When I was growing up, we didn't have very many TV channels. At best, we could usually get four or five through the over-the-air antenna. I have always been someone who struggled to fall asleep at a normal time, so growing up, I would often find myself watching TV while trying to doze off. I remember noticing a pattern with many of the shows that came on during those late hours. Many of the shows were paid infomercials by people who made some sort of promise that they could give you the kind of life you've always wanted.
Some shows focused on your finances. Others focused on your health. There were also programs that spoke of spiritual issues. Truthfully speaking, most of these shows were garbage. I'm grateful that I was able to see through that, even at a young age, but I knew people who fell for the pitches and promises of these late-night gurus because they were so desperate for help that they would listen to anyone who sounded at least moderately convincing.
But the promises we find in Scripture go deeper than the vain promises of men. In God's word, we learn that there is one leader who actually does have the power to make our lives flourish in every healthy way. That person is Jesus Christ and this chapter of Jeremiah's book speaks prophetically of Him while also cautioning us about the presence of contrasting leadership that seeks to steer us in ungodly directions.
1. Be wary of leaders who steer people away from the Lord
This passage begins by speaking about the governmental leadership in Judah during the time of Jeremiah's life and ministry. Often in Scripture, leaders are spoken of as "shepherds." This was an analogy that the people of the time would have readily understood. Shepherds lived among, fed, cared for, and led their sheep. The well-being of their sheep was highly correlated to the care and provisions they received from their shepherd. In many respects, we're shown in this passage parallels to the well-being of the people of Judah and the kind of lives they lived under the care, leadership, and influence of their rulers.
The Lord had a warning for the leaders of Judah. He pointed out to them, through Jeremiah, that He was able to observe the nature of their poor leadership. He saw that their actions were destroying and scattering the people. Instead of caring for the people and working toward allowing them to dwell in safety, they were primarily seeking their own self-interests and prompting the hearts of the people to become fearful. The Lord promised that He would do something about this and that a day would come when the people would be privileged to experience righteous leadership.
These verses are primarily dealing with political leadership, but the issues that are addressed here relate to spiritual leadership as well, even spiritual leadership during our time. In some of my secondary ministry roles, I see issues like this crop up regularly.
I serve as the director of a mission board that plants churches and helps established churches that are struggling. Just the other day, I called a pastor to find out how some of the churches in his area were doing. Some were doing well, others weren't. One in particular was giving him some major concern. He said to me, "That church has lost about half it's congregation this past year and every time I call the pastor to see how he's doing, he always acts too busy to talk, but I can hear the TV playing in the background." Basically, it appears that church is being led by a man who would rather watch television than lead the church he's been entrusted with.
He also spoke of another church that's being led by a man who thinks nothing of posting offensive content online and belittling those who speak to him about it. In both contexts, you effectively have examples of spiritual leadership that is dropping the ball. Instead of leading others toward the Lord, they may be steering people away from the Lord because of the poor stewardship of their positions. I suspect that the Lord will handle both situations in His own timing, but in the meantime, we as His people need to be discerning. We need to hold the teaching and the lifestyle of those we allow to influence us up to the counsel of God's word.
2. Rejoice in the righteous leadership of Christ
If you've never taken the time to read the Bible, cover to cover, I would strongly encourage you to do so. If you stick with it long enough, you will be fascinated by what you'll learn. You'll see patterns, direct references, and subtle hints about God's future plans - plans that have a direct impact on you. You'll also see when you read through the Old Testament, that the Scriptures keep speaking about an individual who is going to come who will be the leader that our hearts crave.
Adam was told of this future leader. Abraham was told of this future leader. Moses was told about Him. Joshua was told about Him. David was told about Him. David was also told that this future leader would be a descendent from his lineage. The future leader would be a King who would one day sit on David's throne. This is something that was being revealed through Jeremiah as well as the Lord told him that He would raise up for David a "righteous Branch" who would reign as king, deal wisely, execute justice, foster righteousness, salvation, and security. These are all references to Jesus Christ - promises that will find their ultimate fulfillment after Christ's second coming to this earth.
As the people of Judah were presently dealing with the corrupt leadership of King Jehoiachin and others at the time of this writing, and were also living in fear of the surrounding nations, they longed for the kind of leadership and prominence they once enjoyed during the days of King David. Jeremiah's prophesy was revealing to them, yet again, that one greater than David was coming. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Son of David, the one David himself worshipped, would come and lead the people with justice and righteousness. Christ Himself revealed that He was the fulfillment of these promises.
Jeremiah's prophesy also reveals that the leader who was to come would be called, "The Lord is our righteousness" (Jehovah Tsidkenu). This is a fascinating title to think about as we reflect on who Jesus is and what He seeks to do for us.
Many people who profess belief in God spend the bulk of their lives mistakenly believing that they must earn His favor through their own virtue or righteousness. But that's a mindset that doesn't work because we would need to be perfectly virtuous and perfectly righteous to be able to stand before our holy God on our own. Likewise, if you do become convinced that you have the capacity to earn God's love, you'll inevitably become a smug, judgmental, self-righteous individual who turns people off to the joys of walking with Christ.
On the contrary, Scripture teaches us that Jesus is our righteousness, just as Jeremiah proclaimed.
Jesus makes us righteous. Jesus makes us holy. Jesus teaches us not to boast in ourselves, but to learn to boast about Him and His goodness to us.
3. If you're in Christ, your best days are not behind you
Prior to last Sunday, what did every fan of the Philadelphia Eagles say when someone would mention that the team had never won a Super Bowl? We would typically say something like, "We've won NFL Championships prior to the Super Bowl era. Don't forget about 1948, 1949, and 1960. Those still count!" But deep down inside, we all know how bad we wanted the team to win the Super Bowl. Now Eagles fans don't have to look to the past for their victories. We can look to the present, and if you asked most fans I think they'd tell you that this is the start of a string of championships on the horizon. There's a lot of optimism surrounding the team right now.
Imagine being the people of Judah and Israel during the time of Jeremiah's writing. To many, it seemed like their best days were behind them. They were being invaded and held captive by foreign nations. Their leaders were corrupt. They longed for the experiences their forefathers enjoyed hundreds of years earlier when the Lord raised up Moses to lead them out of the land of Egypt, or when the Lord raised up David to rule as their king. In these verses, the Lord was making it clear to them that their best days were still ahead of them. The day was coming when they would no longer need to rehash the events of the past for a morale boost.
There's an important correlation to how the Lord is working in our lives as well that we should consider when we're looking at this passage. If you have come to the place of receiving the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, your best days are not behind you. Jesus is present with you today and has promised you a future that is incorruptible. I think it's healthy for our minds to dwell on this fact more often than we sometimes do.
Not long ago, I experienced something in my day-to-day life that I found discouraging. It was on my mind and it would have been obvious, even to a casual observer that something was bringing me down. That night, I was the last one up in my house and I walked into the kitchen to grab a glass of water. I stood in front of my sink, sipping on that water, and thinking about the issue that was bothering me. As I did that, it dawned on me that the best thing I could do for myself was to finish that water, get a good night's sleep, and start the next day fresh - knowing that every trial or discouragement I have ever faced has eventually passed, and no trial is going to seem quite so consequential to me when I'm forever surrounded by Christ's glory.
If you're in Christ, your best days are not behind you. He has the power to make your life flourish. Your eternal life isn't something distant and remote. It has already begun. His power is at work within us. He is present with us daily. And He has purposely told us of the kind of future He has guaranteed for all those who believe in Him so as to encourage our hearts now while we patiently await His return.
© John Stange, 2018