Having appreciated DRD's excellent commentaries on the Old Testament historical books (see here), I was looking forward to hearing him preach at this year's Aber Conference. His commentaries are characterised by careful exposition of the biblical text, God-centred theology, thoughtful application, lively illustrations and a great sense of fun. His preaching was no different. In four addresses he introduced us to the book of Jeremiah under the heading, "The True Word for Tough Times". Here is the gist of what he had to say in the first two messages:
Address One: "The Astounding Word" (Jeremiah 1)
We can sometimes take the Word of God for granted. It is a bit like a shut off valve on a toilet. It is only when the pan begins to overflow that we realise what a valuable thing the shut off valve is. When faced with tough times like the days of Jeremiah the prophet we really begin to appreciate just how astonishing is God's Word.
I. The Word of God is astonishing because it is relentless (Jeremiah 1:1-3)
a) It came in religious times
The reign of reforming king Josiah.
b) It came in hostile times
The reign of wicked king Jehoiakim who consigned Jeremiah's prophecy to the flames (Jeremiah 36).
c) It came in nervous times
The reign of Zedekiah, the "yo-yo king" - Jeremiah 38.
d) It came in disastrous times
Jerusalem falls (Jeremiah 39).
The opening verses of the prophecy show that whatever the religious or political climate, the Word of God just keeps on coming. That gives us hope for today and encourages us to preach the Word in season and out of season.
II. The Word of God is astonishing because it is so fragile (Jeremiah 1:4-8)
Jeremiah is but a youth. Who will listen to God's Word through such a whippersnapper? Yahweh often chooses to use unusual people to do great things for him. Abraham, the father of God's covenant people could not have children with Sarah. Jacob was a conniving twister. Jephthah was a reject. But Yahweh chose these people and used them for his glory. Before he was even born God had set apart Jeremiah, the fragile poet to be his mouthpiece in tough times, Jeremiah 1:5. So with all believers, we have been chosen by God and sanctified for his service, Romans 8:28-29. This principle also might help to explain why pastors are such a strange bunch of men.
III. The Word of God is astonishing because it is so dominating (Jeremiah 1:9-10)
It is the Word of God that destroys or builds the nations. That may seem ludicrous given the fragility of those who proclaim it, but it is the case. Yahweh watches over his Word to fulfil it, Jeremiah 1:12. His purposes are invincible.
IV. The Word of God is astonishing because it is so fanatical (Jeremiah 1:11-19)
Yahweh will send the Babylonians to chastise his people because of their rebellion against him. The one true and living God will brook no rivals. He demands the undivided devotion of his covenant people, Deuteronomy 6:4-5. So with Jesus, Matthew 10:37-39.
We need to repent from our idolatry and go to the cross of Jesus for forgiveness. Yahweh requires our all and will rest content with nothing less.
Address Two: "Is this Man a Believer?" (Jeremiah 15:10-21)
Jeremiah's message of judgement for Judah was getting him down. Chapters 2-10 of his prophecy are all doom and gloom. Chapters 11-20 reveal the prophet's conflict. At this stage the man is at crisis point.
I. Balancing on a paradox
Jeremiah was opposed and ridiculed. The people of his own town, Anathoth sought to take his life. He was forbidden to attend both wedding and funerals and was not allowed to get married (Jeremiah 16). This only made him feel all the more isolated and despondent. He was not even allowed to pray for the people, they were beyond that, Jeremiah 11:14. Yet despite all this Jeremiah found joy in Yahweh's Word, (Jeremiah 15:16). This is the paradox of the Christian life. We find joy in suffering and the resurrection power of Jesus is made manifest in his afflicted people, Philippians 3:10.
II. Stepping over the line
In Jeremiah 15:18 the prophet expresses his grief to the Lord. It is not wrong to ask "Why?" as does Jeremiah in 18a, but it is wrong to accuse God of being deceitful as in 18b. Anguish must not crowd out reverence. We may bemoan Yahweh's mysteries, "How long, O Lord?", but not deny his character.
III. Coming under an ultimatum
Yahweh summons his despondent servant to return to him, Jeremiah 15:19. He was not to turn towards the people and alter his message to suit them, but return to the Lord so that once again he might be the mouthpiece of his God. Sometimes the Lord speaks to us sharply and directly to shock us out of our sin and bring us back to him. See also Jesus' dealing with Peter in John 21.
IV. Resting in fresh assurance
What we need is not a new Word from the Lord, but to have his old Word freshly applied. So with the prophet, Jeremiah 15:20-21 cf. 1:17-19. Example of Pat Candy whose daughter was killed in a tragic accident. er grief Revelation 21:4 spoke to her with fresh power. Also when Martyn Lloyd-Jones was depressed he found strength in Titus 1:2. Spurgeon was feeling low when cholera hit London, but he received assurance through Psalm 91:9-10. We don't need a new book on every problem facing the church, but to pay heed to the good old truths of the Bible.
You can order CD or DVD recordings of these addresses from the Evangelical Movement of Wales.