DATE: 19TH JUNE 2016


READINGS: 2 TIM.4:1-8; JEREMIAH 21:1-10


I have recently been reading through the book of Jeremiah – in some ways not the easiest book in the Bible to read. Jeremiah was prophesying around 600 years BC. It was a book written some 2600 years ago into a culture and world very different from ours, but as I was reading through it again, and I have read it several times before, I was struck by just how relevant this book is for our day and age, and how it speaks into our world of the 21st century. It’s timeless. Now I shouldn’t be surprised at that, should I? – God doesn’t change, his word is is unchanging and it’s permanent – and human nature doesn’t change. It’s all about a people who wouldn’t listen to God….. it’s all about a people who refused to obey God. But it’s also about a God who loves his people… it’s about a God who warns his people out of a love for his people…. it’s about a God who says there are consequences to sin, but it’s also about a God who says there is forgiveness and restoration and renewal…. it’s about a God who offers hope…. it’s about a God of grace and mercy.

Some people read Jeremiah and find him very depressing – he has been called the ‘prophet of doom’ – he’s even included in the English language – a ‘Jeremiah’ is someone who ‘habitually prophesies doom or denounces contemporary society’…. if you are on the end of a ‘jeremiad’, you have just endured a long mournful lamentation or complaint from somebody. Jeremiah has had a bad press – his prophecies people say, are all about judgement…. all about punishment. Some read his prophecies with all his talk of vengeance and judgement and conclude that this is just another reason to get rid of the God of the O.T….. this O.T. God is not the God of the N.T. – we don’t want a God like that. Our God is ‘nice’ God…. a God who is all loving and all inclusive.

But I want to suggest to you that that is too simplistic view of the book of Jeremiah. I want to say to you this morning, and this is my sermon title, “Doom & Gloom, or Grace & Mercy?” Some people read the book and say it’s all doom and gloom…. it’s all ‘bad news’, but as we read it, we can actually see that it’s also about grace and mercy. The God of the O.T. is the same God of the N.T. – the book of Jeremiah is not just ‘doom & gloom’, because it’s also about grace and mercy – the book of Jeremiah contains a lot of good news… the book of Jeremiah is all about this God of grace and mercy….. the book of Jeremiah contains the gospel, because the book of Jeremiah is pointing to Jesus Christ. Let me try and show you what I mean.

Now, to make sense of this book of Jeremiah we have to remember the covenant that God entered into with his people – the covenant given to us in Exodus 19 & 24 – the covenant Moses reminded the Israelites of before they entered the promised land (Deut.4:21-31).

This was the covenant that they willingly entered into and promised to keep. “When Moses went and told the people all the Lord’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, ‘Everything the Lord has said we will do’” (Ex.24:3) And later in that same chapter, when Moses “took the book of the covenant and read it to the people. They responded, ‘We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey”’ (Ex.24:7).

They willingly entered into this covenant…. they promised to serve him… they promised to obey him…. they promised that they would worship no other gods, and God promised that he would be their God, to guide, protect and prosper them. That was the covenant they had entered into.

The whole thrust of Jeremiah is to say to the Israelites, that you have broken your promises…. you have been rebellious…. you have been disobedient…. you have refused to listen to him…. you have ignored correction…. you have discounted discipline…. you have deliberately worshipped other gods. You were warned that there would be consequences, “If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify that you will surely be destroyed” (Deut.8:19). But they ignored the warnings…. they didn’t believe there would be consequences….. they just carried on in the same old way.

Now doesn’t that just describe the world we live in today…..and just in case we start getting all judgemental and self-righteous, lets remember that was us before we came to Christ – and not just today, that describes how most people behave and what they believe in every age.. They ‘forget the Lord‘…. they reject the God of the bible…. and will happily chase after other gods…. have their own belief systems which have no biblical basis. They claim to believe in God, but it’s not the God who has revealed himself to us…. not the God who has spoken to us ‘through the prophets at many times and various ways’, who, in the ‘last days (he) has spoken to us by his Son’ (Heb.1:1-2) – they ‘forget’ him…. they reject that God. They ignore all the warnings in both the O.T. and the N.T. that there are ‘consequences’ to sin…. they have no awareness of sin…. they see nothing wrong in the way they live their lives…. they excuse themselves and their actions and discount any talk of those actions leading to their being ‘destroyed’….. that sort of talk is totally unacceptable…. there is no room for a god who punishes sin in their belief system…. their ‘god’ is too nice… too loving to send people to hell. So they just carry on in the same old way.

So the people of God were warned right from the outset of the consequences if they were to break their covenant with the living God. You have been warned that there would be consequences, now you are going to have to experience those consequences. That’s what Jeremiah is saying and then he prophecies what God is going to do: “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Listen! I am going to bring on this city and the villages around it every disaster I pronounced against them, because they were stiff-necked and would not listen to my words.’” (Jer.19:15). They were without excuse…. the inevitable was going to happen and it was made clear to them that they had brought all this on themselves, “Through your own fault you will lose the inheritance I gave you”. (Jer.17:4).

Now I have no doubt those words from Jeremiah went down like a lead balloon! “What do you mean, ‘our own fault’? What have we done to deserve this? We’ve just got on with our everyday lives. All this talk of judgement and punishment is not fair. We’re not evil… we’re not bad people. We believe in God, we have the Scriptures… we read the Scriptures. We don’t accept that we are to blame. Our god wouldn’t treat us like that.. Don’t speak to us in that way! We don’t like talk like that!”

Again, isn’t that just how people think today, and in every generation? Remember how Jesus put it to the Jews of his day? “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life”. (John 5:39-40).

People have always refused to come to him. They would rather trust in their ‘good works’…. ‘See what a good person I am?’ They will trust in a veneer of religion…. their church attendance….. their reading of the Scriptures or whatever. They don’t believe they are sinners and certainly don’t like talk like that. They don’t really have any understanding of what Jesus did on the cross for them. They like to think they may have eternal life, but they bypass the cross… they refuse to come to him.

I once heard what Jesus did on the cross once described in this way: Jesus is hanging on that cross, with arms outstretched, holding back, as it were, people who are rushing headlong into hell. If you by pass him…. if you refuse to come to him…. if you see no need of the cross, then an eternity without him…. the reality of hell, is the inevitable consequence…. because people are “stiff-necked and would not listen to my words”…..People today are without excuse…. “Through your own fault…”. They can’t blame anything or anybody else.

The people in Jeremiah’s day regarded themselves as religious… they had all the trappings of religion…. they had the scriptures, but would no listen to what God was saying. They had prophets and priests and would turn to them especially in times of national uncertainty. They had their religion, but they refused to accept that Jeremiah was speaking God’s word to them. They would though, listen to so called ‘prophets’ who would speak words they wanted to hear. If they liked what they heard, then that must be God speaking.

The problem was that what they wanted to hear was not a word from the Lord. These people were false prophets…. what they were saying and what they were promising were based on lies…. it was giving the people false hope. “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatries and the delusion of their own minds.” (Jer.14:14). But that wasn’t an issue for them – they liked what they were hearing so that was what they were going to believe. “A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land: The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it that way” (Jer.5:30).

Their religion was rotten to the core…. “…prophets and priests alike all practise deceit. They dress the wound of my people, as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say when there is no peace”. (Jer.6:13,14). They only listened to what they wanted to hear and in doing so they were rejecting God’s challenge to them to repent. “No-one repents of his wickedness saying, ‘What have I done?’” (Jer.8:6). They were a hopeless case, and why was that? ‘Since they have rejected the word of the Lord’ (Jer.8:), they then just did their own thing…. just listen to the charges God lays against them in that same chapter. ‘They cling to deceit, they refuse to return’…. ‘They do not say what is right’…. ‘Each pursues his own course’…. ‘My people do not know the requirements of the Lord’… they ‘are greedy for gain’…. ‘all practise deceit’…. ‘they have no shame at all’. (Jer.8:5;6;7;10;12). They were rotten to the core because their religion was rotten to the core. They believed the false prophets and clung to their false religion – they were told in no uncertain terms in Jer. 7:1-8, that their false religion was worthless. But they would not listen!

But throughout all this we can still see something of the grace and mercy of God. It’s not all doom and gloom. There are appeals to them to return… to repent…”Reform your ways and your actions and I will let you live in this place” (Jer.7:3). “Return, faithless Israel, I will frown on you no longer, for I am merciful…. I will not be angry for ever” (Jer.3:12), but the same old response “….they wouldn’t listen to me or pay attention” (Jer.7:26).

Now just how typical and topical is all that? People only wanting to hear what they want to hear. People willing to listen to priests and prophets who teach things contrary to the word of God. People trusting in false religion. Paul warned us it would be like that. “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears from the truth and turn aside to myths”. (2Tim.4:3 & 4). That’s where we are today. Let me talk about my own denomination for a moment – the good old C. of E. Whatever you want to believe, you will be able to find some bishop or senior cleric who will champion that belief. You want to believe that all religions to lead to God? Fine. Many bishops believe and teach that. Welcome aboard! You want to believe that same sex ‘marriage’ is acceptable? Fine. Many bishops & clergy believe and teach that. Welcome aboard! I read only a few days go – on the Christian Institute email newsletter, that the Bishop of Liverpool along with others, has contributed to a book entitled, ‘Revisiting Scripture and Sexuality’. They are arguing that ‘Genesis teaching on marriage needs to be reconsidered.’ They don’t like what it says, that marriage is between a man and a woman… it doesn’t ‘fit’ into the 21st century view of marriage held by some, so get rid of it! You want to believe that co-habiting is an acceptable alternative to marriage? Fine. Many bishops & clergy believe and teach that. Welcome aboard! You want to believe in universalism, that God is too loving to punish sin, and that hell is not a reality. Fine. Many bishops & clergy believe and teach that. Welcome aboard! And so I could go on. ‘Itching ears’.... only hearing what they want to hear. As it was in Jeremiah’s day, so it is in ours. It’s not all doom and gloom for the C of E by the way – there are, thankfully, still some godly bishops and clergy who seek to preach the gospel and proclaim the truth!

But in spite of their refusal to listen, there is still grace and mercy. “See, I am setting before you the way of life and the way of death. Whoever stays in the city will die by the sword, famine or plague. But whoever surrenders to the Babylonians who are besieging you will live. I have determined to do this city harm and not good” (Jer.21:8,9). They were being offered a way of escape from the judgement to come. Sadly most did not take that way of escape – and perished when Jerusalem finally fell. Very, very sad.

We read in the N.T. don’t we, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise (referring there to the judgement to come), as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2.Pet.3:9). The world is under the judgement of God – stay in the city, stay in the world, and you will die. Surrender to Christ – and you will live. Even today God is offering that way of escape… he puts before us “the way of life and the way of death”, sadly many, many people refuse or discount that way of escape. They see no need for the cross, and think they don’t need a saviour. All very, very sad. “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12) – the way of escape – “life, life in all its fullness” (John 10:10), being freely offered to us.

Doom & gloom? I don’t think so. Read Jeremiah carefully and you will see that this is all about grace and mercy. The God in Jeremiah is a God of justice – yes he does punish sinners, but he is also patient…. he is also long-suffering… he is also loving…. he is also merciful….he is also forgiving. He’s the God who offers hope…. the God who promises renewal and restoration (read Jer.30:1 – 32:26) – we haven’t got time to cover that this morning, but that passage is often referred to as ‘Jeremiah’s Consolation’ – it’s all about grace and mercy The God of the O.T. is the God of the N.T.

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