connecting theology and life in gospel-centred ways to the glory of God and our joy in Him
And we’re back again today. We’re now right into the swing of things, the strand material will be getting seriously into its content and the talks and workshops will be challenging. Follow my post on Facebook to keep up with what’s happening.
One of Sam’s best friends is a farmer – and one thing he has noticed about his friend is how difficult it is to be a farmer.
Farming is hard work, time-consuming, energy-zapping, troublesome, and not for the faint-hearted. Harvesting is not for the idle, not for lazy people.
And neither is sharing the word of God. Word ministry is hard work, it’s energy-zapping, troublesome, and not for the faint-hearted.
In Mark 4 we have teaching from Jesus about harvest work. Things to notice.
The sower doesn’t know where the good soil is and so he just gets out there. But the odds of the farmer are producing a bumper crop is small – only 25% of the soils he sows into will work.
Note 4:8 – a hundredfold harvest was HUGE – the average harvest was 3-4 times… so even a thirtyfold harvest is massive. It’s phenomenal that the small seed would produce what it does.
Why? Partly because of Isaiah 6 in Jesus’ ministry – Jesus will preach and teach but it will harden some.
When we share the word of God people will not always respond the way we want them to. It’s very likely that the majority of people will remain hardened to the gospel – and that is due to their hardness of souls rather than our ability to produce a gospel sermon/appeal.
How many times do we beat ourselves up and people do not respond the way we want them to? Yet we forget that response is a gracious gift from God.
That means we must pray. If the word preached will change lives then we must pray to the God who can change hearts.
We pray because God our Father loves to hear us pray. It is the act of a child asking their father for help.
Do we fall into the trap of thinking that Jesus’ prayers are answered as he prays to his father, but our prayers are not answered when we pray to the same God? Jesus is not inviting us to pray just to his Father, but he invites us into a relationship with God (through him) to pray ‘our Father’.
As Jesus is God’s son, we are God’s children. And fathers love to hear their children ask them for things.
So when it comes to word ministry we must pray – asking the God who loves to hear us and answer to change the hearts of people we speak to.
Second – we must sow and do so liberally.
That takes sacrifice and commitment. And often it will be people who we least expect to respond – just like us.
Third – we must expect a harvest.
That’s the promise in 4:20.
[Sam gives some examples of those who have converted – best ask him personally for these because they are *brilliant*.]
The harvest is hard. Things may not turn out the way we expect. But let us be determined to pray, commit ourselves to sow indiscriminately and liberally, and let us anticipate that God will answer our prayers, work through his word, and bring about a harvest.
Jeremiah isn’t often the book that sets the heart of us racing. It is the longest book of the Bible and probably that will only be the thing it leads in.
When painting the Sistine chapel Michelangelo painted pictures of the prophets and painted Jeremiah looking rather depressed.
We are reading Jeremiah because it gives us unprecedented access to the mind of one of the authors of the Bible. He lived and wrote just as the Babylonian exile started to happen. A time of massive threatening change, social structures were unravelling, certainties of life were disappearing – and it is the way that Jeremiah opens up his inner life that makes this book remarkable. He verbally processes the message that is being given.
Jeremiah shows us what it looks like to serve Jesus from the inside rather than describing it from the outside. So reading Jeremiah sets us up for the coming of the ministry of Jesus. His words are his own and yet also identified with the words of God. He feels what God feels and yet also feels the pain of his people. Lives out his message and loves the people his message is sent to – he embodies everything a prophet of God should be. And in his life we get a glimpse into the life of God’s ultimate prophet to come.
Jeremiah is demanding – not particularly hard but intense.
Introducing Jeremiah: ministry in a messy world
Every detail in the short introduction (1:1-3) is important despite appearances! They remind us that he was a real person speaking the real words of God.
Right from the beginning we are being reminded that God was speaking through Jeremiah.
The time of his life is a dark period – he lived through one of the worst kings and then through the reforming king Josiah. He watched the Assyrians fall and the Babylonians rise, through the lives of puppet kings and the useless king Zedekiah. He ended up Egypt with a rebellious people.
His life was not full of laughs and the only consistent thing in his ministry was that nobody listened to him. With the possible exception of Josiah nobody ever wanted him around and on many occasions they tried to get rid of him.
This is the pattern of Word ministry. Jesus said he would be treated like the prophets. Real gospel ministry never carries with it popularity.
This entire book is a call to die to seeking to be liked. Rather to be a faithful gospel driven follower of Christ means taking everything that comes with it. And that takes us into the prophetic mind – all the prophets are driven by God’s Word and even when that is painful they are unflinching in their determination to preach this gospel until their dying breath.
Tonight we’ll be covering the first 20 chapters of Jeremiah (!!). And to get a sense of his mind we’ll see four things:
The other prophets might have been commissioned, but none like what Jeremiah hears in 1:4-5. He is told Jeremiah was formed for a specific and unique role in salvation history.
It’s no accident that these sentiments are echoed in Psalm 139, but even those words are eclipsed by Jeremiah 1. Jeremiah was chosen like Abraham was in Genesis 12. This sort of language of being known and chosen by God are reserved for key moments in God’s masterplan, reserved for God’s key players.
And it’ll be good to remind ourselves none of us are in that category.
1:6 makes Jeremiah sound like Moses in Exodus 3-4 who was unwilling to lead. Jeremiah was from Anathoth – not a great boast. He’s not trying to get out of it like Moses was in Exodus – but he’s just amazed at God’s choice.
So with great kindness God insists he has made no mistake. Yes, I’ve called you to a ministry with no limits but I’m also going to protect you from all things.
The climax of his commission is in 1:10 – the language is drawn from farming, construction, and warfaring – primarily Jeremiah’s role is negative, but not without hope (there are two positives) – but the remarkable thing is the amount of authority he gets: he is appointed over nations and kingdoms! This prophet is in a league of his own! His authority extends almost to the same extent at the messiah of Psalm 2!
What’s going on here?
Jeremiah 1 is setting us up to read this book in a way which is very surprising. He’s appointed by God to be a prophet to the nations, to speak to the very words of God, to demolish but also sow seeds of hope. This is going to be a long and painful journey – a prophet who will suffer like no other prophet.
Jeremiah the prophet, who is the main speaker and central character, is an anticipation of the prophet like Moses yet to come. His experience and sharing the pain of the guilt and punishment that Judah will feel will be like the One who shares our pain and takes our punishment. When we read Jeremiah will we then learn and know who Jesus is and what to expect from him.
Is this a book for us? Only those united to Christ and walk in his steps can find application. Jesus fulfils what Jeremiah looks forward to, and our union with him means we are then sent by Him to the nations.
The prophetic mindset that we share and display is actually the mind of the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s a big commission. Which explains why Jeremiah are commissioned to be utterly single-minded. All the prophets, save Jonah, were like this.
Are we going to be a generation who is single-minded?
What has happened to the generation above us (ie people 70-80yrs old). If they had training they were very single-minded. Their whole-heartedness for Jesus meant that holidays and eating were optional life things. But they also perhaps neglected their marriages and health. They took Jesus seriously, albeit a bit crazily.
But since then the pendulum has been swinging. It is much more harder to be single-minded. The challenge for us to make sure that the followers of Jesus are so mastered by the gospel pour ourselves into serving Jesus come what may in the years ahead.
1:11-19 – Jeremiah sees an almond tree (which is a pun – he sees a ‘watching’/almond tree) – and then is told by God that his task is to ‘watch’.
Around this time Judah had watched the Northern Kingdom be smashed by Assyria. But what did Judah learn from this? Absolutely nothing. The prophets verdict was that they had forsaken God.
Luther ‘A treatise of Good works’ – this is the heart of the matter – it is impossible to break commands 2-10 without first breaking commandment 1.
Jeremiah’s ministry a tough one – like he’s been told to preach Romans 1 for his life and never to move beyond that (!).
Isaiah was told that no one would listen to him – but Jeremiah had it worse. He is told that the people he preaches to are going to try and intimidate him. All the Kings, priests, officials, everyone, will fight against him – and yet God will be his refuge. He will be a fortified city.
In his ministry Jeremiah will see God work out his word, he will announce judgement for salvation, and everyone will attack him – but he will be equipped to stand firm and having done all to stand.
Only Jeremiah had this task – he saw the exile.
And yet his ministry finds the same assurances in the ministry of the one to come – the one who was not declaring the exile to come but the end of the exile.
When we read Jeremiah we need to ask whether we are up for it. Jesus says, ‘In this world you will have trouble.’ He also insists on saying awkward things – if anyone comes after me they need to pick up their cross and die daily. Do not fear men… what can they do? They can kill you.
Yet Jesus calls us to be single-minded and fearless.
In Jeremiah 8 he’s not missing the point in his preaching – the people do not know God or what they should be doing. They were blinded to their sin.
This is the ministry he had – standing in the temple and telling God’s people exactly the way things were.
8:18 tells us how he feels – grieved. While he kept telling them the bad news the other prophets proclaimed a message of ‘she’ll be right’. As the Babylonian exile approaches it breaks his heart (8:21).
8:22 – it’s not as though healing was not available, it was that they refused to seek help. They refused Jeremiah.
There’s something interesting here. At the start of chapter 8 Jeremiah is speaking, but by the end it is God speaking. Jeremiah’s pains are God’s pains, his longings are God’s longings. It is because Jeremiah speaks and loves like God we see God – as we see Jeremiah’s tender-heartedness we actually see God himself.
We are called to do the same. 1 John – let us love one another, as God loved us!
These prophets are not ashamed – nor do they have a harsh exterior and nothing on the inside. Yes Jeremiah has been made a fortified city – but he is a city who weeps for his people.
The truth is that God loves his children far too much to leave them to their own devices.
Gosh by now we’re getting the picture clearly right?
Now to 9:23-24 – God strides onto the stage, declares who he is, and says ‘embrace me – know me’. The knowledge of God is what both soften our hearts and puts steel in our backbone. Living a gospel-shaped life is both courageous and fearless and deeply compassionate on the other. It is to be both fearless and deeply tender-hearted. That is the effect of encountering the God of the Bible.
We gasp at his awesomeness and say we are undone, and then stagger at the opportunity to represent him to the world. We are single-minded and permanently softened.
Again, we see the ministry of Jesus in the same light of what Jeremiah is doing – he came into he temple, a den of robbers and thieves – in his weeping over Jerusalem we see a tender-heartedness. We see one who says that all things have been handed over to me, no one knows me except the Father and the Father the son and anyone the Son chooses to reveal himself to. He says ‘take my yoke upon you and find rest – my yoke is easy and burden is light.’
Jeremiah is an extraordinary book – he calls us to be fearless and to be tender at the same time.
Being a prophet was not a 9-5 job, nor a mere conduit waiting for God to pass on their message while waiting. They felt and heard the message and then lived it out.
Jeremiah was not popular – he was ignored and mocked. Nicknamed Mr Terror On Every Side. There is a cost to preaching the gospel. Everytime we show people the beauty of the gospel there is going to be disappointment when people don’t respond or ignore that. Sometimes they’ll mock you for it. There is a cost to saying hard things.
After all the mocking and rejection Jeremiah pours it out in 18:21-23 – it’s all getting a bit much for Jeremiah. His enemies are really God’s enemies. Jeremiah has brought them a direct communication from God and they have attacked him – and these words have been recorded to remind us that it is hard to say hard things even when they are obviously true. Chapter 19 has the same thing happen all over again.
Jeremiah, along with Jesus, sticks to the hard message no matter the cost.
Jeremiah 20 shows us his guts – after being released from the stocks he announces judgement on the person who locked him up and beat him!
Imagine Baruch, his scribe, trying to gently suggest to Jeremiah whether or not to include the final words of chapter 20. But yes, those words stay – this is the cost of authenticity. Speaking the words of Christ, suffering for him, weeping like him – it takes it out of us.
But that is authentic ministry. Speaking the gospel into the lives of our friends is not something we are often thanked for. Often when God is at work in the gospel it is painful because it exposes and confronts – he breaks down before he builds up.
It’s humbling to admit that God knows what he’s doing, knows what to do, and we do not.
Jeremiah’s prayer in chapter 20 is full-on. But afterwards he never prays like that again. He knows that judgement is coming, but there’s also hope in his message.
So what are we to make of all this?
In the first place we are supposed to marvel at the sheer commitment of Jeremiah. Embodying and living the preaching of the very words of God himself – and all before the coming of Jesus. We have seen the one that Jeremiah only caught glimpses of – the perfect suffering prophet, who pressed on when Jeremiah would have wilted, even dying on a cross for us – it is ultimately this prophet, Jesus Christ, who holds the key. We don’t follow Jeremiah, we follow the one whom Jeremiah prepared the way for.
He is the one we are joined to, have his Spirit indwelling, is the one who shows us what it means to be truly human, tender-hearted and authentic. He is the one for whom we suffer and rejoice – the one who gives us everything we need for life and godliness. The one to whom we are joined to and will never be separated from.
2 Timothy 2:1–10
 You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus,  and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.  Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.  No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.  An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.  It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.  Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
 Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel,  for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!  Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.
[Who is worthy of this task? In Christ, we are :)]
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