A Call to Ministry
April 23, 2023 Speaker: Jim Davis Series: Jeremiah
Passage: Jeremiah 1:1–10
Ok, we are starting the book of Jeremiah today. This will be a bit different than how we normally go through books of the Bible. Normally, we go through every paragraph of every chapter of the book, but with Jeremiah we are just going to go through seven selected passages. This is mainly because it would take over two years and I want to cover multiple genres of Scripture in a year.
Jeremiah is one of the books that we call the major prophets. Now, this doesn’t mean that the major prophets were more important than the minor prophets, it just means they wrote more. The other major prophets are Isaiah, Lamentations (also written by Jeremiah), Ezekiel, and Daniel. The minor prophets are the twelve books after that. Jeremiah was born around 640 BC into a family of priests in a small village in Judah called Anathoth outside of Jerusalem. Jeremiah was called by God to the office of prophet and his ministry lasted about 40 years. He served during the reign of the last five kings of Judah and while all five of them would have known Jeremiah, it was during the second half of his ministry that he would have been well-known by everyone.
As we walk through this book, we will see that Jeremiah’s ministry took place during the darkest days of Israel. The reason we call him a prophet is because God spoke to him directly and Jeremiah in turn spoke to Israel on behalf of God. That’s why his words are a part of the Bible. The office of prophet in the way Jeremiah is a prophet is closed now.
I know for many of us the prophetic books can be confusing, but here is an easy way to understand them. Just remember the term ‘covenant prosecutors.’ The prophets were sent to prosecute the Israelites for their success or failure in carrying out the terms of their covenant with God. Sometimes they came to proclaim covenant blessings and Israel and Judah would experience God’s presence and favor in battle or at harvest time. Often, though, the prophets came to proclaim curses, and the people would be disciplined. Either way, the prophets were there to call Israel back to God and the covenant promises he had made with them. We will see more about what was going on in Jeremiah’s time as we walk through the book, but today we are in chapter one where God calls Jeremiah to be a prophet.
When I was in my mid-20’s, I was a missionary on staff with Cru (Campus Crusade back then) and I preached at my wife’s home church. After preaching what I’m sure was a real stinker of a sermon, a sweet older woman came up to me and said, “I just want you to know that some of the ladies and I have been praying that you would go into the ministry.” I was thinking at that moment, “What is it exactly that you think I do?” But, I just smiled and said, “Thank you, I really appreciate that.”
Now, she was a sweet woman whose intentions were pure, and surely is with Jesus now because she was like 105 at the time, but those words have stayed with me. There are two main flaws with her understanding of what it means to be in ministry. If you only understand those preaching from the pulpit to be in ministry then, first, you won’t consider missionaries (like I was at the time) and other people like campus ministers to be in ministry. But, second, and even more problematic, is that she didn’t consider herself to be in ministry.
In the New Covenant, there are no priests to mediate between God and man. We are now all priests in ministry. We call this doctrine the priesthood of all believers. Peter captures this well in 1 Peter 1:9 9 But you are za chosen race, aa royal bpriesthood, ca holy nation, da people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you eout of darkness into fhis marvelous light. - 1 Peter 2:9
So, as we look at this passage and Jeremiah’s call, I want to do so by looking at it through the lens of the New Covenant and see what we can learn about the call on all Christians, not to be a prophet, but to be ministers of the gospel. And we are going to do this by looking at 1) God’s call to ministry, 2) God’s command in ministry, and 3) God’s purpose for ministry.
- God’s call to ministry
Verses 4 and 5: 4 Now the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 5 i“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born jI consecrated\ you; I appointed you a prophet kto the nations.” - Jer. 1:4,5 What’s so interesting and important to see is that God’s call on Jeremiah’s life wasn’t based on how moral he had been, how spiritual he had been, or how faithful he had been. God’s call came before he was even born. Before he was even conceived. It is based on God’s decision, not on Jeremiah’s merits. The same is true of Isaiah’s call. Look at Isaiah 49: rAnd now the LORD says, he mwho formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him— for sI am honored in the eyes of the LORD, and my God has become my strength— - Isaiah 49:5
And the same is true of all of us. Paul says so in Ephesians chapter 1: 4 heven as he ichose us in him jbefore the foundation of the world, that we should be kholy and blameless before him. In love 5 lhe predestined us2 for madoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ,naccording to the purpose of his will, - Eph 1:4,5 Now, remember that all of us who are Christians are called to be priests. That is, we are called to be ministers of the gospel. In Paul’s words, we are ambassadors for Christ. 2 Corinthians 5: Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. - 2 Cor 5:20
And this is good news to all Christians here. We can easily feel like our life is especially purposeless. Maybe you’re in college and wondering what in the world you’re going to do. If you’re a mom with young kids who don’t thank you for waking up and feeding them and changing their diapers, it’s challenging to feel a sense of purpose. If you have older kids, you might just feel like you are essentially an unpaid Uber service. It’s very common for people who are financially successful to get to around 50 and wonder what it’s all for. If all the work and success has made them any happier.
If that’s you and you have faith in Jesus, know that God knit you together before you were even born and given you a call that is greater than being President of the United State. Students, you have a call that is greater than being a professional athlete! Do you realize that? The greatest, most successful people in the world will be forgotten in a short period of time. Most peoples’ work just matters during the course of their lifetime, but ours has eternal significance. You are not forgotten, you are not an accident, you are not purposeless. God has a purpose and a plan for you!
But, you might be here today and be thinking, “But, Jim, you don’t know what I’ve done. You don’t know the decisions I’ve made. I feel like I’ve ruined my life.” Maybe you did. But, here is what you need to know. We all are! Paul was a murderer! David was an adulterer and a murderer. Again, our call isn’t based on our worthiness, but on God’s call.
Others of you might just feel like you aren’t equipped enough or qualified enough. Well, what is the very first thing Jeremiah says after God announces his call on Jeremiah’s life? Verse 6: “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, lI do not know how to speak, mfor I am only a youth.”- Jer 1:6 Moses had a very similar reservation.
I have thought about this verse a lot. I’m in no way trying to equate myself with Moses or Jeremiah, but many of you know that I have always struggled with a deep fear of public speaking. I never thought I would be a pastor for this very reason. I feel the anxiety of speaking everytime I do it. Even if I’m just introducing someone else. During COVID when we went to live streaming, it became especially bad. I remember our first live stream. I was in this room, almost completely empty with Robert and Skyler and I had created a hand signal I was going to give Robert if I got too nervous…and I had to use it!! I think we said it was a technical difficulty which wasn’t a lie because I was technically unable to do it. I did eventually pull it together though and streamed a short sermon.
I remember my old pastor, JD Shaw, teaching Matthew 11 where Jesus says that there is none greater than John the Baptist, yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. It’s weird to think that someone is least in the kingdom of heaven. Who knows? Maybe you’re here today. And if you are, you are greater than John the Baptist. Why? Because he was a minister of the Old Covenant and you are a minister of the New. You are filled with the Holy Spirit with a much fuller knowledge of God’s plan for humanity in Jesus. John ministered to people primarily by telling them to repent. We all minister to people by telling them to repent and put their faith in Jesus.
And if we decide that we are not called to minister to other people for whatever reason, we are making a call that is not ours to make. We are, in fact, playing God. So, if we are all called to ministers of the gospel, what does that look like? Second point.
- God’s command in ministry
His command is two fold. Speak the word and do not be afraid. “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and nwhatever I command you, you shall speak. - Jer 1:7 We speak the word. And unlike Jeremiah who uniquely possessed the word of God, we all have it. We have it in our Bibles. We have it on our devices. We have it in any language we need. It doesn’t matter if you are young. It doesn’t matter if you are old. In the ancient world, youth were looked down on and the old were privileged. Unfortunately, it feels like the opposite is true in our culture, but culture doesn’t dictate value, God does.
Verse 9 says that the Lord put out his hand and touched Jeremiah’s mouth. God did a very similar thing with Isaiah except it was an angel who touched his lips with burning coal. In this act, it was shown that they were commissioned to speak for God. That their mouths were the tool God would use to accomplish his purpose. But, in the New Covenant, whoever believes in Jesus is commissioned with his words and used to accomplish his purpose.
But, I do want to insert one important caveat here. We are to speak, but we aren’t just to speak. Many Christians, unfortunately, just go around and speak truth, but are really bad at listening. Listening is one of the best tools we have to be able to speak. Listening is one of the best tools we have in our belt. Angela and I speak about the importance of listening at every marriage conference we speak at. In every conference we’ve done, I poll the crowd and ask for all mental health professionals to raise their hands. I then ask them if their clients had just one person in their life who knew them, believed in them, loved them, and listened to them, how many of those people would still be their clients. The answers have varied from 50% to 0%.
When we listen well, we get to understand their hopes, their fears, and their wounds. And once we know those things, we have the knowledge and the relational trust to apply the word of God uniquely to them. Unlike the kings of the Old Covenant, we strengthen and expand the kingdom not with a warrior’s sword, but with the word that is sharper than any two edged sword.
So, here is a challenge. Would you pray for one person in your life who is near to you, but far from God, listen to them well, and see if the Holy Spirit doesn’t give you wisdom to apply the word of God and his gospel uniquely to them? It doesn’t matter how you compare to the person you’re sitting next to. Through your unique life story, your wounds, your victories, your family, your workplace, and the way God has made you, you are uniquely qualified to minister to people that the rest of us just aren’t. For what it’s worth, every second Wednesday of each month at 7:30am, a group of us gather here for one hour just to pray for the lost. We’d love for you to join us.
But, it will still be scary. We will all still wonder if we can do it. We will all still worry about being rejected. So, we all need to hear the word of God to Jeremiah. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you. - Jer 1:8 But these words aren’t just for Jeremiah because Jesus says something very similar just before he ascends to heaven. 9 jGo therefore and kmake disciples of lall nations, jbaptizing them min2 nthe nameof the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them oto observe all that pIhave commanded you. And behold, qI am with you always, to rthe end of the age.” - Matt 28:19,20
This can’t just be a command for the original disciples because the command lasts until the end of the age. We will be misunderstood. We will be rejected. But God will be with us. And because God will be with us and go before us, some WILL embrace the gospel we proclaim. Again, in God’s economy things work differently. It’s not about our strength, our ability, or our credentials. It’s about his Spirit going before us and opening hearts.
But, the last question we have to ask is this: to what end? Why are we called to be ministers of the gospel? Last point.
- God’s purpose for ministry
God’s purpose for ministry is to glorify him. And this last part can feel uncomfortable if we don’t really understand it. God gives Jeremiah a chiasm. How many times have chiasms come up this year? God says that he has called Jeremiah to pluck up and break down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and plant. Look at the projector and it might be easier to see. Pluck up and plant are agricultural terms. Break down and build are construction terms. Destroy and overthrow are royal terms. The first three are bad. No one wants to be plucked up, broken down, or destroyed. The second three are good. Overthrown (from a bad kingdom to a good one), built up, planted.
What we see here is that either could be the result of our ministry. Some will hear and be planted in the kingdom of God, be built up into the temple of God, and have the kingdom of darkness overthrown. Others will be plucked up and thrown into the fire, broken down, and destroyed. And here is the uncomfortable part. No matter the outcome, God is glorified. Some will glorify him as objects of his just wrath. If that doesn’t sit well, let me ask you this. When a man is condemned for some heinous crime or an evil world leader is destroyed and peace is brought to the world for a season, does that sit well? And, to make an even finer point on it, those ‘bad men’ have wronged other imperfect people. How much worse is the injustice of any sinful person rebelling against a holy God?
Going back to verse 8 where God says do not be afraid of ‘them.’ Who are the ‘them’? They are the ones who worshiped other gods and became the object of God’s judgment. In Israel’s case, that judgment came through nations like Babylon. Jeremiah’s audience largely did not listen to him. God actually told Jeremiah that they wouldn’t in chapter seven. This is why he is called the weeping prophet. And we should weep as well when people don’t respond to the message given to us. My gym is the place I feel most misunderstood as it pertains to my faith and occupation. Some people there look at me like I just couldn’t find a better job at best or bigoted at worst. And I know that pales in comparison to what many of you experience in your workplace. We will be misunderstood and we will be rejected, but we can’t think that in that case God is any less glorified because of the outcome.
But, some, through their repentance and faith, will glorify him as objects of his loving grace. We aren’t here to make people more moral or more religious, we are here to call them out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of light. This week, we had the girls in Ivey’s class over to the house for her birthday and the girls really wanted to help me with a sermon illustration. So this is for you Anna, Marietta, and Ivey. We were sitting by the fire outside roasting smores and one girl said, “Sin is like that fire. It’s dangerous and it will burn you, but we all still want it.” I think that’s pretty good. We are here to call people away from that fire, but we don’t control the outcome of our ministry. Paul says 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among mthose who are being saved and among nthose who are perishing, 16 oto one a fragrance from death to death, oto the other a fragrance from life to life. - 2 Cor 2:15,16 Either way, though, God is glorified and this is the ministry we are all called to.
And if this still seems unfair or unjust on God’s part, just think about the reason we ourselves glorify God as objects of his love, grace, and mercy. Jesus, the ultimate Covenant Prosecutor, came to announce to the world that our sin merits eternal punishment and what did the world do? If anyone had a reason for the world to love them, it was Jesus. But at the end, they only cheered for his death. They cried out, “Crucify him!” He was the ultimate Weeping Prophet.
His death in every way was excruciating. Do you know that that word was invented because of the pain Jesus went through on the cross? He not only died a terrible death on the cross, he took on the wrath of God and he did so for us. And in doing so, he simultaneously pronounced covenant curses as he took those curses for us and covenant blessings as he showered us with his righteousness.
And this is why Jeremiah’s call instructs ours as well. Hebrews chapters 1-3 say that God used to speak through many diverse prophets at different times and in different ways, but now he has spoken definitively through His Son, who is the greatest Prophet. This is why Jeremiah’s call is ours as well. Because Jesus is the Greater prophet and we are united to him, we get to participate in his prophetic ministry of the gospel. But this can only be true because Jesus is also the Greater King representing us and the Greater Priest atoning for our sins. In him the offices of prophet, priest, and king are both united to each other and to all of us who are in Christ. So you and I can look at Jeremiah's ministry and find greater understanding for our own call to ministry because Jeremiah points to the ministry that Christ would have, one that we are now invited to join him in by being united with Him.
So, this ministry will not be easy. We know this because Jesus said if the world did not love him, it will not love us. But this ministry will be satisfying. Not because we will always get the immediate results we want, but because we are glorifying God who loves us and will always be with us. And sometimes the hard makes the good all the sweeter. When 99 or 999 reject us, it makes the 1 who responds all the sweeter. And in this ministry we are called to, we will know and understand our Savior all the more.
More in Jeremiah
May 21, 2023God’s People in Exile
May 14, 2023Peace Where There is None
May 7, 2023Treating God like an Idol