Based on: Jeremiah 29:10-14
I have to tell you about the surprise birthday party I planned for my wife. I rented the basement of the church we attended in Milwaukee; I invited her friends; I had a Powerpoint presentation with pictures of her throughout her life. There was cake, decorations and even cardboard cutouts of my parents and her parents so they could be involved even though they lived far away. All of this planning and Sallie didn’t know a thing about it.
On the day of the event we went out for supper first. The kids knew about the surprise and they also kept the secret. After eating, as we were driving home, I said, “We have to stop by the church first. Pastor wanted me to pick something up.” She was suspicious. We got to the church and I invited the whole family into the church to “pick up” whatever it was I was supposed to pick up. Sallie was really suspicious. “There is something I want to show you,” I said. It didn’t work. Finally I said, “OK, there are people in there waiting to see you. It’s supposed to be a surprise.” That worked and we had a nice party. If I had thought of it I could have said, “I know the plans I have made for you and believe me, they are good plans.”
The Jews were wondering what kind of plans the Lord had for them. It was really quite tragic what happened to the Jews. Remember all the promises God made to Abraham concerning his descendants – how God would make them a nation and give them the land of Canaan? God kept those promises. Remember the miracles God performed for these people to bring them out of Egypt and into the land of Canaan? Remember how great the nation of Israel was under King David and King Solomon?
But God’s chosen people rejected God. Certainly, Jews still came to the temple, but it was only show for many of them. They had removed God from their heart, and so God, through these awful tragedies, planned to bring his children back to himself.
The nation of Israel was split in two. The northern tribes were taken away by Assyria and now God has brought the people of Babylon to the land of Judah to subdue it and take many Jews back to Babylon as captives. Family members were separated from one another and thousands of people were forced to move away from their homes, never to return.
After all this God spoke to those who were forced to live in Babylon. Through the prophet Jeremiah God said, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Can you imagine how some of the Jews might have responded? “Really Lord! You want me to prosper? You want me to have hope? The things happening in my life tell me just the opposite. My life is a mess and I will never see home again.”
I am fairly certain that almost every one of you has had a time of great grief or pain at some point in your life- when it was difficult or impossible to see God’s love in what was happening and when perhaps you even doubted God’s love for you. There are times when the clouds are so thick and the night so dark that the Christian is tempted to turn away from the light of God’s promises and the comfort found there. But there is comfort, and we find it throughout God’s Word. Here is but one example, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Let’s look at the comfort and the certainty of each word in this passage starting with the word “For”. In place of the word “for” we could also use the word “because” and we shouldn’t overlook it because it says there is a reason we should endure whatever suffering comes upon us. God told the exiled Jews to settle down and live peacefully in the land to which they were exiled. God’s reason? “Because I know the plans I have for you.”
The next word is the word “I”. Who is this “I”? It is the Lord, the God of full and faithful grace. It is the God who created you. It is the Father of the heavenly lights from whom every good and perfect gift comes. It is the God who, in the person of Jesus Christ, suffered hell in your place. He has proven the width, length, height, and depth of his love for you so you can trust what he says.
And he says, “For I know”. He doesn’t just think this or that will happen. Our Lord knows. With all the certainty of the one who sees everything from the beginning of time to the end of time, who knows about every hair on your head, the Lord tells you that he know.
What does he know? “For I know the plans” he says. He has plans. The world and your life are not just hurtling through space and time turning first in one random direction and then another without purpose. Our Lord has a plan. That doesn’t mean he makes all of your decisions for you. When it comes to who you marry, where you work, and what you eat in the morning, you make your own decisions. Those decisions may be good or bad., but our Lord uses them in his plan.
“For I know the plans I have for you.” God has plans for you and his plans for you are always wrapped up in his plans for Jesus Christ. God’s plan for you is an eternity with him. God’s plan for you started before creation when he chose you to be his child. Our Lord continued his plan for you as he gave the promise of the Savior to Adam and Eve and as he prepared the world for the coming of his Son. We see our Lord executing his plan for you with the execution of his Son on the cross. His plan all along was to take your sin and place it on his Son so you could be his child. Whatever else happens, he will make it serve his plan for you to be in heaven with him.
Our Lord has “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Here is the goal and end result of God’s plans. The word translated “prosper” is the Hebrew word “shalom”. It is often translated “peace”, but a more basic meaning is “whole” or “complete” It is a peace or prosperity that comes from being whole. If you have ever felt less than “whole” because a tragedy or sin has left you empty inside, know that only Christ can give you “shalom” – a perfect peace and prosperity because God has made you “complete” in Christ.
Just as God told the Jews there was a time limit to their suffering (they would be in exile for 70 years), our suffering also has a limit. We have hope in a perfect life to come, and we have an eternal future with him where we will be made complete and whole.
“For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” At times it can be difficult to believe that the suffering and pain we experience can be part of God’s plan to give hope and a future, but God comforts us with his promise that his plans are to bring us peace and prosperity, not harm. I tried to plan good things to celebrate Sallie’s birthday for one evening, but God has carefully planned an eternal celebration for us in heaven. He wants us to be with him, and whatever we might go through on earth is part of his plan to bring us safely to that celebration.