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Standing Strong in the Storm
It is difficult to be God's messenger in face of persecution by those who are angered by the message. Jeremiah knew what that felt like.


I don't remember exactly when the thought occurred to me, but it was one of those moments of clarity that come only rarely. I was a young associate pastor in a growing and dynamic church in southern Manitoba. Unlike other churches I had been part of, many in this congregation seemed eager to hear the Word of God preached each Sunday and enthusiastically responded to each message with a combination of acceptance and a desire for further clarification. To be sure, there were those who slept their way (either figuratively or literally) through almost every message. Some even opposed my message from time to time. But, for the most part, my time at this church was one of the highlights of my ministry years prior to joining The Voice of the Martyrs.

… every time I spoke from the pulpit, some were becoming better people, while others were becoming worse.

It was during this time as well, that I was studying at seminary for my master's degree. One of my self-study classes I found particularly challenging, as I came to the realization that no one who is ever exposed to the Word of God comes away unchanged. Upon hearing the Word of God, one either submits to it and is thereby molded further into the image of Christ, or one rejects the teaching and hardens one's heart against the truth. In other words, one either becomes softer or harder, depending upon one's response to God's truth.

It was then that I came to the sober realization that every time I spoke from the pulpit, some who were there were becoming better people, while others were becoming worse. But no one was going away unchanged. Had I not been convinced that it was God's will that I be His messenger, I think I might have stopped preaching and teaching after that.

The prophet Jeremiah knew what it was to be God's messenger. For 40 years he preached a message of warning and repentance, only to be repeatedly threatened, arrested, beaten and humiliated. It is not that Judah was an irreligious people. Rather the opposite was true. The people were proud of their temple. They were certain that Jerusalem could not fall to their enemies because the temple was there. They listened eagerly to prophets who proclaimed messages of peace and prosperity, of God's love and favour. But Jeremiah, they persecuted and rejected.

Jeremiah must have been tempted to give up his prophetic ministry. The betrayal of his family, the rejection of his countrymen, the hatred of the priests and the prophets, the animosity of the princes, all must have been a constant source of discouragement to him.

Like Martin Luther, he must have often asked himself, "Are you alone wise?" When so many men and such great men are opposed to him, he must have had doubts and discouragement. When he saw how all his words fell to the ground and nothing seemed to be accomplished by all his preaching, it is indeed an amazing thing that he did not simply throw up his hands and say, "What's the use?"

Why did Jeremiah continue?

  1. From the very beginning of his ministry, he had known that his message would meet with resistance (see Jeremiah 1:18, 19).

  2. At the same time, God had promised him that He would be with him. "I am with you and will rescue you, declares the Lord" (1:19). Years later, he reaffirmed this promise: "Surely I will deliver you for a good purpose (15:11) … I am with you to rescue and save you,' declares the LORD" (15:20). God's presence and His promise never to leave and forsake His people in the midst of their persecution and rejection is a source of encouragement and strength. They know that they are not forgotten.

  3. Jeremiah was convinced that he was preaching the words of God. From the very beginning of his ministry, he received the command "You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you" (1:7). Jeremiah refers to his message as the Word of the Lord (see 1:4, 11, 13; 7:1; 9:20; 10:1; 11:1; 14:1-17; 16:1; 17:20; 18:1, 5; 19:3; 21:11; 25:3; 27:1; 28:12; etc). And like the other prophets he often introduced his messages with the phrases "Thus says the Lord," or "The Lord said" (see 1:14; 2:5, 19, 22; 3:1, 6, 10,12, 14; 4:3, 9, 27; 6:9 etc). He knew that when the people rejected his message and ministry, ultimately they were not rejecting him, but God.

  4. Jeremiah was driven by an intense love for his people. He knew destruction was coming. He wept for them (see 9:1; 13:17; 14:17; Lam. 2:11; 3:48), prayed for them (see 14:17-22). He said in 17:16 that despite their rejection, "I have not run away from being your shepherd; you know I have not desired the day of despair."

Despite rejection, persecution and humiliation, Jeremiah continued to serve God faithfully for 40 years. May it be said of each of us that we, too, would follow our God with such dedication and passion. When we, like Jeremiah, are tempted to avoid the cost of following our God, may we be reminded of his words, "If I say, ' I will not mention Him or speak any more in His name,' His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot" (20:9).

Glenn Penner is the communications director of the Voice of Martyrs Canada. To receive VOM's free monthly newsletter, please sign up at www.persecution.net http://www.persecution.net.

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Originally published in the Voice of Martyrs Newsletter, April 2004.
http://www.persecution.net.

 

 
 
 
 

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