Think for a moment about something that made you sorrowful. I realize that's not always the kind of thing we prefer to think about, but since it's also not wise to deny ourselves the opportunity to grieve when we need to, let's think about something in that category for a moment.
How profound was your sorrow? Are you still in the midst of it? If not, while it was fresh, what did you do? How did it impact your daily life? How did it impact the nature of your prayers? Did you ask God for relief or did you find yourself feeling somewhat angry at God for allowing that grief to come into your life?
If your sorrow was a while ago, can you identify anything good that came from it? Truthfully, it's often our most difficult seasons that do the best job of making our hearts tender, our arms powerful, and our faith strong. Many of us can testify to the fact that even though we didn't enjoy our earlier seasons of sorrow, we don't regret them now because we're grateful for what we learned. And something else the Lord teaches us from those sorrowful experiences is that they don't last forever. For those who are in Christ, our sorrow lasts only a season and we see that very fact displayed in Jeremiah 50.
I. The proud are brought low
Nebuchadnezzar and the kingdom of Babylon which he led, were the chosen instruments that the Lord used when He brought judgment upon the people of Judah. The people of Judah had every spiritual and social advantage you could imagine, but instead of glorifying the Lord who had blessed them, they forsook Him and gave their allegiance to the false gods of foreign nations. Their idolatry was rampant, but that was addressed through their season of captivity.
It's true that Babylon was the tool of correction that the Lord used to discipline His wayward children, but instead of accepting that role with humility, it's clear that the nation of Babylon became drunk with pride. They boasted in their dominance. And as we can see in multiple places throughout Scripture, God is directly opposed to pride. He makes a point to deal with Satan's pride, the pride of the fallen angels, and the boastful pride of men.
Regarding Babylon's pride, the Lord brought them low. In 539 B.C., they were conquered by a man named Cyrus, the leader of the Medes and Persians. Their kingdom was taken away from them. Their bragging rights were rescinded, and their season of dominance and influence was brought to an abrupt end.
If you've taken time to read even just a small portion of the Bible, you've probably noticed this as a repeated theme in Scripture. The Lord opposes pride. Thankfully, in His mercy, He often orchestrates ways it can be stripped away, not just from nations, but from us as well. Sometimes He even uses a season of sorrow to do that. He did that for the people of Judah during their captivity in Babylon. He also did so for the nation of Babylon. Don't be surprised if He does so for you as well. It may not feel pleasant, but it can actually be evidence of His fatherly love.
II. The people weep with godly sorrow
A while back, a man called me and asked if I had time to meet with him so he could talk. I said, "Certainly," and he stopped by our church to speak with me in my office. Without me going into specific detail, he started verbally unpacking quite a few things that he had invited into his life that were bringing him nothing but regret. He wanted to make a change and he was tired of the mess he felt he had made of his life. It was obvious to me that this may have been the first time he had shared some of these concerns with others because as he spoke, he started struggling to get the words out. And when the words finally came, he erupted in tears. It's hard for a man to cry, and even though I could tell this was difficult, I was happy for him because I could tell he was going to experience victory over the things that had held him captive for so long.
These verses describe a future time of weeping that the people of Israel and Judah would experience together, as a reunited body. Jeremiah describes them as coming together, seeking the Lord their God, turning toward their homeland, and making a covenant to follow the Lord, and weeping as this takes place.
When your heart is broken, what do you do with your tears? I will confess that one of my least favorite things to do is to allow myself to cry, but I have become much more comfortable with it, when it's appropriate, than I used to be. And the truth of the matter is, there are some times when the most appropriate thing to do is weep. This would be particularly true when we consider what this passage is describing. It's speaking of a day when the people of Israel and Judah begin to appreciate the depth of God's love for them, and they grieve tears of repentance and godly sorrow as they begin taking steps toward God instead of running from Him.
Can you identify with this experience? Has there ever been something in your life that you tried to hold onto for so long, even though you knew for certain it was grieving the heart of God? What happened within you while you held onto it? What kind of release did you experience when you finally repented and gave that missing piece of your heart or that missing piece of your life over to Him?
There are few things as beautiful on this earth as a heart that learns to weep the tears of repentance. Scripture tells us that even heaven rejoices over lost sinners who finally come to the point where they turn from their sin.
III. The Greater Shepherd replaces the lesser
I won't mention any names, but not long ago, I read of a prominent Christian leader who was compelled to leave his position of leadership due to the fact that his life did not reflect the message he preached. I was sad to learn of this, but unfortunately, this isn't new news. Just as there are religious leaders, social leaders, and political leaders in our era that abuse their positions of leadership, such was the case 2,600 years ago as well.
The Lord described His people as lost sheep. The men that had been entrusted with the task of pointing them toward the Lord were unfortunately pointing them toward the values of this world instead. Their religious and political leaders went from mountain to hill, worshipping at the shrines of false gods, while giving little thought to the lives they had been called to oversee. With such poor examples in places of prominence, it's not difficult to see why so many people in Judah took the same direction with their own lives.
But thankfully, we have a Shepherd who is greater than the duplicitous leaders who devour their people.. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, describes Himself as the Good Shepherd that we ultimately need.
Jesus doesn't devour us, He builds us up. Jesus doesn't lie to us, He fills our lives with the truth of His gospel. Jesus doesn't seek to destroy our lives, He seeks to give us new life in Him by laying His life down for us. In Christ, our Good Shepherd, we find true life, true hope, and genuine freedom.
IV. The captives flee to their freedom
There are some curious comments made about Babylon in Revelation 17 and 18. Those chapters describe a future date when an empire will rule the earth and influence the people of the earth to engage in all manner of immorality. Various interpreters hold to different thoughts on how that prophesy will be fulfilled, but I want to point out a particular aspect of it that we would do well to notice. In Revelation 18:2, we read, "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place for demons,..." Then in Revelation 18:4 we read, "Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins,".
It appears to me that there's a correlation between what we see in Jeremiah and Revelation. During Jeremiah's time, we were given a picture of something that illustrates a greater reality. As the people of Judah would have the privilege to flee from Babylon at the end of their captivity, and as the book of Revelation describes God's people fleeing from the immoral mindset and lifestyle that will prevail in the end times, so too do we have the privilege to flee from the snares of Satan that seek to entangle us in ungodliness.
We were once captives to our sin. We were once chained to it and destined to do the bidding of our old nature. And while we were captives, we didn't even realize it. Until the Lord made it clear to us, we weren't even aware of our need for the kind of freedom He delights to supply.
Just as the people of Judah were going to soon have the privilege to flee from a land of idolatry and ungodliness, to the land where the Lord had given them their freedom, so too is that offer being made to us in Christ. If you want the freedom He offers, freedom from being a slave to unrighteousness, freedom from anxiety, freedom from the curse of death, He is offering it to you, and He's asking you to trust Him to grant it to you. You can remain captive in your own Babylon, lost in your sorrow, or you can begin experiencing real life as God desires you to experience it through our Deliverer, Jesus Christ. And in Christ, any sorrow we experience is only for a season because He is the source of our lasting joy.
© John Stange, 2018