The Second Sunday in Lent
March 17, 2019
Get Ready for Easter—
Proclaim the Lord’s Message Fearlessly!
But as soon as Jeremiah finished telling all the people everything the LORD had commanded him to say, the priests, the prophets and all the people seized him and said, “You must die! Why do you prophesy in the LORD’s name that this house will be like Shiloh and this city will be desolate and deserted?” And all the people crowded around Jeremiah in the house of the LORD. When the officials of Judah heard about these things, they went up from the royal palace to the house of the LORD and took their places at the entrance of the New Gate of the LORD’s house. Then the priests and the prophets said to the officials and all the people, “This man should be sentenced to death because he has prophesied against this city. You have heard it with your own ears!” Then Jeremiah said to all the officials and all the people: “The LORD sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the things you have heard. Now reform your ways and your actions and obey the LORD your God. Then the LORD will relent and not bring the disaster he has pronounced against you. As for me, I am in your hands; do with me whatever you think is good and right. Be assured, however, that if you put me to death, you will bring the guilt of innocent blood on yourselves and on this city and on those who live in it, for in truth the LORD has sent me to you to speak all these words in your hearing.” (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
There are certain professions where the job description inherently includes the responsibility of having to tell people “bad news.” Take doctors for example. A doctor may have to tell a patient, “The test results have come back and I’m afraid I have some bad news.” Take teachers for example. A teacher may have to tell a student that they are failing a class. The teacher may even have to tell parents that their child has failed a grade and has to take that grade over. Take a loan officer for example. A loan office may have to tell a couple that they did not qualify for that home loan they so dearly wanted. Sometimes one’s profession does indeed require that they tell people “bad news.”
Our sermon text for today reminds us of yet another profession which inherently includes the responsibility of telling someone “bad news.” That profession is— faithful proclaimers of God’s holy Word! Today as we continue our sermon series entitled Get Ready for Easter! let’s see how God the Holy Spirit uses the example of the prophet Jeremiah to say to you and to me: Proclaim the Lord’s Message Fearlessly!
Jeremiah served as a prophet of the Lord both before and after the Babylonians came in and completely destroyed the entire City of Jerusalem— including the Temple of the Lord. But you may remember that when the Lord called Jeremiah to be His prophet, Jeremiah didn’t want to do it. In Jeremiah chapter one we hear this conversation take place, “’Ah, Sovereign LORD,’ I said, ‘I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.’ But the LORD said to me, ‘Do not say, “I am only a child.” You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you…Now, I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:6-8, 10).
By the time the event recorded here in our text had taken place Jeremiah had been proclaiming the Lord’s message fearlessly for about twenty years! And what was the essence of the message that the Lord gave to Jeremiah to proclaim to the people of Judah and Jerusalem? It was predominantly a very strong message of Law! Over and over again the “Word of the LORD” came to Jeremiah in the form of a warning for God’s people— “Because of your sin, because of your rebellious ways, because of your unfaithfulness to me and to the covenant I established with your ancestors I am going to withhold my blessings from you and pour out my justice upon you!” What did this mean for the people of Judah and for the people of Jerusalem? The Lord Himself answers that question in the verses leading up to our text. We read, “Say to them, ‘This is what the LORD says: if you do not listen to me and follow my law, which I have set before you, and if you do not listen to the words of my servants the prophets, whom I have sent to you again and again (though you have not listened), then I will make this house (the Temple) like Shiloh (empty and deserted) and this city (Jerusalem) an object of cursing among all the nations of the earth” (Jeremiah 26:4-6).
The fact that Jeremiah proclaimed this message while he was in the Temple of the Lord surrounded by “the priests, the prophets and all the people” did not go over well! That’s why they seized Jeremiah and screamed, “You must die! Why do you prophesy in the LORD’s name that this house will be like Shiloh and this city will be desolate and deserted?” This ruckus in the Temple of the Lord became so unruly that it quickly got the attention of “the officials of Judah.” Once these officials had taken their seats in the New Gate of the Lord’s house the priests, the prophets and all the people who were in the Temple repeated their charge against Jeremiah: He must die! Once again he has prophesied against the beloved City of Jerusalem! Once again he has prophesied against the temple of the Lord! He must die!”
How did Jeremiah respond to the accusations being brought against him? He continued to proclaim the Lord’s message fearlessly! “You can kill the messenger,” Jeremiah said to them, “but that will not change the message the Lord has sent me to proclaim to you. Unless you repent, unless you change your ways, unless you turn back to the Lord and remain faithful to Him, everything I have warned you about will most certainly happen!” And then Jeremiah said something very pointed and very powerful. Look at the closing verses of our text. Jeremiah says, “As for me, I am in your hands; do with me whatever you think is good and right. Be assured, however, that if you put me to death, you will bring the guilt of innocent blood on yourselves and on this city and on those who live in it, for in truth the LORD has sent me to you to speak all these words in your hearing.”
Note, my friends, that Jeremiah was not afraid of the people who were crying out, “You must die!” Jeremiah trusted that his life— and more importantly, his eternity— was safe in the hands of the Lord his God. At the same time, Jeremiah fearlessly warned the priests, the prophets, the people and all the officials of Judah that if they do indeed kill him they will bring upon themselves the guilt of shedding innocent blood— the one thing that finally overwhelmed Judas with remorse. In Matthew 27:3 we are told, “When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. ‘I have sinned,’ he said, ‘for I have betrayed innocent blood.’”
How does this text apply to you and to your life today? How does the example of the prophet Jeremiah help you to get ready for Easter? If we were to answer that question in broad general terms we would be reminded that like God’s people of old, whenever and wherever we stand up for the Truth of Scripture there are going to be people who have a very negative hostile response. The long line of Christian martyrs is proof of that. Like those martyrs, however, we still need to proclaim the message of the Lord fearlessly— no matter what kind of reaction we receive! If we were to answer that question a little more specifically we are reminded of the negative hostile response we receive when we try to point out to people today that what they believe, teach and confess concerning the moral issues that are so often in the news today are not only wrong, but they are unacceptable to the One (Pointing to the cross) who will judge all people on the basis of what He has revealed on the pages of His holy Word. (See John 12:48) While that does indeed remind us that we need to proclaim the Lord’s message fearlessly, it might not help us to understand how this text helps us to get ready for Easter.
So how does the example of Jeremiah help us to get ready for Easter? The example of Jeremiah reminds us that as we proclaim the Lord’s message fearlessly we cannot— we simply cannot— disconnect the message of Easter from the message of Good Friday! There are two points I want to emphasize here.
First, as I was studying our text for today, as I heard the priests, the prophets and the people in the Temple crying out for the prophet Jeremiah to die, I could not help but think of the words of Jesus in our Gospel lesson for this morning (Luke 13:31-35), “I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day— for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem! O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Look, your house is left to you desolate.”
Throughout His entire public ministry Jesus proclaimed the Lord’s message of both Law and Gospel— fearlessly! Throughout His entire public ministry Jesus received very negative and very hostile responses from not only ordinary people, but especially from the religious leaders among God’s people— the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the teachers of the law. And when the religious leaders of God’s people finally got what they had wanted for a very long time, when were finally able to turn the people against Jesus and get them to cry out, “Away with this man…Crucify him! Crucify him!” (Luke 23:18, 21) to the point where Pontius Pilate simply gave in and sentenced an innocent Man to die, did Jesus stop proclaiming the Lord’s message fearlessly? Not at all! Even as He hung suffering and dying on the cross to pay for the sins of the world Jesus fearlessly proclaimed the Lord’s message of forgiveness and eternal life in heaven. That brings me to the second point I want to emphasize.
We need to be very clear in our own hearts and in our own minds that Jesus’ physical resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday is God’s guarantee that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross (Pointing) was accepted by the heavenly Father as full payment for all of our sins. We need to be even more clear about this when we are talking with others about Easter! There are so many people who simply do not understand that the essential truth of Easter is inseparably intertwined with the essential truth of Good Friday. Easter is not just a spring festival that happens to be held at church. Easter is not about bunny rabbits and candy eggs. Easter is the very foundation of absolutely everything we believe, absolutely everything we are hoping for beyond the grave. As the apostle Paul told the Corinthians, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19).
So, how can we take all of this and use it to help us get ready for Easter? Let me suggest this: For the next five weeks consciously look and listen for opportunities to bring up the subject of Easter whenever you are talking with someone so that you can proclaim the Lord’s message about Easter fearlessly! Proclaim that Easter is proof that Jesus is who He claims to be— this world’s only Savior from sin. Proclaim that Easter is God’s guarantee that all of their sins are completely forgiven! Proclaim that Easter assures us that through faith in Jesus one day we too shall physically rise from our graves and live with God in the glory and perfection of heaven! Will some people laugh at us? Probably. Will some people have a very negative reaction to what we are saying? Probably. Will some people take to heart the message that the Lord Himself has given to us to proclaim? God-willing!
While there are indeed certain professions where the job description inherently includes having to tell people “bad news” that doesn’t mean that the people in those professions never share any “good news” with people. The doctor may tell you that the test results reveal that you will need surgery, but your condition is very curable. The teacher may tell you that you failed the test, but here is what you can do to get some extra credit and still pass the course. The loan officer may say that you didn’t qualify for that home loan, but here are some specific ways you can improve your credit score so that the next time you apply will be approved. And, as faithful proclaimers of the message that the Lord has given to you and to me, once we have faithfully used the message of God’s Law to show someone their sin and call them to repentance then we faithfully lead them to the foot of the cross on Calvary’s hill. From there we point them to the empty grave in the garden and proclaim to them the “Good News”— the “Good News” that through faith in what the risen Christ has done for them, eternal life is theirs as a free gift from God.
Consciously strive to get ready for Easter my friends, by consciously striving to follow the example of Jeremiah here in our text: Proclaim the Lord’s message fearlessly!
To God be the glory!