Running The Race - Jeremiah 12:1-5
Let me introduce the story with a little story about an East Texas boy named LeRoy and a race that he ran. LeRoy and the whole little east Texas town he live in, were invited to a dinner party by the richest man in town. The multimillionaire wanted to show off his riches to all the poor folks in town. He showed them his beautiful mansion, his beautiful gardens, his garage filled with dozens of expensive cars and then they were all ushered to the pool area so he could show off his pool. LeRoy and the rest of the crowd went to see the pool and lo and behold it was filled with 20 Louisiana alligators or just 'gators as they call them in Baton Rouge.
The millionaire really enjoyed the looks of surprise and fear as they tried not to get to close to the edge of the pool and the snapping gators. “Oh now what are you afraid of? A few little 'ol gators. Why I put each and every one of those little lizards in that pool myself.” Then thinking to rub it in he added, “I tell you what. I'll give a million dollars and the pick of any of my cars to anybody who will swim from one end of this pool to the other.”
He waited knowing no one would dare to take up his dare. “I didn't think so”, he said and turned away. Just then he heard a splash and looked back to see LeRoy in the pool swimming furiously for the far side. Just then a gator caught him by the leg but LeRoy stopped swimming punched the gator in the head and it released him. Then he grabbed another gator and tossed it out of the pool, finally he wrestled two at the same time and using them for steps jumped out of the pool.
millionaire was astonished and simply said, “Do want cash or a check?”
LeRoy said, “I don't want your money!”
The millionaire said, “Okay, which one of my cars to you want?”
Leroay said, “I don't want your fancy cars, either.”
“Well then what do you want?”
"I just want the name of the dirty rotten low-down skunk that pushed me into that pool!”
You know it’s tough being a Christian these days. You are not popular, you believe in a book and God that most of your neighbors and co-workers ridicule. You stand for Biblical morality and because of that stand you are called a hater, judgmental and ungodly. Recently, in many parts of our nation, Christians are being told they cannot attend church, because they are not essential. The mayor of a town in Mississippi sent the entire city police force to a drive-in service, just like we are having today and wrote tickets with $500.00 fines to everyone in the cars in the parking lot. One pastor in Lousiana was arrested and put in jail. As a Christian, you are running a race but this sinful God-denying world keeps trying to knock you down into the dirt and cinders of the track. There are more difficulties than ever before, but this morning I want to encourage you to “get past the gators” and climb out the other side.
This is a lot like the message God gave to Jeremiah in his race in Jeremiah chapter 12. This is a favorite passage of mine and I could not finish our series on encouragement, hope and fear without preaching it again.
Righteous art thou, O LORD, when I plead with thee: yet let me talk with thee of thy judgments: Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously?
In Jeremiah Chapter 11 we learn the background of what was happening to the prophet of God that brought about this converstaion. The men of Anathoth, which was painfully Jeremiah's own hometown, were plotting to kill him because his message convicted them. Rather than repent, they decided to destroy the messenger. But they had a second reason: as loyal Jews, they felt that his prophecies were harmful to the welfare of the nation. Jeremiah preached impending judgment from Babylon, while the false prophets were declaring messages of peace. Jeremiah insisted that the people obey the Law and bring their sacrifices to the temple and not to the local shrines (high places), some of which were dedicated to idols, and the priests didn't like that. Jeremiah was pro-Babylon while the rulers were pro-Egypt. In other words, Jeremiah was out of step with his times, and because he was decisive, he had to walk alone and "vote with God." - Bible Exposition Commentary
Now in chapter 12, Jeremiah has a conversation with God. He says to God, I know that You are righteous but… Let me talk with you about your judgment in this situation that I’m dealing with right now! He goes on to ask God some very hard questions. “Why do the wicked prosper? Why are all the treacherous happy?
Like Jeremiah, or David or Elijah, We need to have a heart to heart conversation with God. In the midst of all the sin around me, in the middle of the pain and suffering. In a seemingly unending Pandemic lockdown we need to say, “Heavenly Father, we need to talk.” And like Jeremiah, we need to know who we are talking to but not be afraid to voice our doubts and fears. “Father, I know you are holy and righteous but are you aware of what’s going on down here, especially to me?”
We can’t help but wonder, why does wickedness exist? Why do good people get hurt? Why isn’t life fair or just? Why God don’t you intervene, when your people, your children, your churches, your preachers are being attacked by this sin-controlled world?
I feel like Jeremiah and I want to say, “God, I know you’re right but what about your people, your children. These who have been faithful their whole life and served you? Why are they suffering, while the wicked seem to be doing just fine? Is that fair, God. Is that just?
You know God will answer us, but like Jeremiah, the answer probably won’t be in the way I want or expect. We want God to explain the workings of the universe from before time began until it ends and we don’t want it to be too complicated or too long and maybe to make it interesting it should have a music video and be available on you tube or facebook. But God can’t and won’t give us that kind of answer. First because it would make God our servant. We are making demands of Him instead of seeking His will.
And second because in all truth, we couldn’t understand the full answer even if He did tell us. God explaining to us His plan for eternity, is like trying to explain the difference between Newtonian physics, quantum physics and the chaos theory of physics to an infant. We just can’t deal with it. God won’t give us the answer we think we want, but God because he loves us, is going to give us the answer He knows we need. He does not mind that we ask or that we are afraid or confused. He will always answer us and it will be the right answer and it will be the answer He knows we can understand but will also give us hope and challenge us to keep going on.
(This writing was found in the uniform of a dead confederate soldier after the battle.)
I asked God for strength, that I might achieve
I was made weak, that I might learn to humbly obey
I asked for health, that I might do greater things
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things
I asked for riches, that I might be happy
I was given poverty, that I might be wise
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things
I got nothing that I asked for but everything that I needed.
Thou hast planted them, yea, they have taken root: they grow, yea, they bring forth fruit: thou art near in their mouth, and far from their reins.3 But thou, O LORD, knowest me: thou hast seen me, and tried mine heart toward thee: pull them out like sheep for the slaughter, and prepare them for the day of slaughter.4 How long shall the land mourn, and the herbs of every field wither, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein? the beasts are consumed, and the birds; because they said, He shall not see our last end.
Look at Jeremiah’s complaints, almost his accusations
against God. Evil Flourishes - You have planted them and they have taken root
and grow fruit.
Hypocrisy is Allowed - You are near in their mouth but far from their reins. They are blatant and obvious hypocrites.
Injustice is Ignored - Yet, Jeremiah says, God, you know me and have tried my heart toward you. You know my sincerity and faithfulness. This is unfair. Please deal with the wicked as justice demands.
Jeremiah goes so far as to say that all the land suffers because of the wicked. Even the innocent wild animals and birds are hurt because the wicked do not believe that God will see their end, He will not punish or stop them.
Yes, He allows it because man was created in His image and part of that image was free will, the ability to choose right from wrong.
We see it in the Garden of Eden. Genesis 2:17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
We see it when Israel comes into the Promised Land. Deuteronomy 30:19 I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:
We see it in our own salvation. John 3:17-19 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
God also permits evil, pain and suffering in order to test, prove and strengthen His own. But if we trust Him and allow Him then in His power and in His timing, we will find that strength that could only be refined in the fires of trail and suffering.
Quote: Faith for my deliverance is not faith in God. Faith means, whether I am visibly delivered or not, I will stick to my belief that God is love. There are some things only learned in a fiery furnace. - Oswald Chambers in Run Today's Race.
Transition: After Jeremiah has talked with God and even complained to God, now there is an answer and that answer is a challenge from God..
If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? and if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?
If you have run with men and they wore you out? What will you do when I have you contend race against the horsemen? If you had trouble with the infantry, how are you going to deal with the cavalry? If you are defeated running in the smooth plains, what will you do when I ask you to run in the tangled and deep brush along the Jordan River?
In other words, “Cheer up Jeremiah! It’s going to get worse. Now that is not the answer Jeremiah wanted but it was the answer he needed. In the answer was a challenge from God and also a tremendous vote of confidence from the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
“Jeremiah, you are the man I have chosen for this job. I have called you to this difficult almost impossible task and you will complete it. Jeremiah. I believe in you.”
In the midst of our difficulties and troubles God still speaks and His answer to us, still has the same ring and purpose as the same answer He gave to Jeremiah.
In the middle of all we are going through and all we will go through, God is saying to us, “Cheer up, my child, it’s going to get worse! But understand this, as it gets worse, you are going to get stronger. You will finish the task I’ve called you to. I believe in you.”
Paul said it this way in 2 Corinthians 4:16-17 For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;
And in Galatians 6:8-10 For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men
Child of God, it will get tougher, harder, more difficult and more painful.
This world wants to rend your marriage apart, destroy your children and grandchildren with alcohol, drugs, sexual impurity and hopelessness. It wants to turn your eyes away from heaven and set your mind on the suffering, pain and wickedness that is all around us and grows more wicked every day.
But God has called you to the task of standing against the evil of this world and though it gets harder day by day, remember what Paul said, “For this cause we faint not, Though the outward man perish the inward man is renewed. You will reap if you faint not.”
It is His unbreakable promise. Will you keep going that you will see it fulfilled in you? The race is going to get tougher and there will be many times you will get knocked down but, on the sidelines, God stands by and says, “Get up and run!”
Illustration: Dad Coming In From the Sidelines
It was Monday night, August 3, at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. At the track and field stadium, the gun sounded for the 400-meter semifinals. About 100 meters into the race, Britain's Derek Redmond crumpled to the track with a torn right hamstring. Medical attendants rushed out to assist him, but as they approached Redmond, he waved them all aside, struggled to his feet, and crawled and hopped in a desperate effort to finish the race.
Four years earlier he had also qualified for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea. Ninety seconds before his heat he had to pull out of the Olympics because of Achilles tendon problems. Following that injury, he had five surgeries. Then after years of hard work, he had qualified again for the 1992 Olympics, but know with one lap to go he had just suffered a career-ending injury. Still he refuses to give up, he works his way around the turn toward the finish line, hopping, falling and even crawling down the track. Suddenly out of the stands a big man runs down to the track. He hurls aside a security guard, and runs to Derek Redmond's side, and embraced him there on the track. That man was Jim Redmond, and he was the injured runner’s father. With his arm around his son's waist, and Derek's arm around his dad's thick strong shoulders they continue down the track as the crowd in the stadium cheers and his mom and sister at home watch the race finish. Derek and his Dad work their way slowly around the track until, finally, arm in arm, they cross the finish line.
Let me tell you, the love and devotion that earthly father had for his son as he helped him cross that finish line is nothing in comparison to the love and help God our heavenly father has for us as he watches us run the race of life with the finish line in heaven one day. And yes, He will be there to pick us up any time we fall down in seeming defeat. Just look up and He will be there, put your arms around His shoulders and finish the race.
You know Jeremiah didn’t give up. At Anatoth they just threatened him, but in Jerusalem the King arrested him and had him thrown in a muddy well. For months he stood with water and mud up to his neck, only a kind servant of the king kept him alive by throwing him bread.
After he was pulled from the pit, the king had Jeremiah read the book that God had told him to write. As each page was read the king took a knife and cut it from the book and tossed it in the fire. What did Jeremiah do after such a terrible loss? He went back home and rewrote the entire book, the very book of Jeremiah you have in your Bible today. Jeremiah ran his race with the horseman and in the strength of his God he won that race. For us the only challenge still remains, “Will you keep running the race?”