Summary: If you were shipwrecked on a deserted island, what book would you most want to have? Maybe Ship-Building for Beginners! But to survive the storms of life, we need God’s revelation.
If you were shipwrecked on a deserted island, what book would you most want to have? Maybe Ship-Building for Beginners! But to survive the storms of life, we need God’s revelation. Karl Barth said, “We must read the Bible through the eyes of shipwrecked people for whom everything has gone overboard.”
The Bible is not given to make us feel good, but to make us good. We read it for reformation. God gave the prophet Jeremiah a message; it wasn’t a soothing word but a sober warning of judgment and a call for national repentance. When we sin, we repair or repeat.
We find both good and bad news in the Bible. God gives us commandments and expects us to obey them. Scripture is serious about sin; it doesn’t make light of our wrong-doings. Yet promises of pardon are on nearly every page of the Bible.
In Jeremiah 26:2-3, God tells the prophet not to diminish a single word of the divine message, even if it seems harsh. Jeremiah might be tempted to tone down the stern rhetoric. Being prophetic isn’t only foretelling but forth-telling: issuing rebuke, telling people things they’d rather not hear, exposing their sin. Don’t become a prophet if you have a need for being liked!
Jeremiah’s message did not please his audience. In spite of faithfully preaching for over two decades, he was unable to persuade Israel to return to righteousness. We see in verse 5 that Jeremiah was barred from the Temple, so he sent his scribe Baruch to publicly read his message. The people resented Jeremiah’s concern for them. Yet Jeremiah wasn’t an angry prophet like Jonah. His warnings were given with tearful compassion. Nonetheless, his concerns were interpreted as condemnations.
Jeremiah is called “the weeping prophet.” In the same way, Jesus wept over Jerusalem and their rejection of the Way, Truth, and Life. Jesus cared about us, all the way to the cross. Nonbelievers try to suppress their knowledge of God by inventing all sorts of objections and alternative explanations for the world. Most of the people who reject God know little of what they are rejecting. They claim to be agnostic when they are apathetic. They are spiritually blind and deaf, of their own doing.
I wonder--how do we respond to people we see headed on the wrong path, one that can only lead to misery and destruction? Do we care enough to confront them? It would be heartless to ignore harmful behavior without warning. The goal of correction is to help, not hurt. Yet we can’t fix people’s problems; that is their responsibility. We can only encourage them to accept God’s solutions. We can’t prevent the consequences of their choices. In the end, we need to let people have whatever kind of life they choose to have. After giving advice, we accept that they may choose not to accept our views or values.
Jeremiah gave Israel correction but his intent was to heal, not harm. His appraisal came from Above. Scripture is like a mirror, and we may not like what we see when we look in it. Mark Twain said, “It’s not the things I don’t understand about the Bible that disturb me, it’s the things I do know that trouble me, and which I find very difficult to measure up to.” The Bible tells us who we are. God’s word is also like a health checkup, and sometimes the doctor’s diagnosis is unwelcome news. We’re told what’s wrong and we may resist the treatment. The disease is sin, and the Great Physician wants to heal us.
Jeremiah was told to take a scroll and write on it God’s assessment of Israel. God breathed into these words His power. The prophet’s message was charged with God’s Spirit and became a double-edged sword--piercing façades, uncovering hypocrisy, pride, and unholy desires.
We hear of senseless murders committed by people with no moral restraint. They simply do what they please, whatever is right in their own eyes. Without a moral compass, a sense of right-and-wrong, people can justify anything.
Jeremiah’s uncompromising message wasn’t just doom and gloom; it included how to avoid the disastrous consequences of sin. Verse 3: “Perhaps when the people of Judah hear about every disaster I plan to inflict on them, each of them will turn from their wickedness and sin.” They might repent.
Repentance is a resolve to walk in a new direction, to pick ourselves up and begin anew. However, Tim Keller cautions, “When we repent out of fear of consequences, we are not really sorry for the sin, but for ourselves.” We should seek change because we care what God thinks of our sin, and because we’re sick of how our choices have ruined our lives. Madeline L’Engle says “Repentance is neither easy nor cheap. It hurts. It costs us all our pride and self-will. It means letting go completely and handing ourselves back to God.”