A Better Sermon Will Not Help You!
by Joseph Franks
In Jeremiah 41, the people of God are in a world of hurt. They recognize they are in way over their head and are in need of divine assistance. Do you find yourself in a similar condition today? Has sin seized you? Has your spouse hurt you? Are your children out of control? Has your fountain of money run dry? Has your doctor delivered heartbreaking news? Is your head spinning with self-destructive thoughts? Do you need divine wisdom and assistance?
Sensing their need, the people of God go to the right place. They approach the prophet of the Lord who seeks to be an expert in expounding the words of God. They summon Jeremiah — the minister of God. (42:1-2) Isn’t this what you need? Don’t you need a fresh word from the Lord? Don’t you need to hear the instruction of Jesus — the Wonderful Counselor? Wouldn’t you be benefited by a compassionate minister, counselor, elder, teacher or friend who warmed and enlightened you with the eternal wisdom of God? Would you miss the next installment of God’s Word on this coming Lord’s Day?
When they arrive before Jeremiah, the people of God approach the minister with the proper verbal attitude, “Let our plea for mercy come before you, and pray for us … that the Lord your God may show us the way we should go, and the thing we should do.” (42:2-3) In Scripture, it is the fool who is right in his own eyes. In contrast, Scripture commends the teachable individual who wishes to learn the will of God. As a minister, it is a sweet occasion when someone recognizes their brokenness and is incredibly hungry to learn more of God’s thoughts. Is that you?
Upon hearing their need and desire, Jeremiah gives them a ministerial promise, “Whatever the Lord answers you I will tell you. I will keep nothing back from you.” (42:4) Oh that this would be the commitment of every pastor, teacher, counselor, parent, and friend. Oh that God would give all his ministers such a fear of God, a love of Scripture, and an integrity in delivering God’s counsel. Will you pray for your minister that he might deliver such an unaltered message? Will you leave your minister if he refuses to value the inspired counsel of God over his own thoughts and that of his culture?
Jeremiah’s congregation then promises to apply Jeremiah’s counsel. The people of God will be hearers and doers of the Word. They promise, “May the lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act according to all the word with this the Lord your God sends to us. Whether it is good or bad, we will obey the voice of the Lord our God to whom we are sending you, that it may be well with us when we obey the voice of the Lord our God.” (42:5-6) Isn’t this a glorious spiritual transaction getting ready to happen? It is so sad and vain when men become puffed up with knowledge. How pitiful it is when one is intellectually informed but refuses to put God’s wisdom into practice. Jesus promised a blessing on those who heard and did his holy will. Are you one who knows the Word but does it not? Are you sophomoric; are you a wise fool? Or do you approach every personal devotional, group bible study, and worship service with the listener’s promise, “All that God shows me I will do.”
But sadly, the people of God were heavy on making promises and light on keeping them. (42:7-22) When they received a Word from the Lord that was undesirable, they accused Jeremiah of “telling a lie.” (43:2) And though being instructed in the right place, by the right man, with the right counsel, and making the right promise, they left and “did not obey the voice of the Lord.” (43:4) God told them to stay put in Judah, but “they came into the land of Egypt, for they did not obey the voice of the Lord.” (43:7) Doesn’t this sound like us? “All to Jesus I surrender,” we sing. “Where he leads me I will follow,” are the words of an old favorite, and quite often this hymn is followed by “Trust and obey, for there is no other way, to be happy in Jesus.” I wonder how often we come to worship, consecrate ourselves to be students at the beginning of the service, hear a faithful presentation of God’s Word, swear to obey, and then do the opposite. Oh how foolish we are!
For this ludicrous act of rebellion, the people of God were condemned and harshly disciplined; it did not go well with them. Their disobedience harmed themselves, their children, and their nation.
Friends, such is the condition of me and my friends. We are informed but incorrigible. Our heads and mouths are filled with God’s Word, but it does not affect our hearts and feet. We know what to do, but do it not. And in the end, our miserable existence is made more miserable. We heap sin upon sin and wonder what is wrong with our minister, our church, and our holy religion. On Sunday we walk into the church, and walk the aisle, but on Monday we forget to walk after the model of Christ.
Let us cease this sophomoric spiritual ludicrously! It is the fool who goes to the doctor and does not apply the remedy prescribed by the medical practitioner. It is the fool who goes to the mechanic to learn the cause of the blinking “check engine” light and then makes not the necessary repairs. And it is the fool who reads the Word, goes to the church, visits with the minister, and never makes life-adjustments based upon the timeless counsel of God. It is like a man who looks in a mirror and goes away without making himself more attractive to God and man. Doctrine is only good if you do it.