(Sermon to be presented on June 14th 2014)
“For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.“
There are three things that jump out in the verse. When God inspired the prophets to write, God’s purpose was to do three things:
1.) Teach us
2.) Comfort us
3.) Give us a basis for hope
They are all linked together and occur in this order.
The three F’s of the Christian experience are similar in that they should occur in order,
1.) Fact (God’s word),
2.) Faith (Faith comes by hearing God’s word) and
3.) Feeling (Joy and hope from the faith obtained in God’s word and experience)
As a famous preacher once said,
Much time with the Word of God, much faith. Little time with God’s Word, little faith.
It is in the teaching from the stories and words of the Bible that give us what we need to endure a wicked and deadly world. There is no other place where hope and joy are so solid; so true; and so real.
As we read and understand from the Scripture this morning, may our hope be renewed. If there is someone listening who has lost hope, joy, or both are fading…may you find it again this morning through our time in Scripture. This is my prayer.
Above everything, our hope is in Jesus to which the word of God testifies. Wouldn’t you agree? We sing the song “…our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus Christ and His righteousness.” Have you put your hope in the Jesus as revealed in God’s word or is your hope in the grit and determination of your own works? Perhaps it is money where your hope resides.
When Jesus suddenly appeared to the two highly discouraged disciples walking the 8 miles to Emmaus, He gave them a Bible Study that taught them, from the Scriptures, about Himself.
This story tells us that Jesus can be found all through the scripture, but a person must desire to see him. For God said.
“And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.”
If we fail to see Jesus, we will be…
“Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
2 Timothy 3:7
The seeking and searching cannot be casual and it must be open to the leading of God’s Spirit.
This verse regarding seeking and searching is in Jeremiah where we will be spending our time. We will be looking to primarily at chapter 38.
The result of Jesus’ 3 hour Bible Study to the two discouraged hopeless men was dramatic. It was life changing. They learned so much they didn’t know or had failed to see. They made a journey that started with hopelessness, but ended with overwhelming hope and joy! It started with teaching (From Jesus), Comfort (knowledge), and Hope/Joy (Jesus is alive!)
Luke tells us the story and describes the results which was this,
“Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?”
Luke 24: 32
Here is what makes our hearts burn within us: Opening up he scriptures and Jesus talking to us about himself from its pages. Friends, you do this every morning, make it your first work and you will begin to find peace, hope, and joy.
As we read this small portion of scripture this morning. Look for Jesus. If you see Him in it, open your mind and apply the message to you as an individual, not as a church member, not as the group called Christian, but as one who desires to have hope burn within you. Because most of the time you are away from this congregation of believers and your true heart will be revealed. It is here where your experience becomes real or pretend.
I want to talk with you this morning about a little known character, a little known story found in the big book of Jeremiah (Chapter 38). In this story are the elements of faith that apply to us as individuals who make up the world-wide church as we wait for the soon return of Jesus.
Let’s begin by understanding the setting for our little known hero.
Jeremiah was a true prophet who was warning the people of God that the King of Babylon was going to burn down Jerusalem. He particularly warned the leadership including the very last King of Judah, King Zedekiah.
It is during this time just before the fall of Jerusalem that our hero shows up. Many of God’s people could have been saved had the leadership heeded the warning and advice of Jeremiah. Here is our first lesson. If we are put in positions of leadership, we will have a great responsibility to hear and respond to the word of God for the good of those we serve. Wouldn’t you agree? But that does not excuse us as individual followers of Jesus.
Long before we get to Chapter 38, Jeremiah had given the solution to their fate…a way of escape:
“Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings. Behold, we come unto thee; for thou art the Lord our God. Truly in vain is salvation hoped for from the hills, and from the multitude of mountains: truly in the Lord our God is the salvation of Israel.”
Jeremiah 3: 22, 23
The condition of God’s people (including the king and his officials) was that they had left God. They were practicing the same vain worship as the heathen. The built alters and groves and worshiped things made with their own hands. They even sacrificed their sons by fire. They had become superstitious and looked to the hills and mountains where their idols resided to protect them and give them hope. Their hope was sadly misplaced.
“Because they have forsaken me, and have estranged this place, and have burned incense in it unto other gods, whom neither they nor their fathers have known, nor the kings of Judah, and have filled this place with the blood of innocents;
They have built also the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings unto Baal, which I commanded not, nor spake it, neither came it into my mind.”
Jeremiah 19: 4, 5
God’s people were no different from those around them. They wanted to be accepted by the vast number of the majority. They wanted to be cool like everyone else. They desired not to follow God which would make them different, but rather adopt the ways of the majority so they would fit in. So they sold their God-given birth right for a bowl of soup.
But, despite their backsliding, God bore long with them and extended mercy after mercy through the messages of Jeremiah. Finally, the city was doomed and its fate was sealed. But, even then, God made a way of escape for those who chose to listen to God as individuals.
“And unto this people thou shalt say, Thus saith the Lord; Behold, I set before you the way of life, and the way of death.
He that abideth in this city shall die by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence: but he that goeth out, and falleth to the Chaldeans that besiege you, he shall live, and his life shall be unto him for a prey.
For I have set my face against this city for evil, and not for good, saith the Lord: it shall be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire.”
Jeremiah 21: 8-10
Does this not sound like Jesus when he warned the disciples of the coming destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD?
Jesus desired Jerusalem to come to him, but they would not.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!”
But Jesus made a way of escape for those who would listen:
“Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place’ (whoever reads, let him understand), ‘then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house. And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes. ‘ “
Matthew 24: 15-18
In 70 AD Jerusalem was besieged and destroyed by the Roman army, but those who remembered the words of Jesus escaped unharmed.
Josephus claims that 1.1 million people were killed during the siege, of which a majority were Jewish, and that 97,000 were captured and enslaved….
“The slaughter within was even more dreadful than the spectacle from without. Men and women, old and young, insurgents and priests, those who fought and those who entreated mercy, were hewn down in indiscriminate carnage. The number of the slain exceeded that of the slayers. The legionaries had to clamber over heaps of dead to carry on the work of extermination.”
Those who heeded the words of Jesus to leave Jerusalem were spared the pain of suffering of a besieged city.
Throughout scripture it is the majority in the cities that are destroyed while those few faithful to the Lord escape and come out before the destruction. We have examples of Sodom, Gomorrah, Jerusalem, and in the end time, it will be Babylon symbolic of those who follow tradition and the majority above the word of God. We are only safe as individuals and not as a group.
King Zedekiah and the leaders did not want to believe Jeremiah’s hard prophecies. They desired a more peaceful ending…a more palatable story…One of their own liking. The story could have had a happy ending IF they listened and did what Jeremiah instructed as told to him by a Sovereign God. He would have fought for them Himself!
But, only Jeremiah and a remnant found hope in the words of God, the Scripture. It gave them comfort in a time of extreme difficulty:
“Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O Lord God of hosts.”
The solution to hopelessness and discouragement is found in the words of the Bible, the scripture. Also, if you are called by God’s name (Recognized by others as a true follower) you will have joy even when it seems the world is against you. But how often are we afraid to let the world know of our name of how we are identified? Do we want to be like those around us who have no hope?
To minimize the message of Jeremiah, there arose false prophets who told the king and the leadership the things they wanted to hear. It gave them comfort, but it was a lie and made Jeremiah’s message hard to hear. These false prophets said, “everything is going to be OK.” Listen to one of them. His name was Hananiah:
“Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, saying, I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon.
Within two full years will I bring again into this place all the vessels of the Lord‘s house, that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place, and carried them to Babylon:
And I will bring again to this place Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim king of Judah, with all the captives of Judah, that went into Babylon, saith the Lord: for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.”
Jeremiah 28: 2-4
Jeremiah called out Hananiah on this:
“Then said the prophet Jeremiah unto Hananiah the prophet, Hear now, Hananiah; The Lord hath not sent thee; but thou makest this people to trust in a lie.
Therefore thus saith the Lord; Behold, I will cast thee from off the face of the earth: this year thou shalt die, because thou hast taught rebellion against the Lord.
So Hananiah the prophet died the same year in the seventh month.”
Folks it matters what we believe. Sometimes the message will be hard to hear or we may be the only one among thousands who are proclaiming it or following it. Be careful of messages that give false hope that leads to false comfort. Truth is always best. Beware of smooth talk, fancy suits, wealthy speakers, and those who would flatter you. Do not be naive, but one who is led by the Lord and His words.
“For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.”
It was because of Jeremiah’s hard prophecy and people’s refusal to hear it that the leadership of Judah, including the king. throw Jeremiah into a dungeon. Here was the final message that finally put him in a dungeon:
“Thus says the Lord: ‘He who remains in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence; but he who goes over to the Chaldeans shall live; his life shall be as a prize to him, and he shall live.’Thus says the Lord: ‘This city shall surely be given into the hand of the king of Babylon’s army, which shall take it.’”
Jeremiah 38: 2-3
In effect, Jeremiah is telling the people to defect, to get out of the city. If they do, they will live. This was the same message Jesus gave to a Jerusalem some 500 years later.
There comes a time when the bad will begin to happen. If you have your hope in God, he will give you joy a peace during that time and your life shall be as a prize. Again, I repeat Jeremiah:
“Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O Lord God of hosts.”
Because of Jeremiah’s hard message, he is let down into a Dungeon that is filled with disgusting smelly mud.
“…and they let Jeremiah down with ropes. And in the dungeon there was no water, but mire. So Jeremiah sank in the mire.”
Jeremiah 38: 6
This dungeon was more like a deep dark confining latrine of a pit that only had enough water to make mud at the bottom. It is likely Jeremiah had no room to lie down and even if he did, it would be in the disgusting mud.
A brother of mine, described his experience with this type of dungeon:
“Growing up in rural Kenya, I have had the ‘privilege’ of going down into a pit when I was about 10 years old, albeit not a muddy one the way Jeremiah did. Having been forewarned and prepared, the instructions were clear: Don’t look up – you just go in and continue digging to extend its depth. You can guess what happened – on being lowered to the floor of the new pit latrine we had been tasked as boys in the family to dig, I made the fatal mistake of looking up! It is freaking scary – the opening looks like a pin hole, and the walls look like they are carving in on you! I screamed, and had to be pulled off as soon as possible, as my elder siblings took over the task! I have not had to get into the pit again ever since but it is not a pleasant place to be in.”
How bad were the conditions for the man of God who prophesied the truth and not smooth words in order to be accepted! Folks, sometimes, we are in this pit and we wonder why God is letting this happen.
Jeremiah was what the people of God should be…telling the truth regardless of how unpopular it would make him. The message is one meant to save them from death and destruction. One that was uttered with pathos. But Jeremiah was comforted by the words of God. If we do the same it will be our joy and being called by his name will give us rejoicing and comfort even when in the pit of mud. We will be called by His name when we honor Him no matter our circumstance. Disaster, sickness, death all are opportunities to glorify the Lord for the sake of others who have no hope. After all, our experience with Jesus is not about ourselves, but about others.
Let me say it again, if you have the words of God and a relationship with Jesus it does not matter how bad things are, you have peace! Do you believe that? Have you ever experienced what I am talking about?
At the darkest, smelliest, confining moment of Jeremiah’s experience is when our hero shows up! His name is Ebed-Melech. He is an Ethiopian; a heathen who is not one of God’s people, but many times it is not God’s people who come to the rescue because their salt has lost is saltiness!
Ebed-Melech is a slave to the King. He is a eunuch. An eastern eunuch. This clan had a terrible a reputation. The Eastern eunuchs were a pitilessly cruel race, whose delight was to wound and vex. No clan had a worse reputation for cruelty, but Ebed-melech was different.
Ebed-Melech was as faithful a servant to God as he was to king Zedekiah. He loved the prophet Jeremiah and risked his own life to save the man of God.
Ebed-Melech begins his ministry by interceding for Jeremiah.
“When the king was sitting at the Gate of Benjamin, Ebed-Melech went out of the king’s house and spoke to the king, saying: ‘My lord the king, these men have done evil in all that they have done to Jeremiah the prophet, whom they have cast into the dungeon, and he is likely to die from hunger in the place where he is. For there is no more bread in the city.’ ”
Jeremiah 38: 7-9
When Ebed-Melech heard that the man of God was in a deep dungeon, he risked his own life, occupation, reputation by approaching the king and accusing the king’s more honored and sophisticated supporters of being and doing evil.
Here is the first of the Christ-like actions of Ebed-Melech. His life is of little concern. He has an agape type love that puts the other person’s life ahead of his own. He approaches the king interceding for Jeremiah, as does Jesus for us.
But, there is a big difference. Jesus went into the pit (death) for us so that we might not have to.
“Then the king commanded Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian, saying, “Take from here thirty men with you, and lift Jeremiah the prophet out of the dungeon before he dies”
Jeremiah 38: 10
Like Jesus, Ebed-Melech, is given the resources to go and save the man of God from an apparent hopeless situation.
“So Ebed-Melech took the men with him and went into the house of the king under the treasury, and took from there old clothes and old rags, and let them down by ropes into the dungeon to Jeremiah. Then Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian said to Jeremiah, “Please put these old clothes and rags under your armpits, under the ropes.” And Jeremiah did so. So they pulled Jeremiah up with ropes and lifted him out of the dungeon. And Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison.”
Jeremiah 38: 11-12
As we know, these old clothes and rags represent our own righteousness. It is not our rags that save us, but the one who pulls us up despite the rags to save us.
Here it was an effort of 30 men. Often when someone needs pulling from the pit of despair, it takes a group effort to bring them up.
Those rags have to be under our armpits….A secure place, otherwise we may slip and fall as we are headed up.
The rags that pulled us up from discouragement, hopelessness, and death were not old dirty rags, but the precious cloth of Jesus’ robe of righteousness. He purchased these cloths at the cross and it is ours to keep if we are willing and chose to exchange our filthy rages for his soft comforting robe.
This was the experience of the prodigal son who came home dirty, tired, discouraged, and doubting whether his father would take him back, but the father was looking for him and came running to him shouting this command to his servants as he ran:
‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.
Luke 15: 22-24
Are you following the instructions of your savior and in a secure position? Is it Christ pulling you out of the mud into a firm place? Are you looking at the tattered rags or upward to the one who has promised to never let you fall.
Is this your experience?
“He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, Out of the miry clay, And set my feet upon a rock, And established my steps.”
Although Ebed-Melech appears for only a short time in Scripture, his actions for the man of God have been preserved for all who read and understand . Some 2500 years later, I am telling his story and how he brings hope to all of us who seem to be looking at the pit we are in rather than trusting in the character of our Lord.
Ebed-Melech’s actions spared the life of a man of God. What little he knows about the true God, he uses. He doesn’t wait for any sign or more information. He is moved by the Spirit of God and acts.
There are many Ebed-Melchs in this world. They may have little worldly influence or possessions. They may be without a family and less educated. They may know little about the true God of heaven, but, unlike the religious, they have a heart that can be moved by the great Creator to perform His will and participate in the promotion and preservation of God’s work. While they are ordinary and often go unnoticed, they do extraordinary things.
Because of Ebed’s actions, his life was spared. While big things were going on with the nation, God remembers the man who likely had no family and would never have any descendants. God remembers the man who was small in influence until the day he stood up for what was right. God inspired him and he moved into action.
“Now the word of the Lord came unto Jeremiah, while he was shut up in the court of the prison, saying,
Go and speak to Ebed Melech the Ethiopian, saying, Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will bring my words upon this city for evil, and not for good; and they shall be accomplished in that day before thee.
But I will deliver thee in that day, saith the Lord: and thou shalt not be given into the hand of the men of whom thou art afraid.
For I will surely deliver thee, and thou shalt not fall by the sword, but thy life shall be for a prey unto thee: because thou hast put thy trust in me, saith the Lord.”
Jeremiah 39: 15-18
What is your dungeon? Do you have a Ebed Melech in your life? Where is your hope? Is it in the rope of filthy rags, the hills, the money or in the strength of the one pulling you up?
Would you choose today to let God be the source of your joy, peace, and comfort by surrendering to Him? You may say, I am too weak and my sins too strong. I am too depressed.
Does this sound like you? You hold the one thing God gives you in the plan of salvation-Choice
Choose to surrender and put the rope of God’s word under your arm pits. Lean back and look up at the light of freedom. Let the Lord’s strong arm pull you up into the glorious light of His presence.
“The temptations of Satan are grater now than ever before, for he knows that his time is short and that very soon every case will be decided, either for life or for death. It is no time now to sink down beneath discouragement and trial; we must bear up under all our afflictions and trust wholly in the Almighty God of Jacob. The Lord has shown me that His grace is sufficient for all our trials; and although they are greater than ever before, yet if we trust wholly in God, we can overcome every temptation and through His grace come off victorious.”
Early Writings-Trial of Our Faith, Chapter 8