A HOPE AND A FUTURE IN JESUS
We find one of the most wonderful promises in all of Scripture in Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” This is one of those verses that is likely precious to many of us. You can find it in paintings and plaques, bookmarks and quilts. It is a promise that God knows what he is doing, that he has always known what he is doing, and that he will always know what he is doing. God has plans and he carries them out, and every one of his plans is for the good of his people. Through faith and trust in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we become part of God’s people, and this promise becomes ours. We can have hope because God will bring us into his future.
Yet one of the things about this promise we often miss is where God’s people are when God gives it. This is a promise given to a people in exile. Exile means that God’s people were in a place that they shouldn’t have been and didn’t really want to be. Before God gave this word in Jeremiah 29 he had been telling his Old Testament people, the nation of Israel, for decades that if they don’t repent of their wickedness and sin, if they don’t return to him and throw themselves upon his mercy and grace and once again start living like his people, they will experience judgment for their sins. That was the prophet Jeremiah’s primary message. Unfortunately, the people did not repent. Almost 600 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, the Babylonian Empire invades Jerusalem, and the nation goes into exile. The people were taken from the land promised to them by God, which they had possessed and lived in for centuries, and forced to travel across the Middle Eastern desert for 700 miles. They left their homes, their hills, and their temple. In their new land, the customs were strange, the language was incomprehensible, the landscape was flat and featureless, the weather was different, the faces were unrecognizable, and everything familiar and beloved was gone. Yet, in this new place, in exile, God reminds us that we can still have hope. God’s good plans for us are tied to how we live our lives for him in exile.
Exile is not just something that happens to us physically, but spiritually. The result of turning away from God, of sin, is always exile. We were created to live in the presence of God, and when we don’t, we can’t help but question who we are and what our purpose is. When we don’t seem to fit in anywhere, when relating with others seems so difficult, when everything we do seems meaningless, it’s hard to feel worthwhile or significant, it’s hard to make sense of life. The Bible teaches us again and again that as human beings we are all exiles because we are all trying to find the reason we’re here but we’re continually frustrated in our pursuit because of the sin within us and around us. Yet even in exile, God is at work and has a plan for us.
What we must know is that in the midst of our exile our Savior and King is there, saying, “Come home. I made you for more than this, find your purpose, your life, what you’ve always wanted, in me.” Jesus is crucified outside of the gate, where he shouldn’t be, so that we could once again be where we should be. Jesus experiences what it’s like to feel forsaken so that we would never again be forsaken. Jesus is cut off from the presence of the Father as he becomes sin for us, the one who knew no sin, so that we could become the righteousness of God in him. Jesus is exiled so we could be rescued from our exile. Through Jesus, we find where we should be and we are brought back into God’s presence. Through Jesus, we experience God’s plans for us, “plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope.”