ESV Jeremiah 15:15 O LORD, you know; remember me and visit me, and take vengeance for me on my persecutors. In your forbearance take me not away; know that for your sake I bear reproach. 16 Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts. 17 I did not sit in the company of revelers, nor did I rejoice; I sat alone, because your hand was upon me, for you had filled me with indignation. 18 Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Will you be to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail? 19 Therefore thus says the LORD: “If you return, I will restore you, and you shall stand before me. If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth. They shall turn to you, but you shall not turn to them. 20 And I will make you to this people a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you, for I am with you to save you and deliver you, declares the LORD. 21 I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked, and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.”
In the eyes of the world, things did not turn out well for Jeremiah, also known as the weeping prophet. He suffered opposition, imprisonment, and eventually death simply because he was a preacher of God’s Word. We are often tempted to rejoice smugly today that we do not have to suffer the sort of miseries he experienced. But every faithful pastor has at one time or another met the wrath of a hearer or member of the congregation who was offended by some biblical truth that he preached or practiced in his ministry. And every Christian has known the skepticism, the scorn, the dismissal that comes from taking a stand on some unpopular truth in God’s Word. The word of God often offends and angers human ears. Turns out, Jeremiah’s prophecy is as fresh and relevant today as it’s ever been. Just as in Jeremiah’s day, so also today,
Faithful Preaching and Hearing of God’s Word Attracts Opposition and Suffering but Also Delivers the Precious Promises of Salvation in Jesus Christ.
In today’s text, Jeremiah complains of sufferings, and God answers. Jeremiah complained that the prophetic office was difficult and lonely. Indeed it was, for the message of Jeremiah was one of sin and punishment. Because of it Jeremiah was outcast. He sat alone. Instead of being invited to the parties and celebrations, he sat alone. He was filled with indignation and loneliness. His pain was increasing, his wound incurable. He complained that the Lord had deceived him, sending him out among the people to preach and then not helping him when he was rejected and scorned.
You see, Jeremiah was made a prophet against his will (1:6). He was sent to preach an unpopular message to people who were hostile to God’s Word (14:10), and because of it he suffered their enmity, hatred and rejection as a result (15:15).
So by this time Jeremiah felt like a failure. His hearers did not believe him when he spoke for God (15:20). Even worse, God did not listen to him when he tried to intercede on behalf of the people (14:11; 15:1). Jeremiah was regarded as a curse in the land (15:10), and he was treated with hatred. Today there are those who claim the Christians are responsible for all of the woes and suffering that takes place. Somehow the church and its ministers are responsible for all social problems, prejudice, hatred, depression, mental problems, even wars, injustice and oppression are all caused by Christianity. Some even say that if it weren’t for the Christians society and mankind could evolve to a higher level.
So, under such accusations and threats, Jeremiah complained that he bore reproach on account of God’s Word (15:15). He was filled with indignation and sharp pain (15:17–18).
But God responded to Jeremiah’s complaint with a call to repentance and with Gospel promises. God answered when Jeremiah called him a deceiver. God responded to his doubts. God called Jeremiah to repent of his doubt: “If you turn and I turn you, you shall stand before me” (v 19; cf. 31:18). God gave him joy in his words (v 16), promising salvation, deliverance, redemption (vv 20–21). God promised to establish and bless Jeremiah in his vocation and office of preaching (vv 19–21).
There was a time in the early 1530s that another pastor, Pastor Martin Luther, became so discouraged at the apathy and unresponsiveness of the people of Wittenberg that he stopped preaching to them. He had endured opposition from the pope, the Holy Roman Emperor, other reformers, and even theologians from his own circle, but the faithlessness of his congregation was just too much. He would stop preaching. It seems he had fallen far from that day before the Holy Roman Emperor at Worms when he had defied the threats and demands of the Emperor, bound his conscience to the Word of God, and refused to recant his theological writings.
Luther was suffering what every preacher and every faithful hearer of the Gospel suffers. Where was the saving power of God’s Word? Why did the Gospel meet so much resistance? Why did his office of preacher give him such heartache and provoke such opposition? We know that by God’s grace, Luther returned to the pulpit. His sermons and lectures from those discouraging days continue to be a comforting and enlightening gift of God to the Church almost five centuries later. Pastor Luther illustrated in his ministry the discouragement and doubt suffered by Jeremiah the prophet of old (Jer 15:15–21), and he also portrayed for us the great promises and blessings given to every faithful preacher and hearer of God’s Word.
Today Christian preachers and hearers often experience the prophet’s troubles, and they also receive his promises. Christian preachers can identify with Jeremiah, both in their sins and doubts, and also in failures. Those called to the preaching office, more than any other profession, struggle with the awareness of their own shortcomings, failures, and sins. This is perhaps why, according to data from health insurance companies, among all professions, pastors are the most likely to suffer from depression and are three times more susceptible to heart attacks than any other profession. They may sometimes be plagued with doubt and despair. It seems to us sometimes that the Word of God meets little success, and the preacher’s prayers may seem to fall to the ground unheard.
Christian hearers also share in the reproach of the Gospel. This afflicts all believers as well. For only the true believer is so keenly aware of his own personal sins and doubts. As hearers, they may share in the struggles of their pastors and even suffer the same persecution (1 Pet 4:12–19). They too sometimes complain to God and question his faithfulness.
But to all of us, God answers our complaints and responds to our sufferings. God calls us to repentance, as he did Jeremiah. He turns us so that we are turned away from sin and unbelief and now look to him for grace and mercy. God gives us great and precious promises through his Word. He promises to make us stand before God. He promises to forgive our sins. He made you his child in baptism and he promises not to forsake or abandon you. He makes the ministry of the Gospel a fortified and impregnable city for us, which is able to withstand the attacks of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh. He bestows salvation, deliverance, and redemption to all who believe his Word.
But there is an even greater dimension to Jeremiah’s suffering than this. It’s not merely that we share in his sufferings and afflictions, but that in Jeremiah’s suffering we recognize the suffering of Christ and the salvation he died to give us. Christ himself would one day bear our reproach (v 15), be filled with indignation at our disregard of God’s Word (v 17), and suffer our perpetual pain and incurable wound (v 18). His blood is our full redemption price; his death is our deliverance; his resurrection is our salvation and justification. Jeremiah’s sufferings are but a type of Christ’s sufferings.
Preachers of the Gospel share in the sufferings of Christ (Col 1:24), bearing the cross of Christ in the vocation of the Holy Ministry. But in this ministry, the promises given to Jeremiah are delivered to preacher and hearer alike, and Christ is revealed to give mercy to those who suffer for his sake. All Christians bear the cross (Mt 16:24) for the sake of Christ. But where the cross of Christ is willingly borne and the precious Gospel of Jesus’ cross is preached and heard and believed, there the Church of Christ stands before God (15:19) and overcomes all her oppressors (vv 20–21).
Jeremiah’s example and words direct us back to the faithful preaching of the Word of God, where Christ is revealed and salvation is delivered. There we find ourselves in a strong and impregnable city, where we live secure in God’s eternal forgiveness and love. Amen.