17th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, there’s a Greek myth about the Sirens’ song. Perhaps you know what it’s about. Now it’s a myth and not true, but it does illustrate something about human nature. The myth goes something like this: there was a place in the sea of some of the Greek mythological characters where these Siren ladies lived. They would make this beautiful music and singing which enchanted and captivated every sailor who heard it and drew them to sail toward their location. The music seemed so gorgeous and beautiful and pleasant, but the reality? It lured every sailor who heard it to a rocky coast where there was no way out, no escape, only death.
It illustrates the sinful human tendency to live only for the moment, to enjoy a moment’s sinful pleasure without regard for the long-term consequences and long-term hurt involved. It’s true for the adulterer who gratifies the sinful nature for one night without regard for his or her marriage and they long term consequences. It’s also true for the Christian, you and me, every day. If you want to hold on to the truth, stand firm in all of God’s Word, you will suffer. Jesus promises it. The devil and this sinful world are diametrically opposed to God and His Word and therefore they are diametrically opposed to you as well. There will be times and many times when it will be tempting for the sake of friendship, for the sake of not enduring ridicule or scorn, to not stand up for the truth, to deny the Lord and His Word. You might enjoy a short reprieve, but the consequences would be eternally fatal. It doesn’t take long considering people in the world and even many church bodies who have listened to the Siren song of this sinful world and have compromised the truth rather than bear the cross and are facing an eternity of hurt. For that reason God seeks to encourage us this morning with the example of His faithful prophet Jeremiah.
As you know, the OT traces the history of God’s chosen people, the nation of Israel because it was through these people that God would bring into the world the world’s Savior His chosen Messiah. The whole OT is a record of God’s continual faithfulness to His promises and His people’s faithlessness to God. Well, how did we get to this point in our text where we have leaders of the Israelites throwing God’s prophets into cisterns? Well, it didn’t just happen overnight. It wasn’t like they all of a sudden decided to rebel against God over coffee one morning. It was a progression.
The time of our text is roughly 580 years before Jesus was born. But before Jesus can be born God has a lot of work to do in preparation for the time to be just right. This is after the kingdom of Israel split in 2. The Northern Kingdom which consisted of the 10 tribes of Israel has been hauled off and decimated by the Assyrians never to be heard of again. Why? Because they were completely unfaithful to God and His Word. Now the southern kingdom of Judah should have got the message, should have figured out what happens when God is pushed out of someone’s life. But for the most part, they didn’t. 13 of the 21 kings of Judah had this summary of their rule was given by God Himself: “They did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” And it got bad. They practiced open idolatry, sexual immorality, child sacrifice, putting God’s prophets to death, and so on. Why did they do these things? They neglected God’s word. They literally lost the Bible! Many of the leaders and many of the people did not have any regard for God’s Word. In fact, at the very beginning of Jeremiah’s ministry there was the last good king of Judah, King Josiah, who found the “Book of the Law” or their OT Bible buried in the temple. He wiped the dust off of it and did his best to reform the people. Some listened, but many simply nodded their heads and simply went through the motions outwardly but didn’t really believe it. It’s a classic example of what happens when God’s Word is neglected. When someone pushes God out of their life the devil is more than happy to try to fill that void. The devil convinced many of God’s people to follow the sinful ways of this sinful world, to listen to the fatal Siren song. He will do all he can to bring someone down because he wants has much company in the misery of hell as he can.
So, in an act of tough love God let the Babylonians rise to power and come in and devastate the nation of Judah. 3 times they came to Judah and its capital Jerusalem. 605 BC they hauled off exiles back to Babylon and subjected Judah to heavy tribute taxes. 597 BC they hauled off some more. Then in arrogance the leaders stopped paying tribute and thought with their meager army they could fend off the Babylonians. The final invasion in 586 would completely level Jerusalem. So, Jeremiah came with God’s sober words and essentially said, “It’s not going to work. If you put up resistance you’ll die, if you surrender you will at least live in exile in Babylon. The king of Babylon will certainly capture the city.” Not exactly what they wanted to hear. Now, Jeremiah could have changed his message or remained silent in order for a moment’s reprieve and to spare himself some suffering, but he didn’t. So what was the result?
The result of Jeremiah’s message from God was that the soldiers were becoming discouraged because finally, who wants to fight a losing battle? The leaders weren’t happy. So, since they didn’t want to listen to God’s Word and saw Jeremiah as a traitor they threw God’s prophet in a great big cistern from which there was no escape. A cistern in these times was a big reservoir dug underneath the ground and kind of pear shaped to hold water during times of drought. This cistern was either abandoned or it had no water because of the drought they were experiencing at the time. Regardless it worked as a handy dungeon to throw Jeremiah and silence him. I can’t imagine how Jeremiah must have felt. He was just thrown into this cistern to die because he was doing his job and faithfully telling people God’s word. Now he’s alone, sinking into the mud at the bottom of this cistern like quick sand, dark, abandoned, it probably wreaks with stagnant air, vermin and insects crawling around, no food, no water. Is there a way out?
What about for us, is there a way out? I mean, there are really only 2 options in life and both are evident in this text. One is you can go the way of the leaders and officials of Judah. You do this by neglecting God’s Word, neglecting His spokesmen, and listening to the enchanting temptations and sins of this sinful world. You can enjoy a moment’s pleasure gratifying the sinful nature. You can enjoy a moment’s reprieve from suffering by seeming progressive and open-minded to human sinfulness. The fact is, many have taken this road. Calling evil good and good evil. Even churches. Gross human sinfulness is not only accepted but encouraged as an “acceptable lifestyle.” And honestly, we aren’t immune from those temptations either: “Opposing the gay lifestyle is insensitive and cruel and mean,” “I can do what I want with my body, it’s mine,” “living together before marriage, just makes so much sense,” watching that provocative movie won’t degrade the way I view women or men.”
The other option is standing up for God’s truth, the path Jeremiah took. If the devil doesn’t have you in his grips, he’s going to do all he can to make you suffer. Why? Because he wants you to fall into spiritual despair, to throw in the towel, and give up on God. To feel like God has abandoned you. Just like Jeremiah. For standing up for the truth and speaking God’s Word…he ended up in the bottom of a cistern left to die! Same is true today. Try warning a nation bent on defending the murder of children, bent on encouraging and promoting every form of perversion possible, bent on dismissing God’s Word and God’s truth as relative and out-of-date and no longer applicable, go ahead and warn, go ahead and stand up for the truth, which we must do…but don’t expect a medal! Don’t expect a Nobel peace prize or a presidential commendation! Rather, expect what God has promised: the cross. Any and all suffering for holding on to ALL of God’s Word.
So what is it that keeps us going? What keeps us wanting to hold fast to all of God’s Word? What keeps us from giving up? Well certainly, God protects us, He watches over His own, He never gives up on us. No, he won’t always provide a miracle to rescue our lives, but sometimes He uses good friends, fellow believers, like He did with Jeremiah to lift us out of a pit so to speak. Here, from a most unlikely source, an Ethiopian Gentile believer Jeremiah is spared. Even today God uses faithful Christian friends to encourage us, to bolster our faith, to direct our attention back to God’s Word when we start listening to the Siren song of this world.
But there’s something even more that keeps us going under our crosses. What is it? It’s not our crosses, but The cross. You see, Jesus didn’t come to teach us how to have a good life, or just to set an example for us to follow, He came to suffer, He came to carry the cross and die on it. From His heavenly throne He came into this sin-mired world and did what no one else could do. For every time you and I have given in to temptation, listened to the siren song of the world, failed to stand up for His Word, for every one of our sins, He died. He died to lift us up, to rescue us from our sin, to provide the best way out of all suffering: life in heaven. So, now it’s His cross that gives us confidence in the face of fear and timidity to stand up for the truth. It His cross that gives us boldness in the face of rejection to hold on to all of His Word.
That’s what gave Jeremiah hope and confidence as he sat alone in a pit. That even if God didn’t rescue him from an unjust death, that God had and would rescue him from eternal death, that his real home was in heaven with God his Savior. And even to us, if it comes to the point of having to give up our lives in order to remain faithful to our God, Jesus’ promise still applies, “Whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”
As for me and as for you too, I’d rather end up in a muddy pit for remaining faithful to God and His Word than deny him and end up in eternal destruction in the pit of hell forever.