One Comment to “70 Years in Babylon”

  1. Donald McMahon
    September 23, 2019

    “70 Years in Babylon” (Jeremiah 29:1–14)(9.15.19)
    Jeremiah 29:1–14 (NIV84)
    29 This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 2 (This was after King Jehoiachin and the queen mother, the court officials and the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen and the artisans had gone into exile from Jerusalem.) 3 He entrusted the letter to Elasah son of Shaphan and to Gemariah son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. It said:
    4 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” 8 Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. 9 They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.
    10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. 11 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. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”
    The word of God for the people of God.
    Title: “70 Years in Babylon”
    What is behind the title of this message? In Jeremiah 29:10 the Lord names 70 years and in our responsive reading today, we read in Psalm 90:10:
    The length of our days is seventy years—
    or eighty, if we have the strength;
    What a coincidence! If you believe in coincidence.
    In 1960, the average lifespan in the United States was 69.77 years. In 2016, the average lifespan was 78.69 years. The duration of the exile has been calculated from different perspectives and comes close to matching the Lord’s promise of the exile being completed in 70 years.
    I interpret the Lord’s statement to indicate the exile, the captivity, will be one lifetime. When God’s chosen people doubted him about The Promised Land, a whole generation perished in the wilderness. In a similar fashion, because of their disobedience, the Lord declares that he will start fresh with His Chosen People after one lifespan has passed.
    Of course, Babylon was a real city in a real empire, an historical fact. From a New Testament perspective, Babylon, as a place and an idea, is symbolic of the power, influence, idolatry, and the wickedness of Rome. Rome is identified with Babylon in early Judaism, for like Babylon it overthrew Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. This was the position of the early church and has remained the majority opinion.
    The similarities between Babylon and Rome as capitals of great empires led naturally to their pairing in symbolism. Like Babylon, Rome ruled the kings of the earth, was a center of world trade, reveled in luxury, was a persecutor of God’s covenant people, and was destined to fall.
    As a symbol, Babylon embraces more than the empire, city, and culture of Rome. It is the sphere of idolatry and worldliness under the temporary control of Satan, a worldliness in opposition to the people and work of God, a worldliness epitomized first by Babylon and then by Rome. Babylon as the mother of harlots and abominations in opposition to God is the antithesis of the Church as the Bride of Christ, the New Jerusalem, and the Kingdom of God.
    How far is the United States of America, from this description of Babylon and Rome?
    There is a new church in Galloway. It is called the Church by the Bay. It is on the White Horse Pike next to Denny’s. It is a Congregational Methodist Church and is pastored by Lou Strugala, a former Local Pastor of the United Methodist Church.
    I have been told that the building they are converting was the former State Trooper building. Out front, there are two flag poles. They are flying the American flag on one pole and the Christian flag on the other pole. At first, I thought maybe they should not be showing our National Colors out in front of the church. Not because I am unpatriotic; rather, I am just concerned about people confusing their loyalties. Then I thought about this 29th chapter of Jeremiah and wondered whether I am being too narrow in my thinking.
    More than one preacher has said that the fundamental law of God’s kingdom is to seek the good of all men. We have all heard the axiom that a rising tide raises all ships. It is clear from the Lord’s direction to the exiles that they are expected to live out full lives in their new surroundings. They are to be concerned for all, those ruling over them and the general good of the city.
    The direct distance of Babylon from Jerusalem was about 520 miles in a straight line, which would be a treacherous journey and require crossing a large desert. The safer and normal route is about 900 miles. To give some perspective, the next closest Congregational Methodist Church to Church by the Bay is in Tennessee. And, the distance to Nashville from here is 850 miles.
    Although they have barely opened their doors, that congregation is already starting ministries for the poor in Atlantic City. Think about the White Horse Pike in Galloway and Absecon. It is a continuous string of motels and hotels. In addition to the people who stay there to gamble and party in Atlantic City there are other segments of the population that need to be ministered. You have the homeless that Atlantic County is housing there. You have those that are using motels for clandestine rendezvouses.
    I can see where this new church plant that has been largely formed by former United Methodists might see themselves as theological exiles. They are certainly intent on growing and being a blessing to the community that surrounds them. Yes, I was too hasty. Flying the National Colors beside the Christian flag is consistent with the Lord’s mandate here in Jeremiah 29.
    The Lord Almighty, through Jeremiah, starts this letter in verse four, “…to all those I carried into exile.” Then he brackets this section in verse 14 by ending it with, “…and bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” In between, the Lord makes his sovereignty clear. The Lord is the one who sends true prophets. The Lord will fulfill his promises. The Lord will bring them back from captivity. The Lord will gather them from around the world. It was the Lord that had banished them.
    Hold on now Pastor. You missed it. There’s a problem. Jeremiah starts this chapter by saying it is Nebuchadnezzar that carried the people into exile. It looks like a contradiction. How can it be true that both the Lord Almighty and Nebuchadnezzar carried the people into exile? God is sovereign and Nebuchadnezzar is not. The king was used by the Lord to discipline his people.
    The famous hymn writer Isaac Watts wrote about our seventy years on this planet in a poem called “The Frailty and Shortness of Life:”
    Lord, what a feeble piece
    Is this our mortal frame!
    Our life how poor a trifle ’tis,
    That scarce deserves the name!
    Alas, the brittle clay
    That built our body first!
    And every month, and every day,
    ’Tis mould’ring back to dust.
    Our moments fly apace,
    Nor will our minutes stay;
    Just like a flood, our hasty days
    Are sweeping us away.
    Well, if our days must fly,
    We’ll keep their end in sight;
    We’ll spend them all in wisdom’s way,
    And let them speed their flight.
    They’ll waft us sooner o’er
    This life’s tempestuous sea;
    Soon we shall reach the peaceful shore
    Of blest eternity.
    This first portion of Jeremiah’s letter was meant to comfort the exiles. Notice that it was to the survivors, because many had died. They had been defeated and ripped from their homeland. Again they found themselves to be a people in a foreign land living under foreign rule. They had cried and sung songs of lament on their long trek to Babylon. They were a people without hope.
    What was the cure the Lord commanded? They were to live. To the best of their ability they were to live normal lives. They were to raise families. They were to connect with their community. They were to be fruitful and multiply. They were to build, to plant, to prosper. And then the Lord hits them with the big one: Pray for their new city. My children you are going to be here for your whole lives. What blesses the community as a whole will bless you too. Yes, too often we forget that this life in and of itself is a blessing. Don’t look back on what you had. Rather look forward to what is to come.
    The next group we hear about in this letter is those that are being warned against false hope. There are false prophets. There are false fortune tellers. These imposters are not from God. They have figured out what the people want to hear and then they use it for their own gain. They proclaim lies and then attribute them to the Lord.
    Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:3 (NIV84) For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
    This is the same warning given in Jeremiah 29. The imposters are not completely at fault. They are simply telling the people what they want to hear. “Don’t worry. Be happy. Everything is fine. Don’t bother to unpack. You will be back to Jerusalem in two short years.” The Lord says, “Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have.”
    Isn’t that exactly where we are at? Whatever you want to believe, you can find a church that teaches it. The concept of hell is repulsive; Everyone must get to heaven one way or another; Confession and repentance make me uncomfortable; Holiness is old fashioned and unnecessary; It’s ok to abort babies. Yes, you can kind find a church, you can find an ordained clergyperson, who will affirm you.
    This is why we have so many different denominations and religious sects. This is why we have church hoppers and shoppers. This is why we have the popularity of the Prosperity Gospel and all its variants. The Truth of Jesus, the Son of Man, is so desperately needed today. No one comes to the Father except through him.
    Then we come upon the people who have true hope. True hope is based on the promises and declarations of the Lord our God. When the time of discipline and chastening is over, the Lord will restore his people. In the short term it may not look like the Lord is looking out for us. God’s plans for his chosen people are not for harm. They are for our ultimate good and a hope and a future. Our hope is based on the historical fact of God working in history and his recorded word.
    Before I expound on God’s plan for our blessing, I must address the abuse of this 11th verse. It has been commercialized and claimed by many individuals in our culture. The promise made is not to individuals but to a whole community, a whole people, that has been through tremendous hardship. So, this verse is not about reaching your goals or seeking success. It is about experiencing the discipline of a loving Father and coming through it on the other side in a new relationship.
    When the designated time of 70 years is over, the Lord will move to the next stage of His plan. There is an interesting intertwining of the Lord at work and the response of His people. The Lord will come to fulfill his promise. In the midst of that the people will call and pray to God and He will listen. The people will seek and find their Lord though he is already there. There is a nuance here that the New Revised Standard Version translates as the Lord saying, “I will let you find me.”
    But, there is a condition for this restored relationship with the Lord, which will lead to their restored position in their homeland. They must seek God with ALL THEIR HEART. Do not seek God with half your heart. Do not be double-hearted or double-minded. There cannot be conflicting loyalties. We must be sincere, pure, and all-in as we seek our Lord God. We only get one life in this Babylon. We must put ourselves in position for the Lord to allow us to find Him. Then we can celebrate the promises of God.
    This past Friday morning, I drove up to Cherry Hill for a Wesleyan Covenant Association meeting. Pastor Frank Brown from Port Community Church went with me. We were updated on the current happenings across the denomination and within the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference. The Wesleyan Covenant Association is the organization that was formed a couple of years ago to preserve and promote the orthodox understanding of scripture, and 2,000 years of Church Tradition, in relation to marriage, human sexuality, and other issues.
    The intent of the meeting was to focus on the positive and to look forward. When other mainline Protestant denominations have wrestled with these issues in the past, it is evident that proper planning and preparation were not done. The WCA knows this and is trying to position those churches that uphold orthodox standards to be able to come together in a new expression of Methodism.
    I have hopes and dreams for Emmaus Church and the kingdom of God in our region. Today, in many ways, it seems that we are living in exile in a foreign land. We will continue to pray. We will continue to pursue the welfare of all men and women. We will continue to seek God with our whole heart. The Lord will allow us to find him and he will fulfill his gracious promise to prosper his Church and give us hope and a future.
    I have hopes and dreams for my grandchildren; but, I am impotent to ensure those things will come to pass. In contrast, God Almighty has the perfect plan for their lives and the perfect power to ensure it comes to pass. My prayer is that the Lord will use my 70 or 80 years for his purposes. May future generations be restored into a life in The Promised Land of God.
    Amen and amen. Let us pray.


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