The first words the Lord ever spoke to Jeremiah must have sounded strange. As a young man called by the Lord, Jeremiah might have expected God’s first message to be a powerful proclamation of victory or a deeply cutting curse on an age-old enemy. Perhaps he pictured plagues ravaging the countryside or a wild, amazing prophecy describing far-flung events.
But God didn’t say anything like that. Instead, in these opening moments of Jeremiah’s ministry the Lord reminds the young man who he was. “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born, I set you apart. I appointed you to be a prophet to the nations” (Jer. 1:5).
Did you catch all of the descriptions God gives to Jeremiah? He was formed in the womb by God’s own hands. Jeremiah stands as one known by God personally. God reminds Jeremiah that he was set apart already before he was born. God describes the young Jeremiah as appointed — not by some committee, but by God himself. And finally, at the end of the verse, God describes Jeremiah as a prophet to the nations.
But even after all of these reminders, Jeremiah responds in fear: “Ah, Lord God! I really do not know how to speak! I am only a child!” (Jer. 1:6). Who could blame him? When Jeremiah looked in the mirror he saw a young, unprepared, still-wet-behind-the-ears boy. When he gazed out his window he saw a vindictive nation of false gods and deceiving prophets. Would any of these people care that Jeremiah was knit together by God? Would an appointment to prophethood by the Lord really gain Jeremiah any credibility among such a rabble?
God and Jeremiah may have been looking at the same person, but they were seeing very different things. God saw a young man that he himself formed and set apart and appointed for the role of prophet. Jeremiah saw himself as a young man unable to speak who was in over his head.
What do you see when you look in the mirror? If you look at yourself the way Jeremiah did, then you see a reflection of your own inadequacies. You observe a person who feels unable to speak God’s Word with the clarity and accuracy that he expects. You see yourself as limited and weak and unworthy to be called a child of God.
That’s when Satan wants you to walk away. He wants the honesty of a mirror to shatter any hope you have. He wants you to feel like Jeremiah initially did — so imperfect and so far gone that even God can’t save you.
After Jeremiah brings up those all-too-familiar inadequacies, the Lord’s response must have still sounded strange. He continues to remind Jeremiah of who the young man really is. “Do not be afraid of them, because I am with you, and I will rescue you, declares the Lord” (Jer. 1:8). Jeremiah was to be fearless. Jeremiah was never alone. Jeremiah was rescued.
A seminary professor once told me that a good sermon always ends by reminding God’s people of who they are. That’s how God himself preaches. He reminds Jeremiah of who he is. In so doing, he reminds you of who you are. Like Jeremiah, you are sinner from birth. As with Jeremiah, you are unable to save yourself.
But at just that moment, when everything seemed hopeless, God did something strange. He stretched out his hands and touched Jeremiah’s mouth. That very hand of God that would one day be nailed to a cross for the sins of mankind now enabled the prophet to speak.
It also enabled the prophet to remember.
That same loving hand of God now reminds you who you are in Christ. Through his sacrifice you are saved from hell. Through the waters of baptism you stand as a dear child of your Father in heaven. Like Jeremiah, the Holy Spirit set you apart before you were even born. You are not alone. You are appointed to live your faith among the family members and neighbors and coworkers around whom God has placed you. And God has made you to be so much more. You could spend a lifetime reading through Scripture and still merely scratch the surface of all the identities God has bestowed upon you.
The devil tried so very hard to make Jeremiah forget who he was — who God made him to be. He will continue that daily onslaught against you too. He will try to overwhelm you with the temptations he hurls at you and the betrayals you feel and the loneliness you experience in an effort to give you spiritual amnesia. When you face those tumultuous moments, like the ones Jeremiah faced so long ago, return back to God’s descriptions of you. Let him remind you who you are — the way he reminded Jeremiah.
At the end of Jeremiah’s first day as a prophet, God once again reminded the young man who he was. “Look, today I have made you like a fortified city, like an iron pillar, and like bronze walls, to take a stand against the whole land. Stand against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you, but they will not overcome you, because I am with you to rescue you, declares the Lord” (Jer. 1:18-19).
“A fortified city…an iron pillar…bronze walls…not alone…rescued…” What do all these descriptions have in common? By God’s grace, they all defined the prophet Jeremiah. A young, struggling prophet daily needed to be reminded of who he was and who God made him to be.
So do we.