Article by Greg Morse Staff writer, desiringGod.org
As our cultural moment seems to spiral into greater disorder, men of God do well to ensure that they attend to their own households. With so much happening beyond our walls, the temptation can be to neglect what happens within them.
We can fail to realize that our homes are precisely where many ungodly arrows are aimed. The attempts to redefine marriage, maleness and femaleness, and what constitutes a “modern” family are swings of the ax at the same trunk. The Christian household, in glad submission to God’s design, has been secularism’s target all along. Our churches will be strengthened, and the trajectory of culture helped, when more of us resolve with Joshua, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).
While new and noisy paths are laid in Sodom, we should heed the prophetic voice: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls” (Jeremiah 6:16). Progress, for us, will look like a return to an ancient path: the path of rebuilding a spirit of worship in our homes, of reclaiming and defending the Christian household. And godly men will lead the way.
As for My House
Men, no one influences the spiritual climate of our homes like we do. If we are lukewarm and careless, we send a spiritual draft throughout the household. If we burn as a furnace for the Lord, even the most antagonistic child within our walls will not but feel the warming influence.
“Our great aim is to lead our families in a way worthy of God. Why else are they put under our care?”
Our great aim is to lead our families in a way worthy of God. Why else are they put under our care? To help us think through how to do this, I believe it helpful to borrow from the classic categories applied to Christ: prophet, priest, and king. We are prophets who speak the word over our households; priests who give ourselves to intercessory prayer, speaking to God on behalf of our loved ones; and kings who govern, defend, and provide for them.
As prophets in our homes, we have the great privilege to speak the words of God to our family. We are spiritual shepherds. Too few today know the joys of hearing a father earnestly, joyfully, humbly giving voice to the words of God in Scripture. But what many of us did not experience as sons, we can give as fathers, God helping us.
We speak to exhort, encourage, and charge our children to a life worthy of God. Paul recognizes this when he says, “Like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:11–12). We not only exhort, but encourage. Not only encourage, but exhort. This extends to our most beloved companion as well, as God charges us to love her like Christ did his church, washing her with the word (Ephesians 5:25–27).
As priests in our homes, we get to intercede for our family before God. In a heart-stirring account, John G. Paton, the great missionary among cannibals, recalled his upbringing:
How much my father’s prayers at this time impressed me I can never explain, nor could any stranger understand. When, on his knees and all of us kneeling around him in Family Worship, he poured out his whole soul with tears for the conversion of the Heathen world to the service of Jesus, and for every personal and domestic need, we all felt as if in the presence of the living Savior, and learned to know and love him as our Divine friend. (21)
Kneeling together, pouring out our souls in supplication for our family, our churches, our nation, and the lost world — this is a mighty inheritance to leave our children. Whether before them or in the secret place, we get the high privilege to labor in prayer to God on their behalf.
God has firmly written into the nature of every man to lead, provide for, and defend those in his charge. As societies descend into ungodliness, this category of the three is the last to depart. It is a groveling existence for any man — Christian or non-Christian — to abdicate his kingly duties; indeed, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8).
Though under attack from all sides, the man, as head, makes decisions for his family (both popular and unpopular). Because he loves those affected by his choices, he considers their perspective before steering to the left or to the right. He does not micromanage, but he does actually drive from the driver’s seat. He leads his children and his queen as he follows Christ, his head (1 Corinthians 11:3). Mature masculinity governs its household well (1 Timothy 3:4).
He also leads in ways many kings of the world, untutored in the lordship of Christ, wouldn’t dare. He doesn’t just take up the privileges of authority, but its responsibilities, bending low to carry physical, emotional, and spiritual burdens for the family, and doing so with joy. His sacrifice extends, if it is necessary, even to a cross in the imitation of his Savior. And he leads his family in other unflattering tasks such as confession and repentance. His glorious crown is one of thorns.
Three Men in One
Considering these categories, I find it all too easy to play to my strengths and avoid the discomfort of being seen as weak in the other areas. Isn’t being a prophet of the home sufficient? I have found that those around me are affected when I am weak in any of these three callings. None can be safely neglected.
Consider, then, what we need to hear if we simply content ourselves to operate in one office to the neglect of the other two.
Word to Prophets
What happens when we speak God’s word to our families as prophets, but do not take up the mantle of king or priest?
We might seem faithful in teaching the word. The atmosphere in our homes will be filled with godly content. We will remind them of the immortality of their souls, the great danger of sin, the need for Christ’s righteousness and regeneration, the bliss of union with our Lord, and the joys of a coming world with him in glory. But the great danger for us, if we teach much but pray and govern little, is to lose spiritual power and respect in the home.
First, we will lie in danger of becoming a teacher lacking unction. Our words will lack the heavenly taste, the gravitas, the indescribable influence required to make your teaching most profitable. Teaching good theology while praying little is akin to a heavy bird flapping with small wings. The word of God will not return void, yet do not forget, “The kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power” (1 Corinthians 4:20).
Second, we will risk not being taken seriously in the home. If we do not make decisions to govern well on behalf of the family, how can we really oversee souls? “If someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Timothy 3:4–5). For the bookish among us, what if we learned how to do things around the house, how to be more decisive? What if we worked to attain competencies beyond our study? If we spend more time on our knees and more time engaged in the concerns of daily life, might our excellent words be better received?
Word to Priests
What happens when we pray much, but fail to lead and instruct?
It cannot be denied: if we pray, we do well. But if we seek only to bless them with secret words in our closets or with hurried prayers before meals, will we not soon find our prayers becoming shallower and our exhortations weaker (if we attempt them at all)? Would you be a man “praying at all times in the Spirit,” yet stripped of the Spirit’s sword (Ephesians 6:17–18)? We will not be content to merely exhale our family’s concerns to God, but also inhale God’s word and speak it to them.
“Whether before our families or in the secret place, we get the high privilege to labor in prayer to God on their behalf.”
And if we neglect governing, perhaps we will fail to see how we can be the extension of God’s arm in our family beyond prayer. Their concerns are our prayerful and practical concerns. We do not send them off to be warmed and filled elsewhere, but we pray and then turn to do what we can for them. We take our wife on dates, throw the football around with our son, listen to our daughter’s anxieties and dreams. We endeavor to bless their minds and bodies along with their souls — inside our closets and out.
Word to Kings
What happens when we serve as king, but not as prophet or priest?
We may govern an orderly home. We may labor admirably for our family and pride ourselves in our self-discipline. But ours will be a spiritually impoverished household. For all our earthly forethought and provision, we will have left those under our care exposed to unseen foes — the most dangerous enemies — and failed to fill their plates with what Jesus calls “the good portion” (Luke 10:42).
And if we are not given to prayer and God’s word, our self-resolve will grow thin, our strength will fail, for “even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted” (Isaiah 40:30). We will not know what it is to “mount up with wings like eagles” (Isaiah 40:31) because we won’t wait on the Lord, nor cry out like that king of old, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chronicles 20:12).
But add to our kingliness the speaking of God’s word over our family and prayerful intercession for them, and we will rain down blessing upon their heads and fortify them against the evil one. We will grow in stature in their eyes and be kings worthy of the name.
Of Prophets, Priests, and Kings
Acting as prophet, priest, and king in our homes is a simple way to consider what it means to be a Christlike head of the household. We imitate (not replace) Christ, who is our mediating Prophet after Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15), our Great High Priest who intercedes for us (Hebrews 4:14–16), and our Anointed King of Psalm 2, to whom all must bow and kiss his ring.
Lastly, then, I commend family worship as a great place to exercise the two most neglected offices of our day: priest and prophet. One simple structure for family worship is to pray (priestly), read Scripture and share a thought from what you read (prophet), and pray again. Consider also singing a song of praise together. This could take ten minutes, or you could linger longer. Consistency is key.
As unbelievers go from bad to worse, both society and the church are in need of God-fearing, Christ-loving, and Spirit-filled households. And men, it has been given to us to be Christlike leaders — in the word, on our knees, and over our homes — as we care for the immortal souls entrusted to our headship.
James is still addressing the suffering saints when he writes, “Be patient.” This is his counsel at the beginning of his letter (1:1–5) and is still his counsel at the end of his letter. He knows God is not going to right all the wrongs in this world until Jesus returns, so we must patiently endure—and expect.
Three times James reminds us of the coming of the Lord (5:7–9). This is the “blessed hope” of the Christian (Titus 2:13). We do not expect to have everything easy and comfortable in this present life. “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). Paul told his converts, “We must go through much tribulation to enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). We must patiently endure hardships and heartaches until Jesus returns.
But the question we must answer is: How can we as Christians experience this kind of patient endurance as we wait for the Lord to return? To answer that question, James gave three encouraging examples of patient endurance.
Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!
If a man is impatient, then he had better not become a farmer. No crop appears overnight (except perhaps a crop of weeds) and no farmer has control over the weather. Too much rain can cause the crop to rot, too much sun can burn it up, and an early frost can kill the crop. How long-suffering the farmer must be with the weather! He must also have patience with the seed because it takes time for plants to grow. He has to wait many weeks for his seed to produce fruit.
Why does he willingly wait so long? Because the fruit is “precious” (v. 7). The harvest is worth waiting for. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9).
James pictures the Christian as a “spiritual farmer” looking for a spiritual harvest. Our hearts are the soil and the “seed is the Word of God” (Luke 8:11). There are seasons to the spiritual life just as there are seasons to the soil. Sometimes, our hearts become cold and “wintry,” and the Lord has to “plow them up” before He can plant the seed (Jer. 4:3). He sends the sunshine and the rains of His goodness to water and nurture the seeds planted; but we must be patient to wait for the harvest.
Here, then, is a secret of endurance when the going is tough: God is producing a harvest in our lives. He wants the “fruit of the Spirit” to grow (Gal. 5:22–23), and the only way He can do it is through trials and troubles. Instead of growing impatient with God and with ourselves, we must yield to the Lord and permit the fruit to grow. We are “spiritual farmers” looking for a harvest.
You can enjoy this kind of harvest only if your heart is established (James 5:8). The ministry of the Word of God and prayer are important if the heart is going to be established. Paul sent Timothy to Thessalonica to establish the young Christians in their faith (1 Thes. 3:1–3); and Paul also prayed for them that they might be established (1 Thes. 3:10–13). A heart that is not established cannot bear fruit.
Keep in mind the farmer does not stand around doing nothing: he is constantly at work as he looks toward the harvest. James does not tell these suffering believers to put on white robes, climb a hill, and wait for Jesus to return. “Keep working and waiting” was his admonition. “Blessed is that servant whom the Lord finds doing so when He returns” (Luke 12:43).
Nor does the farmer get into fights with his neighbors. One of the usual marks of farmers is their willingness to help one another. Nobody on the farm has time or energy for disputes with the neighbors. James must have had this in mind when he added, “Don’t grumble against each other, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged” (v. 9). Impatience with God often leads to impatience with God’s people and this is a sin we must avoid. If we start using the sickles on each other, we will miss the harvest!
Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
A Jewish congregation would understand this simple reference James made to the Old Testament prophets. These men were well known for suffering wrong when they had done no wrong. They were harshly treated for faithfully declaring the Word of God. James alluded to such prophets to urge his readers to be patient when they themselves were suffering for doing good. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus also used the prophets as an example of victory over persecution (Matt. 5:10–12).
What encouragements do we receive from their example? For one thing, they were in the will of God, yet they suffered. They were preaching “in the name of the Lord,” yet they were persecuted. Satan tells the faithful Christian his suffering is the result of sin or unfaithfulness; yet his suffering might well be because of faithfulness! “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” (2 Tim. 3:12). We must never think obedience automatically produces ease and pleasure. Our Lord was obedient and it led to death!
The prophets encourage us by reminding us God cares when we go through sufferings for His sake. Elijah announced to wicked King Ahab there would be a drought in the land for three and one half years; and Elijah himself had to suffer in that drought. But God cared for him and God gave him victory over the evil priests of Baal. It has been said, “The will of God will never lead you where the grace of God cannot keep you.”
Many of the prophets had to endure great trials and sufferings, not only at the hands of unbelievers, but at the hands of professed believers. Jeremiah was arrested as a traitor and even thrown into an abandoned well to die. God fed Jeremiah and protected him throughout the terrible siege of Jerusalem, even though at times it looked as though the prophet was going to be killed. Both Ezekiel and Daniel had their share of hardships, but the Lord delivered them.
Why is it that those who “speak in the name of the Lord” often must endure difficult trials? It is so their lives might back up their messages. The impact of a faithful, godly life carries much power. We need to remind ourselves our patience in times of suffering is a testimony to others around us.
This example James used from the Old Testament prophets ought to encourage us to spend more time in the Bible, getting acquainted with these heroes of the faith. “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). The better we know the Bible the more God can encourage us in the difficult experiences of life. The important thing is that, like the farmer, we keep working and, like the prophets, we keep witnessing, no matter how trying our circumstances may be.
In Part 2, we will look at the third example of patient endurance: Job.
The results are in: America’s stage four cancer has metastasized to the family and the church as well as to the government and the schools. We are more depraved than ever before. Animals are guarded but innocent children are slaughtered. Porn is protected and sex-trafficking is on the rise. Cardi B’s lyrics get a pass but Scriptures are banned on social media.
Words cannot express this outright lunacy. Like the bungee jumper who plunged to her death because she thought she heard “now jump,” when, in reality, her instructor said, “No jump!” America thinks that she is hearing from God, but she is not. We are drowning in a cesspool of moral filth: “The wicked freely parade and prance about while evil is praised throughout the land” (Psalm 12:8).
Recently, a father was arrested for referring to his biological 14-year-old daughter as “she” after she transitioned to a male gender (more here). “But that’s in Canada,” you say. Trust me, we are not far behind. Most on the liberal left would have no problem imprisoning anyone who disagreed with them, and that’s exactly where the Equality Act is going—unless you accept, rejoice in, and validate sin they are coming after you. Revival is our only hope.
THERE IS ONLY ONE REMEDY
We see throughout the Bible that there is only one remedy—one solution—one cure to reverse the judgment of God: Revival. During times of crisis, the cure for judgment was to return back to God: “Consecrate a fast, call a sacred assembly; gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord” (Joel 1:14).
Revival changes a nation from the inside out. Benjamin Franklin, commenting on George Whitefield’s preaching, said this about the revival sweeping the land, “It was wonderful to see the change soon made in the manners of our inhabitants. From being thoughtless or indifferent about religion, it seemed as if all the world were growing religious.” Revival must begin in the pulpits as well as the pews.
“The greatest tragedy is a sick church in a dying world” Leonard Ravenhill
WHAT REVIVAL IS AND IS NOT
Revival is not adding more church services to the calendar. Revival is not having a guest speaker host an event. And revival most certainly is not acting weird and loud. Revival is a sovereign act of God: “Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee?” (Psalm 85:6).
In the same way that we cannot produce a bumper crop by making it rain, revival cannot be planned, organized, or scheduled, but you can till the soil of your heart: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite” (Isaiah 57:15).
Revival is when we till the soil through brokenness, humility, and surrender via fasting and prayer. God responds by rending the heavens with a downpour: “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you” (Isaiah 64:1)!
REVIVAL HAS A COST
The cold hard truth is that many are not willing to pay the price. Gone are the days of John Wesley, George Whitefield, and Jonathan Edwards who would fast and pray as if America’s future depended upon it (because it did and still does). It’s no surprise that Edwards’ famous sermon, Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God, was preached at the tail end of his three-day fast. Today that title would be labeled offensive and many pastors would be too ashamed to preach it—too ashamed because they lack the fire of the Spirit.
Gone are the days of David Brainard who spent nights in agonizing prayer, as well as “praying” John Hyde, William Bramwell, and countless others who prayed fervently for our nation. Instead of carrying the baton and running the race, we are captivated by American Idol, love our porn, and over-indulge. King Stomach is clearly on the throne.
“It’s too hard to fast,” we say. The problem isn’t fasting; it’s addiction. We can’t fast because we’re withdrawing from our favorite addictions: coffee, sugar, alcohol, processed food, and so on. Let that sink in. And we wonder why we aren’t experiencing a massive move of God in our nation. We abort revival before it’s even been conceived.
When revivals spread across our landscape, Christians spent countless hours praying and fasting. They paid the price! When pastors stood at the pulpit they preached boldly about the cross, sin, judgment, and repentance. They could say, “Thus saith the Lord,” because they were filled with the Holy Spirit, not Hollywood. They didn’t work revival up, God brought it down because His Word was honored.
PROPHETS CAN’T BE POPULAR
Today, most pastors want to be popular and most Christians want their ears tickled. If you doubt this, just look at the top sermons on social media today and their attire. The messages are soothing rather than convicting. As in Israel’s day, the people still say, “You must not prophesy to us what is right! Speak to us pleasant things and smooth words, prophesy [deceitful] illusions [that we will enjoy]” (Isaiah 30:10 AMP).
Granted, we need to hear uplifting messages, but we have a huge problem when pastors don’t want to ruffle feathers and Christians don’t want to hear controversial topics. America’s stage four cancer was caused by a bad diet of frivolous preaching. The cure will require a complete diet change back to whole life-giving food from the Word of God.
I don’t say this in arrogance; my heart breaks for the church. This article is more of a plea than a rebuke, but the truth is, “We have too many puppets in our pulpits and not enough prophets” (Leonard Ravenhill). Pastors and Christians must lead the way, but the way won’t be popular and wide, it will be narrow and difficult. We must fast like it matters, pray like we mean it, and seek God as if everything depends upon it, because it does.
YOU DON’T WANT REVIVAL, DO YOU?
Nearly a decade ago, I prayed, “Lord, bring revival to the churches,” but I was not ready for the response that followed. I share the response and the sermon below as often as possible to reach as many people as possible.
After I prayed, it was almost as if God was saying: “You don’t want revival—it will ruin your schedule, your dignity, your image, and your reputation as a person who is ‘well balanced.’ Men will weep throughout the congregation. Women will wail because of the travail of their own souls. Young adults will cry like children at the magnitude of their sin. With the strength of My presence, the worship team will cease playing. Time will seem to stand still. You won’t be able to preach because of the emotions flooding your own soul. You’ll struggle to find words, but only find tears. Even the most dignified and reserved among you will be broken and humbled as little children. The proud and self-righteous will not be able to stand in My presence. The doubter and unbeliever will either run for fear or fall on their knees and worship Me—there can be no middle ground. The church will never be the same again.”
Do you truly want revival? It will cost you. National revival begins with personal revival when we look in the mirror, repent, and turn toward God. He is our only hope.
Now, I told you a couple of weeks ago that we had finished the New Testament. Doesn’t mean I’ll never go back there again. I will. I have some plans to. But the natural assumption is that we’re going to take a look at the Old Testament. And I do have some plans for that. I’m working on kind of putting together a sort of a long series that could last the rest of our lives together, that you could – you could sort of call “The Road to Emmaus.”
You remember in Luke 24, Jesus on the road to Emmaus said to the disciples, it says that he said to them, “Beginning at Moses and the prophets and in all the holy writings, He spoke to them of the things concerning Himself.” Well, Moses, that’s the law; the prophets, the prophets; the holy writings, all the other books. Those are the three categories of the Old Testament.
So Jesus went to the Old Testament and taught them the things from the Old Testament that were about Him. So I can’t cover everything in the Old Testament, but I think we’ll go on a road-to-Emmaus journey and we’ll go through the Old Testament and find all the things that refer to Christ there. And there are many of them, and you might be surprised to know that Christ appears first in the Old Testament in Genesis 1:1. And last, in the last chapter of the Old Testament, in Malachi. So He is the beginning and the end of the Old Testament and whole lot of places in between. So that’s one of the things I want to do, among several others, and I’m kind of working on that as I attempt to reinvent myself this summer.
Now, I want to demonstrate to you that I do really know there is an Old Testament, and I am actually willing to teach the Old Testament to you. So let’s get a sample, all right? Open your Bible to Jeremiah – open your Bible to Jeremiah, the remarkable prophecy of the man known as the weeping prophet. He wrote this great prophecy of fifty-two chapters, and in addition to that, of course, he is responsible for the wonderful, deep, and insightful book of Lamentations. Jeremiah.
And I want to talk about Jeremiah because I think Jeremiah is a man for a time like our time. The Old Testament prophets were historical figures, real figures living in real events that are laid out for us in their prophecies and in their histories. But they are not unique in the sense that the times and the seasons and the issues that faced them were somehow never repeated. They are, in fact, the same cycles that are repeated through all of human history. Jeremiah lived in a time in a nation that is very instructive for us, living in the time and the nation in which we live today.
I think you are pretty much aware, if you are at all attuned to the character of our culture, that naturalism dominates our society. You might say there was a time in America when supernaturalism dominated our thinking. In other words, we were a nation under God. And you know they’re deleting that from the Pledge of Allegiance, I understand even at a golf tournament, trying to figure out how to get it off our coins. But there was a time when we were happy to say we are a nation under God, we are supernaturalists.
We believe in a Creator. We believe in God as a sovereign ruler of the universe. But we have abandoned that and we are essentially now rapidly becoming a nation of naturalists. The most influential intellectuals, philosophers, scientists, educators, politicians, judges in America are mostly naturalists.
Naturalists assume that God exists only in the imagination of religious people, that the idea of God is, frankly, a superstition, an irrational superstition that is created out of a pre-scientific era to meet certain anxieties of the human heart. The truth is, however, there is no God and everything is simply a consequence of natural effects. Naturalism is the idea that nature is all there is, that virtually everything that exists is simply the product of unplanned, uncontrolled accidents. Life is based on this assumption, that we have just randomly evolved into what we are today.
Creation, then, is the result, as we know it, life as we know it is the result of unconscious forces randomly mutating. Man says evolutionary science is the purposeless end of a purposeless process that did not have him in mind. Oops, he just showed up. This is what is taught in the universities and then this is what is learned by the students. Those students then become the next generation of educators, the next generation of politicians, the next generation of social architects, the next generation of judges who make their legal decisions. They become the next generation of journalists who interpret things that are going on in the world from a naturalist perspective. It is a form of atheism.
And while not all of them would deny the existence of some god, they are almost all very anxious to deny the existence of the biblical God. Those who believe in God are seen as irrational. Those who believe in the biblical God are seen as dangerous and must be kept out of the public discourse. And in the name of separation of church and state, we cannot have people who believe the Bible and the biblical God to be the true God have anything to say about public policy, public life, education, government, social order, law, courts, or morality.
All this rejection of God is purported to be based on science. It is called for by intellectualism. It is demanded by freedom and tolerance and mutual respect. There’s no place for anybody being an authority, anybody saying there is one God who is the absolute ruler who has written one book in which is contained all His will and all truth pertaining to Him and life in His world that is necessary. That is absolutely objectionable. There is this wholesale rejection of God. It is, however, not intellectual, it is the product of the love of iniquity. That’s all it is. Not a love of freedom, not a love of intellectualism, it’s not a love for science, it is a love for sin that drives this.
If you get rid of the God of the Bible, you get rid of the Bible. If you get rid of the Bible, you get rid of biblical morality. If you get rid of biblical morality, you can live any way you want with the assumption that there would be no consequences. So all the supposed intellectual naturalists are nothing but Hedonists wanting to express their lust in an unbridled way. Anybody with half a brain knows that all of this didn’t come from no one. Spurgeon said, “I can scarcely conceive a heart so callous that it feels no awe or a human mind so dull and destitute of understanding as fairly to view the tokens of God’s omnipotent power and then turn aside without some sense of wonder and obedience.”
How can you look at what exists and not be in awe of the source of it? How can we sin against so great a reality by denying it and then sin against the will of the very God we deny against the greatness of the Almighty? Well, our instruction today is going to come from the prophet Jeremiah as to how we respond to a society like ours which is very much like his.
Turn to Jeremiah chapter 5 – Jeremiah chapter 5. In a 52-chapter book, obviously there’s a lot more than we would attempt to cover, but I think I can give you a feel for the man and his time that will relate to how we approach the time and the place where we find ourselves today. Chapter 5 and verse 20 is one of the sermons of Jeremiah that comes from the Lord, and it gives us a good insight into the way things were.
Jeremiah is told by the Lord to say these things. “Declare this in the house of Jacob and proclaim it in Judah, saying,” – here is the message that God gives him – ‘Now hear this, O foolish and senseless people who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear. Do you not fear me?’ declares the Lord. ‘Do you not tremble in my presence? For I have placed the sand as a boundary for the sea, an eternal decree so that it cannot cross over it. Though the waters toss, yet they cannot prevail. Though they roar, yet they cannot cross over it.
“‘But this people has a stubborn and rebellious heart. They have turned aside and departed. They do not say in their heart, “Now let us fear the Lord our God who gives rain in its season, both the autumn rain and the spring rain, who keeps for us the appointed weeks of the harvest.” Your iniquities have turned these away and your sins have withheld good from you.’”
Now, what is this saying? It’s really a very, very clear statement. He is saying that the people of God, the men of Judah, the people of Jacob, the Jews have looked at the creation, they have seen the ocean and the land that bounds it, they have understood the rain at the appropriate season and the seasons and the rain that together produced the food that sustains life. They have seen the enduring consistency of all of this. They have seen the power of these provisions and the wonder of them – that is to say, the majesty of God in creation is on display. The providence of God is manifest, and it ought to stir up their hearts in worship. That’s why he says in verse 22, “Do you not fear me or worship me? Do you not tremble in my presence?”
On the contrary. They say in their heart, “Let us” – verse 24 – “not really fear the Lord.” It should say, “Let us fear the Lord now.” But they don’t. Their wills do not submit to Him. They don’t even give Him honor as the Creator and the provider. The almighty power of Jehovah is manifest, it is visible in the works of His creation, that should constrain His covenant people, Israel, and any people in any era of history to fear His name, to be in awe of Him as the Creator, to reverence Him as the source of provision, the One who controls the sea, provides the land and the seasons and the food.
How can we contemplate this God and not worship Him and not give Him honor and not turn to Him and not obey Him? That is the question that God tells Jeremiah to pose to Judah, the southern kingdom, the remaining people in the land of Israel. The northern kingdom already had been taken into captivity for their own apostasy.
But there’s more here than fact. There is an analogy here, and I want you to see the analogy. The analogy appears in verse 22. It is a fact that God places sand as a boundary for the sea. It is a fact that the waves toss and yet they cannot prevail, they roar yet they cannot cross over. It is a fact that God controls the oceans with the shore. The sea, then, Jeremiah says, never breaks its boundary. It obeys me in all its movements. It may toss and turn, there may be an occasional tidal wave, there may be an occasional tsunami, but the sea will go back to its ordered place.
However, on the contrary, verse 23, “This people has a stubborn and rebellious heart. They have turned aside and departed. They will not be bound. They will not stay within the confines of God’s will and purpose. They are a revolting and rebellious people. They go astray. They break all the boundaries. This pure, puny, sinful man, this little creature that God could crush like a moth under your shoe, this man will resist the restraints of God and overrun all his boundaries. Man in his fallenness cannot be held in check, either individually or collectively. The sea tosses and turns but it obeys. It is restrained by a little belt of sand. Its mighty powers are held back.”
But people, says God, who have stronger restraints than sand are rebellious and overrun the borders that God has established. That’s what the people of the nation Israel had done. The borders, the boundaries, His promises, His threats, His judgments, His commands, His Covenants, and they overran them all. Man is hellbent on revolt. It’s just the way it is. That is how, God says, Jeremiah must see His people.
Now, into this situation in the southern kingdom of Judah, God drops this prophet, and he’s a remarkable man. His message is the judgment that is coming and it is coming fast. In fact, the judgment came in his lifetime. About a century earlier, there was another very familiar prophet, Isaiah, who said the same thing, “Judgment is coming, judgment is coming, judgment is coming,” and he was referring to the Babylonian captivity, the holocaust of the arrival of the Babylonian-Chaldean army to desecrate the temple, destroy the temple, conquer Jerusalem, massacre multiple thousands of people, and carry the rest off captive into a pagan culture. That particular holocaust, among many in the life of Israel, Isaiah said would come. About a century later, Jeremiah arrives, and it’s during his lifetime that it actually does come.
Jeremiah was a preacher for about the same length of time as I have been here, 42 years – 42 years. He preached during the reign of five kings. The first king was a man named Josiah – Josiah. The end of the reign of Josiah was a time of reformation and a time of revival. The law was recovered, and Josiah sought to bring the law to the people, and it produced a revival.
However, a prophetess named Huldah showed up and said, “This is superficial. This is man-centered. This is not going to last. This will have no permanent reformation.” That was true. The superficial revival under Josiah didn’t last. What Josiah did was right, he did all the right things, but the people’s response was surfeited and superficial.
Josiah’s reign was followed by the second king during the ministry of Jeremiah, a man by the name of Jehoahaz. He only lasted three months. He was followed by Jehoiakim and he returned the people to corruption. He led them right back into idolatry and the worship of false gods.
He was followed by Jehoiachin, who also lasted three months. And Jehoiachin was followed by the final king during the time of Jeremiah and the last king of the southern kingdom before the captivity, a man named Zedekiah, who was a vacillating weakling, saw the nation more swiftly down the steep slide of depravity that led to absolute ruin and deportation. He had tough going.
The first king, superficial revival; the next four, rapid decline. And through 42 years of these five kings, Jeremiah’s message never changed – never, ever changed. He was always the voice of God to that society, as any faithful preacher must be. His preaching in no way deterred the idolatry. His preaching in no way stopped the slide. His preaching in no way eliminated the judgment. He never saw, essentially, any impact on a national level through 40 years of his efforts. He was faithful and he was despised, and eventually they threw him in a pit to try to shut him up.
I see so many parallels between Jeremiah’s time and Jeremiah and our time and faithful preachers today. We stand near the holocaust. We have to be on the brink of a devastating judgment in this nation. We have gone through some quasi revivals. There are people who would argue that we’ve had some revivals, that the gospel has spread, that Bibles have spread, that we’re on television and radio and through all kinds of media, the gospel is going out and yet we see no – no reversing of the direction of this nation. We see no lasting results.
The church seems superficial and shallow and consumed with self-fulfillment and self-gratification. So we come to a place in the life of Jeremiah that parallels our own time, and we ask this question: How do we approach a nation on the brink of judgment? Let’s learn from Jeremiah. I’m going to show you three elements.
Number one, Jeremiah understood that he had a divine mission – a divine mission. I’m sure there were people in those days who were calling for all kinds of social reform, all kinds of political action, all kinds of educational advancement. But none of those had anything to do with the calling of Jeremiah, nor did they have anything to do with our calling. Ours is a divine mission – a divine mission.
In other words, Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” That becomes clear to us in the commission of Jeremiah. Let’s go back to chapter 1. It’s one of the most fascinating callings that any man of God has ever had and here, Jeremiah is informed of things about which he had no knowledge. Verse 4, “The Word of the Lord came to me,” he says. “The Word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you. I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.’” Wow.
Here’s the first thing to understand about a divine mission: Your life is predestined by God – your life is predestined by God. Long before Jeremiah was ever conceived in the womb of his mother, long before Hilkiah, his father, and his mother came together to bring him life, long before that, sometime not only before the birth of Jeremiah, before the conception of Jeremiah, but probably before the foundation of the world, Jeremiah was chosen and appointed as a prophet, not only to Judah but to the nations. His message extended beyond Judah and it’s still extending even today, across the globe wherever the prophet is read.
Long before life ever was given to this man, God had determined to separate him, put him in a unique place at a unique time as a consecrated prophet of God to speak for God – predestination. Here, in this brief beginning with eleven short Hebrew words, God gives Jeremiah his own biography. Beginning in eternity past, the timeless eons of eternity, right on through until there are no more nations left for him to preach, God sums up his calling as predestined. He is an intensely human personality, this Jeremiah, and if you read the book and read it and read it and read it, you’re going to learn to love this man.
He is very human, and yet his humanity does not explain the power of his preaching and the relentless endurance of his faithfulness. He is a man who is mysteriously endowed with power from on high to survive the rejection that marked his entire life. He is so humanly weak that he can’t stop crying, and yet he is so unassailably strong that he will not yield and compromise. He is a powerful personality. He is a lovable personality.
Now let me tell you something. When there is a crisis, people look for a program, but God looks for a man. When there is a crisis, people look for some system to fix it, and God looks for a man and God looks for a woman. When God wanted to deal with a crisis, He started with a baby. In this case, Jeremiah was that baby. And He designed him in the womb. And He put him together to have the human capabilities that he needed to do this. He also endowed him with the spiritual equipment to fulfill his appointment by God.
Jeremiah knew this, and this was the bottom line, he was sovereignly ordained by God to do what he did. And it was never a matter of results. It was never a matter of his will. In fact, to show you that, look at verse 6, “Then I said, ‘Alas, Lord God’” – sounds like Isaiah, “Woe is me.” Are you kidding? “Alas, Lord God, I don’t know how to speak, I’m no speaker, and I’m just a youth.” You’re looking at the wrong guy. I’m inadequate, I’m not qualified, I can’t do this.
How did he overcome that sense of insufficiency, inadequacy? What took him beyond that was the clear indication that he had been predestined by God to this calling. By the way, whoever doesn’t have a sense of being predestined by God to service will never lead a spiritual revolution. Most people living in the church today have no sense of divine mission, they’re just bouncing from job to job and event to event and engagement to engagement and activity to activity. That’s the way they live, that’s the way they raise their kids.
There’s no sense of an overarching divine mission. There’s no sense – and this is tragic – in the life of believers that the birth of every believer was ordained by God, the death of every believer was ordained by God, which means the middle was ordained by God and for purposes that advance the name of Christ and the glory of the kingdom, and that’s the last thing on our priority list. Not Jeremiah. He knew that he had been called by God from before he was born, designed in the womb, separated from the womb, separated from the society, appointed to be a prophet, and he had been called to fulfill his mission.
Not only was he predestined by God but he was provided by God what he needed. He says, “I don’t know how to speak and I’m a youth.” So the Lord says to him, “Don’t say ‘I’m a youth,’ because everywhere I send you, you shall go, and all that I command you, you shall speak.”
Now, the first thing you would say is, “What am I going to say? What am I going to say?” The educators say that the greatest fear that humans have is the fear of public speaking. Well, the reason people have a fear of public speaking is very often related to the fact that they have no idea what to say or they think that what they have to say isn’t important and most of the time they’re exactly right. In fact, some of the people who do most of the public speaking have the least to say and should be embarrassed about speaking.
But when you have the most important message, that hesitancy has a way of disappearing, does it not? When you see the children on the brink of being consumed in the house fire, you really don’t stumble over the fact of whether you should publicly yell, “Fire, get out” and grab somebody. It’s about the passion of it. You don’t have to worry about what you’re going to say because you’re not going to have to invent it – you’re not going to have to come up with it. I’m going to provide it.
I’m going to give you the words to say. You’re going to speak for me. You’re going to have divine wisdom. All that I command you, you shall speak, and everywhere I send you, you shall go. That’s how any true minister, any true preacher that represents God has to approach ministry. I am predestined to this and I am provided the message. Jeremiah was resisted and hated and despised and abused.
That leads to the third aspect of his calling, not only predestination and provision but protection. Verse 8, “Don’t be afraid of them, I am with you to deliver you,” declares the Lord. You have nothing to fear. You are called by me. You are empowered by me. You’re going to face opposition. You’re going to face antagonism, and he certainly did, constantly.
Nobody listened to him. Nobody paid attention to him. The nation didn’t turn. It was a very hard, discouraging 42 years, and people hated what he said and hated him for saying it. If you want to do an interesting study sometime in your Bible, find all the places where it says, “Fear not,” and it’s not said just to little widows who didn’t know where their next meal was coming from or orphaned children who didn’t know who was going to care for them and protect them.
“Fear not” is said by God to Abraham and Moses and Daniel and Mary and Peter and Paul because any human being, even the strongest leaders, face the fear that comes with confronting people with a message they don’t want to hear. But you’ll have protection from God.
There’s a fourth component here, verses 9 and 10, power. “The Lord stretched out His hand, touched my mouth and the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.’” Verse 10, “‘I have appointed you this day over the nations, over the kingdoms, to pluck up, to break down, to destroy, to overthrow, to build’ and to plant.’”
That is amazing. Jeremiah feared he was nobody. He was young, he wasn’t effective as a communicator, he was unskilled in oratory. The divine answer is, “Don’t worry about it. I am going to give you the words to speak. Don’t worry about the reaction, I will protect you from the enemies of that truth. And know this, that the words that come out of your mouth will shatter and build. They will tear down and they will plant. Your words will be destruction to people and nations and construction to other people and nations.”
This is the power that belongs to the one who proclaims the truth. The great power brokers in our world, the kings and potentates and the rulers, have no power – they have no power. The power they do have is the weakness of human power or even worse, the power of the kingdom of darkness, neither of which can even approach the power of God. Kings, nations, empires boast of their power, yet the power in the world belongs to the mouths of the messengers of heaven. God picks up this obscure young man of about 30 years of age from a tiny, little, obscure country and says, “I will set you over nations, over kingdoms of the earth. Your Word will destroy and your Word will build.”
So this was his calling. He was on a divine mission. And, people, we live in a nation in a dire crisis of abandonment of God, headed for a holocaust of judgment. We’re already under the judgment of Romans 1, we’ve been turned over to our immorality, our homosexuality, and a reprobate mind. We’re on the brink of divine judgment, and what is needed is that the kingdom of God. And the representatives of that kingdom understand that our mission is divine. The reason for your birth, the reason for your death and your conversion in the middle is so that you can speak the Word of God to this culture on the brink of a holocaust. It’s a divine mission, it’s why we live.
Secondly, what characterized Jeremiah was a direct message – a direct message. He didn’t pull any punches, we would say. He didn’t pamper, cajole, soft-soap, skirt issues. He didn’t say, “Well, we don’t really want to talk about sin,” and he paid for it. Chapters 30 to 33, he wrote when he was in prison. He didn’t spend his life trying to avoid controversy, trying to make everybody happy. If you read chapter 14 and verse 7, you will hear him say, “We have sinned against God as a nation.”
If you read chapter 17 and verse 9, you will hear him say, “Your hearts are deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.” He preached against sin. He indicted the nation. He indicted the sinners for their sin categorically in chapter 3, chapter 9, chapter 11, chapter 19. He accused them of being involved in false religion – false religion. You have turned to idols from the true God.
Chapter 2, verse 12, “Be appalled, O heavens, at this. Shudder, be very desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils. They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water” – that’s false religion. They have turned away from the fountainhead of life, the Lord God, the One who made His Son the living water to quench the thirst of the soul of every penitent sinner.
This wicked thing they have done, turning from the fountainhead and trying to fill up their broken buckets, concocted and created by themselves as if they could hold the water of life. Labor long, do they, in false religion, hewing out cisterns, man-made, collecting dirt and dead animals but holding no water. That’s false religion.
If you are to be a faithful prophet in a nation in decline and crisis, you must expose false religion where it exists. This is not a time for tolerance, this is not a time for embracing everybody and saying, “It doesn’t really matter what you believe as long as you follow your heart.” Listen, this world is full of damning false religion. I have been accused through the years of being intolerant and I accept that as a compliment. Of course I’m intolerant, I am as intolerant as God is, as Christ is, as the Bible is of anything that damns people’s souls while promising them heaven. It is a direct message. We’re not just talking about making people feel good, we confront lies.
In the seventh chapter of Jeremiah, Jeremiah indicts them for worshiping the queen of heaven, who is now cast under the name of Mary, the mother of Jesus. And so we confront Roman Catholicism and Mormonism and every other ism and spasm and schism and whatever it is, any of it, all of it, because we have no choice but to confront and expose false religion. That’s what Jeremiah did. He did it all the way through chapter 19 and beyond that.
He also confronted corrupt spiritual leadership. Go to chapter 5, where we were, and we’re just looking briefly at these, but chapter 5, verse 30, an appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land. What is it? The prophets prophesy falsely, the priests rule on their own authority. He confronted the false prophets. He confronted the deceivers and the liars who had infiltrated Judaism. So on the one hand, he attacked the idolatry of false religion, and then he attacked the corrupt infiltrators of the true religion.
You cannot be the prophet of God, you cannot be the mouthpiece of God, you cannot be the representative of God unless you have a direct message that goes at false religion as it exists contrary to the truth and as it exists inside the categories of the truth. Jeremiah 23 says the same thing. Jeremiah 25 says the same thing.
These were false teachers who were saying whatever they wanted to say, whatever satisfied them, and the people loved it. Sure, they fill up those places where false teachers tell them what they want to hear, how good they are, how wise they are, how powerful their thoughts and their words are and how they can create their own euphoria in this world. All those liars find people who love to hear that, but what will you do at the end of it? What’s going to happen at the end when you face the judgment?
This is a direct message. He addressed wickedness in general in chapter 3. Chapter 3, verse 24 and 25, will be a sufficient illustration. “The shameful thing has consumed the labor of our fathers since our youth, their flocks, their herds, their sons, and their daughters.” It’s just – the whole society is immoral. Shame describes all conduct. Verse 25 talks about lying down in our shame. We have sinned against the Lord our God and our fathers from our youth, even to this day have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God.
There’s overtones of sexual deviation, sexual perversion, sexual immorality, all about the book of Jeremiah. Perversion of marriage in chapter 3, sexual perversion there and elsewhere as well, the sexual perversion coming physically as a part of the spiritual perversion of worshiping idols. They were a wicked, wicked people.
They were also dishonest, chapter 5. This is really an indictment that we can identify with. Aren’t you weary of being lied to by people in power? Listen to what Jeremiah says in chapter 5, verse 1, “Roam to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem. Go everywhere in Jerusalem, look now and take notes, seek in her open squares. If you can find a man, if there’s one who does justice, who seeks truth, and I’ll pardon her.” Huh. I’ll halt the judgment if you can find one guy who tells the truth – one person.
Liars, deceivers, “O, Lord,” verse 2, although they say as the Lord lives” – as the Lord lives, that’s a way to swear. I swear I’m telling you the truth, God is my witness, as the Lord lives, I’m telling you the truth – they still lie, they still swear falsely. “O Lord, do not your eyes look for truth?”
Sounds so much like our society. Corrupt religion abounds everywhere. False prophets have infiltrated Christianity everywhere. Moral corruption abounds on every front. Dishonesty is everywhere. There’s a rejection of Scripture.
Look at chapter 11, and we’ll wrap this up in a minute. Chapter 11, verses 8 to 10, “They didn’t obey or incline their ear but walked each one in the stubbornness of his evil heart. Therefore, I brought on them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to do; they did not. The Lord said to me, ‘A conspiracy has been found among the men of Judah, among the inhabitants of Jerusalem. They have turned back to their iniquities of their ancestors who refused to hear my words. They have gone after other gods to serve them. The house of Israel, the house of Judah have broken my covenant which I made with their fathers.’”
Pull one statement out, “They refused to hear my words.” Characteristically, they rejected the Word of God. They rejected the Word of God. They deliberately abandoned the Word of God. You know, that’s characteristic of our culture. There’s no place in our society for the Word of God, the truth of God, the Scripture, the Bible. It’s an amazing thing. And then in chapter 13, just to kind of summarize this second point, God does a very interesting thing. It’s a visual aid. You don’t need to read it, I’m just going to tell you what happened.
He tells Jeremiah, “Go get a pair of shorts” – underwear – “and put it on and wear it and don’t wash it.” You’ve heard of wash-and-wear, this is wear-and-don’t-wash. “Wear it and don’t wash it.” And then He comes to him and says, after he’s done that, “Go take that pair of shorts and go far away, go” – according to chapter 13, verse 4 – “up to the Euphrates River and hide it. Bury it in the crevice of a rock.” What? That’s two hundred miles. And by the way, two hundred miles is a long trip when you’re walking.
Go two hundred miles and bury dirty shorts? What is this? Well, he goes and does it, and the Lord tells him later, “Go back and get it.” What? “Go back, get those dirty shorts.” And when he goes back, by the time he digs them out, they’re horrible, disintegrated. And He says, “That’s my people. I drew them to myself as intimately as I could, and they became more foul and more foul and more foul, and I separated myself from them, and they corrupted, and they’re under judgment.” God doesn’t change the rules, right? And we don’t have covenant protection. Jeremiah was a man who had a divine mission and a very direct message – very, very direct.
There’s a third thing, and I’ll close with this. He was characterized by a deep mourning. He’s known as the weeping prophet, chapter 13, verse 17, “If you will not listen, my soul will sob in secret for such pride. My eyes will bitterly weep and flow down with tears because a flock of the Lord has been taken captive.” This is God weeping, and God wept through the eyes of Jeremiah. God wept through the eyes of Jeremiah. Jeremiah says, “O, that my head were a fountain of waters, that my head were a spring that just kept gushing water so that my tears could continually flow for my people.”
We don’t ever want to get to a place where, as we go to a nation on the brink of a holocaust of divine judgment, we become indifferent or callous. We want to have the heart of Jesus, who saw the city of Jerusalem that He was going to judge and wept over the city of Jerusalem. We want to have the heart of Jeremiah. I’ll read that to you, chapter 9, “O that my head were waters and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people.” I just wish my head was a fountain of unending tears. He even calls, in chapter 9, later in the chapter, for mourning women to come out and mourn with Him over the condition of His people.
So for 42 years, he followed his divine mission. preached his direct message, and was characterized by deep mourning. What was the result? What was the result? Chapter 7 – quickly – the result, verse 23, I’ve already told you, “This is what I commanded them saying, ‘Obey my voice and I’ll be your God and you’ll be my people and walk in all the ways I command you, that it may be well with you.’ Yet they did not obey or incline their ear but walked in their own counsels and in the stubbornness of their evil heart and went backward and not forward.” Wow. Discouraging – discouraging. Why do you do this if nobody listens?
I’m going to close with the twenty-fourth chapter – twenty-fourth chapter and the fourth verse. “Then the Word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘Like these good figs’” – that had been illustrated on a fig tree – “‘Like these good figs, I will regard as good the captives of Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans. I will set my eyes on them for good. I will bring them again to this land. I will build them up and not overthrow them. I will plant them and not pluck them up. I will give them a heart to know me, for I am the Lord, and they will be my people and I will be their God, for they will return to me with their whole heart.’”
What is that saying? There is a remnant. There is a remnant. After the destruction and the devastation and the judgment and the purification of the captivity, there is a remnant that God will save.
Why do we preach if nobody listens? Because the nobody is qualified. Within that vast number of rejecters, there is a remnant that God will save, that God will forgive, whose hearts He will change. That’s why we do what we do. You, dear ones, are that remnant, part of that remnant in a nation on the way to judgment.
Father, thank you for your Word to us. We are so grateful for its richness. It’s life-giving to us. Thank you for this precious church. I pray for those here who have not come to Christ. O Lord, would you give them that new heart? Would you cleanse them? Would you love them and seek them and draw them to yourself and save them? Thank you for all that you’re doing here and will continue to do as we’re faithful to you, and we’ll thank you in your Son’s name. Amen.