaken by God, while the people who remained in Jerusalem were blessed. Many people during that time thought so too. In fact, that is what the false prophets were saying. But God says the opposite.
It is the exiles in Babylon who are blessed. Verses 6 and 7 say, “My eyes will watch over them for their good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up and not tear them down; I will plant them and not uproot them. 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.”
Through this message, God wants the exiles to remember, in the midst of hardships, that they are still his people and return to him. God’s blessings were hidden in the midst of their trials and hardships. As believers, we too can grow through hardships. And to realize God’s plan for our lives.
Each of us has opportunities to come to know Christ. Everyone’s experiences are different, though. Some through illness, some through setbacks, others by realizing how they have sinned; there are many reasons people came to believe in Christ. Christ knows both our past and our present situation. He will give a new plan and new hope to those who believe in him. He also gives us a new mission to live for. His new plans are to prosper us, to give us hope and a future. Let us hold on firmly to this promise.