I. A Lesson from Jeremiah
Jeremiah was a prophet. That means He received messages from God and his job was to speak these messages from God. Now that would be a pretty neat job if the message from God was nice to hear.
“You will be healed from cancer.”
“You will win the lottery.”
“Your favorite team will win the Super Bowl.”
"There's a two for one sale on Lay's Sour Cream and Onion chips!"
But, unfortunately, the messages that God had Jeremiah speak were not always that pleasant.
Take chapter 37 for instance. The city of Jerusalem had been surrounded by the Babylonian army. They had been under siege and for months they had been cut off from supplies. No food, no water, no arrangements could be restocked. People were getting hungry. People were getting thirsty. People were getting nervous that they would die in Jerusalem.
But then, things changed. The army of Pharaoh had left from Egypt and word reached the Babylonians that they were coming to attack them. Rather than wait for a surprise attack, the Babylonians left the siege and went out to face Egyptians.
Seems like the perfect chance to escape the siege, right?
The king at the time – King Zedekiah – was a little indecisive. He liked that idea, but he needed to know for sure if it was the right move. He decided to ask Jeremiah to tell him what God would have them do.
Make note of that. He wanted to know what God had to say. He asked for it!
He sent word to Jeremiah. Jeremiah inquired of God; God responded; and Jeremiah responded to the King. Just not like he wanted him to:
7 “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Pharaoh’s army, which has marched out to support you, will go back to its own land, to Egypt. 8 Then the Babylonians will return and attack this city; they will capture it and burn it down.’
9 “This is what the LORD says: Do not deceive yourselves, thinking, ‘The Babylonians will surely leave us.’ They will not! 10 Even if you were to defeat the entire Babylonian army that is attacking you and only wounded men were left in their tents, they would come out and burn this city down."
We’re in the middle of the NFL season. If a team were down by 6 late in the fourth quarter and getting a break like recovering a fumble, it doesn’t go very well if the coach’s timeout speech is: “Let’s hike the ball and then QB1, take the ball and hand it into the hands of their star defensive linemen. We’re gonna lose anyway. Let’s lose gracefully.”
Coaches don’t say that. They’d probably get fired.
Jeremiah’s message to the Israelites was “Don’t run. Don’t fight. Even if they only had injured guys – the same result will happen. God is bringing you into the hands of your enemies.”
The Israelites didn’t like this message. Look at what happens: 15 They were angry with Jeremiah and had him beaten and imprisoned…16 Jeremiah was put into a vaulted cell in a dungeon, where he remained a long time.
But here’s where it gets really interesting. After that ‘long time’, King Zedekiah sends for Jeremiah again. He had him released from the vault. He had him brought to the palace. He had his personal guards leave him. One on one, the king asked Jeremiah again, “Is there any word from the Lord?”
This was Jeremiah’s chance. He could get himself set free. All he had to do was tell a little lie. All he had to do was tell the King was he wanted to hear. All he had to say was tell the people what they wanted to here.
But Jeremiah didn’t do it.
17 Jeremiah replied, “You will be delivered into the hands of the Babylonians.” He was too committed to God.
Why? Why didn't Jeremiah tell the man what he wanted to hear? Why didn't he value his life? Why was he so insisted on telling what God said?
Easy: Commitment means speaking the truth.
Bill Nye the science guy is in the news. He released statements calling Christian opposition to abortion as “foolish, ignorant, and antiquated.” He said, “Life doesn’t start at conception. That’s a fact.”
Now I don’t like to be called foolish ignorant and stupid. That's not fun. I don't have a martyr wish...
...But I also know what the Bible says, “God created my inmost being; God knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13) I also know that life is not a right of human, but "a gracious gift of God” (1 Peter 3:17) I know that God commands us, "Do not murder."
This is kind of a Jeremiah situation isn't it? We're not facing a pit, but we are facing ridicule, scorn, and harsh words.
What should we do?
Learn from Jeremiah. Stay committed to God ! In he face of your friend’s ridicule, stay committed to God and speak the truth. In the face of a trolling message on Facebook, stay committed to your Lord and speak the truth. When your nephew tells you that you are an old fashioned bigot, stay committed to the Lord and speak the truth.
Why? You might say. Why would I stay committed to God if it brought me so much trouble?
Psalm 84 gives us reason. The Psalmist wrote, "Better is one day in your courts, O Lord, than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked. For the Lord is a sun and a shield, the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.”
God’s way is better. It's better to be that door man who hears the celebration of music of salvation through a muffled door and who catches a glimpse of the party whenever he opens it than it is to be dwelling in the seat of honor among the hateful, guilty, bandits of hell.
Follow God. It's worth it.
II. A Lesson from Ebed-Melek
Jeremiah’s message worked…kinda. The King’s conscience was stricken and he released Jeremiah. Time to take it easy, right?
Not so much. In the very next chapter, Jeremiah is recorded preaching the same message that got him into trouble with even more vigor. He walks up and down among the crowds of people in Israel and Jeremiah says this: 2 “This is what the LORD says: ‘Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine or plague, but whoever goes over to the Babylonians will live. They will escape with their lives; they will live."
How do the people react? Surprise, surprise: They react in the exact same way. Although this time, they decide not to go through the king, since he became a softy and let Jeremiah go.
6 They took Jeremiah and put him into the cistern…which was in the courtyard of the guard. They lowered Jeremiah by ropes into the cistern; it had no water in it, only mud, and Jeremiah sank down into the mud.
Can you imagine that? We have MUD DAY here at Precious Lambs where kids get to make mud pies, play in mud pools, and slide down mud slip and slides.
But…do you know what’s nice about Mud Day? It ends. You can go home and get clean.
Not Jeremiah. He was stuck in the cold, stinky mud. Nothing was drinkable. The air was damp and dark. I’m sure there were creepy crawlies that might have made an appearance too.
Nobody envied Jeremiah.
In fact, I imagine that the majority of people distanced themselves from him as much as possible. Would you really want to join Jeremiah in the cistern? There wasn’t that much room. As a result, there’s no record of anybody speaking up for Jeremiah.
Except for a foreigner.
Ebed-Melek, a Cushite…heard that they had put Jeremiah into the cistern…Ebed-Melek went and said to the king, “My lord the king, these men have acted wickedly in all they have done to Jeremiah the prophet. They have thrown him into a cistern, where he will starve to death when there is no longer any bread in the city.”
This is so interesting, because Ebed-Melek wasn’t even an Israelite. There wasn’t any patriotism at work. He simply saw God in Jeremiah and evil in the people opposed to him. He was committed to God and stood up for a speaker of God’s truth.
This is a second lesson for us to take from the book of Jeremiah about commitment. This time from humble Ebed-Melek – Commitment means supporting those who speak the truth of God.
There's a video floating around YouTube called "I'm a Christian But..." It shows various people come on the screen and list something about Christianity that don't want to be linked together with.
"I'm a Christian, but...I'm not judgmental."
"I'm a Christian, but...I'm not intolerant."
"I'm a Christian, but...I'm not a homophobe."
"I'm a Christian, but...I'm not a Pharisee who thinks he's better than other Christians. (Other than in this very video.)
The video is sad. Instead of standing up and defending truth and supporting other Christians who are trying to hold to the truths of God's Word, these people seem to be more interested in distancing themselves from stereotypes of Christianity. Stereotypes said by opponents of Christianity.
In the process, they distance themselves from those who speak the truth of the Lord.
That's not commitment.
Ebed-Melek was committed though. His words worked too. The king granted him permission to grab some men and some rope and pull Jeremiah out of the pit.
May I add that your words of encouragement to a friend – to an elder – to a pastor for speaking the truth – are just like that. They lift people out of a pit – a lonely pit of following God in a hostile world.
If you join up with the world, it will have the opposite effect. It will drag down God’s message. It will drag down the people who care for God and care for your soul.
Don’t do that. Stay committed to God by supporting those who are committed to God!
III. A Lesson from Zedekiah
After Jeremiah was released from the cistern, King Zedekiah brought Jeremiah to him one more time. (Maybe Jeremiah’s words were pricking at his conscience). He asks Jeremiah one more time to hear what God has to say.
And, not surprisingly, Jeremiah gets defensive. He basically says, “If I tell you the truth, then you’ll kill me. I don’t want to die. Why should I speak to you?” (38:16)
But Zedekiah assures him that will not happen. So Jeremiah tells him the same thing -- one last time, “If you surrender… your life will be spared and this city will not be burned down; you and your family will live. 18 But if you will not surrender…this city will be given into the hands of the Babylonians and they will burn it down; you yourself will not escape from them.”
And at first, it looks like King Zedekiah is going to listen. He doesn’t respond in anger. He doesn’t send for his guards. He just lets Jeremiah go.
But…if you read into the next chapter, that’s not what Zedekiah does. “39:1 In the ninth year of Zedekiah king of Judah…Babylon marched against Jerusalem …When Zedekiah king of Judah and all the soldiers saw them, they fled!”
They didn’t surrender. They didn’t do what God said. The result?
"5 The Babylonian army pursued them and overtook Zedekiah…They captured him and… the king of Babylon slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes and also killed all the nobles of Judah. 7 Then he put out Zedekiah’s eyes and bound him with bronze shackles to take him to Babylon.”
Wow. Guess Zedekiah should have listened.