Jeremiah (ESL) Part 1: The Prophet

One: The Context – God’s story with Israel

 
this year I’ve been studying the book of Jeremiah in the Bible
so it’s great to have the chance to talk about it today and next week.
 
Is anyone here Jeremy?
You are named after Jeremiah!
 
It’s a beautiful book.
it’s the longest book in the Bible.
Jeremiah is in the Old Testament, the first part of the Bible, before Jesus came.
it’s about two thirds of the way through,
so first we need a bit of history.
The story of God’s relationship with the people of Israel.
 
 
A long time before Jeremiah, almost 1000 years, around 1500 BC
The people of Israel were in the country of Egypt
they were working as slaves.
It was a hard unhappy life.
 
But we have a God who loves to set people free and give them new life.
God rescued them.
He led them out from Egypt.
And brought them to a mountain, Mount Sinai.
 
 
There, God made a promise to the people:
If you keep my rules and instructions, if you stay close to me,
I will always be with you and look after you
I will give you food and drink, houses to live in, families with healthy grandparents and happy children.
When your enemies attack, I will protect you.
 
The people made a promise to God:
we will love you and serve you and obey you for all our lives.
 
Where do people make promises like that to each other today?
Yes, at a wedding,
it was like a wedding between God and the people.
 
Soon after, God brought them into the land of Israel,
a good land, their new home.
 
By about 1000 BC, Israel was rich and strong,
with a great capital city, Jerusalem.
with great buildings: a palace for the king, a temple to worship God.
 
Everything was wonderful
 
 
At least, it should have been wonderful…
But, there was a problem.
as they grew rich and strong, the people rejected God, they turned away, they rebelled.
Sometimes the same thing happens to us.
when times are hard – “God, we need you!”
when things get better, we forget him.
 
so God sent special people called prophets – mostly men, though some women too.
A prophet is God’s messenger, like God’s mouth (Jeremiah 15:19).
A prophet speaks God’s message to God’s people.
 
The prophets said to the people:
How would you feel if your wife left you, if you found out that your husband was seeing another woman?
That is how God feels.
God is really hurt because you have rejected him.
 
But he still loves you, he wants you to come back – stop fighting against him.
Maybe there’s someone here, and God is saying that to you today – “come back home”.
 
over hundreds of years,
God sent many prophets
 
One of the last, one of the greatest, about 600 BC
was Jeremiah
 

Two: The Call – Jeremiah’s fear and God’s presence

 
 Let’s turn to Jeremiah chapter 1 and see how he started
 
Jeremiah was probably a teenager here.
Maybe he was walking down the street listening to music.
Checking his Facebook page on his iPhone
Maybe he suddenly woke up in the night.
he doesn’t tell us.[1]
 
All we know is that one day, God appeared, and spoke to him: (page 570, NLT)
 
The Lord gave me this message:
 
“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb.
    Before you were born I set you apart
    and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.”
“O Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I can’t speak for you! I’m too young!”
 
The Lord replied, “Don’t say, ‘I’m too young,’
for you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you.
And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and will protect you.
I, the Lord, have spoken!”
 
Jeremiah 1:4-8
 
God said:
Jeremiah, I’ve got a job, a mission.
I need someone to give my message to the people, and guess who I have chosen – it’s you!
 
 
What does Jeremiah say?
You know what, Lord? You have made a good choice.
I’m the best, I am the man for you.
I can do it, no problem.
This sounds like fun – Let’s go!
 
 
It wasn’t quite like that
Jeremiah says, “No, I can’t!
it’s too hard – Mission impossible!
I’m not a good speaker.
I’m not old enough.
I’m not smart enough.
I’m too shy, too weak, too young.
I’m afraid.
No, no, no.
Lord, you’ve made a mistake.
you need to find someone else.”
 
 
God says,
“don’t worry Jeremiah.
I know how you feel – I knew you before you were born.
I handcrafted you in your mother’s womb for this job.
 
don’t be afraid, because
I will be with you.
With my help,
yes, you can!”
 
 
Often in the Bible, it’s like this:
God calls someone, has a special job for someone.
They are afraid, they think it’s too hard.
They say, “No, I can’t!”
But God says:
I will give you my strength, so
yes, you can! [2]
 
 
This is good news!
I like it.
I often feel weak and afraid like Jeremiah.
I was very afraid of speaking in public.
I wouldn’t have thought I could be here like this today.
But the Christian life does not depend on me and my strength.
It depends on God
 
 
Some of you would have experienced this.
Was there a time when God called you like Jeremiah, and you thought, “I can’t, it’s too hard?
Sometimes God’s plan for our lives is more than we expect.
Maybe you’ve got a story to share later.
 
 
For now, back to Jeremiah.
what exactly was God’s message for the people?
let’s read on:
 
“Listen! I am calling the armies of the kingdoms of the north to come to Jerusalem.
I, the Lord, have spoken!
 
They will set their thrones
    at the gates of the city.
They will attack its walls
    and all the other towns of Judah.
I will pronounce judgment
    on my people for all their evil.”
           
Jeremiah 1:15-16
 
God says if the people of Israel don’t turn back to him.
God’s judgement will come.
Enemy armies will attack Jerusalem.
Without God’s protection, they will destroy the city.
If the people choose to live without God, God will give them what they want.
 
 
This was the message.
A hard message.
A warning, an alarm bell, a wakeup call
We could call it “tough love”.[3]
 
At the end of the chapter, God reminded Jeremiah again:
 
Go out and tell them everything I tell you to say.
Do not be afraid of them…
    For I am with you, and I will take care of you.
 
Jeremiah 1: 17-19
 
 

Three: The Cost – a heart torn in two

That was God’s job for Jeremiah, and he obeyed.
He walked around the streets of Jerusalem, he went to the shops, the temple,
and everywhere he shouted out God’s message.
 
do you think the people listened?
Did they turn back to God?
 
Jeremiah tells us what happened:
 
I am mocked every day;
    everyone laughs at me…
these messages from the Lord
    have made me a household joke.
 
Jeremiah 20:7-8
 
People didn’t listen, they just laughed.
Maybe they thought he was strange, crazy.
How do you think Jeremiah felt?
 
 
If we follow God today, if we live for God, in a society that has rejected God.
people might also laugh at us.[4]
 
God’s plan for our lives
is the best way to live,
the only way to have real life
But it may not be easy
there is often a cost.
 
 
There was for Jeremiah.
People started by laughing at him.
And then they got angry.
Here’s what people from his own home town, his neighbours, said:
 
“Let’s destroy this man and all his words,” they said.
“Let’s cut him down, so his name will be forgotten forever.”…
 
“We will kill you if you do not stop prophesying in the Lord’s name.”
 
Jeremiah 11:18-21
 
 
“Shut up or die!”
Jeremiah must have been afraid.[5]
And it must have really hurt.
Jeremiah loves his people, he is trying to warn them and save them.
But they hate him and treat him like their enemy.
 
How would you feel, if you try to help someone you love,
and they don’t understand?
 
 
He didn’t have a wife or children to love him (16:2),
and even his family didn’t understood him:
 
Even your brothers, members of your own family,
    have turned against you.
Jeremiah 12:6
 
 
Jeremiah must have felt very sad and lonely.
Here’s something I like about Jeremiah:
more than any other prophet in the Bible,
he tells us how he was feeling – he told God how he was feeling.[6]
 
Sometimes he felt hopeless.
Jeremiah became depressed.
God had said, I chose and made you inside your mother.
now Jeremiah says,
 
Oh, that I had died in my mother’s womb,
    that her body had been my grave!
Why was I ever born?
    My entire life has been filled
    with trouble, sorrow, and shame.
 
Jeremiah 20:17-18
 
He doesn’t sound too happy, does he?
Jeremiah doesn’t try to be polite to God.
He yells at God and tells him how he feels .[7]
 
We can do the same.
we can be honest with God when we are hurting.
We don’t have to put on a smiley face and pretend that everything is okay when it is not.
 
 
Why was Jeremiah so unhappy?
he was lonely and rejected and afraid of being killed.
But his trouble was deeper than this.
He said.
My heart is broken.
Jeremiah 8:18
 
he felt like his heart was splitting, tearing in two,
Because he loved God and he loved the people.
It’s like this:
 
Jeremiah is a prophet.
he speaks for God to the people.
He says, “don’t reject God”
 
he is on God’s side, he stands for God.
So the people treat Jeremiah the way they treat God.
they don’t listen, they tell him to go away.
 
 
Jeremiah is also one of the people.
He is on their side, he stands for them.
so he speaks for the people to God
he says to God, “don’t reject your people”
 
I pleaded for them
    and tried to protect them from your anger
Jeremiah 18:20
 
But God didn’t give Jeremiah what he asked either. [8]
 
“Pray no more for these people, Jeremiah.
Do not weep or pray for them, and don’t beg me to help them,
for I will not listen to you.”
Jeremiah 7:16
 
Don’t pray!  What?
the time has come when it is too late
God knows the people’s heart is so hard, they will not change.
Only some very tough love can save them now.
Only losing everything they have will open their eyes to see they need God.
 
Sometimes it’s like that.
I have a friend
when he was younger, he didn’t want God – life was good.
Then his wife left, and he was broken.
I remember how he said,
“I fell to my knees and looked up”
 
 
In 586 BC, Jerusalem fell to its knees.
the enemy army attacked.
Just like Jeremiah said would happen.
They broke through the wall.
They burnt down the temple and the palace.
They destroyed Jerusalem.
they made the people slaves, like they were in Egypt.
 
 
When this happened, when God’s judgement came,
Jeremiah suffered with his people – although he had done nothing wrong.
 
I hurt with the hurt of my people…
I would weep day and night
    for all my people who have been slaughtered.
Jeremiah 8:18, 9:1
 
 
Jeremiah shares the pain of his people.[9]
He also feels the pain of God.
God’s sorrow because his people have rejected him.[10]
(more on that next week)
 
I think this is why Jeremiah’s heart is so broken
 
God and the people are at war.
Jeremiah loves them both, so
Jeremiah is torn apart, caught in the crossfire.
 
It’s like he’s standing in the DMZ, the demilitarised zone, between North and South Korea.
            I visited it in 2004!
The people reject God, so they attack God’s messenger, Jeremiah.
God judges the people, so Jeremiah’s own home is destroyed.
 
That’s a crossfire: two enemy sides are shooting at each other, I’m in the middle,
so it’s like they are both shooting at me.
 
 

Four: Christ – a prophet like Jeremiah

I feel sorry for Jeremiah. It was hard.
I also think, wow, he was so strong and brave and faithful – to God and to his people. [11]
For 40 years he kept on preaching, loving them both.
 
Jeremiah makes me ask myself:
Do I know God, obey God, love God like he did?
Do I care about the people around me like he did?
Do I want to?
Or would I rather stay comfortable?
 
 
But there’s more.
Jeremiah reminds me of someone else.
 
About 600 years after Jeremiah.
Another man brought God’s message.
Here’s a clue – his name also started with J: who?
 
Jesus
one day, Jesus asked his followers,
 
“Who do people say that I am?”
 
“Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah,
and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”
Matthew 16:14
 
Some people thought Jesus was Jeremiah – maybe come back to life.
Why was that?
Jesus and Jeremiah were similar in many ways.[12]
 
both of them were sad because God’s people had hard hearts and were far away from God.[13]
both were often alone – no one understood them.
both were rejected, even by their own family:
 
When Jesus’ family heard what was happening, they tried to take him away.
“He’s out of his mind,” they said.
Mark 3:21
 
 
We didn’t have time to read those verses,
but Jeremiah preached in the temple, he was arrested, he was beaten up, he was thrown into prison.
the Jewish leaders and priests wanted to kill him .[14]
 
Sound like Jesus at Easter?
The same sort of things happened to him.
 
They had a lot in common,
so I think Jeremiah can help us understand what Jesus has done for us.
Remember, Jeremiah loved his God and he loved his people.
He was on both sides, so when they rejected each other his heart was broken.
 
 
Jesus was like that, but much more deeply,
he was fully God, and he was fully human.
He was truly on both sides.
 
It took him to the cross.
There Jesus experienced human hatred of God.
The people rejected God, so they killed Jesus.[15]
 
 
And on the cross,
Jesus experienced God’s judgement.
Mike talked about God’s judgement last week.
God judged everything that is wrong in the world,
everything that is wrong in our hearts,
and somehow Jesus was in the middle.
He stood in the line of fire.
He accepted, he took on himself, God’s hatred of everything that is wrong.
 
And so, in our war, in my war, of rebellion against God,
Jesus was killed in the crossfire.[16]
 
Human hatred X God’s judgement = the cross
——-
 
We’ve seen that Jeremiah had a hard life.
For 40 years he preached, no one much listened,
Then God’s judgment came and Jerusalem was destroyed.
 
It seemed like the end of the world, at least the end of Israel.
But it wasn’t.
God still loved the people.
As Mike said last week, mercy triumphs over judgement.
Through Jeremiah, God made new good promises.
 
“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord.
“They are plans for good and not for disaster,
to give you a future and a hope.
Jeremiah 29:11
 
We’ve seen a lot of hard words from Jeremiah, so I wanted to end with something more positive!
 
 
All through the Bible, all through human history,
The relationship between people and God has been broken.
We have been fighting against God.
 
That’s why all the prophets like Jeremiah came, to call people back to God.
 
But people didn’t listen.
Many prophets died in the crossfire, but nothing changed.
 
 
At first it seemed like Jesus was the same – we killed him.
Three days later, however, he came back to life.
Jesus was truly God and truly human, truly on both sides,
So his death was different.
 
Another writer in the Bible, Paul, puts it like this:
 
Since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son
while we were still his enemies,
we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son.  
So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God
because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.      
 
Romans 5:10-11           (page 860)
 
Through his life and death and coming back to life,
Jesus has done what Jeremiah wanted to do, but couldn’t.
He has restored the broken relationship – brought us together again.
 
Jesus died in the crossfire to make peace between us and God.
Jesus rose to life to bring us new life
to give us that promise of Jeremiah.
to give us a new future and a new hope.
 
 

Questions

Do you think God has a plan for your life like he did for Jeremiah?
Has God helped you do something that seemed too hard?
Do you feel free to tell God how you feel?
 
Why did Jeremiah suffer so much?
How does Jeremiah help us understand Jesus?
How did Jesus make peace between us and God?
 
 


[1] Did Jeremiah have a choice? Could he say no? (20:7 sounds like not).
And this raises for me the question, what is it like to be called by God? A gentle suggestion, a tentative courteous offer, a letter in the mail to be considered at leisure, at a convenient time? Or a lightening bolt on a clear day, an earthquake that shatters your existence, a giant hand that grabs you by the throat, and nothing is ever the same again?
Was Jeremiah walking down the street of Anathoth one day and bang, God grabbed him? Or did the call grow gradually from within, an ember that slowly glowed more intensely until it became the blazing fire he could no longer deny and he could no longer stay silent?
Either way, God is not convenient – he disturbs your life in a way that idols do not. So has God turned my life “Upside down and inside out”?
[2] Jeremiah has been called the 2 Corinthians of the OT (Goldingay, 1984)
[3] “The prophet’s word is a scream in the night. While the world is at ease and asleep, the prophet feels the blast from heaven” (Abraham Heschel)
[4] Francis Schaeffer said Jeremiah “provides us with an extended study of an era like our own, where men have turned away from God, and society has become post-Christian” (Schaeffer: Death in the City)
[5] some have called chapters 36-45, “the Passion Narrative” of Jeremiah. Some believe the author of Isaiah 53 was thinking of Jeremiah, who even says “I was like a lamb being led to the slaughter.” Jeremiah 11: 19
[6] In fact, Jeremiah is called “The Weeping Prophet”.  “Jeremiah is the suffering prophet, the weeping prophet, the life and soul of the funeral” (Goldingay, 1984).
If only my head were a pool of water
    and my eyes a fountain of tears,
I would weep day and night
Jeremiah 9:1
[7] in this book, God makes two big claims: on the personal level, he says to Jeremiah: I will always be with you and protect you. On the global level, God said: I am in control of the nations. Which is harder to accept? Sometimes I find both hard to believe.  The good news, then, is that sometimes Jeremiah did too!  On occasion he found it hard to see God’s hand in history, when the evil rich just seemed to get richer, and hard to see God’s protection in his life when he risked dying in prison.
For Jeremiah, sometimes it just seemed too hard.  He wanted to stop preaching, it cost too much. but God’s message was burning inside him and he couldn’t be silent:
But if I say I’ll never mention the Lord
    or speak in his name,
his word burns in my heart like a fire.
    It’s like a fire in my bones!
I am worn out trying to hold it in!
    I can’t do it!
Jeremiah 20:10
[8] Jeremiah sometimes felt that God had also betrayed, abandoned him, was even fighting against him. He says to God:
Your help seems as uncertain as a seasonal brook,
    like a spring that has gone dry.
Jeremiah 15:18
 
O Lord, you misled me,
    and I allowed myself to be misled.
You are stronger than I am,
    and you overpowered me.
Jeremiah 20:7
[9] In Jewish tradition, he said, “Woe is me to be destined for such a bitter task!  I am like a priest who discovers in the course of punishing the unfaithful woman that she is none other than my own mother! So I am consigned to deliver the news of exile and destruction to my people, who are as dear to me as my own mother!”
[10] “Their hearts are sick because they have been unfaithful to God and their lives are threatened. Jeremiah’s heart is sick because he feels God’s pain over the people’s infidelity” (Dempsey, 2007, on Jeremiah 8:18). Jeremiah is “a poet of grace and a prophet par excellence who knew, firsthand, the bittersweet experience of what it means to be madly in love with God and what it means to be madly in love with God’s people” (Dempsey, 2007)
“the tension of a twofold identification, with God in his anguish and indignation, and with Israel in her anguish and high calling” (Goldingay, 1984)
[11] 47 times in the book, he says, “return” come back to God.  “a spiritual genius, a moral giant, a man of God, who was also a vulnerable soul of intense integrity”, who could have been a great statesman or philosopher or general with his talent (White, 1992).  He is “hard as a rock while being torn apart inside” (Dempsey, 2007)
[12] For many similarities, see “Jeremiah and Jesus: Warning, Lament, and Comfort” at http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Holidays/Summer_Holidays/Tishah_B_Av/Jeremiah/jeremiah.html
[13] “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.”
Matthew 23:37
But as he came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep.  “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes.  Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side.  They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not accept your opportunity for salvation.”
Luke 19:41-44
[14] The priests and prophets presented their accusations to the officials and the people. “This man should die!” they said. “You have heard with your own ears what a traitor he is, for he has prophesied against this city.” Jeremiah 26:11
[15] The people passing by shouted abuse, shaking their heads in mockery.
Matthew 27:39
[16] Sometimes Jeremiah felt abandoned and left alone, although God was still with him.
much more deeply, in some way, Jesus was alone:
At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice…
“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
Matthew 27:46

Advertisements