At the beginning of the reign of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah, this word came from the Lord: 2 Thus says the Lord: Stand in the court of the Lord’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship in the house of the Lord; speak to them all the words that I command you; do not hold back a word. 3 It may be that they will listen, all of them, and will turn from their evil way, that I may change my mind about the disaster that I intend to bring on them because of their evil doings. 4 You shall say to them: Thus says the Lord: If you will not listen to me, to walk in my law that I have set before you, 5 and to heed the words of my servants the prophets whom I send to you urgently—though you have not heeded— 6 then I will make this house like Shiloh, and I will make this city a curse for all the nations of the earth.
7 The priests and the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speaking these words in the house of the Lord. 8 And when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, “You shall die! 9 Why have you prophesied in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant’?” And all the people gathered around Jeremiah in the house of the Lord.
10 When the officials of Judah heard these things, they came up from the king’s house to the house of the Lord and took their seat in the entry of the New Gate of the house of the Lord. 11 Then the priests and the prophets said to the officials and to all the people, “This man deserves the sentence of death because he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.”
12 Then Jeremiah spoke to all the officials and all the people, saying, “It is the Lord who sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the words you have heard. 13 Now therefore amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the Lord your God, and the Lord will change his mind about the disaster that he has pronounced against you. 14 But as for me, here I am in your hands. Do with me as seems good and right to you. 15 Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will be bringing innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city and its inhabitants, for in truth the Lord sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears.”
16 Then the officials and all the people said to the priests and the prophets, “This man does not deserve the sentence of death, for he has spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God.” 17 And some of the elders of the land arose and said to all the assembled people, 18 “Micah of Moresheth, who prophesied during the days of King Hezekiah of Judah, said to all the people of Judah: ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts,
Zion shall be plowed as a field;
Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,
and the mountain of the house a wooded height.’
19 Did King Hezekiah of Judah and all Judah actually put him to death? Did he not fear the Lord and entreat the favor of the Lord, and did not the Lord change his mind about the disaster that he had pronounced against them? But we are about to bring great disaster on ourselves!”
Jeremiah, for the second time (see chapter 7), is told by God to prophesy at the entrance to the temple in Jerusalem. The message is not a pleasant one and the priests and prophets of the land do not respond very favourably to what Jeremiah has been saying. They threaten to kill him (verse 8 ) and ask him why he should say such nasty things about the people, the city and the temple. The reason given for wanting him killed is that he has prophesied against Jerusalem (verse 11).
Jeremiah’s opponents are not concerned with whether Jeremiah’s words are true. Their concern is that he said something against what they hold dear. Jeremiah’s defense, and the defense given by his supporters (verses 16-24) is that the test of whether Jeremiah should be put to death is the truthfulness or lack thereof of what he has been saying.
We live in a culture that is very much like Jeremiah’s opponents. The issue is not truth. It is whether what is said benefits, or appeases, or helps. No one, it is maintained, has the right to say what is right or wrong. Those who say things that are true but hurtful are to be shut down, or at least encouraged to keep quiet. To maintain that there is only one truth can land a person in some trouble as well.
This is not just a characteristic of the culture. It happens big time in churches as well. Church discipline for sin is shunted to the back burner, if it is believed at all, because churches don’t want to offend people. But if those who have been entrusted with the truth of the Word of God do not clearly and lovingly state what that Word says, then we do far greater harm than if we keep quiet for fear of offending people. It is truth that sets people free and the truth of the Gospel is the most liberating thing there can possibly be.
But the Gospel begins with some very negative truth. After telling us that God made everything and that He is holy and just and created everything very good including mankind, the news gets very negative. We have rebelled against God and have offended the holiness of God with our sin. Sin must be punished and that is why Jesus died – as a punishment for sins He never committed, so that those for whom He took the punishment would be saved on the basis of His death. If, in our giving of the Gospel, we skip over the bits about God’s justice and holiness and punishment of sinners, then the Good News of the Gospel can make no sense at all.
The message of the Gospel has great similarities to the message of Jeremiah to Jerusalem that he gave 2600 years ago. If we do not listen to God and turn to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith, then we will fall under the wrath of God and suffer the just punishment for our sins. This is the truth of the matter and we cannot change that by choosing to ignore it or trying to be more positive.
Jesus is the only way to God and we cannot ignore that on the basis that many religions claim that there are other ways to God. Of course they do. That is why they need the Gospel.
You cannot be more positive than the Gospel delivered to humanity for its eternal salvation. But that very good and liberating message can only make sense if people are told what great danger they are in without it. If it were not true we could leave those parts out. But it is true and it is necessary and it is beneficial to all who will give it audience and believe in Jesus Christ to save them from their sins.
The church of Jesus Christ is the pillar and ground of the truth. That means, at the very least, that we believe it, confess it and unashamedly hold to it, no matter what.
Finally, it needs to be emphasized that to speak truth cruelly, harshly, or without compassion for those to whom it is delivered, is to abuse the truth. Truth sets people free. It is not meant to be something that contributes to the arrogance of those who speak it. It is not intended to be a sledge hammer that crushes people. It is not something that allows people to shout “I win, I win!”. We are commanded to speak the truth in love. Better to say nothing at all if we cannot obey that commandment. In fact, Jesus threatened to shut one church down if they continued to show commitment to truth so lovelessly (Revelation 2:1-7).
Be committed to truth. And speak it with a broken heart of love for those who will give you audience.