Then the officials said to the king, “Let this man be put to death, for he is weakening the hands of the soldiers who are left in this city, and the hands of all the people, by speaking such words to them. For this man is not seeking the welfare of this people, but their harm.”
A major theme of the Old Testament is the exile of Judah to Babylon. God had set up his glorious temple in Jerusalem. So long as Jerusalem stood, the people of God assumed that they would be safe from enemies. Even when the people did not follow God faithfully at all, they assumed that Jerusalem was impenetrable. But, early in the sixth century BC, the Babylonians came into Judah. Nebuchadnezzar’s soldiers threatened the very city of Jerusalem.
As Jeremiah and the people of God were hiding behind the walls of Jerusalem, the prophet had a word from God to the people. It was God’s determined will to have the Babylonians carry off the people of Judah. There was no longer anything that could be done. Nebuchadnezzar was going to win this battle.
There was, however, a twist in Jeremiahs’ words. God promised that, if the people voluntarily walked out the city gates and surrendered to the people of Babylon, they would be safe and well-cared-for in Babylon. God would even protect Jerusalem, not allowing the soldiers to burn down the city. All the people had to do was obey.
The problem here is that walking out and surrendering to the invaders is counterintuitive. It sounds absurd to say that the best strategy is to walk out the gates and yield the nation to the Babylonians. How could that possibly be what god wanted them to do?
Thus, the people rejected Jeremiah’s words. In fact, if you’ll notice, the arguments were pretty valid-sounding. What Jeremiah was saying sounded to be something that would weaken the soldiers’ resolve. Jeremiah’s words did not sound like the call to arms that the people thought they needed.
You know, this kind of conflict between Jeremiah and the people is a very common kind of conflict in the church today. Sometimes what seems most practical is not at all what will most honor God. Sometimes the pastor of the church has to call the people to do what seems absurd to the people. Sometimes that pastor has to steer the people away from trying things that sound good on the surface but which do not ultimately help the church to bring the gospel to the nations.
Think about it for a moment, and this will make sense. There are many who would have the church do basic marketing—find out what the people want and give them what they want. The problem with this strategy is that a lost world does not want God (cf. Rom 3:10-12). Thus, the call to preach the gospel, a truth that calls men sinners in desperate need of grace, is not what the world expects or wants; however, the biblical gospel is what we very much must preach. The wisdom of the world would say to make everything in the church as shallow as possible so as not to challenge or offend anybody; however, the Scriptures are plain that the people must be fed by the deep truths of the word of God and not mere baby food.
Jesus did some counterintuitive things. Remember John 6? There Jesus offended a huge crowd of people who were seeking him for food and fascination. He taught them hard truths, and they didn’t like it. Instead of softening the message, he let them go their own way.
Don’t get me wrong, we are not supposed to assume, if people don’t like us or our message that the fault cannot lie with us. Often people are offended by us because of our personalities or how we treat them. Often people dislike us for reasons that have nothing to do with the gospel. In those cases, we need to repent, change, and love people well. However, when we find that people truly are offended by the cross, we dare not remove that stumbling block.
Perhaps the best illustration of this passage is one we have not yet pondered, but we must before I wrap up. You know that Jeremiahs’ message is much like the gospel. The people are in danger of being destroyed by an army. The only solution is to surrender to the very ones who will destroy them otherwise. Well, we are in danger of being destroyed by God. Everything in human nature and human wisdom says to keep trying to do good and to somehow get into God’s good graces. But the true gospel tells us to stop trying to fix ourselves and to fall on the mercy of God, the very one who will destroy us for breaking his laws if we do not get under his grace.
Christians, much of the word of God seems counterintuitive. Are we willing to trust God enough to follow his word, even when it makes no sense to the world around us? Are we willing to make moves that are foolish in the eyes of the world? Are we willing to love a gospel that the world hates and sees as closed-minded, outdated, chauvinistic, homophobic, anti-scientific, and many other bad things? I hope so, because to love that gospel is to love the one God of the universe who will save our souls if we simply place our trust in him. Surrendering to God will lead us to many paths the world sees as crazy, but that is the terror and joy of the life lived for Jesus.