Jeremiah, a prophet of God who lived at the end of the seventh century and the first part of the sixth century B.C., lived at a very difficult time in the life of Judah. Jeremiah was called to preach a message of repentance to a people who had abandoned the true God to serve idols made with human hands. He called Israel to return to the traditions of the past and be faithful to the covenant the nation had established with God. In the end Jeremiah failed and Judah was conquered by Babylon and taken into exile.
When God called him to the prophetic ministry, Jeremiah vacillated. He lived in pagan times and was called to preach against the corrupt practices of the society in which he lived. Jeremiah kept on pleading with kings and priests, prophets and people to turn to Yahweh and avoid the death of the nation.
Jeremiah is one of my favorite books of the Old Testament. In this prophet we see a sensitive man who was deeply touched by the rebellion of his people. Like the God whom he represented, Jeremiah suffered because of the sins of the people. He shed tears because the people refused to believe that destruction was imminent.
The greatest virtue of Jeremiah was that he stood for truth even though everyone around him rejected his ministry and ridiculed his message of what was about to happen to the nation. His times were not different from ours. We live in a society that is filled with hatred and violence. People today are practicing the same immoralities that were present in Israelite society in the days of Jeremiah. The people of Judah had abandoned God to worship the gods of their own imagination. As the Lord spoke through Jeremiah, the people worshiped worthless things and became worthless themselves (Jeremiah 2:5).
For those who want to preach from the book of Jeremiah, I would like to recommend Philip G. Ryken’s book, Courage to Stand: Jeremiah’s Battle Plan for Pagan Times (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1998). Ryken’s book is a series of expository sermons on the book of Jeremiah. At the time these sermons were preached, Philip Graham Ryken served as the Associate Minister of Preaching at the Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, a historic church known for great preaching.
In these sermons the author explores the struggle Jeremiah had in proclaiming the message he received from the Lord. Jeremiah lived and ministered in the southern kingdom of Judah during the last years of the Davidic monarchy. Jeremiah lived at a time of historical crisis and religious degeneration. The syncretistic practices of the people had profoundly affected the religious life of the nation. The worship of God in the temple of Jerusalem was contaminated with pagan practices and rituals.
God called Jeremiah to preach a very unpopular message to the people of Judah at a very crucial time in its history. The title of Ryken’s book, Courage to Stand, comes from God’s words to Jeremiah at the time of his call. God ordered Jeremiah to stand up and preach the words that were to be given to him (Jeremiah 1:17). The subtitle, Jeremiah’s Battle Plan for Pagan Times, reflects Jeremiah’s work and the religious conditions of Judah at the end of the seventh and the beginning of the sixth centuries B.C.
In his exposition of Jeremiah’s message, Ryken looks at the situation in Judah during the years before the destruction of the temple and the exile of the nation in 587 B.C. and draws lessons for Christians who live in a post-Christian society at the dawn of the twenty-first century. Ryken recognizes that Christianity at the end of the twentieth century had lost most of its religious and cultural influence in the West. This loss of influence has come because the church has been involved in liberal politics and has been aligned with the right-wing agenda. The church’s desire for political power has destroyed the spiritual influence of the church. Ryken knows that not every Christian can do what Jeremiah did; his call was unique. However, he believes that God empowers his people to serve him in the midst of a pagan culture, the kind of culture that the church in confronting today.
In his exposition on Jeremiah’s Temple Sermon (pp. 55-67), which he calls “one of the greatest reformation sermons in the history of God’s people,” Ryken says that what the church needs today is reformation. “Reformation,” Ryken says, “begins with preaching God’s Word” (p.56).
Ryken emphasizes that in Jeremiah’s time, people were worshiping God in the temple, but their lives did not reflect obedience to the demands of God’s covenant. They were trusting the trappings of religion instead of putting their trust in God. For his criticism, Jeremiah was rejected and ostracized by friends and family. Ryken takes Jeremiah’s message and struggles and relates them to the ministry of the church today. What makes Ryken’s book relevant is that he is able to demonstrate that Jeremiah’s struggles with the people and the leaders of Judah provide encouragement to believers today to live faithful lives for Christ even in the midst of a pagan culture.
Courage to Stand should be read not only by pastors, but by everyone who desires to bring renewal to the church today. The book consists of 13 chapters, which reflect only a small selection of the whole message of Jeremiah. Ryken prepared a more detailed exposition of the book of Jeremiah. His complete exposition of Jeremiah was published under the title Jeremiah & Lamentation (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001). Those readers who take the time to read Courage to Stand will want to read the larger volume containing the complete expositions on the book of Jeremiah. Ryken has written a book that should be read by people who really want to learn how to apply Jeremiah’s message to today’s society.
People today need to read the book of Jeremiah to understand God’s pain and compassion. Jeremiah teaches us that God suffers because of the rebellion of his people. God cared for the people of Judah even when they had been unfaithful to him. God still cares. People must seriously consider God’s call to repentance. Jeremiah’s message for us today is that God will bring discipline for the rebellion of our society just as he did when Judah rebelled against divine love. Jeremiah also affirms that even during the process of discipline, God is committed to restore those who return to him in faith and obedience.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary