The Second Sunday in Lent February 20, 2005
7 (alt. 721), 142 (alt. 725), 148 (alt. 723), 49
May the love and the pure excellence of our Lord Jesus fill each of us with awe and thanksgiving as we resolve again this Lenten season to be strict imitators of our Savior God. Thanks be to Jesus for the salvation He alone could win for sinful mankind. Amen.
Dear Fellow Christians:
If you had to pick a number between 1 and 10 to indicate your spiritual strength at this point in your life, what would that number be? In other words, compared to the rest of your days on earth, how would you rank your spirituality at this particular moment? Answer honestly. Maybe due to some special circumstances or trials you feel you are very strong right now. Or maybe temptations have overtaken you and you are feeling rather weak. Whatever your “grade,” I am asking for a reason. Usually what we find is that the 1 to 10 scale isn’t the problem, it’s the league in which we’ve decided to play. A baseball player, for example, can be the best little leaguer a city or state has ever seen—a perfect 10—but as a professional or even college level player he might not even make the grade.
Christians tend to sign up only for the spiritual little leagues, and then we pay attention to spiritual matters only when we feel that we are falling below average in our chosen league. What Christians almost never seem to consider is moving up to the big leagues. We become comfortable with our mediocrity. How foolish we must look in God’s eyes, a bunch of grown men and women stuck in spiritual T-ball. Today we are going to take a look at the spiritual big leagues. We will do so not only in an attempt to see the heights from which mankind has fallen, but also to learn how and why we would ever want to leave our spiritual mediocrity behind. The text that will enlighten and inspire us is found in the Book of Jeremiah the Prophet, the 26th Chapter:
Now it happened, when Jeremiah had made an end of speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak to all the people, that the priests and the prophets and all the people seized him, saying, “You will surely die! Why have you prophesied in the name of the Lord , saying, ‘This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate, without an inhabitant’?” And all the people were gathered against Jeremiah in the house of the Lord. When the princes of Judah heard these things, they came up from the king’s house to the house of the Lord and sat down in the entry of the New Gate of the Lord’s house. And the priests and the prophets spoke to the princes and all the people, saying, “This man deserves to die! For he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your ears.” Then Jeremiah spoke to all the princes and all the people, saying: “The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and against this city with all the words that you have heard. Now therefore, amend you ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the Lord your God; then the Lord will relent concerning the doom that He has pronounced against you. As for me, here I am, in your hand; do with me as seems good and proper to you. But know for certain that if you put me to death, you will surely bring innocent blood on yourselves, on this city, and on its inhabitants; for truly the Lord has sent me to you to speak all these words in your hearing.”
So far the perfect Word of God. Desiring to be filled not by the wisdom of man, but by the Word of God, we pray, “Sanctify us through Your Truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth!” Amen.
Balance is so critical in so many areas of life. In our local congregations, for example, we seek balance in our orders of service (joyful, but not frivolous; sober, but not depressing or gloomy); balance in our message (Law and Gospel; justification and sanctification); balance in our contributions, in our church décor, in our celebration of the Lord’s Supper, and so on. We also struggle to maintain balance between looking inward and looking outward. It would be very easy to get caught up in either one—to focus all of our energies on building internally, or to focus exclusively on bringing others into the fold of Jesus Christ (mission work). To focus on either one to the exclusion of the other is contrary to the Word and will of our God.
In today’s meditation we turn our eyes inward, but primarily in an effort to focus our collective attention outside of these walls and our present membership roles and to be about Christ’s Great Commission.
Permit, if you will, a brief walk down Memory Lane as the beginning of our journey. It has been thirty years, but I still vividly recall the year that our team, the Babe Ruth Baseball Bears won the city championship. Two years later we won the regional Senior Babe Ruth championship with the Teamsters. We were something to behold…in our own eyes. How rather silly it all seems now. Glory days—what a fleeting fantasy they truly are. Still, no one was mean enough to burst our bubble by reminding us that we were only small fry in a very little pond. Nothing much wrong with letting children be children. Boys and girls are only young once. The real problem is when we have little league spirituality and pretend that that’s all there is.
To illustrate the problem, let’s compare our day-to-day spiritual walk with that of Jeremiah in our text. “Christian” is supposed to mean that we are all about Jesus Christ and service in His Kingdom. Yet we claim a great and rare victory whenever (if ever) we muster enough courage to mumble a church invitation to a friend or co-worker. We consider it a job well done when we have almost witnessed for the Lord Jesus by inviting someone to our church. I say “almost witnessed” because inviting is really not telling about Jesus. Each will have to answer for himself as to how often he has witnessed for the Lord in the past week, month, even year. We would all do well to put this question to ourselves: “Have I ever bared my soul and my true convictions in a face to face encounter with an unbeliever? Ever?” So also we ask each other, “How are we doing in our Great Commission to make disciples of all nations?”
It is all more than a little bit embarrassing, this lack of outgoing love on our part. What, exactly, does it mean? Does it mean that we should not consider ourselves Christians? Does the fact that we are very poor witnesses mean that we are not God’s children? The Devil would love to create such doubts in the hearts of those he seeks to destroy. We are reminded once again that we are saved by grace and not by works. Christ Jesus came to earth to save sinners like you and me. What wonder and cause for thanksgiving would there be for God the Father to have declared those that are holy and sinless to be not guilty? The glory and majesty are seen in the fact that God declared sinners like us to be free of sin and no longer subject to spiritual death and eternal destruction. This was only possible, remember, because He placed the whole load of our sins upon His holy, sinless Son, Jesus.
We can indeed be saved despite the fact that we have not witnessed to any other human being (for we are saved by faith alone in Jesus Christ), but no one else has ever or will ever be saved through our silence!
So we come to wonder if we are fooling ourselves? Are we stuck in the spiritual little leagues and kidding ourselves that we are doing big league work for the Lord? Are we a cold, prideful, timid little group that looks only inward, and seldom, if ever, outward?
Once again we turn to our text, and we use Jeremiah as a measuring stick. You and I are reluctant to witness when we have the slightest indication that the other party might be the least bit unreceptive. Jeremiah in our text went boldly before those he knew would not only be unreceptive, but who would be furious at what he had to say. Jeremiah knew full well that he would not only be ridiculed and hated for his message, but that there was a good chance he would die for it. In this same chapter of Jeremiah we read that another prophet, Urijah, also prophesied (bringing almost the same message as Jeremiah) and he was murdered for it.
This was indeed the big leagues. Jeremiah was called to witness in Judah during the terrible days leading up to the Babylonian Captivity—a time when there was no doubt that speaking for the Lord would certainly bring persecution and suffering, and might well cost the prophet his life. Yet is there any reason why we cannot move up to Jeremiah’s league? Is there any reason we cannot be now as he was then? Take a look at Jeremiah and you will find nothing that God has not also given to each of us.
First of all, what was his message? Jeremiah had no message of his own. He was called to speak God’s words. That is the first lesson we need to keep straight in our minds. Remember how the Lord had spoken to Jeremiah: “…whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of their faces, For I am with you to deliver you,’ says the Lord . Then the Lord put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me: ‘Behold, I have put My words in your mouth.’” (Jeremiah 1:7b-9) We have that same Word of God.
Nor did Jeremiah think of himself as especially gifted. His initial reply when God told him what He had in mind for him was that “he was just a child.” We learn from this that Jeremiah was not able to be a bold witness for his Lord because of some special physical attribute. God had indeed chosen Jeremiah “before he was born,” but Jeremiah was given nothing that is not available to each one of us—free for the asking! (cf. Jeremiah 1:4ff).
Ah, but wasn’t Jeremiah called to his special task, wasn’t he chosen even before birth for this special work? So were we. Jesus was speaking to every Christian when he said in Matthew 28, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…” Again in Mark 16:15 he said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” And again he has said in Matthew 5:16, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Finally, the Holy Spirit through Peter wrote: “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Our Lord intended each one of us to be like Jeremiah and to take his Word to “all nations.”
Each one of us is well equipped to move up to Jeremiah’s league. Why don’t we? There can be only one conclusion: We don’t really want to move up. We ought to hang our heads in shame, but it is true. That Old Adam in us doesn’t really want to “move up” in our service and dedication to our Lord. We are more than content to allow someone else to do the heavy lifting—to render the extraordinary service—someone else who enjoys that sort of thing. Yet, look back at our text. Is there anyone on earth who would enjoy such a thing? Is there really anyone at all who enjoys confrontation, or the thought of alienating someone with what they will certainly initially regard as an unpleasant message? Is there anyone who enjoys the thought of bringing words of condemnation (the Law) to bear on another human being?
Each one of us ought to ask ourselves this powerfully sobering question: How big would the Christian Church be today if every Christian down through history lived and witnessed just like I do? If you and I have never spoken the Gospel to another human being, the answer is obvious. There would be no Christian Church. Think about that for a moment. If others had not brought the Gospel message to you, you would not go to heaven for faith comes by hearing the message of the Gospel (cf. Romans 10:17).
Does this not move the question from the abstract to the concrete? Does it not make this whole topic personal, crucial, vital? Are our hearts still so cold and loveless that we do not feel the desperation of those who could be spared an eternity in Hell through our simple witness? Surely no one among us is so hard-hearted and cold as to wish Hell on anyone for lack of some simple witnessing. Assuming no one among us disagrees, how do we go about accomplishing what we desire? How can we be transformed from timid, frightened little leaguers to bold, fearless, Christian missionaries?
Look first to the cross. Everything good comes from God the Holy Spirit who has filled our hearts with the joy of the Gospel. Revel daily in the good news that every single human being has been declared not guilty because of Jesus’ innocent death and that our calling is to announce this good news. Marvel at the fact that the Holy Spirit has been present also in your heart, making this gift of salvation your own by creating saving faith in your heart. Marvel that the Holy Spirit continues to dwell in your heart. Draw strength and courage from these precious truths for the strength to share your faith can never come from yourself. We are so timid and weak. We are so fearful of rejection and ridicule. We are so worried that we might ruin friendships, make others uncomfortable, look like fools in their eyes. It is the Holy Spirit who keeps us focused on the fact that we are not supposed to take our thoughts, words, or opinions to the world. We are called to take God’s words and God’s thoughts as Jeremiah did. It is the Spirit that reminds us that if man rejects the message, he does not reject us, he rejects God. Then too man does not ridicule us, he ridicules the God who sent us, the God who created all things. Only the Spirit living in us can keep us focused on the fact that no friendship on earth is worth saving if it means my friend will die in Hell. We need the Spirit to remind us that we do not want anyone to remain comfortable while he is spiritually dead.
Our text reminds us that not everyone will hear and accept our message, but some will! The priests and false prophets in Judah rejected the Lord’s words through Jeremiah, but we are told later in the Book of Jeremiah that the “princes and the people” accepted Jeremiah’s message as the Word of God. Many, perhaps most, will reject our witness of the Gospel. But praise God some will not! So too our God has promised that his Word will “prosper in the thing whereto He sends it” (Isaiah 55:11).
Our contentment with mediocrity only serves to re-emphasize the undeserved love of our great Savior God. Confident of His forgiveness, we now ask the Holy Spirit to fill each of us with the desire and the courage to abandon our mediocrity of service, and to live being truly devoted to God as his Spirit-filled ambassadors. Oh, that God the Holy Spirit might fill each of us so that we boldly speak to the world the Word of God as did Jeremiah. The most that we can do, the best that we can do, is to share that Word of God—simple Law and Gospel. Listen carefully to those words again: The very best that we can do for those that we love is to share with them that simple pure Word of God—Law and Gospel. That is, in the end, the best that we can do, and our Lord Jesus absolutely deserves our best! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.