It's A Dirty Job...
A sermon based on Jeremiah 38:1-13
Sunday, September 20, 2015 - Pentecost 17B
I'm not sure if it's still on, but there used to be a show on the Discovery Channel, called "Dirty Jobs." And in this show, host Mike Rowe, searches America for the most disgusting occupations. Then he volunteers as their assistant for a day to show TV viewers just how dirty this job is. For example, how would you like to be a snake wrangler where the snakes bite you every time you handle them? Or a shark suit tester, where angry sharks bite you repeatedly. And if you live, the suit works. If you don't, well… back to the drawing board! Or Mike Rowe's personal worst: Sewer inspector, where you walk among the foul smelling waste looking for cracks.
After watching the show, I imagine one might come away with a greater appreciation for the job you do have. No matter how bad your boss might seem, you're not getting bitten by sharks. At least, not literally. But the truth is, dear saints, that you and I do have a dirty job. Don't get me wrong. I don't mean to slam your place of emloyment and I certainly don't mean to complain about teaching at Grace. But the truth is that we, as Christians, have the dirty job of proclaiming the truth of God's Word—the whole truth, even those parts that people don't want to hear. And that can be a dirty job. It can be unpleasant, uncomfortable, and sometimes even dangerous.
When the prophet Jeremiah was given the dirty job of proclaiming to the King of Israel that the nation would soon be destroyed for their rebellion against God, even though it wasn't fun, he did it. And he suffered for it. He had death threats issued against him. He was imprisoned. And now he was thrown down a well and left for dead. Yet, Jeremiah kept at his dirty job and God rescued him. Listen to the account in Jeremiah 38:1-13 and be encouraged to keep doing you dirty job, in thanks to Jesus...
1 Shephatiah son of Mattan, Gedaliah son of Pashhur, Jehucal son of Shelemiah, and Pashhur son of Malkijah heard what Jeremiah was telling all the people when he said, 2 "This is what the LORD says: 'Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine or plague, but whoever goes over to the Babylonians will live. He will escape with his life; he will live.' 3 And this is what the LORD says: 'This city will certainly be handed over to the army of the king of Babylon, who will capture it.' "
4 Then the officials said to the king, "This man should be put to death. He is discouraging the soldiers who are left in this city, as well as all the people, by the things he is saying to them. This man is not seeking the good of these people but their ruin."
5 "He is in your hands," King Zedekiah answered. "The king can do nothing to oppose you."
6 So they took Jeremiah and put him into the cistern of Malkijah, the king's son, which was in the courtyard of the guard. They lowered Jeremiah by ropes into the cistern; it had no water in it, only mud, and Jeremiah sank down into the mud.
7 But Ebed-Melech, a Cushite, an official in the royal palace, heard that they had put Jeremiah into the cistern. While the king was sitting in the Benjamin Gate, 8 Ebed-Melech went out of the palace and said to him, 9 "My lord the king, these men have acted wickedly in all they have done to Jeremiah the prophet. They have thrown him into a cistern, where he will starve to death when there is no longer any bread in the city."
10 Then the king commanded Ebed-Melech the Cushite, "Take thirty men from here with you and lift Jeremiah the prophet out of the cistern before he dies."
11 So Ebed-Melech took the men with him and went to a room under the treasury in the palace. He took some old rags and worn-out clothes from there and let them down with ropes to Jeremiah in the cistern. 12 Ebed-Melech the Cushite said to Jeremiah, "Put these old rags and worn-out clothes under your arms to pad the ropes." Jeremiah did so, 13 and they pulled him up with the ropes and lifted him out of the cistern. And Jeremiah remained in the courtyard of the guard.
I. Afraid to Get Dirty?
How would you like to be Jeremiah in this situation? Already imprisoned in the courtyard of the guard, he had two choices. Ignore what God said and keep quiet. Or ignore what the King said and keep up his bold witness. Jeremiah chose the latter and willingly took the consequences that came. But if you were in his situation, would you still speak up? I'd like to think the answer is yes—that if I were asked to make a bold witness for Jesus and die for it, I would still make a bold witness. I like to think that, anyway. But the truth is I can't know until I'm put in that situation.
But I do know that I've compromised my faith on matters much smaller than death. And I'd be willing to bet that I'm not alone here today. Do you always have the courage to speak the truth even when you know the ramifications aren't going to be pleasant? Could you be like Jeremiah who made such a bold stand? Or like Paul who was stoned and beaten again and again for preaching Christ crucified? Could you be like the apostles and prophets who were tortured and killed for boldly speaking the truth? Or have you been more like Peter, denying that you know Jesus so you can fit in? Do you still try to avoid getting muddy or doing the dirty job?
It's true, isn't it, that we sometimes clam up to avoid being thrown into the well. We avoid the well of ridicule by turning into chameleons and blending in to the godless crowd around us. We dodge the well of rejection by going along with the crowd even when the crowd goes against God's Word. We duck under the well of discomfort by not mentioning the sin of a friend and by justifying it by saying, "That's really none of my business anyway." We want to keep our lives squeaky clean of any muddy problems or pain or persecution that might come with a cross. And you heard what Jesus said about what those who try to avoid the cross deserve.
The magician, Penn Jilette, of famed, Penn and Teller is an outspoken atheist. But he takes Christians to task when he challenges them, "If you honestly believe that I'm going to hell without your Savior and don't get the nerve to tell me, to warn me, to try to rescue me, then how cruel are you?!" And how right he is.
For seeking our comfort above the truth and the spiritual good of another, for trying to dodge the cross and avoid the well, we deserve to be thrown, not into a well, but into hell, where no amount of rope could ever pull us out, where we would forever starve in our sin for eternity. But thank God, we don't get what we deserve...
II. Jesus Lifts You Out
Jeremiah took bold action and he suffered for it. He was thrown into a bell shaped well (with the narrow part on top), with no chance of escape, no food to eat, and only starvation to look forward to. But God did not abandon him. He sent a friend to help. He sent Ebed-Melech, a Cushite from Africa who's been called the Good Samaritan of the Old Testament. Ironically, this foreigner was a better Christian to Jeremiah than his fellow Israelites. And it took courage for him to do what he did. Zedekiah could have said, "You don't want Jeremiah down that well all by himself? Fine! Go join him!" But he found the courage in his faith. Literally Ebed-Melech means "Servant of the King." And while he served Zedekiah, he really served God as King. And through him God rescued Jeremiah from his hopeless situation and from slow, painful, and certain death.
And dear friends, God has delivered you. Like it was for Jeremiah, our situation was hopeless. There was no way that we could climb out of hell on our own. We could not manufacture a ladder from nothing when we were sinking down in the muck and mire of our sins. There was no way that we could climb up. Help had to be sent down from above. And so God did send help. He didn't lower a rope, but lowered his Son. He sent Jesus, his own Ebed-Melech, the servant of the King, who served God perfectly in our place. He always spoke the truth—to the powerful, to the mighty, even if it meant torture, even if it meant death. And it did mean torture and death and worse...
For even though he was perfect, Jesus was willingly covered in the muddy filth of our sin. He willingly felt the guilt and the shame they brought on. And he willingly endured the hell that those sins deserve. Talk about dirty jobs! And as he was tortured to death on the cross (because he spoke the truth) he took our cowardice and quiet on himself and gave that perfect record to us.
And he did it that we might be lifted up. And we will be lifted up to heaven.
III. So We Can Be Ebed-Melechs
So what's our response? We can't help but thank our loving Savior and become like Jeremiah, become Ebed-Melech's, that is, servants of the King. And opportunities to serve him surrounds us! We can reach down to help others. We can throw them the rope of the gospel that will lift them out of the cistern of hell. And the more we come to appreciate the rescue that God has given us, the more we'll be eager to do the dirty job of speaking the truth, come what may.
There was once an artist who painted a picture of a little girl clinging to a rock in the middle of a storm-tossed ocean. In the background you can see the ship that she was presumably on moments ago now breaking apart and about to sink entirely. The picture of the girl, now safe from the waves that would drown her, clinging to the rock, was, the artist explained, a picture of Christ the Rock who rescues us from hell and the storms of life and keeps us safe. But after further reflection, the artist painted a new picture. It was almost identical to the first. But this time the girl was only clinging to the rock with one hand. With the other, she was reaching as far as she could into the raging water to take hold of the hand of a boy who was trying hard to keep his head above water.
Christ is our rock. He keeps us safe from the hell that would otherwise engulf us. And now in thanks, we can be like that girl. By all means, cling to the rock that lifts you up and rescues you! But then, in thanks, reach out to rescue others. Don't be afraid to get a little muddy. It may mean you get a little dirty. But so what?! It's a life or death situation.
Pastor knows a woman who on the way to her own bridal shower when she saw a car go off the road and down a steep embankment into a ditch. Without hesitation, she pulled over, got out of her car, and, even though she was in her nice dress, climbed into the muddy ditch to help pull a person out of the wreckage. And when she finally arrived to her shower, hours late, her nice dress was ruined—covered in mud. Why'd she do it? Because someone was hurt. It could have been a matter of life and death.
So too with us. It is a dirty job—to face the ridicule and rejection and persecution that comes from speaking the truth and living the truth. But someone's got to do it. In thanks to our Savior, we're eager to step up. It may not be pleasant. It may not be fun. It may be dirty and filthy and muddy as can be. It may be dangerous, or even deadly. But remembering how Jesus lifted us up out of the mud, we'll gladly get dirty to help others out too. May God always continue to give you such resolve, determination, courage, and strength to do the dirty job you've been called to do. In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.