September 23, 2012
Have you ever been in the pit? Oh yes, I’ve had colds where I could hardly breath and I couldn’t sleep. That was the pit. No. That’s not the pit. Well, I once lost my job at a really bad time. That was the pit. I’ll tell you about the pit: I once did someone really sinful, really dumb, and I’ve been paying for it ever since. No, that’s not the pit.
The pit I’m going to talk about this morning is not something we struggle with physically, and not because of something we’ve done in sin. The pit is suffering because of our association in faith with Jesus Christ. If you’ve spent time in the pit, it is painful while you are in it, and yet, being in the pit is a blessing.
In our lessons today, we are reminded that we carry our own crosses in procession behind Jesus who carried his cross to redeem us from sin. Our crosses are painful. They are necessary. They are blessings. When I talk to you about Lessons from the Pit, it is another way of saying that we carry our crosses. Let’s Learn Lessons from the Pit.
First, it is good to ask, “How did I get into this pit?” It is because of our connection with Christ that we find ourselves in the pit.
Jeremiah did not choose his life and his call and this pit. God said, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you. Before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jer. 1:4) He would destroy-- pride would have to be demolished. Jeremiah was called by God to pronounce condemnation on those who were comfortable being condemned. He cared for these people. It would be tough. He would build—after he would tear down pride and unbelief, he would proclaim God’s grace and God would build his kingdom through Jeremiah’s work.
The Lord is the reason Jeremiah is in the pit. He told Jeremiah, “Stand up and say to them whatever I command you.” (1:17)
God’s people were made by God. This country was set apart by God. They were washed clean by the blood of the coming Lamb of God. They have God for other gods. God wants them back. Jeremiah was sent to proclaim God’s Word, and as he would, God would be with him. Just as he is with us. Jesus said as we carry out his great commission, “I am with you always.”
Jeremiah’s ministry was during the darkest years of Judah. God’s people “exchanged their glory for worthless idols,” (2:11) ‘they lived as a prostitute with many others’ (gods), (3:11) ‘the lifeblood of the innocent poor was on their clothes.’ (2:34) God said about his people, “…they are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good.” (4:22) “The prophets prophecy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way.” (5:31) Are times different today? The Bible doesn’t speak to us today?
God is going to send his people into captivity. And in our text Jeremiah includes this message: “This is what the LORD says: ‘Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine or plague, but whoever goes over to the Babylonians will live. He will escape with his life…This city will certainly be handed over to the army of the King of Babylon, who will capture it.” In our text, some of the princes and nobles come to the king of Judah with a request. “This man should be put to death. He is discouraging the soldiers who are left in this city, as well as all the people, by the things he is saying to them. This man is not seeking the good of the people but their ruin.”
The King, Zedekiah, who is weak, decides to do nothing to stop them. But since they don’t have the conscience to kill him, they throw him into a cistern instead.
Why is Jeremiah in the pit? Jeremiah was in the pit because of God and his Word. He’s there because Judah rebelled against God and God decided to let Judah suffer in exile at the hands of the Babylonians. He’s in the pit because God, in his mercy, gave Judah another opportunity to repent, not wanting anyone to perish. He’s in the pit because God gave Jeremiah the grace in this call to be the tool he used to call back to repentance. He wants the wayward to return and trust in him as Savior. We are the ones today who are called to proclaim God’s grace and mercy, after people hear of their sin.
In the pit, we are tempted to despair. He poured his heart out to God, “I would speak to you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?” (12:1) One day Jeremiah is beaten by enemies and placed into the stocks and he complains to God, “O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed.” (20:7) He even curses the day he was born, “Cursed be the day I was born! (20:14) Jeremiah had terrible thoughts.
Before God’s people, Jeremiah was a fearless prophet. God allowed Jeremiah to be a wall for his people, as he promised. But inside, Jeremiah struggled with his faith. Alone with God he would break down completely. Sound familiar? It was such a struggle. Sound familiar? When so many people reject the Word of God, why should I continue to witness? God promises to be with us. God promises to bless us and make us strong. We want to stop.
In the pit, there is only one place to look, and that is up. A slave named, Ebedmelech believes Jeremiah is going to die in the pit. While he was in prison, he received his daily ration of bread. Now that he was in a pit, and with food being scarce because of a famine, Ebedmelech believed that Jeremiah was going to die without bread. So, Ebedmelech went to the King with a request: “My lord, the king, these men have acted wickedly in all they have done to Jeremiah the prophet. They have thrown him into the cistern, where he will starve to death when there is no longer any bread in the city.”
The king commanded that he take 30 men retrieve Jeremiah. Ebedmelech brought rags along to put underneath his arms so that when Jeremiah put the ropes under his arms to be lifted out of the cistern, the ropes wouldn’t tear into his flesh—so deeply was he stuck in the pit and mud.
In the pit, there is only one direction to look, up. Jeremiah often struggled in faith, but he did look up. God strengthened Jeremiah with his promises: (1:18,19) “Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord. In 15:20-21 God told him, “I will make you a wall to this people, a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you to rescue and save you,” declares the Lord. “I will save you from the hands of the wicked and redeem you from the grasp of the cruel.” In 20:11,13 Jeremiah confessed in faith, “But the Lord is with me like a mighty warrior; so my persecutors will stumble and not prevail. They will fail and be thoroughly disgraced; their dishonor will never be forgotten.” And this gave him great comfort, so he praised God: “Sing to the Lord! Give praise to the Lord! He rescues the life of the needy from the hands of the wicked.” In the pit, or anywhere else which troubles us, the only place to look for help is up to God and his promises.
As Jeremiah looked up for help and deliverance, it helped for him to know he was proclaiming not his own words or ideas, but God’s. God made this clear throughout his ministry. In 1:9, “Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “Now, I have put my words in your mouth.” In 19:2 “...There proclaim the words I tell you.” In 25:30 “Now prophesy all these words against them and say to them.” In 30:2; “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Write in a book all the words I have spoken to you.” In 36:6 “… go to the house of the Lord on a day of fasting and read to the people from the scroll the words of the Lord that you wrote as I dictated. Read them to all the people of Judah who come in from their towns.”
Most importantly, There is nowhere else to look but up for salvation. “Return O faithless Israel…I will frown on you no longer, for I am merciful.” (3:12) “The people who survive the sword will find favor in the desert; I will come to give rest to Israel.” (31:2) “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” (31:3) “I am with you and I will save you…I will not completely destroy you.” (30:11) All these words were spoken to a rebellious nation. God was inviting the whole wayward nation to look up for salvation.
600 years before Jesus came, he was talking about Jesus. Since the kings of Judah had failed to lead God’s people, God promised he would come and lead his people himself. God would lead his people in righteousness-- every decision, every dealing with his people would be done well and right.
Not only would he be righteous, he makes us righteous before God. He would give God perfect obedience demanded from sinners and supply the righteousness that every person lacks.
He would be called, “The Lord our righteousness.” To do that he had to become like us. Talk about being in the pit. He looked down upon our pitiful condition, was born of a poor virgin girl, and left the glories of heaven to take upon himself everything that we’ve done wrong.
Talk about being in a pit—he faced constant pressure from his enemies who tried to trap him or prove inconsistency in his teaching, not to mention the temptations of Satan. Any claim to be connected to the Father was treated as blasphemy. And yet, he was righteous. And the Lord is our righteousness. Through his perfect life and innocent suffering and death and rising again from the dark pit of death, he has won for us righteousness. This is the door to God and the door to life in heaven—righteousness in our Lord Jesus Christ.
When people look at the trouble they go through, they’ll say, “Well God has a plan.” What a plan! God’s plan is salvation for all mankind. To tear down pride and rebellion. To make the comfortable in sin uncomfortable. But also to build up--to comfort the afflicted with God’s grace.
As you tear down and build up, you may find yourself being called “hateful”, or a “closed-minded.” And so, when you find yourself in the pit, being hated for your intimate union with the only God, you’ll want to ask yourself, “Why am I here?” If you lovingly and firmly proclaim the truth of God’s Word, and you find yourself in the pit, thank God! Thank God. The word works. Thank God, he seeks the salvation of all sinners. Once you get out, you’ll acknowledge that it was a blessing for you. While in the pit, all you can do, which is what God wants you to do anyway, is look up. Realize you proclaim His Word and then take his Word, all his threats and his promises, to heart.
Let me close with these thoughts. God’s grace leads us into the pit. God’s grace sustains us in the pit. God’s grace will bring us out. And while in the pit, keep looking up. Amen.