Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19
I want you to imagine that you’ve been asked to give a speech—one that entails speaking out at the local council meeting about something that you know is wrong. It could be a matter of mismanagement, mistreatment of the elderly or disabled, or it could be about one of a number of other things. But how do you feel? Nervous? Panicky? Starting to look for a way out?
Now let’s imagine that you were asked by someone who is important to you—someone for whom you would do almost anything. And you know that the task is important. You also know what the consequences will be.
Because to say that you will receive opposition is to put it mildly. In fact you know the result of what you have to say would almost certainly be . . . Being thrown out of the meeting, being treated like dirt from then on, and even losing all your (so-called) friends. And that people will then go out of their way to be nasty to you.
So how would you feel? Would you do it? Or would you find an excuse not to do it, or even carry on as if you’ve never been asked?
B. THE CALL TO SPEAK OUT (1)
Because Jeremiah, in this passage from Jeremiah, was faced with that sort of dilemma. But with a few differences . . .
Because it wasn’t just one speech that was needed, but a continual need to speak out. It wasn’t just to the local council, it was to the members of the establishment (kings, state officials, priests, influential groups, as well as to ordinary citizens). It wasn’t just a request by any old person either—it was a request from God himself. And it wasn’t just a request—it was an order.
But with that order, there were a few words of encouragement—and a few words of warning too:
1. Brace Yourself (17a)
‘Fasten your belt! Stand up!’ he was told. ‘There’s a torrid experience you’re about to face. You need to be resolute, as a man prepared for battle, or as an athlete determined to win the race.’
2. Speak God’s Word (17b)
‘Tell them everything I command you,’ God told him. ‘You will need to stand up and speak. But not your own words, but the words that I will give you. Not from your own heart, as false prophets do, but the words that I (God) command you to say.’
3. Don’t Be Discouraged (17c)
And ‘Don’t show fear in their presence,’ he was told. ‘Because if you fear what others will do to you, that is nothing to what I (God) will do if you fail to do what I ask.’
In other words, Jeremiah would not only have to face the wrath of the people, but he would have to answer to God as well.
4. God Will Make You Strong (18)
God’s promise to Jeremiah was that he would make him strong enough to do the task. A promise no doubt Jeremiah returned to on a number of occasions . . .
5. You Will Meet Resistance (19)
. . . particularly when he met the opposition that God had indicated he would face.
And you know what? Even faced with all that, Jeremiah did as he was told.
C. UNWILLING VOLUNTEERS
Now then, let’s change our original scenario around . . . Because if we were faced not with the challenge of a friend asking us to speak out at the council, but with God telling us to speak out for him (just like Jeremiah did) what would our response be then? Do we comply? Do we make an excuse? Or do we carry on, and pretend it never happened?
After all, not all of us are good at that sort of thing. We can’t all be good public speakers. We haven’t all been trained to do that. But then maybe, we might tell ourselves, it’s all some big mistake. ‘God can’t really be calling me to speak out,’ and, ‘In any case, aren’t we passed all that sort of thing.’
Well, if that’s the case, there is one thing we can take comfort in, and that is that we wouldn’t be the first to make excuses to God.
1. Jeremiah (6)
After all, Jeremiah himself came up with two excuses: ‘I don’t know how to speak.’ ‘I am only a boy.’
And of course there’s the master of excuse—Moses. ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Sons of Israel out of Egypt’ (Ex 3:11). ‘What will I do if the elders won’t believe or listen to me? What if they say to me, “The Lord has not revealed himself to you”’ (Ex 4:1). ‘Please, Lord, I’m not a good speaker. I have never been in the past and I am not now, even after you have spoken to your servant. I remain slow of speech and slow of tongue’ (Ex 4:10). And perhaps the most honest excuse of them all, ‘Please, Lord. Please send someone else’ (Ex 4:13).
And as we know God didn’t accept his excuses.
And if he didn’t accept the excuses of either Jeremiah or Moses, then why would we think our excuses would be any more acceptable either.
D. THE CALL TO SPEAK OUT (2)
Now up to this point we’ve talked about ‘what if’ . . . ‘What if God was to call me…?’ ‘What would my response be?’ But you know God has called me, and he’s called you. He has called each and every one of us to speak out for him.
‘You will be witnesses . . .’ Jesus said, ‘in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1:8b).
But what exactly does that mean?
1. Jeremiah’s Message
Well, Jeremiah was called to speak out, to be a witness about a number of things.
He was told to speak out about God: The kind of God he is; his attributes; his involvement in human affairs; and his love for his people.
And Jeremiah did just that. He described God, for example, as ‘the fountain of living water’ (2:13). He used warm personal expressions like ‘betrothed’ (2:2), and ‘father’ (3:19) to describe God. For him God was both near and far off. He used terms like ‘loyalty’ and ‘steadfast love’ of God’s attributes. And ‘loyalty’, ‘justice’, and ‘righteousness’ as the things not only God practices, but the things he delights in.
b). The Nation
He was called to speak out about his country. The things God had done for it and the people. And their rejection of him, and their rebellious ways.
The country is described as ‘a choice vine’ (2:21), God’s own ‘inheritance’ (12:9), even ‘sons’ (3:19). And yet the nation’s behaviour to God is described in terms of ‘adultery’ or ‘harlotry’.
c). Sin and Repentance
He was called to speak out about sin and repentance; the worship of false gods; social sins—injustice, dishonesty and impurity; and the call to return to God’s ways.
Obedience to the laws of God was incumbent upon the people, Jeremiah proclaimed (7:5). But it was not just a matter of the casual, or even habitual breaking of the laws he was most concerned about. It was their basic attitude towards God that was the problem (2:22).
d). Future Hope
And he was called to speak out a message of future hope, of restoration, and of the coming Messiah. Jeremiah pointed beyond judgement to a future hope when fortunes would be restored.
2. Jesus’s Message
Sound familiar? Because it’s exactly the same things that Jesus talked about. Only the Messiah he pointed to was himself.
Jesus talked about his father, and his care for all created beings.
b). The Nation
Jesus talked about his country; the things that God had done; and the way people had turned away from him. He particularly spoke out about the behaviour of the religious leaders, and how they led the people astray.
c). Sin and Repentance
Jesus talked about injustice—the Pharisees being major culprits—and he called people to repent and turn from their sin.
d). The Future Hope
And Jesus talked about the future—about life after death, and the resurrection to life for all who believed.
3. Our Message
And it is to all of these things that we are called to witness.
Jesus said to his disciples, ‘As the Father sent me, I am sending you’ (John 20:21). So if we are Jesus’s disciples, if we really believe that Jesus is the Son of God, if we believe that he died for us on the cross, then we have already been commanded to speak out, just as Jeremiah did.
For his pains, Jeremiah was plotted against (11:18-23); had his worked destroyed (namely his scroll) piece by piece (36:25); he was flogged, imprisoned, and held in the most unhealthy circumstances underground (37:11-16). He was considered a traitor (38:2-4), and generally made himself so unpopular that he wanted to give up the task he was given on more than one occasion (9:1).
But he didn’t . . .
. . . and neither should we.
We may face all sorts of opposition. But we shouldn’t give up either.
Now we may not all be required to stand in the pulpit, we may not all be required to stand up at a local council meeting; but never the less we are all called to speak out. We are required to stand up and be counted. In short, we are called to be witnesses for Christ.
And that involves witnessing about God, who he is and what he’s about; speaking out about our nation, the things that God has done, and how people have turned away from him; it means talking about sin and repentance; and it means raising the future hope of everlasting life for those who are disciples of Jesus.
But in doing so, let’s remember the message of Jeremiah. The words of encouragement by God, as well as the words of warning. ‘Fasten your belt! Stand up!’ God said. ‘Tell them everything I command you.’ ‘Don’t show fear in their presence.’
And those excuses? Well, let’s remember that God did not accept Jeremiah’s (or Moses’s), so he’s hardly likely to accept ours either.
Posted: 17th September 2021
© 2021, Brian A Curtis
Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19