Sermon series: The Person God Uses
We are skillful at the art of making excuses, aren't we? "I don't know how." "I didn't understand." "I couldn't find the right tools." "The voices told me to clean all the guns today." "I threw out my back bowling." "I have a Doctor's appointment." "There's been a death in the family." "The hazmat crew is here and won't let me out of the house." "I have a relative coming in from Hawaii and I need to pick them up at the airport." And, my all time favorite: "When I got up this morning I accidentally took two Ex-Lax in addition to my Prozac. I can't get off the john, but I feel good about it."
In the Christian world, we can find all sorts of excuses not to obey God's voice: "It's the preacher's job." "It's not my gift." "I've already served, let someone else do it." "I'm too busy or too tired or too old or too young."
It has been said, "Excuses are tools of the incompetent, and those who specialize in them seldom go far." Ben Franklin wrote, "He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else." Gabriel Meurier stated, "He who excuses himself, accuses himself."
Jeremiah had every excuse ready when God called him to be a prophet. His excuses are often our excuses for not heeding God's voice when he calls. Countering each excuse was a promise from God.
I. The Excuse: The Task is Demanding
Jeremiah was called to be "a prophet to the nations" (Jer. 1:5), not a priest like his father and his grandfather. A prophet was a chosen and authorized spokesman for God who declared God's Word to the people. We often think of prophets as people who can tell the future. But a prophet spoke messages to the present that had future ramifications. They were forthtellers more than they were foretellers, exposing the people's sins and calling them back to their covenant responsibilities before God.
Being a prophet was more demanding than serving as a priest. The priests' duties were predictable. Everything was written down in the law. The prophet never knew from one day to the next what the Lord would call him to say or to do. The priest worked primarily to preserve the past. The prophet labored to change the present so the nation would have a future. Priests dealt with externals - rituals, sacrifices, offerings, services - whereas the prophet tried to reach and change hearts. Priests ministered primarily to individuals with various needs. Prophets, on the other hand, addressed whole nations, and usually the people they addressed didn't want to hear the message. Priests belonged to a special tribe and therefore had authority and respect, but a prophet could come from any tribe and had to prove his divine call. Priests were supported from the sacrifices and offerings of the people, but prophets had no guaranteed income.
Jesus, too, was called to be a prophet. He traveled from place to place challenging the people to change so that their future in heaven would be guaranteed. Jesus spoke to the hearts of people. Most did not accept his message of repentance, for they did not want to change.
God may assign you a demanding task, but his call keeps us going when we don't want to go and are ready to quit. We have the promise of God's purpose. "I chose you before I formed you in the womb; I set you apart before you were born'" (Jer. 1:5). The verb know has much more meaning than simply being aware of. It carries the idea of recognition of the worth and purpose of him who is known. God knew Jeremiah, chose Jeremiah, and appointed Jeremiah. He was known by name, hand-picked by God, and commissioned to serve. Those acts give one a great sense of purpose. The promise of God's purpose allows us to let go of our own plans and to receive God's plan without fear. Like Jeremiah and Jesus, we need to accept that our future is not our own. We are God's. He has a distinct plan and purpose for our lives.
II. The Excuse: My Talent is Inadequate
"But I protested, ‘Oh no, Lord, GOD! Look, I don't know how to speak since I am only a youth'" (Jer. 1:6). Jeremiah felt inadequate as a public speaker. By the way, this excuse was shared by Moses (Ex. 4:10).
When they heard the news that I was called to preach, most people in my hometown thought the news bearer had made a mistake. "Surely, you don't mean Ricky is called to preach. You must mean his twin brother Micky. Ricky is too quiet." When God's call came I felt honored but extremely inadequate. My lack of talent was obvious. My quiet, shy nature was a detriment.
I felt a lot like, Calvin Miller, pastor and author. He wrote about his call:
"I was so inferior, even the neighbors noted it and pointed it out to my mother as I grew up. In my late teens, one of my sisters felt led of God to help me get in touch with myself by telling me that in her opinion, which was as inerrant as the King James Bible, that if God called me to do anything he must have had a wrong number. When I told my preacher I was called to preach, he didn't necessarily feel that God had a wrong number, but he was concerned that I might have had a poor connection."
God has a way to overcome weakness and our insufficiencies, doesn't he? I have learned over the years, however, that the person most aware of his own inadequacy is usually the person most dependent on God's all-sufficiency. My inadequacy has caused me to rely upon God. His strength is made perfect in my weakness. His glory is manifested through my flaws.
Our talent may appear inadequate, but God always equips those he calls. We have the promise of God's provision. "Then the LORD reached out His hand, touched my mouth, and told me: I have now filled your mouth with My words" (Jer. 1:9). The touch was not so much to purify as it was to inspire and empower. It was symbolic of the gift of prophecy bestowed on Jeremiah.
Jesus experienced this touch in a visible, yet profound way. Following his baptism, immediately coming out of the water, the heavens opened and the Spirit of God descended on him like a dove. And God spoke, "This is My beloved Son. I take delight in Him" (Matt. 3:17).
God blesses not the silver-tongued orator, but the one whose tongue has been touched with coals from the altar. God uses not the most gifted and talented person, but the one touched by the hand of God. God uses the most unlikely persons to shake a church or a community or a nation. Never underestimate the power of the touch; especially when God does the touching.
III. The Excuse: The Time is Not Right
Jeremiah said to God, "I am only a youth" (Jer. 1:6). The word youth - unfortunately rendered child in some versions of the Bible - ordinarily denotes a young, unmarried man in his teens or early twenties. Most scholars think that Jeremiah was around 20 to 25 at the time of his call. His reply is not so much revealing his age as much as a deep sense of immaturity. He felt inferior, inexperienced, and intimidated by the size of the task to which God was summoning him.
God's call may come at an inopportune time, but he never sends forth his servant alone. We have the promise of God's presence. "Then the LORD said to me: Do not say, ‘I am only a youth,' for you will go to everyone I send you to and speak whatever I tell you. Do not be afraid of anyone, for I will be with you to deliver you. This is the LORD's declaration" (Jer. 1:7-8).
Please note the condition to this promise. Before Jeremiah could experience God's presence, he had to go where God sent him, speak what God told him, and reject fear. Someone once said that when God calls us to a task, he does not give us a road map to follow and then leave us to our resources. God walks with us. His presence gives us the strength to stand in the face of every assault.
Jesus felt that same Presence. He and the Father were one. He could go on because God walked with him.
What a difference it makes knowing that when we are being sent, someone is going with us. We know we do not have to walk the lonesome road alone, that we have a traveling companion.
IV. The Excuse: The Teaching is Dangerous
The Lord did not give Jeremiah a joyful message of deliverance to announce, but a tragic message of judgment. Consequently, Jeremiah would be misunderstood, persecuted, arrested, and imprisoned. More than once his life was threatened. The people did not want to hear the truth. Jeremiah told them plainly they were defying the Lord, disobeying the law, and destined for judgment.
God used the image of a boiling pot to communicate his coming wrath. "Again the word of the LORD came to me inquiring, ‘What do you see?' And I replied, ‘I see a boiling pot, its lip tilted from the north to the south'" (Jer. 1:13). Jewish homes would have a fairly large, wide-mouth washing or cooking pot. The unusual thing about the pot Jeremiah saw was that it was not level. It was titled away from the north. The pot could at any moment spew its boiling contents toward the south, scalding the people of Judah. The pot represented the nation of Babylon that would invade and conquer Israel. The reason for the judgment was Israel's idolatry and rebellion against the God's righteous will.
Jesus' teaching contained mercy and judgment, grace and punishment. Jesus' teachings were dangerous, too. In fact, it was his teaching that cost him his life.
What God says through us may be dangerous, but God gives us the strength to endure. We have the promise of God's prevailing. "Today, I am the One who has made you a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls against the whole land - against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the population. They will fight against you but never prevail over you, since I am with you to rescue you" (Jer. 1:18-19).
Notice the architectural terms: a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls. They are solid and unshakeable like the God who conceived them, and the prophet whom they would come to characterize. God reassured Jeremiah: Attack you they will; overcome you they can't.
The person who stands with God will prevail. Someone once said: "One with God is a majority." Alone we are helpless. With God we prevail.
In the days of the Roman Empire, the great Coliseum of Rome was filled to capacity with spectators, coming for the state games, watching human beings battle against wild beasts or against one another until one or both died. The crowd found its greatest delight in the death of a human being. When Honorius was emperor of Rome, in A.D. 404, as the vast crowd watched the contest, a Syrian monk by the name of Telemachus leaped onto the Coliseum floor. So torn by the utter disregard for the value of human life, he cried out, "In the name of God, this thing is not right! In the name of God, this thing must stop."
The spectators became enraged at this courageous man. They mocked him and threw objects at him. Caught up in the excitement, the gladiators attacked him, and a sword pierced him. The gentle monk fell to the ground dead.
The entire Coliseum fell silent. For the first time the people with the insatiable blood-thirst recognized the horror of what they had called entertainment. Telemachus kindled a flame in the hearts and consciences of thinking persons. History records that, because of his courageous act, within a few months the gladiatorial combats began to decline, and very shortly passed from the scene. Why? Because one man dared to speak out for what he believed was right. His message was dangerous, for it challenged the pleasures and enjoyments of the people. Though Telemachus died, his message prevailed.
V. The Excuse: Do I Have to Go Now?
God was expecting immediate action from Jeremiah. God said, "Now, get ready. Stand up and tell them everything that I command you" (Jer. 1:17). In Jeremiah's day the men had to tie their loose robes together with a belt in order to run or to work. Jeremiah was in for a struggle. He had a fight on his hands. So the phrase "dress yourself for work" or "gird up your loins" was a metaphor that meant "Get ready for action!" Today we would say, "Roll up your sleeves!"
God called Jeremiah to act. He was called to move out among people. He was called to deliver an offensive message. He would not be welcomed, nor would he be accepted. He would anger his hearers.
God expects obedience, immediately, if we don't, we are in danger of God's wrath. We have the promise of God's power. "Do not be intimidated by them or I will cause you to cower before them" (Jer. 1:17). Immediate obedience is the only appropriate response when God calls.
Jesus obeyed. Whatever you think of Jesus, remember this, his heart was a willing and obedient heart. He always did what his Father directed. There was no hesitation, no questioning, no circumventing. Only immediate action.
Has God called you? Then he will fulfill his purpose in you, he will equip you, he will enable you, he will protect you, he will accompany you. Are you obeying his commands? Then he is with you to protect you. Are you sharing the word? Then he will accomplish his purposes no matter how the people respond.