Jeremiah – Living In HopeDecember 10, 2007
With a tinge of sadness, I had the priviledge of preaching the final sermon in our Jeremiah series yesterday: We three Kings. (In case you’re wondering, the three kings were Zedekiah, Nebuchadnezzar and Jehoiachin!) Today let me share two things learned whilst preaching alongside Peter Grainger through this book. I have two more to share tomorrow.
1) All Scripture is God Breathed and Useful.
Preaching for twelve months (with a few breaks) on a challenging Old Testament book like Jeremiah really tests one’s faith in 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Although truly evangelical preachers affirm the inspiration and usefulness of the totality of Scripture, our preaching programmes can belie this fact. Let’s face it: aren’t we all more likely to preach through John’s gospel than Jeremiah, Luke rather than Lammentations, Ephesians rather than Ecclesiastes?
Of course, there could be some theological reason – our view of the relationship between the Old and New Testaments – which makes us gravitate more toward OT than NT. But I imagine for many preachers the problem is practical: aren’t most of the Old Testament writings, especially prophecies, ‘hard for our people to get at’? Will our congregants ever see the relevance of such a series? Will they ever forgive us?!
To the contrary. We have found our church family inspired as we have trekked through a less familiar part of Scripture’s terrain. This has been valuable for at least two reasons. First, it reminds people that 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is no empty rhetoric. They can see Scripture is useful as week after week it is applied to them from Jeremiah. Second, it encourages believers to read books like Jeremiah from themselves. With a little bit of patience and prayer – not even to mention the plethora of study resources now available – there is no reason why Christians shouldn’t be reading these books in their own devotions.
2) God’s Justice is Measured and His Judgements are NOT Severe.
In his overview sermon of Jeremiah, Mark Dever (of Capitol Hill Baptist, Washington) titled the message of the book “Justice.” This is a very appropriate designation. True, Jeremiah pervades with ‘hints of hope.’ It promises a future restoration and most of all a coming Messiah. Nonetheless, the backdrop for this hope is a rather enormous black canvas of judgement.
Confronting a God of justice week by week (or is that, being confronted by a God of justice) is a great challenge for any congregation. It faces us with an attribute of God’s character that is worthy of praise and essential for understanding the context of the gospel. On the other hand, God’s justice – and the judgement it provokes – is uncomfortable ground to tread even for many Christians. One thing I discovered is that believers may accept God’s judgements theologically but struggle to compute them emotionally.
Considering our struggles with God’s justice, Jeremiah helped us in our struggle. It constantly showed us the correlation between our sin, God’ anger and finally God’s judgement. For example, in my sermon on judgement to the nations (Jer 46-49), we learned that God knows the specific sins of individual nations – right down to the names of their particular gods. The reason Jeremiah’s prophecies spend so much time describing sin in detail, I pointed out, is so that when judgement is outlined in principle and then worked worked out in practice (eg. Jer 52) no one can accuse God of being harsh.
For this reason I asked for forgiveness in a recent sermon. Several times early in the Jeremiah series I had described God’s judgement as severe. ‘But God’s judgement is not severe’, I concluded. ‘His judgements are God’s measured, fair, and righteous response to sin, arising from his justice.