This week we start a new series on the prophet Jeremiah. We’ll learn how vitally important it is to stay faithful to God, even when so many people around us aren’t. We’ll see ways we might be able to share the gospel even in the midst of opposition. And finally, I hope we’ll see different ways that Jeremiah’s life displayed both his deep faith and his engagement with a people that desperately needed to return to God.
This weeks message is based on Jeremiah 1:4-19.
This morning we are starting a new series, on the prophet Jeremiah. Paul and Cindy Talley will be here again on July 15, and then I’ll be out of town on another week in July, so we’ll have to skip around a little with this, but I wanted to do it now because Jeremiah is one of the great prophets, and summer is a great time to schedule a series on a great prophet or King. I’ve been looking forward to this.
What I hope we’ll learn from this is how to remain faithful to God, how vitally important it is to stay faithful, even when so many people around us aren’t. We’ll see ways we might be able to share the gospel even in the midst of opposition. Jeremiah faced a lot of opposition and suffered a lot as he shared a message that the people really didn’t want to hear. I’m not sure that’s a lot different than our mission. So I know we can learn from his journey and the message that God gave his people. And finally, I hope we’ll see different ways that Jeremiah’s life displayed both his deep faith and his engagement with a people that desperately needed to return to God.
This morning, we looked at Jeremiah’s call. And when I first read this, I was struck by some similarities with Isaiah’s call. If you remember, we looked at Isaiah’s call a few weeks ago, and we saw Isaiah’s vision of the Lord on a throne, and the Seraphim flying around, and when Isaiah saw this, he was convicted that he was a man of unclean lips, and he lived among a people of unclean lips, and so a Seraph flies over to the altar, takes a burning hot coal, and brings over and touches Isaiah’s lips with it.
In our reading this morning, we see that the Word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, and we don’t know how this happened, but it wasn’t just words coming to mind. It had to be some form of vision because we saw in verse 9, “Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth.” We see the prophet being touched on the lips, receiving the words of God. Very similar to Isaiah’s being touched on the mouth.
I mentioned last week that the words of God have been recorded for us in the Scriptures. So we’ve received the words of God as well. You could say that we’ve been touched with the Word. Both Jeremiah and Isaiah were touched on the lips, we’ve been touched in the heart, and our touching is no less significant, and no less meaningful, than their touching. We’ve been sent, just as great prophets before us have been sent.
Another parallel I see with Isaiah is that we remember that Isaiah was to preach the word to the people, but he was told right up front that they weren’t going to listen. Part of Isaiah’s calling was to “Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed” (Isa 6:10). So even though Isaiah is sent to preach repentance and God’s grace, the Israelites have already crossed the line, and they weren’t going to listen. Judgment was going to come.
We see the parallel with Jeremiah that judgment was going to come. Jeremiah was sent to give a message of coming destruction, but the people weren’t going to repent. We see Jeremiah’s call, “See, today I appoint you over the nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” It was a difficult calling, and while there was some hope for the future, he would eventually build and plant, in the short term there was nothing but destruction.
I think we can sense that even though we heard a couple weeks ago that young people have a desire to hear what you think, and to hear what has worked for you, that doesn’t mean they will accept it fully. They’re looking for answers that make sense, and we certainly have answers that make sense. But can we admit that the Church has hurt a lot of people in the past. While we were called to love, we often judge. And as a result, the Church doesn’t often have a lot of credibility.
The Church has often been seen as an institution, a big and powerful institution, when it’s really about a humble relationship. If we hope to have any success in our witness, we should be building up Jesus, not the Church. We find our hope in Jesus, not the Church. Salvation is found in no other name but Jesus. It’s not found in the Church. What then is the Church? The church is the Body of Believers who have found Jesus. Don’t show people how to find the church, show them how to find Jesus.
Last week we talked about our mission, and really, in this passage, God gives Jeremiah a mission. So I want to share some points about Jeremiah’s mission that are going to look a lot like the mission Jesus gave us last week.
1. I appointed you. Jeremiah was appointed to go, he was sent. Something interesting about this appointing was that Jeremiah was given two visions right after his calling that sort of confirmed his call. We see the first one in verses 11-12, “The word of the Lord came to me: ‘What do you see, Jeremiah?’ ‘I see the branch of an almond tree.’ I replied. The Lord said to me, ‘You have seen correctly, for I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled.’”
I have a feeling that for most of us, that isn’t going to mean anything. We need to understand the context, and maybe a little Hebrew, for this to make sense. The Hebrew word for almond is from the root word meaning to watch. In fact that’s why it was called that because the almond tree is the first to bud in January and is the first sign of spring, like it was watching for spring. The branch of the almond tree represented God, who was watching over him, a reminder that God was with him. So the vision is a reminder that God is with him.
The second vision is found in verses 13-14, “The word of the Lord came to me again: ‘What do you see?’ ‘I see a boiling pot, tilting away from the North,’ I answered. The Lord said to me, ‘From the north disaster will be poured out on all who live in the land. I am about to summon all the peoples of the northern kingdoms,’ declares the Lord.”
This was fulfilled 35 years later with the Babylonian invasion. Babylon was actually due east of Jerusalem, but because of the mountains, the Babylonians traveled north, and circled around so they could attack from the north. Coming up over the mountains would have been slow going, and they would have been visible. God gave Jeremiah a vision thirty-five years prior of what was going to happen, and when the people didn’t repent, it happened just as the Lord said it would. Jeremiah was sent to a people who wouldn’t listen, but he had to be faithful.
We may feel that the people that we share our faith with just won’t listen. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. Most likely some will, but some won’t. But their response is outside our control. What is in our control is our faithfulness to God’s call. So be faithful. Be alert to God’s pointing to you in someone’s direction, and then be faithful to tell them about the reason for the hope that you have, and the things you’ve seen since you’ve been following Jesus. Because you’ve been sent…
2. With a message. We looked at this a lot last week, too. With a prophet, that’s easy. You say what God tells you to say. But we saw last week, it’s pretty easy for us, too. Scripture records the words we are to share. Verses like John 3:16, “for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” Or John 14:1, where Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” Or Romans 5:1, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
We share what we’ve experienced God doing in us, then we share some of His words from Scripture. Make sure you’re not judgmental, but filled with love. So we are sent, with a message…
3. To a wicked people. Jeremiah was sent to a wicked people. People were living in sin, worshipping idols, growing further and further away from God. But they didn’t realize it. They thought they were doing okay. They didn’t realize their sin. And that’s why they fought Jeremiah so hard. They were a sinful people with no realization of their sinfulness.
We can look around in our communities now and see a sinful people with no realization of their sinfulness. They don’t know any better. That’s part of the changing demographic. If you’re in your 60’s or 70’s, you can remember when most people had at least some knowledge of what we believe. Most people believed in God, and while they might not have followed Him, they at least knew who He was and the basics of His promise.
That’s not the case anymore. Most people today have no idea. They are living in their sins, and don’t know it. While they are a sinful people, they don’t realize their sin. They have no idea. And our calling is to live our faith in their presence, and to share the reason for our hope. And sometimes it’s not going to be any easier for us than it was for Jeremiah. Verse 19 said, “they will fight against you but will not overcome you.”
Several years ago I was on a motorcycle ride, I don’t think Sandy was with me, I don’t know where she was. I was lining up in the staging area for the 4th of July parade in Hornell. We lined up two-by-two, so there was another bike on my right. When we stopped, I looked over to the bike on my right, and a saw a pretty hard looking man. He had stickers on his helmet and patches on his vest that indicated he was one of the tough guys, that you don’t mess around with him. Things that would seem a little vulgar to most, and that’s why they were there. And get this, he even had some horns mounted on his handlebars, that looked to me a little like devil horns. I don’t know why I thought that, I’ve never seen devil horns in person, but that’s what it looked like. Everything about this guy said leave me alone. Stay away.
And I looked at him and smiled and said hello, and I tried to open a conversation. He saw my patches and my CMA vest, and he gave me a look of total disgust. And it hit me, that he was as put off by me, as most people would be of him. He totally ignored me, and I just chuckled as I realized that. He was what anyone of us might call a wicked man, at least a wicked looking man. But he was one of those we are sent to. And I tried to approach him. And while I wasn’t successful in any stretch of the imagination, I like to think that maybe down the road a ways, he’ll see someone else in a CMA vest. And his guard may drop a little. And someday, someone might reach him.
I heard that it can take an average of seven contacts to get someone to the point to hearing and accepting the message. Maybe I was a contact for him. Maybe I was just preparing the soil for a contact down the road. But every time we live our faith in public, and make ourselves available, and share that we are people of faith, we are preparing the ground for a contact. And sooner or later, no matter how wicked someone might seem, they’ll be ready to hear the message.
4. but I am with you. This kind of sharing our faith with others can be pretty scary. Especially if they look like that guy did. And it’s really easy to think that you might not be up to the challenge. In the business world this is something called “imposter syndrome.” It’s the persistent fear of being secretly incompetent or inadequate for your job. Having people find out that we aren’t as capable or talented as they think we are.
Even Jeremiah suffered from this “imposter syndrome.” When the Lord appeared to him and anointed him, his response was, “Ah, Sovereign Lord, I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.” Jeremiah tried to tell God that he wasn’t up to the task. He wasn’t the man for the job. Get someone else. I can’t do this. But the Lord said, “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you.” Of course you can’t do it alone. You were never meant to. God is with you and will help you.
Something to note from Jeremiah, because it applies to us just as well, God didn’t respond to his fears of inadequacy with reassurances of Jeremiah’s strength, but with a reminder of God’s strength, and a promise of God’s presence. And that’s what I want you to remember today. We’ve been sent, we’ve been called. But fulfilling that calling isn’t dependent on our own strength, but on God’s presence with us.
So remember that we’ve been sent with a message to a wicked people, but God is with us. Take the chance, live by faith, even in public, and always be on the lookout for opportunities to share.