As I was reading Jeremiah 26-29, I read that the prophet Jeremiah had a message from the Lord for the people of Israel. And this message was that if they repent and return to God’s ways, he will revoke the punishments he has planned for them. And when Jeremiah shared that message with those in charge, they didn’t like the message. Jeremiah confronted the evil of the day, and they wanted to kill him. He had to defend himself against an angry mob. Some of the leaders agreed that he shouldn’t be killed. Then when someone else prophesied the same message, he was killed. But a courageous man named Ahikam stood up for Jeremiah, and Jeremiah’s life was spared.
Nevertheless, Ahikam son of Shaphan stood up for Jeremiah and persuaded the court not to turn him over to the mob to be killed. Jeremiah 26:24
Now there was another prophet named Hananiah who also shared a message he said was from God. Only the message was a bit different. This message said that once the Israelites were exiled to Babylon, they and all of the items removed from the temple would be returned to Jerusalem in two years. And that was in stark contrast to God’s message to Jeremiah that they would be held captive by the Babylonians for 70 years. And yet Hananiah said it would only be two years. Of course, the people wanted to believe Hananiah because a two year exile was much different from 70 years.
Jeremiah continued to tell the Israelites of God’s warnings and plans to punish them for ignoring him and turning their backs on his commands on how they were to live their lives. They disobeyed God and bowed down to idols. They worshipped the creation instead of the Creator. When Hananiah had given his message that their punishment would only be two years, Jeremiah told him that he had shared a great message. I hope you’re right. Jeremiah said. But the only way we know that if the message is from God is if it comes true, because all of God’s promises and prophecies come true.
This story reminds me of a story in the New Testament. A man named Stephen was sharing the gospel, the good news that Jesus Christ was the actual promised Messiah, the Son of God. Many people didn’t believe it and were hunting anyone who shared or believed this type of message. They would hunt them down, imprison or kill them. And when Stephen had the courage to speak up and share his testimony, the crowd went crazy. They grabbed him and took him outside the city gates. There they stoned him to death. As they were stoning him, a man standing by the wayside was holding the coats of the people throwing stones. He stood by silently watching these people kill Stephen. And as Stephen knelt on the ground being pummeled by stones, he looked up into heaven and said, Father forgive them. Don’t hold them guilty for this. He begged. Even in his final moments of life, he was still asking God to forgive these people of the damage they were doing by killing Christians. He didn’t want them held responsible.
And this man holding the coats of those who were stoning Stephen was just as guilty as any one of the stone throwers. He could have stopped them. He could have stopped the people from throwing stones. He could have stopped this death penalty verdict that was handed out so easily. He could have spoken up. But he didn’t speak a word. He agreed that Stephen should be killed.
People didn’t like what Stephen was saying. They totally disagreed with him, because he was preaching a new way. He was preaching that the Promised Messiah had come to earth already. And these other Jews did not believe it. So they were hunting him and others who believed that same message. They were hunting them down and Saul stood there in silence, approving this act of violence against an innocent man. And that day Stephen faced his eternity and found himself in heaven with Jesus Christ. His suffering was no more.
We know that Saul approved of the killing of Stephen. Saul was trained in the Jewish tradition by a sought after rabbi named Gamaliel. Saul observed the Jewish traditions. He could quote the Torah. But he hadn’t accepted the message that Jesus was the promised Messiah. He fought the truth when the truth was staring him in the face.
Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen. A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria. Acts of the Apostles 8:1
Now in the Old Testament, Ahikam stopped the killing of Jeremiah the prophet. Ahikam, the protector of the prophet, came from a strong family line. His father was a prominent scribe, who also led the restoration of the temple. This family was well respected in their time. So it was right that this son stood up for the prophet, Jeremiah. And when he spoke, the people listened. Jeremiah’s life was saved.
We read in the New Testament of what happened to Saul when he approved the killing of an innocent man. We also know that Jesus spoke to him and called him to preach that Jesus was the Son of God. And Saul’s life was changed. He recognized that he was chasing innocent people. He was going after the wrong crowd, imprisoning them. He had a change of heart. He became one of the hunted instead of the hunter, because his message of forgiveness and redemption was powerful. He had first-hand experience of what a changed life was like when Jesus saves you from your sins. He lived forgiven and he shared the message that forgiveness and salvation were available for everyone. Saul realized that he had been wrong. He had been standing for the wrong message.
Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything with love. 1 Corinthians 16:13-14
Who do you identify with?
So today, we also have a choice. Are we going to be like Stephen and Jeremiah who speak the truth? Are we going to stand up for biblical truth, for justice, and for right. When those who disagree with us want to cause physical harm, financial ruin, or job loss, are we still willing to stand? Or will we silently stand to the side?
Are we willing to stand as Jeremiah and Stephen did, or will we take the easy way out? Will we go with the crowd and stand by silently approving the harm of innocent people. People who are determined to be courageous in a fight for truth. We need to seriously consider how we’re going how we live our lives. What we’re standing for and what we’re standing against.
Truth seems to be a rare commodity these days. Something else that’s hard to find is those who will support truth tellers. Why is it so hard to stand for truth these days? Oh. We’ve never faced persecution and threats for speaking the truth, but the tide has turned. We may become the hunted. Are we prepared?
Will we stand with Ahikam for those who speak biblical truth or will we remain silent as Saul and overlook the persecution of believers? We have a choice. Will we find our voice before it’s too late?
Just so you know, Satan wants to bring God’s followers down. We too could be hunted and threatened. Are we willing to accept that? Oh, we say it’s not happening to us because we live in America. That doesn’t mean it won’t ever happen. It is happening in America today to people who stand against biblical truths. They are sued and repeatedly taken to court for daring to stand for their beliefs. Their faith has not wavered. Is my faith that strong? Am I that courageous? We need to stand true and strong to our beliefs. God help us.
A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:10-12