When Sinners Hear God’s Word

Text: Jeremiah 26:1-15

Our readings this week, the third week in Lent are, in a word, difficult. In the Epistle, we heard St. Paul’s exhortation to walk as children of the light – to forsake the defiling passions of the flesh and live in the light of the Gospel, through which we have received the forgiveness of our sins. In the Gospel, we heard of opposition to Jesus on the part of the Pharisees, who asserted that Jesus cast out demons by the power of Satan. To the contrary, Jesus was dismantling the devil’s armor piece by piece and dividing Satan’s spoil by calling sinners to faith. In our text tonight, we heard of sinners’ natural reaction to the preaching of God’s Word. Jeremiah went into the temple to preach the Law, so that the people might repent and be forgiven. Instead, they prepared to kill the messenger.

In a few ways these readings are good illustrations of the Second and Third Petitions, Thy Kingdom Come and Thy Will Be Done. In these petitions, we pray that God, by His Holy Spirit, would increase His Church on earth through the Word and Sacraments and that, by these same things, we would be strengthened and kept firm in the faith while the devil is defeated. Our text this evening shows us by a negative example God’s desired reaction to the preaching of His Word – the reaction He Himself creates within us. In contrast to the religious leaders of Jeremiah’s day, the proper response to the preaching of God’s Word is repentance and faith, which is created in us by the Holy Spirit.

I.

Jeremiah, as you know, was one of what we call the Major Prophets. His writings take up some 52 chapters and his ministry lasted around forty years, beginning from his call in 626 and lasting until the fall of Jerusalem. His call from God was a difficult one, “to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and plant,”[1] the Lord said. Jeremiah was to speak against the people of Jerusalem and Judah the judgments of God; in His words, “For all their evil in forsaking Me. They have made offerings to other gods and worshipped the works of their own hands.”[2] The Lord called Jeremiah to preach the Law against His people so that they might repent and be forgiven.

That is why the Lord sent Jeremiah to the temple in our text. We heard,

‘Thus says the Lord: Stand in the court of the Lord’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship in the house of the Lord all the words that I command you to speak to them; do not hold back a word. It may be they will listen, and every one turn from his evil way, that I may relent of the disaster that I intend to do to them because of their evil deeds.’[3]

God does not desire the death of anyone, but that he repent and live. God is righteous, and has revealed to us His will in the Ten Commandments. To disobey the Commandments is to disregard God’s will. And that disobedience brings punishment. Yet, the Lord is also merciful. To those repent of their sins, His mercy and grace extend from everlasting to everlasting. The Lord sent Jeremiah to call out His people’s sins that they might repent and be forgiven – and the destruction of Jerusalem be averted.

II.

But, instead, we heard, “When Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, ‘You shall die!’[4] Just like the Pharisees would to preaching of John the Baptist and Jesus, the people of Jerusalem closed their hearts to God’s Word. When the Lord called out their transgressions through Jeremiah, He desired repentance. But, instead, they insisted that they had done no wrong. Inflamed by the preaching of the false prophets, who preached only peace and tolerance – never sin and forgiveness – the people of Jerusalem moved to put Jeremiah to death.

Before they could carry out their sentence, however, the officials of Judah came up from the palace to the temple. Our text ends with them sitting in the entry – the place where trials happen – and listening to the charges against Jeremiah. What happens after the text is wonderful and should’ve been the response of the people. It says in verse 16, “Then the officials and all the people said to the priests and the prophets, ‘This man does not deserve the sentence of death, for he has spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God.’[5] The reason they gave for believing Jeremiah was that the prophet Micah had also said the same thing some 100 years before. The people in his time, including Hezekiah, repented and believed – and they should, too. In this interesting role reversal, it’s the secular officials who believe and the religious ones who don’t. But, isn’t that also the picture we receive in the Gospel? The sinners and tax collectors, the prostitutes and Gentiles believe, while the leaders don’t. They heard God’s Law and repented of their sin – and were forgiven – while the Pharisees claimed they had no need.

III.

We have in the texts this week a negative example – how not to respond to the preaching of the Law. The Lord sent Jeremiah to preach the Law, so that the people might know their sinfulness, repent, and be forgiven. Had the people repented, the Lord would have not punished Jerusalem with destruction. The Lord does not desire the death of anyone. Unfortunately, we know what happened. God desires not the death of anyone, so He continues to send preachers today to proclaim both the Law and the Gospel. The Law is what shows us our need for forgiveness, and the Gospel is the Good News of Jesus Christ. The Law is that we have not kept God’s commandments, we have repeatedly transgressed against them. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves, and we truly do deserve God’s righteous wrath. The Gospel is that God our heavenly Father, out of His great love for us, sent His Son to die for us. Jesus fulfilled God’s Law and yet died to pay the price of our sin.

Those who hear those words, the Law and the Gospel, and believe, receive the forgiveness of their sins and eternal life. But, these things – repentance and faith – are not things we do of ourselves; they are work of the Holy Spirit. It is by His work that when we hear the Law, we are brought to repentance. It is His work that, by the Gospel, faith is created in our hearts. We pray this week that we would not be like the Pharisees before Jesus, or the priests and prophets before Jeremiah, but that through the preaching of the Law, the Holy Spirit would bring us to repent of our sins and turn from them and, through the Gospel, create in us a faith that trusts in Christ alone for forgiveness. May the Lord create in us ever a repentant heart through the preaching of the Law, and a trusting heart through the Good News of Christ’s death and resurrection.


[1] Jer. 1:10.

[2] Jer. 1:16.

[3] Jer. 26:2-3.

[4] Jer. 26:8.

[5] Jer. 26:16.

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