Summary: Jeremiah teaches us how to endure tough assignments from God

Jeremiah - Tough Assignments

There have been a lot of difficult situations in the news lately - difficult from a Christian perspective. Hurricane Katrina sweeps through the south, and massive devastation, loss of homes, loss of property, loss of family, and loss of life. And for many of those facing these losses, they are Christians. It would be wonderful to think that all those who faced the wrath of the storm were sinners under the judgment of God--but that’s not the case. Many good Christians and many good churches were attacked by the hurricane. Even good seminaries faced the brunt of the storm.

Here in Owosso last Saturday night a house explodes, killing six. It would soothe our conscience if this was a crack house or a place of prostitution. But instead this is a home where those killed had a strong faith. How do we combine the idea that as Christians “God will watch over us” with the tragedies that occur?

To gain some biblical perspective, we look at the story of the prophet Jeremiah this morning. Scripture offers us some basic truths that we turn to in times like these - truths that God knows best, that his ways are perfect, that the rain falls on the just and unjust alike. But often we can say these truths in a simplistic way without embracing the full feelings of emotions of those under the burden of the loss. Jeremiah is one who understands what it means to be given a hard assignment. Turn with me to Jeremiah 1 this morning, as we learn from his life and message.

Jeremiah is right after the book of Isaiah. Open your Bible in the middle and you can probably find it fairly quickly - Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Isaiah, Jeremiah. To review quickly, we’ve come through the OT together, seeing God calling out a people to enter into relationship with. He took them to a land He had prepared for them, and made them into a nation, giving them a king after his own heart. Then, because of their sinfulness, he sent prophets to warn them, and to call them back to repentance. The nation was split into a northern half, Israel, which was destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 BC. There was a southern half, Judah, which ended up falling to the Babylonians in 586 BC. Jeremiah is a prophet sent to the southern nation of Judah during the last 40 years of its existence, under the kings Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah. But Jeremiah’s ministry was a hard one.

In Jeremiah chapter 1, we see Jeremiah’s call. Look in verse 4. The word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” “Ah, Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.” But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD.

That sounds like a wonderful promise to Jeremiah. God knows him, and will keep him free from being afraid, for he promises to always rescue Jeremiah. Given that promise, we might think Jeremiah was going to have a great, productive ministry. But as we read through the book of Jeremiah, we find that his ministry was a difficult one. For Jeremiah’s message to the people was one of coming judgment.

•In chapter 7 - Jeremiah stands in the temple to deliver a message of judgment.

•In chapter 10 - Jeremiah tells the people they will go into exile - vs. 17 - Gather up your belongings to leave the land, you who live under siege. For this is what the LORD says: “At this time I will hurl out those who live in this land; I will bring distress on them so that they may be captured.”

•In chapter 11 - we see the people plot against jeremiah to kill him - vs. 18 - Because the LORD revealed their plot to me, I knew it, for at that time he showed me what they were doing. I had been like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter; I did not realize that they had plotted against me, saying, “Let us destroy the tree and its fruit; let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more.” The men of Anathoth were seeking his life and saying, ‘Do not prophesy in the name of the LORD or you will die by our hands.

•In chapter 20 - we see Jeremiah is beaten and put in stocks - vs 2 - he had Jeremiah the prophet beaten and put in the stocks at the Upper Gate of Benjamin at the LORD’s temple.

•In chapter 36 - the King puts out an arrest warrant for Jeremiah

•In chapter 37 - Jeremiah is put in a dungeon, and later chained in the courtyard of the guard

•In chapter 38 - he is put in a muddy cistern - vs. 6 - So they took Jeremiah and put him into the cistern of Malkijah, the king’s son, which was in the courtyard of the guard. They lowered Jeremiah by ropes into the cistern; it had no water in it, only mud, and Jeremiah sank down into the mud.

The first lesson Jeremiah teaches us is

I. Sometimes we are called to tough assignments - There are those who teach a prosperity gospel. they say if you will just follow God and have faith, God will bless you abundantly with health - they teach if you are sick it is because there is sin in your life - they teach you will be given material blessings for God desires you to be rich - he will give you back 100-fold for everything that you send in to their ministry. But the reality is that Christians, good men and women who seek to serve God, face problems and struggles and pitfalls in their lives. They have poor health. They lose their jobs. They struggle paying the bills. They have loved ones die of cancer and leukemia. Being a Christian does not assure you of an easy, comfortable life. Rather, just the opposite is true. If you will follow Christ, trouble will follow.

Jesus taught in John 15:20 - Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.

Matthew 16:24 tells us “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.

But somehow we expect that that won’t happen to us. It happened to Jeremiah. In 20:7 Jeremiah says

I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the LORD has brought me insult and reproach all day long.

We can expect ridicule and mockery. But often because we don’t like to be made fun of, we stay silent. We are “secret service” agents for the Lord. When is the last time someone laughed at you or made fun of you because of the stand you take for the Lord? When we interact with unbelievers and we speak up for truth, we can expect to be made fun of, to be mocked, to be ridiculed. We cannot let that keep us from speaking out for God though!

Sometimes we will have tough assignments. We won’t always understand why God works the way he does. God won’t always make sense. He won’t always seem fair. But that is okay.

The second lesson we learn from Jeremiah is

II. We can respond rightly to hard Assignments. Jeremiah is one who models beautifully a right response to a very hard assignment. He is not always happy about the message he brings, but he is faithful.

Jeremiah teaches us

A. Take your complaints to God - Jeremiah is struggling with his call, and in chapter 20, we find he gives these words in verse 7 - O LORD, you deceived me, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. Just like David, Jeremiah cries out of his distress, but he takes his case right to God. Remember the story of Job - Job doesn’t understand what God is doing, but instead of complaining to his friends, he takes his case straight to God.

Far too often we go to others to complain. We don’t like something that is happening in our life, and we tell everyone we talk to how bad things are going. Instead, the Biblical example is to take our complaints straight to God. Tell him. He can handle our emotions and our frustration. Sometimes the Christian we vent to might struggle themselves and be shaken in their faith by our frustration. Don’t complain to others. Don’t grumble and mumble. Rather talk to God about your unhappiness.

Jeremiah teaches us

B. Allow God to bring Justice - Even though Jeremiah didn’t understand why he had to go through everything he did - all the mockery, insults, threats, and punishments - Jeremiah had learned that he could trust God to make everything right in the end. In the book of Lamentations, a book of sad songs that Jeremiah wrote, he says this: - 3:58 - O Lord, you took up my case; you redeemed my life. You have seen, O LORD, the wrong done to me. Uphold my cause! You have seen the depth of their vengeance, all their plots against me. O LORD, you have heard their insults, all their plots against me-- what my enemies whisper and mutter against me all day long. Look at them! Sitting or standing, they mock me in their songs. Pay them back what they deserve, O LORD, for what their hands have done.

Jeremiah knew he didn’t have to retaliate - he didn’t need to pay back wrong with wrong - instead he trusted God to bring justice; he trusted God to make everything right in the end.

Remember the story of Job - Job loses everything precious to him, but in the end God doubles everything that he had had before. God will make things right for his children in the end. Here on this earth we may face trouble and trial, but remember that we lay up treasure in heaven, not treasure here on earth.

Jeremiah teaches us

C. Place Renewed Confidence in God - After going through all of the difficult messages of judgment, standing before the king and giving him a message of captivity and bondage - Jeremiah still places his confidence in God.

20:11 - But the LORD is with me like a mighty warrior; so my persecutors will stumble and not prevail. They will fail and be thoroughly disgraced; their dishonor will never be forgotten. O LORD Almighty, you who examine the righteous and probe the heart and mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you I have committed my cause.

Even when things seem to be going against him, Jeremiah maintains his confidence in God. It reminds me of the verses from Habakkuk 3 - Though the fig-tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign LORD is my strength.

When things are difficult in your life, do you question and complain, or do you have a firm faith in your God. Jeremiah faces a lot of trials, enough to make him want to give up, but he continually commits his cause to the Lord.

Jeremiah teaches us

D. Worship during the Hard Times - When things are going bad, when you need answers, when life is less than what you expect, our tendency is to run from God. We question if he listen, we question if He cares, we think he doesn’t hear our prayers. We tend to run from God. Instead, jeremiah teaches us that we need to run TO God, and worship him. Back to 20:13 - Sing to the LORD! Give praise to the LORD! He rescues the life of the needy from the hands of the wicked. In the very passage where he takes his complaints to God, Jeremiah reemphasizes his commitment of worshiping the Lord.

When God seems distant, when life is troubling, do you maintain your worship of the Lord? Do you praise the Lord even when things seem bad? Matthew Henry, a famous commentary writer from years past was robbed once, and he thought about what he had to praise God for. He said this: “I thank Thee first because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my purse they did not take my life; third, because although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth because it was I who was robbed, and not I who robbed.”

No matter how bleak our situation, we can still choose to worship. --- Jeremiah teaches us

E. Maintain hope in God’s Compassion - What is it that keeps us going? It is the fact, the truth, that our God is merciful and compassionate. Jeremiah knew this well. And in spite of all the abuse he faced, his hope was that God would turn to him in compassion. Lamentations 3:19-25 - I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him.

We may all face times when we don’t like the situation we find ourselves in. At times like that, remember the lessons of Jeremiah - We will face hard times, but we can take our complaints straight to God, allow him to bring justice, place a renewed confidence in God, worship during hard times, and maintain hope in God’s compassion.

The end of the story of Jeremiah - The Babylonians invade and destroy Judah, just as Jeremiah predicted.

But Jeremiah is freed, to go to Babylon, stay in Judah, or go wherever he wants to go. The few Jews left in the land come to Jeremiah and ask him for God’s direction. jeremiah prays and tells them to stay in the land and God will bless them. If they go to Egypt they will be destroyed. But they tell Jeremiah he is lying and go to Egypt anyways. But faithfully, jeremiah goes with them to continue to speak the word of God to them.

Why would someone continue to reach out to those who don’t seek to follow God’s ways? It’s a question that I know many of you ask yourselves about loved ones you have who don’t care to follow God. For jeremiah, the answer was threefold.

1. He had a call from God to follow - we saw that in chapter 1

2. He saw the great need of the people - constantly throughout the book - but the third reason was his great motivation

3. He had a fire in his heart to share God’s message. Back to Jeremiah 20:7 - Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the LORD has brought me insult and reproach all day long. But if I say, “I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.

Jeremiah had a passion to speak out for God. May God give each one of us here that same passion, that same fire in our hearts, that we cannot keep silent about what God has done for us. This morning, where is your passion to live for God, to speak for God, to be used for God. Sometimes God calls us to difficult assignments, but he is the potter and we are the clay - a visual lesson God showed Jeremiah. Will you confidently keep trusting God even when things are difficult? Let’s pray.