South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton, NJ –Men’s Evening Chapel on 11/18/2018
(edited November 2021)
By way of introduction:
1. Jeremiah was a Prophet in Ancient Israel during some very BAD TIMES. The Old Covenant was falling apart. God was in the process of “divorcing” His Own People. That’s how bad it was! The People of God had been given a “land of milk and honey.” The Lord had allowed them to conquer that land and helped them establish a great nation there. He protected them. But they, from the least to the greatest, walked away and worshipped other gods.
Eventually the Assyrian nation came in and conquered them in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. But in the south, in Judah at Jerusalem, they were still hanging on to hope. The false hope that they could abandon God, but that somehow He could not abandon them. And the Jerusalem of that time was the setting for Jeremiah’s ministry.
2. It was a BAD ASSINGMENT. Ancient Judah was itching to hear a message of hope and victory, as Babylon closed in on them. Jeremiah’s task from the Lord was to speak up and to “tell it like it really was.” God’s people were being judged by God in the form of a heathen army in the hands of a heathen king, Nebuchadnezzar, of Babylon. Jeremiah referred to him as the Lord’s instrument of righteous judgement. And Jeremiah preached defeat and advocated total surrender to the Babylonians. This was NOT a popular message, as you can imagine. Sometimes it takes great courage to share God’s Word. That is true today and it was certainly true for Jeremiah. He wasn’t going to win any popularity contests with the message he had to share with the People of God!
3. Finally, to top it all off, Jeremiah had a BAD TEMPERAMENT for this assignment:
“Then the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. Then said I, Ah, Lord God! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child. But the Lord said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord. Then the Lord put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the Lord said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth. See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant.”
All of us, to be honest, must admit that we too, at least sometimes, feel like a little kid when it comes to standing up to this evil world, our sinful flesh, and the Devil. Jeremiah felt that he was just too weak to face down the bitter enemies of God and holiness. He was the wrong man for the job. But the Lord, at times, can turn the wrong person into the exact RIGHT person to fulfil His tasks. Let’s just say that it wasn’t easy for Jeremiah to deliver God’s Words to Ancient Judah, not easy at all!
The people, and especially the leaders, of Judah did not want to face the truth that Jeremiah had faithfully shared with them. So what did they do? Well, Jeremiah was ignored, arrested, abused and threatened. At one point he was lowered down with ropes into an abandoned, muddy well by the Judean authorities and just left there for dead. That had to be a very tough place to try to find any hope! Let’s take a look, now, at a portion of this man’s lament:
Verses 1-7: “I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of his wrath. He hath led me, and brought me into darkness, but not into light. Surely against me is he turned; he turneth his hand against me all the day. My flesh and my skin hath he made old; he hath broken my bones. He hath builded against me, and compassed me with gall and travail. He hath set me in dark places, as they that be dead of old. He hath hedged me about, that I cannot get out: he hath made my chain heavy.”
Prophet or not, Jeremiah blamed God for his troubles, oh, yes he did! Let’s be honest, isn’t that what you or I might do and have done?
Verses 8-10: “Also when I cry and shout, he shutteth out my prayer. He hath inclosed my ways with hewn stone, he hath made my paths crooked. He was unto me as a bear lying in wait, and as a lion in secret places.”
Job, another prophet long before Jeremiah’s day, also mistook God for the enemy and saw the Lord as some kind of monster when horrible troubles engulfed him.
Verses 11-20: “He hath turned aside my ways, and pulled me in pieces: he hath made me desolate. He hath bent his bow, and set me as a mark for the arrow. He hath caused the arrows of his quiver to enter into my reins. I was a derision to all my people; and their song all the day. He hath filled me with bitterness, he hath made me drunken with wormwood. He hath also broken my teeth with gravel stones, he hath covered me with ashes. And thou hast removed my soul far off from peace: I forgat prosperity. And I said, My strength and my hope is perished from the Lord: Remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall. My soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me.”
Maybe he wasn’t a prophet, but the late BB King was, I think, something of a theologian when he sang, “How blue can you get, Baby? The answer’s right here in my heart.” Jeremiah took everything that happened to him into his heart, too.
But there was still some room in Jeremiah’s heart for hope. Yes, he was a man of sorrows, but so was Jesus, after all, when He came to the Earth. Listen to this:
Verses 21-24: “This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him.”
Both Job and Jeremiah lived under a covenant of works and rewards. For them the two were strongly connected. They both believed that when they obeyed God, it obligated Him to bless them in material ways as well as spiritual. That kind of worship led them both to disillusionment and despair when times were bad. And time got very bad for both men. But, to their credit, and even under the Old Covenant, they both learned Patience and Trust. Look at what Jeremiah says next:
Verses 25-26: “The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him. It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.”
When the Lord called Jeremiah into the ministry it was to a life of sacrifice. He was told by God not to even try to get married or have a family. In this way too His ministry was like Christ’s. that was the state of things. Jeremiah’s country was bleak any wife and kids of his would have had to suffer with him because of the unpopular message he had to deliver.
Verses 27-32: “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him. He putteth his mouth in the dust; if so be there may be hope. He giveth his cheek to him that smiteth him: he is filled full with reproach. For the Lord will not cast off for ever: But though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies.”
DEEP in his heart, Jeremiah held on to a longing for and a deep love for God, didn’t. Let’s face it, anybody can be thankful when you’ve got a million dollars and you’re datin’ a supermodel! But this man learned to Love the Lord no matter what happened to him:
Verses 33-41: “For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men. To crush under his feet all the prisoners of the earth. To turn aside the right of a man before the face of the most High, To subvert a man in his cause, the Lord approveth not. Who is he that saith, and it cometh to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not? Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth not evil and good? Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins? Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord. Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.”
This man of sorrows was like Jesus in many ways. You know a life of sorrows isn’t always a life of defeat. There was a beauty in Jeremiah’s blues too. Next, the prophet accepts God’s discipline by identifying himself with the sins of his people there, at that time, in Ancient Judah:
Verses 42-47: “We have transgressed and have rebelled: thou hast not pardoned. Thou hast covered with anger, and persecuted us: thou hast slain, thou hast not pitied. Thou hast covered thyself with a cloud, that our prayer should not pass through. Thou hast made us as the offscouring and refuse in the midst of the people. All our enemies have opened their mouths against us. Fear and a snare is come upon us, desolation and destruction.”
A man cannot, and should never, attempt to preach God’s message of judgement to anyone else unless he himself FEELS the pain of the lost and the sinner. Jeremiah didn’t look down and point his finger at anyone. The pain of the guilty was breaking his heart as much as the pain of the innocent:
Verses 48-51: “Mine eye runneth down with rivers of water for the destruction of the daughter of my people. Mine eye trickleth down, and ceaseth not, without any intermission. Till the Lord look down, and behold from heaven. Mine eye affecteth mine heart because of all the daughters of my city.”
You know Jerusalem was under siege by Babylon. They were being choked off from all supplies and even resorting to cannibalism within the walls of the city as starvation was setting in. But, because of pride, they STILL didn’t want to listen to the Lord through Jeremiah and just surrender. And now their pride was all being turned into humiliation, shame, and defeat. It broke Jeremiah’s heart, and, I think that it broke God’s heart too.
The People, the leaders of Ancient Judah, had decided, not to repent or to obey the Lord, but to “shoot the messenger.” God’s messenger. Listen now as Jeremiah finally and fully lays his personal sorrows bare before the Lord:
Verses 52-66: “Mine enemies chased me sore, like a bird, without cause. They have cut off my life in the dungeon, and cast a stone upon me. Waters flowed over mine head; then I said, I am cut off. I called upon thy name, O Lord, out of the low dungeon. Thou hast heard my voice: hide not thine ear at my breathing, at my cry. Thou drewest near in the day that I called upon thee: thou saidst, Fear not. O Lord, thou hast pleaded the causes of my soul; thou hast redeemed my life. O Lord, thou hast seen my wrong: judge thou my cause. Thou hast seen all their vengeance and all their imaginations against me. Thou hast heard their reproach, O Lord, and all their imaginations against me; The lips of those that rose up against me, and their device against me all the day. Behold their sitting down, and their rising up; I am their musick. Render unto them a recompence, O Lord, according to the work of their hands. Give them sorrow of heart, thy curse unto them. Persecute and destroy them in anger from under the heavens of the Lord.”
If you, as I often have, need to question the Lord, it’s OK to do so. If you are upset with Him or with other people here on the Earth, it’s OK to complain to God about it. He knows how you feel anyway. He won’t abandon you for being honest with Him. But don’t forget about Jesus. Christ willingly died for the sake of His enemies, which if we want to be honest, includes you and me. Jesus commands us to find a way to Love even our enemies today. But with it He is promising that one day, if we trust Him enough to love them, He will wipe away all the blues and every tear we shed down here. Let’s pray.