This past Sunday marked our entrance into the Prophets of the Exile: Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Given that the defeat of Israel and Judah by the empires of the Assyrians and Babylonians was a devastating, horrific, and tortuous series of events, you would rightly expect that these are weighty, dark, somber, and serious writings. And they are, which is just part of the challenge in understanding them and gleaning current implications for our lives from them.
But as is true of each and every book found in the Whole Story of the Bible, they are worth the investment of our time and effort. And so we begin with Jeremiah.
Jeremiah is the longest in the Bible. And I will admit it can seem daunting and overwhelming, partly because of its length, and I think partly because of its narrative form, which is filled with a great deal of poetic language. But once you get inside of it for a little while, you come to find it is a very compelling story. It reads like a novel, because it has vivid characters and a powerful, highly contrastive, fast-paced storyline.
So here’s what we need to do, we need to get inside this book. I want you to imagine the four main characters of our story — Yahweh, Jerusalem-Judah (God’s people), Babylon (God’s hammer of justice), and Jeremiah (God’s messenger of judgment and grace)—as they move through the major scenes of this movie playing out in the theatre of your mind.
We will see Yahweh accusing, and warning, and judging both Israel, and then all nations, for the grave sins that they have committed. And friends, I mean grave. It will be hard to convey to you if you have not read this book, for the list of wickedness and darkness and ugliness and YUCK! is piled up, chapter after chapter, for over 30 chapters of material. And no one is getting out of this unscathed—priests, leaders, rulers, officials, prophets, parents, children, everyone—and it is a terrible and weighty and sobering scene set over decades.
Then, we will see Yahweh call a man, a priest, apparently the sole good man within all of Jerusalem-Judah, to be his messenger. To be his prophet, to proclaim to his own people, and to all people. We will see how this humbles him, tears at him, and in the end, exiles him.
And all of that will lead us to this climactic denouement and question—if people, even God’s people, can get this bad, can be this evil, if it be true that there is no one righteous, not even one, that every person like a wandering sheep has gone astray from the shepherd who loves them, if we are all still sinning sinners—what hope is there?
To find the answer to that question, and to explore the characters and scenes of this story, I invite you to watch or listen to my sermon on Jeremiah, which you can listen to here. And if you’d like to study it further, I commend the Jeremiah page over at the Bible Project.
And if you’d like to prepare for this coming Sunday at Calvary, please read the book of Lamentations, where we will explore how Jeremiah’s emotional response and plea in the midst of exile is a model for our own struggle in the midst of affliction and suffering.
Pastor Matthew will be preaching on the book of Mark this coming Sunday, January 20. Here are some tips for your Bible reading that you received in last week’s Weekly Bible Reading email.
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