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Tempted to Fear - Jeremiah 38

The worst thing about tribulation and persecution is not the pain and torture which evil men may inflict upon us.

Matthew 28:20b, 24:3-14; Hebrews 13:5b-6; Jeremiah 1:4-8, 17-19 ; Hebrews 11:35-38; Romans 8:31-39; 1 Corinthians 10:13

Aug 04, 2013 12:00 PM

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In spite of the many times in Scripture where we are commanded to “fear not”, it seems many Christians, myself included, are often guilty of that very thing.  The most prominent fear among Christians is the fear of persecution, and especially that time of persecution referred to as the Great Tribulation (unless you’re a Dispensationalist).  But it isn’t the persecution itself that is most fearful, as bad as that might be.  I believe Christians fear persecution primarily because of the purpose behind the persecution.  Persecution is not always simply an expression of hatred toward believers.  Sometimes it is designed to tempt a Christian to deny the faith in order to have their lives spared.  In other words, the greatest fear in persecution is not the physical suffering, but the spiritual.  We fear apostasy.  We fear being among those included in that great falling away that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 24.  Turn there with me please.

3 As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am `the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars.  See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. 10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.  (Matthew 24:3-14

Persecution is terrible.  Tribulation and death and being hated by all nations is the cause of great physical suffering for believers.  Even as we speak, Christians around the world are being forced to suffer and die for the sake of the name of Christ.

But it isn’t the physical suffering that causes the most trepidation.  Jesus said, “See that no one leads you astray” (v4).  Many false Christs will come and “lead many astray” (v5).  Many will fall away (v10).  False prophets will lead many astray (v11).  The love (agape) of many will grow cold (v12).  What is most frightening about persecution is apostasy.  We wonder if we would remain faithful in such awful circumstances, or would we be among the many who fall away.

Read the story of George Penn, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, pp 370-2.

Jesus says in Matthew 24:13, “The one who endures to the end will be saved.” Therefore, “see that no one leads you astray.” However, it is also Jesus who said, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b ESV).  It is Jesus who has promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5b-6 ESV)
Look with me for a moment at Jeremiah chapter 1.

4 Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying,
5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

6 Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” 7 But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak.
8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.”

17 But you, dress yourself for work; arise, and say to them everything that I command you.  Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them. 18 And I, behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land. 19 They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the Lord, to deliver you.”
(Jeremiah 1:4-8, 17-19 ESV)

Jeremiah begins his prophetic career with words that may have tempted him to be dismayed, but the Lord COMMANDS him, “Do not be dismayed by them”.  The LORD is constantly telling His people to fear not.  And so, if we really are going to be good and faithful slaves of Christ, then we need to fight off fear.

I am very grateful I have never faced such fearful things as so many of our brethren have faced over the millenia.  
•    David faced Goliath.  Everybody was afraid of Goliath.  But not David.  
•    Moses was fearful of Pharaoh, until God said he should stop being afraid of Pharaoh and start being afraid of God Himself and get going to Egypt.  
•    God commanded Joshua repeatedly not to be afraid but to conquer the land.  
•    Gideon was fearful, but God assuaged his fears and delivered him.  
•    Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego should have been afraid of King Nebuchadnezzar when he heated the furnace seven times hotter than normal, but God delivered them.
•    Daniel went to the den of lions and was delivered.
•    The apostles feared for their lives until the Holy Spirit came upon them and emboldened them to preach the Gospel in the Temple.  
•    Peter was hesitant to go into the house of a Gentile until the LORD convinced him that we really aren’t unclean.  
•    Even Jesus said, “Father, please let this cup pass from Me.”

There’s plenty of which to be afraid.  Dogs tend to make me nervous.  Some people make me nervous.  Most politicians make me really nervous.  Hebrews 11 reminds us of the hardships of many faithful brethren who have gone before us and they were faithful in spite of persecution.

35 Women received back their dead by resurrection.  Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword.  They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. (Hebrews 11:35-38 ESV)

Matthew 18:7 - Jesus spoke to His disciples and told them that temptations to sin are inevitable.  That is certainly true when it comes to the temptation to be fearful.  We all face that temptation in some form or another.  But the definitive word in the New Testament regarding our fear of men and their rage against us is from Romans 8.

31 What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God's elect?  It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn?  Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

[In other words, persecution is no sign that we have been forsaken by God or separated from Christ.  It’s a sign that we are His sheep!]

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors [we are beyond mere conquerors] through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39 ESV)

Now, turn with me to our text for today, Jeremiah 38:1-13.

The more I thought about this scene, the more frightening it became for me.  It would be literally impossible to escape from a cistern like the one Jeremiah was in.  It would be a slow death by drowning in mud.  I can hardly imagine such a terrifying way to die, stuck in mud up to your knees?  Up to your waist?  We don’t know how deep it was, but we do know Jeremiah was left there by his enemies to die.  They hated him and abandoned him to eventually starve and suffocate to death in a pit of mud.

All those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.  If you live your life for Christ, you will suffer for it.  But even though our circumstances may be absolutely horrifying, there is no need for our souls to fear.  There is never a need for our souls to be afraid.  We may be called by God to suffer greatly for the sake of His name.  

Who else but Christ is worthy of this kind of love, a love that makes us willing to suffer and die for Him?  And we are willing specifically because He suffered and died for us.

I don’t know what went through Jeremiah’s mind when these evil men threw him into that inescapable mud pit.  But I think it is a safe bet he praised God for his brother, Ebed-Melech, the “other” Ethiopian eunuch.  Look at what God says to him in chapter 39.

15 The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah while he was shut up in the court of the guard: 16 “Go, and say to Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel:

Behold, I will fulfill my words against this city for harm and not for good, and they shall be accomplished before you on that day. 17 But I will deliver you on that day, declares the Lord, and you shall not be given into the hand of the men of whom you are afraid. 18 For I will surely save you, and you shall not fall by the sword, but you shall have your life as a prize of war, because you have put your trust in me, declares the Lord.’” (Jeremiah 39:15-18 ESV)

No one ever puts their trust in God in vain.  Regardless of what may happen to us as a direct result of bearing the name of Christ, ultimately it will not have been in vain.  Troubles will come.  The temptation to fall away, to allow our hearts and our love for the Lord to grow cold, comes even now, sometimes, while we are living in relative peace.  But God is faithful.  

13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man [including the temptation to be afraid].  God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV)

Praise God for His faithfulness to us.  Even when we’re tempted to think otherwise.  Especially when we’re tempted to think otherwise.  Especially when we’re tempted not to be faithful to Him.



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