Should I Stay or Should I Go?
By the Revd Dr Mark Pickles
We read with the benefit of hindsight. Jeremiah’s message was proved to be true. God’s judgement did come upon the nation, those who preached a different message were shown to be “false prophets” but of course at the time, this was not how Jeremiah was viewed. In fact, he was regarded by the leaders and the people alike as traitor to the nation, guilty of treason and demoralising people with his message of judgment. It is indeed a bitter irony when God’s people are so hardened to the Word of God that they embrace gladly the words of false prophets whilst denouncing the true Word of God and those who proclaim it as being offensive and wrong.
What goes around comes around. J. I. Packer’s assessment of the Church of England, written in 1978 was:
“As an evangelical trying to interpret what I see by Scripture, I am forced to believe that the Church of England is under judgment in these days for multiple unfaithfulness to the gospel, and the our overmastering need is for God to revive his work and in wrath to remember mercy (Habakkuk 3:2 & Psalm 85:4-7) and that we should be seeing his face constantly for just this (cf. Psalm 44 & Isaiah 64).
What is fascinating in Jeremiah’s story is how he responds to ministering amongst a rebellious people and their disdain of an antagonism towards him.
“For the wound of the daughter of my people is my heart wounded; I mourn and dismay has taken hold of me … Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people.” (Jeremiah 8:22 & 9:1)
His heart is broken because of his love for his people, he tirelessly admonishes, rebukes and warns of coming judgment not with judgmentalism or even indifference but with deep compassion. He loves them, he cares for them. How often do we as Anglican evangelicals, especially those of us ordained ministers within the Church have eyes that are fountains of tears because we weep day and night for the Church we serve? Might it be a contributory factor to its current malaise?
Love’s Labour’s Cost
What is particularly remarkable about Jeremiah’s life and ministry, though, is where this love for his people took him. Jeremiah 43 provides the last recorded details we have about the life of Jeremiah, and it is extraordinary.
When Judah is conquered by the Babylonians, and many are taken into Exile in Babylon, Jeremiah deliberately chooses not to go to Babylon though that would have afforded him a good life. The Babylonians would have treated him well and in his prophetic word he himself encourages the exiles to settle down and get involved, to build houses, raise a family and seek the good of those amongst whom you dwell (Jeremiah 29:5-7). You might have expected that he too would go there especially given that the Babylonians offer him the choice; Nebuzaradan says to him, ‘I release. You today from the chains on your hands. If it seems good to you to come with me to Babylon, come, and I will look after you well, but if it seems wrong to you to come with me to Babylon, do not come. See the whole land is before you; go wherever you think it good and right to go” (Jeremiah 40:4).
What will he choose? What would you choose? Rather than a privileged existence in Babylon, Jeremiah decides to go back to Jerusalem, the scene of utter destruction and dereliction, with the Temple destroyed, the walls broken down and all the leaders carried off into exile. He decides deliberately to return to the place where God’s judgment has fallen.
Excerpted and from Gospel-Driven Anglicanism, 2017, by the Revd Dr Mark Pickles; pages 75-77. Used by permission.