Text: Acts 24:1-27, Jeremiah 29:10-14, Hebrews 13:15
On my daughter’s dresser sits a white ceramic sheep that sat on my own dresser when I was about her age. The sheep is small—a couple inches tall—and sits on its bottom, straight-legged, like a person sitting on a floor. Its front legs are pointed up, two little sheep-feet wrapped over the top of a stack of small 1×3-inch cards, each displaying a Bible verse.
I always loved that sheep. Even now, when I go in my daughter’s room, I can’t resist the nostalgic urge to slide the stack out of its arms and put a new verse on top, then slide it carefully back into place.
There is something strangely compelling about encountering a Bible verse in this happenstance sort of way—a momentary feeling of mystery that ignites when I come across a verse unexpectedly. I stare at it like a puzzle piece, wondering where and how its truth fits into my current circumstances. “What does it MEAN?” I wonder.
Put me in a situation like Paul was in—standing trial before yet another ruler, facing yet another set of false accusations—and I’m sure to read into every detail. Conflict isn’t exactly my specialty, so I’d probably internalize it all, anxiously assessing how each and every factor affects my main character: me. Leaving the matter unresolved is my worst-case scenario. Uncertainty is my kryptonite.
This back-and-forth with Felix went on for two years (Acts 24:27). TWO YEARS. While I’m pretty sure the uncertainty alone would be enough to kill me, I don’t get the vibe that it kept Paul up at night. I’m not sure he even regarded uncertainty as uncertainty. In his monologue before Felix, Paul said, “I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets” (Acts 24:14). It follows, then, that Paul knew and believed this little gem:
“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.”
- Jeremiah 29:11
Here’s the difference between Paul and me (as if there’s only one): I believe God has good plans for me, but I assume His plans fall within the boundary lines of my own. In other words, God’s good plans for me are His expert version of my first draft. Paul knew better.
That little verse, presented all alone on the sheep’s card, is true because God’s Word is true. But in the context of Jeremiah 29, it is even better. That verse and those around it are God’s message sent to His people in exile through the prophet Jeremiah. We don’t have to zoom out very far to see that this message of hope from God to His people was not the quick, tidy bow we often make it out to be:
“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… I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”
- Jeremiah 29:10-14
Seventy years. That’s how long they’d be in exile—an exile that, according to verse 14, God sent them into. Were these the plans they were hoping for? Not likely. Were they a ridiculously good promise from their ever-faithful God? Absolutely. Their exile was not the end.
Paul knew this, too. He knew Scripture is true—not in part, but in whole. He knew the gospel of Jesus is true—not in part, but in whole. Paul knew God is sovereign and good—not sometimes, but all the time. Not within the boundaries we give Him, but through all of history and time and space. Our hope does not die when our hands are chained or when life seems at a standstill. Our God is sure and faithful.
Paul did not know how all the pieces would fit together, but he knew his exile was not the end. Because of Jesus, neither is ours.