By Simon ManchesterSunday 31 Jan 2021Christian Growth with Simon Manchester
We are actually in our second morning looking at the Book of Jeremiah, an Old Testament prophet from about 600BC. We are focusing on the middle chapters, we’ve lifted out chapters 26-33 and this is where Jeremiah is predicting for God’s people what is basically a valley. They are about to go into a valley, that is they are about to go down into exile. The Babylonians will come and take them off out of the Promised Land and after 70 years, the Lord will bring them back in his mercy into the Promised Land.
Now we saw last week if you were here that the people were not listening to Jeremiah and so he says to them – well you are not listening to the faithful servants, you will listen to my servant King of Babylon – you will listen to Nebuchadnezzar. And God used as we know Nebuchadnezzar as an instrument to bring a message of discipline to his people.
Now what we need to grasp as we think about these chapters together is that this is a kind of a microcosm of the whole Bible. If you were to read from Genesis to Revelation, and I hope some of you have done that – if you were to move from Paradise right through to Heaven, you would see that on the way there are two great voices. One which says ‘you need God or you will die’ and the other one says ‘you don’t and you won’t’. The great lie of the Garden of Eden, remember, nothing really matters. There’ll be no consequences; you won’t die right in the face of what God has said.
So God had said to the first couple – if you go your own way, you will die. The devil turns around and says – you can go your own way, and you won’t die. Those are the two voices and those are the two roads.
Jeremiah in a way is echoing this divide. He is saying that you need the Lord your God and the false prophets (and there are many of the false prophets) are basically saying nothing matters. If you run the history forward to Jesus – you’ve got exactly the same thing – Jesus coming into the world and with great love and authority saying to people “I am crucial, I’m Bread, I’m Light, I’m Resurrection” – you need me, you need me and the world is basically saying as we know – we can do without you and we don’t want you.
In our own day we face exactly the same divide – you know the difficulty of standing for the truth. A little book which is being recommended, may be a help to you, may be a help to your own confidence, may be a help to somebody else’s seeking but here you are wanting to say to the world, there is one Saviour and there are 10,000 voices coming back saying we don’t need him.
I was interested to discover that there was a debate planned in Oxford a few years ago October 2011 and it was going to be between the Christian Apologist – William Lane Craig who is a very able American and the famous atheist Richard Dawkins. And just previously Richard Dawkins and his team had arranged for posters to be put on the buses which said:
Hope 103.2 is proudly supported by
‘THERE’S PROBABLY NO GOD – NOW STOP WORRYING AND ENJOY YOUR LIFE’.
It turns out that late in the day of this particular debate Richard Dawkins withdrew from the debate so it never took place. And the Christians in Oxford put up large posters which said:
‘THERE’S PROBABLY NO DAWKINS – NOW STOP WORRYING AND ENJOY YOUR DAY’.
Which I thought was quite clever. There is the fork – there is the divide and Jeremiah is very important historical information because he is echoing the message which runs right through history that there is truth and there are lies. We are also going to see as we look at this chapter quite briefly this morning that there is a help to making the right decision. In other words we’ve said a thousand times – FAITH IS NOT A LEAP INTO THE DARK – IT’S A STEP INTO THE LIGHT. It’s a logical and sensible step in face of evidence.
And I would remind you also as we get into this that a lot hangs on this. If a person pays no attention to the Word of God, it looks in the short term as though all is well. But actually they have compromised their soul – they will find themselves ineffective in the world in terms of God’s purposes. They will have very confusing values to pass on to their children. There will be a much distorted home life and finally of course they plunge into eternal darkness.
The person who pays close attention to the truth of God is given wisdom for the present, they have to make some costly but vital decisions, they can be useful in God’s service, they have promises that sustain them when life is difficult and they plunge into great and wonderful light.
So I want to summarise the chapter so where we are going.
It starts off 1-6 with God called Jeremiah to warn the people – this is what I have called A Fair and Kind Warning (verses 1-6).
Verses 7-11 the people attacked Jeremiah and I have called this A Foolish and Misguided Reaction (verses 7-11).
Verses 12-15 Jeremiah faces the Government Officials who come running to make a court case to make sure justice is done and in this court case Jeremiah gives A Fearless and Impressive Defence (verses 12-15).
And finally in the last verses 16-24 which we didn’t read this morning they decide they will not kill Jeremiah but protect him and I’ve called this A Faithful and A Good Outcome (verses 16-24).
And I say again that in the middle of these verses there are some clues as to how to assess a voice or a messenger.
One of the questions that Lee Strobel deals with in his Book – Question No.2 is “Do you have any practical ideas on finding spiritual answers?” Lee Strobel says:
- Make this the front burner issue – this is the most important issue you are dealing with
- Follow the evidence where it leads
- When the evidence is in, reach a verdict. It’s very good and very practical.
So verses 1-6 of Chapter 26 of Jeremiah – A Fair and Kind Warning. Because God seeks the welfare of people (verse 2) he is asking Jeremiah to stand in the temple. That’s the place where pretty well everybody would eventually turn up and Jeremiah is to say all the truth to all the people. You can’t have anything fairer than that can you? Say everything to everybody. I wish I could spend some time this morning telling you how many half-truths have been peddled in the name of God and how many quarter truths.
I think I may have told you once that when I was running Christianity Explained Course and I was tempted as we all are to just rush over the subject of Hell and one of the visiting men put his hand up and said “Sorry, could you just unpack that?” “Could you just explain hell for us?” and so I very tentatively started to say what the Bible says about hell. By the time I had finished after a few minutes, the group around the table were basically saying – “Now we understand; now you’ve made it clear”. We don’t actually serve people well do we by hiding the unpalatable things. And Jeremiah stands in the temple and he tells the people all the truth.
The desire of God (verse 3) is that perhaps they will listen and turn and there will be no disaster – this is a lovely verse. You can hear the Lord as it were and he’s not naïve and it’s not as though he doesn’t know what’s about to happen, but he says – this is my desire that people would turn and there would be no disaster.
And then comes the warning (verse 4) but it you don’t turn the temple would be like Shiloh and the city would become a joke around the world. Now Shiloh was the holy place 30kms north of Jerusalem where the Tent and the Ark were kept in the days of the Judges. But it was destroyed, Shiloh, by the Philistines. Psalm 78 says “God abandoned the place”. It became proverbial for judgment and so for Jeremiah to stand in the temple and say ‘this temple will be like Shiloh and the city will become proverbial nonsense and humiliation’, that was basically to speak a blasphemy or to be ridiculous. Except we know this morning that the temple and the city provide no salvation whatsoever. And those people who had put their confidence in their building or their city as if they were the saviours made a huge mistake. The only Saviour is God himself.
So is Jeremiah being offensive or kind when he stands up in the temple to say this? Well of course he is being kind – he is representing a God who loves people. Like Ezekiel 18 “I have no desire” says the Lord “in the death of anyone – turn and live”. How wonderful to know that behind the universe is a God who wants people to live not die and makes every possible provision for people to live and not die. And I don’t need to tell you that if your mind runs ahead to the cross of Christ, which we are going to celebrate in a few minutes, there is the greatest provision of all to keep a person from dying.
People who warn against danger are people who love people.
People who dislike warnings either don’t see the danger or they are too concerned for their own safety. That’s of course why we take hell seriously because Jesus knew and saw very clearly and spoke of hell very often.
Now if you were in Jeremiah’s day walking to the temple – he stands up and says ‘unless you turn back to God this temple will be like rubble and the city will be like rubble as well’ why should you listen? I mean nothing is happening. It’s just talk. And if he says it on the Monday and the Tuesday and the Wednesday and the next week and the next month and the next year and nothing happens – why should you listen to Jeremiah?
]Well there are some clues in verses 4-6. The first clue is that he says I am speaking in the Name of God. That should be checked. Secondly he says I am speaking in line with the Law – this is not an invention. Thirdly he says my grief; my concern is that you will die.
Those three things I think are great helps in working out a voice or a messenger:-
By which Authority does he or she speak?
Is this in line with the Word of God?
What are they concerned about – do they care about us?
Those are three good reasons for listening. And if you put it into an ABC – you have the Authority, the Bible and the Compassion. So chapter 26 verse 4 – this is what the Lord says. I am not just giving you my opinions, says Jeremiah. I am claiming the authority of the Lord. Well they should at that point say “OK we’ll test it”.
]Verse 4 – “If you don’t follow God’s Law” says Jeremiah – so I’m not creating just brand new ideas but I am pointing you back to the Word of God. This of course is annoying when we do this to people – say what I am saying is based on the Word of God – but you have to agree that if there is a good God in the universe and he is going to be fair to the world that he will say things which will be testable, objective, open to everybody, fair and plain. And that’s what God has done in the Scriptures. You may know that your friends are never going to take seriously your claim that what you are saying to them is based on the Bible, but at least it is not a personal opinion.
And the third thing in verses 5-6 is that Jeremiah says ‘there is a disaster looming and I wouldn’t warn you if nothing was around the corner. I am concerned for you and concerned with God’s compassion’. That’s a good test for a prophet.
Now don’t mis hear me – I’m not saying that if somebody comes to your door who is a Jehovah’s Witness and says “I speak for God – hears the Bible – I’m concerned for you” – you immediately say “Great, you are speaking the truth”. But the claim to speak in God’s Name is worth listening to, the Bible is to be checked carefully and the genuine concern or compassion is to be taken seriously as well. That’s what we see in these first few verses. A fair and a kind warning.
Now the second point – verses 7-11 is that there is a Very Foolish and Misguided Reaction. You will notice that Jeremiah is attacked and threatened with death by the priest, the prophets and the people. This is religious opposition – often the most fanatical and bitter of all. Their argument in verses 8-9 is that we object to you saying that Shiloh is our lot and the city will be rubble – we object to you saying this – therefore you must die.
You notice what they are saying? They are saying “we want to kill you because you are saying this and you shouldn’t be saying this”. They don’t ask the question – is it true? They just ask the question – is it appropriate, why are you spoiling our day? This is like your doctor looking at you with great wisdom and care and saying – ‘you will need some surgery, this will be constructive, and this will be helpful’ and you turn back to your doctor and you say ‘why are you upsetting me?’ when the doctor is speaking quite wisely and compassionately.
Exactly the same argument when the Officials come running up (verses 10-11). The Officials come running because they want to provide some justice and make sure that there isn’t a complete mayhem and the priests and the prophets say “Jeremiah should die”. Do you know why he should die? Because he spoke against the city. So their argument is taste not truth.
Do I need to tell you friends this morning that a huge amount of assessment of things is being made on taste not truth. One man has described the atheist philosophy today as ‘there is no god and I hate him’!! Taste – it’s an emotion.
Don Carson says in his book The Intolerance of Tolerance –
‘Once upon a time people said – “let’s work out what’s true and make the adjustments necessary”
Now people say – “let’s work out what’s ME and everything else can adjust”.’
The new test for many in the church is not ‘what did God’s Word say to us this morning’? But ‘did I enjoy myself’? Once you make TASTE the test you lead yourself into very great danger. It’s truth that we must keep measuring.
So these people in chapter 26 verses 7-11 don’t ask ‘is this a message with authority?
They simply ask ‘is it nice?’
They don’t say ‘is there a Bible record which stands behind him’?
They say ‘this sounds like a personal opinion’.
They don’t ask ‘is it possible that he is concerned for us and represents a God who is concerned for us’?
They simple say ‘tell us that everything is fine’. And they do what many people do today which is they don’t attack the message or deal with the message, they attack the messenger. So that’s the foolish response.
The third point this morning is verses 12-15 where Jeremiah stands up quickly and gives A Fearless and Impressive Defence. If you want a picture into the greatness of Jeremiah, if you have ever had any doubts about whether Jeremiah was a great and brave man, chapter 26: 12-15 is your key. It’s a brilliant short speech.
He says, first of all in verse 12, “The Lord sent me, hear me very carefully, The Lord sent me – my authority is the Lord God”. He doesn’t step back, he doesn’t change his message, and he just repeats – The Lord has sent me – you’ve got to work this out.
Verse 13 he expects them to change because he says ‘reform your ways and obey the Lord your God’. In other words, you know the truth, you know the covenant, you know the Scriptures, you know who He is – go back to the Biblical expectations.
And the third thing he says (verse 13) is ‘my aim is your rescue’ – I speak as one who has compassion and concern for you from God. You’ve got an opportunity to avoid disaster and that’s what God is concerned for you. You cannot have a fairer message. You can’t have a fairer message.
And then in verse 14 he is very courageous – he says ‘I am not concerned about myself, this is not a personal issue, if you want to kill me you do want is good and right – but if you do kill me, you will be shedding innocent blood because the Lord has sent me’. You see what the people are trying to do? They are trying to control the court room and make themselves as the key to the case and Jeremiah is saying – No, no, no God is the key to the court room, it’s his authority, it’s his Bible and it’s his compassion. That’s the ABC.
Well this is a great defence. I think it is a little preview of what would come later in the person of Jesus when Jesus would set out his case in the world and again you remember Jesus was unaffected by human or personal safety. But he was committed to the welfare of his listeners.
So Jeremiah is claiming authority outside himself. You remember Jesus came and said “This is not my word; this is the Father who sent me.” And then said Jesus “I myself say to you” so he got great authority and he proves his authority in every area of life by –
- Speaking to sickness
- Speaking to sin
- Speaking to the storm
- Speaking to the spirits
- Speaking to dead people
- He proves his authority.
We see Jeremiah is very conscious of the Old Testament Bible. Just the Books of the Old Testament which lay behind the time of Jeremiah, probably the Pentateuch and here is Jesus fulfilling the Old Testament Bible completely and launching the New Testament Bible and teaching people that heaven and earth will pass away but his Words will never pass away.
And then we see Jeremiah of course wonderfully concerned for people, not concerned for himself. Who could outdo this but Jesus? Who goes beyond anything Jeremiah could imagine. And he’s not just willing to die as we know but is willing to consume or to swallow the sting of millions who deserve to die. So there’s nobody more worthy to listen to than Jesus. He’s got all the credentials, he’s got the authority, he’s got Bible behind him and in front of him and he’s got the compassion which goes beyond anybody in this world. There’s nobody more caring or concerned than Jesus and therefore he has the right to be listened to.
Well the last point and the verses which we didn’t read this morning is that is a Faithful and Good Outcome in verses 16-24. The officials decide they will protect Jeremiah and you’ll notice if you read the text carefully that the people has swung over to be pro Jeremiah as well. The people are very fickle.
And therefore a decision is being made – we are going to go with God’s Word. And I think if you look at the text the ABC is being followed. Verse 16 “he should not be killed because he has spoken in the Name of the Lord our God – he speaks with authority”. I presume they are not saying this just because Jeremiah stands up and says “I am saying this in the Name of the Lord”. I presume they recognise that as he speaks, he speaks with the authority that is in line with the God of the Bible. So they see the authority.
Verses 17-18 some elders suddenly leap to their feet – elders who know their Bibles and they quote Micah. Micah who had warned the King Hezekiah 80 years before and Hezekiah had listened to Micah. And the elders basically leap to their feet as you see if you look at verses 17 & 18 and they say ‘Micah prophesied in the days of Hezekiah- he told all the people of Judah – this is what the Lord Almighty says –
Jerusalem will be ploughed like a field.
Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble.
The temple will become a mound overgrown with thickets”
He said exactly the same thing and (verse 19) Hezekiah listened. He sought the favour of the Lord. The Lord relented and did not bring the disaster on the people.
So Hezekiah, you see, is a model king who is being set up as an example for the present. And then in verse 19 they recognised God’s great concern which is that no disaster would come.
Well friends, can you stay with this? Can you keep these threads together in your head? What is actually happening here in this chapter? It’s very very relevant to the 21st Century. Here is a lesson for the current leadership based on previous leadership because the previous king Hezekiah had been a wise man – hearing the Word of God and deciding to obey it – the present King Jehoiakim is a fool. We know he is a fool because in verses 20-23 we are told that he was face to face with a prophet and hunted him down and killed him. So he stands in the tradition of all those down the history who have basically said ‘the Word of God is nothing’.
If we were to keep going in the Book of Jeremiah and we came to chapter 36 we’d come to the incident that Jehoiakim, the king is sitting in his lounge room and the Word of God is brought to him and somebody reads it to Jehoiakim and as a section of the scroll is read to the king, he gets his penknife and he cuts off the section of the scroll and he throws it into the fire! And he becomes an example of absolute arrogant stupidity.
The great foolishness of thinking that that will destroy the Word of God is quickly replaced and Jehoiakim is quite quickly destroyed.
So do you see that there is a divide going on here in Jeremiah 26 even among the kings – good king and bad king?
There are priests who are not listening.
There are people who are starting to listen.
There are some who are echoing the voice in the garden – nothing matters – you will not die. There are some who are listening to the Word of God and recognising that his Word is crucial.
And so what we learn from this chapter as I come to an end this morning is that there is one who runs the universe – who is at work to say and to do what will save people. And this is a crucial decision that every person has to make – how to respond to the Word of God.
To respond to the Word of God will be life
To ignore the Word of God will be death
And if you respond to the Word of God of course will lead you to Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Now some of you this morning may be thinking – you know I really need at this particular time a word of authority and certainty. I am full of doubts. God is the God of authority; God is the God of comfort. God is the God of truth and wisdom and therefore take seriously the God of the Bible.
There may be some of you this morning who really need a word of wisdom for decisions such as the Scripture to give you the principles by which you can walk safely and make responsible decisions.
Some of you may be needing words of compassion – something just fitting for your situation – such is God’s concern that he speaks the thing that needs to be said and he does the thing that needs to be done. In fact as we know he goes beyond talk – he goes into deed. “He who did not spare his own son but gave him up for us all, how shall he not along with him graciously give us all things?” The God who gave his Son, you see, the God of authority, the God of the Bible and the God of compassion who gave up his own Son is interested in the small details of life and that’s why we will do well to walk in the way of the Word of God as best we can and to help those who at the present are on a different and dark road.
Let’s pray – let’s bow our heads –
Our loving Father, we thank you this morning for this very timely chapter. We thank you that there is one in yourself who speaks most compassionately and clearly. We know that in our own hearts that we are rebellious and we live in a rebellious world.
We thank you for bringing so many of us here this morning to hear and to heed the Word of Christ. We pray you will continue to help us to stand on the Promises, to obey the Commands and to bring your Word to a dark and needy world.
We ask it in Jesus’ Name – Amen