Several years ago, I had a conversation with a friend regarding our opinions on how to help impoverished nations. We debated how best to do so and didn't necessarily agree on our approach. But one thing we did agree upon was the importance of showing them compassion.
The other day I saw a video of Christians in South Korea filling plastic water bottles with rice and throwing them into the sea in such a way that they stood a chance of washing up on the beaches of North Korea and feeding the impoverished people living there. In addition to the rice, they also attached copies of the Bible to the bottles with the intention to reach them with the gospel since religion is illegal in North Korea.
Compassion is something our Lord inspires within His people and empowers them to practice. When the Lord fosters a sense of compassion within your heart, how do you respond? Do you contemplate it until the impression goes away, or does Christ-centered compassion motivate you to take action?
I. Do you fear being mistreated for speaking the truth?
During the years of Jeremiah's ministry to the people of Judah, he continually spoke the truth that the Lord revealed to him. He made it known to common people and royalty. Very few people responded positively, and as we can see from this passage, the message he communicated irritated others to such a high degree that they began plotting to take His life.
Interestingly, this was the same kind of experience Jesus endured when He ministered on this earth. He shared the truth of His identity and the details of His offer of salvation, but He was rejected, threatened, and ultimately crucified. In Jeremiah's case, the people threw him into a cistern and left him to die.
At the time of the events recorded in this passage, Judah was fearful of the Babylonians. The Babylonians would eventually take them into captivity and Jeremiah, under the Lord's direction, was encouraging the people to cooperate with this captivity because it was God's will. The Lord was planning to use this season of captivity as a purifying season for the people of Judah. Those who cooperated and went along with God's plan would live. Those who rejected the prophetic message Jeremiah preached, and remained in Jerusalem to fight the Babylonians, would die.
This passage tells us that certain officials who wanted to fight against Babylon, despised Jeremiah's message because they feared it was weakening the resolve the soldiers of Judah. Because of this, they requested the king's permission to eradicate Jeremiah. We're told that they lowered him into a cistern that was full of mud. A cistern was an underground reservoir for holding rain water. They were usually dug out of rock and would have a small opening on top with a wider base below that. It wouldn't be something you could easily get out of on your own, particularly if it had become filled with mud, but this was the circumstance Jeremiah found himself in.
The reality of what we're being shown here is that there can be real-life consequences for speaking the truth, particularly when you're telling others the word of God. That's something I imagine we're quite aware of. That being the case, do the potential ramifications of openly sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with others make you hesitant to do so?
In our culture, some of the worst consequences we tend to experience relate to criticism or social isolation, but in other parts of this world, there are believers who risk their lives every day to tell others the good news of salvation through faith in Jesus. Would you be willing to take the risk to tell someone else about Christ knowing it might come with earthly consequences to do so?
II. Who do you make intercession on behalf of?
When the Lord called Jeremiah into ministry, He also promised to protect and deliver him. I'm sure there were times when Jeremiah's faith in that promise was tested, but the Lord always keeps His word, and as He promised, He protected Jeremiah.
In this context, as news began to spread of what had been done to Jeremiah, an Ethiopian eunuch named Ebed-melech, who served in the king's house, received the news and responded to it. His response was to seek an audience with the king, express his displeasure with the evil that had been done to Jeremiah, and seek permission from the king to do something about it.
I can only imagine what King Zedekiah's personality and leadership style was like, but from this chapter, it seems to me that he was more than happy not to be bothered with Jeremiah. His actions seem to say, "If you want to kill Jeremiah, go for it. If you want to save Jeremiah, feel free. Just don't bother me about it." In response to Ebed-melech's request, Zedekiah commanded that thirty men accompany Ebed-melech in his effort to lift Jeremiah out of the cistern before he died.
I believe the Lord put it on Ebed-melech's heart to intervene and intercede on behalf of Jeremiah. Have you ever considered the fact that the Lord has given us the privilege to intercede on behalf of one another in prayer toward Him? In fact, His word directs us specifically to do that. The Lord directs us to come before His throne and joyfully pray for the well-being of all people, even kings and political leaders that we may not particularly agree with or think well of.
I'm grateful for the people the Lord has placed in my life who remember me in prayer. I'll never forget a time in the Spring of 2008 when I received a message, seemingly out of the blue, from a friend I hadn't seen or spoken to in more than ten years. He said to me, "I don't know why, but I believe the Lord has been telling me today that I need to be praying for you. So, please know that you're in my prayers today and I hope everything is going well with you." He didn't know it, but the day he sent me that message was the day I was meeting with a mission board to seek their blessing and support for my family to move to Langhorne and begin the planting ministry of Core Creek Community Church.
Who has the Lord been placing on your heart to pray for? Who is He leading you to intercede for in prayer? Someone you know is stuck in a pit of something right now and they won't be getting out in their own strength. They need divine intervention. Will you be the one to bring their need before the throne of God and lift them up in prayer?
III. Are you the type of person who would bother to lift someone else up?
Ebed-melech appears to be the kind of man who let compassion motivated him to take action. After interceding to the king on behalf of Jeremiah, he took the group of men the king assigned to him and they went to work on their plan to remove Jeremiah from the cistern. We're told here that they grabbed some old rags and worn-out clothing and then sent this fabric down to Jeremiah along with the ropes. We're even shown that Ebed-melech put some extra thought into Jeremiah's well-being by encouraging him to use the rags to lessen the pain or abrasion of the ropes by placing these things under his armpits before they attempted to pull him up.
I imagine that Jeremiah must have been quite relieved to see these men and experience their help, particularly after being treated so poorly by the officials that tried to kill him. We don't know a lot about Ebed-melech, but the limited information we have about him leads me to believe that he was a man who would listen to the Lord's voice when the Lord instructed him to show compassion toward others. It appears that he was a man who wasn't ashamed to associate with those in low positions, and he didn't consider it beneath him to lift others up.
As men and women who are seeking to grow mature in our walk with Christ, there's a lesson for us here that's also spoken of elsewhere in Scripture. We're called to be builders of people, not destroyers of lives. Consider for just a moment what Scripture tells us about building each other up in the love of Christ.
- 1 Thes. 5:11 - "Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing."
- Heb. 10:24-25 - "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near."
- Rom. 14:19 - "So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding."
- 1 Cor. 14:26 - "What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up."
This is Christ's calling on His church. As He has lifted us up out of the pit of sin, shame, and condemnation, He calls us to reflect His compassionate heart with intentional action toward one another that leads to the growth, health, and maturity of our Christian family. Let Christ-empowered compassion motivate your action. Look for opportunities to build someone up, in Christ's name, and for His glory.
© John Stange, 2018