Sermon: Jeremiah 15:15-21
Pentecost 15 - September 17, 2107 - Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
The Southern Poverty Law Center is a legal advocacy organization in civil rights litigation that was begun in 1971. In plain words they’ve been a group that watches out for and comes to the legal assistance of those whose rights as citizens may be threatened.
Recently, however, the Southern Poverty Law Center has been in the news because of their public listing of organizations they consider to be hate groups. They have listed organizations like the Klu Klux Klan as we might expect. But in the last few weeks they began to list as a hate group D. James Kennedy Ministries, a conservative, Bible-believing Christian ministry.
The listing of a Christian ministry as a hate group ought to alert us to the boldness of those who oppose the Christian message and the moral values of Christians. There are those who would put our own church or our church body on a hate group list. There are those who wouldn’t hesitate to call any of us people of hate because of our biblical moral values.
We certainly are seeing a sharp increase in this kind of opposition to Christianity in our nation, but it’s actually nothing new. The prophet Jeremiah experienced violent opposition to the message the LORD sent him to preach. But God assured Jeremiah that he would defend him. He told Jeremiah
I WILL SAVE YOU FROM THE HANDS OF THE WICKED
The prophet Jeremiah did his work around 600 B.C. in the kingdom of Judah with its capital city Jerusalem. The people of Judah had been very unfaithful to the LORD who threatened that the Babylonians would conquer them and carry them away into captivity if they didn’t repent and turn back to God in faith. It was Jeremiah’s job to warn them of the LORD’s threat and to urge them to turn to God and obey him.
Jeremiah had a very difficult assignment. The people of Judah wouldn’t listen to him. From their kings on down to the common people few listened to Jeremiah and returned to God in repentance. And to make matters worse there were all kinds of false prophets in Jerusalem telling the people that the Babylonians would never conquer them. Everything was going to be all right.
But Jeremiah persisted faithfully in the work that God had given him to do. And it seemed the more he persisted and the more he warned the people about God’s coming judgment the more they resisted. They hated the message Jeremiah preached. They refused to believe that God would allow the Babylonians to conquer the holy city of Jerusalem. And they hated Jeremiah himself. The spoke badly of him, they threatened him, some plotted to kill him.
It’s amazing how people refuse to listen to God’s warning of judgment. The people in Noah’s day ignored the message of judgment. The Northern Kingdom of Israel ignored warnings about the coming Assyrian invasion. Now the Southern Kingdom of Judah was doing the same.
Does our nation and our world listen to the warnings about the coming judgment? In the last two or three weeks we have witnessed two catastrophic hurricanes. They overshadowed an earthquake in Mexico last week that killed a number of people. These signs in nature, not to mention all of Jesus’ warnings in the New Testament, are all warnings, reminders, that this world is headed for judgment.
But our nation, most of our world, doesn’t live like judgment is coming. Our nation is really no different than Israel or Judah. Jesus once said, “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. . . . They knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away.” People will be going about their lives not considering God or the judgment, and then it will come.
Eventually time will run out on this world. Eventually God’s patience with sinners runs out. His patience had run out with the people of Judah in Jeremiah’s day. As a matter of fact at the beginning of this 15th chapter the LORD told Jeremiah these terrifying words: “Even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before me, my heart would not go out to this people. Send them away from my presence!” How would you feel if God said those words to you? “My patience with you has come to an end. No one can intercede for you. Get out of my sight!”
Jeremiah knew the terrible judgment in those words. God meant what he said. The Babylonians were going to come. The people would be carried away into captivity.
Jeremiah knew something else. It was still his responsibility to preach to the people of Judah and Jerusalem. Judgment was going to come on them. God’s patience had run out. And Jeremiah knew that the people would not repent. They would resist even more. And they would turn their anger and hatred on Jeremiah himself.
So in our text Jeremiah pleads with God: “You understand, O LORD; remember me and care for me. Avenge me on my persecutors.” In plain words Jeremiah was saying to God, “Things are not going to be good for me. These people already hate me. If I preach your judgment even more to them, if I tell them that your patience has run out, if I tell them the Babylonians are coming for sure, they will kill me.”
Jeremiah was in a desperate situation. Have you ever been in a desperate situation with God? Have you ever experienced circumstances in which you had nowhere to turn? You didn’t know what to do. You saw no options. We probably all have had those experiences. And so we go to God in prayer. And sometimes we say some desperate things to God.
Jeremiah did. He began to plead his case on the basis of his good and faithful behavior. “You are long-suffering - do not take me away; think of how I suffer reproach for your sake.” “I’ve endured so much because of you. You have to listen to me. You have to help me.”
Jeremiah continued to plead his case: “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty.” “When you spoke your word to me I listened. Not only did I listen, but I consumed your words. I took them in. I believed them. I did what you said. You have to listen to me. You have to help me.”
Jeremiah went on: “I never sat in the company of revelers, never made merry with them; I sat alone because your hand was on me and you had filled me with indignation.” “I knew your hand was always on me. I knew you were always watching me. So I haven’t indulged in the sins of this society. I have watched my behavior. You have to listen me. You have to help me.”
Do you see what Jeremiah was doing? He was trying to convince God that he deserved God’s blessing and protection. There’s no question that Jeremiah was a faithful prophet. He did live a good life. But when we try to convince God to bless us and come to our aid because we have been pretty faithful to him, because we’ve tried to live a good life, we have a terrible misunderstanding of why God blesses and saves us. We are sadly pleading to God for all the wrong reasons. We would be wise to remember the words of the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans: “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Trying to convince God that we are good enough to deserve his blessings is futile.
It was futile for Jeremiah too. But then Jeremiah did something even worse. He lashed out at God. His anger got the best of him. “Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable? Will you be to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails?” “Why have you made my situation worse than anyone else? I preached your word. I did what you said. And now you’ve deceived me. You have left me vulnerable against the persecution of these wicked people.”
Have you ever lashed out at God? Have you ever been angry at God? Anger at God is our last ditch effort to get God to listen, to get him to do something for us. Little children do that a lot to their parents. “You don’t love me. You’re mean to me.”
About the only good thing to say about lashing out at God, being frustrated with God, even being angry at God, is that we are in good company with other sinners who did the same thing. Jeremiah first of all, and this wasn’t the only time that Jeremiah would say God had deceived him. He would say it again. Moses had arguments with God about why he had called him to lead such a rebellious people. Elijah the prophet on one occasion just gave up. He was ready to die. He saw no point in proclaiming God’s word anymore.
It was a good thing that God was gracious, forgiving, and merciful to Jeremiah, Moses, Elijah, and others. It’s a good thing that God is gracious, forgiving, and merciful to you and me. Jesus is the proof that God has been gracious, forgiving, and merciful to you and me.
God said to Jeremiah, “If you repent, I will restore you that may serve me; if you utter worthy, not worthless words, you will be my spokesman. . . . for I am with you to rescue and save you. . . . I will save you from the hands of the wicked and redeem you from the grasp of the cruel.” God was really saying to Jeremiah, “If you repent of those nasty, childish words you just said to me and say, ‘I’m sorry, I repent,’ I will be merciful and save you. I will keep you safe from these people who hate you.” And the LORD did rescue Jeremiah.
There are a lot of wicked people in our country and in this world who hate us and want to destroy us. But their hatred for us does not even compare to the hatred that Satan has for us, and Satan would do anything he could to destroy us in hell.
Our time in this world is no time to try to convince God that we deserve his mercy and salvation because we’ve tried to be such faithful people. Our time in this world is certainly no time to be angry with God. Our time in this world is our time to be like the tax collector who said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” That’s when God says to us, like he said to Jeremiah, “I will save you from the hands of the wicked.” Amen.