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Preaching on Jeremiah

An overview of the historical background and theology of Jeremiah to help you develop your sermon series and apply it to your hearers.
Preaching on Jeremiah
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Historical Background

Almost everything in Jeremiah was addressed to people who ignored it. Yet this anthology of the prophet’s preaching (augmented by narratives and a sampling of Jeremiah’s prayer life) was preserved because the exiles and subsequent generations needed it. So do we.

Its explanation of the disaster that befell Judah, its indictment of a recalcitrant people and their wretched leaders, its portrayal of a just but patient God, its critique of idolatry and false prophecy, its promise of a new covenant, and—not least—its portrait of a faithful prophet make this, the second-longest book in the Bible, worth knowing and preaching today. We, the new covenant people to whom everything in Jeremiah comes through Christ and his gospel, share in the hope and the responsibilities of seventh century Judah. We also need the warnings addressed originally to them but preserved for our benefit.

Jeremiah ministered in the last four decades of the southern kingdom (1:1-3). He supported the revival under Josiah, a hopeful movement that sadly proved to be too little too late. Then, after Josiah’s protection was removed, he was vilified, ostracized, imprisoned, and threatened with death for preaching repentance and submission to Babylon. His message was seen not only as unpopular but, humanly speaking, as treasonous. The contemptible Jehoiakim tried to suppress him. The feckless Zedekiah sought his advice on occasion but was unable or unwilling to heed it. In the end, his prophecies of doom were fulfilled to the letter and the false prophets exposed as frauds. Even after the fall of Jerusalem in 587/586, when you might think Jeremiah was vindicated as God’s trustworthy spokesman, the survivors continued to reject his counsel, fleeing to Egypt and taking Jeremiah with them. There he ended his days and his preaching.

Sermon Series

Series Title: 'To Uproot and to Plant'

This series title comes from Jeremiah’s commissioning in chapter one, a phrase repeated six more times, sometimes paired with “to destroy and to build.” Despite the challenges faced in preaching this long book (see below), you can keep your bearings if you remind yourself and your hearers repeatedly that in everything Jeremiah says and does he’s trying to uproot sin and unbelief and plant covenant faithfulness and hope.

What are those challenges in preaching this book? There are at least these three:

The Structure (or Lack Thereof) of to the Book

If there’s a structure, it’s definitely not chronological. One commentator says that the arrangement is that of a snowball picking up more of the prophet’s words and biography as it rolls along. Another wonders if Jeremiah scribbled in haste on whatever writing material was at hand in the chaotic death throes of Judah and no editor was willing to rework the material.

Suggestion: Preach consecutively through the book, using supplemental print or projected chronologies and maps to help keep the story line clear for listeners.

Application Is Tricky

No modern country stands in the same relationship to God as did Judah, so it’s precarious to make a direct application of warnings, directives, and promises spoken to the chosen people. If any entity is heir to the Jerusalemites, it’s the church. Even so, application is tricky: few congregations are as far gone as Jeremiah’s. So how is the prophet’s preaching relevant?

Suggestions: Periodically remind listeners that although their country is not the covenant people, the Lord of all the earth holds all people accountable for certain universal standards of right and wrong. And warn the church not to sink to the depths depicted in these pages or presume that because God has established a covenant with us in his Son’s blood he would never chasten us.

Variety of Genres

Another challenge is the variety of genres in the book: Poetic oracles and prose discourse, biography and autobiography, taunts and indictments, prayers and confessions, conversations and narratives, visionary experiences and enacted parables.

Suggestion: View this challenge as a wonderful opportunity to bring variety to your preaching. You and the congregation will both find the series more interesting if you’re willing to tackle different literary forms and let the form of each text shape the form of the sermon. The unity of the series will be achieved not by every sermon sounding the same but by coming back repeatedly to the uprooting and planting theme.

Sermon Series Summaries

Systematic exposition of complete pericopes (usually full chapters or stories) should be our norm. But sometimes a single verse begs to be preached. A profound truth concisely and memorably worded gives the preacher plenty to work with and the listener plenty to chew on. Furthermore, varying the length of sermon texts is refreshing for both preacher and listener.

Jeremiah offers a few such standout texts: 9:23-24 (“Let him who boasts boast in this”); 29:7 (“Seek the prosperity of the city”); 29:11 (“I know the plans I have for you”), for example. Don’t miss the opportunity to proclaim these gems. Of course, the Scripture reading should include the verse’s context: Then the congregation will hear the whole unit even if your exposition covers just one sentence. The sermon doesn’t have to do all the work; skillful oral interpretation of Scripture will powerfully communicate God’s Word.

Here are representative sermon possibilities (where no title is given, it’s not an oversight; I don’t always title my sermons):

Text: Jeremiah 1:1-3
  • Title: A Book and a Man for Our Times
  • Main Idea: This book and this man speak to our troubled times with the authority of God.
  • Tips for Application: Introduction to Jeremiah and his book. Application: In the coming weeks, keep your hearts open to what God has been saying to Jews and Christians for twenty-seven centuries through this faithful prophet and his book.
Text: Jeremiah 1:4-19
  • Title: To Uproot and to Plant
  • Main Idea: God chooses, commissions, and strengthens Jeremiah to uproot and to plant.
  • Tips for Application: The sermon explains the title for the series and challenges listeners to heed God’s prophet who still speaks today. What does God want to root out and/or plant in us?
Text: Jeremiah 2:1-3:5
  • Title: Broken Cisterns
  • Main Idea: The essence of Judah’s sin is an appalling exchange of God for idols.
  • Tips for Application: This text gives you a chance to explain why idolatry is the essence of sin and, incidentally, why chapter divisions are not always the best guide to thought units.
Text: Jeremiah 5
  • Title: A Good Man is Hard to Find (I got this from Phillip Ryken)
  • Main Idea: There is no one righteous, no not one.
  • Tips for Application: A search of Jerusalem turns up not one truth-speaking, truth-living person. Had Jeremiah searched six centuries later, he’d have found One. The sermon leads to the table of that One.
Text: Jeremiah 6:1-16
  • Title: At the Crossroads
  • Main Idea: Culture, church, and Christians are at a crossroads, with a decision to make whether to trust and obey.
  • Tips for Application: Don’t repeat the disastrous error of Jeremiah’s generation. When at a crossroads in life, trust and obey God.
Text: Jeremiah 7:1-8:3
  • Main Idea: Religious institutions and ceremonies cannot save us from judgment.
  • Tips for Application: Invite listeners to reflect on what they’re trusting to make them right with God; warn against presuming like many in Jeremiah’s day did.
Text: Jeremiah 9:23-24
  • Title: Something to Boast About
  • Main Idea: The text is the main idea. Sometimes I say “My text today is . . .” and then quote it; “My main idea is . . .” and repeat it. This gets attention and makes it more memorable.
  • Tips for Application: A sermon on this text should do more than explain; it should evoke gratitude for knowing God and longing to know him better.
Text: Jeremiah 10:1-16
  • Title: Scarecrow in a Melon Patch
  • Main Idea: Unlike our incomparable God, idols are worthless. (Note: “worthless” occurs fourteen times in Jeremiah.)
  • Tips for Application: You’ll have many opportunities to preach about how evil or how untrue idols are; when the text shows how worthless they are, let that be your emphasis. Join the prophet in scorning idolatry.
Text: Jeremiah 12:5
  • Title: Run with Horses
  • Main Idea: If God reprimands you as he did Jeremiah, quit feeling sorry for yourself and get on with your (admittedly hard) calling.
  • Tips for Application: A closing Philips Brooks quote sums up the direction this sermon might take: “Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger [people]! Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks! Then the doing of your work will be no miracle, but you yourself will be the miracle.”
Text: Jeremiah 17:9-10
  • Main Idea: Who can understand the human heart? God alone.
  • Tips for Application: This was my key text for a topical study on the heart in Jeremiah. Application includes prayer that God will show us what’s in our sin-scarred hearts, where our problems start.
Text: Jeremiah 18:1-12
  • Title: Down at the Potter’s House
  • Main Idea: God can rework clay, so don’t despair when he speaks of judgment; don’t presume when he speaks of grace.
  • Tips for Application: Encourage believers to keep turning to God for mercy, but urge the undecided to not delay receiving God’s pardon lest it be for them, as it was for Judah, too late.
Text: Jeremiah 22
  • Title: Do What is Just and Right (verbatim from verse 3)
  • Main Idea: God insists that his people and especially their leaders be just.
  • Tips for Application: Urge listeners to advocate for and serve the vulnerable (the unborn, victims of sex-trafficking, the persecuted), and to hold government accountable for justice.
Text: Jeremiah 23:5-6
  • Title: The King Who Would Rule Wisely
  • Main Idea: To people misled and ill-served by flawed leaders, God promises Someone better.
  • Tips for Application: Preached at Christmas, we were encouraged to celebrate the perfect king, the Righteous Branch.
Text: Jeremiah 26
  • Title: Persecuted!
  • Main Idea: Sometimes faithful believers suffer for their stand.
  • Tips for Application: I preached this on International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, urging my flock to be steadfast faithfulness come what may, and to stand with our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world (even as Jeremiah had some support in his troubles).
Text: Jeremiah 29:7
  • Title: Seek the Welfare of the City
  • Main Idea: We might feel like we’re in “exile” in our time and place, but God calls us to so live and pray that we make it a better city than if we weren’t here.
  • Tips for Application: Application depends in part on your setting. Mine is in a troubled city, where some would rather not live. But “bloom where you’re planted,” folks, we’re called to be salt and light.
Text: Jeremiah 29:11
  • Title: The Plans He Has for Us
  • Main Idea: God chastens his children, but with a view toward their long-term good.
  • Tips for Application: This popular verse is often taken out of context. It’s a promise for the already-chastened exiles in Babylon, not the still-rebellious Jerusalem dwellers. Apply it accordingly.
Text: Jeremiah 31 or 31:31-40
  • Title: New and Improved
  • Main Idea: God will gift his people with a new covenant featuring heart obedience and a personal relationship with himself.
  • Tips for Application: The verb tense in the main idea changes as the sermon leads to the Table of the Lord: he has so gifted us.
Text: Jeremiah 32
  • Title: Banking on God’s Future
  • Main Idea: Bank on God’s future: buy into what you believe.
  • Tips for Application: God told Jeremiah to do something odd—buy a field occupied by the Babylonian army. Doing so demonstrated the prophet’s confidence in God’s promised future. What are we doing that makes no sense from a worldly perspective but demonstrates our confidence in God’s future?
Text: Jeremiah 33
  • Title: Marvelous and Wondrous Things (from verse 3)
  • Main Idea: There are truths we cannot know unless God reveals them, things we could not figure out on our own and would not make up if we were inventing a religion; things like . . .
  • Tips for Application: These truths in the chapter complete the exegetical idea. 1) God’s terrible wrath against sin, 2) A bright future for God’s unworthy people, 3) God’s glory on display, all through the Coming One we now know as Jesus Messiah.
Text: Jeremiah 36
  • Title: Book Burning
  • Main Idea: The book that can’t be destroyed God used for rebuilding his people after captivity and still uses to build his people today.
  • Tips for Application: God preserves his Word for future generations, including ours. Heed it! You might contrast Jehoiakim’s response to that of his father Josiah when “the book” was found in 2 Kings 22.
Text: Jeremiah 37-38
  • Title: Jeremiah in Prison
  • Main Idea: Don’t let fear of other people keep you from saying and doing the right thing.
  • Tips for Application: Compare Zedekiah and Jeremiah. One caved to fear of man. The other feared God more and so stood firm regardless of public opinion. In our time, many believers will be tempted to cave in on controversial biblical principles. A secondary application is be grateful for faithful pastors who speak truth, popular or not.
Text: Jeremiah 42
  • Title: A Fatal Mistake (title taken from verse 20)
  • Main Idea: Don’t make the fatal mistake of getting God’s counsel and then ignoring it.
  • Tips for Application: A group of skilled oral interpreters read selections from chapters 39-44 to cover this part of the book. Application addresses our willingness to find out what God says but unwillingness to obey it.
Text: Jeremiah 45
  • Title: A Good Word but a Hard Word
  • Main Idea: Don’t seek great things for yourself; just be glad you’re saved!
  • Tips for Application: God’s bracing message to Baruch needs to be heard by many of his servants who are disappointed things haven’t gone as they’d hoped in ministry. Buck up!
Text: Jeremiah 46-51 (Clearly, taking such a huge hunk of text requires a selective reading of representative paragraphs.)
  • Main Idea: God is Lord of the nations and they are accountable to him.
  • Tips for Application: There are at least two ways to apply this long section: 1) Oracles about foreign nations were rarely if ever heard by those nations; the words were meant for the instruction and encouragement of God’s people; 2) Even though no modern nation stands as did Judah in a covenant relation to God, there are universal standards of truth and justice which he expects them (including our country) to obey.
Other Series Ideas

Consider, too, some topical sermons; for example: something on false prophets (they’re still around!); “a mouth full of fire” (5:14; 20:9; 23:29); child sacrifice (with application to casual abortion); the heart (see theological themes, below).

And consider including a sermon or two from Lamentations. One from chapter 3, at least.

Theological Themes

Theology of Disaster

Jeremiah has a lot to say about sin and judgment. A lot to say! Sin is viewed as folly (10:1-6), apostasy (5:19; 44:15-19), willful rebellion (5:23; 6:12 – see how often “stubborn” is used), a disorder of the heart (17:9), idolatry (2:11-13), covenant infidelity (3:6-10; 11:1-8), both individual and corporate, nation-wide and particularly reprehensible in the nation’s shepherds. Judgment (both retributive and corrective), when it comes, is manifestly deserved (5:9; 9:9; 44:1-6). God sovereignly moves pagans to chastise his stiff-necked people, but not willingly! Eleven times in this book the phrase “again and again” appears (44:4, for example), as God gives Judah multiple warnings and opportunities to repent. But at some point disaster becomes inevitable (15:1-2).

Prophecy True and False

No book of the Bible has more to say about false prophets, and this material is surely relevant in our day when people flock to feel-good preachers (14:14-16; chs. 23, 28). The pastor learns much here about the word we proclaim, sweet to the taste (15:16) and a fire that consumes (5:14), about pastoral identification with the people to whom we preach (Jeremiah wished he had yet more tears to shed for his congregation, 8:21-9:1), and about ministerial courage (1:18-19; 15:20—God, make us bronze walls!). Both listeners and preachers need the lesson Jeremiah learned at the potter’s house on the conditional nature of prophecy: we need not despair when God threatens judgment, we dare not presume when he proffers blessing (ch. 18).

The Heart

Jeremiah 17:9 is fairly well-known (“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”). But this is only one of nearly fifty references to the heart; in nine of those the heart is described as “stubborn.” Sin is inscribed in the heart with a flint point (17:1). As a result, people can no more change their conduct than a leopard his spots (13:23). Our only hope is in God who graciously grants singleness of heart (32:39), indeed a whole new heart (24:7).


Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet. His name stands for a long tedious harangue, the “jeremiad.” But for all his sorrow and righteous indignation, Jeremiah never fully lost hope. He foresaw a new exodus and people returning to God with all their heart, forgiven, redeemed, and restored, planted, no longer uprooted, joined in authentic worship by Gentile nations (3:15-18; chs. 30-33). He said Babylon would be judged (chs. 50, 51). He spoke of a coming “David,” the Righteous Branch, who will not disappoint as did Judah’s faithless shepherds (25:5, 6; 33:15). He spoke of the new covenant, in which we now participate by faith in Jeremiah’s Savior (31:31-36). Fulfillment of these hopeful visions was only partial in the return from exile chronicled in Ezra and Nehemiah; it’s completed in the coming of Messiah and his still hoped-for return.

My Encounter with Jeremiah

I’m not a prophet in the strict sense of the word, and neither are you. But like Jeremiah, we preachers need to have an unshakeable confidence that comes from having stood in the council of the Lord (23:18) and courage to proclaim his message whether it’s well-received or not. Jeremiah should be one of our heroes. Not that he’s a perfect hero! Sometimes he complains bitterly (20:7-8; 14-18), and sometimes he comes right up to the edge of blasphemy, earning a divine reprimand (chs. 12 and 15). I need to reread the prophet’s lament and God’s reply when tempted by self-pity to forsake my calling.


J. Andrew Dearman, Jeremiah: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002).

Derek Kidner, The Message of Jeremiah: Kidner Classic Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014).

The original version of Kidner’s commentary was subtitled “Against Wind and Tide.” No one who’s read Jeremiah with care will wonder why.

Christopher J.H. Wright, The Message of Jeremiah: The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014).

Ken Langley is pastor of Christ Community Church in Zion, Illinois.

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