O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Based on Jeremiah 20:7-13
Preached on June 22, 2014
Click on the Play button
to listen to the Sermon.
Fellow baptized saints, the doctor left the room. I'd just been given the news. My mind raced as I stared at the wall in front of me. I had cancer. But I was only 23! Cancer. What was I going to do? Well, I knew what I was going to do, the doctor had just told me. Surgery - that night. No problem. That was the easy part. What was I going to say to my family - to my friends? Should I even tell them? Did I really have to be the one to deliver such hard news? I didn't want this job. I didn't want to bring this upon them. But it was a truth that I had to share, even if it would change their lives. Even if I was causing them pain.
Now as you know, my brief brush with cancer ended with hope and joy. Thanksgiving - that it was not the last purpose the Lord had for me here. But there were moments in the midst of it, moments where I was overcome by the weakness of my flesh, that were filled with emotional conflict. Moments in which I was pressured - even required - to say things to friends and family that no one ever wants to say.
Now if you can start to relate to this torn reality I've described then you may be on your way to understanding the prophet Jeremiah from our text this morning. Prophets always have a difficult calling, but Jeremiah lived in a time when God's people had completely forgotten Him. Their idolatry and dismissal of His Word was so widespread that God had determined to send an army to take His people from their land. Like a father taking the treasured toy from his disobedient son, God was stripping His people of prized Jerusalem and sending them into exile in Babylon. And Jeremiah was the man to warn them. God sent Jeremiah with a message that ended with hope and joy, but first he would have to say things to his friends and family that no one ever wants to say. First he would have to say things that would change their lives. That they would mock. That they would hate.
And captured here in our text is the profound inner conflict brought upon the prophet as he does this. The honest, angry catharsis of Jeremiah in the weakness of his flesh - as he pours his heart out to his Master.
"O LORD, you deceived me, and I was deceived." You persuaded me to be your prophet. The Hebrew word here - PALAH - means to persuade a person to take a certain course of action, one they cannot know everything about. You persuaded me, and I was persuaded. But I didn't want this Lord. I didn't want this conflict. It doesn't fit my personality. In fact, when you called me, I protested. Remember? I told you I was too young, that I didn't know how to speak, but you told me not to fear. You promised to be with me - to deliver me. "You are stronger than I, and you have prevailed."
"But I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me. For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, "Violence and Destruction!" For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all the day long."
This Word you sent me to preach is met with sarcasm and ridicule, even from my own family. I am not a prophet of honour. I am an embarrassment. An offense. They call me names right to my face. Because these prophecies you put in my mouth, you're taking your sweet time fulfilling them. Where is the violence and destruction you promised that I keep raving about. The people hate it.
"I hear many whispering. Terror is on every side! Denounce him! Let us denounce him say all my close friends, watching for my fall." They want me dead. They picture the ways they'd like to kill me. They want your Word to stop. They don't want to hear it anymore.
Can you do it? Can you put yourself there with Jeremiah in his moment of weakness? What do you want to do? You want to do what everyone in our society would do today if met with even a fraction of such hardship. Quit. It'd be so much easier. And how great is the pressure. Just give up. Switch to something else. Clearly this is the wrong calling for me. You don't need the world, or the devil or anyone else to tempt you with this one - your own flesh would pull the plug in a heartbeat.
But Jeremiah doesn't quit. Poor Jeremiah isn't experiencing all of this solely with his sinful desires - though perhaps he'd like to. Jeremiah has something else in him fighting against his flesh. Fighting for him when he wants to give up and die. He laments, "If I say, "I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name," there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot."" You have put your Word in me Lord. I have to speak it. It burns me from within if I don't let it out. As much as I fear speaking it, I have a greater fear - not speaking it. Because although my flesh flees from this suffering, you are saving me in it. Even though my flesh fights against you, you fight for me. Even though my flesh wants to stab you in the back, you've got mine. And so I'm trapped. I know what I will do, but it is hard. It is hard Lord. It is really really hard.
Now so far, we've been talking about the prophet Jeremiah, and the hardships he faced because he was called as a prophet. But by now you've probably realized you face the same hardships having been called as a Christian. Or having become a graduate of Beautiful Savior Lutheran School. You are overjoyed to receive the forgiveness of all your sins - to know that God has declared you to be right with Him, not based on what you have done, but solely on account of what Jesus has done for you on the cross - but much like Jeremiah, your flesh doesn't want this hard part. You swear it goes against your personality. But what happens when people learn you go to Church on Sunday, or that the name of your school is Beautiful Savior? Let me guess, the moment the sarcasm and ridicule start, you begin backpeddling - conceding - downplaying the reality of Christ in your life because of the weakness of your flesh. And when these moments really flare up - you want to quit - walk away, give up, but deep down something is fighting within you, calling you to speak - to acknowledge His Name before men.
But it doesn't stop there, you even have pressure from the same places as Jeremiah. Your family. Your friends. Are they all super pleased you are a Christian, or do you get the "special treatment" and the snide comments? Even your own children would have you abandon the faith and stop embarrassing them so much! Stop taking them to church. Stop sounding the Word in their ears.
This is why Jeremiah lays his heart on the line with the Lord. He is torn, tormented, conflicted and trapped - and where does he run? To the dread warrior. To the One who terrifies his enemies. Jeremiah bares himself to God - throws himself - weakness and all - at the mercy of the terrifying One - the One he knows will terrify all those who would pursue him - the One who fights for him - who has his back.
You may have experienced this with your own children. I once caught my son touching the television controls when he knew he wasn't supposed to. I raised my voice in anger, and the little guy burst into tears. He was scared and began to run, but he didn't run away from me - no, my son ran straight to me. I don't know if he knew what he was doing or not, but the moment he was in my arms, it didn't matter how he got there, I had nothing but comfort and mercy for him. I was his dread warrior - the One ready to fight whatever scared him into my arms.
Because this life is a fight, isn't it? It is a fight with the weakness of your flesh, and this reality couldn't become any clearer than when you realize what these words of Jeremiah are really foreshadowing. When you realize these personal groanings depict not only God's prophet, but God's Son.
Jesus didn't come to be glorified as king. He came in our flesh to destroy our sinfulness, to be mocked, ridiculed, hated - feel all the same pressures - and not only have His enemies picture the ways they'd like to kill Him - but actually crucify Him. And when all of this unspeakable injustice was taking place - the innocent Son of God dying in the place of sinful humanity - where would He run? Right towards His angry Father - but not to receive comfort and mercy for Himself, because He would not get it - but in order to secure comfort and mercy for you. On the cross of Jesus, God took upon Himself the fullness of His wrath toward sin, so that there would be nothing but comfort and mercy for you. So that you would know your God is with you in this fight. That no matter how terrible your situation, no matter how twisted the conflict becomes - your dread warrior is there and He will terrify all your enemies - even your own flesh.
Yes, there is pressure on all sides. So where are you going to run? Run to your dread warrior - the One who when squeezed shed His blood for the forgiveness of all of your sins. For your enemies are terrified of Him, and His blood is your strength, even against yourself. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr