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God’s Dark Providence and Jeremiah

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
March 24, 2023 12:01 am

God’s Dark Providence and Jeremiah

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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March 24, 2023 12:01 am

During a dark period in Israel's history, the prophet Jeremiah uttered a prayer of distress that unsettles many readers of the Bible. Today, Derek Thomas explains the surprising comfort we can find in these somber passages of Scripture.

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Jeremiah is a man in pain, and though he is a prophet, and though he is a faithful prophet, he is a man in pain nevertheless. And he feels that God has let him down. He's been given a task, what is now a hopeless task, to preach a message that no one wants to listen to.

He has no converts. Jeremiah is a lone voice at the tail end of the country of Judah before its ultimate destruction. And it's as though Jeremiah is saying with Dolan Thomas, do not go gently into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Jesus didn't promise his people a life of ease, and in this fallen world we experience suffering and grief. Perhaps you can relate to the psalmist who said, darkness is my only friend. If that's you or someone that you know, I'm thankful that you're listening today to Renewing Your Mind.

Hi, I'm Nathan W. Bingham. Although Jesus didn't promise us a life of comfort, we have received from God his word that helps us in every season of life. All week we've been listening to Dr. Derek Thomas as he looks at various characters from the Old Testament. Characters who have experienced a form of imprisonment and the lessons that we can learn from them. Well today he is going to look at the prophet Jeremiah and a chapter that Dr. Thomas calls a dark chapter in the Bible. And really a dark chapter in Jeremiah's life. And he'll help us see where we should turn in our dark hour.

Here's Dr. Thomas. Hello again, this is number five in our series of Old Testament characters and later New Testament characters who found themselves for a season, locked down, imprisoned. And today's character is Jeremiah. And I want to take you to Jeremiah chapter 20, which is a very dark chapter.

We are perhaps 70, 80 years ahead of where we were last time with Jonah. And there's a reference here in chapter 20 to King Zedekiah. Jeremiah was a prophet for a very long time and Zedekiah is the last of the kings of Judah. And Judah would collapse to the Babylonians beginning around 597 and culminating in 587 when the city was sieged and then sacked and the temple was destroyed. And Zedekiah, his eyes were put out, his two sons were killed before they put out his eyes. They had tried to escape and Zedekiah was led in chains to Babylon and we never hear anything more about Zedekiah. But Jeremiah prophesied over the reign of several kings, perhaps four in all, and he had been around for 50 years in Jerusalem. Last time we were up north and now we've come back down south to Jerusalem. In Jeremiah chapter 20, the prophet is put in stocks overnight.

And we need to put together the narrative as to why that occurred. But before we do that, I want to remind you of Adoniram Judson and his wife in the late 18th century in Burma, what is now Myanmar. He was imprisoned and tortured in the Burmese war and he spent a night in the stocks.

It did him such injury that it is said that he couldn't wash for a year and a half. And at the end of his life, there were 100 churches and he estimated 8,000 Christians in Burma. Well, Jeremiah spent a night in the stocks. Some of you might have seen Michelangelo's wonderful painting of Jeremiah and he looks very sad, the weeping prophet, as he's called.

He's at this point been a prophet for maybe 22 years. And most of his life, he had been a prophet during the reign of Josiah, one of the great kings of Israel, who brought reform, discovered the book of Deuteronomy and so on and introduced reforms once again into Jerusalem. But Josiah is now dead.

Archers, Egyptian archers, killed him in 609 B.C. and the fate of the Egyptians was short-lived because of the famous battle at Qarshemesh where the Babylonians roundly defeated the Egyptians. And the narrative now and the chronology in Jeremiah is out of sync. Jeremiah is put together thematically rather than chronologically. But the narrative in this particular chapter and much of the book of Jeremiah is the coming of Babylon and the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem and the coming exile that they will experience.

Jeremiah's task was to tell Judah, his people, that doom was coming. That this war of theirs was going to be lost against a far greater power called Babylon. And they hated him. They saw him as a traitor. His message was to surrender to the Babylonians and they saw that as a message that could only come from a traitor. They viewed him as a quisling, a traitor who collaborates with an enemy force occupying their territory. Vidkun Quisling was Prime Minister of Norway in 1942 to 1945 and supported Hitler in the invasion of Norway. And he was convicted and executed for treason after the war ended.

And the word quisling is now part of the English vocabulary. Jeremiah is uttering here one of these, well, we call them Jeremiah's prophecies of doom. In chapter 18, very briefly, he was in a potter's house.

He buys this pot and then smashes it into pieces on the street. This was a symbol of what was coming. In chapter 20, he's in the temple, in the precincts of the temple, preaching again for the umpteenth time. And Pasha is there. Pasha is the temple police.

He is the heresy hunter in the temple. And he's just heard Jeremiah preach in the previous chapter one of these sinners in the hands of an angry God's sermons, like Jonathan Edwards, that they were sinners, that they had displeased God, that judgment was coming, Babylon was going to overtake them, they need to repent. And Pasha didn't like it, and so he arrested him and put him in the stocks, put him in prison, and next day released him. And what does Jeremiah do after spending the night in the stocks? His body would be in pain, five minutes in the stocks, and my back would be out.

I was carrying something very heavy recently, and there were others involved, and all of a sudden you get those back spasms, and unimaginable what it would be like to spend a night in the stocks. But the next day, as you can read in the opening half of Jeremiah 20, he is preaching the same message that he had preached the day before that got him into trouble. It's a depiction of the faithfulness and steadfastness of Jeremiah. There's a bit of name calling, and verse three, the Lord does not call your name Pasha, but terror on every side. They had called Jeremiah terror on every side, because his messages were always about terror, terror, Babylon is coming. For thus says the Lord, behold, I will make you a terror to yourself and to all your friends. They shall fall by the sword of their enemies while you look on, and I will give all Judah into the hand of the king of Babylon. He shall carry them captive to Babylon and shall strike them down with the sword. Moreover, I will give all the wealth of the city, all its gains, all its prized belongings, and all the treasures of the kings of Judah into the hands of their enemies who shall plunder them and seize them and carry them to Babylon. And you, Pasha, and all who dwell in your house shall go into captivity.

To Babylon you shall go, and there you shall die, and there you shall be buried, you and all your friends to whom you have prophesied falsely. Well, you can see why Pasha didn't like Jeremiah. But then in verse seven, it changes. And I think that from verse seven to verse 13 of chapter 20, this is in a different place. This isn't a continuation of what he had just been saying to Pasha.

He is now back in his home, and he shut the door. There was a public Jeremiah, and then there was a private Jeremiah. O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived. You are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day.

Everyone mocks me. For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, violence and destruction. For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. If I say, I will not mention him or speak any more in his name, there is in my heart, as it were, a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. For I hear many whispering, terror is on every side. Denounce him, let us denounce him. Say, all my close friends, watching for my fall, perhaps he will be deceived.

Then we can overcome him and take our revenge on him. But the Lord is with me as a dread warrior. And then, verse 12, O Lord of hosts, who tests the righteous, who sees the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them.

For to you have I committed my cause. Sing to the Lord, praise the Lord, for he has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of evildoers. Cursed be the day on which I was born, the day when my mother bore me, let it not be blessed. Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father, a son is born to you, making him very glad. Let that man be like the cities that the Lord overthrew without pity. Let him hear a cry in the morning and an alarm at noon because he did not kill me in the womb, so my mother would have been my grave and her womb forever great. Why did I come out from the womb? To see toil and sorrow and spend my days in shame.

What is that? First of all, there's Jeremiah's valiant attempt to worship and mask his troubles, and I think that's what you have in verses 7 through 13. But something extraordinary happens at verse 14. Jeremiah's collapse into lamentation and woe. And if you're astute, you'll know that you've seen these words before, almost identical words, and they are in the third chapter of Job. Remember, after Job lost his ten children, after he lost all of his wealth, after he lost the respect of his wife, after he lost his health, and he's at death's door, you have that chapter. It's the first chapter in which you actually hear Job speaking. The first two chapters are a prologue that's given to us as a compass by which to understand that Job isn't suffering because of any sin of his. He is suffering for a reason that he doesn't know and doesn't understand, but it's not punishment from God, which as you remember, was the narrative that Job's three friends continually brought.

Calvin said that Job's friends only had one song and they sang it to death. That suffering is always the consequence of personal sin. Isn't it amazing that Job would have remembered, that Jeremiah would have remembered Job chapter 3? What's your favorite chapter in the Bible, the one that you want to memorize? Well, it's the eighth chapter of Romans. It's John 14, 15, 16, or the great high priestly prayer in John 17. It's Ephesians chapter 1. It's Revelation 4 and 5. These are your favorite chapters. They are Hebrews 11.

These are your favorite chapters. The 23rd Psalm, the 100th Psalm, but Jeremiah seems to have remembered almost word for word this dark third chapter of Job. He's a man in pain, and though he is a prophet and though he's a faithful prophet, he is a man in pain nevertheless, and he feels that God has let him down. He's been given a task, what is now a hopeless task, to preach a message that no one wants to listen to. He has no converts.

He can't flag as Adoniram Judson could flag. You know, there are all these churches and there are people converted. No, Jeremiah's a lone voice at the tail end of the country of Judah before its ultimate destruction. And it's as though Jeremiah is saying with Dolan Thomas, do not go gently into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Now, you want to ask a question about Job and Jeremiah. Did they sin when they wrote this?

And if that's your question, well, shame on you. Because of course they sinned. Yes, Jeremiah said things that he should never have said, and Job said things which he should never have said. But nowhere does God chastise either of them.

That's the kind of God we have. When you're in pain, when you're hurting, when you're broken inside, you've been valiantly trying to keep things going on the outside with your family, with your friends, keeping up appearances, keeping up a face. But on the inside, you're breaking apart and there are those moments behind closed doors and you cave.

There's brutal, brutal honesty in these words. This is a dark night of the soul passage. I find it reassuring that it's here in the Bible. It's one of the reasons why I think the Bible is inspired, why the Bible is inerrant. Because if men and women were putting together a book of spiritual devotion to help us get along, we wouldn't put these passages in the Bible. We would clean it up, make Jeremiah look a little better. The fact that Jeremiah himself put it in his own prophecy. You know, there was a day and this is what I said.

That's honest. And that's why the Bible to me is so refreshing and so relevant, not just to a time long, long ago, over two and a half thousand years ago, but relevant to moments that you and I may experience in our own lives. It's like Elijah beneath the broom tree wanting God to take away his life. It's like Haman the Ezra-hite in Psalm 88, the darkest Psalm in the Bible. Darkness, the final verse of that Psalm, darkness is my only friend. That's pretty dark. Darkness is my only friend. Well, think of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

When a great heaviness came upon him and the gospel writers find it difficult to actually describe because they describe it as a heaviness that was leading to death, this burden was actually killing him. Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me. Stop there. Don't rush on to nevertheless not my will, but yours be done. But pause and think of what Jesus is actually saying. He's saying, Father, I don't want to do this. I don't think I have the strength to do this.

He was going to a place where no man had gone before. I think of it as a life vest. This is not my favorite chapter.

If I had a choice of what I would want to memorize, this is probably not it. It's like when you fly and the flight attendant tells you that there's a life vest under your seat or beside your seat and there's a little whistle. This is 2021 and all you get is a whistle and there's a little light. You're plunging into the ocean at 500 miles an hour. This is Jesus time.

This isn't, a life vest isn't going to help you at all. I've never actually got under the seat to look if it's there. I've thought about it on occasions. Jeremiah 20 is a bit like that. I'm glad it's here. I don't think, I've had my dark moments.

One of you gave me an Eeyore because you know I've often said I'm Eeyore. The glass is half empty. That's my predisposition and I have to fight it all the time. But I've never been here. I don't know this kind of darkness, wishing I'd never been born. But maybe one day I'll be there.

I will actually enter into that darkness. And there are two passages of the Bible that God has prepared for me to say a greater than you has been in that place. A Job has been there. A Jeremiah has been there. Jesus has been there.

I find this refreshingly honest. Life is hard. Gospel ministry is hard.

God uses broken vessels to do His work. You know, there's a lot of talk and I've thought about it for 40 years about burnout. It's a real thing, burnout, and I have lots of friends, lots and lots and lots of friends who have left the ministry because of burnout. I think Jeremiah was facing burnout, but actually he kept going.

However frustrated you are now, maybe it's not as bad as this. William Cooper wrote a piece called The Castaway in 1800. William Cooper, who wrote God moves in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform and friend of John Newton's. And it ends, no voice divine, the storm allayed, no light propitious shone. When snatched from all effectual aid, we perished each alone.

But I beneath a rougher sea and whelmed in deeper gulfs than he. William Cooper was given to depression. He tried to take his life five times in God's providence.

He lived almost next door to John Newton, who was his counselor all of his life. Well, it's a dark chapter, not your favorite chapter, but it has some wonderful, wonderful lessons that we can learn. A dark chapter indeed, and a heavy message, but an important message and one that we need to hear. That was Dr. Derek Thomas, considering the prophet Jeremiah from Dr. Thomas' series, Imprisoned Faith in All Circumstances.

In this series, he explores various people from both the Old and the New Testament who've experienced imprisonment and the lessons that we can learn today. This is the final day that we're sharing messages from that series with you. So if you'd like to request your copy of the entire series, it's 12 messages across two DVDs. And not only will we send you that DVD set, we'll also give you digital access to the study guide. So you can make your donation today by visiting or by calling us at 800 435 4343. Just a reminder that this is the last day we're making this series available for a donation of any amount. So give your gift today at Next week, we'll be hearing from Dr. Michael Reeves. He'll introduce us to some significant figures from church history and help us see some of the extraordinary ways that God has worked to preserve his church. So join us Monday here on Renewing Your Mind. .
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-24 03:37:16 / 2023-03-24 03:45:25 / 8

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