Summary: Sermon explores the "intolerable tension" between what is and what ought to be as motivation for prayer. How the word informs our prayers is also addressed.
“Now these are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the remainder of the elders who were carried away captive -- to the priests, the prophets, and all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon. 2(This happened after Jeconiah the king, the queen mother, the eunuchs, the princes of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen, and the smiths had departed from Jerusalem.) 3 The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan, and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to Babylon, to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, saying, 4 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all who were carried away captive, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit. 6 Take wives and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters -- that you may be increased there, and not diminished. 7 And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the LORD for it; for in its peace you will have peace. 8 For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are in your midst deceive you, nor listen to your dreams which you cause to be dreamed. 9 For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them, says the LORD.
In 605 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem and took some of the Jewish people back with him to Babylon, a land currently known today as Iraq. Among those captives was a young Jewish prince, about 15 years old, named Daniel. Shortly after that the great prophet, Jeremiah, had sent this prophetic word to the captives in Babylon. He told them to settle down there and make a life for themselves; make the most of their situation; build houses; establish businesses; raise a family. They would spend most, if not all, of their lives there. It was not an ideal situation by any means. God’s judgment was on their nation; and that judgment would not be reversed. There were preachers among those captives that prophesied something different. Their prophecies were exactly what the captives wanted to hear. Their message was much more positive. They were saying that God would intervene for His people very soon. God would bring down the evil Babylonian Empire and bring His people back to Jerusalem. Look again at Jeremiah’s words in verse 8. For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are in your midst deceive you, nor listen to your dreams which you cause to be dreamed. 9 For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them, says the LORD.
How do I judge a message from the Lord? The danger is that we would judge it based upon egocentric criteria—how does it make me feel at the time? Does it sound good to me; is it what I was hoping to hear, etc.? None of these people wanted to hear that they would spend the rest of their life in Babylon. Yet that was Jeremiah’s message to them.
Does the preacher tailor his message to what the crowds want to hear; or does he tell them what God is saying? If he’s a good politician, he’ll tell them what they want to hear. That will make him popular. If he’s a prophet, he’ll tell them what God is saying. Sometimes that is a comforting, encouraging word and people are very happy to hear it. Sometimes it’s a word of warning and correction and most people will not want to hear it. John the Baptist’s word to King Herod did not gain him a promotion. Herod cut his head off instead. Stephen’s word to the Sanhedrin was not what they wanted to hear. There were times in Jesus’ ministry when the crowds welcomed His message. There were other times when the crowds left because of His message.
Now in verse 10 comes the good news and the bad news of Jeremiah’s message. The good news is that God will visit them and bring them back to their homeland. The bad news is that it will be seventy years before it happens. Given the average lifespan during that time, that could be disappointing.
10 For thus says the LORD: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place. 11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive.”