THE EXPRESSION OF OUR FAITH UNDER TRIAL IS A BETTER WITNESS
A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT
THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS
5 SEPTEMBER 1993
By Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor
Every one of us gathered here today expresses their faith in a way that is seen by the world around us.
Some of us have a stronger faith than others, and some of us may even have very little faith; but we're still here, and that is important, too.
To a stranger looking in upon us, we would all look like the very faithful, and this would apply to those in almost any other church as well.
But when people are no longer strangers, they begin to know us beyond the surroundings of the church buildings; and it is then that they witness the true degree of our faith.
If we continue to express our faith in God, even under various trials and temptations, and continue to live a life reflective of that faith, it is a far better witness to the world around us, than our witness of simply coming to church on Sunday morning.
Jeremiah and Paul both had to express their faith under trial, and their witness is still seen today, just as ours should also continue to be seen well after our deaths.
Let's begin by looking at an event in the prophet Jeremiah's life, during the time just prior to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans, in the book bearing his name, Jeremiah 38:1-16.
1. Now Shephatiah the son of Mattan, and Gedaliah the son of Pashhur, and Jucal the son of Shelemiah, and Pashhur the son of Malchijah heard the words that Jeremiah was speaking to all the people, saying,
2. "Thus says the Lord, 'He who stays in this city will die by the sword and by famine and by pestilence, but he who goes out to the Chaldeans will live and have his own life as booty and stay alive.'
3. "Thus says the Lord, 'This city will certainly be given into the hand of the army of the king of Babylon, and he will capture it.' "
The Israelites had turned from God and He allowed other nations to oppress them, in order that they might turn back to Him.
In the midst of all the strife, Jeremiah was still a witness of the truth of God, even when his life was in danger, and even when no one would listen to him.
So, we must ask ourselves, "Am I (you yourself, each of us individually) such a witness?"
And while we are thinking about that question, let's return to Jeremiah.
4. Then the officials said to the king, "Now let this man be put to death, inasmuch as he is discouraging the men of war who are left in this city and all the people, by speaking such words to them; for this man is not seeking the well-being of this people, but rather their harm."
Evil people always distort the truth, making what is good seem like it is evil, and their evilness to seem good, just as the devil does.
And the king is no different, for he won't stand up for what is right, even though he knows the truth; he is a people pleaser, and not a servant of God.
5. So King Zedekiah said, "Behold, he is in your hands; for the king can do nothing against you."
6. Then they took Jeremiah and cast him into the cistern of Malchijah the king's son, which was in the court of the guardhouse; and they let Jeremiah down with ropes. Now in the cistern there was no water but only mud, and Jeremiah sank into the mud.
They wouldn't kill him outright, but condemned him to a slow death.
It is because of people like this that the Lord brought disaster upon Israel; and it is also the reason, I believe, that the world suffers as much as it does today.
But in the midst of all of this strife and cruelty, there is someone to make a stand for what is right before God.
7. But Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, a eunuch, while he was in the king's palace, heard that they had put Jeremiah into the cistern. Now the king was sitting in the Gate of Benjamin;
8. and Ebed-melech went out from the king's palace and spoke to the king, saying,
9. "My lord the king, these men have acted wickedly in all that they have done to Jeremiah the prophet whom they have cast into the cistern; and he will die right where he is because of the famine, for there is no more bread in the city."
10. Then the king commanded Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, saying,
"Take thirty men from here under your authority, and bring up Jeremiah the prophet from the cistern before he dies."
The king has no faith of his own. He does what is right this time, for his servant has more power and conviction of faith than he does.
The king has no real leadership ability of his own. He is a bad witness.
But the good witness of Ebed-melech convicted the king to do what was right.
Which characters do we, and the people we know, represent?
11. So Ebed-melech took the men under his authority and went into the king's palace to a place beneath the storeroom and took from there worn-out clothes and worn-out rags and let them down by ropes into the cistern to Jeremiah.
12. Then Ebed-melech the Ethiopian said to Jeremiah, "Now put these worn-out clothes and rags under your armpits under the ropes"; and Jeremiah did so.
13. So they pulled Jeremiah up with the ropes and lifted him out of the cistern, and Jeremiah stayed in the court of the guardhouse.
Jeremiah is still in custody, but with some freedom, and still able to be a witness for the Lord.
Note what happens next:
14. Then King Zedekiah sent and had Jeremiah the prophet brought to him at the third entrance that is in the house of the Lord; and the king said to Jeremiah, "I am going to ask you something; do not hide anything from me."
15. Then Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, "If I tell you, will you not certainly put me to death? Besides, if I give you advice, you will not listen to me."
16. But King Zedekiah swore to Jeremiah in secret saying, "As the Lord lives, who made this life for us, surely I will not put you to death nor will I give you over to the hand of these men who are seeking your life."
For a long time, Jeremiah had been telling the truth from God, and the people knew it was the truth; they just didn't want to hear it, for it convicted them of their sins.
So, as not to show that they acknowledged their own sins, they try to counteract it with aggression against Jeremiah.
But the faithful witness of Jeremiah and Ebed-melech, while under trial, still stands to this day in the pages of our Bibles, if we care to read it.
Listen to what the apostle Paul says during his imprisonment in Rome some 600 years later, as recorded in Philippians 1:12-14:
12. Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel,
13. so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else,
14. and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.
Paul had appealed his case to Caesar, which is like going to the Supreme Court. Caesar would either find him innocent and let him go, or find him guilty and pass the sentence of death; yet Paul still says that his circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel.
His faithful witness under trial encouraged others in their faith, so that they, too, would be better witnesses.
How do you think we would react under similar circumstances?
Has Paul's faithfulness to the gospel encouraged you?
And if we still need some encouragement, listen to what Paul tells us in Philippians 2:1-4:
1. If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion,
2. make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.
3. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself;
4. do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
Isn't this the way we're all to be? Isn't this the way the church is to be?
Of course it is!
And the world should see these qualities in us, all the time.
So, as we gather before the communion table this morning, let us focus upon our own personal witness.
Let us repent of what is not right and faithful, and receive God's forgiveness through Jesus Christ our Lord.
And let us build upon those things that are our faithful witness, even when we are under trial.
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