The book of Jeremiah can intimidating for many Christians and preachers alike. It is the longest book of the Bible by original language word count and it is also a genre that challenges many—one of the Old Testament Prophetic books. And yet it is inspired Scripture with tremendous relevance for us today.
I recorded the following interview with Pastor Paul Alexander, he is the pastor of Grace Covenant Baptist Church in Elgin, Illinois and co-author with Mark Dever of How to Build a Healthy Church: A Practical Guide for Deliberate Leadership (from Crossway), one of the most helpful books on leadership in the church that you can find.
Paul preached a series through Jeremiah, and I thought it would be worthwhile to talk with him about the book and his sermon series to inspire others to treasure Jeremiah and even preach it. Listen to Paul’s sermon series on Jeremiah.
Read the transcript of our conversation:
- Introduction (below)
- Digging into Jeremiah: Genre, Structure, Main Idea & Intended Response
- Preaching Christ from Jeremiah
- How do we apply Jeremiah 29:11 today? (Listen to answer)
- How Jeremiah Speaks to a Secular Culture
- Jeremiah’s Impact on the Preacher and Congregation
- The Best Commentaries on Jeremiah for Preachers
Kevin Halloran: Paul, can you share the backstory behind your decision to preach through Jeremiah?
Pastor Paul Alexander: Usually, when I decide to preach a new series, what I’m trying to do is figure out what have we not heard from God’s word lately. My overall approach is picking a book to preach that is not what I think our people need to hear. I’m not even sure I know what exactly our people need to hear. God knows. So, I rotate between Testaments, between Old and New Testament and between genres of Scripture, so that our church gets the whole council of God, and so we get a balanced diet of hearing everything that God says. I mean, it would be very easy for us to stay in the gospels for seven years and then go to the pastoral epistles.
But just recently, I preached Matthew. Then I did six Psalms on suffering. So, Gospel, Psalm, then we preached through Numbers expositionally, then went to the New Testament to do Hebrews, a general epistle, then back to Jeremiah for a major prophet, during which a couple other guys in our congregation did James. Then we preached through Philippians, now I’m in the Ten Commandments, after that I’ll do the Lord’s prayer and then I’ll go to another Pauline epistle in Romans. So, Old Testament, New Testament, and then differing genres.
KH: As I was reading Jeremiah for this interview, I was struck that it kind of has a reputation among some to be a hard book but as I was reading it I realized that once you understand some of the basic background features it’s really not that hard to understand the book’s main message.
PA: I would agree. The more that you read it, the more uncomfortably clear it is that it really is speaking to our hearts. Speaking to, very often, the sins of religious people that are being hypocritical and don’t even realize it. It becomes clear that, oh, he’s talking to us. He is talking to professing Christians.
KH: Uncomfortable indeed. Can you give us some of the background to the book of Jeremiah, where it falls in the biblical story, the original context?
PA: Sure, so the Northern Kingdom has already gone into exile. That’s clear from chapter three verses six to ten or so. “I sent her away with a decree of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the prostitute.” It’s clear the Northern Kingdom is already in exile. God expects the Southern Kingdom to learn the lesson, and she doesn’t. It’s late 600 B.C., Josiah’s reforms are already taking place, but evidently it’s too little too late. It’s not widely received enough by the population of Judah, or among the congregation really to bring genuine revival and stay God’s hand so that they can stay in the land. They’ve got complacency by now in the temples in Jeremiah 7. They’re saying, “Oh, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord. God’s still here, we must be safe. We’re prosperous, we’re popular, nothing’s wrong” and then you get into the reigns of Jehoiakim and Zedekiah. So, there’s kind of political ping pong game where Judah is deciding, “OK, who do we want to sidle up to? Egypt’s in power now so we should be nice to them and oh, now Assyria’s in power, oh now Babylon’s in power.” There’s lots of worldly wisdom going on in terms of how to conduct their international affairs. There’s lots of self-reliance, reliance on the arm of the flesh. God is saying, “No you don’t need to rely on Egypt. You don’t need to rely on Assyria. That’s going to lead you to worship their gods. You need to rely on me.” And they keep not listening to that counsel.