I was recently reading in Jeremiah and came to chapter 26 where Jeremiah has a confrontation with the people of Jerusalem at the temple.
The priests, the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speak these words in the house of the Lord. But as soon as Jeremiah finished telling all the people everything the Lord had commanded him to say, the priests, the prophets and all the people seized him and said, “You must die! Why do you prophesy in the Lord’s name that this house will be like Shiloh and this city will be desolate and deserted?” And all the people crowded around Jeremiah in the house of the Lord.”
[. . .] Then Jeremiah said to all the officials and all the people: “The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the things you have heard. Now reform your ways and your actions and obey the Lord your God.” (Jeremiah 26:7-9,12-13)
This started me thinking. We become so accustomed to the prophetic accounts in the Bible that we read them and think, “Yeah, yeah, same old story. Prophet comes with a message and nobody listens.” But it is more than that. As it is said in 1 Corinthians 10:11 “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.”
So what do we see when we consider this?
Who do we have confronting Jeremiah? The priests and the prophets along with all the people. These are the very people who are supposed to be most religious and in-tune with God. And where is this confrontation taking place? In Jerusalem, at the very temple where God is supposed to be honored and worshiped. If there is any place where God’s word should be received and obeyed isn’t it here?
To be rejected by the pagan . . . we can say that is no surprise. We might even say we are prepared for that. But among those who call themselves the people of God, at the very place where God is supposed to be worshiped, and by the very people who are supposed to be most godly and eager to serve God–to be rejected and opposed by them, how shocking is that? You expect your words to be received with gladness and instead you find that the words of God has come to be the reason to put you to death among these supposed people of God.
And what is the people’s complaint? In essence, “How dare you prophecy against us and this place! We are special and chosen! We have God on our side because of who we are and what we have!”
The warning for us from this is two-sided.
First, we can look at this from the perspective of being a prophet like Jeremiah. I have already previously written about how we are all prophets, and it is said, “No servant is greater than his master” (John 13:16, 15:20). How this servant Jeremiah was treated was only a type and foreshadowing of how the Master was treated. When we move on ahead to the time of Christ we see the people of his own town and his own family don’t believe in him (Mark 6:1-6, John 7:5). His own family tries to stop him from his ministry (Mark 3:21) and his own town tries to kill him (Luke 4:1-30). Jesus Christ, the revelation of God, came to his own and his own did not receive him. He was the fulfillment of all that the prophets pointed toward–not only in their messages, but in their sufferings and their deaths.
During his earthly ministry Jesus warned us “‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also” (John 15:20). I think we often fail to fully comprehend what Christ said and so we are surprised and not prepared when the time comes. The error is that we think “Yes, we will face persecution when we take the word of God out to that pagan world.” We get ourselves prepared to face the scourge, the sword, and the harsh word when go out to those people. But that fails to take into account the warning of Scripture, the example plainly laid down for us.
Who persecuted the prophets through the ages past? Who persecuted Christ? Who was it? It was the supposed people of God. It was those who loudly acclaimed, “We serve God! We’re God people! We know him!”
We don’t like to think about that. In some subconscious part of our minds we like to think, “That was then, this is now. That doesn’t happen anymore. We don’t have people called Christians persecuting other Christians who are declaring God’s word.
Except, that isn’t true. Not only do we have the example from the prophets of old as warnings and instruction for us, but we have the example and warning of our master, Jesus Christ. And the history of Christianity (for those with eyes to see) reveals the same thing. It started out with Jews persecuting Christians, and then it became Christians persecuting Christians. We can point to broad historical occasions, whether it be the beginning of the Reformation and persecutions by the Catholic church, or persecutions of the Anabaptists by the Protestants. Or else we could go carefully through all of history and lay out the innumerable other occasions of Christians persecuted by “Christians.” Yes, it happens again and again and it has been prevalent, persistent, and often chillingly brutal.
The source of that persecution is always the same attitude, summed up with words like “How dare you prophecy against us and this place! We are special and chosen! We have God on our side because of who we are and what we have!”
It is the all too common reaction of those who call themselves Christians to react with wrath at the audacity of someone to say they are not living or acting in accord with God’s Word. After all, are they not Christians who belong to the church (perhaps even the large/successful/wealthy church)? How dare you suggest that they are in error and not pleasing to God.
While presently such rejection in Western Christian culture doesn’t express itself in persecution unto death, still the attitude is prevalent–only more easily hidden and ignored because there is no visible blood on the ground. Someone speaks up to rebuke an error in a church and they are attacked by the leaders (and members) in the church. How dare you say anything is wrong here! How dare you condemn us!
We have been told ahead of time by scripture, warned of the difficulty of speaking God’s word, and yet the reality of the rejection of the professing church takes so many Christians by surprise. Very few seem to read scripture and realize that the example and warning so clearly written is for us . . . as Jeremiah, Isaiah, all the other prophets, and even Christ were persecuted, so we must face the same thing. And the scandal is that if we declare the word of God to those who call themselves the people of God persecution (whether it be big or small) will come from those who ought to call themselves our brothers.
It is a sobering realization.
But we must also not forget the other side of that warning. We must not become proud in our place, saying we are Christians and so do not need correction. We must be careful to not follow in the steps of the Jews who rejected the word of God. Scripture was written down as a warning and example for us, and it is a very sobering warning.
Gotta go put Grandpa to bed. Hope there aren’t too many errors. No more corrections for now . . .