This message is part of a series entitled, “God Tries His Children”. To see all of the messages in this series, please click here.
Last week we considered Elijah and his confidence in God. We looked carefully at the circumstances surrounding Mount Carmel and the response Elijah had during an event that would normally be grueling and stress filled. The scripture’s testimony is that Elijah was supremely confident in his faith. He was confident he knew the one true God. He was confident God would glorify Himself. He was confident God would show His power to Israel, Ahab, the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah. He was confident that God would testify that Elijah was a faithful servant. He was confident that God was the God and no other. Elijah had tremendous faith. Yet, just after this event he would fall into a deep melancholy filled with fear for his life before the anger of Jezebel, the queen. He even asked God to take his life in 1 Kings 19:4. Elijah goes from one extreme to another, it seems. Yet, he never forsakes God. He is greatly humbled through his experiences and states plainly that he is no better than those having gone before him.
An interesting application to today lies in these passages. The prophets or priests for Ahab and Jezebel’s false gods, Baal and Asherah, seem to approve of people hurting themselves in worship. The scripture says the prophets of Baal mutilated themselves, cutting their skin and letting the blood flow. There is direct application to this in our world today. “Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it.”[i] Amazingly, if Muhammad had read this passage in the scriptures he may have written something in his book, the Koran (or Quran) to counter the activity Islam condones in some Shia sects.[ii]
No amount of dancing, wailing, singing or physical self-mortification brings about our great God’s approval. David said it best in Psalm 51:17 – we are to have a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart when we present ourselves to Him. In Psalm 34:18, we read that the Lord is close to those that have a broken heart. God saves them from a spiritually contrite position. This heart is not humble and repentant toward man in these passages. God honors those who stand strong and bold before man, while remaining penitent and submissive toward God. That describes Elijah. That attitude also describes Christ. That should describe us.
On the heels of tests in confidence, we find tests of the steadfast in Christ. That is our subject for today.
We will open by looking at Jeremiah 1:5-8. We will consider other passages as well; but this is a good place to begin. Our journey through scripture takes us into some very depressing times in Israel and Judah’s history. Even the prophet we study seems in distress. To whom do we turn in these times of deep stress and trial? It should be the Lord and His beloved. Where many in society turn to drugs or some form of physical stimulation such as pornography or extreme sports to escape stress, we should seek the Savior.
Perseverance is a word that can conjure up images of daunting dogmatism. It brings to my mind thoughts of physically challenged individuals who overcome their seemingly daunting debilitations to become great artists or even wonderful evangelists. Armless individuals produce magnificent works of art, wielding brushes with their toes or teeth. One does not have to look far to find individuals such as Joni Eareckson-Tada.[iii] Other images may bring about more, decidedly negative, illustrations of perseverance such as dictatorial or autocratic monomaniacal leaders who stop at nothing to gather more power to themselves, enslaving their people. We find extremes in any endeavor and perseverance or steadfastness has its extremist examples.
Winston Churchill once said that success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts. The mark of steadfastness is to continue in the task given, seeing it through to the end. Proverbs 24:16 tells us that a righteous man fails seven times but rises again. In Ecclesiastes 9:11 we read that the race is not always about speed and the battle is not always about the strongest. Who has remained to the end? This is what matters. The steadfast weary the irresolute. God honors those who are faithful to His will and His calling.
Many depict steadfastness in scripture. Ultimately though we must rest in our perfect Savior for His great steadfast testimony, love and ultimate desire to complete the will of the Father. He gave Himself for a ransom, a perfect sacrifice which satisfied the Father’s wrath on the sins of the world. We at Grace Bible rejoice daily at the great glorious God we serve and the privilege of His Son’s righteousness.
Today we want to discuss steadfastness from a biblical perspective concerning our lives and the fulfillment of God’s will through them. I will admit, what we talk about below will be somewhat of a personal testimony as I read Jeremiah.
Biblical steadfastness is not for social, world or political domination. It is not for the faint of heart. Steadfast testimonies are ridiculed, chided, bemoaned and unacceptable to the worldly. The world normally views the steadfast in spirit as fanatical or utopian. Even believers chide the steadfast in spirit mostly because they do not believe in taking a hard line on faith. Many see faith as a compromising existence with little staying power. Why else would the workplace ask the believer in Christ to suspend their faith at the door or ignore the clear teaching of scripture and submit to “tolerance training” (the end of which is acceptance not tolerance of societal sin)? The Christian who condones such activity or even promotes it as a way to be all things to all men (1 Cor 9:22) is a form of “memory foam” Christian. They have received some of the form of Christ at church, but when absent from godly influence they go back to their original form. Paul never condones sacrificing truth or purity to be all things to all men. Biblical Christian perseverance is tied to glorifying God in these things. Those tasks are not always pleasant to us, but they will please the Lord.
This should not be misinterpreted as calling for a contentious spirit. We should approach these things in a loving and careful way but be firm in our resolve. We can tolerate sin from the sinful, but we do not have to condone the activity. We can expect unbelievers to act like unbelievers; yet live with them and encourage them to Christ. We get into trouble when we condone their sinful acts with silence or a soft, almost conciliatory, testimony.
We will take somewhat of a survey of Jeremiah’s ministry. To do true justice to this prophet, we should include passages and exposition in as many as four books that he is credited with writing. Jeremiah, Lamentations and 1 and 2 Kings (though the author is unknown, Jeremiah is suggested) all cover the times and periods of his ministry. Unfortunately, we do not have time to accomplish that study today. Therefore, we will concentrate on a few select passages that describe reasons for and evidences of steadfastness.
First, God chooses His servants. They are selected, developed and sanctified before birth.
I. God Chooses (Jeremiah 1:5-8)
Jeremiah is considered the weeping prophet mainly because of Jeremiah 9:1,
“Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!”
More than any other in scripture, Jeremiah laments the sins of Israel. He knows Israel will suffer great judgment that will enslave, injure and kill many men, women and children. Later in chapter nine brother Jews will be slandering one another, they will lie against one another openly and deceive one another, denying the Lord. In verse 9, God plainly says that their sins will be punished, that God’s soul will be avenged. Jeremiah is chosen as the prophet to preach against these growing sins and the apathy of Israel.
God chooses His servants before man even knows them. God selects those servants to fulfill His will before conception. He develops them in the womb. God even knows these servants before physical conception. More than that, God sanctifies them before they are born into the world.
I am not sure I could claim such facts in my life, but scripture here states He did that for Jeremiah. Our sovereign and omniscient God certainly knew me, the things I would do as a youngster, in my early life and He knew when I would eventually be saved. He knew it would take all that and more to bring me to a point where I would get on my knees, humble myself, have my heart broken and accept His Son for salvation. He knew what it would take to change me so I could effectively serve Him.
These statements from God as well as those that follow from Jeremiah comfort this pastor. It appears Jeremiah has about as much confidence in his abilities as I do. Like Moses, Jeremiah says he cannot speak. Jeremiah also says he is too immature. God encourages him though and reassures him that He will be with Jeremiah all the way through these trials. Further, Jeremiah will speak all the things God gives him to speak. In verse 8, the Lord tells him not to fear because Yahweh will deliver him.
I have not received the personal blessing of God on my mouth that Jeremiah did. I have however always been cognizant of His presence in many ways. Church services where everything (music, testimonies, prayer, scripture reading and the pulpit ministry), not orchestrated or coordinated like some smooth well oiled machine, just seem to fall into line to testify of the message from the Word for that morning. From a very much needed provision for our family to a grade to make it through a semester, He has shown Himself to me and given our family great grace in many different ways. We rejoice daily at God’s work in our lives even with all the challenges we face in our near future.
I know I could never have handled Leigh’s illnesses if I did not have the Lord. We are grateful we knew Him when we went through Leigh’s first kidney loss. I almost broke more than once as he lay on an examination table, but we fought through it with our Savior.
Like Jeremiah, I have no idea why God chose me. I just know He did. God chooses all His children and all His servants with special care. That fact alone humbles me to the core as I am baffled by His choice; why me? According to the scripture in verse 5, God forms us, knows us, sanctifies us and ordains us for this service. What a humbling thought. When we are at all troubled with ministerial concerns, we always review what God did to get us here in the first place. I have many personal testimonies that tell of His great grace and loving care. From funds we graciously received to send us to seminary, many yard sales that provided much meals just to survive at times, to His hand on our travels out here. God shows Himself to us.
Although the personal communication has not come from the Lord outside of His Word as it did Jeremiah, I feel the same confidence Jeremiah felt. His word is where the Spirit of God speaks to us. I also feel the same pains Jeremiah experienced. I believe you know your pastor enough to know I weep for you regularly. Just as Jeremiah felt for Israel, I often feel for Grace Bible. Still, knowing and being comfortable in the fact that God has chosen me and delivered me here to minister to you, I remain steadfast in resolve to proclaim His word to you. It is a privilege I enjoy before His throne, to teach you doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16). God directed me to do this for you.
God made Jeremiah His human spokesperson. He gave him authority over the nations, kingdoms and the people. Jeremiah was to root out, pull down, destroy, throw down and ultimately to rebuild and plant. In the picture of the almond tree in this passage, there is a metaphoric Hebrew word play. The word for almond tree is derived from the word which means to watch or to wake. God would be watching and paying attention to all Jeremiah’s activities. He would observe the fulfillment of His word.
God told Jeremiah to speak the truth to the people of Israel. He told them they followed worthless idols. He told them they defiled the land with their idolatrous sin. They had forgotten the fertile land God gave them.
Jeremiah preached against the religious leadership that God says He does not know. Jeremiah spoke against the leaders in Israel. The word “pastors” in 2:8 quite literally means shepherds. Those charged with caring for Israel have failed God and not led the people to fertile grounds. Instead, they have let them stray and remain in polluted areas.
Jeremiah preached against the prophets charged with leading Israel and declaring God’s truth. These prophets have defiled God’s chosen people, prophesying by Baal and encouraging Israel to follow worthless idols.
When we look at the rest of chapter 2, we find all the lives, all the personal aspects of life, every area of concern and every avenue of refuge attacked by Jeremiah. He talks about the failed witness of Israel as worthless and foolish as they abandon good flowing living water for a cistern that is broken, leaking and polluted. Foreign invaders have come in because of the divisions and infighting that wreaked havoc among the people. Towns were burned and deserted. They suffered evil and bitter pain because they forsook the Lord. Jeremiah even attacked the supposed freedom the Israelites thought they enjoyed in 2:31-33. These were dark days in the history of Israel and as God directed, Jeremiah did not sugar coat the truth but laid it all out to them.
As with all testimonies of judgment by God’s servants, He also supplies the light, road and path to return to His glory. We find much of this in 3:6-6:30. Although this is set in a backdrop of impending judgment, these chastisements eventually result in repentance and a reintroduction into God’s graces as He provides Jeremiah a strong and steadfast witness to the wickedness of Israel. Jeremiah, as “doom and gloom” as he may be, is God’s merciful prophet and the rewards for both Israel and Jeremiah will be great.
III. God Rewards (3:12-18)
The first thing God does is call all Israel to repentance before His throne. He points out that all the northern kingdoms had adulterated themselves chasing other gods. Jeremiah challenges the divorce of Judah from Israel. These two groups should never have separated.
There is a remnant of believers. These believers are a steadfast witness for the Lord regardless of the rest of the congregation. God promises to restore Israel as the leadership actually seeks God’s face and serves Him. God calls upon Israel to return from their backslidden position. He tells them He does not want to punish them. Israel can be renewed and escape the future destruction. They only have to acknowledge their sin, seek His face and submit wholly to God. Jeremiah tells the people of Israel that all the leaders they currently have, and all those in their recent past have polluted the people.
God promises to give them new pastors to care for them according to His heart that will feed and love them and teach them in God’s knowledge and wisdom. Turning from wickedness and toward God would result in the reward of more pastors and people in Israel. There will be so much contentment and blessing they will not even miss the Ark of the Covenant. Instead of the Ark, the throne of the Lord will take center stage.
The Lord will preside over all nations who gather to His name in Jerusalem. They will turn from wickedness and their evil hearts that caused division and instead gather as one in Israel. No longer would there be Judah and Israel, but Israel will be one again as it is intended.
If Israel repents, God promises to provide shepherds. He tells Israel they will no longer need existential worship; their worship will be in their hearts, minds and souls. They should no longer need external reminders of God. God promises that they will always dwell in God’s presence. He tells them they will naturally live a godly life and forsake their evil heart’s imaginations.[iv] Ultimately, they will be a successful witness to nations around the globe. They unify before God. Their national unity will testify to the world. Jeremiah’s message is a steadfast witness to Israel to repent and enjoy these things.
Second Chronicles 7:14 reads,
“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”
This scripture is as true for Israel today as it was when written during Jeremiah’s time. It is also true for our country, as we have noted in the past. Where a congregation comes together, humbles itself, prays, seeks God’s face and turns from wickedness, God will hear them, His Son will forgive them and He will heal their land (1 Jn 1:9). Jeremiah remained steadfast for over 23 years preaching to the people of Israel who had “not harkened, nor inclined your ear to hear.” (Jer 25:1-7) He remained steadfast in the face of complete disdain and disregard for God. We must remain steadfast and resolute regardless of the world around us.
Ladies and gentlemen, stay humble before the Lord in your lives, in your ministries and before your community. We want God’s blessings. Our tests of steadfastness come in many forms. Are we a steadfast witness to the community of the love of God and His Son Jesus Christ? Are we a steadfast testimony of the goodness of God to the community for Christ and His Kingdom? Are we steadfast in our lives where we live for Christ, love like Christ, forgive like Christ and share the salvation of Christ?
Ladies and gentlemen, just as Israel was supposed to do, we should remain unified. We should not divide like Judah and Israel. We should not succumb to worldly pressures. Our false gods are not like Baal, but society and other churches we see today that tempt us to impure thoughts focused on false expectations. Like Israel, we are supposed to humble ourselves, pray and seek God’s face, turning from our wickedness. Then we will see the full salvation and power of the Lord. We should covet nothing else but His sustaining power.
Like Noah building the ark regardless of all those around him, we too must remain faithful and resolute in our worship regardless of all those around us. Like Noah preached for 120 years to all those around him, we too should remain steadfast in our witness and ministry to all those around us. Beloved, remain steadfast for Christ.
[i] George Santayana, Reason in Common Sense Vol. 1 – The life of Reason, (Dover Publications: New York, 1980). Ch. XII—Flux and Constancy in Human Nature, Continuity Necessary to progress section. We cannot condone the philosophical musings of Santayana, however man’s flawed reason sometimes hits on a nugget of truth that we can use for illustration. This is one such occasion.
[ii] For the Islamist who may attempt to attribute self-flagellation to some form of Christianity, the fact is the activity was very sparsely used and essentially ceased with asceticism and the era of the Pillar-Saints (Stylites) 12-13th century, (though sporadic exercise remained for a few centuries afterward). Those activities (self-abuse, asceticism, isolationism and reclusiveness) as forms of self-denial to attempt to connect closer with Christ were aberrations of the faith, unscriptural and never seen as markers for greater faith. The Pillar-Saints especially became a spectacle for the town’s people; they were simply amusement. Even the protestant Martin Luther bore physical scars from self-flagellation. A monk early in his life in a monastery that taught self-abuse, upon deep study in the scriptures left that life to minister in public, married and had children, a more biblical application of Christianity. Like the crusades were a fabricated Christian activity by the Catholic Church, so too was Christian self-denial and abuse fabricated by their sects. Many bemoan church division today, but it has been so since about the 5th century and certainly exacerbated through the Dark Ages and into the Enlightenment. The ascetics are examples of early divisions, as Shias and Sunnis would argue their divisions born from differing understandings of the Koran. Saying Islam will grow past this uneducated or immature form of worship, evolve to some greater relationship with their god and attribute that to Christianity is as if to say Christians have evolved. This is nonsense for the fundamentalist. Christians seek to worship the way Paul, Timothy and Titus did in the first and second centuries using the modern day environment. That is not evolving; it is worshiping while existing in this world today but not being of the world today (Phil 2:15; 1 John 2:15-16). Evidences of evolutionary Christianity are found in New Age and Neo Evangelical circles. Fundamentalist Christians do not concur with these religious evolutionary developments.
[iii] This reference is specifically to recognize Mrs. Eareckson-Tada as one who has pressed past her physical challenges and overcame them. She has a clear testimony for Christ in all these challenges. In this way, she certainly qualifies as steadfast perseverance. Her testimony sees her physical challenge as ordained of the Lord for His glory.
[iv] Because this is not possible with our current propensity for sin, we see this as a description of the millennial reign of Christ. Further evidence (not all inclusive) for this is that Israel does not turn to God. Israel instead ignores Jeremiah’s warnings. Israel falls into captivity and is judged by God. The clear instruction in this passage is directed at Jeremiah’s ministry to warn Israel and encourage them that they can become “the throne of the Lord” (v17). The house of Israel and Judah can be joined together and they can receive the inheritance of their fathers (v18). Verse 22 renews the plea for Israel to return to the Lord with the promise that He will heal the land. God does not desire to unleash His wrath upon those who forsake Him. Continued disobedience drives Him to judgment (v25).