Lenten Midweek 4 2016
Jeremiah Cast into the Cistern Now Shephatiah the son of Mattan, Gedaliah the son of Pashhur, Jucal the son of Shelemiah, and Pashhur the son of Malchiah heard the words that Jeremiah was saying to all the people, “Thus says the LORD: He who stays in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence, but he who goes out to the Chaldeans shall live. He shall have his life as a prize of war, and live. Thus says the LORD: This city shall surely be given into the hand of the army of the king of Babylon and be taken.” Then the officials said to the king, “Let this man be put to death, for he is weakening the hands of the soldiers who are left in this city, and the hands of all the people, by speaking such words to them. For this man is not seeking the welfare of this people, but their harm.” King Zedekiah said, “Behold, he is in your hands, for the king can do nothing against you.” So they took Jeremiah and cast him into the cistern of Malchiah, the king’s son, which was in the court of the guard, letting Jeremiah down by ropes. And there was no water in the cistern, but only mud, and Jeremiah sank in the mud. (Jeremiah 38:1-6 ESV)
Thus says the LORD: He who stays in this city shall die by the sword, by famine and by pestilence,
The long and short of Jeremiah’s message is this:
You can stay right where you are.
You can fight the battle yourself.
You can do things your way.
Just understand that it won’t work.
Whether it is sword or famine or pestilence, you will die.
So if you want to stay in the city, be my guest
But the LORD thinks it is a really bad idea.
Of course that gets the leaders really steamed.
“How can he talk like this?
The soldiers are becoming more fearful with every sermon he preaches!
This prophet doesn’t want to help us.
He wants to hurt us.
If he wanted to help us, he’d preach an encouraging sermon
one that says we can kill the enemy at our gates!”
And King Zedekiah said
“Behold, he is in your hands, for the king can do nothing against you.”
So they lowered him into a muddy cistern, and left him there to die.
It’s almost as if they didn’t even hear the second half of the sentence:
“but he who goes out to the Chaldeans shall live.”
The prophecy was not all doom and gloom.
Jeremiah actually did show them a way out.
They could die on their own terms,
or they could live on God’s terms.
But to surrender and live under the control of another,
to take what the LORD gives you, and say
“Amen. Thank you very much”,
is not always an obviously happy, attractive thing.
Life on God’s terms might actually look different than life on your terms.
Life on God’s terms will definitely, surely, without question, look different than life on your terms.
Because life on your terms is no life at all.
Rather, it is the insistence to stay in the city.
From there it is sword and famine and pestilence, and death.
But, when you pray “My will be done.” the Lord will answer that prayer, too.
Fast forward to the Gospel reading this evening:
Like Jeremiah, Jesus is brought before the rulers.
First Pilate, then Herod, then Pilate again.
With a single charge:
“Are you the King of the Jews?”
Of course there were other accusations as well:
Misleading the people, forbidding people to pay taxes, and so on.
But they were all false charges.
And, finding Him innocent of all of them,
both Pilate and Herod were quite happy to let Jesus go.
But there was still that one charge, and every last person knew it.
“Are you the King of the Jews?”
Of this charge, Jesus is guilty.
And so that would be the charge written on His death warrant
“Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”
He came to bring Good News:
Forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.
The only problem with the Kingdom of God, however, is that God is King.
And if God is King, then you are not.
And suddenly, death on your own terms seems not that big of a deal.
I know we all think we’d do differently.
That we’d at least shoot nasty glances at the people yelling “Crucify Him.”
I know we shake our head in disappointment as the crowd, year after year, picks Barabbas the murder and insurrectionist.
But then, we join our voice to theirs.
Setting free all those Barabbases, who have done so much damage,
Welcoming them back to rule our lives, practically begging for trouble.
And now, as Christians, who want it all
We think we can have Jesus and Barabbas, too.
But here’s the thing about a King: you can only have one.
“But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that He should be crucified.
And their voices prevailed… And He delivered Jesus over to their will.”
Jeremiah was lowered into a pit to die.
Jesus was crucified.
But Jerusalem was restored.
Jeremiah was eventually lifted out of the depths.
And, spoiler alert, Jesus won’t stay dead.
Jesus remains forever, as the angel says, the Crucified One,
But He lives.
And because Jesus lives, you live.
Not just someday, but now, in freedom, forgiveness, and joy.
In your baptism.
In His Word.
At His table.
With plenty left over for your neighbor.
One day, we might have to admit that we have no idea what is good for us.
And some days golden shackles will look very appealing or even comfortable,
fit to size, with your names on them.
But that’ only because you’re not wearing them.
They’re heavier than they look, and they will drag you down.
But the freedom won for you on Jesus’ cross,
The freedom poured out on you at the font,
The freedom fed to you in His Supper,
that is life.
And even better, it is life on Jesus’ terms.
To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen.