Folk sometimes like to look at Christian believers and to see them as weak and to be pitied. After all, if people were strong then they wouldn’t need the crutch of religion to support them, would they? Christianity is for wimps isn’t it? Many may think like this even if they don’t dare say it out loud to your face.
The reality of the matter is somewhat different. It takes courage to go against the flow and to declare openly for Jesus. Down through the centuries being a Christian has come at a very real cost and in today’s world even here in the west there is a price to be paid and that cost is increasing. "Caesar" is once again laying claim to more authority than is rightfully his and our choices are becoming starker. As the world tries to squeeze us into its mould (by both temptation and constraint) each Christian believer will have to decide whether it is right to conform to the godless world system, cutting his cloth accordingly, or whether he is conscience-
The men and women of the world don’t want to be told to take up their cross and follow a crucified Saviour they would far rather be told to take up their cake and eat it in the pursuit of their own goals of personal self-
Jeremiah was an OT Christian and he knew what it meant to suffer for his faith. He did take up his cross on a daily basis and for years remained faithful to his calling and ministry as God’s spokesman. We have repeated a number of times over the last few weeks just how hard his ministry was to carry out because of the lack of response he met with and the lack of fruit he saw. This evening we are going to consider another aspect to the hardship of his ministry life – we’re going to look at the suffering that came to him as a direct response to his unremitting faithfulness.
Jeremiah was subjected to a variety of sufferings: not only were his words rejected and his counsel ignored but he was himself treated as a liar and a traitor. The harsh treatment he received included mockery, beatings and imprisonments along with other deprivations.
And in these sufferings Jeremiah points us to the sufferings that were to be endured in yet greater measure by the Lord Jesus Christ. Just as the message that Jeremiah proclaimed was shown by subsequent events to have been completely true and accurate so the ministry of our Lord Jesus would be fully vindicated by the resurrection and ascension which followed his cruel death upon Calvary’s tree. Jesus’ ministry continues to bear fruit to this day as he transforms the lives of those who trust and follow him.
So what we are going to do this evening is to gather together details of Jeremiah’s sufferings and see how they point to the sufferings the Saviour endured as he secured the salvation of the world.
Opposition from the men from his own home town:
You might expect the people who know you to be sympathetic towards you, but that was not Jeremiah’s experience. He came from a place called Anathoth. And the men of that place did not want Jeremiah’s ministry:
11:21 "Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the men of Anathoth, who seek your life, and say, "Do not prophesy in the name of the LORD, or you will die by our hand""
And Jesus knew exactly this same sort of hostility once he had entered into his ministry. This was true both in general terms and also in more specific ways too:
Jn.1:11 "He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him."
When Jesus returned to Nazareth for the first time after beginning his ministry he was invited to read the Scripture in the synagogue there. When he had done so he began to speak and caused the crowd that had gathered to hear him marvel at his gracious words. And then he said to them:
After adding a few more words of explanation he was proved right. The crowd didn’t like what he had to say one little bit:
Matthew added in his account of this incident that Jesus:
Mt.13:58 "did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief."
Opposition from friends and family:
Jeremiah experienced not merely the hostility of the men of his own town but the undoubtedly more painful hostility of some of his own close relatives:
12:6 "For even your brothers and the house of your father, even they have dealt treacherously with you; they are in full cry after you; do not believe them, though they speak friendly words to you."
Not only that but even his closest friends turned against him – it can be sometimes be a lonely business for the disciple to faithfully his Master; it certainly was for Jeremiah!
Cf. 20:10 "For I hear many whispering. Terror is on every side! "Denounce him! Let us denounce him!" say all my close friends, watching for my fall. "Perhaps he will be deceived; then we can overcome him and take our revenge on him."
Jesus was no stranger to this type of opposition to which the LORD had called his servant Jeremiah before him and to which he would call many of his followers down through the centuries up to and including the present day as some of you know only too well.
The apostle John tells us:
Jn.7:5 "For not even his brothers believed in him."
And of course his closest friends deserted him after another of his friends had betrayed him to the Jewish leaders. Matthew has described for us the meal at which Jesus told his disciples that one of them would betray him. When they asked him who it would be Jesus answered:
Mt.26:23 "He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me."
It was a reference to Psalm 41 and if you look up that Psalm you’ll find it includes the following words:
Ps.41:9 "Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me."
Do you remember how, a few hours later, Judas betrayed his Master? It was with the outward sign of friendship. And do you remember how his Master responded?
Verbal opposition and traps laid:
Jeremiah had plenty of adversaries and they resorted to all kinds of means to try to deal with him:
18:18 "Come, let us make plots against Jeremiah... Come, let us strike him with the tongue, and let us not pay attention to any of his words."
Jeremiah would refer poetically to their efforts to trap him:
Jesus was to experience the same and worse at the hands of his adversaries: he would be accused of being a sinner (Jn.9:24), of committing blasphemy (Mt.9:3, 26:65), of testifying falsely about himself (Jn.8:13), and of being in league with the devil.
Lk.11:15 "some of them said, "He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,"
And if that were not enough they did what they could to try to catch him out in what he said!
Or in a passage we considered this morning:
Lk.20:20 "So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor."
Yet the testimony of those who knew him best was altogether different:
1Pet.2:22 "He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth."
Peter would add in the same context that the way Jesus conducted himself through his sufferings leaves us with an example to imitate.
Beatings, stocks, mockery, death threats and imprisonment:
The opposition that Jeremiah had to put up with was not limited to mere criticism, it included physical as well as emotional abuse:
v.7 "I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me."
Even this was not sufficient for Jeremiah’s detractors – they wanted to see him put to death:
26:11 "Then the priests and the prophets said to the officials and to all the people, "This man deserves the sentence of death, because he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.""
Nor was this an empty threat as another man with the same prophetic message as Jeremiah was actually put to death – you can read about this man, Uriah, in Jer.26:20-
In the event Jeremiah’s life was spared. He would be banned from going to the Temple however and subsequently he would know too what it was to be imprisoned and mistreated. Amongst other things, Jeremiah would be falsely accused of treason:
This dungeon experience terrified Jeremiah and he pleaded not to be sent back there after he had been summoned to a private hearing with King Zedekiah:
But we mustn’t be duped into thinking that "the court of the guard", where Jeremiah had already been imprisoned before, was a soft option. There Jeremiah was cast into a muddy cistern and left to die:
38:6 "So they took Jeremiah and cast him into the cistern of Malchiah, the king’s son, which was in the court of the guard, letting Jeremiah down by ropes. And there was no water in the cistern, but only mud, and Jeremiah sank in the mud."
Jeremiah had his enemies by the bucket-
And once more we can see how Jeremiah’s sufferings foreshadowed those of our Lord Jesus.
From early on in his ministry Jesus’ opponents had begun to plot how they might get rid of this troublesome man. His life was threatened on several occasions before he arrived in Jerusalem for the last time and while he wasn’t formally banned from the Temple he did nevertheless have to slip quietly away in order to avoid being stoned to death there and that on two separate occasions!
Jesus too was accused of treason (Jn.11:48-
The final week of Jesus’ earthly life came to a close with an avalanche of suffering:
Betrayed by a close friend, arrested like a common criminal in the middle of the night, and confined in the courtyard of the high priest’s residence along with the guard.
Transferred briefly from there, he suffered the psychological abuse of mockery and scorn as he was arraigned before Herod and his personal guard.
He suffered the physical abuse of Pilate’s soldiers with their rough horseplay: he was given a crown of thorns to wear but was soon being hit about the head with the mock rod of authority they had earlier placed in his hands. They spat upon him – still today such a gesture can have serious ramifications for spitting on someone is deemed so despicable.
He was made to suffer the excruciating pain of a Roman scourging – a punishment under which men had been known to die.
And then he was led to a hill outside the city of Jerusalem where he was nailed to a cross in the company of guilty criminals and left hanging on a cross to die. Only he wasn’t left in peace even there for as he suffered they mocked him and taunted him. He was laying down his life as the only sacrifice that could pay the debt due to human sin. He had no debt of his own for which to pay but he was paying for people like us, people who could never be able to pay what we owe. And they continued to mock and scorn him.
Praise God for the sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ! Without them we would be lost and cut off from God for all eternity – but he died for us! The Scriptures point us again and again to the sufferings and death of the Saviour and praise God that they do for it was:
"because of our sins he was wounded, beaten because of the evil we did. We are healed by the punishment he suffered, made whole by the blows he received." Is.53:5 (GNB)
Behold the Man! Behold his sufferings, the sufferings of a sacrificial lamb. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
To God be the Glory!