But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. (John 16:32-33)
Relate: Judah was at war. Babylon was at their gates and things looked bleak. They were waiting for their miracle. Things had been this bad before. Worse. Assyria had stood at these very gates and threatened a destruction far more grim than any Babylon would carry out. Babylon had already come and conquered once before but they only took the leaders and the social elites with them back as captives. When Assyria conquered the land they tried to create the effects of a nuclear blast long before nuclear technology was around to give them the idea. No one survived the Assyrians unscathed and when they stood at Jerusalem’s gates the Angel of the Lord Himself went through their camp eliminating the threat as it slept.
Judah was now looking for a miracle like that. As they looked and hoped and prayed, the most renowned prophet of their age was in his room penning a letter to those already captive in Babylon. He wasn’t promising a swift return. He wasn’t promising them victory. He was telling them that they would remain in Babylon for the duration of their life, their children’s lives and a good chunk of their grandchildren’s lives. For seventy years they would live as refugees and exiles in a strange land that was hostile to their faith. Couched in that prophesy (that no one wanted to hear) was a promise. I know the plans I have for you. They are plans to prosper not to harm you.
Seriously, Jeremiah? You’ve promised us refugee status for seventy years and that’s a good thing? That’s a prosperous thing? Is your head screwed on right?
React: I’m guessing that the disciples were thinking about the same thing as Jesus winds up His final message to them. “You’re all going to run and I’m going to die alone.” He could have honestly added here: “After a short reprieve the rest of your life will be marked by flight, persecution, and ultimately martyrdom.” And then He ends with: “But take heart. I’ve overcome the world.” Seriously, Jesus? You’ve promised us hardship trials and death. That’s victory? Is Your head screwed on right?
How often have you heard someone quoting Jeremiah 29:11 or the second half of John 16:33 out of context? How often has it been used as a talisman against bad stuff happening even as the world seems to fall apart around the user? Have you ever used it in this way? Have I? God doesn’t care one bit about prosperity and success as the world defines it. Well, that isn’t quite true. It is written in more than one place that riches are a barrier to the Kingdom of God and that the poor are blessed. I would go so far as to say God would rather most of us are physically poor in order that we might be spiritually rich. Those without other means are better able to understand God as their Provider. Those who live on the run and under the threat of death truly know God as Overcomer. The rich church… the “prosperous” church… is all too often actually serving a false god.
Help us to understand that the blessing You promise does not often line up with the success we understand. Help us to recognize that Your plan goes way beyond the shallow nonsense this world so often runs after. Let me passions go deeper than that. Let my pursuits be more lasting than those. You have promised I would overcome, help me to understand more truly what that means… and then help me to live in it, even if it means poverty, persecution, and death.