The Unsuccessful Successful Prophet
The Unsuccessful Successful Prophet
I’ve read Jeremiah many times over the years, but never got much out of it, apart from various passages. There’s something different this time. Maybe it’s because, like the times he was prophesying in, we are living through a scary, prolonged crisis. So, as I read through Jeremiah it hits me harder.
Most Christians are not familiar with the Book of Jeremiah. Maybe they know Jeremiah 29:11 that famous verse where God says “I alone know the plans I have for you says the Lord ….” I love that and have it inscribed on my wedding ring even, but when I first loved the verse I had no idea of the context. Those words came through a prophet who was beaten and imprisoned by the government and rulers of his day for saying “This is what God says ….” Those rulers didn’t want to hear it when Jeremiah said their idolatry and sin was the cause of the nation’s problems.
Jeremiah is not some doom and gloom book but someone to read and learn from because he’s brave, courageous, and a heroic figure in a difficult dark day.
His ministry began when he was a young man—he thought he was TOO young—during the time of short lived revival around the reign of the godly king Josiah the king of Judah,
and for forty-two years he preached in Judah, the rest of Israel already having been scattered across the nations because they were so unfaithful and disobedient to God.
And from the way we might humanly look at it we’d have to say Jeremiah preached unsuccessfully in terms of visible results. But it all depends how you see success.
Jeremiah was called to try to wake his nation up to its sin, to call out what was really happening and pray that the people would wake up and turn around and turn back to God, instead of rejecting him and carrying on in rebellion against the LORD and his laws.
He pleaded with them, told them they were like an unfaithful wife and rebellious kids. He warned them in many ways including all kinds of theatrical symbols, that the only way to be spared from destruction and exile as the judgment of God was to stop worshiping false gods and living in or condoning immorality. For forty-two years he saw nothing that would encourage him they were listening, they went from bad, to worse.
In our earthly eyes that looks like an unsuccessful ministry, except that Jeremiah was faithful—to do what God said, and say what God was doing—even though for him it meant sorrow and struggle, difficulty and danger, ridicule and rejection. It’s not what we think we signed up for.
Here’s what I see when I read Jeremiah, I see someone trying to be faithful in a time of idolatry and compromise in worship, set in the midst of the moral decline of a nation which led to its decline and demise.
As I look at our world now I don’t know where we are headed—nobody does it seems, but I do know that same fearful forces which destroyed the nation Jeremiah spoke to want to steal, kill, and destroy here and now! That means we can learn a great deal about what’s going on in our world, by studying Jeremiah’s.
We can learn how to BE and what should a believer DO when their home, community, nation, and world in which they live are being torn apart. From this prophecy we will also see and hear over and over God’s promises of hope and new life. I encourage all of us to read the whole of Jeremiah, but I want us to scan the first chapter because it tells us about the times he lived in and introduces who Jeremiah was and how God promised to use him to shine bright in a world that was getting darker around him.
(Read Jeremiah 1:1-3)
This tells us when Jeremiah operated as a prophet; through the reigns of three different kings—good, bad, and worse—and then the nation was taken over and the people exiled by the Babylonians.
It says Jeremiah is the son of a priest, which meant he’d be one too, growing up in a town where only priests lived, Anathoth, near Jerusalem. His father's name was Hilkiah, and scholars say he may well have been the priest who one day was tidying up in the temple, when under some dusty scrolls he found a copy of the law of Moses! As he read it, he saw how far away from God the nation had fallen, so he showed it to young Josiah who was so convicted by it he got the whole nation to listen to the words then tear down their idols and turn back to God. But when he died, so did the change he’d started and soon the nation was worse than ever.
Jeremiah lived to see and prophesy as various other reigns would come and go until finally Babylon, under Nebuchadnezzar, became the superpower that invaded Jerusalem, overthrew its armies and carried most of the remaining people of Judah away into captivity. Jeremiah was left there until he was betrayed by politicians and finally taken as a captive to Egypt where he died as an unsung hero, stoned to death by his own people.
Who’d be a prophet then? Who would stand for God if that’s how he lets his friends be treated? Ultimately, we know how Jesus the Son of God was treated too, rejected, betrayed, and falsely executed. But still how hard must it have been for Jeremiah to keep going and remain faithful to the call of God on his life.
How often we find a reason to rule ourselves out of being used by God. What’s your excuse? We might believe he really can use anyone, as long as it’s anyone else!
During the hard times, and there are always hard times for everyone, we need to remember the call of God. The things he’s spoken to us and promised us. We have to hold onto them or we’ll give way to doubt and give up.
This tells us how God got this young man Jeremiah ready for his ministry. To get him to get over himself when he said “I’m too young.” Because we’re always too young. Or not young enough. We’re too tall or too short, too loud or too quiet. Or else we’re not clever enough, good enough, brave enough.
When we read this we see that it’s all God's work. God does the calling. God does the preparing. God promises his presence and that’s how God provides the power. It is all God.
Purpose of God
(Read Jeremiah 1:4-6)
Do we see his doubt there? Jeremiah says “I’m just a kid, I’m too young!” But the purpose of God is the answer to our doubts. God says, “Guess what, even before you were a baby, I had a PURPOSE for you—before you were a twinkle in your father’s eye—my plan was for you to be a prophet to influence the whole world. I’ve got big plans, I’ve got this, and I’ve got YOU!”
We all have our doubts, but we don’t need to let our doubts have us. God says, "You say you’re too young but I started getting you ready, and getting the world ready for you, long before you were even a baby! None of it is an accident! You are not an accident! I am a God of purpose and I worked through your father and mother, your grandfathers and grandmothers, your great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers and for generations in the past, for you to change generations and nations forever. I always know what’s going on and I’ve planned you to be born for such a time as this.” That’s the PURPOSE of God, which is the antidote and answer to our doubts.
Presence of God
(Read Jeremiah 1:7-8)
How many times when God calls do we get scared and want to run away and hide? Who? What? When? Where? How? We say we can’t do it and we really want him to pick someone else who’s bound to be better. Moses did it, Gideon, Isaiah, Peter. God shows up and they say “I’m not the right one.”
God says, “Don’t say that. Stop saying that. If you keep saying I can’t use you, that is the only thing that could stop me using you. Go! (Why?) For I am with you. (How?) For I am with you. Don't worry about your words or your accent. I’ll be with you. Don’t worry about how you look or your ability—I will be with you, I’ll be your voice, I'll speak through you, don’t worry—I’ll give you the words, I'll be your wisdom. I'll be there no matter what.”
Now this is what we have to remember too, that Jesus comes and says this to all of us. To all his followers. He says, “This is how I’m going to change the world—you, go and make disciples of all nations.”
We think Who? What? How? Where? But the antidote to our fears is his PRESENCE, so Jesus says “And surely I will be with you always.”
This isn’t just about believing in God. When God calls us to something scary it’s because he believes in us. He wouldn’t send us unless he knew we (I am us, with him) could do it. He wouldn’t send us unless he was coming with us. Remember what God says and say what he says, agree with him not your fears. We can say "I can do it because you will be with me, and YOU will make me able to do it!"
God’s PURPOSE is the answer for our doubts about who we are. God’s PRESENCE is the answer for our fears about whether we can do it and finally. God’s POWER is the answer to our questions about how it can happen!
Power of God
(Read Jeremiah 1:9-12)
When God touches our lives, he purifies us from all the times we’ve messed it up, then gives us power to be able to be used by him. A fresh start. When did you last ask God for that cleansing, powerful touch that changes everything?
God touched Jeremiah's mouth, like he did with Isaiah. If you remember God appeared to Isaiah in the temple and he cried out “Oh no! I’m a man of unclean lips and my eyes have seen the King!” Then God sent coals from the altar to touch his mouth and purify him from his sins, from any wrong words or lies or anything unclean.
God’s touch purifies and then it gives us power.
From then on, Jeremiah's words were full of God’s power—living, burning, shattering, tearing, building, and mighty—that shaped and shook all the great nations of the world of his day. His prayers, proclamations, and prophecies affected his own nation of Judah and also Egypt, Assyria, even mighty Babylon.
Today, we look at the nations in terror, trouble, and turmoil, and we wonder What’s God going to do? What if God is saying to you and me, “What are YOU going to do? I’ve planned you to be alive. Now, where you are, for my purposes! I’ll be with you whatever happens, so you never have to be afraid, and when you pray, when you speak my word instead of your worries, that’s powerful because it’s full of my power on your lips and through your life.”
James says in the New Testament that the prayer of a righteous person releases great power. When we pray and say “Use me to answer the prayers” we can change the tracks of history and effect the whole world.
What do you see? That’s the question. What do you see when you look at yourself? Do you see who God sees? What do you see when you look at the world? What do you see in the nations with all their pomp, greedy leaders so self-important and proud of themselves.
But God picks out one the world would see as a nobody, from a tiny town in an obscure country well past its glory days, and says to him, "See what I see. I see someone who can make a difference if you’ll live full on for me. Look, I’ve planned to use you in ways that will shape the history and destiny of the kingdoms of the earth by bringing heaven there at your word, because it’s my word, and my promises have more power than all the superpowers combined!"
In days of doom, death, and destruction, God said Jeremiah would plant hope and healing. His word was to "pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow" and in every time and nation there are many things which have to be torn down. So many of the things people have put their trust in are being rooted out and torn down right now. It’s making room for the new things that God is also doing!
Anthony Delaney is a Leader at Ivy Church in Manchester. He is also the leader for New Thing and the LAUNCH conference. He is an author and hosts the television show “Transforming Life.”