I was reading with my bride this morning from Jeremiah 20 a description of Jeremiah’s unpopular ministry. The LORD had commanded him to declare “violence and plunder” to the people, since their doom was set even though they acted as though they were going to repent.
I couldn’t help but joke that the prophet Jeremiah was what so many people want in a pastor today, someone “winsome and nice.” Yet, when we are truly called by God, when we are truly filled with the Spirit to proclaim God’s word, “winsome and nice” is not really a priority. Being faithful to God’s calling is the priority. Sometimes the message of God’s word does not allow for winsome and nice, because the message itself must remind us that God will not be mocked.
This is how it was in Jeremiah’s day. He was proclaiming God’s judgment and was “in derision daily; everyone mocks me… a reproach and a derision daily.” The people would not hear his word and made fun of him. This is why the door to God’s mercy closed, their fate was sealed. We like to say that God will forgive anyone who repents, but the reality is that for them to truly repent, His Spirit must move in their hearts for that to happen. It seems that even though God is longsuffering, there comes a point where repentance will not truly come about. People rebel against God for so long that He removes His mercy forever. This was the case for the people in Jerusalem (not all, but for the general population. There is always a remnant, even in our day).
Even though Babylon was outside the gates of Jerusalem, the LORD sent the prophet Jeremiah to declare to them that it would not be the army outside the gates that brought destruction, but the LORD Himself, for it was the LORD who was bringing the judgment.
At one point, Jeremiah decided he was no longer going to speak God’s truth. It is not hard to imagine what he was feeling. Any pastor of our day knows the same thing when he tries and declares God’s word faithfully. After taking so much abuse, it is almost easier to shut our mouths and go along to get along. It is easier to tell happy stories and make the word of God all about us, instead of the declaration of God’s wonderful gospel. But we should resist.
Listen to Jeremiah’s words: Then I said, “I will not make mention of Him, nor speak anymore in His name.” But His word was in my heart like a burning fire, shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, and I could not.”
The word was too much for Jeremiah to hold back. When God uses a man, this is how it is for those who are called by God to preach the truth. The truth burns in them and they cannot be held back.
Yes, the temptation for Jeremiah was to taylor the message so that the people would like him. But God’s Spirit overruled Jeremiah’s weak will and he proclaimed a most unpopular message. The people had sinned against God for too long. Their sin had exceeded the sin of their fathers and they committed sins that were unimaginable to God. In other words, they created new means of depravity. For that, God shut the door to His mercy and brought judgment.
The same is true in our day. Proclaiming the full counsel of God’s word is not popular because when we do, we find that the word of God is not about us. It’s about God and His mercy toward a rebellious and wicked generation. We don’t like that truth. Yet, if we truly want to be saved, we must hear the truth about ourselves, and the mercy of God to us, through His Son Jesus Christ. We are really no better than the people of Jeremiah’s day. God has every right to suspend His mercy and grace toward us. But He has not, while it is this day. So let us not put off the mercy He has shown us through Christ and turn to Him while it is yet today.
A prayer for today: may the pastors in the pulpits today truly preach God’s word. May they fear God more than man. May they desire the truth more than popularity. May they hunger to be faithful, more than want to be liked.