This is a continuation of the series on Preaching the Book of Jeremiah with Pastor Paul Alexander. Listen to this segment after the 38:05 timestamp.
KH: Let’s get personal and talk about Jeremiah. Would you mind speaking on how Jeremiah impacted you personally?
PA: One of these things I’ve already mentioned. I think one of the most convicting things to me was that Jeremiah was so loyal to God’s people even when they hated and rejected his preaching. By God’s grace I serve a congregation who loves this kind of preaching. I don’t feel like I suffer like Jeremiah suffers. He went with them to Egypt and that is so kind and humble of him to continue to identify with the plight of his own people even as they reject his preaching. What a Christlike thing to do to continue to identify with God’s people.
And related to that, in Jeremiah’s prayers of complaint there are points at which it’s clear, he falls into self-pity in his prayer life and in his perspective on his ministry. There are times in my own life where even though I don’t suffer near what Jeremiah suffered, I can think too much of what I have suffered and then give in to self-pity. That’s wrong. I’m basically making my feelings my own god when I do that. That’s sinful and it’s ungrateful and it’s ingratitude for the privilege of speaking God’s word to God’s people not matter what the outcome.
Related to that I need to recalibrate my expectations of ministry. Kind of like what God says to Baruch in Jeremiah 45, “Do you seek great things for yourself? Don’t seek them. Don’t seek them. Here I’m going to give you your life as a prize of war. Here I’ll keep you alive.” Baruch was Jeremiah’s scribe. Baruch may have thought, “Hey, my name is going to go down as a guy who was faithful to Jeremiah and I want that reputation. I want that influence. I want that legacy.” And when things don’t seem to be working out and Baruch seems to be suffering the same fate and rejection as Jeremiah, God says to him “What did you expect?” I need to take that same attitude. I think every preacher, every elder, every deacon, every church member needs to take that same attitude.
What Jesus said to His own disciples that, “When you have done everything that has been expected of you and commanded of you, you are to say we are nothing more than unworthy servants” (Luke 17:7-10). The more I take that expectation and attitude towards myself, the less quickly I will be personally offended in local church ministry when I don’t feel like I’m being appreciated as I think I should be appreciated or I don’t feel I’m being treated or respected as I think I should be or when I think somebody is disparaging my name or talking behind my back. My expectations of how other people treat me go lower. My tendency to be personally offended is actually killed, mortified— it’s put on the cross. I’m not offended as much because I’m much more concerned with God’s name being honored than I am with my own name being honored. With all that it comes; being patient with God’s people because God is so patient with His people. Time and again you see God prosecuting Israel like a prosecuting lawyer would in a court room. He’s making this incontrovertible case. “You have broken My law egregiously. This is really bad. You’ve been unfaithful to Me. You’ve evoked my jealousy as your husband.” Yet in striking contrast in the same passage He will say “But turn to Me. I can’t be angry with you forever. I want to have mercy and grace, repent. Return to me. I’m not going to be angry with you forever.” I need to be godly like that! I need to be captivated by that vision of God’s mercy and grace and drawing His people out. I need to take that attitude towards any congregation that I preach to and take the attitude of myself being a servant of this God, who is kind enough to tell the truth and preach judgment and warn people but also patient enough to wait for them to repent.
KH: Really, we need to minister with our eyes on Christ. Minister believing, remembering what He has said, what He has done, what He will do. That sounds so basic but we can so easily lose sight of that.
PA: Yes. I think it can be wrapped up in asking the question every time, especially in the Old Testament, “Where is the gospel in all this? How is God preaching the gospel to His people in this chapter, in this paragraph?” If I ask that question, I’m sure to get an answer. I may have to look at more than my own one or two verses but in the context I’m going to see. The gospel is here. Christ is here. You see it organically. He’s here by some image, by some theme, by some precept. He’s here by taking the penalty of this disobedience. He’s here by obeying where Judah disobeyed. I need to be looking for that and the more I’m looking for that the more that’s going to come out in my preaching as giving the gospel to my people in the prophets.
KH: How many sermons was your series though Jeremiah?
PA: Oh, ah, the number that’s coming to mind is about 37. It didn’t take me a whole year of preaching. You can tell. If I’m preaching 37 sermons, I’m taking bigger chunks. I’m not just taking even one chapter at a time. Sometimes I’m taking a couple of long chapters because I’m taking oracles that are against Babylon. This is the whole thing that God says to Babylon so let’s take this as one. Part of that is because the unit, the preaching unit, is going to be bigger in a major prophet because he’s saying more. Sometimes the unit’s going to be bigger because the oracle, the prophetic oracle, or the historical oracle interaction in the 40’s of Jeremiah is going to be longer. And so to get the point and to preach the gospel you need the whole passage as continuity. Then there’s passages like Jeremiah 31:31-34 the promise of the New Covenant. Where I would say, OK, I’m just going to take that alone and preach that because I know there’s going to be lots of connections into the New Testament, then do a book like Hebrews. Or even at the very outset preaching just the first chapter, first seventeen verses or so to get the introduction, the main idea across and how that’s going to come back and shape the way we understand the whole book. (46:20)
KH: I’m guessing your people really enjoyed the series. What was some of the feedback you received?
PA: Yeah, that’s a good question. I’m not sure I remember all of it. I’m always with our congregation so pleasantly surprised to hear how they receive the preaching, because Jeremiah was both convicting and encouraging for all of us. One of the things I remember is we were all, myself included, as whole congregation convicted of self-pity. You know we saw that in Jeremiah. We saw it in ourselves. We saw ourselves in our own tendency to follow our own stubborn evil hearts into sin or into assuming that my sin isn’t really bad or that God doesn’t really see it or that God is OK with it, when of course none of those things are true. The consistent general feedback I got was, yes this is convicting and it’s encouraging. It’s surprising to see Christ where we haven’t seen Him before, like in the figure like Nebuchadnezzar.
KH: Great. Would you mind praying for the people listening to (or reading) this interview to believe and live out this message?
PA: Let’s pray. Father we give you thanks for the book of Jeremiah. Thank you for the way that You have revealed Yourself to us in all of Scripture. We pray for those who are listening to this podcast that You would use this conversation to make them want to read Jeremiah on their own. We pray that as they read that You would fill them with Your Holy Spirit that You would give them understanding. Help them to see and ask how Christ is being portrayed to them and foreshadowed to them and anticipated to them in themes and types and images in the book of Jeremiah. Help them to see the gospel preached to them and to others in the book of Jeremiah. We pray that You would move their hearts to repent of their own sins as we have had to repent of ours and believe afresh in the Christ of the gospel—the Christ that even Jeremiah preached. We pray for pastors in particular that they would learn and be courageous to preach through the book of Jeremiah, that You would give them grace to do that and You would fill their congregations with receptivity to Your word in the Old Testament and Jeremiah in particular, that You would transform them by the renewing of their minds, by the preaching of Your word, by the filling of Your Spirit and by the exultation of Christ so that they may be transformed into Him image. In His name we pray, amen.