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What Helps Me Most As I Prepare to Preach

This post is a quick response to a question in a comment on my post on Jane Austen and Jeremiah 20:7. The question was what commentaries have helped me most as I’ve worked through Jeremiah.

My answer is along the lines of what I recently said about what seminaries are for, because what has helped me most as I’ve preached through Jeremiah has been reading the text in Hebrew.

I’m not boasting about being able to read Hebrew, here. It took me a long time to learn it. In fact, I had 8 Hebrew related classes as a Th.M. student at DTS, and when I got to SBTS I was served up a nice big slice of humble pie when Peter Gentry and Russell Fuller proved to me that I needed to re-take elementary Hebrew. I was humbled, ashamed, offended, but I knew they were right. They served me well, and I went back through elementary Hebrew as a PhD student. My pride made it difficult to accept, but I wanted to be able to read Hebrew more than I wanted to preserve the appearance of being a big smart PhD student.

God mercifully gave me the opportunity to study. He mercifully gave me patient teachers willing to tell me what I needed to do. He mercifully allowed me to have the time as a PhD student to re-take those courses.

And being able to read the Hebrew text of Jeremiah as I prepare to preach that book is the most useful part of my sermon prep.

I’m not dogging people who can’t read Hebrew. We all have different gifts and different opportunities and different privileges.

I am saying to people starting seminary or Bible college, or people in process at such schools thinking about where best to invest their time: an education is more important than a diploma. Get yourself an education, whether that amounts to a degree or not. Ideally the degree will come along with the education, but if you’re picking between the two, the education is the more important.

That is to say, I think it’s more important for you to learn the biblical languages than for you to get your credential. So I recommend that you take the biblical languages early and often. You can get other advice from other people with other concerns. That’s fine.

God has spoken in his word. His word is better than the commentaries upon it. His word is better than biblical and systematic theologies written about it. His word is the tool that he will use to change lives. If you have the chance, why wouldn’t you give yourself to his word in its original languages?

I think a valid reason for pursuing a PhD is developing what Peter Gentry refers to as “sovereign command of the biblical languages.” Obviously that’s a high goal, but we’re talking about the very word of God and the eternal souls of men, right?

So I’m not saying that I make no recourse to commentaries. When I need help, I make use of what I have available, and in God’s kindness I have access to a few books. Often, though, if I’ve done my work in the Hebrew text, I’m pretty clear on what’s going on and just glance through a few relevant books to make sure I’m not missing some juicy inter-textual connection or bit of background or historical information. Many commentaries are just rearranging one another’s footnotes.

The best thing is to hunker down over the Hebrew text, ask the Lord to give illumination by his Spirit, and then let the prophet speak.

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To Zion the Streaming Nations Come

To Zion the streaming nations come,
To sing the praise of what he’s done,
Ransomed souls from every tribe,
Clothed in white, the bloodbought bride.

Come join the throng
Come sing the song
Come see the Lord
Come hear his Word

Wine, milk, richest fare,
Fine white linen you will wear,
Living water, come and drink,
Safety find and true thoughts think

Leave your sin your guilt your shame,
Repent, believe, call on his name.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Prepared for a sermon on Jeremiah 16

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Jeremiah 8:4–9:26, Understand and Know the Lord

“Thus says the LORD: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD'” –Jeremiah 9:23–24

On Sundays November 20 and 27, it was my privilege to preach Jeremiah 8:4–9:26.

In this passage Yahweh comes looking for fruit on the fig tree of Israel and finds none (Jer 8:13). Yahweh is grieved to the point of tears by the unfaithfulness of Israel and weeps over their sin (Jer 8:18–9:1). Then Yahweh says in Jeremiah 8:21, “For the brokenness of the daughter of my people I am broken.”

There is a stunning correspondence here with the way that Jesus encounters the fig tree that has borne no fruit, weeps over Jerusalem, and then is broken for the brokenness of his people. It’s not that Jeremiah is overtly predicting what Jesus would do, it’s more that the pattern that Jesus would fulfill is woven into the fabric of Jeremiah’s prophecy. I’m inclined to think, too, that Jesus probably had these parts of Jeremiah in mind as he approached Jerusalem, saw that fig tree, wept over the city, and went to the cross.

I am so grateful for the ministry of Tommy Dahn, and I express my gratitude to and for him in the sermon at Providence.

Since he wasn’t there when I preached the same text at Kenwood, I opened the sermon with an illustration about my weedeater.

May the Lord bless his word.

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Jeremiah 7: Indictment of Unrepentant Israel (with some temple typology)

As I indicated in a previous post, it seems that Jeremiah 1:18–19 and Jeremiah 6:27–30 are bracketing Jeremiah 2–6 as a unit in which there is a progression from Israel’s sin to Israel’s rejection for their refusal to repent.

This would place Jeremiah 7 at a strategic juncture introducing the next section of the book of Jeremiah.

Jeremiah cycles through a call to repentance, an indictment of sin, and an announcement of judgment three times in chapter 7:




7:1–7, Israel Called to Repentance: You Trust in the Temple but Deny It with Your Actions 7:16, Don’t Pray for Them (Repent!) 7:21­–24, Repent of Your Worthless Worship: Your Deeds Nullify Your Sacrifices
7:8–11, Judah Breaks the Ten Commandments 7:17–18, Judah Worships Other gods 7:25–28, Israel Rejects the Prophets and Jeremiah
7:12–15, God Will Judge the Temple as He Judged Shiloh 7:19­–20, The Temple Will Be Judged and All Creatures Will Suffer 7:29–8:3, Judgment on the Generation of God’s Wrath

The first two statements of judgment (Jer 7:12–15 and 7:19–20) speak directly of the destruction of the temple.

The third description of judgment uses the imagery of the visitation of wrath enacted by Josiah in 2 Kings 23 to describe a future visitation of wrath. From the context, this visitation of wrath also pertains to the coming destruction of the temple, but imagery is used in Jeremiah 7:33 that will be used by John to describe the judgment Jesus will bring at his return in Revelation 19:17–19.

So a past visitation of wrath, what Josiah visited in 2 Kings 23, is being used to point forward to the future visitation of God’s wrath that Jeremiah is describing, which in part is the destruction of the temple that will happen in 586 BC. I say “in part” because another destruction of the temple will fulfill what Jeremiah is describing, the one Jesus spoke of in John 2:19–22, and both of these point also to the visitation of wrath Jesus will bring when he returns in Revelation 19.

Jeremiah is preaching in the temple (Jer 7:2), he indicts Israel for making the temple a den of robbers (7:11), and then he warns of the destruction of the temple (7:14). Jesus quotes Jeremiah’s “den of robbers” line when he cleanses the temple (e.g., Mark 11:17) because the wicked in Jesus’ day are like the wicked of Jeremiah’s day and because the judgment visited on the temple in 586 is a type of the judgment to be visited when Jesus, the replacement of the temple (John 2:19–22), dies on the cross.

In the midst of the third description of judgment, Jeremiah speaks of “the generation of his wrath” in 7:29. This is an interesting use of the word “generation,” and it supports the typological understanding of what Jesus says in Mark 13:30, “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”

The judgment Josiah enacted in 2 Kings 23 is used by Jeremiah when Jeremiah describes the “type” of thing God will do when he enacts judgment and destroys the temple. The judgment of God that will fall on the temple is also a type of the judgment of God that will be fulfilled when Christ dies on the cross, and Jesus will fulfill the pattern of Josiah when he visits judgment on the cosmic temple at his return.

In keeping with all this, the word “generation” does not refer to a group of people alive at a specific point in time but to “the sons of disobedience” (Eph 2:3), the “crooked and depraved generation” (Phil 2:15), the “scoffers” (2 Pet 3:3) of all generations who gather together against the LORD and his anointed.

On Sunday, November 6, 2011, it was my privilege to preach Jeremiah 7: The Temple Sermon – Indictment of Unrepentant Israel at Kenwood Baptist Church.

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Jeremiah 6: Refined in Vain and Rejected

Adolph Schlatter said of Friedrich Nietzsche:

The chief impression that I internalized from his lectures arose from his offensive haughtiness. He treated his listeners like despicable peons. He convinced me of the principle that to throw out love is to despoil the business of teaching—only genuine love can really educate.[1]

Nietzsche believed in the superman, made by energy, intellect, and pride (Durant, The Story of Philosophy, 425–27). No energy can propel perfect righteousness, and no amount of energy will enable one to escape God. No intellect can recreate the universe, and no intellect will devise a way to avoid judgment. No pride fails to offend, and no pride will go un-humbled.

We will not be delivered by energy, intellect, and pride. We will be delivered if we repent of our sin and trust in Jesus.

God rejects those who will not repent.

Jeremiah 1 presents the calling of Jeremiah as a prophet like Moses. He indicted Israel’s spiritual adultery in chapter 2, called them to repent and be restored in 3:1–4:4, summoned them to wash their hearts from evil in 4:5–31, only to see Israel refuse to repent in chapter 5, which results in the verdict that Israel has been refined in vain and rejected in chapter 6.

The “Thus says the LORD” statements and the changes in theme structure this passage.

6:1–5, Looming Disaster
6:6–15, The Lord Announces Israel’s Punishment

6:6–8, Hearts That Keep Evil Fresh
6:9–15, Uncircumcised Ears

6:16–21, Israel Rejected Ancient Paths and Watchmen
6:22–26, The Lord Describes the Coming Enemy
6:27–30, Jeremiah the Tester of Metals

There are a number of similarities of language and thought between Jeremiah 1:18–19 and 6:27–30. In both places the LORD says to Jeremiah, “I have made you . . .” and the term rendered “tester of metals” in 6:27 in the ESV has the same consonants as the term rendered “fortified” in 1:18, and then in both places there are references to iron, bronze, and conflict between Jeremiah and the people.

All this leads me to think that after the introductory chapter that presents Jeremiah’s call (Jer 1), 1:18–6:30 is the first major section of Jeremiah’s book, a section bracketed by 1:18–19 and 6:27–30.

Sometimes people talk and write as though the book of Jeremiah is a sort of loose collection of sermon notes or transcriptions. I’m inclined to think, rather, that Jeremiah is a carefully arranged, carefully structured, finished literary product.

On October 30, 2011, it was my privilege to preach Jeremiah 6: Refined in Vain and Rejected at Kenwood Baptist Church.

[1] Werner Neuer, Adolf Schlatter: A Biography of Germany’s Premier Biblical Theologian, 1st ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 1996), 44.

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Jeremiah 5: The Refusal to Repent

In an earlier post I suggested some ways to determine how Jeremiah has structured his message:

repeated words and phrases, changes in content or theme, and changes in point of view (for instance, from first person to second or third) are all indicators of turning points in Jeremiah’s presentation.

In Jeremiah 5 it seems to me that a repeated grammatical form, the imperative, serves as the structural marker for Jeremiah 5:1–31. The LORD gives commands to Jeremiah in 5:1, 5:10, and 5:20, and each command is followed by a change in content, so that the flow of thought in the chapter falls out like this:

Jeremiah 5:1–9, Israel Unrepentant

Jeremiah 5:10–19, Israel Under Judgment

Jeremiah 5:20–31, Israel’s Under Isaiah’s Hardening

There is also a flow of thought moving through these early chapters of Jeremiah: Jeremiah is called as a prophet like Moses in chapter 1, he indicts Israel for her spiritual adultery in chapter 2, calls them to repent and be restored in 3:1–4:4, instructs them to wash their hearts from evil in 4:5–31, and then the nation refuses to repent in chapter 5.

On Sunday, October 23, 2011, it was my privilege to preach Jeremiah 5: The Refusal to Repent at Kenwood Baptist Church. May the Lord give us repentant hearts.

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Jeremiah: A Type of Christ Who Speaks for God

I’ve argued that Jeremiah was a prophet like Moses, and Jesus is the typological fulfillment of this pattern that began with Moses. Luke presents both Peter and Stephen asserting that Jesus is the prophet like Moses announced in Deuteronomy 18:15–18 (Acts 3:22–23; 7:37), and Matthew, Mark, and Luke are pointing to this in their transfiguration accounts (see esp. Luke 9:31, 35).

The Lord told Moses that he would be “as God” to Pharaoh with Aaron as his mouth (Exod 4:16). It’s as though Moses represents God and Aaron becomes the prophet of God.

Moses spoke for God. One aspect of being a prophet like Moses, then, is speaking for God.

In Jeremiah 4:19–22, Jeremiah is speaking in the first person (“My,” “I”, etc.). It seems that Jeremiah is speaking of himself in verse 19, “My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain!” And he continues to speak in the first person through verse 26. By 4:22, though, it appears that he is speaking as or for Yahweh rather than himself when he says, “my people are foolish; they know me not; they are stupid children; they have no understanding.”

The key phrase here that makes me think that the “I/My” is Yahweh rather than Jeremiah is “they know me not” (Jer 4:22). It seems that the problem the people have is that they don’t know God. Even if this is merely Jeremiah saying that the people don’t recognize him as Yahweh’s prophet, the cause of that would that they don’t know God, so it still points to Jeremiah speaking for God.

It seems to me, though, that what’s in view is not that the people don’t know Jeremiah (though they are not heeding his message). The problem is that they don’t know God. So in Jeremiah 4:19–22, it seems that Jeremiah begins speaking of himself in the first person and ends by speaking for Yahweh in the first person.

I take this as another way that Jeremiah is a prophet like Moses. God made Moses to be as God to Pharaoh (Exod 4:16), and God made Jeremiah to speak for God to the people of Israel.

This trajectory will be fulfilled in the one who came as God incarnate and spoke as God to the people. Jeremiah, then, is an installment in the typological pattern of the prophet like Moses who speaks for God, a typological pattern that Jesus fulfills.

If you want more on this passage, here’s my sermon on Jeremiah 4:5–31, “Wash Your Heart from Evil.”

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Should Preachers Show Their Work? Or, Should Our Preaching Train People to Read the Bible?

Should our attempts to preach the Bible train people to be better readers of the Bible?

I think the answer to that question is obvious. It seems like a no-brainer to me that our attempts to preach the Bible should train those who hear us to be better readers of the Bible. This has implications for what we do in our sermons, implications for how we preach.

In short, it means we “show our work” in ways that are appropriate. Remember that phrase from math class? It refers to the way that all the steps on the way to the answer are to be written out, as opposed to doing the math in your head and shortcutting from problem to solution.

Obviously we can’t show every step, and we shouldn’t bore people with unnecessary exegetical detail.

That said, we’re preaching the Bible, and the Bible is a book. We’re making disciples of Jesus who are to obey everything he commanded. As we preach, we’re training people who need to meditate on the word of God day and night. We’re training people to read and understand the Bible.

Why am I saying all this? Because to my thinking it follows from the people of God needing preaching that is squarely based on the Bible.

What’s wrong with preaching where the work isn’t shown?

It’s too easy for preachers who don’t show their work to make assertions that the text of Scripture does not make, and this is complicated when they make applications from their own assertions. If you can’t show it to me from the Scriptures, it does not carry the authority of the word of God. In such a case, it is not the word of God that is being preached.

As I listen to preaching, I want to hear what the Bible teaches. I want the preacher to prove to me that what he’s claiming is what the Bible teaches. I want him to show me enough of his work to earn my trust, I want his applications to come from what the Bible actually teaches, and I would like to go away with a better understanding of the passage that has been preached.

I’ve heard analogies that argue against what I’m contending for, and I think they fail.

Here’s one: when you preach, you don’t show your homework because preparing a sermon is like building a house. When you walk into a house that’s been built, you don’t see its structure. The drywall covers the frame, and paint covers the drywall. It’s finished. So should the sermon be.

But what if as you preach you’re preparing people to build their own houses? That is, what if you’re making disciples, not just being a disciple on their behalf? Even if a particular Christian never stands to preach a sermon, don’t we want him to be reading the Bible for himself? Don’t we want Christians arriving at the meaning of the Bible for themselves? Don’t we want them to be able to evaluate claims about what the Bible says for themselves?

This “finished house” analogy seems to suggest that the preacher is going to do the thinking and the Bible study and the responding to challenges for his audience.

If a preacher isn’t showing people how he got to his interpretive conclusions and applications from the Scripture, will anyone who hears that preacher learn to be a better Bible-reader?

For all these reasons, this past Sunday (October 16, 2011) I took some time to explain how I had arrived at the turning points in Jeremiah’s flow of thought in the passage I was preaching. It’s difficult to determine the structure of the whole book of Jeremiah, and it’s difficult to arrive at the structure of individual passages.

Why should we care about structure? Because the way that Jeremiah has arranged his presentation is essential to understanding his message.

As I preached Jeremiah 4:5–31, “Wash Your Heart from Evil,” I explained that repeated words and phrases, changes in content or theme, and changes in point of view (for instance, from first person to second or third) are all indicators of turning points in Jeremiah’s presentation.

What do you think?

Should preachers show their work?

Are these reliable indicators of the movements in Jeremiah’s thoughts?

Can someone learn to read the Bible from those who don’t show their work?

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Jeremiah 3:6–4:4, Repent and Be Restored

In 1988, Jimmy Swaggart was caught with a prostitute. He was famous. On television. Known worldwide as an evangelist and preacher. He was initially suspended for three months, then the Assemblies of God suspended him for two years. When he resumed preaching after three months, the Assemblies of God defrocked him.

In 1991 he was stopped by a police officer in California with a prostitute in the car. He told the church he continued to serve that the Lord told him it was none of their business and temporarily stepped down from ministry.

Jimmy Swaggart is famous, so a lot of people know about him. There are many ministers who fall into sexual sin. It is all too common for ministers who aren’t famous to fall out of ministry because of sexual sin. It is all too common for Christians who aren’t ministers to fall into sexual sin.

In Jeremiah 3 Jeremiah is warning the Southern Kingdom of Judah by pointing to what happened in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Jeremiah wants Judah to learn from what happened to Israel before it’s too late, before like Israel, Judah is destroyed. We want to learn from the sins of others before we commit them ourselves.

We need to see the consequence of sin and the rewards of repentance and faithfulness. We need to learn from the fall of other ministers before it’s too late in our case. People who fall into sexual sin accumulate a series of small transgressions that they don’t turn from, and the small sins build to big ones.

Jeremiah’s message in Jeremiah 3:6–4:4 is that Judah should look at what happened to the northern kingdom, Israel. Jeremiah is calling the southern kingdom, Judah, to repent of the little sins that will add up to the big exile.

This is a beautiful passage in which Yahweh promises to bless Israel if they repent. Specifically, in Jeremiah 3:22, the Lord declares that if they will return to him he will heal them.

Do you want the healing?
Healing full and free –
Won’t you come to Jesus?
Come the Savior see –

Do you want the freedom?
Loosed from all your chains –
Won’t you call upon him?
Speak the Savior’s name –

He will wash you fully.
Take away your stain –
Won’t you have the joy he
Showers where he reigns?

At several points in this passage Jeremiah alludes to the way that God saved Israel in the past to point to the way that he will save them in the future. Interesting to see the use of the OT in the OT (an OT author, Jeremiah, using earlier OT Scripture). You can hear all about it here: Jeremiah 3:6–4:4, Repent and Be Restored.

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Jeremiah 2:1–3:5, Will You Drink Sludge or Living Water?

Imagine a wedding, with the bride standing at the doors in the back about to enter the worship hall for the ceremony. She’s dressed in her gown, and her friend Jerry is standing by one of the doors, ready to fling it open when the moment comes.

Just at that moment a well dressed older man pulls up in a limousine. He goes straight to the bride and begins to speak to her in smooth, lyrical, poetic words. She is mesmerized. Jerry is horrified. He can see her subtly moving closer to the man, as if she will leave with him. He realizes the man is trying to lure her away.

The man offers her a gold ring. Jerry protests that she’s about to receive a wedding ring from the groom she’s about to marry.

When she looks at Jerry, her beautiful face is twisted into a snarl as she declares: this man promises me provision and protection; he promises me intimacy and affection.

When Jerry looks at the man he realizes what the man is. A pimp.

Jerry takes the bride by the shoulders and looks her full in the face: in place of a husband this man will give you customers; in place of a home this man will give you a prison; in place of freedom this man will make you a slave; in place of honor, shame; in place of hope, despair; in place of purity, defilement.

She slaps him in the face. Puts her hand in the pimp’s. And leaves in the limousine that will take her to the brothel instead of the one that would take her to the honeymoon.

In Jeremiah 2:1–3:5, Jeremiah proclaims that the devoted bride has become a harlot and faces the consequences.

Israel has forsaken Yahweh, the fountain of living waters, and gone to broken cisterns that hold no water (Jer 2:13). They have chosen to drink sludge instead of living water.

Just as Yahweh’s covenant with Israel is treated as a marriage, so the new covenant relationship between Christ and the church is what marriages illustrate.

This is meant to make us feel the cosmic theological woe of sin.

When we sin against Christ the bridegroom, we are committing spiritual adultery. When we look to other lovers to do for us what only Christ can do for us, we are like a wife who sells herself into prostitution.

Trusting money instead of trusting God in Christ is like trusting the money earned from turning tricks instead of believing that the bridegroom will meet the needs of his bride.

Seeking pleasure by breaking God’s commandments is like leaving the sacred marriage bed, or refusing to wait until the bridegroom takes you there, for a cheap thrill on a stained mattress in a dirty motel.

Not believing the Bible is like believing the pimp’s lies instead of the solemn oaths of the bridegroom.

Will you choose shame or honor?
Will you live in pain or comfort?
Will you sell what should not be sold or be the exclusive bride of your husband?
Will you be filthy or pure?
Will you be defiled or clean?
Will you be slave or free?
Will you be sold or redeemed?
Will you be used or loved?
Will Satan be your hard master or Christ your loving Lord?
Will you have remorse or joy?
Will you be a whore or a bride?

The world’s true story is a thrilling romance. The bride was lured away. She became defiled. She believed the pimp. She lived in filth and stench and stain. But the bridegroom came for her. He left safety and security, risked everything in a daring attempt to rescue his beloved, and he was killed in the effort.

Death, however, could not hold our hero. Jesus rose from the dead. His death cleanses his bride of all her sin and stain. He has now gone to prepare a place for us, and he will come for us.

When he comes, the bride will have made herself ready, clothing herself with fine linen, bright and pure, which is the righteous deeds of the saints (Rev 19:7–8).

–From the sermon it was my privilege to preach at Kenwood on Sunday, September 18, 2011:

Jeremiah 2:1–3:5, “Will You Drink Sludge or Living Water?”

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