Old Testament: Jeremiah 15:15-21 (Pentecost 14: Series A)

Reading Time: 6 mins

When reading Jeremiah, it is evident that the word alone helps God’s people to first name their disaster, second to understand it, and finally to ultimately find hope through the promises of God.

Homileticians often find Jeremiah is tough to preach on. That is because the key to Jeremiah comes at the beginning and the end of the book. Survival is the central idea in Jeremiah. If you can, with God’s help, survive the first part of the book, you can live to see another day by the end of the book, because the book of Jeremiah is so clearly about God’s judgment and salvation. The people of God are displaced in exile and they long for the restoration which can only be accomplished by God (Jeremiah 1:10). When reading Jeremiah, it is evident that the word alone helps God’s people to first name their disaster, second to understand it, and finally to ultimately find hope through the promises of God. Jeremiah 1-25 tears everything away from Judah to help them see the disaster is real. Jeremiah 26-52 teaches Judah how to live as a community of hope gathered around God’s word of promise. To put it more preach-ably, Jeremiah holds before God’s people death (chapters 1-25) in order to prepare them to believe in the power of the resurrection (chapters 26-52). You must pay attention to the key verse (1:10) at the beginning to unlock what God is doing through this prophetic text at the end.

In our reading for this Sunday, it is important for Israel to know sin has brought them to the point of no return. The connotation is an event that happened a century earlier with the “sin of Manasseh” (2 Kings 21:10-18; Jeremiah 15:4). This is why God must “pluck up and break down, destroy and overthrow” (Jeremiah 1:10). If you have a tough time wanting to preach this text, imagine how Jeremiah felt. His words were literally disastrous before they were ever able to be gospel.

It would be wise in this sermon to have a story to ground the reading in so you can better illustrate the problem and solution Jeremiah is getting at. Since the context of Jeremiah’s preaching in Chapter 15 is the “sin of Manasseh” (15:4), you can talk about the problem in the life and work of Manasseh in the beginning of the sermon. He is a perfect example of a King who had gone right over the edge and appears unredeemable by every stretch of the imagination. However, Manasseh also has this amazing restoration which seems counterintuitive or even impossible in 2 Chronicles 33:10-20. In fact, you can take the words of our text and almost hear Manasseh pray them when he repents:

O Lord, You know; remember me and visit me... In Your forbearance take me not away; know that for Your sake I bear reproach. 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... I sat alone, because Your hand was upon me, for You had filled me with indignation. 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? 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... 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. “I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.”

Manasseh goes from unredeemable to restored, from death to life. This is an amazing example of what Jeremiah is holding before God’s people in exile. Their story could be like Manasseh’s story as well, but his narrative is nothing compared to another King who went from death to life in a way which is far more surprising than the story of Manasseh. We get a glimmer in Jeremiah 23:5-6:

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch (Matthew 2:23), and He shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which He will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.”

You see it far off in Jeremiah 29:11:

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (of course, in its proper context).

We get closer in Jeremiah 32:17:

“Ah, Lord God! It is You who have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for You.”

Jeremiah was called to “uproot, tear down, destroy and overthrow,” but he was also called to “build and plant” (1:10). This was not just for those in Babylon but also for the life to come through the greater King who is the Messiah.

Jeremiah was called to “uproot, tear down, destroy and overthrow,” but he was also called to “build and plant.”

There is a prophet greater than Jeremiah who was rejected like Jeremiah (Jeremiah 43). However, this prophet, greater than Jeremiah, was rejected because He was from Nazareth (which means branches, Jeremiah 23:5-6). Just like Jeremiah (Jeremiah 20:7-8), His enemies called Him names too, like Beelzebub (Luke 11:15), and again like Jeremiah (Jeremiah 11:18-20) His enemies were so obsessed with killing Him that Jesus would just come out and say in Luke 9:22: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Jesus is our greater prophet and greater King because he was unlike other kings, like Manasseh, in every way, and He was the one Jeremiah and everyone hoped for with all their faith.

Notice the similarity of Jesus’ message and Jeremiah’s. It is all about death and resurrection. If you destroy this temple (John 2:19), God will raise it again. Of course, He was talking about His body (John 2:21), but so was Jeremiah. The body of people would be redeemed by Israel reduced down to one man, one savior, one Messiah, Jesus Christ! Why would Jesus endure all this? Because He has come to fulfill the words of the prophet Jeremiah that God will restore His covenant promise through the Messiah in Jeremiah 31:33:

“For this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put My law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”

What would be “torn down” and “uprooted” and “destroyed” and “overthrown” on Calvary will three days later be “re-built” and “alive” at the empty tomb and also seen by so many in Jerusalem, Emmaus, and Galilee! Jesus is the restoration of all humanity back to God. Jeremiah wants us to see there is life after Babylon, and it is a life beyond sin, guilt and despair. In Jesus, there is life beyond the grave. So, build and plant and live like the exiles did because the Church is the same community of hope built around the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ (John 1:14).

Good news at first appears to be in short supply in Jeremiah. In fact, despair is often how people feel when reading it. But Jeremiah gives us another word than despair. It is a gospel word of hope that is alive for us in Jesus Christ.

Perhaps the best structure for this type of sermon is called “Problem Solution.”

“This structure examines a topic through creating or identifying a need and then providing a resolution to that need. The preacher engagingly presents a need or a conflict for the hearers that is related to the topic of the sermon and then offers a resolution of that need or conflict which is realistic and effective for the hearers. Often, this method uses an inductive presentation to explore the problem and a deductive presentation to experience the resolution. The common mistake of preachers is to be long on the problem and short on the solution.”[1]


When this happens, it feels like bad “Law then Gospel” preaching. I recommend a balanced approach of development, so the problem is experienced in an authentic way, and then the solution actually fixes the problem. In this sermon you will do well to drive the point home that we are past rescue because of our sin, like Manasseh. Then you can say the only way through to restoration is by the mercy of God in Christ. We must die to sin in order to be raised again in Christ.


Additional Resources:

Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Jeremiah 15:15-21.

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Jeremiah 15:15-21.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Jeremiah 15:15-21.

Lectionary Kick-Start-Check out this fantastic podcast from Craft of Preaching authors Peter Nafzger and David Schmitt as they dig into the texts for this Sunday!

Lectionary Podcast- Dr. Jeffrey Pulse Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Isaiah 51:1-6.


[1] https://concordiatheology.org/sermon-structs/thematic/problemsolution/