This summer, our high school group has been going through “Forces of Faith”, biographies of personalities in the Old Testament who displayed great amounts of faith throughout their lives. A few weeks ago, we focused on Jeremiah and I thought I would include some of my observations from that study and what we can learn about ministry and standing for the truth today.
When you ask people what makes a successful ministry, one can’t help but look at the numbers of those involved. Maybe you can count the people in the room, the amount collected in the plate, or maybe the number of people who have walked an aisle or made professions of faith. I remember a few years ago, our Pastor, Steve Balentine, preached a message on the differences between Jeremiah and Jonah. In the world’s view, and even many of those who judge the success of ministries, Jonah would have been the obvious choice for ‘head of the class’. But when we look at the ministries of each prophet, and their obedience to God’s call in their lives, we see a different picture.
When Jeremiah was called, he first objected on the basis of not being old enough or not having the ability to be the great speaker he expected oracles of God to be (1:7). God’s promise to him was to not let Jeremiah rely on his own words, but that he’d give him the words to speak (1:9). Prior to Jeremiah’s objecting, God let him know that he was appointed for this office before he was even born. In God’s grand plan, Jeremiah was always going to play the role of prophet on behalf of the covenant God of Israel, Yahweh.
When told of what his job would be, the Lord had some interesting and foreboding words for him. In verse 8 we see God’s promise to deliver Jeremiah, which immediately told Jeremiah that he would be facing a tough crowd. If someone promises to deliver you, a significant and painful objection is implied. And if that weren’t clear enough, God then tells him that they will fight against him, they will reject him and his message, but they won’t prevail against him (1:17-19).
Just as promised, Jeremiah preached the message God gave him, and he was treated as a traitor. When Babylon was coming down upon them, he urged surrender, hoping to preserve Jerusalem, because he knew that Babylon would eventually prevail against Israel. False prophets rose up, with a nicer message, and the people listened to them. They claimed to represent God, but brought a message of ‘health and wealth’ and that everything was ok. They came out against Jeremiah, saying he was preaching a bad message and didn’t represent God.
In chapter 20, we find a very intriguing confrontation. Pashhur was a priest who most likely was profiting from giving false messages and leading people away from a pure worship in Jerusalem. When he heard Jeremiah saying these things, he beat him and placed him in the stocks over night. Jeremiah was placed by a main gate, for all to see and mock. You might think that Jeremiah would shrink back after his release, but he does quite the opposite. in what seems miles from the shy and hesitant person when he was first called, Jeremiah rips into Pashhur and tells him that his end is near. He says,
“The Lord does not call your name Pashhur, but Terror On Every Side. For thus says the Lord: Behold, I will make you a terror to yourself and to all your friends. They shall fall by the sword of their enemies while you look on. And I will give all Judah into the hand of the king of Babylon. he shall carry them to Babylon, and shall strike them down with the sword… And you, Pashhur, and all who dwellin in your house, shall go into captivity. To Babylon you shall go, and there you shall die, and there you shal be buried, you and all your friends, to whom you have prophesied falsely. (20:3-6)
After this section of boldness, we have a remarkable section where Jeremiah speaks and laments to God. Recently, I read a wonderful journal article on the Lament and its roll in our livess in the “Bibliotheca Sacra” journal from Dallas Theological Seminary. It was saying that we often misunderstand the lament, and what the person is saying. In this section, Jeremiah cries out to God about how weak and miserable he is by himself, how everyone just laughs at him and whoever he speaks to considers him a fool and derides him.
Jeremiah speaks of being tempted to hold back the message (v.9), to not proclaim the words of the Lord, but knows he can’t do that. He says that his heart begins to burn and his bones cry out if he even thinks of not speaking the message of the Lord. He can’t help but proclaim the message God has given him. He realizes he is compelled to do this, and cannot do anything else.
In verse 10 he speaks to some of the occupational hazards that come with his job. He hears cries for him to be denounced and to be opposed. And these cries aren’t coming from hardened opponents, but from his own friends, who have been alienated by the message he bore. Instead of standing beside him in friendship, they now circle him, waiting for him to fall flat on his face.
But in the face of all of this, he is able to push through because of what he knows to be true (v.11). He says, the Lord is my dread warrior. It isn’t Jeremiah who will stumble, but rather it will be his opponents and persecuters. They will be put to shame and will eternally be known for their dishonor in God’s program. Jeremiah lifts his head beyond his day, and sees things in an eternal scope. The present situation saw him being persecuted by opponents and those whom he thought to be his close friends. But eternally speaking, his actions were acts of obedience to God, and he would not suffer shame or dishonor for eternity.
Often times we are faced with opposition, sometimes from our closest friends. Let Jeremiah’s faith be an example of boldness and obedience to us all!