Saturday, August 18, 2012
“So they took Jeremiah and dropped him into the cistern of Malchiah the king's son, which was in the guard's courtyard, lowering Jeremiah with ropes. There was no water in the cistern, only mud, and Jeremiah sank in the mud.” (Jeremiah 38:6 HCSB)
Ministry is a marathon. It isn’t a sprint to the swiftest, but a grueling race of endurance to the strongest.
As Paul was coming to the conclusion of his marathon, he challenged the next runner who will take up the baton of truth—young Timothy—that he must run with endurance. He let him know that he can forget about being popular with the crowd, if he is going to be pleasing to Christ. The Apostle spoke from experience. Paul wrote of the marathon of his own ministry with vivid detail in a letter to the church at Corinth:
“But as God's ministers, we commend ourselves in everything: by great endurance, by afflictions, by hardship, by difficulties, by beatings, by imprisonments, by riots, by labors,
by sleepless nights, by times of hunger, by purity, by knowledge, by patience, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the message of truth, by the power of God; through weapons of righteousness on the right hand and the left, through glory and dishonor, through slander and good report; as deceivers yet true; as unknown yet recognized; as dying and look—we live; as being disciplined yet not killed; as grieving yet always rejoicing; as poor yet enriching many; as having nothing yet possessing everything.” (2 Cor.6:4-10)
He knew the race would require great rigor, but in the end there would be glorious reward. The servant of the Lord must maintain that view, if he is to complete his race.
There will certainly be hardships that will test his endurance. That is the nature of a marathon. Jeremiah is a case study on this topic.
There was a CRITICAL ACCUSATION.
“Now Shephatiah son of Mattan, Gedaliah son of Pashhur, Jucal son of Shelemiah, and Pashhur son of Malchijah heard the words Jeremiah was speaking to all the people: ‘This is what the Lord says: “Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine, and plague, but whoever surrenders to the Chaldeans will live. He will keep his life like the spoils [of war] and will live.”
This is what the Lord says: “This city will most certainly be handed over to the king of Babylon's army, and he will capture it.”’
The officials then said to the king, ‘This man ought to die, because he is weakening the morale of the warriors who remain in this city and of all the people by speaking to them in this way. This man is not seeking the well-being of this people, but disaster.’ King Zedekiah said, ‘Here he is; he's in your hands since the king can't do anything against you.’” (Jeremiah 38:1-5)
Jeremiah told the uncomfortable truth they did not want to hear—a message of judgment. He didn’t originate it; he only proclaimed it. If he would be faithful to God, he could not tell them what they desired to hear. Love demanded that he tell them what they needed to hear. That is not the path to popularity, but it is the pathway to persecution.
So, they basically accused the prophet of treason—and called for the death penalty. It sounds like what they did to Jesus, doesn’t it? Jesus said He was a King, and they branded him an enemy of the state. Pilate’s response paralleled that of Zedekiah—washing his hands of it—and letting the mob have its murderous way. Let justice be hanged on the cross of expedience. Remember, Jesus warned the servant is not greater than his Master. If He was so treated, we can expect no different. The marathon takes you up the Calvary Road.
There was a CRUEL CONDEMNATION.
“So they took Jeremiah and dropped him into the cistern of Malchiah the king's son, which was in the guard's courtyard, lowering Jeremiah with ropes. There was no water in the cistern, only mud, and Jeremiah sank in the mud.” (Jer.38:6)
They didn’t want to just kill him; they wanted him to suffer first. Picture this old prophet, in a dark hole, waste deep in cold mud, shivering—it was torture. He would not die quickly, but would wish to die every second that seemed like an eternity. Such is the hate of those who hate God. That is the rage against the preacher that is rooted in the rejection of the Word.
We have brothers and sisters who are being brutalized this very hour. In dark places in our world, they are incarcerated in horrid conditions. Torture is inflicted on them in an attempt to cause them to deny Christ. There is no mercy, just mockery—no sympathy, just scorn. The wicked cannot reach up to heaven and attack Christ, so they reach out and afflict His ambassadors. They can’t stop the message, so they silence the messengers. The word martyr literally means witness. We associate it with those who have died for their faith. That is because the price of witness may result in a death sentence—it has for many.
What if the finish line for our faith is in a cistern? What if our marathon takes us waist deep into mud? Will we still speak out? The spiritual depravity of our world today—should it continue on this steep decline—makes intense persecution seem likely.
There was a COMPASSIONATE INTERVENTION.
“But Ebed-melech, a Cushite court official employed in the king's palace, heard Jeremiah had been put into the cistern. While the king was sitting at the Benjamin Gate, Ebed-melech went from the king's palace and spoke to the king:
‘My lord the king, these men have been evil in all they have done to Jeremiah the prophet. They have dropped him into the cistern where he will die from hunger, because there is no more bread in the city.’
So the king commanded Ebed-melech, the Cushite, ‘Take from here 30 men under your authority and pull Jeremiah the prophet up from the cistern before he dies.’ So Ebed-melech took the men under his authority and went to the king's palace to a place below the storehouse. From there he took old rags and worn-out clothes and lowered them by ropes to Jeremiah in the cistern. Ebed-melech the Cushite cried out to Jeremiah, ‘Place these old rags and clothes between your armpits and the ropes.’ Jeremiah did so, and they pulled him up with the ropes and lifted him out of the cistern, but he continued to stay in the guard's courtyard.” (Jer.38:7-13)
Life and death are in the hands of God. Pontius Pilate thought he was deciding the fate of Jesus. He wanted Jesus to give him a reason to spare Him.
“So Pilate said to Him, ‘You're not talking to me? Don't You know that I have the authority to release You and the authority to crucify You?’
‘You would have no authority over Me at all,’ Jesus answered him, ‘if it hadn't been given you from above.’” (John 19:10-11a)
The Lord still had more work for Jeremiah to do. We are immortal until our ministry is complete. Only God knows where the finish line of the marathon ends. He determines it. Jeremiah thought he was all alone, but the Lord had someone to stand with him.
God bless old Ebed-melech! The compassionate, courageous black man was in the right place, at the right time, with the right words. Then look how tenderly, he helps lift the old preacher out of the pit. The eunuch would be rewarded for his kindness.
“Now the word of the Lord had come to Jeremiah when he was confined in the guard's courtyard: ‘Go tell Ebed-melech the Cushite: This is what the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, says: I am about to fulfill My words for harm and not for good against this city. They will take place before your eyes on that day. But I will rescue you on that day’-- this is] the Lord's declaration—‘and you will not be handed over to the men you fear.
Indeed, I will certainly deliver you so that you do not fall by the sword. Because you have trusted in Me, you will keep your life like the spoils [of war].’ [This is] the Lord's declaration.” (Jer.39:15-18)
God marks down every good deed done for His servants. It is an investment with eternal dividends. Jesus promised:
“The one who welcomes you welcomes Me, and the one who welcomes Me welcomes Him who sent Me. Anyone who welcomes a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward. And anyone who welcomes a righteous person because he's righteous will receive a righteous person's reward.
And whoever gives just a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple—I assure you: He will never lose his reward!" (Matt.10:40-42)
Ministry can be tough. We may think of dropping out. I know I have—numerous times. But, God has always sent someone to lift me out of that darkness. When I was in a waterless well, someone placed a refreshing cup of water to my lips. So, I preach on! Thank you to all those who intercede for me with the King, and who intervene for me when I am attacked. You have made a difference in my life on earth and your compassion will make a difference in your life in eternity!
There was a CONTINUED REJECTION.
“King Zedekiah sent for Jeremiah the prophet and received him at the third entrance of the Lord's temple. The king said to Jeremiah, ‘I am going to ask you something; don't hide anything from me.’
Jeremiah replied to Zedekiah, ‘If I tell you, you will kill me, won't you? Besides, if I give you advice, you won't listen to me anyway.’” (Jer.38:14-15)
The king did not listen. Jeremiah told him to surrender and the city would not be burned, his household would be spared, but if not, there would be no escape. Zedekiah resisted the will of God, made a run for it—but did not escape. Judgment fell on Jerusalem.
The sinful heart of man is as stubborn as ever. Noah begged the people to flee to the refuge of the ark before the judgment descended. They mocked him—and drowned. Prophet after prophet was sent to warn Israel to repent and they beat them and butchered them—and Israel was carried into captivity. John the Baptist called for repentance and they cut his head off—but Herod is in hell today. Jesus took up the same message and they crucified Him—and Jerusalem was ravaged in AD 70 as the Lord predicted would happen if they rejected Him. So, the story goes. Men of God still cry out to flee the wrath to come. Their message is still that salvation is found in surrender to the will of God. Yet, man relies on his own wisdom. He follows his own twisted reason and seeks his own way of salvation. All he finds is judgment.
“At Riblah the king of Babylon slaughtered Zedekiah's sons before his eyes, and he [also] slaughtered all Judah's nobles. Then he blinded Zedekiah and put him in bronze chains to take him to Babylon. The Chaldeans next burned down the king's palace and the people's houses and tore down the walls of Jerusalem. Nebuzaradan, the commander of the guards, deported the rest of the people to Babylon-those who had remained in the city and those deserters who had defected to him along with the rest of the people who had remained.” (Jer.39:6-9)
Imagine—the last visual image forever burned into Zedekiah’s mind was the memory of his sons being killed. He would carry that horror for the rest of his days. One of the worst things about hell will be memory—to recall forever with regret what might have been had one listened to the preacher.
There was a COMFORTING LIBERATION.
“[Speaking] through Nebuzaradan, captain of the guard, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon gave orders concerning Jeremiah, saying: ‘Take him, look after him, and don't let any harm come to him; do for him whatever he says.’ Nebuzaradan, captain of the guard, Nebushazban the Rab-saris, Nergal-sharezer the Rab-mag, and all the captains of the king of Babylon had Jeremiah brought from the guard's courtyard and turned him over to Gedaliah son of Ahikam, son of Shaphan, to take him home. So he settled among [his own] people.” (Jer.39:11-14)
The pagans appreciated Jeremiah’s ministry more than the people of God did! I can verify this paradox. There have been a few occasions where sinners have attacked me, but the greatest hurts I have ever endured have been delivered by church people. The attack of the world is a frontal assault, when it comes, and can be anticipated. The knife in the back, through the treachery of those you considered friends, plunges in the deepest.
Jeremiah was nevertheless vindicated and liberated! He was free to pursue his ministry. God’s man acknowledged God’s hand. The Sovereign God was in control and moved even a heathen king’s heart to provide for his welfare. There is great freedom in knowing that God is in charge—whether we are in the darkness or in the daylight, safe at home or stuck in mud. Paul, in prison for preaching the Gospel said it this way,
“Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has actually resulted in the advance of the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard, and to everyone else, that my imprisonment is in [the cause of] Christ. Most of the brothers in the Lord have gained confidence from my imprisonment and dare even more to speak the message fearlessly. To be sure, some preach Christ out of envy and strife, but others out of good will. These do so out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the others proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely, seeking to cause me anxiety in my imprisonment. What does it matter? Just that in every way, whether out of false motives or true, Christ is proclaimed. And in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice because I know this will lead to my deliverance through your prayers and help from the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
My eager expectation and hope is that I will not be ashamed about anything, but that now as always, with all boldness, Christ will be highly honored in my body, whether by life or by death.
For me, living is Christ and dying is gain. Now if I live on in the flesh, this means fruitful work for me; and I don't know which one I should choose. I am pressured by both. I have the desire to depart and be with Christ—which is far better—but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am persuaded of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that, because of me, your confidence may grow in Christ Jesus when I come to you again. Just one thing: Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or am absent, I will hear about you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind, working side by side for the faith [that comes from] the gospel, not being frightened in any way by your opponents. This is a sign of destruction for them, but of your deliverance-and this is from God. For it has been given to you on Christ's behalf not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him, having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I have.” (Philippians 1:12-30)
His hands were in fetters—yet his heart was utterly free! He finished his race with joy! So can you. Pray that I will…many have stumbled and fallen.