This segment “What is the meaning of Jeremiah 29:11 for us today?” is a continuation of the series on Preaching the Book of Jeremiah with Pastor Paul Alexander. Listen to the answer of this question on YouTube or listen to the full interview.
KH: There’s a verse that people try and take the direct route in applying and that’s Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” It’s a beautiful verse. I’m sure it’s on thousands of calendars and it’s the “life verse” of millions of people. But is this a promise for today or not?
PA: It’s a great question. I think the answer is “yes” and “no” depending on how you take it. The answer is certainly yes, but for the church corporately as we’re viewed in exile (see New Testament like 1 Peter 1 and 1 Peter 2). Yes, God is going to finish what He started and usher us into the new creation. The church today is not at home. God is redeeming us. We haven’t yet reached the promised land. Redemption is already, not yet. Yes, we experience many of the blessings of the new creation already, but there’s a whole lot of not yet. Much like the writer to the Hebrews says to us, “Here we have no lasting city, but we’re waiting for the city that is to come.” Peter talks about us as the people of God the elect who are part of the dispersion, of the exile. He addresses us as exiles and strangers to keep our behavior exemplary before non-believers. We are to think of ourselves as those who are on our way somewhere.
Many people today, many Christians today want to say, no we are not in exile, this world is our home because they don’t want to think of heaven as this kind of disembodied ethereal existence that doesn’t have anything to do with the creation of the new earth. We want to say “Yes, we want to affirm that there is a new earth coming. God’s going to redeem. God’s going to recreate. God’s going to restore and renew all things. That hasn’t happened yet, we’re still in exile. We’re very much in Babylon. The whole idea of Babylon is a city as the image of humanity organized and in rebellion against God. Really, organized for rebellion against God. That’s where we’re living now. It’s like we’re in Babylon. We’re not in the New Jerusalem yet. That’s going to come down out of Heaven when Jesus comes back. Yes, God does have a plan for us. Yes, He does know the plans He has for us—plans for welfare not for evil to give us a future and a hope. That’s ultimately the promise of the new creation and a reconciled and redeemed relationship with God for eternity for the whole church.”
To take that verse and make it your life verse and use it for an unemployed aimless millennial looking for life direction. . . .I’m not sure that’s the promise that you can claim so you can say, “Therefore I’m going to get the job I just interviewed for.” That’s probably not exactly how God wants us to apply that text. But He does want us to take it and bank on it in terms of God has a plan and a future of the church and we can trust Him. He is going to bring us into the Promised Land of the New Creation. We need to continue to obey and trust and believe and persevere and repent and live lives of distinctive holiness in Babylon now. And we need to relate to culture in a way that we hope will result in, by God’s grace, the conversion of more people who are right now living as in rebellion to God but we hope will be reconciled to Him by repentance and faith.
KH: There’s tremendous hope even in exile. Even in extreme hardship where it may seem like God’s abandoning His purposes for the world and for His people, but that’s not true.
PA: True. I think we can also apply it individually in terms of the Christian life is patterned on Christ’s death and resurrection. We’re all going to go through a major break with our sin in regeneration and in conversion, a definitive break with sin, a definitive death to self and a rising to new life with Christ. That is symbolized in our initial baptism. The rest of the Christian life, very often and remarkably so, looks like a series of deaths and resurrections for individual believers as God uses our sufferings and our trials to make us look more like Christ. As we suffer with and for Christ and are in the middle of a mini-death, we can hope for that mini-resurrection.
In that sense yes, Jeremiah 29:11 does apply to us. But it applies to us in Christ and for Christ’s purposes and not just for my purposes as I want to co-opt Christ for them in terms of my own convenience or prosperity.