Lately, I’ve been reading through Jeremiah, and the more I read, the more I’m stricken by what it means to speak the word of God. When I began reading the book, I prayed that the Lord would grant me words to speak just as he promised Jeremiah, but the gravity of Jeremiah’s message is making me have second thoughts about that prayer.
God was faithful to his promise. He “put out his hand” and touched Jeremiah’s mouth, granting him not only words but also an audience. He never promised Jeremiah that the audience would like what he had to say.
Which is why a few short chapters later, Jeremiah wishes he had never been born. The promised words were not pleasant words for the people, and when Jeremiah tried to keep his mouth shut and save his own neck, the words burned within him and demanded release.
“If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” [Jeremiah 20:9]
I’ve always associated these words with my own calling. The word of the Lord burns within me and demands release. I must speak his name, and I must tell of his greatness. If I do not, then I have failed to be the person that he created me to be. But I wonder how eager I would be to speak his word if I faced the same consequences Jeremiah faced. What if my message stopped short of Jesus Christ and only covered the tough stuff? What if I couldn’t talk about the hope of eternity and could only speak words that serve to “pluck up and break down, to destroy and to overthrow?” [Jeremiah 1:10]
Sin. Failure. Rebellion. Separation. Judgment. Wrath. Fury.
No one wants to hear that message. We like to hear about the love of God and peace that surpasses all understanding, but sin is a tough pill to swallow. Nevertheless, speaking the word of God isn’t just about talking about the good stuff. We have to taste the bitterness of the bad to appreciate the sweetness of the good. I don’t like talking about sin and judgment, but Jeremiah didn’t have the option of keeping silent, and neither do I.
I must learn to balance the bitter and the sweet words of God. You see, Jeremiah’s message was not just one of doom and gloom. He also spoke words to “build up and to plant,” [Jeremiah 1:10] Yes, his message was one of judgment, but he also issued a call for repentance:
“The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the words you have heard. Now therefore mend your ways and your deeds, and obey the voice of the Lord your God, and the Lord will relent of the disaster that he has pronounced against you.” [Jeremiah 26:12-13]
Isn’t that the same message that we should be proclaiming? Yes, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” but those who repent and believe “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” [Romans 3:23-25] Judgment and hope belong together.
It’s hard for me to imagine facing death for speaking the word of the Lord. I am not a prophet. The words I speak don’t carry the same authority or consequences as the word Jeremiah spoke, but that does not excuse me from speaking. God has given me his word just as he gave it to Jeremiah, but the word he has given me is leather-bound with my name imprinted on the front. If I am faithful to that word, then I will fulfill the call that has been issued to me. Thank God that the story didn’t stop with the exile that Jeremiah prophesied but continued on to Calvary, where God’s Word took on the sin of humanity and rose victorious.
Now that’s a word that demands to be spoken.
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