Jeremiah the prophet lived in the final days of the collapse and deportation of the southern kingdom, the nation of Judah. He was, in all likelihood, the last prophet that God sent to preach to the southern kingdom. The two tribes of the southern kingdom were Judah and Benjamin. God had repeatedly warned Israel to stop their idolatrous behavior, but they would not listen, so He tore the 12 tribes apart, sending the 10 northern tribes into captivity at the hands of the Assyrians, in 722 BC. Then God sent Jeremiah to give Judah the last warning before He cast them out of the Promised Land, sending them into the Babylonian captivity, in 587 BC. Jeremiah was called to tell Judah that, because of their unrepentant sin, God had turned against them and was now prepared to remove them from the land He gave to Abraham.
No doubt Jeremiah stressed over the fate of his people, and he begged them to listen. He is known as “the weeping prophet,” because he cried tears of sadness, not only because he knew what was about to happen, but because, no matter how hard he tried, the people would not listen. Furthermore, he found no human comfort. God had forbidden him to marry or have children (Jeremiah 16:2). His friends even turned their backs on him. God knew this was best course for Jeremiah, because He went on to tell him about the horrible conditions that would arrive in a short time, with babies, children, and adults dying “grievous” deaths, their bodies unable to even be buried, and their flesh devoured by the birds (Jeremiah 16:3-4).
Obviously, the people of Israel had become so hardened by the numbing effects of sin that they no longer believed God, nor did they fear Him. Jeremiah preached for 40 years, and not once did he see any real success in changing or softening the hearts and minds of his stubborn, idolatrous people. The other prophets of Israel had witnessed some successes, at least for a little while, but not Jeremiah. He was speaking to a brick wall; however, his words were not wasted. They were pearls being cast before swine (Matthew 7:6), so in a sense, his words were convicting every person who heard them and they refused to heed the warning.
Jeremiah tried to make the people understand their problem was a lack of belief, trust, and faith in God,. They had an absence of fear that caused the people to take God for granted. They stopped putting God first and had replaced Him with false gods, those that would not make them feel guilty or convict them of sin. God had delivered His people from bondage in Egypt, had performed miracles before them, and had even parted the waters of the sea for them. In spite of all these displays of God’s power, they returned to the false practices they had learned in Egypt, even making vows to the false “queen of heaven,” along with performing the other rites and rituals that were part of the Egyptian culture and religion. God finally turned them over to their idolatry, saying, “Go ahead, then; do what you promised! Keep your vows!” (Jeremiah 44:25).
Jeremiah became discouraged. He sank into a deep depression. This can happen to us when we sense our efforts are not making a difference and time is fleeting. Jeremiah was emotionally spent, even to the point of doubting God (Jeremiah 15:18), but God was not done with him. Jeremiah 15:19 records a lesson for each believer to remember in those times when he feels alone, useless, and discouraged and whose faith is wavering: “Therefore this is what the LORD says: ‘If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me; if you utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be my spokesman. Let this people turn to you, but you must not turn to them.’” God was saying to Jeremiah, come back to Me, and I will restore to you the joy of your salvation. These are similar to the words penned by David when he repented of his sin with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:1-12:15, Psalm 51:12).
What we learn from the life of Jeremiah is the comfort of knowing that, just like every believer, even great prophets of God can experience rejection, depression, and discouragement in their walk with the Lord. This is a normal part of growing spiritually, because our sinful nature fights against our new nature, that which is born of the Spirit of God, according to Galatians 5:17: “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” But, just as Jeremiah found, we can know that the faithfulness of our God is infinite; even when we are unfaithful to Him, He remains steadfast (2 Timothy 2:13).
Jeremiah was given the task of delivering an unpopular, convicting message to Judah, one that caused him great mental anguish, as well as making him despised in the eyes of his people. God says that His truth sounds like “foolishness” to those who are lost, but to believers it is the very words of life (1 Corinthians 1:18). He also says that the time will come when people will not tolerate the truth (2 Timothy 4:3-4). Those in Judah in Jeremiah’s day did not want to hear what he had to say, and his constant warning of judgment annoyed them. This is true of the world today, as believers who are following God’s instructions are warning the lost and dying world of impending judgment (Revelation 3:10). Even though most are not listening, we must persevere in proclaiming truth in order to rescue some from the terrible judgment that will inevitably come.
So, Here is a Little Personal Context:
I’ve been at my church for 15 years. In 2007, the mission statement of the church was, “Knowing Christ and Making Him Known,” which was a worthy goal of discipleship that leads followers of Jesus to engage a lost and dying world with the claims of Christ. As disciples, our mission is to reach those who are far from God, share the light and life that Jesus offers, and bring them into the local family of God. The church literally exists for those who are not yet members. Since we have this everlasting life, our destiny is secured, and we want to bring others into the family of faith. Our mission is to do all we can to populate heaven. While we share the gospel with those we know that do not know Christ, we gather as a church to worship and praise our Lord and Savior, and to be equipped for the task that is set before us (Ephesians 4:11-13), which is to help fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) and live out the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:36-40). Anything short of that, we become just another social organization that has membership, dues, and social events (like the Tennis and Racquet Club or the YMCA).
In 2017, under the leadership of a new lead pastor, we focused our mission on three key values: community, faith, and love. Here is the statement that was developed, “We exist as a community of faith to extend the love of Christ and His Kingdom in Virginia Beach and to the world.” [ Read More Here ] The three step process included 1) Member (community: guiding people to become members of the family of God and this local church), 2) Minister (faith: stepping up to discover our giftedness and find a place of service to Jesus and people in the church and the community), 3) Living on Mission (Love: this value compels us to seek daily how to be the hands and feet of Jesus, focusing on those who are not yet members of God’s forever family).
Somewhere along the way, church has become more about “us” than it is about those who are not yet members. It’s about what I want, and what I want in a worship service, like hymns out of the hymnbook from 1975, a choir in the loft, wearing robes, with a communion table up front, the altar Bible on display, a deacon reading the Bible and praying each week, with preaching from behind a pulpit, but no longer than 18-20 minutes, and never forget about the flag of the United States of America on the stage and proper attire of coat and tie for leaders (staff, deacons, ushers). While we liked it this way in 1975, I dare say that today’s generation will not want to get involved here when our service and surroundings are so old school. It is as if a vocal few in this congregation are telling our local community, “you’re welcome here, but you need to enjoy old school services like us. Don’t come in here with your new ideas for reaching people and changing anything.” It’s like courting a potential spouse yet maintaining an adversarial relationship. Who wants to get involved with that?
Enter into these hallways of peace and fellowship… division, chaos and plotting for control, “to take back our church.” Somewhere along my 15 years, leadership has become an enemy to subdue or overthrow. [ By the way, three of our six ministerial staff members left us in 2022 (contemporary worship leader, lead pastor, and then pastor of worship), at some point, we all ask ourselves, “Why am I here and what difference does it make?” For me, I was called by God in 2007 to be here, and he has not yet released me from that calling. ]
The challenge we have before us is all about hearing God’s voice and recognizing God’s leadership in the life of our church. Our goal is to speak truth in the midst of misinformation and even disinformation and sabotage. I sense we can have a teaching lesson on each of these points, but I give only an initial observation, noting what happened in Jeremiah’s day and how there is a modern parallel in the American church.
Enter the Example of the Weeping Prophet, Jeremiah.
- Jeremiah was called by God (Jeremiah 1:4-8) and never sensed a release from that calling. God had a plan from his very beginning, even though Jeremiah was a teenager at the time, and God let him know this was not going to be easy.
- Jeremiah had a difficult message to tell the people (Jeremiah 2:11-13, 26, 32, 35, 37, 3:20, 25, 4:22, 5:2-3, 23, 26, 31, 6:8, 21, 9:13-16, 11:9-11, 11:22-23). It’s not easy to tell people that they have elevated their personal preferences into a place of idolatry. People don’t want to hear that message and will fight until the very end that their vision of church is all about God and not all about themselves. I have discovered when you try to remove their idols, they attack your character and motivation.
- Jeremiah offers a word of hope (Jeremiah 3:12-15, 4:14, 7:23, 16:15, 24:5-7, 30:16-17, 31:8-9, 17, 23, 31:38-40, 33:1-3, 6-7). We envision a bright future for our church, one that is multi-generational, together in fellowship, serving together, growing into the image of Jesus together. To be a place of peace, acceptance, safety, and healing. Right now, there is fighting and factions that will drive good seekers away and young believers are now questioning what they have gotten into. Some actually believe that we’re trying to split the church, which was never on our to-do list.
- Jeremiah dealt with those who did not tell the truth (Jeremiah 5:12-13, 9:8-9). We like to think the best of one another and cannot believe that one of our own would intentionally deceive others, but when someone has an agenda, kindness and civility often go out the window. As I have seen in politics, when the other side declares that you are something (racist, misogynistic, xenophobic), they are generally masking their own characteristics. Our local opposition claims the church staff’s next tactic is to engage in manipulation through deception and their narcissistic leader claims that he is the last obstacle to the staff’s hostile takeover of the church.
- Jeremiah has people who refused to listen (Jeremiah 6:16-19, 7:24-27). God’s people refuse to listen to one another when they have their own agenda and demands. There have been plenty of conversations revealing little common ground. The USA has a policy of not negotiating with terrorists or considering their demands. What I have noticed over this past year, it doesn’t matter how much concession comes church leadership, it is still not enough, so why bother? If we can get the parties back to the table to have more conversation…
- On a side issue, let’s look at three examples in the life of Jesus. When Jesus told the truth to the rich young ruler and he looked over the options, the man chose to walk away. Jesus did not run after him to tell him he would lower the bar or make it easier for him. He didn’t give in to demands, Jesus told the truth and allowed the man to exercise his free will and walk away (Luke 18:18-27).
- How about the story of the invitation to the wedding feast? The feast was ready, invitations were sent, and the story is filled with people making excuses about why they could not come. So, since those invited people proved to be unworthy, the invitation went out to anybody who would come in (Matthew 22:1-10). Some grumblers even refuse to enter the sanctuary if a certain preacher has been invited for that week. Imagine for a moment our Savior looking at that behavior and saying, “I died on the cross for you and you can’t enter that sanctuary and worship me?”
- Then there is the older brother in the story of the prodigal son. He was disgruntled over the fact that he was at home the whole time (like a long-time church member) and there was such a fuss made over this sinner son who came back (reaching lost people for Jesus). While the father talked to that older son, we have no indication that the older son ever came in to the celebration (Luke 15:25-32).
- Jeremiah had a word against the temple of the Lord (Jeremiah 7:2-5, 8, 11, 14-16, 30). The people in Jeremiah’s time were so far from God yet they still ran to the temple for God’s blessing. I suppose their hypocrisy was an insult to the living God. Perhaps they sought the gift more than the Giver. Perhaps they asked God to move over just a little bit so they can erect an idol that brought security, comfort, and familiarity.
- Jeremiah spoke against their apostasy and lies and shame (Jeremiah (8:5, 8, 12, 13:22). I sense that God desires godly men and women speak up and defend the truth rather than allow the lies and misinformation to consume the hearts and minds of the congregation. Our focus has been on admonishing the unruly (1 Thessalonians 5:14) more than evangelism and discipleship.
- Jeremiah spoke against their hypocrisy (Jeremiah 9:25, see Jeremiah 4:4). The prophet writes about the Jews who are behaving (or in reality), are not Jews. They say that they’re God’s people yet they have little to do with God and do not obey his commands.
- Jeremiah wept for his people (Jeremiah 8:18, 9:1, 11:14, 14:11-12, 16:2-4, 31:16). I have not yet wept over my situation, but I have wept over the reputation of the church. When Christian people behave like non-christian people, the name of Jesus is diminished rather than magnified. People may give up on the church because of what they have experienced here. May all of us weep over souls who have been and continue to be damaged and abused by what we are experiencing in the congregation.
- Jeremiah spoke again the idols of the people (Jeremiah 10:3-5, 8). Idols back in the day were these wooden and adorned statues set up to receive worship, which was a big no-no in God’s economy. The first two of the “big ten” commandments deal with having no other gods before YHWY and making an image of him. But today, idols come in all forms and enter into our hearts subtly. None are inherently bad, but we will take a good thing and elevate it to the status of idolatry. Try these on for size: it’s not really a worship service without… a pulpit, choir, robes, communion table, double passing of the communion trays, a deacon reading Scripture, leaders all wearing coats and ties, the large altar Bible up front, and the biggest push-back in worship so far has been the American flag standing in the corner. An idol is anything that comes between you and God. When someone says they will not enter the sanctuary unless the flags are in their regular place, that is a spiritual problem worthy of the prophet Jeremiah.
- Jeremiah had people plotting against him and should be put to shame (Jeremiah 11:18-19, 21, 17:18, 18:18, 23). There is no place in the church for back-room, deals, meetings, and plots to overthrow it’s leadership. When God’s anointed are following God’s leadership and serving above reproach, with untarnished integrity, shame on those who stir up chaos and dissension over personal preferences that have risen to the level of unreasonable.
- Jeremiah sets himself up as a righteous sufferer (Jeremiah 12:3) in contrast to the prosperous wicked (Jeremiah 12:1). The question is asked, “why we would stay in a situation that is so hostile?” While we at times question the ease and the prosperity of the wicked and the way of the righteous is often paved with adversity, I’m reminded that Jesus promised hardship in this life. The world will hate you (John 15:18), but we never expected this behavior from the church. Then, I have to come back to Jesus. His biggest critics, and those instrumental in his death, were “church leaders.” Why would I be exempt from hardship when my Lord went through so much for me?
- Jeremiah has to tell the people that God is angry with their going backward (Jeremiah 15:6). God asked the question, “why have you forsaken Me? You keep looking backwards.” I sense this is at the heart of our situation, some vocal few in our congregation prefer worship to resemble 1975 and reject anything that might be considered modern. We like it the way we like it, and anyone coming here must understand that while they are welcome here, they need to act, dress, and worship the way we like it. New people coming in here have no right to change things; they must adapt to what we prefer here. After all, we are the ones paying the bills around here (that my friend is another topic all together).
- Jeremiah endured reproach from rebellious people (Jeremiah 15:15). When God’s shepherds seek to lead God’s people, one might expect sheep to follow their shepherd. Rebellion against the God-ordained leader goes all the way back to Moses. It is shameful to be treated with such disrespect, but we endure reproach because of God’s call on our live (1 Peter 5:1-3, Hebrews 13:17).
- Jeremiah took refuge in and rejoiced in God’s Word (Jeremiah 15:16). When things are at their worst, then God comes through with encouragement in his Word. God speaks truth through his Word and helps us through the adversity of life, even the adversity of ministry.
- Jeremiah tells the people God is chastising the older generation who should know better (Jeremiah 16:11-12). This passage is condemning because of all the people present, the older ones should now better because they experienced God’s miracles, power, and presence through the stories of the Exodus. Then, they learned the lessons of the rebellious northern and southern kingdoms, seeing how the nations had forsaken the Lord and gone their own way. It should have been a warning to them about turning away from the Lord; they should have known better than end up here. We are similarly walking in the evil and stubbornness of our own hearts.
- Jeremiah tells the people God has withdrawn his peace from them and he is not to console them (Jeremiah 16:5, 22:10). These verses are so sad, that these should not be consoled, we assume because they are getting what they deserve. Thank God for his grace, but this is a warning to heed.
- Jeremiah says the heart (our emotion) is desperately wicked and cannot be trusted, so we must trust the Lord (Jeremiah 17:9-10). The worst advice anyone can give someone is to follow their heart. The heart tells you what you are doing is right when it very well might be fighting against God’s plan and design.
- Jeremiah learns a lesson about God while at the potter’s house (Jeremiah 18:4-6). When the potter smashes the clay and starts over, the Creator of the universe can do the same with us. We are not too big to fail. God can remove his glory and watch us slowly die or start something new in another location.
- Jeremiah is persecuted by the religious leaders (Jeremiah 20:1-2, 6, 26:7-8, 11) and imprisoned (Jeremiah 37:13-16) and held in a muddy cistern (Jeremiah 38:4-6). Pray that lawsuits will not be filed.
- Jeremiah cries out and complains to God (Jeremiah 20:7-8) and wishes he was never born (Jeremiah 20:14-15). We all get depressed at times but there comes a point when we turn loose and trust God even more. Jesus tells us that he has overcome the world so we must take courage (John 16:33).
- Jeremiah recognizes he cannot stop doing what God has called him to do (Jeremiah 20:9-10). If God has not yet released his servant from his calling and ministry, it is best to stay there and not run away. If God is moving someone to another ministry, he will make that clear at the right time. Moving TO something good is very different than moving AWAY from something bad.
- Jeremiah warns that this house is going to fall (Jeremiah 22:5). If the vocal minority want worship to resemble 1975, this very well may be the preferred future they are embracing. Young families will visit and sense the church is too old school and not return. Existing young families will not feel accepted and will eventually find another church that wants them to be a part of their congregation. Then, with no young people coming into the church, older members will die off one-by-one over the next 10-15 years, until they come to the realization that they need to either adapt to bring in new members or slowly die and close the doors. How sad. This was not the vision of the founders or pastor Jerry. At the start, those planting this church did everything they could to reach people with the gospel. They made changes, sacrificed, adjusted their methods to reach more people, and they grew this church for the kingdom of God. Then somewhere along the way, we got it “just like we like it” and have rebelled and complained at changes that could bring in new families.
- Jeremiah reminds them that God spoke to them in their prosperity but they had rejected him, so God will sweep away all of their shepherds (Jeremiah 22:21-22), and you will be ashamed and humiliated because of your wickedness. This church has had two recent pastors who challenged us to get out of our comfort zones and be all about the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. Both of those shepherds have moved on lead people and organizations who want to do great things for the kingdom of God.
- Jeremiah says that God will gather a remnant and provide good shepherds over them (Jeremiah 23:3-4). I have always been fascinated with the concept of the remnant. When we hear about 20 percent of the people doing 80 percent of the work, service, attendance, giving, and teaching, I sense the reason is the remnant, the 20 percent. People sitting in the pews does not create a church; but disciples committed to the mission of the church, make the church. Too many people sit on the sidelines watching others and criticizing; they’re not in the game, they are arm-chair quarterbacks. Church is a team sport and we all need to be at practice and in the game.
- Jeremiah says the people should not listen to the false prophets (Jeremiah 23:16, 30-31) because they are making stuff up, not speaking for God (and he’ll put on them an everlasting reproach that cannot be forgiven – Jeremiah 23:40). When darkness comes over the house of God, the only way to dispel the darkness is to shed light on it. Truth will win over deception, manipulation, and agendas.
- Jeremiah says that being a false prophet is dangerous (Jeremiah 28:15-17). This is a sobering passage. Don’t go there.
- Jeremiah teaches about the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34). This is the whole reason we do what we do. When people get it, they get it, and it makes all the difference in their lives and in the church. The hearts of the people are transformed. Motivation to follow, serve, and reach out is internal rather than external.
- Jeremiah writes down what God tells him and the king burns it (Jeremiah 36:23), which is replaced (Jeremiah 36:27-28, 32). Basically, the lesson may be, “the truth hurts” (Jeremiah 36:29-31). Jeremiah is tenacious in getting the message of God to the people. If he can’t be there to speak it, he’ll send his friend to read it. He had an attitude of, “whatever it takes, I’m willing to do it, even if it leads to imprisonment or death.”
- Jeremiah gets respect for speaking God’s Word and they will listen to it, whether good or bad (Jeremiah 42:4-6). At some point, the people will listen to the prophet’s message from God and receive it, even if they don’t like what God has to say to them.
- Jeremiah says to Baruch that God has built up this house and can also tear it down (Jeremiah 45:2-5). To me, this is a sober reminder that God is sovereign and can literally do whatever he wants.
Initial Research on Jeremiah is from gotquestions.org, with added personal context