As we move into, not just a new year, but a new sermon series, here’s an overview of the message of Jeremiah.
Dates and people? Jeremiah prophesied through the reigns of the Kings of Judah mentioned at the start of Chapter 1. Josiah, the reforming King, was in power. But much of his good work was derailed by the reigns of the kings that followed.
The rise of the Babylonian Empire under Nebuchadnezzar, resulted in an invasion of Judah in 597. Alongside that was a deportation to Babylon of many of the professional classes and young, like Daniel and his friends. A decade later, Jerusalem, its Temple and walls, fell. The nation would endure exile and captivity for the next seventy years
Jeremiah and his message? He belonged to a priestly family and probably received his prophetic call as a teenager. For 40 years and through turbulent times, Jeremiah experienced not just a long career but a lonely one.
His ministry was marked by the violence done to him. He was persecuted, imprisoned, thrown down a well and finally banished to Egypt where tradition has it, he was executed.
No wonder there were always vacancies for prophets at the Job Centre in Jerusalem! It was hardly a career move. His messages were almost completely rejected. Nobody listened to him.
When Jeremiah walked by, everyone else walked the other way and put there hands over their ears!
As a consequence, his name has passed into our English idioms. To be a Jeremiah is to be a ‘party pooper’, a miserable pessimist. The problem with being a Jeremiah is that in order to be proved right, everything has to go wrong. And in that sense Jeremiah was the most successful prophet in history!
No wonder Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet. His tears were shed for the stubbornness of his own people and for the emotional loneliness of his own position.
Truth for our times. There maybe some comfort in all this for us. Even great prophets of God can experience rejection, depression, and discouragement. Somehow Jeremiah manages to keep going against all the odds.
In part this was because his message did also contain the promise of a bright future. A new world was on the way, based upon a new relationship between the Lord and His people. Salvation would come through judgement.
So Jeremiah’s life and preaching is not all doom and gloom. He finds the rainbow’s edge at the end of the storm. There will be a return from exile, a homecoming and a new temple. So he writes passages not just of frustration and tears but beauty and hope.
So there’s Jeremiah. He lives through the last days of the Southern Kingdom of Judah. He warns of impending disaster. But no one listens to him. His heart breaks. But he also sees beyond the judgement of God, to the joy of a restored relationship with God.
One of the most poignant pictures in the entire book, is the one of the Potter and the Clay, in chapter 18. It explores the question, who’s in charge of our world, the potter or the clay? Who is going to have the last word- God or humanity?
The conclusion is very clear- the Sovereign Lord is in charge, God will win. Actually love wins. For in the beautiful phrases of chapter 31 and verse 3 “ I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you”.
In the end, for all those who trust the Potter’s hand, grace has the final word.
Peter Baker | Senior Minister