Summary: Jeremiah 29:11 is not about our own personal fulfillment, it’s about our spiritual fulfillment. If we take scripture out of context, we run the risk of making scripture fit our life, instead of making our life fit scripture.
You all know that I love history, and I love bringing up historical events in my messages. But instead of going back to World War II or the Civil War or something else that happened a long long time ago in a galaxy far far away, let’s go back to September 11, 2001. How many of you actually remember that event? You remember what you were doing when the news came that the Twin Towers in New York were attacked by terrorists; you actually saw the news reports live on the TV. How many of you were even alive when that happened?
You guys have learned about 9/11 in school or from your family. But because you weren’t actually there -- or if you were, you were too young to really remember it -- you have no context to the situation. You are forced to rely on first hand accounts, photographs and history books to try and find some context for what it was like.
But even now though, less than 20 years later, people are trying to change what history says really happened. There are hundreds of conspiracy theories on “what really happened” during the 9/11 attacks. Some say that it was all a way to manipulate the stock market, while others go so far as to say that the real attackers were not Al-Qaeda, but CIA agents and other members of the US Government.
The way people who believe these conspiracies justify their belief is by picking and choosing what facts they concentrate on, and ignoring the rest. For example, a popular controversy is that the simultaneous attack on the Pentagon wasn’t actually done by an airplane, but by a missile fired by a secret government agency. The damage to the Pentagon could have been done by a missile, certainly; but this controversy conveniently ignores the many images and videos showing airplane debris in and around the building.
You can see where the danger in this lies -- if I didn’t tell you about the airplane debris in and around the Pentagon, and I just explained how the damage to the building could easily have been caused by a missile, you may have believed me! A statement can be true, but if you don’t have all of the information, it can make you infer something that is not true.
This applies most often in the Christian world to scripture. We live in a time where more people than ever before can access the Bible. Thanks to websites like BibleGateway.com and Bible.com (and many more), people can read the Word of God for free, in a language they can understand, at any time of day or night. This is great! However, the ability to share a single verse with all of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram can make it easy to misunderstand the original point behind that verse.
This is a hugely dangerous thing! We are all examples of Christ and His love here on Earth. People who are hungry for the Lord will listen to what we all say and do in order to get closer to Christ or, if they don’t know Him yet, figure out who this Jesus person is. If we misunderstand a verse, we run the risk of leading someone to a version of Christ that does not actually exist! Jesus speaks to the danger of this in Mark 9:42, “But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone hung around your neck.”
Well, that’s just for sin, right? If they misunderstand something about Jesus, that’s not a sin, it’s just a misunderstanding. As Dwight Schrute from The Office would say -- FALSE! If we tell someone that it’s perfectly legal for them to run into a gas station and take all the candy bars they want without paying for it, and they do it, will the police still come after them? Of course they would! The same logic is true with scripture. If we convince someone that something is true -- even though it’s not -- by misusing Scripture, they will still face the consequences.
One of the most often-quoted scriptures is Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV), “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.” What a powerful verse! This verse gives hope to many in hard situations -- and rightly so. Many people consider this verse to be their favorite verse in the Bible -- but what does it really mean? For that, we need to look at the context…
Jeremiah was a prophet during one of the most turbulent times in Israel’s history. He was a prophet over 5 kings of Israel, until after the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and destroyed Solomon’s Temple. During this time the Israelites had repeatedly fallen under the influence of false gods, even to the point of sacrificing their own children to Baal. They had fallen so far away from God that Jeremiah wrote the books of Jeremiah, Lamentations, and First and Second Kings, and because of the depressing subjects described in these books he’s often referred to as “The Weeping Prophet.”