Who has a burden today? We all have them. It is not difficult to make a list. Some of us have very heavy burdens to bear everyday.
- Financial problems; sickness; chronic pain; relationship problems; spiritual weaknesses or sinful habits; feelings of inadequacy; loneliness; depression. These are not imaginary. Christians, even strong Christians, must bear burdens.
- Discouragement and apostasy are often the result. We may feel like giving up or abandoning God. What does God say to us in this context?
I. Jeremiah’s Burden: Jeremiah was a prophet of God who lived in a difficult time. He was called to speak the word of God to the nation of Judah (the southern part of the divided kingdom of God’s people).
- The northern kingdom, Israel, had so abandoned God, that He brought judgment upon them in the form of the Assyrian army. They were disposed from their land and overthrown.
- Judah was following the same path, and God’s judgment was waiting for them as well.
- Sin was prevalent throughout the land. No one was willing to hear God’s words.
A. God called Jeremiah to proclaim His judgment on Judah, knowing ahead of time that they would not heed the warning. Read Jeremiah 11:1-11
1. As a result of the message of judgment and a call to repentance, Jeremiah was not a popular prophet.
a. His life was threatened: Jeremiah 11:18-19 18 Now the Lord gave me knowledge of it, and I know it; for You showed me their doings. 19 But I was like a docile lamb brought to the slaughter; and I did not know that they had devised schemes against me, saying, “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, and let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name may be remembered no more.”
b. He senses injustice and expresses a common question to God – “Why do bad people have it so good, and good people (such as himself) have it so bad?” “ Jeremiah 12:1-4 12 Righteous are You, O Lord, when I plead with You; Yet let me talk with You about Your judgments. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why are those happy who deal so treacherously? 2 You have planted them, yes, they have taken root; They grow, yes, they bear fruit. You are near in their mouth But far from their mind. 3 But You, O Lord, know me; You have seen me, And You have tested my heart toward You. Pull them out like sheep for the slaughter, And prepare them for the day of slaughter. 4 How long will the land mourn, And the herbs of every field wither? The beasts and birds are consumed, For the wickedness of those who dwell there, Because they said, “He will not see our final end.” His question is not uncommon. You may have asked it yourself.
II. God’s Response: God answers this question in different ways. His response here is not exhaustive. But consider what He does say here.
A. Jer. 12:5– 5 “If you have run with the footmen, and they have wearied you, Then how can you contend with horses? And if in the land of peace, In which you trusted, they wearied you, Then how will you do in the floodplain of the Jordan? “(NKJV) God’s words to Jeremiah comprise a rebuke. The prophet is confronted with a look forward in 2 rhetorical questions: (I like the NIV translation)
1. “If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? (NIV) God says to Jeremiah, if you are having trouble now, just wait. It is only going to get worse.( Although things seemed difficult, he was only running against men on foot. He would soon have to keep up with men on horseback.)
2. “If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?” If Jeremiah felt threatened or insecure in a time of peace, how would he survive when turmoil arrived? The “thcikets of Jordan” probably refers to the rough terrain on the banks of the Jordan River. It was thick underbrush often inhabited by lions, tigers, and other wild beasts. When the floods arrived the lions would be forced out of their homes into the streets and roads. It was a time of greater danger. “If you think it is dangerous here, you should live there”
B. God’s answer to Jeremiah is somewhat shocking. He tells Jeremiah the worst is yet to come. This might seem counterproductive and simply make Jeremiah feel more troubled. But God is always willing to present a realistic perspective to His children, especially in times of temptation.
1. Jesus often warned His disciples about the difficult times ahead. “watch and pray that you enter not into temptation.” He candidly asked James and John if they were able to drink the cup that He would drink (Matt. 20:22) He wanted them to know that the true test had not yet arrived. He warned Peter that Satan was going to sift him like wheat.
a. When the apostle confronted the discouraged disciples in Hebrews 12, he spoke candidly about the discipline of suffering and pointed out that God’s chastening would eventually reap the “peaceable fruit of righteousness” (v. 11). But he began by pointing out that they should not be discouraged because they had “not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin” (Heb. 12:4) That was yet to come.
2. We do suffer as Christians today. And we can sense the injustice when evil people do not suffer. But it can certainly get worse, and it may. We have not resisted to bloodshed, we live in a peaceable land, and the horses have not arrived yet. If we cannot make it now, how will we survive then?
a. I recently read about a young woman who is being expelled from her counseling program at a major university because she has voiced her disapproval of homosexuality. This is certainly persecution. But I also read just last week of a family of 8 who were slaughtered with machetes in Nigeria because they claimed to be Christians. We are not running with the horses yet.
C. The Rest of God’s Answer: But God’s words to Jeremiah here are not all the answer to this perplexing question. In fact, In vs. 4, God alluded to the “final end” of wicked men. God often answered the question of the prosperity of the wicked by pointing to the final justice of His judgment against sin.
1. Psalm 73 – Asaph struggles with Jeremiah’s burden. Notice his discouragement and despondency. Have you felt this way? Ps 73:1-5 – Truly God is good to Israel, To such as are pure in heart. 2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; My steps had nearly slipped. 3 For I was envious of the boastful, When I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 4 For there are no pangs in their death, But their strength is firm. 5 They are not in trouble as other men, Nor are they plagued like other men. When this seeming injustice is before us, we may feel as though we are wasting our time trying to please God and live right.
a. Ps 73:12-14 – Behold, these are the ungodly, Who are always at ease; They increase in riches. 13 Surely I have cleansed my heart in vain, And washed my hands in innocence. 14 For all day long I have been plagued, And chastened every morning. Asaph is tempted to quit. He is tempted to view his obedience as a vain endeavor. Where does he find his answer?
b. Ps 73:16-19 – When I thought how to understand this, It was too painful for me — 17 Until I went into the sanctuary of God; Then I understood their end. 18 Surely You set them in slippery places; You cast them down to destruction. 19 Oh, how they are brought to desolation, as in a moment! They are utterly consumed with terrors. There were no answers to be found from the human perspective (it was too painful). But when he went to the sanctuary of God he came to understand something that made sense.
- Note: the “sanctuary of God” generally referred to the Temple or place of worship. But if this Psalm was written during the captivity, the Temple was not available. Perhaps it is best to understand this “sanctuary” as a place of meditation on God and His word. A spiritual place of prayer and worship, where one comes to understand who God is.
- When I know God I know that He will not allow the wicked to go unpunished. They have an “end”, and they are “brought to destruction”. They do not have God, and even though they appear to prosper now, they cannot last long (slippery places) .
c. Ps 73:23-28 – Nevertheless I am continually with You; You hold me by my right hand. 24 You will guide me with Your counsel, And afterward receive me to glory. 25 Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. 26 My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. 27 For indeed, those who are far from You shall perish; You have destroyed all those who desert You for harlotry. 28 But it is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord God, That I may declare all Your works.
- Asaph has found the answer to his question in simply being near to God. He came to the sanctuary of God, and realized that he was continually with God (even when he was suffering) and that God was holding his hand, guiding him, and after awhile God would receive him to glory.
- He did not need or desire anyone else except God. God was “the strength of his heart and his portion forever” – Is he yours? Do you need anyone else if you have God?
- Asaph realized that God was going to reward him in the end. There was no injustice in his suffering, or in the prosperity of the wicked. Burton Coffman states… The answer to all of earth’s inequities, maladjustments, injustices, and wretchedness is not to be expected in this life. Over against all of the misfortunes and sorrows of the redeemed there is written the glorious words of the Son of God, “Great is your reward in heaven.” (from Coffman’s Bible Commentary,) 2 Cor 4:17-18 – “For our light affliction, which is for the moment, worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal”
Conclusion: Are you burdened today? Are you perplexed when bad people have it good, and you have it bad? Let me remind you of God’s two-part answer:
- Listen to God’s words to Jeremiah and hold on. It can get worse. If you stumble while you are running with the footmen, you will not survive the horses.
- Go to the sanctuary of God with Asaph and draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Burton Coffman calls drawing near to God the “Great Good”. Put your trust in Him. He will not let you down.