One of the great tragedies of being born a Millennial is that I was set up for failure. We were consistently told that we could and should achieve great things. Anything was within our grasp, irrespective of natural talent or fortuitous circumstance. All we had to do was seek it.

This, of course, was a lie. Not everyone can be the next Taylor Swift or Mark Zuckerberg. But that hasn’t stopped us from trying. We may not have sought stardom or techdom, but we have sought great things for ourselves. What those great things were varied wildly from person to person—popularity, wealth, success in ministry, the perfect family—but whatever our measure of greatness, we sought it.

I certainly have. It’s been one of the great struggles of my life. And not just because I’m a Millennial, but because I’m sinful. In my heart is a crown that has no business being there, one that demands the great things that are “rightfully” mine.

This acute awareness of my glory-seeking is why I find the biblical figure of Baruch so precious. He too sought great things for himself. But rather than leave him to his own devices, God intervened and spoke a word both confronting and comforting.

Baruch’s Sorrow

The intervention in question is recorded in Jeremiah 45, a chapter small enough to quote in full:

The word that Jeremiah the prophet spoke to Baruch the son of Neriah, when he wrote these words in a book at the dictation of Jeremiah, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah:

“Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, to you, O Baruch:

You said, ‘Woe is me! For the LORD has added sorrow to my pain. I am weary with my groaning, and I find no rest.’ Thus shall you say to him, Thus says the LORD: Behold, what I have built I am breaking down, and what I have planted I am plucking up—that is, the whole land. And do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not, for behold, I am bringing disaster upon all flesh, declares the LORD. But I will give you your life as a prize of war in all places to which you may go.”

Baruch was tasked with committing the words of Jeremiah to paper and the process left him broken. This is not surprising. Jeremiah’s message was a declaration of “disaster upon all flesh”. That’s enough to crush anyone. But Baruch’s cry that the LORD has added sorrow to his pain, and God’s probing question—“And do you seek great things for yourself?”—speak of a far more personal crisis.

There is a major clue to the nature of Baruch’s angst in verse 1. We’re told that it’s the fourth year of King Jehoiakim. Two key things happened in Baruch’s life around that time: the first scroll of Jeremiah was produced (45:1; cf. 36:2,4), and that same scroll was burned by Jehoiakim (36:23). This marked the turning point in Jeremiah’s ministry and the point of no return for Judah. Jeremiah was banned from the temple—his oracles of doom were no longer welcome—and so Baruch was not only required to write down the words but read them publicly (36:5–6). To do so would be to invite the same derision and ill-treatment that had dogged Jeremiah throughout his ministry.

To understand how this would add “sorrow to his pain” we need to first grasp who Baruch was. He wasn’t a nobody. He wasn’t a no-talent, no-prospects kind of guy. He was both an educated man and the grandson of a former governor of Jerusalem.[1] Great things were not only a possibility for Baruch, but a guarantee. At least, that is, until he committed social suicide by becoming a prophet of doom.

To Baruch’s credit, there’s no indication that he ever wavered from his God-given duty. In fact, it’s precisely because he didn’t that he experienced the tension that every believer feels when their desire for great things comes in conflict with God’s will for their life. We groan and we find no rest. Having to leave off that which we have set our hearts on for so long is not simple or painless. It necessarily means a reorientation of our value system and a reimagining of what our lives might look like. And that takes time and concerted effort. It’s constantly returning over many years to the question and command of God: “Do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not.”

Frankly, it’s easier to ignore God and continue the pursuit. So why would we do it? Why did Baruch?


God’s Kindly Rebuke

It’s because of what the LORD says to him. He takes Baruch’s “great things”—whatever they were—and shows him how trivial they are in light of what God himself is doing in the world. And what the LORD is doing is nothing less than the complete disintegration of the current world order. He says, “Behold, what I have built I am breaking down, and what I have planted I am plucking up—that is, the whole land” (45:4). The language of building and breaking and planting and plucking is central to the message of Jeremiah and is always applied to the nations of the world (cf. 1:10; 18:7–10; 31:28). God is taking all that he has built and is destroying it in judgment.[2]

There is, of course, hope. the LORD will draw from the wreckage a restored Israel, a nation no longer defined along political lines, which will become the basis of a new world order (cf. 12:14–17; 31:28). But as he speaks to Baruch, he doesn’t speak of hope. Just the profound weightiness of destroying the world; a world that he had made with care and wisdom.

Against this backdrop the pursuit of “great things” for ourselves is seen for what it is. Trivial. Setting our hearts too firmly on great things for ourselves in this world is more than a little silly. Greater things are afoot than our worldly hopes and dreams. Things that are global in scope and set the direction for all of human history. Nothing less than the complete disintegration of the world as we know it when Jesus Christ returns to judge.

The great service the LORD does Baruch is open his eyes to see that the great things he seeks are in reality comparatively trivial things. This may not lessen the pain of letting them go, but it does allow him to be more willing to do so. And the great consolation he offers to Baruch is the promise that wherever he may go on the God’s behalf announcing God’s coming judgment, he himself will be spared it (45:5).


Seek Them Not

The command to stop seeking great things for yourself is not just for Baruch. It’s the same command that confronts us in the gospel. Jesus said:

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? (Mark 8:34–36)

The call to deny oneself is not merely an entry requirement to the kingdom of God, but the pattern of kingdom living. It is the ongoing decision to seek not the great things of this world, whether they be fame, fortune, or success, and instead conform ourselves to the truly great plans of God: the saving of souls from the coming judgment.[3]

Such a pursuit will cost us. It means the death of our self and its plans. It means suffering the reproach of the gospel. It means doing things we ordinarily would never choose to do, and choosing to not do things we would absolutely love to. But we do it, joyfully, because God has shown us that in light of what he is doing in the world, our pursuits are trivial and more than a little silly.

And the great promise of the gospel is that when we leave off our plans and pursue God’s, we’ll not only save our souls, but the souls of others as well. And in the grand scheme of God’s dealings with the world, we could seek no greater thing.

[1] If you want to have a go at the biblical forensics, have a look at Jeremiah 32:12, and 2 Chronicles 34:8.

[2] “The whole land” is most likely a reference to the nation of Judah rather than all the nations of the world. Either way, the scope of God’s work and the pathos he evokes before Baruch remain functionally the same, for what is true for Judah is true for the world: God is uprooting all nations in judgment, as the chapters that follow make clear.

[3] We must also be on guard against the live risk that we work for the cause of the kingdom to seek “great things” for ourselves in a worldly attitude to ministry success.