We admire the ancient prophets from afar, and perhaps some of the prophet-like servants of God today, but we sometimes forget that each of them had a price to pay.
Being a prophet means harder work. Jeremiah, Ezekiel and John the Baptist were born to be priests, but the Lord called all three of them to be prophets, a much more demanding task. The priests had a clear job description, a prescribed daily schedule and annual calendar to follow, and his needs were provided. Moses wrote the manual about the sanctuary and the offerings, and all the priests and Levites had to do was obey orders. Not so for the prophets, because they never knew from one day to the next what would be expected of them or who would be opposing them. They had to deal not ony with common people but also with generals and kings, people who are accustomed to giving orders and not taking them. Prophets had to spend time reading the Word and meditating on it as well as praying and seeking God’s help.
Being a prophet demands deeper insight and keener vision. The Jews were saying, “The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord” (Jer. 7:4), but Jeremiah was warning them that the glory of the Lord would depart from the temple and the structure would be destroyed by the enemy. Not only did Israel think God would protect Jerusalem because of the temple, but they also had a superstitious faith in the ark of the covenant. Jeremiah assured them that the day would come when the ark would be no more and nobody would speak about it (Jer. 3:16). He saw the day coming when the revered old covenant would be replaced by a new covenant that would transform people from within (Jer. 33:31-34). The people wanted nothing to change, but the prophet knew that these temporary things had to change. Even their covenant sign of circumcision would no longer be important (9:25-26)! How radical can you get?
Being a prophet means expecting greater pain. Jeremiah is called “the weeping prophet.” The people thought he was a rebel because he announced the end of the “old religion” and the arrival of a new religion of the heart. Why would the Lord allow His own temple to be destroyed and His own people to be exiled? Only a traitor would preach that kind of a message. And after all, Jeremiah purchased some property in his home town of Anathoth (Jer. 32), so he must be collaborating with the Babylonians. The Jewish leaders put Jeremiah in stocks, in prison and in a pit so he couldn’t minister to the people, and they even threatened to kill him. People disagree with us, oppose us and even leave the church because of us, and we are shocked that such things could happen. Yet that’s the kind of treatment a faithful prophet expects! “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13).
Prophets must show a higher loyalty. Jeremiah was a patriot and wept over his nation, but his loyalty to the Lord meant more to him than loyalty to the king. When the Babylonians captured the city, they offered to care for Jeremiah in Babylon, but he refused their offer and remained with the people to serve them. He was a faithful shepherd. He had ministered to the people for forty years and his messages were rejected, yet he stayed on the job in a ruined country when he could have lived in luxury elsewhere.
Faithful prophets need a stronger faith. This means depending on prayer. Three times duirng his ministry, Jeremiah was commanded by the Lord to stop praying for Israel (7:16; 11:14; 14:11), and yet there are at least fifteen references to prayer in his book, and you may add four more from the Book of Lamentations. For true prophets of God, prayer is a necessity, their very breath and life. Knowing the contamination of the tmple, the corruption of the priesthood, the disobedience of a succession of kings and their courts, Jeremiah might have given up completely and sought for a shelter in the wilderness where he could escape. But he trusted God and stayed on the job. “Now, it is required that those who have been give a trust prove faithful” (1 Cor. 4:2), and Jeremiah was faithful. He preached for forty years, and not only was his message rejected, but he was also kidnapped by his own people and taken to Egypt, where he died!
At the beginning of his ministry, Jeremiah debated with the Lord because he thought he was too young and inexperienced for such an awesome task, and more than one prophet/preacher has faced this challenge, including Moses. After all, the Lord gave Jeremiah a number of assignments:
Jeremiah faithfully fulfilled his calling, and what did the people say he was? A trouble-maker (15:10)! He was rejected by almost everybody. This reminds us of the apostle Paul near the end of his ministry when he wrote to Timothy, “You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me” (2 Tim. 1:15). They deserted the man who had brought them to Jesus!
Any minister of the Word can read that list of assignments and identify with them. It takes patience and prayer, but often we must pull up weeds and dismantle shacks in order to plant good seeds and build stable structures. We stand at the crossroads to give directions and find ourselves in danger from all sides. We turn up the heat so we can get the dross out of the metal, and somebody gets his hands burned. The Word x-rays hearts and exposes dangerous weaknesses, but the people don’t want to submit to surgery. They prefer to alter the x-ray, which only makes things worse. Like the false prophets in Jeremiah’s day, they “dress the wounds of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, where there is no peace” (6:14).
“There’s no friction in our church,” a pastor said to me, and immediately I thought to myself, “No friction–no motion.” Wherever there is growth, there will be change, and wherever there is change, there is opposition–especially in churches where the favorite song is “We Shall Not Be Moved.”
Most churches have three kinds of members: pillars, whose serving, witnessing, giving and praying God uses to help keep the church moving; pillows, who want nothing changed but attend only to find rest; and pills, whose sole ministry is to try to make us swally their man criticisms and complaints–and we must somehow minister to all of them. But, Jesus met the same people in His day and so did the apostles, so why should we escape? Let’s consider Jeremiah’s assignments as privileges and opportunities, gifts from the Lord to help us trust Him more and become more like Jesus. Titus wanted to leave Crete, but Paul wrote to him, “The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished…” (Titus 1:5).
(copyright 2009, Warren Wiersbe, all rights reserved)
Dr. Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) was an internationally known Bible teacher, author, and conference speaker. He graduated in 1953 from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. While attending seminary, he was ordained as pastor of Central Baptist Church in 1951 and served until 1957. From September 1957 to 1961, Wiersbe served as Director of The Literature Division for Youth for Christ International. From 1961 to 1971 he pastored Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky south of Cincinnati, Ohio. His sermons were broadcast as the “Calvary Hour” on a local Cincinnati radio station. From 1971 to 1978, He served as the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago 1971 to 1978. While at Moody Church he continued in radio ministry. Between August 1979 and March 1982, he wrote bi-weekly for Christianity Today as “Eutychus X”, taught practical theology classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and wrote the course material and taught a Doctor of Ministry course at Trinity and Dallas Seminary. In 1980 he transitioned to Back to the Bible radio broadcasting network where he worked until 1990. Dr. Wiersbe became Writer in Residence at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids and Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. In his lifetime, Dr. Wiersbe wrote over 170 books—including the popular Be series, which has sold over four million copies. Dr. Wiersbe was awarded the Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).