Sermon for Sunday, January 30th, 2022, the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

The Lessons: Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:11-20; 1 Corinthians 14:12-25; Luke 4:21-32

The Text: Jeremiah 1:4-10

The Topic: God’s Call of Jeremiah to be a prophet

INTRODUCTION

Emperor Charles V was trying to assassinate John Brenz, a friend of Martin Luther. Hearing of the plot, Brenz barely had time to grab a loaf of bread and duck into his neighbor’s hayloft. There he hid fourteen days. The bread was quickly gone, but the Lord sent a hen who showed up and laid an egg each day for fourteen days. In this way, Brenz was kept alive. On the fifteenth day the chicken didn’t come, and the reformer wondered what he would do. But from the street below came the cries, “The cavalrymen are gone at last.”

In a similar way, a dog provided for the needs of another reformer, John Craig, who was arrested during the Inquisition. On the eve of his scheduled execution, Craig escaped, but while fleeing through the Italian backcountry, he ran out of food and money. Suddenly a dog approached him, a purse in its mouth. Craig tried to drive the animal away, but the dog persisted in bringing the purse to Craig. In it was enough money to take him to freedom.

Similarly, Robert Bruce of Scotland was running for his life, fleeing persecutors. He ducked into a small cave, and a spider immediately appeared and spun a web over the opening. Bruce’s pursuers fanned across the landscape, knowing he was near. Two of them approached the cave, and one of the men started to go in. The other one stopped him, saying, “He could never have gotten in there without breaking that spider’s web.”

Bruce breathed this prayer, “O God, I thank Thee that in the tiny bowels of a spider you can place me for a shelter.”[1]

Like these heroes of faith, the prophet Jeremiah suffered persecution and such experiences as being lowered into a dungeon of mud (Jeremiah 38), imprisoned (Jeremiah 32, 33, 37) and nearly put to death for prophesying against Jerusalem (Jeremiah 26), but God delivered him from all of these situations, according to the promise the Lord had given him when he called him to be a prophet.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

The prophet Jeremiah’s ministry spanned forty tumultuous years from 627 B.C., the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah, King of Judah, to 587/586 B.C., the eleventh year of Zedekiah, King of Judah, the year in which Jerusalem was besieged, captured, and destroyed by the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 24 & 25).

Jeremiah received the Lord’s call to the prophetic ministry during the reign of King Josiah, whose reign was characterized by such a zeal for the Lord and for his Law that the author of the Second Book of Kings could write of him that he did what was right in the sight of the Lord and conformed to the way of his ancestor King David, not deviating from it in any respect. It is significant, then, that the prophet Jeremiah received his call during the reign of King Josiah, the king who did his utmost to bring Judah back to single-minded love for the Lord God Almighty.

GOD’S CALL TO JEREMIAH

Now God’s call to Jeremiah had such a profound effect and was so memorable that he recorded it in writing, and no doubt, these words of God continued to inspire him through his long prophetic ministry, especially during those times when the people of Judah and their leaders rejected his prophetic messages. These words were also recorded for the instruction of all who would one day read them, so that we all might learn that the sovereign God can call anyone whom he chooses to be a prophet. Though this may be hard for some people to believe who think that prophecy ceased with the New Testament age, we have no indication in Holy Scripture that prophecy was limited either to the Old Testament or to the first century A.D. during which all the books of the New Testament were written.

Jeremiah 1:5 has much to teach us about God’s actions. Before the Lord formed Jeremiah in his mother’s womb, He knew him, and before Jeremiah was born, God sanctified him and ordained him a prophet to the nations. This does not mean that Jeremiah would go to every nation in the world to prophesy, but that he would prophesy oracles to various nations. This verse has a lot to tell us about the holiness of life from the point of conception, and how we should value it. God was declaring to Jeremiah that he had known him, sanctified him, and ordained him a prophet to the nations before he was born. The verse reminds us of the intimate bond between God and a prophet, and God’s creative power in shaping the prophet and his ministry as a bearer of God’s oracles and messages to peoples and nations.

In the face of such a statement by God about his call to be a prophet, Jeremiah confesses his inadequacy to speak, and says, “I am a child” (Jeremiah 1:6c, KJV). The Hebrew word for child (naçar) can be used of a baby, a child, a young man, a vigorous warrior, or of someone older than forty! A similar sense of unworthiness was expressed by Moses and by Isaiah at the time God called them.

God counters Jeremiah’s feeling of immaturity by telling him not to say he is a child, for he will go to all to whom He shall send him and speak whatever God commands him to speak (Jeremiah 1:7). Though Jeremiah could have been only in his twenties when God called him, God promises to be with him to deliver him, and he should therefore not be afraid of the faces of his listeners, or of any hostile expressions on their faces. After this promise and assurance, the Lord stretches out his hand and touches Jeremiah’s mouth, declaring that He has put His words in his mouth (Jeremiah 1:9). This is the key to Jeremiah’s ministry – God has given him His own words and messages to speak.

In the final statement of His call to Jeremiah, God invests Jeremiah with authority over nations and kingdoms, to root out, and pull down, to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant (Jeremiah 1:10). Two of these are actions of building and planting, but the other four are destructive actions. This is typical of what the prophet Jeremiah’s ministry would be – mostly overthrowing evil, before building and planting what is good and pleasing to God.

CONCLUSION

As we reflect and meditate on the prophet Jeremiah’s call, we should note how God called him even before his birth to be a prophet, and how important the prophet’s exact obedience is to God, since he bears the words and oracles of God. Just because God called Jeremiah, it did not follow that the leaders and people of Judah would welcome his messages. Quite the contrary! They often rejected them. But they should have both welcomed his words as the word of God and obeyed them. Even today, ministers of God’s word are often treated in the same way. St. Paul therefore wrote to the Thessalonians:

And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake.

(1 Thessalonians 5:12-13a, KJV)

Besides the need to show respect for all whom God has called to any kind of ministry, we must each ask ourselves the question, “What is it that God has called me to do on this earth, and am I faithfully obeying God in this ministry?”


[1] p.383, Robert J. Morgan: Preacher’s Sourcebook of Creative Sermon Illustrations. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2007.

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