Let’s face it: We live in an age in which people want their understanding of truth to be affirmed, not challenged. They want their opinion to be honored, not corrected. A preferred truth reigns over actual truth. “There is a way that seems right to a man,” and it is heresy for that man to capitulate to the words of another.
Jeremiah 38: God’s prophet has a word for the people: Surrender to Babylon. You’ll live, and the city will be saved. But, if you try to defend yourselves from Babylon, you’ll lose, and the city will be burned to the ground (38:17-18).
Jeremiah didn’t make this up. It’s the word of God. He‘s just doing his job – hear from God, and tell the people. All he wants to do it help. And he’s right.
But the self-confident and hawkish military leaders under King Zedekiah say, “This man ought to be put to death, because he is discouraging the soldiers … he is not seeking the welfare of this people, but their harm” (38:4). Their answer? Get royal permission to have Jeremiah killed. Their method? Throw him into a muddy well to die … “and Jeremiah sank in the mud” (38:6).
Well … Jeremiah gets saved by a very nice eunuch from the palace, and gets another audience with Zedekiah. Despite his near-death experience in the cistern, Jeremiah’s prophetic word remains the same. Zedekiah hears them, and believes them … but knows the political ramifications of accepting Jeremiah’s version of the truth, and putting it into practice. So he charges Jeremiah: “Do not let anyone else know of this conversation, or you will die” (38:24).
Well, well … Jeremiah and Zedekiah are now in cahoots. They want to bless the people by leading them according to truth. But they both know that they are on a slippery slope that may well take them from unpopularity to assassination.
Such is life as a spokesman for God’s truth.
Parents experience this every day. All good parents want to do is bless their children. Good parents know truths that their children don’t. But the kids don’t see it that way. When parents insist on what’s best for a child, they will often be met with pouts, tantrums, slammed doors and withheld affection. Parents are then tempted to toss their convictions into the well … to keep the peace, and stay liked.
Pastors deal with this, too. Steeped in the study of the scriptures, pastors have good ideas about lives can be lived within the blessing of God. They often see trouble coming in people’s sin-bent lives, and want to see them saved from self-destruction. But God forbid that they challenge people with those truths! It’s far easier, in the name of “love” and “inclusivity” to affirm the “way that seems right to a man,” and let the chips fall where they may. People’s lives may fail, but at least they’ll like their church.
Christian citizens are in a similar cultural predicament. We love our neighbors … we really do! We know that living according to God’s truths spells blessing for them. And we know that the wages of disobedience to those truths (a.k.a., “sin”) is death. So we proclaim. We warn. We try to persuade. We only want to help. But, no. We’re judgmental. We’re intolerant. We’re “haters”.
They threw Jeremiah in a well. Kids will try to run away from home. Parishioners will leave for other churches. And the world will blast and censor our Word-of-God-shaped cultural commentary.
Oh … and they crucified Jesus. Just before that Good Friday, He told his disciples, “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A
servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours” (John 15:20).
Well … I sense it’s only going to get muddier.