Where Did We Go Wrong?
Tim Temple

Introduction

Let me give you a little bit of background between chapters 20-21. In our last lesson we talked about chapter 20. There we saw that Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, was literally marching toward Jerusalem, making his first assault on that city of God that had such a great history down through the years, that had been the golden city of the world under the reigns of David and Solomon. People came just to see their majesty and their glory.

Now, a hundred years later, it is under assault by an enemy army. In that period that takes place between what is described in chapters 20 and 21, which we begin looking at today, we find that Nebuchadnezzar had taken Jerusalem on that first assault, and he had taken as captives back in Babylon a young member of the royal family by the name of Daniel and his three young Jewish friends and a number of others of the royal family, descendants of the royal family. He had also taken many of the beautiful golden treasures, the utensils from the temple and then he had over the next seven or eight years continued to shuffle the kings around. He now had complete control over Israel even though he had only taken a few of the people captive.

He allowed King Jehoiakim to stay there. Jehoiakim only lasted three months and then Nebuchadnezzar put his brother on the throne. Finally, after about seven years, he did away with that brother and put an uncle of Jehoiakim by the name of Zedekiah on the throne. So as we come to chapter 21, God's chosen nation had been humiliated to the point that their own kings had been put in place and taken out of place by another nation's king. Things were in terrible shape.

Zedekiah's Request of Jeremiah

As we come to chapter 21, Nebuchadnezzar is now marching against Jerusalem for the third time. A period of seven or eight years takes place between chapters 20 and 21, as I said. Zedekiah was now the king of Judah and he sent a delegation to Jeremiah to ask for his help. He asked Jeremiah to intercede with God on behalf of the nation.

Open your Bibles to chapter 21, beginning in verse 1. Notice the request to Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 21:

1 The word which came unto Jeremiah from the LORD, when king Zedekiah sent unto him Pashur the son of Melchiah, and Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah the priest, saying,
2 Enquire, I pray thee, of the LORD for us; for Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon maketh war against us; if so be that the LORD will deal with us according to all his wondrous works, that he may go up from us.

What a beautiful request! “Perhaps the Lord will deal with us according to all His wonderful works, that the king may go away from us.”

If you are familiar with the book of Jeremiah, and if you have been with us for these studies in Jeremiah during these last few weeks, you know that that is absolute and total hypocrisy. What a ridiculous thing for this king to talk about the Lord and all of His wonderful works. What he is saying is, “Maybe God will be His sweet, old, kindly self and let us off the hook even though we have spit in His face for fifty years.” That is what that prayer really means. You see, Zedekiah and all of his forefathers before him, going all the way back to Solomon, had been not only not walking in fellowship with God but actually ridiculing God and turning away from God and substituting other idolatrous gods in His place. That is a kind of common prayer for many people who have ignored God. They go along doing what they want to do, living any way they please, in some cases even making fun of some people who trust in God. Then when some time of trouble comes, after they have lived anyway they want to and have messed everything up, they see God as some kind of a heavenly genie who, if they just rub Him the right way, will do whatever it is they want Him to do.

Jeremiah's Reply

Listen to me. God is sovereign and God moves according to His own purpose and according to His standards, not ours. We can't manipulate the God of the universe. We can't ignore Him and ridicule Him and revile Him and then expect Him to come to our rescue just because we talk about all of His wonderful works all of a sudden. Zedekiah learns this in the next verses. In verses 3-7, we find the reply from Jeremiah. Look, beginning in verse 3, where we read:

Jeremiah 21:

3 Then said Jeremiah unto them, Thus shall ye say to Zedekiah:
4 Thus saith the LORD God of Israel; Behold, I will turn back the weapons of war that are in your hands, wherewith ye fight against the king of Babylon, and against the Chaldeans, which besiege you without the walls, and I will assemble them into the midst of this city.
5 And I myself will fight against you with an outstretched hand and with a strong arm, even in anger, and in fury, and in great wrath.
6 And I will smite the inhabitants of this city, both man and beast: they shall die of a great pestilence.
7 And afterward, saith the LORD, I will deliver Zedekiah king of Judah, and his servants, and the people, and such as are left in this city from the pestilence, from the sword, and from the famine, into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon, and into the hand of their enemies, and into the hand of those that seek their life: and he shall smite them with the edge of the sword; he shall not spare them, neither have pity, nor have mercy.

This is one of those passages that gives God, in the thinking of people who don't look at everything in its context and who only hear a little bit of the Old Testament, the name of that mean, old bully, that God of sternness, that God of woe, and that God of unkindness. We know, because we have been studying the book of Jeremiah, that God, when He said these harsh sounding words, had been pleading with these people through the lips of Jeremiah thirty years by this time, constantly telling them what was going to happen if they didn't turn back to Him, constantly reminding them of the natural consequences of the way they were thinking and the way they were living, and pleading with them to come back.

They had become more and more hard-hearted. We saw in the last chapter that they were actually now plotting to kill Jeremiah. They threw him in prison and put him in stocks. That is how they treated God's messenger. God says things that would be expected to people like that. Many times we misunderstand and think about how mean God was and how cruel God was.

You know, all of Scripture indicates, even though it is not recorded in these verses, that if Zedekiah had heard this message from Jeremiah and had done like some of his own forefathers had done and turned his face to the wall and put his face to the ground and had prayed to God for deliverance, God would have immediately interceded. God would have immediately gone to work against those enemies. There is case after case after case in the Old Testament where God did that for His people.

In fact, even more interesting is the fact that in the book of Jonah, there is a story that we easily overlook. We easily overlook the whole book of Jonah because of that famous story about Jonah's being swallowed by the whale or the big fish, whatever it was. The last chapters of the book of Jonah tell us that Jonah went to Nineveh like God had told him to do in the first place. Nineveh was the enemy of Israel. We speculate that one of the reasons Jonah didn't want to go to Nineveh was because he was a very patriotic Israelite, and he knew that if he preached repentance, if he preached judgment, to the people of Nineveh and they repented, God would forgive their sins and he didn't want that. He wanted God to destroy the Ninevites. The story is that finally, when he got to where God wanted him to go to preach to Nineveh, he walked through Nineveh, shouting, “Yet forty days and this city will be destroyed.”

A miracle that is really as great as, if not greater than Jonah's being vomited out by the big fish, is the fact that the Scripture tells us that all the citizens of Nineveh, from the king on down, repented. God forgave their sins and restored the city of Nineveh, and for another hundred years, it was one of the leading city/states of the world, all because they repented.

These were not God's chosen people. In fact, these were the enemies of God's chosen people, but even people like that, when they repented, God relented that wrath that He had promised to bring upon them and gave them another two or three generations of prosperity and spiritual health.

Let me tell you that God will forgive you even though your are His enemy, even though, perhaps, you have lived as His enemy, no matter what you may have been involved in. You may not consider yourself worthy of His forgiveness, but God will forgive you just as He forgave those Ninevites if you simply turn to Him—not in hypocrisy like Zedekiah did: “Maybe God will be gracious to us and to His wonderful works.” No, if you turn to Him in repentance, saying, “God, I have sinned. I don't deserve Your mercy and Your grace, but I come in repentance and I confess my sin,” God will forgive that sin and restore you to a place of fellowship with Himself.

There is no bargaining with God. We can't come and make a deal with God, but if we come to Him in repentance, not just to escape the consequences of our sin, He will forgive us. Sometimes when we come to Him in repentance, the consequences of our sin still have to take place—not always. Sometimes in His grace, He doesn't let the consequences take place, but sometimes He does. But if we come to Him in repentance, He forgives the sin and restores us to fellowship with Himself.

Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, who were a group of Christians in the first century, “Knowledge of your relationship with God has gone out all over the whole region because you turned to God from idols to serve the living and the true God.” You see, it is not enough just to turn away from our sin, to turn over a new leaf and say, “I'm not going to do that any more.” What must be done is that we turn to God from idols. There are many people who have tried to clean up their act and reform their lives, and that is good and well, but it is really never successful. It never really stops the progression of sin. Oh, it may hold it off for a while. There may be some tenuous victory over sin for a while, but to have forgiveness, to have restoration, to have power over sin in our lives, we must turn to God.

Zedekiah did not do that. Verse 10 summarizes the message of chapter 21. Notice:

Jeremiah 21:

10 For I have set my face against this city for evil, and not for good, saith the LORD: it shall be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire.

You see, that kind of message should have been enough to make Zedekiah turn around and repent, but he didn't do that. Even that kind of message wasn't enough. And so, in chapter 22, God sends Jeremiah to the king personally. This is the first time that Jeremiah has personally gone to speak directly to the kings. From chapter 22-25, we find Jeremiah's message to Zedekiah. In that message he tells him what has gone wrong in the nation of Judah. It is extremely important for us to notice this because it will tell us the principles by which God operates in our own individual lives and those same principles by which He operates in our nation and all nations. These are God's principles in dealing with nations and with people.

The Rebuke from Jeremiah

In the next verses we find the rebuke that came from Jeremiah. Look, beginning with verse 1:

Jeremiah 22:

1 Thus saith the LORD; Go down to the house of the king of Judah, and speak there this word,
2 And say, Hear the word of the LORD, O king of Judah, that sittest upon the throne of David, thou, and thy servants, and thy people that enter in by these gates:

Let's stop there for a moment. The prophets who spoke in the Old Testament were not like preachers who are invited to the White House today, sometimes to receive the attention from the president and to supposedly give him some advice. The prophets that we find in the Old Testament were just like Jeremiah. They were bold and direct. You remember the story in II Samuel, chapter 12, where David fell into a great sin. David was the most powerful man in the world in his day. He was every bit the equivalent politically and from the standpoint of power of the president of the United States today. Nathan, the prophet, was sent by God to convict David of his sin. He told a little story and David was so out of fellowship with God that he didn't get the point. Finally, Nathan got right in David's face and said, “David, thou art the man!”

It was not some little White House conference with tea served in china cups and everybody trying to tippytoe around a president who is doing wrong. These Old Testament prophets told it like it was. Jeremiah said to this king, who wasn't anywhere near as powerful as David, but he was the king, “You and your servants are going to be wiped out if you don't come back to God.”

Corruption in Government

In the next verses and chapter, he tells Zedekiah what has gone wrong. It really falls into two areas. As you know, as we work our way through Jeremiah, we are not trying to touch on every verse, but we want to look at chapter 23, and touch on verses 24 and 25 also, to see what had gone wrong with this nation. It was in two areas. The first area is summarized in chapter 23, verses 1-2:

Jeremiah 23:

1 Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the LORD.
2 Therefore thus saith the LORD God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people; Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith the LORD.

Normally, when we see the word shepherd in the Scripture, we think in terms of the preachers, the religious people, whatever their term would be. But in the Old Testament, very often when we see the word shepherd , it is a reference to the king. We know in this particular passage that he is not talking about the king because in a few verses he is going to address the prophets and the priests. In these verses he is talking corruption in government. He is talking about the failures of the kings of Israel. Jeremiah, in some verses that we skipped over in chapter 22, had already spelled out the responsibilities of government leaders.

Kings to Provide an Example

Go back to chapter 22, and look at verse 3. Here is the responsibility of kings of government in general.

Jeremiah 22:

3 Thus saith the LORD; Execute ye judgment and righteousness, and deliver the spoiled out of the hand of the oppressor: and do no wrong, do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, nor the widow, neither shed innocent blood in this place.

In these verses we have three responsibilities of any government. The first responsibility is to provide an example, a standard of justice and righteousness in the life of the king himself. He says, speaking to Zedekiah, “Execute judgment and righteousness, and deliver the plunder out of the hand of the oppressors.” “Zedekiah, you personally have not done what kings are supposed to do. You have not ruled with judgment and righteousness. You have laughed in God's face. You have stomped on His standards. You personally have failed as a leader of the government.”

A question that has been asked over and over again in our world in the recent past is, “What does it matter what the private life of the leader of our nation is all about? As long as he is doing his job well, as long as the economy is good, what does it matter what he does in his spare time, in his private life?”

In the first place, the leader of a nation, particularly in the United States, where a leader puts himself up voluntarily to become the leader, doesn't have a private life. He is the leader of the people. That is really true. We are not going to take the time to turn there, but in Romans, chapter 13, God tells us what the standards for government are. Romans, chapter 13, verse 4, clearly states that government officials are God's ministers, God's servants. When a man becomes a king, when a man runs for the presidency and is elected as president or in whatever means a person comes to a place of authority in government, whether it is succession through his family or whether it is being elected by the people—whatever it may be—the rulers of a nation are God's servants. They are God's ministers to the nation for good. Therefore, they represent God whether they realize it or not. They are responsible for maintaining a standard of righteousness and judgment.

It doesn't mean that they have to be Christians. It doesn't mean they have to read the Bible every day. But they have to maintain the standards of a righteous and Holy God. God has set it up that way. If they fail to uphold God's standards, it is even more serious than when ordinary people fail to uphold God's standards because they have been placed in those positions by God to represent Him, to rule nations and to bring peace and righteousness in the world.

Jeremiah points that out to Zedekiah. He says, “You have failed to deliver the plundered out of the hand of the oppressor.” Obviously, that carries significant implications for our own country as well as for Jeremiah's country. You see, specific sins are not the issue. It is not a matter of who did what with whom, when and where. The issue is the principle of God's plan of good for a nation. The issue is what rulers are supposed to do and why God has allowed them to become rulers. God raises up rulers and God puts down rulers. He does that with specific purposes in mind. Disobedience of His standards by leaders opens the door for all kinds of evil in any nation. That had happened in Judah and it all was about to come falling down around them. You can judge for yourself where our nation is in that sequence of events.

Protection of Minorities

The second responsibility of government is in the middle of verse 3, and that is to protect minorities. Notice verse 3:

Jeremiah 22:

3 …and do no wrong, do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, nor the widow, neither shed innocent blood in this place.

In Jeremiah's day, those were what today we would call the minority —the people who are not represented well, the people who don't have money and don't have position and don't have influence. The government is supposed to take care of those people. If a government does not do that in a realistic way, there becomes all kinds of frauds and abuses of the system. A government is responsible to find a way to, in the best way it can possibly be done, take care of those who cannot take care of themselves and to see to it that that system is not tampered with by the ever-present crooks and frauds who will try to take advantage of whatever they can. By its very nature, the government can either help or hurt the helpless, and the key factor in that is the leader. Zedekiah and all of his forefathers for at least a hundred years had failed to take care of the fatherless and the widows and the strangers, Jeremiah says.

Justice Should be Promoted

The third responsibility at the end of verse 23 is to promote justice. Notice what he said:

Jeremiah 22:

3 …neither shed innocent blood in this place.

The responsibility of any ruler is to see to it that the courts are kept honest and just to protect innocent people from having their blood shed by the crooks, to see that justice is done when the innocent blood is shed. Most of all, the government itself is not to be shedding the blood of the innocent people. This speaks against every despotic dictatorship that has ever existed to the ones existing in our world today where the people exist for the government and not the other way around. Any government leader who throws opponents in jail, any government leader who smears the name of his opponents any time they try to raise an issue of something he is doing wrong is violating the Word of God. They are to see to it that innocent blood is not shed and that innocent lives are not tampered with, that people's lives are not ruined because of something that the leader of the government wants done or not done. Zedekiah and his forefathers had failed in all of those ways.

Turn with me to I Timothy, chapter 2. I want you to notice in the New Testament, not only in Romans, chapter 13, but in I Timothy, chapter 2, we have all of these principles tied together, and the reason for them is explained to us in this New Testament book. This applies to the age in which we live. It is not just an Old Testament principle for kings of Israel and Judah. In verse 1, we read:

I Timothy 2:

1 I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;
2 For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour;
4 Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.

Do you see what this says? The purpose of government, the reason God raises up rulers and puts down rulers, as He says so clearly that He does in several places in the Scripture, is so that, [verse 2], “…we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.” That is the purpose of government, to see to it that the citizens can live a quiet and peaceable life.

Purpose of Government

Sounds great, doesn't it? Everybody would say, “That is what we want,” but the verse doesn't stop there. There is a reason for that quiet, peaceable life. That is in verse 4:

I Timothy 2:

4 Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.

The best way to have the freedom and the ability to get people saved is to have a quiet and peaceable life. People who are under the pressure of a dictator, people who are under the pressure of a president or a king, whatever his title might be, who have to spend so much time trying to defend themselves against the government, who have to spend so much time trying to do for themselves what the government ought to be doing, protecting them and taking care of them, don't have time to think about winning people to Christ. God said, “I have established government to see to it that you have a quiet and peaceable life and your responsibility with that quietness and peace is to go and tell others about Jesus Christ and to be able to work peacefully and successfully to financially support others if you can't go.” God provides government so that we can have optimum conditions for evangelism. It is as simple as that. That is the purpose of government.

Let me quit preaching and go to meddling here for a minute. Many of us are involved in trying to see to it that our government is all that it should be. Many of you are much more active than I am in that process, and we encourage each other, and I try to encourage you from this pulpit to be involved in whatever way you can. We have the privilege of living in a nation where we have a far greater part in deciding who will be in authority over us than any other nation in the world. We ought to be involved in that, but let me ask you, what is your interest in that? Why is it that you are so involved in government? Is it so that your business will prosper? Is it so that your friends will become the rulers? Your purpose and my purpose in being involved in government should be this right here: so we can have the kind of government that will insure the opportunity to spread the Gospel.

If it is the kind of government that insures the opportunity to spread the Gospel, there are going to be a lot of other fringe benefits, too. There will be prosperity. There will be opportunities for advancement. There will be all kinds of benefits, but the purpose of those benefits is that the Gospel can be spread. I believe with all my heart that the only reason that the United States is still in business today is that with all our problems we are still sending missionaries to other countries. With all our problems, we are still doing evangelism here in our own country and I believe the moment we, as God's people, stop doing those things, it will be all over for the United States. That is the only thing that we have left. It would seem in most instances that is the only thing we are still doing right. That is the purpose of good government.

Going back to Jeremiah, we see that Zedekiah and his predecessors had all failed to do these things and in the rest of chapter 22, Jeremiah goes on to detail examples of those kings. We won't take the time to look at those because they are illustrations of the principle that we are talking about.

Corruption of Government

At the beginning of chapter 23, we find one of those rays of hope that keeps shining through the darkness of the book of Jeremiah. In chapter 23, verse 4. Jeremiah is talking about this corrupt government. God, speaking through Jeremiah, says:

Jeremiah 23:

4 And I will set up shepherds over them which shall feed them: and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall they be lacking, saith the LORD.
5 Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.
6 In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.

In I Corinthians, chapter 1, verse 30, we find out who that is. The Apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians, specifically applies that name THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS to Jesus Christ. What this verse tells us is that the day will come when Jesus Christ Himself will sit on the throne of David in Jerusalem and rule over the world. This is one of the several places in the Scripture where we have a reference to the literal, physical reign of Jesus Christ on the throne of Israel. The reason that I believe, and many others believe with me, that there will be a literal one-thousand-year reign of Jesus Christ is verses like these. This was a specific promise to a specific king of Israel, that God will someday on that throne have THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS , who is later identified as Jesus Christ, sitting physically.

Corruption of Godliness

The first area of failure was corruption of government, but in chapter 23, the second area of failure was corruption of godliness. Look at verse 9. Jeremiah says:

Jeremiah 23:

9 Mine heart within me is broken because of the prophets; all my bones shake; I am like a drunken man, and like a man whom wine hath overcome, because of the LORD, and because of the words of his holiness.

Then skip down to verse 11:

Jeremiah 23:

11 For both prophet and priest are profane; yea, in my house have I found their wickedness, saith the LORD.

I want you to think carefully with me about what I am about to say because I think it is something that we as Christians have largely overlooked in our world today. That is the fact that God has put the church in the position of influence over the government. I don't mean that God intends for the church to rule the world instead of the government. What I am saying is that God expects His people to influence the government. God expects His people to be a checkup on the government. God expects His people to hold the government responsible to do the things that God has revealed the government is supposed to be.

The prophets, who were ordinary citizens, even though they had great power in the Old Testament, should have corrected the wrongs of the kings. They should have held those kings accountable, as they did in some generations. In David's and Solomon's day, prophets could be heard. God, in verse 15, ultimately holds these prophets responsible for what is happening in Israel. Look at verse 15:

Jeremiah 23:

15 Therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts concerning the prophets; Behold, I will feed them with wormwood, and make them drink the water of gall: for from the prophets of Jerusalem is profaneness gone forth into all the land.

Jesus said to His followers, “You are the light of the world. You are the salt of the earth.” Paul, writing to Timothy in I Timothy, chapter 3, verse 15, said that the Church, believers in Jesus Christ, is the “pillar and ground of truth.” Let me ask you what I think is a very sobering question. If we, you and I as believers in Christ, really are supposed to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth, if we are members of the Body of Christ, not just in this congregation, but all the congregations of God's people all over town and all over the country and all over the world, if we are the pillar and ground of truth, why is this world in such chaos and darkness?

Prophets Obscured the Truth

Listen to me. It is very largely our fault, the fault of the people of God, just as it was in the days of Judah and the days of Jeremiah. Where did these leaders go wrong? Their corruption is spelled out in the next verses. First, he says, speaking about the leaders, but it would be true of all of God's people, in verse 16, they have obscured the truth. Notice:

Jeremiah 23:

16 Thus saith the LORD of hosts, Hearken not unto the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you: they make you vain: they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the LORD.

Verse 17 shows the reason he says that is that the prophets were telling them to go ahead and live any way they wanted to live. “God's not going to send judgment like Jeremiah says. Jeremiah is lying to you. Do anything you want to. God is not going to judge you for that. God is not going to hold you accountable for your sin.”

The Revised Standard Version translates verse 16 this way: “They fill you with vain hopes, empty hopes, and that results in worthlessness as far as obedience to God is concerned.” If God is not going to hold us accountable, why bother to obey? In the middle of verse 16, we read:

Jeremiah 23:

16 …they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the LORD.

The prophets were obscuring the truth. Secondly, they were offering their own personal opinion. Scripture had no place in their preaching. They were just editorializing it. There are many pulpits in which the sermon consists of the pastor's opinion about this or that. Let me tell you something that you already know. I just want you to know that I know it. My opinion is not worth any more than yours about any given subject, so why should I make you sit and listen to my opinions about something? That is a waste of time. What we need to know is what God's opinion is. That is why we should be preaching and teaching the Word of God. Those prophets were just offering their own opinions about things.

An Omission of Meditation

Then in verse 18, there was an omission of meditation. Notice, as we read:

Jeremiah 23:

18 For who hath stood in the counsel of the LORD, and hath perceived and heard his word? who hath marked his word, and heard it?

You see, these prophets of Jeremiah's day could have done the same thing Jeremiah was doing. If they would have listened to God, God would have told them His Word. They didn't have very much of it written down like we do today, but they wouldn't take time to even listen to God.

The tools are very important. It is very important that a sermon be put together in a way that people can understand, and I try to do that. I don't know how successful it is, but it is important for me to spend time trying to organize and put together the details of whatever passage we are talking about. There are various tools that I use in doing that. Those things are important, but for me or for any other preacher, it is essential that we sit and listen to what God wants to say through that passage. Whether I do that or not, if I stick to the Word of God, God is going to bless His Word, but to have the message of God really come through, for me to be able to understand the message of God as it applies to my own life, there must be some time for me to pray and think and ask God, “What is the message of this passage?” That is true for not only me, but for every pastor.

At the turn of the century here in the United States, European liberalism began to creep in and the major denominations little by little became controlled by that liberalism that says the Bible is not the Word of God, Jesus is not the Son of God, and all of those things that would result from that kind of teaching. Some of you remember from experience how in the thirties and forties, people who really believed in the teaching of the Word of God and the authority of the Word of God had to leave those denominations. At the turn of the century, these things began to creep in and within fifty years the courts had outlawed the Bible from our public schools and now from our public life. Do you see how that started? It started with the churches.

Recently, I read a very interesting statement. It was a sidelight of the major purpose of the article, but it stated that Hitler, as he experimented with all the medical things that he did in trying to find that pure Aryan race that he was promoting, wanted to experiment with ways to put older people and retarded people to death. They called it the science of eugenics . Hitler was very anxious to experiment more openly with eugenics. But the statement was made in the article I was reading, “He was afraid of the Church.” It wasn't until he began to invade Poland and some of those other countries and he thought that the minds and the attention of the Church would be diverted to those other things he was doing, that he began to be able to experiment with eugenics.

The Church of Jesus Christ had some power in those days. I wonder, if Hitler was at work in our world today, how powerful the church of Jesus Christ, as it is constituted right now in the United States, would be. That is very sobering, isn't it? You see, that is the way God wants it to operate. He wants us to have such an influence on the government that if the government is not doing things right, they would have to answer to us as believers in Jesus Christ, as God's people.

That is very convicting to me. That is why II Chronicles, chapter 7, verse 14, says: “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray, I'll hear from Heaven.” It is not just because God listens to Christians; it is because it is the Christians who are responsible in the first place. We are the ones who should never have let things get this bad to begin with. That is why God says, “If you people will humble yourselves and pray, then I will be able to heal your land.”

Can the people with whom you work, the people in your neighborhood, the people who know you outside the church, tell there is anything different about you? Do you think there is any reason for people that you come in contact with on a secular basis to suspect even that you are a believer in Jesus Christ?

That is what went wrong in Judah. God's people did not maintain God's standards. I have been as guilty of this as anybody in this room. We are all failing in that area, but it is not too late for us to come back to God in repentance and be, by His power and by the opportunity He may give us, light and salt and the pillar and ground of truth. That is what He says in verses 21-29.

Spiritual Leaders Should Stand Before God

In Jeremiah, chapter 23, verse 22, He says we should stand before God:

Jeremiah 23:

22 But if they [speaking of the prophets] had stood in my counsel, and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings.

While I am railing against all of us as a society of believers, as a group of believers, I should say that we who are in the pulpit are the most accountable to God about that. God says, “If My prophets, if My spiritual leaders would have listened to Me and then have shared it with the people, they would have been able to turn away evil from the land.” So the spiritual leaders should stand before God.

Speak the Word

Then in verse 28, we read:

Jeremiah 23:

28 The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the LORD.

The task of the preacher, like the task of the prophet in the Old Testament, is to speak the Word of God, not a book review, not something about being kind to our fellow man. That is just chaff and we who are God's teachers, pastors and preachers, should speak His Word and don't worry about the chaff. The chaff is popular because it is easier to get to. We should speak the Word of God and let that do its work.

Then in verse 29, they are to shatter with the Word of God:

Jeremiah 23:

29 Is not my word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?

You see, nothing succeeds in the hearts of men and women like the hammer of the Word of the Creator. God says to us preachers, to those prophets, “You speak My Word. It is My Word that will make a difference.” I believe on the basis of this passage of Scripture, and many others, that what God intends to be done in His church, in the gathering of His church on Sundays or whenever we gather, the primary focus of those gatherings is the teaching of the Word of God. These are very clear-cut instructions to pastors, but they should provide a mirror image response from people.

Let me tell you if you are visiting with us, you should demand the teaching of God's Word from the pastor. What's more, you who are here regularly and are part of this church should demand the preaching of God's Word from me and from others who stand in this pulpit. If he doesn't respond to that and if you can't get the authorities in the church to get him to respond to that, then you need to go somewhere else to church. May I be so daring as to say that I personally believe, and I am not speaking for the elders of this church when I say this, but it is my personal belief that that is the only valid reason for leaving a church. If the Word of God is not being taught, then you need to go somewhere where it is being taught, but if there is something about the chaff that you don't like, if there is something about the things that surround the Word of God that you don't like, if the Word of God is being taught and you can't find it anywhere else, you don't need to change churches; you need to pray that those things will fall into place.

The purpose of the pulpit is the teaching of the Word of God, so that we, as a people of God, can live lives that have an influence on the people around us and ultimately, in our nation at least, on those who are in authority over us.

I am sure that any time that I or anyone else talk this way, you may be sitting there thinking, “I'm only one. What can I do? How could I in my little limited circumstances influence the government of the United States or the future of our country, in the direction it is going?”

You can influence to whatever extent God wants you to influence. That may only be a small area. He knows how to put this jigsaw puzzle together. He knows how far your influence extends and how far somebody else's extends. You humble yourself before God, repent of your sins, covenant with God to live for Him, turn from your idols to God, then begin to pray that other people will do the same thing.

Conclusion

Salvation comes one at a time and revival is the same way—individual hearts of men and women getting right with God. Insist on teaching of and obedience to the Word of God for yourself and encourage it in others. Ask God to give you the opportunity and the courage through writing of letters, going to the polls, to influence the government in the way that God has given you the opportunity to do. By God's grace, we may not have to go through what Judah went through, but it depends on you and me and our walk with the Lord. Otherwise, we are headed in exactly the direction that that nation went.


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