Jeremiah is most known for his “confessions” throughout his ministry. Other prophets were sent to bring words of judgment and hope, to challenge political and religious leaders, to perform signs, but all of them were to stand in the breach between God and His people. In the book of Jeremiah, we have the story of how the prophet personally suffered as he serves His God. His “confessions” are his words directed back towards God who has sent him into this world filled with suffering and hope. Our reading stands close to the end of the series of these confessions (11:18–23; 12:1–6; 15:10–21; 17:14–18; 18:18–23; 20:7–13; 20:14–18), showing both their overall character and what crises Jeremiah is experiencing in the midst of them.
Our text for today moves from Jeremiah’s complaint (verses 7-10) to praise for the God who is his deliverer (verses 11-13). When you look at our text in context though, you see in the verses immediately following how Jeremiah returns to bitter complaint, even cursing the day he was born. This does not revoke his faith in God to be his deliverer. In verse 13, it simply reflects the normal struggle of the Christian experience. Our faith in God wrestles between being weak and strong. But in the struggle, our faith under God’s grace becomes ever stronger. We can relate to Jeremiah in that the Christian life is rarely smooth, unbroken, and filled with uninterrupted rainbows and sunshine. The verses before the text show the complaint of Jeremiah is certainly warranted. Pashur and Jeremiah’s supposed friends had beaten and jailed him for preaching the law and judgment of God. They even engage in name calling as they give Jeremiah the nickname “terror on every side” in verse 10. Ironically, Jeremiah had just prophesied this same nickname over Pashur’s name in verse 3.
When I hear Jeremiah suffer, I cannot help but hear Jesus as He suffered as well. Jesus is the prophet greater than Jeremiah who endured agony in a similar and ultimate way for us. This is the good news Jeremiah hopes for. Deliverance comes in very real ways in his life, but ultimately it comes through the resurrection promise found in Christ alone. That is also our deliverance from suffering and death. The hope of Christ is for Jeremiah and for us all. The real trouble comes in the waiting. Another wonderful Gospel promise from this text is that God does not give up on Jeremiah or His people. He relentlessly pursues them to save them. God will not let us go, even when we try to escape His grip on us. He will let nothing separate us from His love.
Look at how Jeremiah attempts to walk away from God in verse 9: “Then I said, I will not make mention of Him, nor speak any more in His name.” But then look at what follows: “There is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in and I cannot.” God never gives up and holds on to Jeremiah. He will hunt him down to give him the good news that He will deliver him. God knows he is struggling, and yet the struggle does not nullify God’s gracious love for him.
Another wonderful Gospel promise from this text is that God does not give up on Jeremiah or His people. He relentlessly pursues them to save them.
Whenever I think of the relentless love of God, I think of a poem by Francis Thompson, called “The Hound of Heaven.” This is only a small selection I am giving of it, but for the sake of the sermon it will be an excellent illustration. Please do look at the whole poem. However, because of its length you may want to only take sections from the poem to illustrate the tension between the Christian life and the relentless love of God which never leaves us or forsakes us:
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways.
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat—and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet—
‘All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.’
God relentlessly pursues us with His grace, and His goodness and mercy capture us every day of our lives. “You are stronger than I, and you have prevailed” (verse 7) says the prophet. Our gracious capture is iterated in verse 13: “Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For He has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of evildoers.”
All throughout the Bible we have example after example of God’s relentless pursuit of us with His mercy. Jonah ran away from God and complained about his call, yet God doggedly (pun on the Hebrew word דָּג (pronounced “dawg”) for the fish which swallowed him) chased Him down! Consider Psalm 139:7-10:
“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to Heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.”
Paul also points out how God comes to us persistently and even relentlessly in Romans 10:6-8:
“Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into Heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim).”
There is no place God will not go to save you. He sent His only begotten Son to suffer our death and damnation on the cross in order to make us His sons and daughters forever. In fact, Jesus even rose again to prove it! In the season of Pentecost, we take stock of the struggles of living the Christian life. It is such good news to know God neither leaves us nor forsakes us and is with us by the power of the Holy Spirit to give us Jesus. Listen again to what Paul says in Romans 8:38-39: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The sermon structure that may fit best for this text will be the Frame and Refrain Structure. This arrangement uses a single image (struggling with suffering in this world) in the opening and the closing of the sermon for the hearers. In the opening use of the image, the preacher describes the image and then offers a thematic statement that he associates with the image (nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus). The central body of the sermon then becomes a preaching of that thematic statement (through Jeremiah, Jonah, the Psalmist, the Apostle Paul, and then us). The thematic statement becomes a refrain that holds the sermon together (after each person you give the thematic statement like the refrain of a song. Jeremiah: refrain; Jonah: refrain; the Psalmist: refrain; Paul: refrain; and us: refrain). The preacher uses that thematic statement to interpret the text and to apply that text to the lives of the hearers. It often helps if the refrain is gospel-centered (death and resurrection of Jesus for us), so it enables the preacher to proclaim the Gospel as it is heard in the text, the theological teaching, and the lives of the hearers today. The sermon concludes by returning to the image (creating a frame around the body of the sermon) and offering the hearers a final climactic statement of the refrain (speaking Romans 8:38-39 in its entirety).
Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Jeremiah 20:7-13.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Jeremiah 20:7-13.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Jeremiah 20:7-13.