A Change of Plans

By Rev. Heidi L. Barham |  September 4, 2022

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READ Jeremiah 18:1 – 11
Our text this morning comes from the book of Jeremiah, a prophet who is often referred to as the “weeping prophet” because as he looked at the children of Israel and his beloved home country, he was often driven to tears. 
Because Jeremiah was a true prophet and as such, he had received God’s many messages regarding the doom and destruction, the retribution and rejection as well as the penalties and punishment that were going to be visited upon Israel for their repeated rebelliousness and refusal to follow God’s commands.
And while Jeremiah had been faithful and obedient in delivering these messages as God had directed him to do, the children of Israel continued to do things their own way.  And as a result, Jerusalem was destroyed, the temple was ruined and the Israelites were taken into captivity in Babylon… which would definitely be a cause for tears.
Now, to give us just a little more background on Jeremiah, he was a prophet who served under the last five kings of Judah, roughly between the years of 625 and 588 BC.  But according to most people’s standards of measuring success, Jeremiah would have been considered an abject failure.  
For forty years he served as God’s spokesman to Judah, but no one seemed to listen.  He issued words of warning to repent but no one bothered to respond.  He was a poor man who endured all kinds of hardships as he sought to fulfill his mission to deliver God’s word to the people of Judah… seemingly to no avail.
According to one Bible commentary:

He was thrown into prison (ch. 37) and into a cistern (ch. 38), and he was taken to Egypt against his will (ch. 43).  He was rejected by his neighbors (11:19-21), his family (12:6), the false priests and prophets (20:1, 2; 28:1-17), friends (20:10), his audience (26:8) and the kings (36:23).  Throughout his life, Jeremiah stood alone, declaring God’s messages of doom, announcing the new covenant, and weeping over the fate of his beloved country. In the eyes of the world, Jeremiah was not a success.  (Life Application Study Bible, 2005, p. 1186)
But the good news, for Jeremiah as well as for us, is that God does not call us to be successful, He calls us to be faithful.  And by all accounts, Jeremiah was definitely faithful.
When Jeremiah wrote these words, he was writing to a people who had been exiled and were living in captivity in Babylon as punishment for their failure to heed the word of the Lord.  But in spite of them living in such dire circumstances, God gave Jeremiah a word of encouragement that all hope was not lost… but it would require A CHANGE OF PLANS for the children of Israel.
Keep in mind, the children of Israel found themselves living in exile in Babylon because they had failed to heed the word of God to repent and turn from their sins.  They were stubborn and wanted to live their lives on their own terms giving no thought to the consequences.
Now, as we take a closer look at our text for the morning, the Lord used a potter and a clay pot to illustrate what could and would happen to Israel if they continued down the path of disobedience… explaining that just as the potter can start over and remold a lump of clay that was marred into a new and useful vessel… God can pluck up a rebellious nation by its roots and rework it into a nation that conforms to His purposes.
God’s message to Jeremiah in this passage was that at any time there could be A CHANGE OF PLANS based on the behaviors and attitudes of the people… should they repent of their evil ways, God said He would “relent and not inflict on it the disaster [He] had planned.”
On the other hand, if God had plans to build up and plant a kingdom that then chose to commit evil and disobey God… God would “reconsider the good [He] had intended to do for it.”
And in the last verse of the text, the Lord gave Jeremiah a message to give to the people, “Danger! I’m shaping doom against you, laying plans against you. Turn back from your doomed way of life. Straighten out your lives” (Jeremiah 18:11, MSG).
Now, Jeremiah’s role was to deliver God’s messages to the people, whether they wanted to hear them or not.
And more often than not, the people did not want to hear what Jeremiah had to say.  Some chose to simply ignore the words the prophet spoke while others became antagonistic and even threatened his life.  But Jeremiah remained faithful to his call and said whatever it was that God told him to say, anyhow.
The words of warning that Jeremiah spoke more than two thousand years ago are still quite relevant for us today.  Just as God told Jeremiah back then of A CHANGE OF PLANS that could lead to their destruction should the children of Israel not obey His commands… we must be on the alert and remain obedient as well.
I don’t think it will come as a surprise to anyone here today (or on the phone) that we are living in the midst of some very turbulent times… with everything from the ongoing war in Ukraine to the COVID-19 virus that is still running rampant in 2022… to the newest outbreak of Monkey Pox and the economic and political uncertainties we face on a daily basis.  These can certainly be described as extremely distressing times.
However, as we look at the text, we can find a ray of hope that God offered to His people who were living in exile… He gave them an opportunity to consider A CHANGE OF PLANS before it was too late… and I just have to believe that we have been offered that same ray of hope today… that we have been given that same opportunity to consider A CHANGE OF PLANS before it is too late.
Throughout the Scriptures, we read that the Lord is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love” (see Exodus 34:6, Numbers 14:18, Nehemiah 9:17, Psalm 86:15, 103:8, 145:8, Joel 2:13, Nahum 1:3).  And the reason for the Lord being slow to anger is simple as we read in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
God is slow to anger in order to allow us time to come to repentance… to turn our lives around… in other words, to get our acts together.
God did it for the Ninevites, sending Jonah with a message of warning, declaring they would be overthrown in 40 days (see Jonah 3:4) … but when they heard the message, the king of Nineveh called for his people to repent… and the Scriptures tell us that “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened” (Jonah 3:10).
And in 2 Chronicles (7:13-14) we read this promise that the Lord made to Solomon:

When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
But just to be clear, the call to repentance is not just an Old Testament concept… nor it is reserved strictly for nations and countries… although our country could certainly stand to repent… we, as individuals are called to repent as well.
Throughout the New Testament, we find calls to repent being issued by Jesus and His disciples.  The call to repentance should ultimately result in A CHANGE OF PLANS… denouncing our slavery to sin and declaring our acceptance of Jesus as our Savior and our willingness to follow Him.
We find an example of this happening on the day that Jesus was crucified as two criminals were hung on either side of Him.  Understanding that crucifixion was reserved for the most heinous of criminals… the two men who were crucified with Jesus would certainly have needed to repent… and one of them did.
Looking at Luke 23 (39 – 43), we read:

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”  But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
There was definitely A CHANGE OF PLANS for that criminal who received the promise of being with Jesus in paradise that very day… a reminder to us all that it is never too late to trust in Jesus… that as long as there is breath in our bodies, there is still hope.
And that is good news for not just us, but for our country and our world today… there is still hope… because there is still Jesus.
So let us pray for A CHANGE OF PLANS in the lives of those who would do harm to others… for those who would withhold resources from those that are most in need… for those who would put personal gain above the greater good of those they are called to serve… for those who would turn back the hands of time to restrict the freedoms of others.
Let us pray for hearts of repentance that will result in A CHANGE OF PLANS and save us all from the doom and destruction, the retribution and rejection along with the penalties and punishment that await this world if it fails to turn to God.
But in the meantime, let us continue to surrender our lives to Jesus as His faithful followers… that we may be shaped and molded in His image… and live in such a way as to always bring honor and glory to Him.
And if that is your prayer this day, won’t you stand now and join in singing our Hymn of Discipleship: Take My Life (v. 1, 5, 6) #609