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When Men are Big And God Is Small - Jeremiah 38

We should be more fearful of men than Almighty God? We allow the fear of men to overcome our justifiable fear of God.

Aug 25, 2013 12:00 PM

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I was leafing through my Java programming book the other day . . . .  Actually, that is not true.  I don’t really have a Java programming book.  I was looking online for some help with “if/then statements”.  Here is what I found:

The if-then statement is the most basic of all the control flow statements.  It tells your program to execute a certain section of code only if a particular test evaluates to true.

I thought an if/then statement had something to do with English sentence structure.  But I found a seemingly endless list of articles describing, explaining, and giving examples of an if/then statement as it relates to programming.

But even in computer programming, an if/then statement is concerned with what is true.  Like in English, it is a conditional clause.  If this is true, then you should do this.  Or, if this happens, then that will happen.  A particular effect or a particular course of action is the result of certain pre-conditions being met.  

The prophet Jeremiah confronts King Zedekiah in this same way: If you do this, then this will happen.  If you meet this condition, then this will be the result.  And vice versa: If you don’t do this, then this other thing will happen.  Let’s read Jeremiah’s if/then statements to King Zedekiah -- Jeremiah 38:14-28.

Zedekiah is a weak, fearful man.  Presumably, he is the king of Judah.  But in truth, he is a puppet-king of Nebuchadnezzar, appointed by him, and even named by him.

And the king of Babylon made Mattaniah, Jehoiachin's uncle, king in his place, and changed his name to Zedekiah. (2 Kings 24:7 ESV).

According to Hitchcock’s Bible Names Dictionary, Zedekiah’s name in the original language means the Justice of the LORD.  During his reign we finally see God’s justice satisfied in the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem.  It was not accidental that Nebuchadnezzar named the king he appointed the Justice of Jehovah.  Even Zedekiah’s name was a warning to the people.

Here in this text, the king has a secret meeting with Jeremiah.  Why the secrecy?  Because Jeremiah’s enemies are the king’s enemies.  Those who want Jeremiah dead, the men who dropped him into the muddy cistern to die, have their eye on the king as well.

And then there are those of Judah who have already defected to the Chaldeans.  They see the handwriting on the wall, so to speak, and decide it is better to serve the king of Babylon than to die.  And they have a very low opinion of Zedekiah.  Apparently they blame him for the current state of affairs.  So the king is completely surrounded by enemies: in his own administration, among the captured defectors, and last but certainly not least, the Babylonian army is encamped all around the city.

Thus Jeremiah’s if/then statements.  Jeremiah is giving the king an ultimatum from the Lord: “If you surrender to Nebuchadnezzar, then I will let you live.  If not, then you will die.  Badly.  Take it or leave it.  This is the hour of decision.  Make up your mind.  Choose whom you will serve: God or self?  Whom do you fear most: God or men”  

And that is Zedekiah’s struggle.  It seems the only person Zedekiah is not afraid of is God.  This is what happens when men become bigger than God.  When we allow the fear of men to overcome our justifiable fear of God.

FIRST-PERSON: The moment of truth is coming1
By Kelly Boggs
Aug 23, 2013

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP) -- A moment of truth is rapidly approaching for those who believe homosexuality is an immoral, aberrant behavior. The choice will be whether to capitulate to a culture that asserts, without evidence, homosexuality is natural, normal and healthy, or to insist it is sinful and suffer consequences.

The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled Aug. 22 against a wedding photographer who refused to contract with a homosexual couple to photograph a "commitment ceremony."  The court upheld a decision by a state agency that found the photographer had violated state law.

Alliance Defending Freedom, an organization that advocates for religious liberty and that defended the photography company, described the situation in a news release.

In 2006, Vanessa Willock, one half of a lesbian couple, contacted Elaine Huguenin about photographing a commitment ceremony to be held in Taos, N.M.  Huguenin co-owns Elane Photography, located in Albuquerque, N.M., with her husband.

Willock communicated that the ceremony was designed to celebrate her homosexual relationship.  Huguenin declined the business because she and her husband are Christians and hold the conviction that homosexuality is a sin.  They wanted no part of celebrating that which they believe is wrong.

Though Willock found another photographer, she filed a complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission.  The commission ruled that Elane Photography had engaged in sexual orientation discrimination, which is prohibited by state law.  The photography company was ordered to pay $6,637.94 in attorney's fees to the lesbian couple.

There is much that is troubling about the New Mexico Supreme Court's decision, but the most disturbing thoughts were conveyed by Justice Richard Bosson, who offered a concurring opinion.

"The Huguenins are free to think, to say, to believe, as they wish; they may pray to the God of their choice and follow those commandments in their personal lives wherever they lead," Bosson wrote. "The Constitution protects the Huguenins in that respect and much more.  But there is a price, one that we all have to pay somewhere in our civic life."

Bosson continued, "In the smaller, more focused world of the marketplace, of commerce, of public accommodation, the Huguenins have to channel their conduct, not their beliefs, so as to leave space for other Americans who believe something different.

"That compromise is part of the glue that holds us together as a nation, the tolerance that lubricates the varied moving parts of us as a people.  That sense of respect we owe others, whether or not we believe as they do, illuminates this country, setting it apart from the discord that afflicts much of the rest of the world.  In short, I would say to the Huguenins, with the utmost respect: it is the price of citizenship."

The Huguenins, Bosson wrote "now are compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives.  Though the rule of law requires it, the result is sobering.  It will no doubt leave a tangible mark on the Huguenins and others of similar views."

The message sent by the New Mexico Supreme Court and Justice Bosson is clear: religious conviction is a private matter.  You can believe what you want, but you must keep your deeply held convictions to yourself if you are to participate in society.

What is disturbing is that the ruling rejected outright one of Huguenin's arguments.  It was made clear she does not object to homosexual people.  She objected to photographing a ceremony designed to celebrate homosexual marriage -- a relationship the state of New Mexico does not even recognize.

Huguenin was willing to turn down business for the sake of maintaining her conscience.  She gladly lost money rather than compromise her convictions.  But the court said she cannot do that in New Mexico.

The fear of men will cause a person to:
•    Compromise their convictions for the sake of popularity,
•    Sin against God for the sake of personal gain,
•    Neglect evangelism to avoid rejection,
•    Deny the faith for the sake of saving our own lives,
•    Worship himself rather than God, making his own life and pleasure and comfort more valuable than God.  The fear of men makes men worship themselves.  It causes them to exalt themselves, to think of themselves more highly than they think of God.

When Satan said to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread” what was Jesus’ answer?  “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:3-4 ESV).  Our lives are not as important as our adherence to the word of God.  Life is more than the preservation of our physical bodies.  We are not sustained by bread and water and air and organic foods and prescription medications alone.  Our very lives are dependent upon our fear of God and our submission and obedience to what He has said regardless of what men and governments may say to the contrary.

But the fear of men causes us to think otherwise.  This is what Jesus meant when He said if we want to save our lives we must lose them.  Our physical lives are not nearly as precious as our spiritual lives.  We have to reach the point where we would rather die in the fear of sinning against a holy God, than compromise what is true for the sake of preserving our physical lives from the onslaughts of evil men.

If you want to save your life, you’ve got to be willing to lose it in the fear of God over the fear of men.  And if God is for you, what can men do?

Zedekiah was fearful of what men would do to him, and not too concerned with what God was going to do to him by the hands of evil men.  His only real hope was God.  But he didn’t believe it.  The fear of man cost him his life.

What kinds of effects can the fear of men have on people?  What does it look like when the fear of man makes men big and God small?  I have two troubling examples of that from within the Christian community, both of which are found in songs we often sing.

In recent years, the words of the hymn [Amazing Grace] have been changed in some religious publications to downplay a sense of imposed self-loathing by its singers.  The second line, "That saved a wretch like me!" has been rewritten as "That saved and strengthened me", "saved a soul like me", or "that saved and set me free".  Kathleen Norris in her book Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith characterizes this transformation of the original words as "wretched English" making the line that replaces the original "laughably bland".  Part of the reason for this change has been the altered interpretations of what wretchedness and grace means.2

I would say the reason for this change is due to the exaltation of man and the lack of fear of God.  The changing of that one word is intentionally designed to bring God down a notch, and lift man out of the depravity which the Bible describes as his natural state.  They would have us believe we are not spiritually wretched, we are not entirely hopeless in ourselves.  Consequently, the saving grace of God is not nearly as amazing as John Newton and the Bible would have us believe.  Amazing Grace has been so successfully de-fanged that it has been recorded a multitude of times by a wide variety of secular artists and is sung in the most unchristian of contexts, and everyone loves it.  Especially those people who are not naturally wretched like us.

That is my first musical example of a lack of fear of God.  The second one may surprise you.  On August 12th, an article by Erin Roach in the Baptist Press said this:

Bob Terry, editor of The Alabama Baptist, in an Aug. 8 editorial, paralleled the angst expressed by a Presbyterian Church USA hymnal committee in rejecting the song "In Christ Alone" because of the line "Till on that cross as Jesus died/The wrath of God was satisfied."

"Some popular theologies do hold that Jesus' suffering appeased God's wrath," Terry wrote. "That is not how I understand the Bible and that is why I do not sing the phrase 'the wrath of God was satisfied' even though I love the song 'In Christ Alone.'"3

So if you combine the modified versions of Amazing Grace with the edited version of In Christ Alone, you get two things: Men who are not as lost and wretched as the Bible says they are, and a god who is not as upset over our sin as the Bible says he is.  Man is not all that wretched, God is not all that wrathful, and we are that much farther removed from the biblical truth of our own depravity.  All because men fear men more than God.  Because men are made to be bigger than they are, and God is made to be smaller than He is.

That was Zedekiah’s problem.  He doesn’t want his political enemies hearing his conversation with the prophet, and in verse 19 he says, “I am afraid of the Judeans who have deserted to the Chaldeans, lest I be handed over to them and they deal cruelly with me.”

This is not the first time Jerusalem has been under siege.  It’s not the first time a king of Judah has had to face an overwhelming foreign military power.

15 And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord and said: “O Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. 16 Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. 17 Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands 18 and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods, but the work of men's hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. 19 So now, O Lord our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone.” (2 Kings 19:15-19 ESV)

35 And that night the angel of the Lord went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians.  And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. (2 Kings 19:35 ESV)

Who are you afraid of?  Men who can kill the body and do no more?  Men who might say things that hurt your feelings?  Men who might fire you and cause you to lose your very secure job filled with benefits because you said something that is politically incorrect?  Men who might ostracize you and reject you and exclude you from their “fellowship” because you actually believe what the Bible says?  Are you afraid of the government, your employer, your college professors, your own family, your spouse, your so-called friends, because they could make life uncomfortable if you stand your ground and plant the flag in the truth of God’s word?

Or do you fear the God who spoke this word?  How big is your God?  Is he trustworthy or not?  Do you trust Him with your very life?  Or not?

Here are the if/then statements Jeremiah gave to Zedekiah:

If you will surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then your life shall be spared, and this city shall not be burned with fire, and you and your house shall live.

But if you do not surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then this city shall be given into the hand of the Chaldeans, and they shall burn it with fire, and you shall not escape from their hand.” (Jeremiah 38:17-18 ESV)

This is a matter of life and death.  Zedekiah died at the hands of his enemies.  Unnecessarily.  But far worse, he died as an enemy of God because he feared Nebuchadnezzar more than he feared the God who could have completely destroyed the entire Babylonian army with a word.  

The same kind of if/then statements must be made today: If you will trust Christ as your Lord and Savior, if you will trust Him with your eternal destiny, then you will live forever, regardless of what men may do to you in this life.

If Christ died for sinners,
If God sent Him to be the substitutionary sacrifice for all who believe in Him,
If He really rose from the dead,
If He really is coming again to judge the world,
If it is true that no one enters heaven except by means of His work upon the cross,
If Jesus Christ is the son of God and the Savior of the world,
And if you repent of your sins and trust in Him,

Then you will be saved.

If none of that stuff is true, then it doesn’t really matter whether you believe it or not.  It truly does not matter.  You can sing whatever version of Amazing Grace you desire.  You can celebrate loving homosexual relationships.  You can go to church or stay at home, you can spend your life in pursuit of absolutely whatever you think will make you happy . . . because none of it matters if the Gospel is not true.

But if the Gospel is true and you do not believe it, if Jesus really is who the Bible says He is and for whatever reason you decide all this Bible stuff and all this Christian stuff just is not your cup of tea and it certainly isn’t worth risking your life or your comforts for, . . .

. . . then you will find yourself among the multitudes of skeptics and cynics and rebels and religious infidels as they march along the broad and popular way that leads them all, including you, to eternal destruction under the curse of a God who is indeed full of wrath against unrepentant sin.

If/then.  If this book is true, then shouldn’t we believe it?  If this book is true, then should we not fear God more than men?  Shouldn’t we do what God Almighty says?  Should we not believe what a holy God has said regardless of what evil men may say or do to us?
1.  Copyright (c) 2013 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press.



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