What Does It Mean? Pt. 3

Study Guide, April 24, 2016

Pastor Clay Olsen

We’ve begun an adventure in looking into some fascinating passages of Scripture with a view toward getting a better handle on what they mean.  And of course, as we talk about what they mean in their historical and grammatical and contextual settings, we just can’t resist talking about some helpful ways that they also apply to our own lives today, in our own time and in our own situations.

A lot of people don’t have a clue what you’re talking about when you start citing the Scriptures.  A thank you to Paige Taylor for sending me this little story of a clear example of this.  It said that an elderly woman had just returned to her home from an evening of Church services when an intruder startled her.  She caught the man in the act of robbing her home, and so she just thought of the Bible and and yelled, “Stop! ACTS 2:38!” And the burglar stopped in his tracks.

She quickly called the police and explained what she had done.  And the police came and arrested him.  And as the officer was taking him in, he asked the burglar, “Say, why did you just stand there? All the old lady did was yell a Scripture at you.”  And the burglar said, “What? A Scripture? I thought she said she had an Ax and Two 38’s!” …. The Scriptures are weapons in many ways…

We turn to the  well loved prophet of Jeremiah to look into some things stated in the Scriptures to see more of what they mean and then also how they apply.  Now, Jeremiah was well loved by God and is well loved by us, but he wasn’t so well loved by the people in his neighborhood and his own country, because he was given the assignment of giving them a pretty tough message as to some judgment that was on the way.  Most people didn’t want to hear what Jeremiah had to say, which is really saying: They didn’t want to hear what God had to sayAnd in this respect, not much has changed over the years, have they?

But when you’re living in a culture that doesn’t want to hear from God or to hear from God’s messengers, well, that can get you a little stressed out and in need of some encouragement in order to go on.  Can we get a witness to that? So Jeremiah goes to God with some questions about what’s going on and for some encouragement from God.  But God’s answer rather takes Jeremiah by surprise.  Oh, it encourages him in the long run, but he had to make some attitude adjustments along the way to get there.  So let’s first look at Jeremiah’s questions.    

Jer 12:1- Lord, if I argue with You, You are always right. But I want to ask You about some things that don’t seem right. Why are wicked people successful? Why do people you cannot trust have such easy lives?” ERV  Now, that’s only the first verse, but right away, that alone just brings us all right up alongside of Jeremiah, doesn’t it? Yeah, there are a lot of things that don’t seem right…right?  That’s because they aren’t right…yet!  And that ‘yet’ is a key to understanding the answer to these questions.  But before we get to the ‘yet’, we need to comment on the reality check about it all; actually two reality checks.  One has to do with our need to have a patient understanding about the ungodly.  And the second reality check has to do with having a grateful understanding about ourselves.

So, the first reality check is: We need to have a patient understanding about the ungodly…which covers all those who are overtly wicked to those who are simply still rejecting or neglecting their need to repent and receive God’s salvation.

400 years before Jeremiah asked God this question, a Levite and Temple Praise Team music leader named Asaph, struggled with the same question about why the wicked seem to prosper?  But then the reality check broke through to him and he got the whole picture. Take a look: Ps 73:2-3- “…as for me, I almost lost my footing. My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone. For I envied the proud when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness.” 12- “Look at these wicked people—enjoying a life of ease while their riches multiply.” 17-19- “(But) Then I went into your sanctuary, O God, and I finally understood the destiny of the wicked. Truly, you put them on a slippery path and send them sliding over the cliff to destruction. In an instant they are destroyed, completely swept away by terrors.” NLT

When my brother and I were kids we were on a family vacation overlooking Lake Superior in Minnesota.  One afternoon we got the bright idea to hike to where you could look over a cliff down to the rocks of Lake Superior.  But to get a better look we decided to move down toward the edge where you could look straight down.  However, the hillside was covered with a shale type rock…and shale is known for being really, really slippery.  But that didn’t stop us courageous and really numb headed kids from doing it.  And soon we were both slipping down toward the edge of the cliff, until my brother grabbed hold of a tree stump and I grabbed hold of his leg.  And then we climbed over each other until we got back up to the top.  The rest of the day we pretty much just sat around and took deep breaths.  I think the first time my parents heard about that experience was when we were both adults by then and living away from home.  But we sure learned something about ‘slippery slopes’ that day.

The thing is, most people of the world live their lives thinking that they can do whatever they like and the outcome of it all will be okay for them.  They certainly don’t think that they have stepped out onto a slippery slope that is taking them right over the cliff to an eternal destruction.  But that is exactly what is happening to every person who has rejected or neglected God’s offer of His only way of salvation.  Unless they grab hold of Jesus’ hand that He is reaching out to them, their next stop is over the edge into an eternity of destruction…destruction of the soul in what the Bible calls, not Lake Superior, but the Lake of Fire.  Rev 20:15- And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” NASU  Those are God’s words for what lies just ahead for the unsaved.

The Apostle Paul once said: “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” 1 Cor 15:19 NASU  But of course, every part of his message about the resurrection and eternal life in Christ was and is absolutely true.  Which means then that for every person who has not hoped in Christ, who has not trusted in Christ alone as their Resurrected Lord and Savior, “THEY’ are the ones who are to be most pitied, both in this life and in the next.  And that’s why we need to have a patient understanding about the lost, for the reality is, they are each one sliding down that slippery path of life, and directly ahead is their destruction.  That’s how Asaph and Jeremiah learned to see the wicked…to see the lost, and that’s how we are to see them as well.

And that leads to the second reality check, which is:  We also need to have a grateful understanding about ourselves.  I’m fascinated by some of the programs on the Travel Channel; particularly the ones that explore the cultures and the religious beliefs of people around the world.  And in thinking about these people and their religious beliefs the question that we are to ask ourselves is: “Why am I, as one who is a saved, born-again worshiper of the Christ, watching them; those who are still unsaved, dead in trespasses and sin, and worshipers of a false gods or false god?  In other words, what if you had been born into a Hindu family in India, and all you ever learned about from the time you were a child were the teachings about the millions of gods of Hinduism and the beliefs of reincarnations; and all your relatives were Hindus, your parents were Hindus, and your grandparents were Hindus, and their parents were Hindus, and on and on…What and where you do think you would most likely be today?  Apart from the grace of God and the miracle of spiritual rebirth in your life, someone else would be watching this program about false gods and those who follow them, and you would be one of them that they were watching.

Paul, who was once Saul, the unrepentant persecutor of Christ’s people, said, “But by the grace of God I am what I am…” 1 Cor 15:10 NASU  Yes, we are to call for God’s justice to fall upon those who spurn His mercy and harm His people, and reject Christ’s Lordship and neglect His great salvation. And yet, we are to also realize, “But for the grace of God, there go I.”  We are to patiently understand what is about to happen to the unrepentant sinner, and then we are to gratefully understand that, but for the grace of God, that unrepentant sinner could be me…could be you.  Yes, Pray for the lost with justice in mind, and pray with mercy in mind, but also pray with pity in mind…for the unsaved, of all men, are most to be pitied.

On the Website of a terrific Christian band called ‘Decyfer Down’, a group, by the way, that got started in Morehead City, was a quote:  “The poorest person on earth is not the one without money, but is the one without Jesus.”  Exactly! Yes, the person without Jesus as their Lord and Savior is the poorest person on earth and is most to be pitied because their eternal destruction is just ahead for them.

Now to God’s surprising answer to Jeremiah…Actually, God answers Jeremiah with a question.  And built into the question is the answer for each of us on what we need to be focusing on in order to handle what lies before us.

So God says to him: Jeremiah, if you get tired running in a footrace with men, how will you race against horses? If you get tired in a safe place, what will you do in a dangerous place? What will you do in the thorn bushes that grow along the Jordan River?” Jer. 12:5 ERV

What does that mean?  In a historical nutshell, Jeremiah’s was contending with the worldliness and waywardness of the people in and around Anathoth, a town about three miles north of Jerusalem. And yes, his message about judgment was met with resistance and even some rough treatment, so it was hard, like running against his own people.  But soon, that judgment was going to actually fall on the nation of Judah in the form of the army of the Babylonians.  And the experience ahead of him was going to get a whole lot tougher that it was even then; more like racing on foot against horses now.  And yes, the King of Babylon did let Jeremiah remain to live in Jerusalem, but a group of stubborn and foolish rebels of Jerusalem forced him to go to Egypt with them.  And from what we can determine, it appears Jeremiah died there.

Jeremiah had adopted the natural attitude that many Christians have today about life, of knowing that this life is hard, but expecting it to get better, and being confused and despairing when it doesn’t.  But God was reminding Jeremiah that his expectations about this life were contrary to the reality of this life.  In fact, Jesus had to caution His own disciples about this very thing. In John 15:18-22 Jesus reminded them: If the world hates you, remember that it hated Me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted Me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to Me, they would listen to you. They will do all this to you because of Me, for they have rejected the One who sent me.” NLT

How do you expect non-believers to feel about you?  Well, Take your expectations and then put them next to what Jesus said here and next to what God told Jeremiah there, and as soon as possible, make whatever adjustments are necessary, because otherwise, if you are tired from running against footmen, you will be unprepared to race against the horses that are coming.

It’s one thing to understand that in this life we will have tribulations, but it’s quite another thing to actually prepare for them and not be surprised by them when they come.  It’s like a Hurricane; it’s one thing to know about Hurricanes; but it’s quite another to get your Hurricane preparations all ready to go, so that when the Hurricane hits, you will have been expecting it.

What we see going on around us in our own culture is the Hurricane that God has been telling us to prepare for.  What we are going to need to do is to be strong in God’s strength and to clearly know God’s truths, and be ready to tell others, “We must obey God rather than man”, because that is what it’s going to take for us to run against the horses of Babylon in these thickets of the Jordan.

Are you ready?  Have you been preparing for this?  If not, why not?  God has already told us that this was coming.  Jesus already told us how the world feels about Him.  And since we are His, well…for all who desire to live godly, you will be persecuted, one way or another.  The storm is coming.  The outer bands are already here.  Are you ready for it?