As I give thought to this article, I am mindful of the catastrophic storm that is bearing down on the east coast of Florida. It weighs a little more on my mind because two of Debbie’s brothers live in Florida and are in the path of the storm. One heeded the warnings and moved to safety, the other has chosen to roll the dice, so to speak. Such warnings always have hope within them. Leave where you are and come find shelter here from the storm. This has caused me to think of our Sunday morning study of Hosea and Amos, two prophets who were used by God to encourage, exhort, and yes, warn God’s people of the coming catastrophe. But such warnings are not void of hope, “Come, and let us return to the Lord; For He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up” (Hosea 6:1).
In our life group meetings, we have been discussing various ways we can seek to be effective in proclaiming the gospel of Christ. Some of our discussions have been about friendship evangelism. Lately we have considered the church and its uniqueness, and how it might play a role in reaching out to others. But at the very core of it all is the Gospel. A message of such great hope, of which there is no doubt. Paul writes that “the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church” (Ephesians 3:10). For close to two thousand years, the church has been given the joyful task of proclaiming Christ.
Okay, so what does all this have to do with Jeremiah 20:9, since it is the verse I said I would speak about today. I think it might have more to do with it than you might think. Let’s consider it briefly and make some application.
But if I say, “I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,”
his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot. (NIV, Jeremiah 20:9)
To understand this verse, we need to go back to chapter 19. Much like the prophets Hosea and Amos, Jeremiah has a difficult task in front of him. He is to inform the people, “Behold, I will bring such a catastrophe on this place, that whoever hears of it, his ears will tingle” (Jeremiah 19:3). How many of us would like that responsibility? Well, if we skip down to 19:14-15, we find Jeremiah “in the court of the Lord’s house” prophesying to the people this very message. As you might have expected, the response was not well received. Pashhur, “the priest who was also chief governor in the house of the Lord” (20:1) “struck Jeremiah the prophet and put him in the stocks” (20:2). What comes next is the conflict Jeremiah felt concerning the ministry he was given by God: one commentator calls it “a psalm of passionate complaint.” Listen to the ETRV translation of v7, “Lord, you tricked me, and I certainly was fooled. You are stronger than I am, so you won. I have become a joke. People laugh at me and make fun of me all day long.” Have you ever feared that such a response from people if you were to talk about Christ? I know I have, more than once. Such authenticity from the prophet Jeremiah. So, let’s grasp the backdrop for a moment: he is given a task to exhort God’s people which resulted in him being placed in stocks. On top of that, he has become the laughingstock in the community. Is it worth it? You know, to speak up for God? As one commentator put it, “The sense of a hopeless work, destined to fail, weighed on the prophet’s soul, and he would fain have withdrawn from it…”.
Now we come to Jeremiah 20:9 and find the resolve of the prophet amid this ever-present conflict within. On the one hand, there is this option, “I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name.” Have you ever wanted to give up on something? The early church was faced with a similar situation, as the gospel began to spread. Some reacted with great resistance to the message preached by Peter and John, commanding them “not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18). In Acts 5:18 the apostles were put in prison and in Acts 7 we know that Stephen lost his life after proclaiming Christ. A “great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem” (Acts 8:1). Do we face such obstacles today? As much as things change, they remain the same. For most of us, we are not facing imprisonment, but I suspect some may face being laughed at by our secular world. We to must face the temptation to be silent and not speak His word, most importantly, the hope of Christ. So, what helped Jeremiah to go beyond what he was feeling within? His conviction about the message he had heard from God was louder than his fears and frustrations. His resolve is found in these powerful words, “his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut in my bones, I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” I think of the words of the apostle found in Acts 5:29 as they were faced with the decision to speak up or shut up, “We ought to obey Gad rather than men.” Then there is the early church’s prayer in Acts 4:29, “Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word.”
So, what are the take aways from the above thoughts? First, I find comfort knowing that God is not bothered with authenticity. Jeremiah was being real about the things he faced when it came to proclaiming God’s word. What things hinder you from talking to others about Christ, His church, and His teachings? I suspect we all can relate in some way to Jeremiah. I encourage us all to just be honest with God about it and pray that God would give us all boldness. Second, remind yourselves about the gospel you came to know and the God who loves you so much. Remind yourself of the Christ who gave His life to give us life. It is true that Jeremiah’s message was not very joyful, and if we were to be honest about things, some of the gospel itself is not joyful. To get to the Good News, we must talk about the bad news concerning sin. Much like Jeremiah, the conviction of God’s word that is within us, will inevitably come out. Why? “Jesus is the only one who can save people. His name is the only power in the world that has been given to save anyone. We must be saved through him!” (Acts 4:12, ETRV). May God strengthen us as His church to mention the risen Savior to a lost and dying world. Be blessed church.