Preach the Word!
Preach the Word!
Text: Jeremiah 1:4-10
As you walk down the hallway of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary—our seminary that trains pastors in Mequon, WI—just above the doorway into the beautiful chapel is a phrase painted in big Greek letters: keruxate to euangellion. They are the words of Jesus which in English are: Preach the gospel. It’s a reminder of the incredible privilege pastors have to preach the good news of Jesus to others.
Those who preach God’s Word are a great gift of the Lord to his church. This last week I was in Indiana and shared classes with pastors from all over the country and all over the world, including native African pastors from Nigeria, Tanzania, and Ghana. I could not help but think how gracious God is to give people who preach the gospel to his Church throughout the world. I was very thankful to see for a second time these new friends of mine who preach God’s Word despite incredible challenges. Very inspiring!
But, it’s not just their job to preach the gospel, and it’s not just my job to preach the gospel. When Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations,” he was talking also to you! Your job is to Preach the Word. However, unless you have been living as a hermit in some cave, you know, that’s not so easy!
Sometimes people aren’t so eager to hear God’s Word. Sometimes people are downright mean. That’s scary. Sometimes you don’t know what to say or you’re unsure if you have the right answers. That’s scary. Sometimes you may feel like there’s no way anyone would listen to you; there’s no way what you say would work. That’s scary.
Thankfully we have an example that we can learn from today with the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah lived at a terrible time in the history of Israel. Some could argue one of the worst. At the time he began his ministry the northern kingdom of Israel was completely gone. It was wiped out by the Assyrians almost 100 years earlier. But the land of Judah had been struggling as well. Josiah was king when Jeremiah was young. He had brought reforms to the land, but he was the last good king of Israel. Things were about to turn south fast. Thus, God called Jeremiah to go and preach his word, calling the people to repent one last time before they would face his judgment.
Here’s what happened: “The word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.’”
This was an intimidating task! God want him to be his prophet not only to Israel (tough enough!) but also to the nations. Jeremiah could have thought, “Whom am I? Why me?” Jeremiah was just the son of a priest in the little city of Anathoth two and a half miles northeast of Jerusalem. Who was he to go and preach to the nations?
But look at what God said to Jeremiah. The almighty and all-knowing God knew in advance the kinds of thoughts and fears Jeremiah would have about this task. So before the Lord even told him to go, he gave him a comforting message of his grace. Long before Jeremiah was born, before the Lord even stitched him in his mother’s womb, God knew him. Before Jeremiah even came kicking and screaming into this world, God set him apart—literally, sanctified and made him holy. Not only was Jeremiah appointed to be the Lord’s prophet long before he was born, but Jeremiah was appointed to belong to the Lord long before he was born.
Maybe you’ve had some of these fears before. Whom am I, Lord? Why me? Who am I to go and preach your Word? They are simple surface questions, but what lurks below is a heart that is doubting God. “Maybe Jesus didn’t know what he was doing. Maybe Jesus didn’t realize how bad I would be at sharing my faith or how inadequate I am. He must have made some mistake sending me to make disciples of all nations.” That’s a heart that doubts God, his power, and his plans.
But we can take comfort that the words the Lord spoke to Jeremiah are true also for us. Long before we were ever born, even before the creation of the world, God knew us. He knew when we would live, who we would be, what we would be like. And even better than God’s knowledge of us from before all time is his love for us from before all time.
Just like with Jeremiah, God also set us apart to be made holy long before we were born. The Bible says elsewhere that God foreknew us and predestined us. That means that God knew us in advance and set a fence around us claiming us as his own from eternity.
He then made good on that plan and his love. He brought you to faith through the power of his Word. He adopted you into his family through the power of baptism. He set you apart, sanctified you, by washing you in the blood of his Son Jesus Christ.
Like Jeremiah, God knew you and God chose you. But he didn’t appoint you to be a sheep that stands in the field and does nothing. He also appointed you to go out and bring in other lost sheep. We have the privilege, like Jeremiah, of going out and sharing his good news. So Preach the Word because you have the Lord’s appointing! God chose you to be his child and God chose you to be his messenger.
Even with that comforting message from the Lord, Jeremiah was still intimidated and afraid. That caused him to make some excuses, “Ah, Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.” Jeremiah had two excuses here. The first was not that he didn’t know how to speak, it was that he didn’t know how to speak with authority or how to speak in public or even how to speak so difficult a message. His reason for that first excuse was related to his second excuse. He was only a child. We shouldn’t think that Jeremiah was just a kid. Possibly he was in his teens or late teens. More likely was that Jeremiah was in his twenties. Like a graduate fresh out of college or a Seminarian fresh out of school, Jeremiah was young and inexperienced. Why would the people ever listen to some young punk who couldn’t even preach that well?
The merciful Lord was patient with Jeremiah and gave him another encouraging and loving response. Verse 7, “But the LORD said to me, ‘Do not say, “I am only a child.” You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,’ declares the LORD.” By every worldly standard Jeremiah’s excuses of age and inability were good excuses. But not with the Lord. First of all, the Lord gave him a command and he needed to obey it. Second of all, there was no need to be afraid for two reasons: The Lord promised to be with him and that he would deliver him.
Maybe you’ve had these very fears before. Maybe you think you’re too young. maybe you think you’re too old. Who would listen to you? Maybe you think you’re too young in your faith. You might say the wrong thing! Maybe you are a little more quiet and reserved and bashful. Maybe you don’t have the confidence to speak to others about faith.
When we have these thoughts we see once again the sin of our hearts. A heart that makes excuses is a heart that doubts God’s presence in our lives.
The merciful Lord is very patient with us as well. We can be thankful for the forgiveness Christ won us that covers over these sins as well. In loving patience and great forgiveness the Lord gently gives us the same reminders he gave to Jeremiah. First, “Go and make disciples” was not a suggestion by Jesus. That was a command we are to obey and follow. Second, there is no reason to be afraid of other people. The Lord is with us wherever we go. He promised that he would never leave us or forsake us. He also promises to deliver us. Either he will deliver us from danger or the worst case scenario of dying for our fait is really the best case scenario because he will deliver us to heaven. Preach the Word! because you have the Lord’s presence wherever you go and whatever may happen.
Even with all these comforting words and promises, perhaps Jeremiah still had worries. Would God hold to all these promises? He surely heard what God said, but were those words true? Would God follow through? Would his preaching really be affective?
The merciful Lord knows the feeble and fearful hearts of his people. He knew exactly the kind of real and tangible sign that would comfort and strengthen Jeremiah. Verse 9: “Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, ‘Now, I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.’”
As if Jeremiah still didn’t get the point of his promises, the Lord in some way actually touched his mouth to visually show him, “Look! See! I’m giving you power!” And that’s exactly what the Lord then promised. The message Jeremiah preached would uproot and tear down nations, it would destroy and overthrow, build and plant. But not only would it destroy and build up in prophecy against nations. Preaching about sin would tear down people’s hearts and preaching about God’s grace and forgiveness would restore and build up.
Maybe you’ve had these fears before, too. You know God has made his promises. You know God is going to be with you. But will your message really work? In today’s day and age, what difference is it going to make? Will your preaching really be affective?
The merciful Lord knows our feeble and fearful hearts as well. He knows exactly the kind of real and tangible signs that would comfort and strengthen us. He tells us over and over and over again that he loves us and that he is with us in the Bible. But he gives us even more. He gives us Baptism—his Word plus water—which is something real that we can touch and be assured by. Then, much like Jeremiah’s experience, the Lord also give us his Supper—his Word plus his own body and blood in, with, and under bread and wine—which we can actually take to our lips for the forgiveness of our sins and strengthening of our faith.
Over and over again the Lord reminds us that not only do we have his forgiveness, not only do we have his presence, but we also have his power to preach. When we share our faith with others, we are speaking his Word by his strength. It will uproot and tear down. It will destroy and overthrow. It will build and plant. God promised in the book of Isaiah that his Word does not ever return to him empty. It always achieves its purpose. It will always convict sinners and call them to repentance. It will always comfort repentant hearts with the good news of forgiveness through Jesus Christ. So Preach the Word because you have the Lord’s power!
Think carefully about those words of Jesus’ great commission to go and make disciples of all nations. Do you remember the setting? It was the fortieth day after Jesus rose from the dead. He was about to ascend into heaven and visibly disappear. But first he gave this great task to go and make disciples.
The awesome thing is what he said before and after that commission. First Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Then he said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Then he bookended that with the promise, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” It’s like a tasty little outreach Oreo that Jesus gives us. In the middle is the sweet task of going to make disciples of all nations and sandwiching that tasty treat are his two firm promises that he has all power and that he is always with us.
Sound familiar? The Lord said the same thing to Jeremiah as he said to the disciples and to us. You have the Lord’s appointing (Go and make disciples). You have the Lord’s presence (Surely he is with you always). You have the Lord’s power (All authority belongs to him). We have a job to do. We have a message to share. We have the Lord’s presence and power. Now there’s just one last thing to do. Preach the Word!