This segment on Preaching Christ from Jeremiah is part of a larger conversation with Paul Alexander on Preaching the Book of Jeremiah. Listen to this segment below from 15:30–27:05.
KH: You just mentioned we’re being called to return to Christ. That’s a good segway into the next question. What are some of the ways that you’ve preached Christ through Jeremiah and it’s major themes?
PA: I guess I’ll start with the obvious ones first, the ones that kind of jump out at you as you read through. Then I’ll probably end with a less than obvious one but that is really helpful.
Statements like in Jeremiah 23:5 are clear prophecies. “I will raise up for David a righteous branch and he shall reign as king and deal wisely.” How can you not see Christ in that? That’s a layup. We should all be able to make that one as preachers.
Or the new covenant in 31:31-34, ”I’m going to write my law on their hearts.” How is he going to do that? By Christ dying for our sins, rising from the dead and sending His Spirit into our hearts to want to obey the Ten Commandments that we and Israel and Judah have all disobeyed.
Or you can get to Christ easily by contrast. This is a way that we don’t always think, it’s not always intuitive or obvious to us. We can preach Christ by contrast with the bad leaders, the bad prophets or the bad priests or the bad kings. God says in Jeremiah 3:15 “I’m going to raise up for them shepherds after my own heart who are going to feed them on knowledge and understanding.” Well we can certainly apply that to faithful pastors, to faithful leaders, faithful kings of Israel but obviously and ultimately that’s to Christ himself.
One that really surprised me as I was preaching through it was Nebuchadnezzar himself actually turns out to be a Christ type. He’s called “God’s servant.” A pagan king is called God’s servant for the purpose of judgment on God’s people. And the only way to be saved from that judgment is to not run or fight it or deny this reality but to surrender to him and obey. He’s called God’s servant in 25:9 and then you get this really interesting statement in 27:6, “I’ve given all these lands to the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the King of Babylon, my servant, and I have given him also the beasts of the field to serve him and all the nations shall serve him.” This is universal dominion. It’s not just over humanity—it’s over the animal kingdom. It reminds you of the beasts of the field coming and living in peace with Jesus right after He’s tempted in the wilderness. It reminds you of Adam’s dominion over all the animals before the fall and naming them. We get another statement in Jeremiah 27:12, “Bring your neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him and his people and live.” Then again in 38:17, “If you will surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then your life shall be spared.” You have this God ordained judge who’s bringing judgment that’s going to start with God’s people and God’s people are being told submit to him and live, or fight him, run from him, try to escape him, hide from him and die. Well goodness, that sounds exactly like how all of history’s going to end with the return of Christ! Then again chapter 38:2, “If you refuse to surrender, you’re going to be judged and you shall not escape and the city shall be burned with fire, but if you surrender then your life will be spared.” Nebuchadnezzar is pointing me forward to the ultimate universal judgment by Christ, that He’s going to judge and He’s going to save. It’s the same person who judges, and is also going to save if we submit to him. If we turn from our own way and repent and submit to God’s chosen king.
KH: Paul, I can hear maybe some preachers saying they’re uncomfortable preaching such a large book that’s mainly about judgement. How do you speak to that? How do you encourage them?
PA: Maybe one way to look at would just be, grow in boldness in your preaching, pastor. Look how bold Jeremiah was. Look at the things that God gave Jeremiah to say. Look at all of Scripture as all of God’s word to all of God’s people. I’m saying, OK, yes, this was given to Judah through Jeremiah, but it’s been preserved for us today. I need to ask the question, “What is God saying to us through Jeremiah to the churches today?” If I ask, how does this point to Christ and how does this apply to the church through Christ, then I’m going to see, well, my heart is very much like the hearts of the people that Jeremiah was talking to.
First of all, I need to say, I as a preacher am not first and foremost in the position of Jeremiah. I’m in the position of the people that Jeremiah’s preaching to. I’m the sinner that Jeremiah’s preaching to. I’m the unfaithful Judahite. I’m the sinner. I need to be responding to Jeremiah’s word or God’s word through Jeremiah. I need to treat myself as the audience of that word and not just the repeater of the word. When I do that then I’m searching my own heart and thinking. My own heart is just as wickedly deceptive and deceitful as the hearts of Judah. I want to follow the stubbornness of my own heart just like the people in Judah. Just like I’m told in every Disney movie that comes out, “Follow your heart.” We can look at it that way and then we can say, OK, after I’ve made myself the object of the word, the one to whom the word of God is coming and the one whose sins are being pointed out. Then I can look at myself as the one who is bringing that word to other people. Say, now that that word has been preached to me, how do I preach it to other people in a way that is not going to sound like I’m self-righteous and angry but rather in a way that sounds like I’ve listened to this message, like I’ve applied it to my own heart? I’ve filtered it through my high priest Jesus Christ who has suffered the penalty for my sins that Jeremiah’s pointing out. He’s obeyed all the commands that I’ve disobeyed in this text. He’s obeyed those things for me. Now He’s now my high priest, I’ve confessed my sins to him. Now I can bring that word to God’s people, not in a way that sounds self-righteous and angry but that sounds repentant and is repentant and is coming along side people. Saying, “Look, this is what the text means. This is how I filtered it through my own heart and my own relationship with Christ. Now, I want us to grow together by hearing God pointing out not only our sins but His call, His merciful call for us to repent and turn back to Him.”
KH: Even though Jeremiah is a book largely about judgment it’s very encouraging if you see the heart of God. You know God is holy. God is just. He is going to judge sin and that should terrify us. But seeing His mercy should lead us to Him in repentance and give us tremendous hope even when we’ve messed up in the past.
PA: One of the most encouraging things I saw, and convicting at the same time, was to realize that Jeremiah actually accompanies God’s people as they make the mistake of going to Egypt. He goes with them. Would I have done that? What a humble godly man. He’s so loyal to God’s people in a good way. They’ve rejected him personally. They’ve rejected his word and yet he goes with them to Egypt to minister to them. Just like Christ comes down and ministers to us and chases us down as we run away from Him in disobedience. And it’s so convicting as a pastor that we think many pastors are in positions where their congregations are not listening to them as well as they want them to listen to them. How do you treat the congregation ? You’re not allowed to be angry at them. You’re not allowed to go off on them and you’re not allowed to abandon them. You have to continue to pursue them in love, just like Christ pursued us in love and just like Jeremiah pursued Judah in love all the way to Egypt.
KH: That’s a good word. I wrote down a quote you shared in one of your sermons you said, “People don’t want to hear judgment, but if we don’t preach it, who will?” I think that should be an encouragement to preachers as well, that Jeremiah has some hard messages. Some pretty pointed messages for God’s people, for the world but it’s what we need from God.
PA: Yes, and to preach judgment is love, not hate. As you read through the book of Jeremiah and if you’re a non-Christian you are tempted to think it is hate speech. This is really rough, you’re calling people to repent of what’s going on in their hearts and their hearts are who they are. That doesn’t sound very loving or accepting. But if Jeremiah is right and God really does judge sin, then it’s unloving for Jeremiah to not preach God’s coming judgment. And it’s unloving for us, as pastors, not to preach God’s coming judgment on sin and Christ’s second coming. We want to love people well, but the only way to do that is to help them to deal in truth. Not just in the truth that they have projected on reality or the holographic god that they’re projecting from their own minds and hoping is true. But no, we want to give them a picture of God as He really is and we want to quote God as He really speaks, so they can deal in reality and not just in a dream world or a fantasy that they would like to create for themselves.