Realism is a necessary requisite in preaching. The Word of God must convince us that we are lost before we are found in Christ. Jeremiah was a realist to the point of great personal anguish and in the face of great opposition. Pastors are drawn to acclaim rather than to disapproval. Preaching is not a popularity contest and our prophet was not a popular figure. He spoke what was true even if it earned the disapprobation of clergy and people. There are too many encouragements to seeking success in the promotion and preparation of ministry. Failure in a human sense may well gain favour from God. The world is at war with God and sometimes the church is influenced by its standards. Witness must always be ready for persecution and martyrdom. History shows us that a step into the pulpit may be an ascent to the gallows. Our cosy, affluent, applauding churches are not good training for the hatred of the world. The flattery of celebrity in ministry is not conducive to toughness in enduring the malice of the opposition. Our enemy is rallying his forces in such a way as to make our Sunday events of preaching and worship look like farces. We have lost the do or die spirit that prevailed throughout previous centuries.
Jeremiah’s calling and circumstances make him a complex figure that doesn’t seem to fit so well into the modern notion of prosperous and comfortable religion. Modern Western Christianity is a version of the faith far removed from the depth, gravity, costliness, conflict, and realism of our forbears. Our theology is thin and our spirituality nigh spent and infantile. We need to be resourced from our past before we are past all help and hope. The giants of the ages need to be invited into ours. We must reacquaint ourselves with the makers of our heritage and the authors of our traditions. For Anglicans a step into ancient wisdom is through the Book of Common Prayer which shapes the truth of Scripture into prayer, worship, and mature spiritual devotion and discipline. Our unruly, individualistic, superficial, subjective, and fanciful variety of Christianity has almost destroyed us and left us the prey of our own illusions. Preachers must preach every sermon with the enthusiasm and sense of dependence felt in their first, and with the conviction and candour that ought to characterize their last. Through Word, Spirit, reliance and prayer, and filled with truth, they must spell out the pure doctrine of Scripture and address it to the situation they confront. A sermon is not orthodox if it is not on target at the point of delivery. This thrusts the preacher upon God and places the onus of courage upon the preacher. Jeremiah encountered struggle without and within. He cast himself upon God and did not shirk his commission. His message was a paradigm for preaching.
Jeremiah embraced the two aspects of the gospel which make the good news good sense. His twin themes were ruin and restoration. His message could be presented in the form of two parallel columns. An accountant lists assets and liabilities to ascertain an individual’s or company’s exact financial position; to show them either solvent or sunken. The Scriptures present an account of our standing with God. By nature we have nothing but liabilities, but through grace our prospectus shows infinite assets for the believer. His future is thoroughly sound.
Jeremiah in one column reveals that our situation is all liabilities. In the adjacent column he assures us that we have nothing but innumerable possessions and advantages. The first column lists our own self-inflicted ill-deserts. The second shows that we are rescued by an infinitely, lavishly generous, benefactor. The gospel is glorious when we know all the facts. Sinners are broke. Through the grace of God we are greatly endowed with wealth, blessed and enriched. We see a great contrast drawn by Jeremiah. To sum it up, we begin as outcasts and by the mercy of God we become his intimates. We are part of a favoured community that knows and enjoys the compassion of God. It is a community that God establishes and preserves. He enlarges it and maintains it: And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:47). This is testimony to God’s sovereign action – the restoration of his people and their increase.
But the sweetest insight from this passage is the disclosure of the One through whom God will fulfil his purpose. We will advance to this state of blessedness and attain it through a specially chosen leader. Salvation does not occur willy-nilly or haphazardly. It reaches individuals, of course, but it is not individualistic. We are a community with someone divinely selected as our head and we only know God through his representation, mediation, and intercession. Jeremiah states his credentials – the qualifications of our leader. He will be one of his own: from Israel’s perspective an Israelite, and from the universal human point of view he will be a man. He will amend the lamentable performance of man. He will be able to sympathize with man in his predicament. He will put our record right with God and lead us to him. He will rectify our sorry account and rule over us as protector and guide. He will be truly and fully human – one of us and yet apart from us in one special and essential way. He will be close to God – never banished because of sin. Therefore only he could dare to draw near to God. So acceptable is he that God himself will bring him near in full approval. It will be a bond of mutual devotion, delight, and deep communion.
The rhetorical question “Who is he” prevents presumption on the part of any proud human being. All of us are excluded from intimacy with God as rebellious outcasts. The passage can only point to one perfect person – the prophesied Lord Jesus Christ. He is close to God in his sinless, submissive manhood. Through him as our Mediator we are heirs of the promise made to Abraham, the friend of God. Jesus appropriated this promise to all believers: I no longer call you servants. Instead I have called you friends (John 15:15ff). He laid down his life for us to heal our soul’s diseases and our distance from God. Because of his representation, because of his substitution for us in enduring our death the promise of the covenant comes into full force for us: So you will be my people and I will be your God (v22).
We get close to God through Christ. He closes the distance between ourselves and God. Through and because of Jesus God bids us to “come close to me”. Because of Jesus’ mediation we dare to do so (Hebrews 10:19-23).
Being close to him is God’s desire for us. Being close to him is our chief privilege and delight – sublime enjoyment for every soul that approaches God through faith in Jesus. He is one of us, and will remain so, and he makes us one with God.
Our guilt is erased. Our unsightly sores are healed. Incurable wounds are remedied. Our health is restored. All of our previous impossibilities are overcome by the unconquerable grace of God exercised in enormous kindness with strength and tenderness.
And God says, All is well. You are close to me. And there you will be for the rest of time and throughout eternity.