The prophet Jeremiah was at the end of his rope. A priest named Pashhur, the son of the chief officer in the house of the Lord, a person whom one would think would stand by Jeremiah as he preached God’s Word, had in fact done the exact opposite. He had “beat Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in the stocks” (Jeremiah 20:1-2). When Pashhur released him the next day, Jeremiah prophesied to him how he and all of Judah would eventually go into Babylonian captivity due to his false teaching (vs. 3-6).
However, the next verses show Jeremiah’s ordeal had still filled him with despair and emptiness. At one point he blamed God, crying out, “O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed” (v. 7). He knew everyone made fun of him, and it hurt him just like it hurts us. “I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me” (v. 7). He knew his message was negative and unpopular. “For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, ‘Violence and destruction!’ For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long” (v. 8). Finally, he basically said, “I give up. I quit!” “…I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name…” (v. 9). He had spent a long time speaking the truth to people who didn’t appreciate it and refused to heed it. He didn’t want to do it anymore.
“If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:9).
Jeremiah had reached rock bottom. He was ready to surrender. And yet he didn’t. Instead, he chose to cast aside his fears, his despairs, his doubts and anxieties. He chose to replace them with the courage of his convictions. He couldn’t hold in God’s message. One could say that even though it wore him out to preach to such a unresponsive, hostile people, it wore him out even more to keep God’s message to himself.
The apostle Paul said that the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). That’s why he wasn’t ashamed of it, even though preaching it brought him “far more imprisonments, with countless beatings and often near death” (2 Corinthians 11:23). Listen to his description of what he went through for the gospel: “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:24-28).
Finally facing death by beheading at the order of the emperor, the apostle could still say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). He never gave up the fight. He never left the race, even when the finish line was an executioner’s axe. He was never going to stop preaching God’s truth.
It takes courage and faith to be like Jeremiah and Paul. It takes faith in the promise of Jesus: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven…” (Matthew 5:11-12). It requires a conscious decision to focus on the eternal reward waiting for those with courageous convictions (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Do you and I have this same courageous faith?