I would like you to do something for me. I would like you to list 3 attributes of God. God is _______. If you’re a note taker find a corner of your bulletin and write down 3 attributes of God on your bulletin. If you don’t have something to write with then just list it off in your head. God is _______. (leave time for them to think). Hopefully, you’ve had time to think. Now look at your list and answer this question: Does your list include justice? Why or why not? Do you think about God as being a just God? It’s not a very popular attribute in today’s society. Have you ever tried to explain to a middle school student in the public school system that their behavior deserves disciple? I’m sure our police officers feel the same way every time they give someone a ticket for speeding. People just don’t seem to understand that their negative decisions have consequences and deserve justice.
The book of Jeremiah is all about God’s justice. The southern tribe of Judah has sinned against God and Jeremiah has been sent to proclaim God’s coming judgement. As you read the book it can be overwhelming because in chapter after chapter Jeremiah talks about this judgment that God is going to send. Now if you don’t understand God’s holiness, if you don’t understand how absolutely perfect God is, or if your opinion of mankind is higher than it should be and your opinion of God is lower that it should be, then you might walk away from Jeremiah thinking that God is actually unjust. But when we’re thinking about God biblically, when we understand His absolute perfection and holiness, when we get even a glimpse of how awesome and absolute He is, and then when we understand just how awful sin is, then we’ll read Jeremiah and walk away understanding that God is just.
So this morning as we look at the book of Jeremiah I would like to look at it in three ways: first, let’s set the stage with the history (we won’t understand the book of Jeremiah without understanding what was happening in Israel), then we’ll look at the broken covenant (in other words, why is God judging Israel) and then finally, well look at the future covenant (or how Jeremiah points us to Christ).
The History of Jeremiah
Let’s begin with a little history. Jeremiah was born in a small town about three miles northeast of Jerusalem. God first called him as a prophet during the reign of King Josiah but most of his ministry happened under the wicked reign of the kings that followed him. Now this is important because if we turn back to 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles we can see what was happening.
Remember at this point in time the nation of Israel had gone through civil war and was divided into the Northern nation of Israel and the Southern nation of Judah. Then, eventually, after the split, God sent the foreign nation of Assyria to conquer the northern tribe because they had turned their back on Him to worship other gods. That left the Southern nation of Judah. Now the nation of Judah’s history is a mixed bag. It had a few good moments along the way but it wasn’t long until the people of Judah also began to turn their back on God and worship other gods. Things seem fairly bleak until Josiah comes to the throne and brings about a national revival. They’re doing some spring cleaning around the temple and they run across the Law of God which had been lost (Can you imagine that, they literally lost the bible?). So King Josiah takes God’s Word and begins to bring about a revival by bringing the nation into alignment with God’s Word. Literally, it’s like an out of control car speeding towards a cliff when suddenly their able to hit the brakes and it slides right up to the edge and stops. Everything looks great…until one day king Josiah goes out into battle against Egypt and dies. Then it’s like the nation of Judah just throws all of the reforms out the window, hits the gas and topples over the edge of the cliff. They abandon God and pursue other gods. So it’s about this time that Jeremiah’s ministry begins in earnest. God sends Jeremiah in to proclaim judgement against Judah and it’s capital Jerusalem.
Now I’m giving you the 10,000 foot view of Israel’s history and completely over simplifying but it’s at least painting a picture for you of what’s happening when Jeremiah shows up on the scene. Let’s talk about a hard ministry. Many people call Jeremiah the “weeping prophet.” As some have said, it’s probably better to call him the “persevering prophet.” Imagine for a moment that God sent you out into the community and your job was to declare God’s coming judgement on the community. Imagine how unpopular you would be and how many friends you would lose. How many people would look at you and think you were crazy. God even forbid Jeremiah from marrying because it was a sign to the nation of how quickly God’s judgement would come upon the land. During his ministry he only had two followers: Baruch, his scribe (Jer. 32:12), and an Ethiopian eunuch (Jer. 38:7-13). In the entire 52 chapters of Jeremiah these are the only people who respond favorably to Jeremiah’s preaching. Can you imagine how lonely Jeremiah’s life must have been? Not only that, but because Jeremiah spoke against the ungodly kings, leaders, priests, false prophets, really most of the society in Judah, he was constantly in danger. Because of his message of judgement Jeremiah’s own town turned against him (Jer. 11:18), he was imprisoned (Jer. 37), and eventually he was kidnapped and taken to Egypt where he died in exile. During Jeremiah’s lifetime he watched as his prophecies of judgment came true. He literally watched as Jerusalem was destroyed and the people were hauled off into exile. I can’t imagine the depth of suffering he went through: to watch the people you love and the city you love, destroyed because they refused to repent. If I thought being a pastor was hard…Jeremiah had a hard ministry.
And yet Jeremiah was faithful: He loved God more than he loved man’s approval. He loved God more than he loved his friends. He loved God more than he loved the idea of getting married. He loved God more than he loved his freedom. He loved God more than he loved his physical comfort. He loved God more than he loved success. Jeremiah was wholly committed to following after God. One author says, “Many authors have called Jeremiah the ‘weeping prophet.’ While he does occasionally weep for Israel’s condition (8:18–9:3; 13:15–17), and this depth of concern speaks well of him, this emphasis on his weeping may mislead readers regarding his toughness. Jeremiah was a determined, dedicated, longsuffering, and visionary follower of God. His courage and stamina serve as examples to even the most faithful of all God’s embattled servants.” Jeremiah is a picture for us of faithful ministry. In our own lives as we seek after Christ things won’t be easy and yet we’re called to faithfully and compassionately follow after Christ. We are called to faithfully proclaim God’s Word without compromise. We are called to love Christ more than we love man’s approval. Really, this is the question were faced with, “Do I love God more than I love myself?” This is where Israel failed. They didn’t love God more than everything else.
Understanding Jeremiah through Covenant Eyes
Now that we have an idea of the history behind Jeremiah’s ministry let’s look at the book of Jeremiah through the covenant. If you want to understand the book of Jeremiah then you need to understand the covenant. Because what your going to have throughout the book is the promise of judgement because they broke the covenant. And then sprinkled throughout the passages on judgement you will get glimmers of hope. You’ll hear Jeremiah prophesy a day when God would restore Israel and make a new covenant with His people. So to understand this judgement and hope we need to understand the covenant.
God came to choose the Israelite nation out of all the nations upon the earth to bind Himself to them through a covenant promise, “I will be your God and you will be my people.” We see this covenant all over scripture. He makes it with Abraham, then reiterates it with Isaac, and Jacob, the forefathers of Israel. After Jacob he makes it with the nation of Israel through Moses at Mt. Sinai, and then again later on with King David. And in this covenant promise, or in this sacred oath, God says, “Because I choose you, because I redeemed, because I am making a promise to you to be your God, therefore I am calling you to be a holy nation, a nation set apart for me.” Then God gave them standards or rules by which they were to live, rules that would set them apart as a Holy Nation. And then God turns to His people in Deuteronomy 27-28 and in the covenant He promises blessings if they keep the covenant and curses if they break it.
Well, as Jeremiah points out, Israel didn’t just break the law they shattered it. They turned away from God and worshiped other gods and then they were prideful and refused to repent: Jeremiah 5:3, “O Lord, do not your eyes look for truth? You have struck them down, but they felt no anguish; you have consumed them, but they refused to take correction. They have made their faces harder than rock; they have refused to repent.” And so God invokes the curses that He laid out for Israel if they broke the covenant: Deuteronomy 29:24–28, “all the nations will say, ‘Why has the Lord done thus to this land? What caused the heat of this great anger?’ 25 Then people will say, ‘It is because they abandoned the covenant of the Lord, the God of their fathers, which he made with them when he brought them out of the land of Egypt, and went and served other gods and worshiped them, gods whom they had not known and whom he had not allotted to them. Therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against this land, bringing upon it all the curses written in this book, and the Lord uprooted them from their land in anger and fury and great wrath, and cast them into another land, as they are this day.’” Israel broke the covenant and Jeremiah reminds them of this and tells Judah of the coming judgement that God will bring upon them.
But then we also have mixed in with the judgements glimpses of hope. Jeremiah promises that one day God will restore His people. This happens in the book of Ezra and Nehemiah when the remnant from this exile was able to return home. But Jeremiah also looked beyond that and promised that one day God make a new covenant with Israel and the house of Judah: Jeremiah 31:31, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people…For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Later in the New Testament Hebrews 8 quotes Jeremiah 31 as evidence that this new covenant has come through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This is also what Jesus himself points us to as he breaks bread with his disciples in the upper room: “And likewise He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood’” (Luke 22:20). And so just as Jeremiah promised Christ fulfilled. Jesus, the Good Shepherd laid down His life for His sheep. As the mediator of this new covenant, Jesus enables His people to be forgiven of their sins and united to God. Jeremiah 33:14–18, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16 In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’” Through His own perfect obedience, Jesus kept the covenant commands, He lived a holy life, so that we might receive the blessing laid out for us in the covenant and not the curses.
This is why when we read Jeremiah as those who have been redeemed we don’t read it with horror or dread. We read it with amazement and thankfulness, because through Christ’s salvation the judgement of God, the curses spoken of in the covenant, have been poured out on Christ and the blessing that Christ deserved and that are held out to us in the covenant have been give to us. And so we can say with Jeremiah, “Give thanks to the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!”