One of the great delights of Scripture reading is finding the gospel hidden in a passage that you have read many times before. There suddenly in a familiar passage the LORD pulls back the curtain and reveals that here, yes, here is the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Most recently I had this experience while reading through the prophet Jeremiah. Amidst the chapters which catalogue the sins of the nation of Judah and that warn of the LORD’s coming judgment, the prophet has numerous interchanges with priests and with kings, with court officials and with commoners that display the subtle spectrum of human sin and emotion and show man’s fear and fallenness. The king with whom Jeremiah talks the most is king Zedekiah, the final king to sit on the throne of David and the king who was ruling when Nebuchadnezzar besieged and eventually destroyed Jerusalem. It is the interchange between the prophet and the king in Jeremiah 38:17-23 that I want to explore.
The LORD has been speaking through Jeremiah and warning the nation of Judah and their wicked kings that the LORD’s patience has been exhausted and now the LORD is bringing judgment on the city and the nation through the Chaldeans. Judah’s litany of sins is both disgusting and overwhelming and God has passed sentence: judgment is certain. The Chaldeans will fight against the city and they will take it and burn it with fire and will make the nation of Judah a desolation (34:22). Again, the LORD speaks through Jeremiah and says, “The Chaldeans will return and will fight against this city, and they will capture it and burn it with fire (37:8).” The LORD goes on to say that even if there were only wounded men in their tents, “they would rise up and burn this city with fire (37:10).” Unrepentant and ongoing sin has brought its deserved recompense and the justice of God is bringing judgment.
But even now, at this late stage of the game, when the sins of the people are as high as Mount Hermon and when they have ignored the warnings of the prophets and have continued to run headlong after their sinful pursuits, even now the LORD extends an offer of mercy. In the face of unashamed rebellion, the LORD makes yet another overture of grace.
THE FIRST OFFER
“Thus, says the LORD, the God of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘If you will surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then your life will be spared, and this city shall not be burned with fire, and you and your house shall live. But if you do not surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then this city shall be given into the hands of the Chaldeans, and they shall burn it with fire, and you shall not escape from their hand (Jeremiah 38:17-18).’”
The choice is clear as crystal: surrender to the LORD’s appointed king and you will live, and the city shall not be burned with fire or refuse to surrender, and you will perish and the city will be burned. The disaster awaiting Zedekiah was evident. Nebuchadnezzar and his army were besieging the city and there was no possibility of escape. Zedekiah’s doom is certain. There is no hope for reprieve. And when things are looking blackest, through His prophet the LORD declares a way of deliverance. It is pure grace.
A FOOLISH REFUSAL
What does the one doomed to destruction do in response to this amazing news? Does he thank the LORD for His mercy and run into the arms of his rescuers? No! On the contrary, Zedekiah offers a pathetic excuse for why he will not go. In the face of certain destruction, the king refuses the LORD’s mercy because of some imagined humiliation. “Why will you die?” Why do men refuse the LORD’s offer of salvation on the frailest of pretenses?
THE PERSISTENT PLEA
Undeterred, Jeremiah pleads with the king “to obey the LORD in what I am saying to you that it may go well with you and you may live (38:20).” (Note well that Jeremiah was now pleading with the king who had just days before thrown the prophet into the bottom a cistern to die. Surely Jeremiah is a model for us all of one who carries out the task of the evangelist despite all human reasons not to do so.)
Jeremiah has twice told the king the way of salvation and has urged him to receive the refuge and rescue the LORD is offering him. It is not a difficult path to salvation, but he must trust the LORD that when he goes out to Nebuchadnezzar, he will be safe. He knows the way of salvation and he knows that this is his only chance. But what if he just stays here?
THE CONSEQUENCES OF REFUSAL
“But if you keep refusing to go out . . . they will also bring out all your wives and your sons to the Chaldeans, and you yourself will not escape from their hand . . . and this city will be burned with fire (38:21, 23).” The LORD had warned the king repeatedly that judgment was certainly and swiftly coming upon him and yet when a gracious rescue is offered, Zedekiah refuses the LORD’s salvation and thus perishes.
THE GOSPEL IS FORESHADOWED
Why do I call this the gospel to Zedekiah? Zedekiah is facing certain destruction and he has no plan and no reason to hope. His doom appears sealed. But Jeremiah comes to him with a message from the LORD about a way of escape and if Zedekiah will but trust the LORD and take the way of salvation, he will live. But if he refuses to take the only way of salvation, he will perish, and the land will be burned with fire. He has a choice to make between life and death, but he must choose life.
And the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ comes to those who are facing death and are facing the Lord’s eternal judgment and who have no plan of escape and who have no reason to hope for a rescue. They deserve the Lord’s wrath. Hell appears to be their certain destiny. But then an evangelist, a Christian comes to them with a message of salvation from the Lord about a way of salvation. The Lord Jesus Christ has lived the perfect life they could not live and has died the atoning death that they deserved and has risen victorious from the grave to prove He is the Son of God so that all who believe in Him will have eternal life and will spend eternity in heaven. But if they do not believe in the Lord Jesus, they will surely perish, and they will spend eternity in the unquenchable fire. And so, the evangelist urges the perishing to save themselves from certain death (Acts 2:41) and to believe in the Lord Jesus (Acts 16:31).
Have you ever placed your faith in Jesus? Have you taken the way of salvation or will you, instead, perish with the wicked? Do not be like Zedekiah! Rather, run to the Savior and live!
SDG rmb 2/12/2019