Years ago some philosopher gave this estimation of a full and fruitful life. He said – “Raise a good son, plant a good tree, and write a good book.” He suggested that it was not one or two, but all three that resulted in a good life. If that is the true measure of a man, then there are very few successful lives.
I am of the opinion that Jeremiah was a great man, if not to the world, at least to Israel. Yet that man, had no sons or daughters that we know of to carry on his name and work. There is no evidence that he ever planted a tree. And although he wrote a book, it was not on the “New York Time’s Best Seller’s” list. Judging from Jeremiah’s life I think that there is hope for all of us.
It’s about Jeremiah’s books that I’d like us to think this morning. There were three of them. And Jeremiah was Jeremiah through his books.
Along with his pre-natal call by God, it was the Word of God that made Jeremiah Jeremiah.
He had been in the ministry a few years when the Scriptures were re-discovered. They had been hidden in the long-neglected Temple. But during the revival under Josiah, both the Temple and the Word were restored to their place honor. It is a shame that Josiah was the father of the current wicked king Jehoiakim. Does that mean since Josiah didn’t have a good son, or plant a good tree, his life was a failure?
Remember that the Word of God in Jeremiah’s day consisted primarily of the Pentateuch. What Josiah’s men found were the five books of Moses. But there may have been some of the historical books as well – such as Joshua and Samuel.
Jeremiah was undoubtedly one of the first in line to get a copy of the words of Moses. He was not one of those ministers who feel threatened by the Bible. When their people pick up the Bible those preachers wonder if their ministries will survive. And in a great many cases, they should not. But those who are serving God, are not threatened – rather they are blessed – when their people begin to read the Bible on their own. Because it should bring those readers into fellowship with their preachers reading the same Word.
Jeremiah didn’t read the scriptures which were in his possession like a scholar would. It wasn’t that he wasn’t a scholar, because I’m sure that he was. But his desire was not to analyze the Bible and explain it to others. In this way he was quite a bit different from most modern preachers. Jeremiah was already on the cutting edge of new revelation. Based upon what God had already declared to Moses and others, He was going to show Jeremiah new important and eternal things. Jeremiah didn’t read the scriptures as a reformer looking for corrections to make in other people’s lives. He read to be fed; he read the Word of God to be blessed by Words of God. Jeremiah read the Word as a personal letter from the Lord Himself.
Remember that this man had heard the audible voice of God. He had conversed and almost quarreled with Jehovah about his call to the ministry. And when the Pentateuch was rediscovered, Jeremiah knew precisely Who the Author was. When he read that book, He could hear the voice of the Lord in every word. It had the same intonation, diction and intensity which he had heard with his own ears. It’s the same sort of way that I remember reading my mother’s letters. I could see her sitting before the kitchen window above William’s Lake, British Columbia. I could smell the Earl Grey tea and hear her voice in every word. That was the way that Jeremiah read the Word of God. Jeremiah read the Word as if it was meant for him alone, even though that was not exactly true. He compared the prophecies which he was being given to those given to other men of God. He patterned his life after the life which God demanded in that Book. This is by far the best way to read the Bible.
And what sort of effect did it leave on that man’s life? Someone has said that every book we read ought to be like a wrung on a ladder – “It ought to lift us a step closer to the stars” – or we might say “to heaven.” First of all the Bible showed to Jeremiah his roots – “Jeremiah, this is your life.” First there was his father Adam. And through Adam, the prophet learned more about his relationship to the Creator. And then he learned about sin – his own and the sin of the people around him. Though the Word Jeremiah rediscovered his roots as a son of Jacob. He learned about the Exodus and the Lord’s graciousness to his nation. And perhaps even more recent history came to mind, like that of David’s kingdom. Anyway, the Word then showed Jeremiah his God. It confirmed his theology and filled the gaps and blanks which might have earlier confused him. “I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, thou shalt have no other gods before me.”
You might say that things were the reverse of the testimony of Job. That great man said, “I have heard of thee Lord, by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Jeremiah had already met the Lord personally, and now more thoroughly through the Word. That contact with Jehovah strengthened him in the work to which he had been called. The word showed Jeremiah his duty – not just as a prophet – but as a saint. He collided with the “Thou shalt’s,” and the “Thou shalt not’s” of the Word of God. While the rest of the nation was playing church (Temple), Jeremiah was studying the Lord.
And that Book of God developed a sequel – another book called “Jeremiah’s life.”
It should in all of us. It does in all of us, when we permit the Word to reside in its proper place in our hearts. When the Apostle Paul was struggling with the Corinthians, and then again with the Galatians…. Part of the problem was whether or not, Paul should be considered an Apostle. He told to the Corinthians that he didn’t need letters of authority from Jerusalem. His authority came from Heaven in obvious fashion, but beyond that ….. In II Corinthians 3:2-3 he wrote: “Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.”
This is what a study of Jeremiah’s life is all about. The Word of God had made him something out of the ordinary man. He was more than mediocre. He was more than a Jew shouting, “The Temple, the Temple, the Temple.” A study of the Book of Jeremiah requires a study of Jeremiah’s life. A study of Jeremiah’s life is the study of a saint’s life. And similarly, the lives of saints today should be a visual commentary on the Word of God.
There are people studying the book called “Oldfield’s Life,” “Kjeldgaard’s Life” and “Asmundson’s Life.” The cover of your book might be a picture of your face – your nose, ears and hair color. But it is always unwise to judge a book by it’s cover. The real meat of this kind of book lies behind your eyes, between ears, and deep in your heart. The real substance of any book is not in details of each chapter, but the theme and motif of the whole. Rarely does a single chapter of biography stand alone as short story. Yet each chapter expresses just a bit of that entire theme and develops the chapters around it. One chapter in Jeremiah’s life, was his struggle to quit the ministry. Another was when he traveled to the Euphrates to bury a linen girdle. Another was spent at the potters house watching clay spinning around. There were many chapters and widely different chapters in that man’s life. And they were being read with interest. Read with good effects by some people like Josiah and Baruch. But then, read with hatred and censorship by others. And we, too, need to read the book of the life of Jeremiah, learning from it. Because others are reading the book which we are writing.
Ultimately his life developed into another book called “The book of the Prophecies of Jeremiah.”
It was the Lord who decided this book was to be written – it was not Jeremiah. But why? What was the purpose of writing such a book? There are advantages and disadvantages to putting things down on paper. For example, your idea for next “the great American novel” will never make you any money, if you don’t sit down and write. But if you don’t know grammar and can’t express yourself well, that book may make you look foolish.
Why did God tell Jeremiah to write a book? Well, for one thing we know that Jeremiah spent a lot of time in prison. A person had to really want to hear Jeremiah badly, or he didn’t hear him at all. And the people who needed to hear, never would have if these steps not taken. Being written, read and re-read meant the prophecy could reach a wider audience – more public. Secondly, being written, Jeremiah was reminded that his message was more important than he was. This was probably not significant problem with any of the writers of the Bible. But oh, how this is a lesson which needs to be learned by preachers today. There is a natural tendency to think that the preacher’s presentation is as important or more important than the message he delivers. That importance changes somewhat when his words are put into print.
Why was Jeremiah’s message repeated in ink rather just words? Someone has said, “nothing suffers from time as much as religion does.” There is something about religion that makes it wriggle and move, expand and shrink. I’m not talking about the truth; I’m talking about religion. Whatever is called religion today, will be different ten years from now, unless something can be used to keep it from changing. But nothing suffers from time as little as does a sentence set in stone. And that is what we have when God’s word is written down. That sentence set in stone can be used to keep the religion from alteration. God told Jeremiah to write down the message, so that there could be no alteration.
And then too, the message is not harmed if it is neglected. “The testimony of the Lord is sure….” A man has been fatally stabbed, and with his last breath whispers the name of his assassin. If those dying words have not been heard by someone who can be trusted their effect is lost. But if that dying man, used his own blood to scribble his murderer’s name on the floor, whether the name is found five minutes or five days later, they are still incriminating evidence. As Jeremiah preached God’s revelation, men heard, but many did NOT believe the message. And since sometimes they were influential men, their unbelief kept others from believing. Because we’re talking about the spoken word, the message often was eventually lost. But when the message is permanently written, it extended beyond and around the unbelievers. When God’s revelation is written, it can never be destroyed as a medium of judgment. But whether written or not, it can be destroyed as a medium of blessing. God’s judgment is guaranteed, whether believed and received or not. But God’s blessing must be received – “today is the day of salvation.”
Jeremiah’s writing of this book made the responsibility of the people heavier. This case is just a little different than as it applies to us today. But for those people in 607 B.C., the writing of prophecy made it like a registered letter. What does registering a letter do? It means that if a letter is not returned to the sender, it is assumed to have been received by an authorized representative of the one to whom it was sent. If that letter contained legal documents, those documents are considered to have been served. At the Great White Throne judgment – “the books shall be opened.” What books are we talking about? It will not be the book of Moses’ life, or Jeremiah’s or Oldfield’s. There is some mystery about “the books,” but among those books, will “THE book.” “And the dead shall be judged out of the things written in those books” – Jeremiah, Romans and John
Think for a just a moment about the manner in which Jeremiah’s book was written. What the Lord was asking was not just a hard copy of Jeremiah’s next few prophecies. This was to be a written copy of all his prophecies to that date. And remember that this man had been preaching for over 30 years by this time. Now, where is Jeremiah going to get that information at such a late date? I’d have a hard time telling you what I preached here three Sunday’s ago, without checking my notes. And I’m pretty sure that Jeremiah didn’t use a lot of notes. Could he turn to his trusty stenographer, tape recorder or an HD video recorder?
The source of this book, was exactly the source of all the other books of the Bible. This was given by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God as is profitable for doctrine, for correction…. “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man, but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” And then we see that the Spirit spoke through Jeremiah TO the penman – Baruch. There may be an additional step involved, but this reminds me of God’s use of human penmen in the case of each and every book of the Bible. When you read the Bible don’t look for Baruch in the words and sentences. Nor should you look for Jeremiah. We look for the will, wisdom and wishes of God as we read His book. We try to do that even as we look at the life of Jeremiah.
Now, let me close with a question: If you were stranded on deserted island and could have one book with you, which would it be? The most pious people would say they wanted a copy of the Bible? Some might call for a song book of praise to the Lord. Some might want a notable book of fiction to keep them entertained until rescue came. Others might call for a really long and complicated tome of theology. But wouldn’t the wisest choice be a simple book on boat building?
I think that is precisely what we have when we own a copy of the Bible. In this case the island is called “Earth” and the ocean surrounding it is “Eternity” The Bible is our boat building book. We can sit and moan that we’ve been stranded on this island. Or we can pick up the escape manual and start reading, applying what we are told. We may not be smart enough to explain all the engineering of boat building, but if we have any spiritual intelligence at all, we’ll simply apply what we are reading.
What has the Bible told you about escape from sin island?