When Babylon says…



A letter from the prophet Jeremiah to the Israelites exiled by Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon.  A very difficult time for the people of God.  They had been beaten, captured, and forcibly removed from their homes.  Their faith was wavering.  They were in a foreign land, they didn’t know how long they would be there.  The Babylonians had different Gods and a completely different way of life.  The people of Israel have their customs and way of life specifically because they are to be different and set apart from those around them.  So, what to do when forced to live with and among those whom they were to be set apart from?
 
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce.   First of all, it is God, Yahweh, who has sent them into into exile.   Not Nebuchadnezzar or any other human power, but the Lord their God himself.   Second – Jeremiah is telling them to live their lives.  Build houses and live.  Plant gardens and eat.  In other words – “Get comfortable – you’re gonna be here for a while.”  
Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.   This exile would not be short, but neither will it be permanent.   Be fruitful and multiply – one of the oldest commands in the bible.  The seed of Abraham will not fail, it will multiply and be prepared one day to come out of exile.  

Compare this to our modern days.  We are not far behind Europe on the path of rejecting Christ systematically as a nation.  We, like the Europeans, have decided to worship and serve our fleshly desires instead of God.  Whatever feels good, do it.  What works for you might not work for me, and I don’t want you telling me about YOUR God anyway.  Not only that…I’m going to tell you that you are wrong about what YOUR God says!!

But – the Europeans have lost the hope they had in Christ.  What am I talking about??  Populations in most European nations are shrinking.  More people die than are being born.  The people there, who do whatever feels good to them, whenever it feels good to do it, have stopped being fruitful and multiplying.  After all, with no hope in Christ, no hope for salvation, no hope of something greater than we can touch and feel in this broken world, why bring children into this sad state of affairs??

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.   Revolutionary!!  It is familiar to us, but would have been completely counterculture and against everything the Jews had known.  Pray for these Babylonians who defeated us, destroyed our city and all we thought we loved?   Pray for our enemies??   But notice here…for in its welfare you will find your welfare.  There is no them.  There’s only us.  We can’t be about the destruction of those around us and think it is some benefit to us.  The Babylonians were Gods children too, the Jews just didn’t know or understand that.  We do understand, we just choose to live as if we don’t.

For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord.   Sometimes we like to hear lies.  Sometimes lies give us the confirmation we are looking for.  Many times we would prefer to hear lies instead of the truth.  Many false prophets were telling the people to sit tight, this would all be over soon.  This was a lie, but many (most?) of the Jews believed it.  It was a lie they WANTED to believe.  We believe many lies today that we WANT to be the truth.  Lifestyle choices, habits, addictions, thoughts, things we look at. We live in a Babylon that tells us everything is permissible.  Which, without God, is the truth.  As the atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell told us – “Without God, all things are permissible.”  Russell was right about that.  He was also right about something else as well – even though Russell was an atheist, he was not in favor of an atheistic society.  He knew the lawlessness and societal breakdown that would result, results we have been reaping for years and which we are now sowing.
“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.   Seventy years.  Not a short visit, but a lifetime.  But contained here is one of the most hopeful verses in the bible.  For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Even though they had a long hard road in front of them, God had not forgotten the Israelites.  They will have to live in exile, in Babylon, with the Babylonians.  But God has big plans, plans for good and not for evil.  He will deliver His people in His time.  But it will be in His time, not the time of the false prophets spreading lies in His name.   As Paul tells us much later – “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans‬ ‭8:28‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  Just as for the Israelites, not everything that happens IS good, but will be worked out by God FOR good, because He has plans for our welfare and not for evil.  Just because we look around at a world falling apart, God is still in control.  Jesus Christ IS Lord.   He is the light of the world.  WE are the light of the world.  The failing world needs to see His light through His children.   We live in Babylon, but for the Kingdom of God.  We have no choice but to participate in the society around us, but we must also remain set apart, different.  
When Babylon wants to ban Muslims, we want to reach out to Muslims.  And by reach out, I don’t mean “convert ’em or kill ’em”.
When Babylon wants to build a wall to stop the immigrants, God says to love the immigrants.
When Babylon says killing babies is good for our society, we say all lives matter.
When Babylon says make all you can and can all you make, we say all we’ve got is by the grace of God.
When Babylon says they’re either for us or they’re against us, we say there is no them, there’s only us. 
When Babylon says our security is found in our bullets and bombs, we say we are secured by our faith in Christ.
When Babylon says “It’s the economy, stupid!” we say it’s “Faith, Hope and Love”. 
When Babylon says to be a good Christian is to be a good Babylonian….we say we are Christian first.  Let’s be honest – it’s easy to be Christian in America.  Follower of Christ – not so easy.   There will be challenges.  We will come across lions dens.  We might even face the heat of a fiery furnace.   How will we react in the face of the challenges to come?

We will not live in fear.
We will not live in judgement.
We will not be angry.
We will love and declare Jesus Christ.
We will love our neighbor.
We will love and pray for those who hate us.
We will be fruitful and multiply, because we have the hope of Christ, the hope of things unseen.  We believe in more than we see in this broken world.

We will be different.  We will be the people of God as revealed in His son Jesus Christ.
 
 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

Amen.

“These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. This was after King Jeconiah and the queen mother, the eunuchs, the officials of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen, and the metal workers had departed from Jerusalem. 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. It said: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord. “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”
‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭29:1-14‬ ‭ESV‬‬
http://bible.com/59/jer.29.1-14.esv

 

John Lewis

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