- He Felt Unequipped For His Calling
- He Bore Many Burdens
- He Saw How God Works In Brokenness
- He Witnessed Unprecedented Destruction
- He Became Christ-Like In His Sufferings
I want you to turn with me to Jeremiah chapter 20, Jeremiah chapter 20, and we will be flicking through this great prophet and his prophecy this evening - because we couldn't hope to cover all that is held within this great book, that is 50 odd chapters long. The title for our series, as it has been going week after week and we're in our eighth study this evening, is 'As Sparks Flying Upward'. I've told you week after week, and I don't want to labour it but it is very relevant this evening, that the verse that has given us the title for this series has been plucked out of the book of Job. If you're familiar with the book of Job you will know the awful deep sufferings that this man of God went through in his lifetime. During all the reminiscences of Job and his friends, there is this little text that flies out at us, and really touches us in the depths of our human experience. It simply says that man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward. That verse, and indeed the title for our series, implies the real unpredictability of life and indeed the problems that enter into our lives from day to day, and even right throughout our whole experience. We find that the one who gives us the title for our series was extremely dejected. In Job chapter 3 especially we find Job down in the dumps to such an extent that he is almost suicidal in the expressions that he makes. He curses the day that he was ever born, he wishes that he'd died at birth, he wishes that he could die now - and perhaps it was into that sentiment that his own wife said: 'Curse God and die', get it all over with, just curse Him!
It's very interesting that the character that we're looking at this evening, Jeremiah, expresses some of those same suicidal sentiments. If you look at chapter 20 of Jeremiah and verse 14, we read some remarkable words from the prophet of God, he says: "Cursed be the day wherein I was born: let not the day wherein my mother bare me be blessed. Cursed be the man who brought tidings to my father, saying, A man child is born unto thee; making him very glad. And let that man be as the cities which the LORD overthrew, and repented not: and let him hear the cry in the morning, and the shouting at noontide; Because he slew me not from the womb; or that my mother might have been my grave, and her womb to be always great with me. Wherefore came I forth out of the womb to see labour and sorrow, that my days should be consumed with shame?"
As we read these words, I don't know about you but I'm caused to ask the question: 'What can make such a man of God, and indeed the prophet of God, God's man for this particular time, come out with such devastating and dejected, depressing words?'. What can bring a man of God to such despair? What sparks of affliction have flown into this man's life and blown all his hopes away, that he could possibly utter such words as these? Can you imagine what it would be like if I, as the preacher this evening, were expressing these same sentiments? You would pull me down and set me down and say: 'You can't say those things!'. What could make a prophet of God feel like this?
Well, we have to give you a bit of the history of the book of Jeremiah, and indeed the character Jeremiah, for us to understand where the prophet is coming from when he expresses these emotions. If the days of David and Solomon could be compared to spring and summertime in the history of the kingdom of Israel, it was late autumn when Jeremiah came on the scene. When Jeremiah's life opens it's nearly the wintertime in the history of Israel's relationship with God, and there is decline in the nation, there is political and religious apostasy. Now we know from the historical records that there had been a spiritual revival under King Hezekiah and under the prophet Isaiah. For a brief moment that revival had a real influence and effect, but it's influence had started to decline and had long since passed as we reach Jeremiah in this passage that we have read this evening. Even in the lifetime of Jeremiah not even the reforms of the good King Josiah could really make any impact upon the people, they were purely cosmetic, on the surface - but the reforms, and some say the reformation rather than the revival of King Josiah, only went skin deep, it didn't really penetrate into the hearts and into the characteristics of the men and the women of the nation. It didn't change their lives, it only changed their habits.
One author has put it like this: 'At this particular time King and court, Princes and people, prophets and priests, were infected with abominable vices'. Now imagine this, this is God's chosen people, this is God's chosen land, yet the countryside of Israel is dotted with temples to the gods of Baal and Asherah. There are pornographic idols littering these temples and these worship centres. On every high hill a circle and clump of trees hides an open secret of illicit sexual worship of pagan fertility gods. But it was in Jerusalem that there was the great climax of apostasy, the real decline and backsliding of God's people, where you can see the mothers sending their children out to the woods to bring forth wood to make fires, to bake cakes. You can see the women kneading the dough, putting them on the pan, baking cakes to offer - Jeremiah says - to the queen of heaven.
Now historically when things get as bad as this among God's people and God's nation, God has to intervene. God is forced, if I can say that, to do something, to interject. His righteousness requires judgement for sin, justice and righteous equity. Yet on one side there we have God's holiness, God's righteousness, God's government, where He must make His precepts, His word, and His will known - yet on the other side of the coin we have a God who is merciful, a God who is loving, a God who is compassionate, and a God of grace who seeks to warn the people to flee from the wrath to come. He wants to give people the opportunity to repent, even before He has to do what He must do in judgement.
So to warn men, as He has needed right throughout the whole of biblical history, God needed a voice. It was not God's normal dealing to open the clouds as He did when He spoke of our Lord: 'This is My beloved Son' - that was not His normal dealing, to speak out of the clouds - but He used these strange, even eccentric, men called the prophets to speak the word of God, to be the voice of God. He needed a holy man - and you remember, as we looked at the prophet Ezekiel, that God scoured the whole of the earth, and when He told Ezekiel to keep quiet and he wasn't allowed to prophesy any more, He said that over the whole earth He couldn't find one man to stand in the gap - He couldn't find a man to be His prophet, and to be His representative.
Prophets are very interesting, they have to be holy men, it has to be the voice of a holy man that represents the word of God. He has to have a heart after God, he has to feel the way God feels, he has to have the burden that God has, he has to express and know the anger that God expresses over sin and unrighteousness, and he has to be touched with the pain and the feelings that God is touched with at the disobedience of His creatures and His covenant people. That is the one side of the prophet, but the great dichotomy and irony of the prophet is that the other side of his character is a bit like the other side of God. Not only has he to be a holy man, a righteous man, an angry man, a fearless man, but he has to be a man of love, a man of compassion, a man of mercy, a man of loving-kindness that is willing to come and to plead with those people who God is angry with, to plead with the people who God's judgement is going to fall upon, to ask them to repent and to plead with God Himself in intercession for the people - that God will show mercy and love toward them.
Jeremiah was that man. As one author has said, Jeremiah was the prophet of Judah's midnight hour. He was a man of sympathy with a message of severity. Jeremiah was God's chosen man, and I want us to look this evening at how he was chosen, and indeed why God chose him over anyone else. It seems strange when we enter into chapter 1 of Jeremiah, if you wish to turn to it this evening, why God should choose this man. Not only because of the lack of qualifications that he had, but by the very fact that he felt the lack of qualifications he had very keenly. That gives us our first point this evening: he felt unequipped for his calling. Now, what were the reasons for this? Well, you could go on and we could really spend all night on chapter 1 of Jeremiah, but I want to split it into two ways that he felt disqualified for following God and doing God's will.
The first we find in the passage is this: he felt that he was too young. Now we don't know how old Jeremiah was at this point in his career, but we know that he was young enough to use his youth as an excuse for not serving God. In verse 6 of the passage you read that when God called him and asked him to go and serve Him, he said: 'Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child, I am but a youth'. I want us to pause for a moment this evening, because as we've been looking through the characters in the Bible - and so far only in the Old Testament - we have found that throughout the history of the Scriptures God has a reputation of choosing men and women who are young to serve Him. Often it's because, and definitely in this case, it is because the older men in the nation were too steeped in their selves, and steeped in their sin, for God to speak to them. You remember that God had to speak to young Samuel. Eli did not hear His voice, but Samuel heard His voice in the night - and I believe Eli didn't hear His voice because Eli couldn't hear His voice! You can look at Samuel; you can go into the New Testament and look at Timothy; go into the Old Testament again and you find Joseph, a young man that God raised up; you find David out looking after the sheep - and it wasn't the oldest, it wasn't the best looking, it wasn't the tallest, it wasn't the most valiant, but it was David who was God's choice. John the Baptist, filled with the Holy Ghost in his mother's womb - and we could go on and on and on, and right through the whole Scriptures, and see how God creates this precedent for Himself, and He creates a reputation where He is known as the God who chooses young people.
Now, that's tremendously encouraging for any young people in the building here tonight - and I only wish that we had more young people here in the building this evening. To know that God has a special place in His heart for young people - of course He has for children: 'Suffer the little children to come unto me' - but there is a special ability in a young person to be moulded by God before the hardships of life enter in, where they can make their priorities known, and they can etch out a plan, they can choose who they will serve in their lifetime. Not only does the history of the word of God tell us that, but church history, Christian church history that we know of, tells us that God has the same trend today and in the past. It's very interesting for me to note today that John Calvin, the great reformer, wrote his 'Institutes of the Christian Church' before he was 24 years of age. John Wesley was only 25 when he inaugurated the once great system of the Methodist Church - 25 years of age! David Brainerd, the great missionary, was in his twenties when he saw a revival among the Indians, and he died in his late twenties leaving a legacy to God and to the missionary world. Robert Murray M'Cheyne was in his twenties when he saw Scotland ablaze for Christ, and he still sets many a heart ablaze today because of his service for God - yet at the end of his twenties he burned out for God, and he died to the glory of God. And what can we say of a man called Jim Elliot? In his twenties he left a wife and a child to be with Christ as a martyr, because his young life was built upon this motto: 'He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose. If Jesus Christ be God, and died for me, what sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him'. And isn't it ironic that when we look at all the men and women in scripture who were young people when God chose them, and right throughout church history, isn't it ironic that the ones who perhaps we in our wisdom would not choose are the very ones that God chooses first?
He chooses mere boys like Jeremiah, and He chooses old done men like Moses. Why does He do that? Do you ever ask these questions about God? His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts, but you're allowed to stand back at times with your mouth agape, and say: 'Why does God do these things?'. Let me try, through the Scriptures, to explain it to you. If you turn with me to 1 Corinthians chapter 1 for a moment, 1 Corinthians and chapter 1 - and you remember that the foolishness of the cross, or that's not quite accurate, the foolishness of the preaching of the cross in the sense that the thing preached - the cross itself is the foolishness spoken of in chapter 1, not preaching, but the idea that Messiah could come and die on a cross and rise again, that was absolute foolishness to the Greeks and stumbling block to the Jews. So we enter into the middle of this discourse where Paul is explaining why the Gospel is foolishness to the Greek and is a stumbling block to the Jew, verse 25, the reason being: 'Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men'. Why does God choose people who you and I would not choose, and He chooses them first? Because His foolishness is wiser than your wisdom, that's why. 'And the weakness of God is stronger than men', here it is, 'For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence'.
Why does God do it? That's the reason why: that no flesh should glory in His presence, so He can make a fool of the epitome of all that this world stands for by using foolish things like you and me to confound the mighty strongholds and principalities and powers, philosophies and systems and kingdoms of this world. It's wonderful, isn't it? It's wonderful that what matters, no matter what age you are, no matter what you can and cannot do, all that matters is that God has called you. All that matters is that He has saved you, He has chosen you - and our passage is saying that whoever He chooses, He also equips them. The old puritan was right - and oh, that this would sink into everyone's heart this evening - when he said: 'God does not choose you because you are equipped, but He equips you because you are chosen'. God didn't look down one day and say: 'Oh, there's a great fellow, he can speak well', or, 'he's got a great mind', or, 'he's got lots of money', or, 'he's got many talents', or, 'listen to the sound of his singing voice', but God chooses the weakest, the basest, the ugliest things of the world. Paul said the off-scouring of all things, if I could translate it like this, or paraphrase it: the scum of the earth! He chooses us and He makes things that were nothing into something, that nobody should glory in His sight and all the glory should be brought to God.
Is that not what He said to Israel in Deuteronomy chapter 7? 'The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: But because the LORD loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your father, Abraham'. That's why, because He chose you, because He loved you. Now, young people tonight, what I want to say to you is this: don't let any system, whether it's the world system or a system within the church, or don't let anybody whether your family or your friends, put you into a box of irrelevancy because you're young, because you're weak. Certainly in these days young people need to respect their elders, and learn to respect them and learn from them, but can I encourage you young people tonight in the light of what we see in the book of Jeremiah: set ablaze a trail for God in this day, and don't let anybody set you off that trail, don't let anybody hinder you or put your light out!
I tend to agree with Leonard Ravenhill when he says: 'I would rather calm down a fanatic than try to resuscitate a corpse'. Isn't that right? But equally older people here tonight, don't let the energies of the young people make you feel redundant, or make you feel retired from God's work - because your wisdom, your experience is greatly needed in the church of God. Isn't it wonderful in the light of the studies that we have done already, if Moses was sent to Pharaoh at the age of 80 years, I'm sure that God has still something for you to do! Don't you think?
He said he was too young, but the second way he felt he was unqualified for this calling was he said: 'I cannot speak' - I can't speak. Now he used the reason for not being able to speak because he was too young, he didn't feel gifted in this way because of his age. You'll remember that this was one of the excuses that Moses made, even though he was schooled in all the wisdom and learning of Egypt and he was a great man in stature and in speech. He said: 'I can't do anything for God', if you like, 'I am not a preacher'. How many Christians say that today? 'I haven't got a gift to preach, I find it hard enough getting up and standing and praying audibly. I'm not a musician, I find it very difficult to witness - I couldn't go round the doors and knock on them and ask people about their salvation'. Let me just say in passing, if you don't have the gift of speaking, or if you don't have the gift of singing, would you please spare us all and don't preach and don't sing!
The fact of the matter is that the word of God this evening tells us that there are a great deal of objections that we use for not serving God, for not speaking for God, for not being involved in God's work, which are only excuses. 'I can't speak', Jeremiah said, 'I'm too young', but look at what God says to him in chapter 1 and verse 5 - back to Jeremiah chapter 1 and verse 5: '[Jeremiah] before I formed you in the belly I knew you; and before you came forth out of your mother's womb I sanctified you, and I ordained', or I chose, 'you a prophet unto the nations'. What does he say first of all? 'God, I can't speak' - 'Listen, Jeremiah, I made you. Those lips that you say can't speak, I made those lips Jeremiah! I consecrated you, I've set you apart for my use, I have appointed you and ordained you a prophet to the nations'. 'But Lord, I don't know what to say' - verse 7: 'Whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak' - 'I will tell you, Jeremiah, what to say'.
He could say, like Moses: 'But who will I say has sent me, and what if they say who is the name of your God?'. In verse 8 He says: 'Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the LORD'. 'I have made you, I have consecrated you, I've appointed you, I will tell you what to say, and I will be with you'. 'Lord, how do I know, how do I know You'll be with me? How do I know You'll tell me what to say?'. In verse 9, this is a remarkable verse for me: 'Then the LORD put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the LORD said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in your mouth'. He touched him and He put His words in his mouth! He endued him with power from on-high, a bit like what the disciples were endued with on the Day of Pentecost, to speak and to utter words of God in the power and demonstration of the Holy Spirit.
Don't be discouraged at seeming disqualifications that you see in your life for what God has called you to. Don't be discouraged, don't let them drag you down and stop you serving God - listen this evening: God has saved you, He has chosen you out of the teeming herds of humanity that are going down to perdition, and He has bought you with the precious blood of the Lamb of God at Calvary, He has set you apart and sanctified you, He has made you acceptable in the Beloved, He has chosen you in Christ before the very foundation of the world to serve Him and to do great exploits for Him, He has sent the third Person of the Trinity into this realm so that you might be empowered to go and do the work of God, and He has given you His word what to say. Don't be discouraged, He has commanded you to go and gossip the Gospel. It doesn't matter if you can't stand up here like this and preach, because what the Lord said before He left His disciples was simply this: 'Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you', and listen, what He said to Jeremiah He says to all of us, 'and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age. Amen'.
He was in many senses an unnatural choice, but aren't we? It is amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. We must move on: he felt unequipped for his calling, but when he got into the job we see that he bore many heavy burdens, and that is the reason why Jeremiah is known by the title: 'The Weeping Prophet'. He is called in places 'the prophet of the broken heart, the prophet of the bleeding heart and the iron will'. All you need to do to know about this is to go to the next book in the Bible from Jeremiah, which is the book of Lamentations, which really is a book of wailing and cries over the destruction of the holy city of Jerusalem. That is why he is known as the weeping prophet. We are caused to ask the question this evening: what was it that caused his brokenness? What were the many heavy burdens that this man of God had to bear? Of course, we would have to say that it was the sin all around him, the idolatry and degradation politically and religiously of the state. Then of course politically there was the proposed alliance with the Egyptian nation to fight off the Babylonians, and that was not of God. Those two things alone would be an awful burden for a holy man, and again we see the divine dilemma of the prophet - a heart after God, a heart after the righteousness of God, and also on the other hand a heart after the people of God, a love and compassion for them.
But Jeremiah's burdens were not just vocational, but the one thing that strikes us very forcibly in the life of Jeremiah is that his burdens and his sufferings were very personal. If you look closely at this book you will find that although Jeremiah was standing up for God and standing up for country, the people of the nation, the political and religious establishment, stamped him and named him as a traitor. Cast your mind back for a moment to the book of Ezekiel, and I hope if you don't remember anything about Ezekiel that you remember this: there was a threat from the North, the Babylonians were coming to the North, and both Ezekiel and the prophet Jeremiah told the people of Israel: 'Don't fight against Babylon, because Babylon are My instrument of chastening you and bringing you back from idolatry to Myself. Don't fight against them, go into captivity', remember he said: 'Build your houses, furnish your homes, because you're staying here - don't fight what I am doing in My sovereign will'. Now you can imagine when Jeremiah was coming out with the like of this, and he was preaching it in Jerusalem, they branded him politically and religiously as a traitor.
His cry was not: 'No surrender', it was 'All surrender'. He was discovering, the more he preached and talked, that the enemies of a preacher are not always the people that he's seemingly preaching against in the state. If you look with me at this book, if you turn first of all to chapter 11 of Jeremiah, you will find that some of the enemies were from his own hometown. Verse 19 of chapter 11: 'But I was like a lamb or an ox that is brought to the slaughter; and I knew not that they had devised devices against me, saying, Let us destroy the tree with the fruit thereof, and let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name may be no more remembered. But, O LORD of hosts, that judgest righteously, that triest the reins and the heart, let me see thy vengeance on them: for unto thee have I revealed my cause. Therefore thus saith the LORD of the men of Anathoth', the place were Jeremiah was from, his own hometown, 'that seek thy life, saying, Prophesy not in the name of the LORD, that thou die not by our hand'. The people of his own town were against him.
Turn to chapter 12 and verse 6, perhaps more hurting for Jeremiah, the fact that those of his own home were against him: 'For even thy brethren, and the house of thy father, even they have dealt treacherously with thee; yea, they have called a multitude after thee: believe them not, though they speak fair words unto thee'. Chapter 15, we'll not take time to read it, but verses 15 to 17 tell us that the congregation, the actual people of God, the religious establishment, turned against him for his preaching. If you look at verse 20 of chapter 15, and the public in general, just everybody and anybody, everybody was against Jeremiah - like Athanasius, he was against the world and the world was against Athanasius. Does it not remind you of the words of our Lord Jesus when He said: 'A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country and in his own house, and a man's foes shall be they of his own household'?
What is this telling us? I'll tell you what it tells us: if you are wanting to be a man or a woman of God, whether you're young or old, mature or immature, there's one thing that you've got to realise: to be a man after God's own heart, and to be a man or woman whose heart is broken for the people, you will be a lonely man or woman! You will not be everybody's best friend. I think John Henry Jowett, that great preacher, put it well when he said: 'It is possible to escape a multitude of trouble by living an insignificant life'. Do you want to get out of trouble? Don't do anything! Be insignificant! And certainly I would say to you, only most of you are converted here this evening already, if you want to get out of any trouble or problems: don't follow Christ!
Jeremiah suffered for his message. If you look at chapter 20 verse 2 quickly, you'll see that he was put in stocks outside the city of Jerusalem. They probably threw fruit at him, maybe even stones at him and dear knows what else. In chapter 38 and verse 6 he was thrown into a pit, into a cistern. In chapter 40 and verse 1 he was put into chains. In chapter 16 and verse 2 God forbade him to be married - he wasn't allowed to marry anybody, he had to somehow reflect the anguish that God had. Perhaps I look into it and I read into it, just like Ezekiel's wife was taken from him to symbolise the marriage being dissolved, if you like, between Jehovah and the covenant people, Jeremiah wasn't even allowed a wife! I wonder was that the reason why? He wasn't allowed children, and all of these sorrows and all of these burdens could be the reason why he is called the weeping prophet, and the reason why many a scholar calls him the Job amongst the prophets.
In his ministry he had to face the false prophets, pastors and priests. During his ministry the word of God that he preached was banned and burnt and belittled - and is it any wonder that a man of like passions such as we are, and remember he was only a man, should become Jeremiah the dejected. Neither is it a coincidence that in his lifetime, more than any prophet, he saw how God works in brokenness - that's your third point. For one day, led by the Holy Spirit of God, Jeremiah goes just beyond the city of Jerusalem to the Valley of Hinnom. There in the Valley of Hinnom he finds a little potter's house, and he walks in and sees the potter sitting at the wheel. He's battering that clay and trying to get all the air bubbles out of it, just ready to be moulded. He puts it onto the disc, and he moves his foot and pushes and pumps, and then he puts his hands all around it. With his finger, like an artist and a musician, he brings from that clay what he wants to see inwardly and outwardly. He moulds it after his way. Then all of a sudden there's a little accident, and something falls off, something breaks, or it doesn't turn out the way he wanted to be - and I can almost see Jeremiah thinking: 'What's he going to do? Is he going to bend down and take another piece of clay?'. But he doesn't do that, he takes the bit that is broken, the bit that is not moulded right, and he breaks it! He pushes it, squeezes it, wrings it, and he remoulds it!
Look at chapter 18 for a moment, verse 3: 'I went down to the potter's house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it. Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel'. What a lesson it was for the people of God in Jeremiah's day to realise that no matter what comes into your life, even if it is the nation of Babylon that is going to sack, rape and pillage your nation and your hometown Jerusalem, if it is from My hand it is for your good!
The problem of evil, the problem of suffering and pain is one of the greatest questions that every Christian has to face. It cannot be explained, but the only thing that can in any way explain it is the evidence of things not seen, which we are told is faith. It is what Job found when he said: 'He knoweth the way that I take, and when He has tried me I shall come forth as gold'. The nation would have to be broken, the nation would have to be moulded again and remade, and the question that we need to ask personally in our own lives is this: do we trust God the Potter? Do we trust ourselves to the Potter's skill and the Potter's hand? The One who has the idea, the One who is the architect behind our lives, the One who has the skilful touch and has the power and the ability to change us - do we trust Him? Because I'll tell you tonight: if you trust Him you will find this is your experience, verse 4: 'He made it again'!
I would say again to you, if you don't want to be changed and you're a Christian, you're in the wrong life! You're in the wrong life. But if you want to be made again, and allow the trials that come into your life and the troubles and problems to do what God intends them to do, God will make you into a new vessel. Think of Jacob, the twister, the supplanter, the thief and the liar, and God makes him one night, through wrestling, through brokenness, through the Potter's hand, into a prince with God and with Israel! Think of Simon, cursing with oaths the name of Christ, denying Him thrice, going into the dark night weeping bitterly after seeing the very face of His Saviour - and what happens to that man? From the resurrection morn that denier and that traitor is made into Peter: 'Thou art Peter', petros, a stone - a man of weakness made into a man of rock!
Can I ask you tonight: have you lost sight, in your fear and in your trouble, that God is still working on you? There's a wee children's chorus and I love it, it's very profound theologically - you mightn't think so, and I don't know whether the children grasp it or not, but it goes like this:
'He's still working on me
To make me what I ought to be.
It took Him just a week to make the moon and the stars,
The sun and the earth, and Jupiter and Mars.
How loving and faithful He must be,
Because He's still working on me!'
I know He's a lot of work still to do with me, but do we trust ourselves to the Potter's hand? We may not understand His plan, we may not understand what He's doing, but do we trust the hand? It's hard to trust Him when you witness unprecedented destruction, as Jeremiah did - your fourth point. Jeremiah constantly urged the backsliding people of Judah to return to Jehovah or bear the consequences, to flee from the wrath to come, but if they did not flee from the wrath to come they would incur the judgemental wrath of God - and they would go through it even though God loved them and God was not willing that any should perish. As you know the awful story of Jeremiah, that call of warning fell on deaf ears, and that's why Jeremiah changes from being a prophet of warning to a prophet of weeping. The wrath of God fell on the people's heads because Jeremiah's voice fell on deaf ears. The devastation was vast, Jerusalem was surrounded by the forces of Babylon. Her own trees, the word of God says, were used against her. The temple was destroyed, the corpses of the Jewish people were fed to the wild animals. Those people that lived entered into captivity for 70 years in Babylon, and they sat down and hung their harps, and they wept as they remembered Zion. Terrible, isn't it?
The amazing thing out of it all is this, and this is the point on which I want to finish: even in this dispensation, and even in this epoch of the Old Testament which is pre-Christ, Jeremiah became Christ-like through his sufferings. Now remember that this is a prophet who had a lot to commend him. As you read this book you find that he ministered under seven rulers: King Josiah, King Jehoiachim, King Jehoiachin, King Zedekiah, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, Gedaliah of Babylon, Johanan. We find that he prophesied against nine nations: Egypt in chapter 46, Philistia in chapter 47, Moab in chapter 48, Ammon, Edom, Damascus, Kedar, Hazor and Elam in 49, and Babylon in 50 and 51. What a mighty prophet this was! But of all the attributes and all the characteristic achievements of this man of God, there is none greater than the one that you will find in Matthew chapter 16, turn with me. Matthew 16 and verse 13: 'When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elijah; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God'.
They said: 'You're either Elijah, John the Baptist back from the dead, or Jeremiah'! Why Jeremiah? The weeping prophet? This weak prophet, it seemed, whose heart was broken - why Jeremiah? Because Jeremiah was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, the people hid their face from him, he was despised and rejected of men. And you can see our Lord Jesus Christ standing over Jerusalem crying: 'Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thee together as a hen gathereth her chickens, but ye would not'. Why was Jeremiah like Christ? Because of his sufferings! As Paul said: 'That I might know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death'. Why was Jeremiah like Christ? Let me read to you 2 Corinthians 4 verses 7 to 10: 'We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body'.
Why did they mistake Christ for Jeremiah? Let me sum it all up with this story as we close. Margaret Sangster-Phippin was the daughter of the late great preacher W. E. Sangster of Methodism. She wrote that in the mid-1950s of her father's life he began to notice some uneasiness in his throat and a dragging in his leg. When he went to the doctor he found that he had an incurable disease that caused progressive muscular atrophy in his body. It was debilitating, and his muscles, he was told by the doctor, would gradually waste away. His voice would fail, his throat would soon become unable to swallow. From that day Sangster threw himself into the work of God in the British Home Mission, thinking that he could write and he could use up the time that he was no longer able to preach and go about doing meetings with prayer and with other things that he had wanted to do all of his life. He said this to the Lord: 'Lord, let me stay in the struggle. I don't mind if I can no longer be a General, but give me just a Regiment to lead'. And he did it, he wrote articles and he wrote books, and he helped organise prayer cells throughout England. He said to people whenever they commented upon his suffering: 'I'm only in the kindergarten of suffering'. Gradually Sangster's legs became useless, his voice went completely, but he could still hold a pen shakily. On Easter morning just a few weeks before he died he wrote a letter to his daughter, and in it he said these words, listen carefully: 'It's terrible to wake up on Easter morning and have no voice with which to shout 'He is risen!', but it would still be more terrible to have a voice and not want to shout it'. Did you get that? It is terrible to a wake up Easter morning and have no voice with which to shout 'He is risen!, but it would still be more terrible to have a voice and not want to shout it. Can we say:
'Have Thine own way Lord, have Thine own way.
Thou art the Potter, I am the clay.
Mould me and make me after Thy will,
While I am waiting, yielded and still.
Have Thine own way Lord, have Thine own way.
Hold o'er my being absolute sway.
Fill with Thy Spirit, till all shall see
Christ, only always, living in me'.
Father, we thank You that a greater than Jeremiah has come to us. We thank You that He trod the path of humanity that we trod, He is tested in all points as we are, apart from sin. We thank You that at this very moment He can see into our hearts, into the very depths of our being, and He is touched as our great Prophet with the feelings of our infirmities. What can we say, our Father, but we thank You for Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith. We just pray that each gathered here tonight may know His succour and His sympathy as they go. Amen.
Preach The Word
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the eighth tape in his 'As Sparks Flying Upwards' series, titled "Jeremiah The Dejected" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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