Nowhere But God
November 16, 2008 | Randy Smith
Nowhere But GodJeremiah 20:7-13
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Pastor Randy Smith
I suppose we should have seen this coming. People don't like to have their idols chastised (Jer. 10:5). People don't like to be told they are "stupid and foolish" (Jer. 10:8). People don't like to hear about the wrath of God (Jer. 10:10). You knew it would only be a matter of time before the people would lash out against the prophet.
By way of reminder, we learned last week that Jeremiah was a prophet sent by God to speak on His behalf to the Southern Kingdom of Judah. God's people had forsaken the true and living God for a life dedicated to worthless idols. Evil had permeated the land. Judgment was coming. As Nebuchadnezzar assembled his troops, Babylon was preparing for an all out attack on the Promised Land. Little did they know that they were a tool in God's hand to judge the Israelites for their wickedness.
Yet there was hope. God in His mercy sent His promise. If the people would repent, they would be spared the coming destruction. Jeremiah 36:3, "Perhaps the house of Judah will hear all the calamity which I plan to bring on them, in order that every man will turn from his evil way; then I will forgive their iniquity and their sin." This language is seen throughout the book (cf. 15:19; 18:11, 18; 25:5; 26:3).
Unfortunately, the message of hope was rejected. And not only did they reject the message, they also rejected the messenger. As we enter chapter 20, the verbal threats turned to physical abuse.
Look at verses 1 and 2. "When Pashhur the priest, the son of Immer, who was chief officer in the house of the LORD, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things, Pashhur had Jeremiah the prophet beaten and put him in the stocks that were at the upper Benjamin Gate, which was by the house of the LORD."
The beating most likely was thirty-nine lashes. Then his weakened and bloody body was placed in the stocks, twisted into painful contortions. There Jeremiah was left in a cold and disease-infested dungeon. His faithful service to the Lord resulted in torture next door to the house of the Lord by a so-called "priest."
How would this make you feel?
This morning we will take a look at a very low point in the ministry of Jeremiah. His faithful service resulted in fierce emotional and physical persecution. I believe we understand these are realities of doing the Lord's work. But what we will see this morning is how a man like us dealt with these realities, dealt with these severe attacks once he hit rock-bottom depression. We will enter his heart through the window of Holy Scripture and witness the multi-faceted turmoil of his soul. We will see where he went off course. And we will also see how he overcame, persevered and glorified the Lord.
Being a faithful Christian in today's world is not easy. Today we will learn how we can remain faithful in the midst of the worst opposition the world can throw our way.
1. WAVE NUMBER ONE - "THE LORD FAILED ME"
Let's begin with the first point: "Wave number one - "The Lord has failed me."
I am sure one's character is best refined but also revealed when going though intense anguish. When the emotional and physical pain seems unbearable, the soul searches for answers. Usually we see ourselves in the best possible light. Oftentimes we find ourselves as an innocent victim of our circumstances. Commonly we ask the "why" questions for the injustice we are experiencing. Commonly we blame others for our misfortunes.
Jeremiah was no different and he started right at the top - he blamed God. Look at verse 7, "O LORD, You have deceived me and I was deceived; You have overcome me and prevailed."
It is easy to condemn the man for his arrogant and faithless comments, but suspend judgment until you have put yourself in the man's shoes. He was called by God for a task few would have welcomed. He faithfully discharged his duty. He spoke in a way that would have averted Jerusalem's destruction. He loved the people in the greatest way possible by declaring God's truth. Yet he was permitted by the very God he was serving to be treated like a false prophet and criminal.
Lord, this isn't fair!
No doubt Jeremiah while suffering in the prison remembered his call to ministry recorded in chapter 1. Where was the promise of verse 8? "Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you." Where was the promise of verse 10? "See, I have appointed you this day over the nations and over the kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant."
The times when the ambitious and naïve prophet dreamed of doing great things for the Lord have now hit the hard-core reality - that doing service to the Lord is mysterious and often opposed. Jeremiah's faith gave way to brutish fantasy. The created began to blame the Creator. Where was the fruitful ministry he had envisioned? The clear conclusion drawn by his mind was that God had taken advantage of him. He felt his life was nothing more than the punch line of a cruel cosmic joke.
Further proof of God's apparent deception is seen in the remainder of verse 7: "I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me."
Imagine Jeremiah reasoning: rather than heed the truth I proclaimed, they made me the object of their jokes. Rather than respect my commitment to You, I received nothing but ridicule. Lord, is this the way you treat Your faithful ones? I did everything You told me to do. I proclaimed not my words but Yours. You know at first I didn't even want the office (1:6-7), but You prevailed upon me. Why haven't You stood with me?
Verse 8, "For each time I speak, I cry aloud; I proclaim violence and destruction, because for me the word of the LORD has resulted in reproach and derision all day long."
How often have we been in this position? Trying to serve the Lord and the only result we see is persecution, "reproach and derision." Getting up the courage to witness for the Lord only to have doors slammed in our face. Sharing Jesus with your friend only to lose that friendship. Serving the Lord in church ministry only to receive few compliments and many complaints. Attend church only to be slandered and ignored. Take a moral stance at work only to be denied the promotion. Commit an item to unceasing prayer only to see your request never granted. Impart your life to disciple someone only to see them walk away from all you taught. Defend a sibling in Christ only to have the individual stab you in the back. Lovingly try to help a situation only to be misjudged and then maligned.
I trust you have been there before. Did you ever feel like saying, "Why bother!"?
We can find it easy to condemn Jeremiah for his verbal attacks against the Lord, but we do the same thing when we silently withdraw from our Christian responsibilities because things didn't go the way we had expected. We blame God as we silently reason: "After all I've done, how could You have let this happen to me? From now on You'll have to build Your kingdom without my assistance. I refuse to be hurt any longer."
This was Jeremiah's attitude. Look at the beginning of verse 9. He contemplated, "I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name."
We are not talking about a total abandonment of God. We are just talking about a refusal to serve Him faithfully. We are talking about not placing ourselves in a vulnerable position to be hurt anymore. According to verse 8, his suffering was not due to his own sin but rather his faithfulness to God. So an absence of faithfulness to God will result in an absence of suffering. Solution - quit preaching.
Jeremiah comes to his senses. He realizes the very suggestion is impossible. He realizes that suppressing the message would result in greater torture.
All of verse 9, "But if I say, 'I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name,' then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it" (c.f. 1 Cor. 9:16).
The first wave of attack that Jeremiah faced while in prison was the temptation to doubt God which initially resulted in complaint and withdrawal. But by the grace of God, Jeremiah lived above his moods. The truth that permeated his mind rose above the emotions that were being experienced on his fickle heart. He said it himself in 17:9, "The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?" He refreshed his memory that God can be trusted even in the worst of circumstances, that service to the Lord is never in vain and that running from the Lord would only result in greater heartache. This is walking by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7).
2. WAVE NUMBER TWO - "THE WORLD HAS OPPOSED ME"
But as soon as Jeremiah overcame the first wave with correct thinking, he was hit in no time with the second wave. Satan's fiery darts come from a variety of directions. When one of his attacks fails, he often attempts another attack from a different angle. As soon as Jeremiah overcame the temptation to blame God, he was now tempted to self-pity and despair. I am calling this second wave, "The world has opposed me!"
Look at verse 10: "For I have heard the whispering of many, 'Terror on every side! Denounce him; yes, let us denounce him!'"
Before Jeremiah spoke about the open opposition. Now he recalls the secret opposition. The whispering behind his back. The false accusations that can never be defended. The lies and gossip to generate more opposition. The malicious attacks against his character. The consignment of evil to his motives.
It would have been bad enough if these were his enemies, but even those he valued the most joined in the opposition. Still in verse 10, "All my trusted friends, watching for my fall, say: 'Perhaps he will be deceived, so that we may prevail against him and take our revenge on him.'"
These are the most painful and insidious attacks. Not only betrayed by our friends, but having our friends put themselves in a judgmental position, watching every move we make and looking to pounce on our slightest mistake. Jude spoke of such people: "These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage" (Ju. 16). These people did whatever it took to bring Jeremiah down. All for what? For declaring to them the truth of God's Word!
A hero of our faith, a man who did exactly as the Lord commanded him. Yet the reception he received was nothing but painful opposition from the very people he sought to save.
Satan can have a field day with us when we find ourselves in similar predicaments. So often we can over-analyze a painful situation and imagine the whole world is against us as well (C.L.S - "The Chicken Little Syndrome"). It doesn't take much for us to be led down the debilitating roads of despair and self-pity. "Everyone hates me. There is no joy in life. I wish I were never born."
Even the godliest of us, as we see with Jeremiah, are susceptible to these sinful thoughts. If you don't believe me, let's look at verses 14-18. Jeremiah said, "Cursed be the day when I was born; let the day not be blessed when my mother bore me! Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father, saying, 'A baby boy has been born to you!' And made him very happy. But let that man be like the cities which the LORD overthrew without relenting, and let him hear an outcry in the morning and a shout of alarm at noon; because he did not kill me before birth, so that my mother would have been my grave, and her womb ever pregnant. Why did I ever come forth from the womb to look on trouble and sorrow, so that my days have been spent in shame?"
No one to trust. Everybody hates me. Death is better than life. I wish I were never born. All thoughts right from the pit of hell.
Yet once again Jeremiah held up the shield of faith and once again overcame this temptation. While he felt abandoned by the world, he said to himself in verse 11, "But the LORD is with me." Faith again in action. A refusal to panic. A refusal to yield to the depressing thoughts. A firm conviction that God loves him, is aware of the situation, is controlling the situation and is working the situation for his greatest good. Jeremiah found reason to trust God and praise God in the most difficult of times.
Verse 11, "But the LORD is with me like a dread champion; therefore my persecutors will stumble and not prevail. They will be utterly ashamed, because they have failed, with an everlasting disgrace that will not be forgotten."
Of this verse John Calvin said, "This being settled, we may then boldly defy both the artifices and the violence of all enemies; for it cannot be but that God will scatter, lay prostrate, overwhelm, and reduce to nothing all those who fight against Him" (Commentary).
Jeremiah continues, verse 12, "Yet, O LORD of hosts, You who test the righteous, who see the mind and the heart; let me see Your vengeance on them; for to You I have set forth my cause."
While having nowhere to go, Jeremiah found his hope in God. His prayer is rich with not only faith, but faith in right theology about God that enabled him to rise above his circumstances, which enabled him to praise God and no longer blame God.
You see, people blame God and hold Him responsible for things He never promised. If our theology about God is based on the fact that He will answer every prayer exactly as we desire, heal all our sicknesses, convert every soul we evangelize, grant us acceptance in the eyes of the world, and promise us no opposition, we will be disappointed very fast. Is God at fault for failing to deliver the things He never promised to us? As a matter of fact, despite these modern assumptions about God, we read just the opposite in Scripture. Our Lord was not spared the cross as He prayed (Mk. 14:36). Paul was not given relief after he asked three times for the "thorn in his flesh" to be removed (2 Cor. 12:7). God sent Isaiah to a people who would not believe his message (Isa. 6:9). Jesus said, "If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you" (Jn. 15:18). And "through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" (Ac. 14:22), said the apostle Paul.
Jeremiah came to realize that God is faithful to the promises He promised in verses 11-12. That He is Champion over all. That God's plan will prevail despite the intentions of evil men. That those who oppose Him will one day be ashamed. That God knows the heart and minds of the righteous. That God will bring vengeance upon His enemies. Maybe he even remembered another aspect from his calling in chapter 1 that he formerly overlooked. "'They will fight against you, but they will not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you,' declares the LORD" (Jer. 1:19).
The pity-party turned to prayer which eventually turned to praise.
Verse 13, "Sing to the LORD, praise the LORD! For He has delivered the soul of the needy one from the hand of evildoers."
From, "the world has opposed me" to "God is with me, praise the Lord!"
It is easy to assume that Jeremiah sang these praises to the Lord once he was delivered from the stocks (which he was according to verse 3), but I think this whole emotional rollercoaster and spiritual battle took place while Jeremiah was still fastened. I believe this whole account is an anthology of the emotional waves and spiritual temptations that this man faced and the strength the Lord gave Him to stand strong in his faith. His renewed comfort in God's presence was based on sound theology, right thinking and commitment to prayer. The very man who resigned to never again mention the name of the Lord, now found ample reasons to praise His name. Anyone can praise God when things are going well. But Jeremiah found reason to praise God while in the stocks despite his circumstances.
This sounds like another hero of our faith when he found himself is a similar predicament. Acts 16:22-15, "The crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods. When they had struck them with many blows, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them."
This also sounds like the greatest hero of our faith, Jesus Christ. Also persecuted by friends. Also the recipient of malicious conspiracies. Also hated by the world. Also mocked during His most painful moments. Yet our Savior rose above the opposition and fulfilled His commission faithfully until the end to purchase our salvation and never waver in His faith to the Father.
God knew what He was doing with Jeremiah. God knew what He was doing with Paul. God knew what He was doing with Jesus Christ. And God knows what He is doing with the trials you experience as well. The only question is, do you know how to respond in a way that brings Him the most glory and yourself the most peace?
Someone once said, "The stars are constantly shining, but often we do not see them until the dark hours" (Brian Bell). It is during the dark hours that our faith is most tested. Do we have the faith to see through the darkness and still believe that God is in control? Jeremiah experienced intense physical and emotional pain, but rose above his circumstances and found reason for hope. May God bless us with the same confidence in Him that comes from right thinking and right theology and results in unwavering praise and unending peace as we press on and persevere to remain faithful to the God who is always faithful to us.