They Will Fight Against You -- Jeremiah 15
In the thirteenth year of Josiah’s reign, king of Judah, the Word of the LORD came to Jeremiah. By his own words he was a young man, a “youth.” This was no matter to the LORD, Jeremiah was ordained, set apart, and chosen for this calling, a calling to be a prophet to the rebellious and idolatrous people of Judah.
Jeremiah would speak the words of the LORD to the LORD’S people, all that he would command. The LORD said to Jeremiah, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you…And I, behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials and its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the LORD, to deliver you.” (1:7-8, 18-19 ESV)
Jeremiah hears these words of promise and goes to Jerusalem in obedience. But just for a moment I want us to pause and consider the words of the LORD in this first chapter. They are words of promise, but they promise several things. The first promise I want to point out is that the LORD promises to be with Jeremiah as he goes to deliver him. The question comes then, deliver him from what? The second promise I want to point out was that the LORD promises the people to whom Jeremiah would preach this call to repentance would “fight against” him. It would not be easy. Jeremiah would not have a sense of meaningfulness and purpose and joy in his service to the LORD. The last promise I want to point out is the promise that Jeremiah would not have to speak his own words, but the words of the LORD would be given to him to proclaim. There are other promises, but I want to stick with these three. Jeremiah will be given the very words and commands of the LORD to speak, the people would hate the words and Jeremiah and he would face persecution by the hands of evil men, and finally, the LORD would deliver Jeremiah in the end.
This brings us to the Old Testament lesson appointed for today, chapter 15. The lectionary gives us a half dozen verses at the end of the chapter, but like I always say, context makes a difference and I think backing up and looking at the whole chapter is helpful.
There is a conversation going on between Jeremiah and the Lord, in chapter 15 we sort of jump into the middle of it. The Lord has been relentless in his condemnation of Israel, and he is going to bring destruction against everyone---kings, princes, priests, and people—as is mentioned in chapter one. Jeremiah is at wits end. He laments, “Woe is me, my mother, that you bore me, a man of strife and contention to the whole land…Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Will you be to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail?” In other words, Jeremiah is saying that the Living God, the water of life, has become to him a failed brook, dried up and lifeless. He laments even being born.
I think it is safe to say, Jeremiah is spent. Perhaps he is feeling like the prophet Elijah, “It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life…”
Evil is all around him, and evil and the wicked have come against him. Remember those promises I pointed out from chapter one, that Jeremiah would speak the holy and precious words of the Lord, and the people would hate him for it. They would fight against him at every turn. Not only will they reject and rebel against the Lord, but they will do the same to his messenger.
I really think we can relate to this in our own time. Although none of us are prophets, all of us have the very words of the Lord and are called, like Jeremiah, to follow and trust the Lord amid a world that despises that word and the ones who carry it. Maybe you have encountered some hardship yourselves within your families on account of the Word, or among those you thought were friends, with an employer or neighbor. Maybe you have never experienced anything close to what Jeremiah has dealt with. Maybe you have only read about persecution on account of the word of Christ, and maybe walking according to the word of God has been a comfortable experience for you---thank God for that! But I know, because I know many of you, that the evil and darkness of this world in which we live is on your minds. Every day you encounter evil, whether personally or through some other means like the media, and it disturbs you. Sometimes some of you experience that darkness within yourselves. Maybe it is your own flesh that turns against the Word and despises it.
In these moments, like Jeremiah, we are susceptible to despair, filled with fear, and lament about the promises of God. We lament that evil and the wicked are prevailing—in the world and in our flesh! They prosper, they receive no justice, they are held in honor and applauded for their deceitfulness. The good that I want to do is not what I do but the evil that I do not want to do is what I do. It seems darkness and the evil one has shut up the work of God in the world and sometimes even within us. Woe is me!!
In these moments it is easy for us to forget that last promise, that the Lord will be near you and deliver you.
This is the beauty of our gospel reading today from Matthew because that Messiah Jeremiah will point toward will finally come to Jerusalem and the promise to deliver will be fulfilled. He came because he had to come, it was necessary. It was necessary for him to suffer many things by the hands of evil men, for the Word made flesh to be despised and rejected by the princes, priests and people so that in his own sinless body he may bear the sins of the world and so save them, redeem them, bless them. He was the fortified bronze wall the evil of all the world crashed upon and thanks be to God – it did not prevail!
In obedience he who knew no sin became sin, offering for all time a single sacrifice for sin, perfecting for all time those who are being sanctified. (Heb. 10) The victory is his! It is finished! Though it often seems evil is prevailing, it has not, cannot, and will not ever prevail! Christ Jesus has come to deliver.
Now we wait, with full assurance and hope and confidence, for him to come again and finally make all things new. Now as we wait, he reminds us daily through the Word, the water, the bread and the wine, that he is indeed near us, will never leave us, has delivered us and will bring us to himself. We have only to bear our crosses, like Jeremiah, trusting him in every way though times are evil.
Have mercy upon us, O Lord.