“When the officials of Judah heard about these things, they went up from the royal palace to the house of the Lord and took their places at the entrance of the New Gate of the Lord’s house. Then the priests and the prophets said to the officials and all the people, “This man should be sentenced to death because he has prophesied against this city. You have heard it with your own ears!”Jeremiah 26:10-11
Jesus tells us that “if they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me” (John 15:20b-21). However, Jeremiah had not heard these words — for he lived long before Jesus was born — and thus could not take comfort from them. He also lived in a city where he was the only one who truly followed God. Because of their twisted beliefs, the people could not see he was sent by God to share what he had with them and in their blindness they wanted him dead. They even tried to convince the officials from the royal palace to help them do it.
“Then Jeremiah said to all the officials and all the people: “The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the things you have heard. Now reform your ways and your actions and obey the Lord your God. Then the Lord will relent and not bring the disaster he has pronounced against you. As for me, I am in your hands; do with me whatever you think is good and right. Be assured, however, that if you put me to death, you will bring the guilt of innocent blood on yourselves and on this city and on those who live in it, for in truth the Lord has sent me to you to speak all these words in your hearing.”Jeremiah 26:12-15, emphasis added
Could you imagine having that kind of bravery? Jeremiah had seen how the people had reacted before to the messages he gave from God, warning them to repent because a force from the North (King Nebuchadnezzar) was coming. If the people didn’t repent, God was going to let the King take over Judah and enslave those who survived the battles. If they did repent, God would save them. The messages Jeremiah delivered were unpopular, possibly even hated because they went against the culture of the city.
Jeremiah was severely persecuted because of this. In chapter 20, he cries out to God, saying, “I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long…I hear many whispering, ‘Terror on every side! Denounce him! Let’s denounce him!’ All my friends are waiting for me to slip, saying, ‘Perhaps he will be deceived; then we will prevail over him and take our revenge on him” (v7b-8 & 10). There’s a possibility words weren’t the only thing hurled at Jeremiah, yet he endured and continued to speak God’s truth.
So imagine yourself in his shoes. Imagine being in an entire city that ridicules you because of how God is moving in your life. Imagine God sends you into the thick of it every day to speak His word, but in return you’re spit upon, beaten, cussed out, kicked, ridiculed…only to have to do it all again the next day because no one is listening. It’s difficult to face these people, but you love them so much you do it anyways. Then that day comes when they’re annoyance with you becomes too much and they grab ahold of you to kill you. Are you brave enough to continue to speak God’s truth and let them do what they want to you as long as they heard what you said?
There is a book called ‘I am N’; it is a book that tells the stories of Christians who’ve faced persecution in the Middle East. The very first story tells of a man called Abu (names were changed to protect identities in the book) who is trying to escape a city called Mosul because ISIS members have arrived to take over the city, declaring Islam was the way, not Jesus. When they were almost out, they were stopped by guards wielding guns and swords. The guards asked who they were and what were they doing. Abu answered honestly: they were Christians leaving Mosul.
The guards told them they couldn’t leave, had them exit their vehicle, and answer several questions. When Abu insisted on staying true to his Christian faith, the leader of the guards separated him from his wife, mother, and sister. The leader told him to either convert to Islam or die. “Abu looked back to the three women, then heavenward. He prayed for strength, wisdom, and courage. Even though he felt weak and expected the sword to plunge into him at any moment, he sensed God’s peace strengthening him. ‘No, I will not be a Muslim,’ he stated. ‘I do not denounce Jesus.’ The [leader] raised his sword”. (p23-26)
The story ends with Abu and his family able to get away from the ISIS guards when a supervisor interrupts what is going on and lets the family go when they pay the tax the guards charged them. I can’t help but admire Abu’s loyalty to, trust in, and bravery for Jesus. That’s where the trust comes into play when faced with the option to be brave. Abu put his trust in Jesus, that everything he believed in relation to his true King was real and he was ready to die for it.
If we skip ahead in the Bible to the adventures of Paul we can see again someone who trusted in the Lord and had bravery in sharing God’s truth. Paul was confident that above all else everything Christ had shown him and gave to him was true. His confidence in what Christ could do and his trust in God’s plan for him helped Paul focus on the mission he had been given in the face of life threatening persecution.
To be continued…