Philip Casmer

His Word Will Prevail

by Philip Casmer on June 25th, 2023
Jeremiah 20:7-13

The promise from God came when Jeremiah was young. It might be that Jeremiah thought he understood all the ways his world was giving out theologically – God’s people under the late kings of Israel and Judah, they were pretty fickle and forgetful, idolatrous even. His excuse to the LORD was his youth – “I do not know how to speak,” he said, “I am only a child.” And some say perhaps that was the actual truth – Jeremiah was maybe a teen when he was called… 10, 16, 25. Whatever the case, Jeremiah didn’t feel up to the task of being God’s prophet and he said so. But this is what the Lord said, “Do not be afraid…for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord…“Now, I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”Jeremiah 1:8–10 (NIV84) So that Jeremiah would be confident to speak God’s Word, the LORD promised His Word Will Prevail

Jeremiah’s ministry spanned four decades and five kings. So we can jump ahead 25yrs and he’s still working… A little over 40yrs old now, Jeremiah is sitting in the stocks. His head is crusted with blood. Has a black eye, split lip, maybe even a couple broken ribs. The temple guards had beaten him pretty good. As it’s always gone with this form of punishment, the stocks were meant to immobilize you uncomfortably, put you at the mercy of others – so others had mocked him and spit on him and even thrown things at him. He’d slept terribly, of course. Perhaps was even a bit crabby when Passhur arrived – the one who’d locked Jeremiah up the day before for preaching unpalatable things… Jeremiah preached them again. He called Passhur Magor Misabib – “terror on every side” – saying that all his friends and relatives would see terror and destruction when God’s judgment fell on them… This, exactly the sort of thing Jeremiah had been locked up for the day before. Out of his mouth, more and more, sometime only (it seemed) judgment by the Word of the Lord – that His Word Will Prevail.

Presumably Passhur threw up his hands and went away. But Jeremiah kept on talking, now to the LORD – as you heard it this morning. As Jeremiah’s book goes, sprinkled throughout chs.11-20 are Jeremiah’s complaints – the second to last one is our text this morning. Perhaps this was the most striking of the readings to you today – because it speaks to God almost in a way that you and I would say is blasphemous… Accuses God of… well, translators struggle with the word – what’s the way to say it – deceiving Jeremiah?, coercing Jeremiah?, persuading Jeremiah? There are even worse ways too… It’s enough to say either way that Jeremiah is expressing dissatisfaction at his status – he feels duped, maybe even that God lied to him about how his Word preaching mission was going to go, or that God pushed him into ministry when he’d clearly said no. That God overpowered him, so that Jeremiah knew: His Word will prevail – has – even over me…

It’s a complaint because this is what Jeremiah experienced. Jeremiah’s job was proclaiming the LORD’s word. That His Word will prevail over sin and sinners who hold onto it… As it turned out, that kind of word was mostly “violence and destruction” (v.8). And that kind of word brought about this kind of experience for Jeremiah – a beating and a night in the stocks – but also ridicule and mockery (vv.8-9), and worst of all, even from his friends (v.10). Literally, he calls them “people of my peace” or, the kind of people about whom you can say, “With these people I can be totally relaxed – at peace – my friends/family.” Except it’s this very closest crowd that mocks his message too and even cheers for his downfall…

Even if you’re not a prophet, you understand Jeremiah’s complaint, I think. You bear God’s Word too – live it, believe it, tell it. So you’ve heard it: “Who do you think you are to tell me – how to live / what to value / when to worship?” “Do you think you’re better than me?” “Mom, leave me alone! Your ideas are so old-fashioned…” How the things God says are microaggressions or misinformation. I think you know, most of you, the difficulty of friendships strained when the law was preached; of family relationships broken over what God says and whether you’re going to hold to it; of the soft persecutions that we like to pretend aren’t really or are somehow appropriate. Or perhaps you simply know the anger and the retorts the sinner gives to the pastor or the friend because you’ve made them…

Regardless, we all know that same inclination Jeremiah felt, and we’ve seen it as temptation: to shut that Word up. To bury it deep in our bones, where nobody can see it or find it. To try and forget it… But we should remember that His Word will prevail – even over us – should we stand in its way. In the most final way, as Jesus told it, those who refuse to confess his Heavenly Father as their own in their own lives, he will forget to confess them before the Heavenly Father on the Last Day. On that day, it will be a different burning his Word will bring.

So pray with me, in repentance, for any times we have shut that Word up or pushed it into our forgotten recesses because we knew the reaction would be harsh and it seemed like that Word would just fail. Pray with me for forgiveness for any of those thoughts that our designs are better / stronger / will prevail in the end over his. Lord, forgive us, we pray… 

But then keep on praying like Jeremiah – a complaint. Yes! The primary goal in this sermon will not be that you speak the word, no… but that you lodge your complaint… lay out your hurts and burdens and what seems unfair, how you can’t see any good solution by preaching his word. Because Jeremiah’s complaints are for you and me in moments like his, really – to invite us, to instruct us, to change us. 

There’s a worldly doctrine out there called “manifestation”. It calls you to speak what you want into existence – say your goals over and over again, ask the benevolent universe for them, and they will manifest in real life… You’ll find love and power and wealth and… Now, there’s probably some normal “this is how brains and motivation works” okayness to that idea – if you say something enough you start to believe it’s possible, perhaps. There’s also some weird idolatry of self and world… But Jeremiah’s complaint is like that in a way. 

Did you notice how it so suddenly turns? It’s weird to us but very normal for the psalms and the prophets – and fitting for believers. Here how I think it works: by speaking what is true – both bad and promising – His Word will prevail over our own hearts… 

He invites us to lay things out for him. “Call upon me in the day of trouble,” God has said. Because you have a relationship with a heavenly Father, you can talk to him straightforwardly – honesty about the destructiveness of sin and the difficulties of believing and speaking his Word. And this speaking things how they are experientially, allows you to speak things how they are spiritually. When in prayer we rehearse and lay out our own inabilities, what all we cannot see, we highlight and focus on his ability…our words invite God’s Word to prevail over our experiences and doubts and fears. …allow us to express our trust that His Word will prevail over all the enemies – and will do so by God’s hand, not our own. 

What a picture Jeremiah uses to tell it! “The LORD is with me like a mighty warrior…” Another translation called him “a dread champion.” In Jeremiah’s day they would have known fierce battle and the benefit of having fierce warriors on your side. We’ve been blessed not to worry too much about battle, so we tend to value this picture less I think. In our day, “dread champion” makes me think of a guy like Jocko Willink. (Nobody tell him that some pastor in the Midwest compared the LORD to him…) He’s a retired Navy Seal. He’s what I picture if I think of modern warriors – he’s all muscle, he’s bald – he seems very nice – but he could kill you… That’s what he is. He’s a fighter. He was trained to fight and win, and  built for battle. The comfort of a person like that is not a soft demeanor but in ruthless, deadly force… 

When Jeremiah says the LORD is with me like a mighty warrior, he means that God has deadly force – can demolish his enemies, will prevail over them with implacable and inescapable strength and will, will not give up until the battle is won and his enemies lie in disgrace and failure. And, if your enemies are his enemies, then woe to them and blessed are you… But not for your designs… Jeremiah’s prayer keeps us in the right spirit: “LORD, you know the heart and my mind and what’s righteous – and I don’t want selfish victory or self-serving help – you bring about your vengeance, your conquering victory over sin. Your will be done – and I’m just going to leave things with you.” As Jeremiah said it, “to you I have committed my cause,” or the psalmist, “my times are in your hands…” (31:5) Deliver me, O Lord, mighty warrior. May your Word prevail…

And you may see it: The destruction of those who persecute you under the Lord’s judgment, or the shame they will face when all of their vaunted intelligence and opinions come to nothing, or their conversion to the truth; or you may never see it at all in your lifetime, or you might even die in enemy hands.

But then we recall, as Jeremiah did, that the Lord’s Word has prevailed already. By his Word of promise, apart from your righteousness or mine, his Son became the Word of God incarnate, and allowed the world’s sinful violence to take his righteous life. The strangest battle won our victory – on a cross he died and when all seemed lost, he “rescue[d] the life of the needy from the hands of the wicked”. From the clawing fingers of hell, he rescued you; made sure your sins – fear and doubt, self centered might, selfishness, hiding his Word – with one word he declared victory over them, “It is finished.” Even from your enemies, whoever they are, he has prevailed. Because this world can make words of mockery and destroy reputations and label you and even declare your life forfeit – but he has spoken mightier words about you: “righteous”, “mine”, “family”, “kings and queens”. Believers like Jeremiah, and Paul, and Judy Shelton, and Eugene Kitzerow…they knew that Jesus’ word prevailed for them in their need and had in store for them the crown of righteousness that no enemy can take away.

May the mighty LORD fill us with the same spirit he gave to Jeremiah – that when caught between a rejecting world and his compelling Word – we have a burning fire to speak the truth and, in the doing, a trust that his Word will prevail.

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