This past week, Alistair Begg, a noted preacher from Parkside Church, spoke to nearly 300 pastors at Western. I had the privilege of having lunch with him on Tuesday. Given that I was speaking with one of the great contemporary preachers, I couldn’t help but ask if he had ever preached Jeremiah. His answer was immediate and concise: “Why would I do that?” After letting him know I was into my third week of this study, his simple counsel was to get out now!!
I can understand. Jeremiah is an unnerving book. There are homiletical challenges at every corner. It has taken me 28 years to finally preach it. But here is what I am discovering early on. Jeremiah’s words are as centering as any for our times (and I am certain Begg would agree [I think]). The disturbing scenes out of the turbulent Middle East, the failure of leadership at the highest levels, the endless empty rhetoric, as well the continued economic meltdown, all give a sense that this world is coming apart at the seams. For the first time that I can remember, I do not feel the optimism that my parents had for me and my peers. I do not have the confidence that my kids will have it as good as my generation. And much of the reason for this parallels what was going on in Jeremiah’s time.
Like Jeremiah’s time, we have come to believe the present is decided by the policies of a nation rather than the will of a holy and compassionate God. We continue to buy into the myth that our hope is in Washington or on Wall Street. People track the polls and numbers on a daily basis, as if it all rides on an election, or falls on what the Federal Reserve announces, or what the latest employment numbers indicate.
This would be familiar territory for Jeremiah. His was a world of profound spiritual neglect, one that relied on people rather than God. Israel, just prior to its dismantling, made some disastrous choices—choices similar to the ones our present culture is making—choices that were suicidal. But then, as Plantinga put it, any time we choose sin it is like pulling the plug on your own resuscitator.
With the passion of a poet, the grief of a spurned lover, and the trembling of a man who knew the fear of God, Jeremiah defined his age and explained the impending judgment—
-they lived in denial—primping for a party when they should have been putting on sackcloth and ashes
-they lost their senses—which is what happens when you choose to worship idols and not the living God. You become what you worship
-they went after leaders who pandered to their wishes—empty chested men who tickled ears. They gave candy to the diabetic, fast food to those with heart disease, entitlements out of exhausted reserves, and quantitative easing to please the wealthy
-they listened to voices who gave superficial diagnoses—the nation was terminally ill, but her shepherds assured her it was all minor wounds
-they took neither God nor His word with any degree of seriousness—there was no fear nor awe, no unsettledness that they stood before a fierce and holy God who will not be mocked
-they were consumers defined by their consuming—using the system to line their pockets, abusing and oppressing the weak to get the latest deals
And no one seemed to notice, take any of this seriously. It was an uncaring, unnoticing culture on its uncaring way to ruin. It was as if a spirit of deception and delusion had descended upon the land. Are we on a similar course? Are we allowing the same spirit to descend upon us? Are we pulling the plug on our own resuscitator?
It will take a prophetic voice like Jeremiah’s, calling our culture to face reality, asking God to give us leaders who will lead, and passionately persuading people to fear God. Walter Brueggemann, one of the most insightful OT scholars I have read, delivered a sermon in April of 1992, making this very point:“We are, I imagine, like old Jerusalem. The very poetry we dread and want to silence is the poetry we must hear—and utter (we are after all God’s present day prophets). We must utter it, because the God of Moses has no other access point in the unglued city, except to haunt with trembling by poetic lips. Those lips do indeed cause a deep trembling, for the one who utters and for those who hear.”