Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations." Then I said, "Alas, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, Because I am a youth."
But the LORD said to me, "Do not say, 'I am a youth,' Because everywhere I send you, you shall go, And all that I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, For I am with you to deliver you," declares the LORD. Then the LORD stretched out His hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me, "Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have appointed you this day over the nations and over the kingdoms, To pluck up and to break down, To destroy and to overthrow, To build and to plant."
No Two Ways About It
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Choice. We Americans love choice. We want to have things the way we want them. Advertising slogans often try to entice us with the illusion of choices. "Have it your way at Burger King". Go into any store to buy nearly any product and you face a mind-boggling array of choices. You cannot just buy aspirin, you have to choose: what strength? What shape? Is it coated to protect your stomach? Does it have an antacid built in to sooth you? Is it long-acting, or time-release? And are you sure you don't want Tylenol or Advil or Alleve, or one of the other twelve hour acting pain killers? Choices. Our society has even disguised the obscene violence of abortion under the sweet-sounding label of "choice".
God is not so much into choice. He knows we do not have the power to choose salvation, so He doesn't offer choice. Instead He does the work, and He chooses us. When God decides that we are to serve Him, He settles the issue. We may have our uncertainties and insecurities - as Jeremiah did in our text - but God brushes them aside and assigns us our work, and tells us how it is to be. As it was with Jeremiah, so it is with us, there are no two ways about it. When God has spoken that is that. Our theme is, No Two Ways About It.
Of course, our lives are not precisely like the life of Jeremiah. He was a prophet. He was a prophet, selected by God from before his birth to do those things which God had planned. Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations." None of us can claim that we have the direct call of God like that, but each of us is called. Make no mistake about that. God chose each one of us. And, lest you think that it is somewhat less pre-planned, remember what it says in Romans 8:29-30, "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren; and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified."
The Apostle Paul writes in praise of God for planning our salvation and choosing us, in particular, to be among His elect in salvation; "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him in love. He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved." So, even if we are no prophets like Jeremiah, we have also been chosen, and chosen from before the time of our birth. We are God's planned people.
What God has planned for us is not as clearly spelled out for us as it appears that it was for Jeremiah, but He has something in mind for us. And like Jeremiah, it may not always be what we would choose. Jeremiah said, "Then I said, "Alas, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, Because I am a youth." He did not want to be in the position in which God had placed him. He had his excuses all prepared. He said he wasn't qualified. He said that he was too young. We often feel something like that, too. We don't want to face what God gives us to face. We are not qualified to do those things, or we are too young, or - well, we have our creative excuses too.
But God tells Jeremiah that there are no two ways about it. He explains in language that leaves very little room for qualms and quavering. He simply says, you will do what I have given you to do. But the LORD said to me, "Do not say, 'I am a youth,' Because everywhere I send you, you shall go, And all that I command you, you shall speak. God has a plan, and He plans to use us.
Jeremiah's place was a particularly difficult one. He had to go to world leaders - at least those who led the world he knew - and give them really awful news. He was charged with condemning their unbelief and unfaithfulness - to their faces - and telling them that the world they knew was about to be destroyed. What he had to say would irritate them, and make them want to kill him. They put him in jail and tortured him and starved him and made him wish he had not lived to see the day.
Of course, he did. He saw the day of the final destruction of Jerusalem, and the remnant of the people taken away into captivity. He saw people slaughtered in the destruction that he prophesied. He was not responsible for it happening, but he had to witness it anyhow - and many people held him accountable for it simply because he was the spokesman for God at the time it occurred. Jeremiah was frightened by what God asked of him, and yet he had to do it.
But he did not do it without a promise. Jeremiah wrote God's comfort to him, "Do not be afraid of them, For I am with you to deliver you," declares the LORD. Jeremiah really angered the king and his nobles, so-called. They hated him and wanted to kill him. They threw him into a pit to starve, but one of those who was still faithful to the Lord pulled him out, and they fed him. As much as the enemies of Jeremiah wanted him dead, they could never accomplish it. Jeremiah saw the destruction of Jerusalem, and he went with the captive people on their captivity. He saw it all, and those who wanted him dead, died instead.
Of course, Jeremiah did die, one day. Ancient Jewish tradition says that, as an old man, Jeremiah was placed inside a hollow log and the log was cut in two, killing the prophet. Hebrews 11:37 refers to that ancient tradition, mentioning that some among the Old Testament people awaiting the coming of Christ were sawn in two. But this did not happen to him while he went where God sent him and spoke the words God gave him to speak. He had divine protection then - even though I would imagine that it may not have seemed like he had divine protection at every moment. Besides, everyone dies one day. I imagine that Jeremiah was ready to go when the Lord permitted him to die, and join Him in glory.
We also have a promise. Just as our call is not the same sort of direct call that Jeremiah received, and we are not given to be prophets like Jeremiah to world leaders and to speak prophetic utterances as he was, our promise is not necessarily for protection from the assaults of the world or the troubles of the world. Our promise is the Gospel. Our promise is that whatever this world may serve up to us, we have eternal life and will know peace and joy and life beyond death and sickness and sorrow and trouble. Not every moment we live on earth will be a delight. That is not promised. We, too, will need to face death one day. But our promise is that because of Jesus Christ, our sins are forgiven, and come what may, we have everlasting life and glory and peace and joy set before us because of what Christ has done and given to us.
Jeremiah wrote, Then the LORD stretched out His hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me, "Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have appointed you this day over the nations and over the kingdoms, To pluck up and to break down, To destroy and to overthrow, To build and to plant." That was the great and terrible work assigned to Jeremiah. He had the comfort of having it directly applied, and the discomfort of knowing that there was no two ways about it. He was going to do these things, speak those words, face those great challenges, and endure the things ahead. He had God's work to do, God's Word to speak, and it was going to shake the world he knew.
We don't have that same charge. But we do have God's work to do, and we do have God's Word to speak. It is a Word which has shaken the world for centuries, and changed it forever. Our part in the telling and the shaking is not quite the same as Jeremiah, but it is something God has set before us, and taught us in His Word and given us His Spirit to both believe His promises and to do what He would have us to do. We cannot judge how significant our part is from here.
I remember driving through Utah and Idaho. At one place I entered a valley from a road through the mountains. I could see the town in the valley, and I could see cars on the other side of the valley, driving up the road to a pass on the other side. I imagined, looking at it, that it was a relatively short trip. An hour later, I had not reached the town in the center of the valley yet. It was several hours to cross that valley - a valley which had appeared so much smaller from the side. Our lives and our tasks from God are just as difficult to judge from where we sit. We do not know how long our road is. We cannot judge how important our part in the tasks at hand are. Sometimes we cannot see what we are accomplishing at all. But it is what God has given us to do, and the joy and comfort of the hope of the Gospel is what God has given us to speak - both to one another, and to others who do not yet believe.
Like Jeremiah, we haven't been asked. God has chosen us. He has known us from the foundation of the world, and has planned our place in it. Everything He has given us to say, we shall say, and everywhere He sends us, we shall go - even when we don't have any sensation of being sent by God, or God having given us the words to speak. It is just as Paul describes it in Ephesians 2:10, For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Because it is from God does not mean that it will be what we call "fun", or "pleasant", or even easily understood. But since we are His people, it is clear that our lives are part of His great plan, and that where we are is where God would have us to be right now, and what we are doing, unless we are trying to run from God or do something wicked, is what He has placed before us to do. Your troubles, just like your joys, come from His hand, or at least by His permission. He has work for you to do, a word for you to speak, and example to set, a life to live and a death to die - and He will make of it what He has planned. And it will be glorious - not because of its size, or how it impresses the people around us, but because it is what God has planned. And we are called - not invited, but called to do what God has set before us. But we are called to do it in faith, doing all to the glory of God, and trusting in His love and His promises. And we will succeed, even when it feels like something else. There is just no two ways about it.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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