4 Reasons You Should Preach through Jeremiah
About three-quarters of my way through preaching a series on Jeremiah, a friend asked: “What did the Holy Spirit say to you to make you want to preach through the entire book of Jeremiah?”
After I laughed off my friend’s question, I replied, “It’s the Word of God.”
Well, Jeremiah certainly is the Word of God, but why would a preacher ever choose to preach this book? Jeremiah is daunting, to say the least. For one thing, it’s the longest book of the Bible (I know, you probably thought that was the Psalms). Secondly, Jeremiah has a pretty bad reputation: judgment, tears, judgment, tears—and then more judgment. So why should the faithful preacher consider preaching through this book?
Jeremiah teaches us that human beings are rebels against God. As covenant breakers, they won’t go unpunished. But Jeremiah doesn’t stop with judgment. He declares that God is not finished with his people, and he has determined to make a new covenant with them. God keeps his promises, and his people will one day enjoy all of the blessings of renewal and restoration.
Four themes throughout this ancient book will particularly benefit your congregation today.
1. Jeremiah despises the perversion of God’s Word.
The people of Jeremiah’s day “believe” in God. They love the temple and, due to its presence, they take confidence that no harm will come to them. Yet these people simultaneously love their sin. They’ve mixed the worship of YHWH with an allegiance to other gods. There’s perversion, immorality, and injustice throughout the land. It appears that scribes have altered the Scriptures; the faith once delivered to the saints has been corrupted. As a result, God is bringing judgment upon them through the conquering empire of Babylon. False teachers throughout the book assure the masses that they are fine, that God will not hurt them.
Today, many churches and professing Christians have abandoned the Word of God. The Scriptures are edited to suit one’s desire. Furthermore, sermons are based on what’s popular in culture, not on God’s Word. Sin is overlooked, and as a result versions of Christianity are created which allows one to “love Jesus” and their sin. People assume God is on their side and preachers gather crows through the art of ear-tickling.
Amid all this, Jeremiah sounds an alarm for the twenty-first century: Listen to and heed God’s Word, even when the message is unpopular.
2. Jeremiah deals with the persecution of God’s people.
Jeremiah is despised by almost everyone. He deals with death threats, murder plots, and imprisonment. His finished scroll is publicly read, only to be confiscated by the authorities and burned. He’s thrown into a dungeon. He’s thrown into a pit. He’s even beaten by the temple official who––you’d think––would have personal interest in hearing this message from God.
Today, the Christian message is increasingly unpopular. Christian ethics progressively flows against the stream of culture. Preaching the exclusivity of Christ won’t help your church earn the “cool card” in your community. Preaching the holy wrath of God won’t top the list of today’s church growth strategies.
Christians who embrace the historic Christian faith are finding themselves as a small minority in their communities. Unless true revival comes, persecution will only increase. Our church members already face difficult decisions, and the right decision will often lead to rejection by friends and family. Thankfully, the message of Jeremiah prepares the saints for persecution so “that you may be able to withstand the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Eph. 6:13).
3. Jeremiah displays the provision of a new heart.
Throughout the book, it becomes clear that God’s people need something Jeremiah cannot give: a new heart. On one hand, the people are willing participants in their rebellion against God. On the other, they’re victims of their own sinful desires and don’t have the ability to obey.
The covenant has been broken. Divorce is imminent. Their heart-wound is incurable. Who can cure it?
While Jeremiah is indeed filled with many difficult chapters, he also sings some of the highest notes of God’s grace. In the book, we come to the peaks of God’s redemptive plan as Jeremiah declares the coming of a new covenant. This covenant won’t be like the last one. In the old covenant, members of the community were often plagued with uncircumcised ears and uncircumcised hearts (unregeneration).
But in this new covenant community, God will do for his people what they’re unable to do for themselves. He’ll give them a new heart, and fulfill his promise of regeneration for all within the covenant family. Jeremiah is clear: this community will not be a mixed group of the regenerate and unregenerate. Intrinsic to the new covenant will be a new heart, and each covenant member, therefore, will possess the ability and desire to obey God.
Do our church members have a robust understanding of their regeneration? Are we an increasingly pure church, made up of regenerate church members? Do we realize the wonder of God’s grace in our salvation? Do we marvel at the gift of this new covenant written on our hearts? The valleys of Jeremiah’s suffering makes way for the heights of its hope. The ugliness of disobedience serves to display the beauty of a new heart. The dirge of judgment crescendos into hymns of deliverance.
4. Jeremiah directs our passions.
Jeremiah gives his entire life to his cause. He could have chosen a life of ease and popularity. But when Jeremiah is locked up and finally freed, what does he do? He continues to do the very thing that brought him trouble: proclaiming God’s Word.
There are other examples of faithfulness throughout the book. Jeremiah’s scribe, Baruch (who wrote the book), additionally gave up an attractive life of prominence. Baruch served the prophet, and thus served the Lord. We discover characters such as Ebed Melech, a eunuch from Sudan, forced into the King’s service. He risks his own life to rescue Jeremiah from looming death.
Here’s a question: was their sacrifice worth it? Would Jeremiah trade his very difficult life for temporal ease? If Baruch could do it over again, would he have given up his post and embrace the riches offered by the world? These men were dedicated to their mission—in spite of their own questions, doubts, and despair. Why? What kept them going? The Word of God must be declared.
In the face of the prosperity gospel, the Word of Faith movement, the pragmatism driving many evangelical churches, and the self-help sermons which parade as Christian peaching––Jeremiah speaks to us today. Our ambitions must be rerouted. God’s people must remain faithful, even when ministry feels less than fruitful. Our personal appetites must be submitted to God’s work in the world. Our desires must be reshaped and refined according to his revealed Word.
In summary, Jeremiah leads us to the Lord Jesus Christ. The Word of God “became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). We are a people of the new covenant. We’re experiencing the promises made so long ago.
And yet, we continue to wait and hope. Along with the exiles in Babylon, we live in a foreign land as sojourners. We await the climax––the ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy. We look forward to the King of Kings coming back, judging Babylon, and saving his people. Jeremiah is about judgment––yes. But only through judgment do we receive salvation.
Wright, Christopher J.H. The Message of Jeremiah. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014, 444 pp.
A warm and pastoral commentary on Jeremiah. Each section ends with theological and expository reflections. Wright’s insights are powerful and applicable. Personally, I used Wright’s breakdown of chapter and verse to help determine my own preaching schedule. It’s also worth noting that Wright is an Anglican whose explanation of the new covenant varies from my own.
Thomson, J.A. The Book of Jeremiah. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1980. 819 pp.
A very good, verse-by-verse commentary containing helpful background information, and addressing literary and structural issues. Thompson’s exegesis is solid and his work on the new covenant is insightful.
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Editor’s note: You can read the rest of the articles in this series here.