I appointed you a prophet to the nations. Jeremiah 1:5
Last Sunday we saw these amazing words in 2 Corinthians 6: “. . . working together with him.” We are working together with God to advance his mission. That’s what the Bible says. It says we are partners with God in his business and teammates with God in his sport. If it weren’t in the Bible, we wouldn’t say it. It sounds arrogant. It sounds arrogant to some people, because they don’t believe anyone can know God clearly enough to align with him. But what if God has revealed himself? If he has, and we believe he has, then it’s arrogant not to serve him. Partnering with God sounds arrogant to other people, because they feel unworthy of God, too sinful to be involved with God. But the Bible says that God uses unworthy people, and only unworthy people. We are working together with God to advance his mission, not ours, with his strength, not ours, for his glory, not ours.
After all, who would build a business with gamblers? Who would accept into his graduate school dropouts? Who would field a team with weaklings? Who would fight a war with cowards? God. Because then everyone can see it’s all his fullness of grace upon grace.
Last Sunday we launched our new ministry year. Our theme this year is “Peace in the City” – the humaneness and beauty and harmony and safety that only God can give. Which means we’re not good at it. Perfect!
The whole Bible is filled with stories of God using unlikely people. For example, God called Abraham to father a new nation to bless the world. Just one problem. He and his wife couldn’t have children. But God worked a miracle through them. Then God called their son Isaac to grow the family further. Just one problem. He and his wife couldn’t have children. But God worked a miracle through them. Then God called their son Jacob to take the blessing into the next generation. Just one problem. He wasn’t a good man. But God worked a miracle in him. I could go on and on – Moses the fugitive becomes the prime minister of Egypt, outnumbered Israel liberates the promised land, persecuted David is crowned king, all the way down to the apostles who saw themselves as mere “jars of clay” into which God poured his power to bless the world (2 Corinthians 4:7). Our inadequacies are not something God failed to foresee. Our inadequacies are his design. God gives us the gift of weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest upon us. Working together with him doesn’t mean we help him; it means we need him, and we have him.
We’re hosting three special events in our Peace in the City campaign this year. The first is Paul Tripp in November speaking on gospel marriage. Everyone has questions and concerns about marriage. So here is a world-class speaker on an obviously relevant topic. And it’s only 89 days away. So last Sunday I asked you for two things. One, pray. Two, bring. Pray for God’s power, and bring a friend. And we will watch God send down his shalom into more people’s lives. Then Rosaria Butterfield is coming in January to speak on gospel sexuality. Then Dr. Russell Moore is coming in April to speak on gospel citizenship. So what we’re doing this year is praying for God’s peace to bless more people in our city, and we’re inviting them to come join us in being blown away at the relevance of the gospel to the pressing questions of our lives and of our times.
But before I go into our passage, let me add this. Immanuel is a safe place for wounded people. Some of us are coming out of backgrounds where we were disappointed and even mistreated. Some people coming into Immanuel need time to breathe, time to sit and do nothing and just listen and enjoy and heal. So if that’s you, I want you to know you don’t need to pray and you don’t need to bring. It’s okay. You can enjoy these events for yourself. There’s no pressure.
As I was speaking last Sunday and asking the rest of us to pray and to bring, we might have been thinking: “Ray, I don’t disagree. And God has renewed my heart, and I do have some positive energy to give away. But still, down deep, something still holds me back. I just don’t think I matter that much. These are going to be big events with lots of people. My participation is too small to count.” We are all tempted to think that way.
It gets worse. Here is the message coming at us every day: “You don’t matter. Nothing you do makes a difference. The world is too big and too complex. Maybe an elite, at the top, has power. But nothing within your reach will change anything. So why try? Why take risks? Why not sink back into apathy and selfishness and whatever escapist diversion offers itself at the moment?”
But the truth about your life is the glorious opposite. You matter, because you matter to God. Your smallness is his strategy. In the hand of God, you are a person of destiny. As you live for Christ, your impact is too profound to make the news. The news is shallow. God and you are profound. And God’s smart strategy for you is to believe the gospel for yourself, so that you live not for yourself in the moment but for others and their eternal blessing. God has a glorious purpose for you.
Jeremiah chapter 1 reveals your true significance. As you see here, the truth about you is not what you think; the truth about you is what God says. And God says that you matter as a prophetic presence in the world today. Let’s think it through.
Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1:4-5
That’s great for Jeremiah. But what about us? Do those verses apply to you and me today? Is there a prophetic calling from God upon your life today? Maybe yes for Matt Chandler or Tim Keller. But what about you? If you aren’t sure about that, let me show you the whole sweep of the Bible in two minutes.
Early in the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit came down on only a few privileged leaders, like Moses. And Moses himself said, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” (Numbers 11:29). Moses was a weak man. But God gave him impact. And he didn’t want to hog that gift. Moses longed for all of God’s people to have the same impact. Then later in the Old Testament, the Lord made a wonderful promise about that: “It shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh [that is, all kinds of people]; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,” and so forth (Joel 2:28-29). God said he would bring in a new day when he would democratize his power and all his people would receive the gift of gospel impact. Then in the New Testament, in Acts chapter 2, God kept his promise. The risen Christ poured out his Spirit on the entire group of early believers. They all became fluent in explaining the gospel to the cultures of their world. It wasn’t just the apostles who received this ability. It wasn’t a privileged individual here and there. It was all the gathered believers together. Jesus poured out upon them all a confident, relevant gospel word to the many people around. And Acts chapter 2 tells us who we are as a Christian church today. Acts 2 shows us who we are and what God has for us all. God in heaven above advancing his purposes through weak people by his power – that is his strategy. Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will” (Matthew 11:25). Here is how John Knox explained the Reformation that lifted the nation of Scotland out of medieval darkness: “God gave his Holy Spirit to simple men in great abundance.” You and I are simple people. But the call of God upon us makes the difference. Before he formed you in the womb he knew you and loved you and thought about you and planned for you. Before you were born he consecrated you and set you apart for his glory. That assurance is not a sidebar in the Bible. It is a central teaching.
But we still hold back. Why? Because the call of God is so remarkable. It just seems crazy that ordinary people like us, with all our weaknesses and inadequacies, would partner with God for eternal impact this year. Jeremiah went into turbo-mode with his excuses:
Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 1:6-8
I doubt that any of us here this morning are thinking, “I’m impressive. God’s lucky to have me on his side.” No, we have our fears. And every fear shows up as an excuse. Jeremiah said, “I’m too young for God to use me.” Some of us might be thinking, “I’m too old.” And Jeremiah really was young and inexperienced. Moses really was an old man. But he started making his biggest contribution when he was 80. Joshua was 40. God calls us at all ages, because, when you’re following the plan of God, every age is just right.
But look how we think: “Ah, Lord God!” Well, that’s good theology. Jeremiah knows that God is the Lord, the Supreme, the Sovereign. He has a big view of God. But his fears are bigger, and his emotions overrule his theology: “Ah, Lord God, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” In other words, “God, it doesn’t matter who you are; what really counts is who I am. I have defeated even you.” We all make these speeches in our thoughts. We’re standing in the midst of victory, screaming defeat. We talk ourselves out of our God-given significance. And that’s why we shy away from risks. We’re afraid to fail, and we think we’re out here all by ourselves. But what if the one calling us really is the Lord God? What if he really did know us before we were born and allow us to have the experiences we’ve had, including our failures and sufferings, to make us more prophetic? What if every reason in our eyes why God shouldn’t use us is, in fact, the only way God can use us? What if every single one of us has been anointed with the Spirit of God for gospel impact in our time? What if he is with us not to make everything easy but to deliver us by using whatever we do for him, even when it’s imperfect, which it always is, and that’s okay with him and indeed is part of his deliverance – that he uses weak and imperfect people to build in this world a kingdom that will last forever, long after every monument to man-made genius crumbles into dust? God wants to use even us. And he can.
Let’s put right out on the table every fear, so that the Lord can say to every one of us, “But who you are isn’t the issue. Who I am is the issue. If you will trust me and follow me, I will bless you and use you.” So let’s today agree that statements like “I’m a failure” and “God can’t use me” and all the rest – let’s agree that those thoughts no longer have any place in us. God did not shape us in the womb and bring us into this world for nothingness. He formed us for his glory in the world today. Let’s by faith shift our focus from Self, which is an idol, to Jesus in his glory and take the next obvious step, whatever that might be.
Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” Jeremiah 1:9-10
Here is the opposite. Here are your strengths, your God-given strengths. Your mouth, and your intelligence, and your looks, and your background, every strength and asset you have – don’t you see? It isn’t your mouth that matters; what matters is whose word is in your mouth. And not only did God form you in your mother’s womb, but he touches you today, as he touched Jeremiah. He has put the gospel in your heart. You feel its power. You feel the grandeur of his grace. It’s why you’re in church today. You love his Word. That is the touch of God upon you. That reality within you is the supernatural entering into the natural. His glory thrilling your heart and opening your mouth is the divine empowering the human.
My friend, you were personally handmade by God for his glory. And he is with you now, moment by moment, to keep his Word in your mouth. What he wants you to do in partnership with him this year is not some great unknown looming out in the future; what God wants you to do began before you were born. You are “his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand” (Ephesians 2:10). He has made you a person of destiny, and your moment is now.
Why don’t you thank the Lord for the way he made you? What you are is not a tragic mistake but a brilliant strategy. The you that God made is ideally designed for divine impact in your world. I want you to thank him for all the care and wisdom he showed in crafting you. So will you give yourself back to the Lord, for his glory? Will you, for his sake, renounce your self-hatred and self-rejection and lay all of that at the Lord’s feet? You can replace that with faith in him, trusting him to make a difference in people’s lives as you pray and bring.
God said, “I have consecrated you.” That’s good news. We won’t waste our lives. But there is better news. Jesus said, “I consecrate myself for their sake” (John 17:19). Your significance is guaranteed by him.