PAYING A PRICE TO SERVE GOD

 

Week of February 12, 2006

 

Bible Passage:Jeremiah 26:1-24.

 

Biblical Truth:Serving God faithfully is costly.

 

Accept Godís Tough Assignment:Jeremiah 26:1-7.

 

[1] In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, this word came from the LORD, saying, [2] ĒThus says the LORD, Stand in the court of the Lordís house, and speak to all the cities of Judah who have come to worship in the LORDíS house all the words that I have commanded you to speak to them. Do not omit a word! [3] Perhaps they will listen and everyone will turn from his evil way, that I may repent of the calamity which I am planning to do to them because of the evil of their deeds. [4] And you will say to them, Thus says the LORD, If you will not listen to Me, to walk in My law which I have set before you, [5] to listen to the words of My servants the prophets, whom I have been sending to you again and again, but you have not listened; [6] then I will make this house like Shiloh, and this city I will make a curse to all the nations of the earthĒ [7] The priests and the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speaking these words in the house of the LORD. [NASU]

 

Jeremiah 26 contains a complete record of the criminal proceedings of the trial of Jeremiah. The prophet committed an alleged crime [1-6]. He was arrested [7-9] and then charged [10-11]. He made his plea [12-15], and a vigorous defense was mounted in his behalf [16-23], after which a verdict was rendered [24]. The events of this chapter occurred early in the reign of wicked Jehoiakim who reigned from 609 to 598 B.C. See 22:13-19 for a description of the character of Jehoiakim. This is around 20 years after Jeremiahís call in chapter one.

 

[1-2] Jeremiahís only crime was preaching Godís Word. The Lordís command to Jeremiah in 26:2 reminds us of the prophetís first commission in 1:17: Stand and Speak. God directed Jeremiah not only what to say but also where to stand. The people were not allowed to enter into the Temple so Jeremiah was told by God to stand in the court where he might be heard by all. And Jeremiah was to speak the word of the Lord at the time when the people were coming to worship by offering their sacrifices. But Jeremiah indicates that something more than sacrifices were required in order to please God and that was the peopleís obedience.

 

His message seems to have been a shorter version of his famous Temple Sermon from chapter 7. There the focus was on the sermon itself. Here attention is drawn to the reaction it provoked. The sermon was a good one. To begin with, it had good content. It had the two elements every faithful sermon must have Ė law and grace. Good preaching both explains the Law of God, which exposes sin, and proclaims the grace of God, which forgives sin. Jeremiah began with the Law, and he did not hold back. He preached nearly every one of the Ten Commandments. He explained in detail how the people were failing to keep covenant with their God [see 7:1-15].

 

The Lord particularly warns Jeremiah not to diminish a single word, the only time this warning is recorded. The Lord knows that this errand would be an especially dangerous one. The protection of pious Josiah was no longer available. Jeremiah would feel for the first time the full force of public persecution. At such a time Jeremiah might be tempted to omit or tone down some of the sternest condemnations. Hence the warning. The mouth of the prophet in spite of opposition from without was to remain the obedient and willing instrument of the Lord in time of persecution that it had by Godís grace remained during the twenty years of Josiahís rule in spite of his own doubts and inclinations.

 

[3] Jeremiah did not preach the Law to condemn, but to convict. God hoped that this preaching of the Law would turn people away from sin. If the people of Jerusalem repented, God would be faithful and just to forgive their sin. Even the preaching of the Law has the gracious intention of turning Godís people away from sin. The Law of God shows us our sins, and then the grace of God forgives them. Not only did Jeremiahís sermon have good content, it also had strong application. Jeremiah preached the consequences of failing to keep the Law.

 

By using perhaps God made use of a common mode of speaking. God indeed has perfect knowledge of all events, nor had He any doubt respecting what would take place. What is pointed out here, and also condemned, is the obstinacy of the people. God tells the people that His judgment upon them is caused by their refusal to listen to His call for repentance. They will listen. From the context we learn, that repentance as well as faith proceeds from the truth taught. For how is it that those alienated from God, return, confess their sins, and change their character, minds and purposes? It is the fruit of truth. God shows that the use and fruit of His truth is to turn men from their evil way. But this will only occur if the people listen and respond to the truth of His Word. May repent is not a change in God, but the accomplishment of His original purpose to work repentance and faith in the heart of the wicked. Repentance cannot be rightly and profitably taught, unless it be added that God will be propitious to miserable sinners whenever they turn to Him. We see here Godís gracious desire to make every effort to have His people turn from their sins and back to Him.

 

[4-6] To walk in My law. This indicates that mainly God requires obedience. This subject was largely treated in 7:22-23. We see that the only way of living piously, justly, and uprightly is to allow ourselves to be ruled by the Lord. The second thing that God desires is that the people will listen to the words of His prophets who act as the interpreters of His Law. God did not send His prophets to change anything in the Law, nor to add or to take away. He sent His prophets to teach the Law and to apply it to the circumstances of the people. If the people of Jerusalem failed to obey God, then their city and their temple would be destroyed. If the people of Jerusalem wanted to see what would happen to them, all they needed to do was go to Shiloh [7:12-15]. Shiloh was the city where God used to dwell. Before Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem, the ark of the covenant rested in the temple of meeting at Shiloh [Joshua 18]. But the ark did not remain there. When the people broke Godís commands, the ark was carried off by the Philistines, and Shiloh was made a ruin [1 Samuel 4; Psalm 78:58-64]. Therefore, when God threatened to make the temple like Shiloh, he was threatening to tear it down brick by brick.Shiloh represents the departure of Godís living Spirit. A Shiloh is anyplace where God once lived but lives no longer.

 

Donít Buckle Under Pressure:Jeremiah 26:8-14.

 

[8] When Jeremiah finished speaking all that the LORD had commanded him to speak to all the people, the priests and the prophets and all the people seized him, saying, ďYou must die! [9] Why have you prophesied in the name of the LORD saying, This house will be like Shiloh and this city will be desolate, without inhabitant?Ē And all the people gathered about Jeremiah in the house of the LORD. [10] When the officials of Judah heard these things, they came up from the kingís house to the house of the LORD and sat in the entrance of the New Gate of the LORDíS house. [11] Then the priests and the prophets spoke to the officials and to all the people, saying, ďA death sentence for this man! For he has prophesied against this city as you have heard in your hearing.Ē [12] Then Jeremiah spoke to all the officials and to all the people, saying, ďThe LORD sent me to prophesy against this house and against this city all the words that you have heard. [13] Now therefore amend your ways and your deeds and obey the voice of the LORD your God; and the LORD will change His mind about the misfortune which He has pronounced against you. [14] But as for me, behold, I am in your hands; do with me as is good and right in your sight. [NASU]

 

[8-9] One manís sermon turned out to be another manís criminal offense. Jeremiah was just trying to preach law and grace the way God told him to preach it. But his congregation did not see it that way. See how unfair they are in representing his words. Jeremiah had said, in Godís name, if you will not listen to Godís warning, then God will make the temple like Shiloh. But they leave out Godís hand in the desolation and their own hand in it for not listening to the voice of God. Instead they charge Jeremiah that he blasphemed against their holy place. It is not out of any concern for the honor of the temple that they react this way. But because they are resolved not to part with their sins, in which they flatter themselves with a conceit that the temple of the Lord will protect them. This outcry of the priests and prophets raised the mob and all the people were gathered together against Jeremiah ready to pull him to pieces. Jeremiah was a victim of mob violence. This ugly scene undoubtedly would have ended in murder had not the authorities rushed in to break things up.

 

[10-11] As soon as the judges sat down in the city gates, the court was in session. Jeremiahís trial began with a reading of the charges. The murderous intentions of the plaintiffs were revealed when they called for the death penalty, even before they stated their charge or made their case. In the minds of the lying prophets and the false priests, the temple sermon was a capital offense. It was blasphemous and treasonable. Jeremiah preached against both Godís house and Godís city. They had made their complaint about this as soon as the prophet had finished his sermon. The prophets and the priests were not interested in repentance. They completely ignored Jeremiahís message of law and grace. They were more concerned with what he had said about the temple. Speaking against the temple seemed like treason, for they considered the temple inviolable. It had become a national shrine, a sort of lucky charm to protect them from the need to obey God. Thus they were offended when Jeremiah warned that God was going to destroy their precious temple.

 

[12-14] Once the charges had been read, it was up to the defendant to make his plea. In effect Jeremiah pled ďnot guilty by reason of obedienceĒ. Jeremiah explained that he had not been preaching on his own behalf. The people of Jerusalem were blaming the messenger, but their real complaint was with the message. The people thought they were contending with Jeremiah, but actually they were contending with God. If they had a grievance they would have to take it up with God himself, for he was the one warning them about judgment and calling them to repentance. While Jeremiah was making his legal plea, he took advantage of the opportunity to repeat his message. Then Jeremiah explained the reasoning behind his plea. Although he pled ďnot guilty,Ē he was not really interested in defending himself. Jeremiah submitted to the jurisdiction of the court. His chief concern was to be Godís faithful messenger.

 

Trust God for Results:Jeremiah 26:15-16.

 

[15] Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will bring innocent blood on yourselves, and on this city and on its inhabitants; for truly the LORD has sent me to you to speak all these words in your hearing. [16] Then the officials and all the people said to the priests and to the prophets, ďNo death sentence for this man! For he has spoken to us in the name of the LORD our God.Ē [NASU]

 

In the hour of trial, Jeremiahís courage and fidelity to God shone brightly. He did not plead for his life. He recognized the ability of his enemies to carry out the death sentence against him but warned them of the consequence of killing him. He knew that he faced imminent death; but he also knew that he had done no wrong, let alone committed any capital crime. The prophetís honesty and conviction by the Spirit gripped the hearts of the civil officials and the people. They sided with Jeremiah against the priests and false prophets. The judges and people were freer of prejudice than the religious leaders. They saw in Jeremiah what he claimed to be: Godís spokesman. To the shame of the priests, the laymen alone realized the prophet was bound to preach what the Lord had committed to him. But, sadly, the people still did not amend their evil ways and obey the call of God for them to repent. Because, even though they recognize Godís spokesman, their hearts are still hardened and dead when it comes to the call of God to repent.

 

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.†††† What lesson can we learn from Godís instruction to Jeremiah: ďDo not omit a wordĒ? When witnessing or discussing Godís Word with someone, are you tempted to leave out verses that may offend? What enabled Jeremiah to obey Godís command even in the face of angry opposition?

 

2.†††† Look at the emphasis on listening in verses 3-5. Note the relationships: listen Ö turn from evil; listen Ö walk in My law; not listening Ö Godís judgment. What do these relationships teach us about how we are to listen and to what?

 

3.†††† Look at the peopleís response in verse 16. They recognize that Jeremiah is speaking to them as Godís spokesman. Yet they still do not heed Jeremiahís call to repent and turn from their evil ways. Why did this happen? Even today, people can agree that the Bible is Godís Word but they do not heed its call to faith and repentance. What is missing?

 

 

References:

Jeremiah, John Calvin.

Jeremiah, Theo Laetsch, Concordia Publishing.

Jeremiah, Matthew Henry.

Jeremiah & Lamentations, Philip Ryken, Crossway Books.