"The Pen-Knife and the Sword"
(Delivered Sunday, July 23, 2006 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
As you pick up your Bible this morning, and turn to the Old Testament book of Jeremiah; I hope that you appreciate what it is that you hold in your hand.
What a marvelous privilege it is that we have, in our possession, the very words of the living God—given by inspiration, written by holy men who were carried along by the Holy Spirit without error in what they wrote—preserved throughout the centuries, protected by all assailants and detractors, translated and printed into our language—animated by the Spirit so as to fulfill His sovereign purposes, and illuminated to us by Him for our instruction and edification this very day.
We don't worship a book, of course. We worship a wonderful person who is revealed in the book. But there's no question that we love and honor the book that reveals Him and teaches us how to worship Him! Jesus once rebuked the religious leaders of His day; and said, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think that you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:38-39). He told His disciples, that “all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me” (Luke 24:44).
We love Jesus; and we love the Bible, because it is all about Him. It was given to us so that we might know Him and enter into an eternal relationship with Him. Paul told Timothy that the Scriptures "are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 3:15). The Scriptures lead us to eternal life, because they lead us to the one who, alone, gives that eternal life to those who trust Him - Jesus Christ.p>
What a book the Bible is! And I hope you know that God stands behind every word He has spoken in it! By the testimony of the Son of God Himself, not one single word of what God has said will fail. Jesus said, “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle [that is to say, one tiny letter form, one tiny stroke of the pen] will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matthew 5:19). He affirmed that “the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). He set it down that “[h]eaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (Matthew 24:35).
This means that the Bible is an unstoppable force for good in this world. This means that one single word of inspired truth from the Scriptures is mightier than the multiplied tens of thousands of the lies of human philosophy and deceitful speculation that have been inspired by the devil. Of no other thing in the world does God say what He says about His word: “For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11). It is never spoken by Him in vain. It does exactly what He sends it forth to do; and nothing can prevent it from accomplishing His sovereign purpose.
And of no other thing can it be said that is said of Scripture: “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). It cuts sinful men and women down to the very core of their being, reveals the depths of their lost condition, and shows them what God has graciously done through Christ to meet that need and to save their souls.
You and I cannot add one bit to the power and authority of God's word. But then, it's not our task to do so. It is simply our task to proclaim it faithfully; and it is God's task to prove the power and authority of His own word. And we have His promise that He will do His part, if we will do ours. As a great Christian once said, you don't ever have to argue for the power of the Bible. You prove that the Bible is living and powerful in the same way you prove that a lion is living and powerful—by just letting it out of the cage!
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But I am concerned today that we, as Christians—living as we do in the midst of an unbelieving world—do not truly believe what God Himself affirms about His own word. I am concerned that, all too often—when God calls us to speak His word faithfully to the cultural, ethical, and practical matters of our day, and bring His word into the meaningful arenas of public discourse—we become timid and shy about doing so. In church gatherings and Christian settings, we gladly affirm the things that God says about His word—that it is living, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword. But at those moments when it counts the most to proclaim His word in this unbelieving world, we act like He didn't really mean what He said.
We far too easily buy into the idea that what God has said is for the church only—but should not be given consideration in the world of business; or in education; or in philosophy; or in ethics; or in politics; or in the sciences; or in counseling; or in the arts. But why? If God has spoken authoritatively in ways that touches on the things that matter most to human beings (and He most certainly has!), then why should the the word of the living God—the Sovereign of the universe, in whose image all men and women are made—be sequestered from every other meaningful arena of life but the church?
Whose idea was it anyway to limit God's word only to the church building? It's certainly not God's! He said—through His servant Paul;
The people of this world do not welcome God's word. But the fact that people would not welcome it didn't excuse Timothy from proclaiming it anyway! Even though they would reject it, he was still to convince, rebuke, and exhort people from it. He wasn't just to do so when it would be well-received or thought 'appropriate' by the people of this world; but was to be ready to do so “in seasons and out of season”.
Of course; we're not talking about being insensitive and offensive to people. We're not talking about hopping on top of tables and screaming at people in the restaurant with a bullhorn. We're not to be rude. We're to do so with “longsuffering”. But whenever the opportunity presents itself for us to bring the truth of God's word into the accepted arenas of public discourse, we are to do so—boldly, respectfully, faithfully! In fact, love demands that we MUST do so; for God has spoken to the issues that mean the most to people. As His redeemed people, it is our duty to tell them what He—their Creator—has said that will lead them to eternal life.
If you wish to change the world, then proclaim the truth of God's word in it! You and I can be absolutely assured that, when we do so, God steps in and stands faithfully behind every word He has spoken.
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Now, you may have been wondering why—all this time—I've asked you to turn to the Old Testament book of Jeremiah. It's because there's a story told in chapter 36 that illustrates for us how faithful God is to His word when it is faithfully proclaimed. It encourages us that we can proclaim His word confidently in this world.
Jeremiah was a prophet called to proclaimed God's word in one of the darkest times in all of the history of Judah. His preaching ministry was extended through the reign of five kings; and it culminated in the leaders of Judah utterly rejecting his message, the people being conquered by a dreadful foreign leader, the city of Jerusalem and its temple being destroyed, and the whole nation languishing in exile in Babylon for seventy-five years.
Initially, Jeremiah's message was a call to the people to repent of their idolatry and sinful conduct. It was a call to repent and to return to the redeeming God who loved them and made them for Himself. But eventually, because they would not repent, his message turned into a warning from God that their time was now up. God told him to tell the people:
What an unwelcomed message that was. People didn't want to hear it. In fact, they often threatened to arrest him or kill him for proclaiming it. And there were times when he suffered horribly for it. What's more, there were times when Jeremiah wished to cease being a prophet altogether, and to cease speaking the word that God gave him to speak. But as he himself said, “. . . His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, and I could not” (Jeremiah 20:9).
And that brings us to chapter 36. The year was 604 B.C.—the fourth year of the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah. It was a significant year for two reasons. First, it marked the twenty-third year of Jeremiah's long prophetic ministry—the year in which God finally announced through Jeremiah that their long and repeated rejection of His word had brought them to the point of no return; and that now the Babylonians would come and take them away (see Jeremiah 25:1-14).
It was also a significant year, because it was the same year in which the Babylonians gained a great victory over the Egyptians (see Jeremiah 46:1-2ff). The king of Judah had become a mere vassal of the king of Egypt; but now, with Egypt conquered, the question arose of what would happen to the kingdom of Judah. It was at this time that the king called the people to fast—perhaps in a vain and outwardly-pious effort to sway God to be favorable to them . . . without their having to repent of their sin, of course.
It was a critical time. And it was at this time—a time when it was not welcomed—that God called for His word to be clearly proclaimed to His sinful people. And as we look at this passage, we find the ways that God stands behind the word that He commanded to be proclaimed.
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First, we see that . . .
1. GOD PRESERVES HIS WORD FOR THE GOOD OF PEOPLE (vv. 1-3).
Here is a new thing in Jeremiah's ministry. He had been a “speaking prophet” for twenty-three years. But now, God commands him to write down those things that had been given him to say during that long, twenty-three year period. We have the book of Jeremiah in our Bibles today, in part, because of this command from God.
God commanded that it all be written in “a scroll of a book”. This would be a large roll of several pieces of parchment affixed together; wrapped around two sticks. On this long sheet would be several columns of writing. As it was read, the parchment was unrolled on one side, and rolled up on the other. And upon it was to be recorded—in written form—all the words that God had spoken to Jeremiah against Judah and the surrounding nations over that long period of time. In other words, God commanded that His word to Jeremiah be put down in 'black and white'.
There might have been many reasons why God had called Jeremiah to preserve God's prophetic word in writing in this way. It may have been so that there could be no misunderstanding of what God was saying through him. Or it may have been so that those words would be preserved—long after Jeremiah was gone (see 2 Peter 1:15)—for the generation that would be brought out of captivity at the end of seventy years—and for the generations that would follow. But we can be sure of one reason God commanded it to be written down, because this reason is clearly told to us. It was so that it would be read to the people, and make it possible for them to (1) hear clearly of the adversities that God had purposed to bring on them, (2) turn from their evil ways, and (3) and experience God's forgiveness.
I think here of what the Apostle Peter wrote to the believers that were under his care; that they had been “born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever (1 Peter 1:23). God gave His word in written form as an act of mercy. He desires that people hear what He had to say to them, and believe; and to then be led to eternal life through a relationship with His Son Jesus Christ. And thinking of how it leads people to Christ for salvation, I think also of how the written word of God was given in order to help them grow. Peter goes on to say, “Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby . . .” (1 Peter 2:1-2).
When the opportunities come to speak God's word boldly to this world, let's remember that the reason He gave it was for the good of people. He loves people, and desires their good. He wants them to be saved and to grow in a deep relationship with Him through His Son Jesus Christ. And so, He has spoken, and saw to it that what He said was written down. It is God's appointed means of great blessing to lost sinners! He has preserved His word in written form in order to bring about the good of people; and to ensure that succeeding generations may know Him.
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Next, we find that He not only preserved His word in written from, but also that . . .
2. GOD BROADCASTS HIS WORD TO NEEDY SINNERS (vv. 4-10).
It's not enough to God that it simply be written. Not all people could—or would even be inclinded to—read it. So God also appointed that it be proclaimed to them.
We see this in what happens next in the story of Jeremiah. Apparently, thought God had given these words through him, Jeremiah was in some way confined and was not able to go personally to proclaim it in the temple (perhaps because of the threats he suffered in chapter 26). And so, we read that Jeremiah called upon his assistant to present God's word to the people. And perhaps, because it would be this man's duty to read it, Jeremiah also asked him to be the one who wrote it down at the prophet's dictation:
Apparently, Baruch wrote down these words; but did not immediately go to read them. Instead, he—no doubt by Jeremiah's instruction—waited until the greatest possible number of the people of Judah would have gathered at the temple for the day of fasting that King Jehoiakim had declared. It may be that this day of fasting had been ordered because of the growing threat of Babylon; and if that's the case, then it would have been the perfect day for the gathered people to hear this word from God.
Did you know that, if you trace the events of this chapter all the way through, this entire book that Baruch had written at Jeremiah's dictation was read publicly in the temple on this one day three times? We often associate the number three with the biblical idea of 'perfection' or 'completion'. Perhaps God was here making a perfect and complete public presentation of His words of warning through the prophet to the people.
God loves people, and He desires that they receive His word. But He doesn't rely on the word only being written down; because not all of the people for whom it is intended would then read it. Rather, He also has ordained that His word be proclaimed—that it be “preached” through human instruments. The command that He gives through Paul is not simply “Write the word”, or “Print the word”. It is “Preach the word!” The written word is to be taken to those who most need to hear it, and declared publicy to them so that they can hear what they would otherwise not have received.
Let's remember that, when the opportunity comes to bring God's eternal truth to others, they need it to be brought to them through proclamation-through preaching. Paul asks, “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14).
So, proclaim it confidently in those situations that God gives you to proclaim it. It is God's appointed way of spreading His life-transforming word; and He will stand by it.
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Understand, though, that the power of the preaching is not in the preacher. If it is God's word that is being preached, then the power is of the God who called forth His word to be preached!
When God's word is faithfully proclaimed, people cannot help but hear. They are brought to the fork of the road, and must make a decision; because it is clearly God Himself speaking through the message.
We see this also as we read on in the story of Jeremiah; that ...
3. GOD AUTHENTICATES HIS WORD TO THOSE WHO LISTEN (vv. 11-20).
The common people heard Baruch as he read God's word in the temple. But there was also an official in the temple who heard. He went and told other officials; and they too heard. It says;
I can't help but notice that these officials were showing a great deal of respect to Baruch. And it may be because Michaiah was the grandson of Shaphan; and the members of Shaphan's family had been a help and support to Jeremiah in the past (cf. 26:24). What's more, it was Shaphan himself who was the Scribe who had—several years prior—brought a long-lost copy of the Scriptures to King Jehoiakim's father, Josiah, and read it to him; which led to a great spiritual revival for the people of Judah (2 Kings 22:8ff).
So then; the written word of God went from being read by Baruch to the people in general, to being read to the officials in particular. When God has a man who will faithfully proclaim His word whenever the opportunity arises, God sees to it that He gets that man where He wants him to be.
And notice the results . . .
Look at how God was authenticating His word to these officials. First, it was piercing their hearts. There was an inward testimony, brought upon them by the Holy Spirit, that these words were from God and that the warnings they contain were true. It says that “they looked in fear from one to another”. It was as if they looked back and forth to one another—registering a mutual sense of dread at the hearing of God's word. It was hitting target!
But there wasn't just an inward testimony. There was an outward testimony as well. They asked Baruch, “Tell us, how did you write these words”; and then, clarified, “at his [that is Jeremiah's] instruction?” They were feeling moved to present this book to the king; but they wanted to make sure of its authority—that it truly came from God's prophet Jeremiah; and was not simply a matter of Baruch's interpretations. And Baruch explained the process clearly; “He proclaimed with his mouth all these words to me, and I wrote them in ink in the book.” In other words, he was saying, “The words you see written in this book—written indelibly with ink—are not my words. They are the very words that were spoken to me—word for word—by Jeremiah. This is God's own words, straight from the mouth of the prophet of God. They faithfully record the words given by God to Jeremiah.”
This reminds us of the fact that it is not our job to authenticate the word of God for people. The Bible needs no authentication from us. It proves itself to be credible and reliable to whoever sincerely examines it on its own merits. If people genuinely want the truth, it proves itself to be a faithful record of truth. And whats more, to those who listen, the Holy Spirit authenticates it directly to their hearts.
We need never fear, whenever God calls upon us to proclaim the truth of His word to the people of this world. He prepares His word to be proclaimed; He prepares the one who will proclaim it; and He even prepares the hearts of those who will hear it. It is only ours to proclaim it faithfully.
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Now; not everyone who hears it receives it. In fact, it is so authenticated to some people as the very words of God that they seek to silence it and destroy it. But that's when we next see that . . .
4. GOD PROTECTS HIS WORD AGAINST ATTACK (vv. 19-28, 32).
The officials knew the wicked character of King Jehoiakim. And so, we read,
This was during the winter—probably in what would be our December. And so, we read,
What an irreverent disrespect to God's word! The knife that Jehoiakim had was just the simple knife of a scribe—a “pen knife” that would have been used to split the reeds that were used as writing instruments. But as a portion was read to him, the king simply cut if off and threw it into the fire to warm himself. That's how he publicly displayed his contempt for the word of God—and his rebellious spirit against the God who gave it.
How different he was in this from his father. It was King Josiah who, at one time, discovered the word of God, repented at it, and led his people into revival; but now, this man—Josiah's son—hears God's word, rejects it, and now is about to lead his people into destruction.
And I have to say that his actions present quite a caricature of how people treat God's word even today. They may not literally throw it into the fire; although some have. But they hear it; and then toss off what they hear without a care—doing little less than cutting it off piece by piece and casting it to the flames, never to be heard by them again. How important it is that we be the kind of people described in Isaiah 66:2. God says, “but on this one will I look: on him him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word.”
But notice how God protected His word from the king's assault. First, He protected His preachers. We read;
God's word had not yet been completely delivered to the people through these preachers; and so, God preserved them so that they could finish the job. The preacher of God's word whose commission from God is not yet completed is the most indestructible man on earth! Not even a king can stop him.
Nor can the king destroy the word itself. Jehoiakim thought that simply burning the word of God would be enough to rid himself of it. But he could do nothing to touch the God who gave it. And so, we read;
Jehoiakim burned God's word. But that was no problem for God. He remembers what He said. He had Jeremiah simply dictate another copy. In fact, we read in verse 32,
Burning the word only resulted in God giving the word again—and this time, adding more to it! We need never fear that man—even great and powerful men—will be able to silence a single word of God! God has spoken; and He will not be silenced.
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This leads us, finally, to note that . . .
5. GOD WILL VINDICATE HIS WORD UNTO FULFILLMENT (vv. 29-31)
Jehoiakim did not accept God's warning. He would not believe that God would make good on His threat and bring the Babylonians down upon Judah. He sought to silence God by throwing His words into the fire. And God now speaks His word directly through Jeremiah to Jehoiakim:
A short time later, Jehoiakim was carried off to Babylon. His son, Jehoiakin, reigned for a short three months and ten days before he too was carried away to Babylon. We no nothing of what happened to Jehoiakim after that—which suggests that God's word was fulfilled upon him quite literally.
Which leads us to understand that one of the ways that God vindicates His own word is through the fact that He fulfills it. Everything happens just as He promises; and when it's all over, it will be proven that—as it says elsewhere in Scripture—“Not a word failed of any good thing which the LORD had spoken to the house of Israel. All came to pass” (Joshua 21:45).
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All of this is meant to encourage us with the fact, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, that God stands behind His own word. He preserves it, He broadcasts it, He authenticates it, He protects it, and He fulfills it!
Whenever God opens a door for us to proclaim His word to this world, we can do so confidently. The world may fight against it; but it's like using a puny pen-knife against a mighty sword.
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