1. Faithful people speak the truth (11-12)
We begin chapter eleven with Jeremiah speaking some hard truths to the people of Judah. He reminds them of the covenant; the covenant made at Mount Sinai. God had rescued his people from slavery in Egypt brought them to that mountain and told them how to live as his people. This covenant told them that they would only remain in the promised land if they lived a life of obedience and repentance. But the people were not repentant and obedient. It was as if they had conspired together to forsake God and worship other so-called gods. Soon Judah would suffer the consequences of their disobedience and be kicked out of the land.
The people opposed God and they will oppose his faithful messanger. Jeremiah is led like a lamb to the slaughter (11:17). Who does this remind us of? Jesus was like a lamb led to the slaughter as he went to the cross (Isaiah 53:7). Jeremiah's suffering anticipates the greater suffering of Jesus.
His suffering prompts Jeremiah to complain. 'Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?' (12:1b). To which God responds, 'if you think things are tough now just wait, things are going to get tougher.' Family and friends will forsake him. Like Jesus he will be betrayed by some of those closest to him.
2. Faithful people remember their mission in the world (13-15)
In chapter thirteen we have the first of several prophetic acts that Jeremiah is called to preform. 'This is what the Lord said to me: "Go and buy a linen belt and put it round your waist, but do not let it touch water"' (13:1). He then left took the belt to the Euphrates and left it in the cleft of a rock. When he returned to get it, many days later, it was spoiled and useless. Similarly, it was as if the nation of Judah had been taken to a foreign land as they chased after foreign gods. They were supposed to display the glory of God to the nations but now they are like a spoiled garment not fit to be worn. Chris Wright applies this principle to us writing, 'if there is fundamentally nothing in the least admirable about the lives of Christians individually, or the collective witness of the church, then there is small hope of the world finding anything to admire in the God we represent.'
What is said next is shocking. When the punishment comes and Judah cries out to God he will refuse to listen to them. It will be too late to be rescued. We can always experience God's saving mercy if we turn to him in genuine repentance but these people are not repentant. Also, sometimes it is too late to be rescued from the consequences of our actions. The murderer might turn to God and be forgiven but still have to serve a life sentence; the adulterer may repent and be forgiven by God but still find his marriage is beyond repair. The New Testament teaches that we reap what we sow (Galatians 6).
Again Jeremiah complains. 'Alas, my mother, that you gave me birth, a man with whom the whole land strives and contends! I have neither lent nor borrowed, yet everyone curses me ' (15:10). He is disillusioned with serving God because all he gets is strife, contention and hatred.
How does God respond? With a gentle rebuke! '... If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me' (15:19a). It is not that we cannot go to God with our pain and questions. But Jeremiah's negative spirit will damage him unless he repents. We are not permitted to wallow in self-pity. The disillusioned believer sees no good in anything. They are always pessimistic. They pour water on the enthusiasm of others. They are a destructive influence amongst God's people. Therefore God calls us to repent of our negativity.
Although being a faithful witness involves suffering God promised his presence. He assures Jeremiah '... they will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you to rescue and save you ... I will save you from the hands of the wicked and deliver you from the grasp of the cruel' (15:20-21).
3. Faithful people are sorrowful yet rejoicing (16-17)
The life of Jeremiah contradicts the false promises of the prosperity gospel. The prosperity gospel says faithfulness leads to wealth and happiness; Jeremiah's faithfulness would involve suffering and sorrow. In chapter sixteen Jeremiah is called to endure the loneliness of singleness and social isolation. Yet despite the pain Jeremiah can speak of God being 'my strength and my fortress, my refuge in time of distress ...' (16:19). The apostle Paul wrote of being 'sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything' (2 Corinthians 6:10).
Despite Judah's unfaithfulness God still plans to bless the nations. His people may be unfaithful but God is faithful. He promised to bless the nations through the seed of Abraham and he does. 'To you the nations will come from the ends of the earth and say, "Our ancestors possessed nothing but false gods, worthless idols that did them no good"' (16:19).
This book has a lot to say about the heart. 'The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?' (17:9). Jeremiah trusts God to heal his heart, (17:14). Listen to the beautiful words in the Anglican Service of Holy Communion. 'Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.'
4. Faithful people know justice will be done (18)
In chapter eighteen Jeremiah is directed by God to go to a potter's house. He watches the potter work with a piece of clay. The potter shapes the clay but he also responds to imperfections within the clay. The final outcome is a mysterious interplay between the potter and that clay. ‘Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?’ declares the Lord. ‘Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel. If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it' (18:6-10).
Sadly this final call to repentance meets with a hard stubborn heart. Now this people who persistently reject God focus on attacking God's prophet. 'Jeremiah will now endure for the rest of his ministry the kind of vicious opposition that confronted Jesus from the beginning of his' (Wright).
5. Faithful people will experience opposition (19-20)
Again, at the beginning of chapter nineteen, Jeremiah is told to go to a potter's house. He is to purchase a clay jar and to get some of the civic and religious leaders of the community to accompany him to the Valley of the Son of Hinnom - this valley was used as a dumping place. There Jeremiah pronounced a terrible message of doom. Jeremiah will smash the jar as a picture of the fact that The Lord will smash Judah.
They will not repent, their hearts a resistant to God and so now only judgement awaits. Jeremiah's words incite the anger of Pashur the priest. He had Jeremiah the prophet beaten and put in the stocks (20:2). Self-righteous people hate those who speak of the reality of human sin.
We finish with Jeremiah complaining again. Yet despite the pain involved in his ministry there is an inner compulsion. 'But if I say, "I will not mention his word 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' (20:9).
Conclusion - Jesus is the faithful one
Jeremiah's ministry anticipates the ministry of Jesus. Jesus was a man of sorrows who faced murderous opposition as he served God faithfully. He calls us to take up our cross and follow him. But Jesus' ministry surpasses that of Jeremiah. Jeremiah succumbs to bitterness and asks God not to forgive his persecutors whereas Jesus asks God to forgive those who crucify him. Jeremiah ends this section dreaming of losing his life in order to avoid his mission whereas Jesus chose to lay down his life in order to fulfil his mission.
As I prepared this sermon I was struck by some words in the ESV Study Bible: 'Jeremiah's ministry causes him hard work, sorrow, and shame. He accepts his role, but has no illusions of fame, approval, or appreciation.' Will we persevere when no one encourages us? Will we strive to serve God when the only words we hear are critical? Will we delight to work for God when no one thanks us? Will we stand firm when the world is against us?
Being a faithful disciple of the man of sorrows will be difficult but remember that God is good. He will enable us to endure. We are strangers and pilgrims in this land who are on our way to a better place. Christ travels with us. There is joy in the midst of the pain and a heavenly friend who is greater than all opposition. Even the complaining Jeremiah bursts into song in the face of the goodness of God. 'Sing to the Lord! Give praise to the Lord! He rescues the life of the needy from the hands of the wicked' (20:13).