The Cost of Speaking Truth.

In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, this word came from the Lord: “Thus says the Lord: Stand in the court of the Lord‘s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship in the house of the Lord all the words that I command you to speak to them; do not hold back a word. It may be they will listen, and every one turn from his evil way, that I may relent of the disaster that I intend to do to them because of their evil deeds. You shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord: If you will not listen to me, to walk in my law that I have set before you, and to listen to the words of my servants the prophets whom I send to you urgently, though you have not listened, then I will make this house like Shiloh, and I will make this city a curse for all the nations of the earth.’”

The priests and the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speaking these words in the house of the Lord. And when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, “You shall die! Why have you prophesied in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant’?” And all the people gathered around Jeremiah in the house of the Lord.

When the officials of Judah heard these things, they came up from the king’s house to the house of the Lord and took their seat in the entry of the New Gate of the house of the Lord. Then the priests and the prophets said to the officials and to all the people, “This man deserves the sentence of death, because he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.”

Then Jeremiah spoke to all the officials and all the people, saying, “The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the words you have heard. Now therefore mend your ways and your deeds, and obey the voice of the Lord your God, and the Lord will relent of the disaster that he has pronounced against you. But as for me, behold, I am in your hands. Do with me as seems good and right to you. Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will bring innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city and its inhabitants, for in truth the Lord sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears.” Jeremiah 26:1-15 ESV

Joseph had a prophetic dream and when he shared it with his father and brothers, he was thrown into a pit and later sold as a slave (Genesis 37). Daniel refused to worship a statue of the king and was thrown into the lion’s den (Daniel 6). John the Baptist was beheaded for speaking out against King Herod’s adulterous relationship with his brother’s wife (Mark 6). The apostle Paul suffered repeatedly at the hands of the Jews for sharing the gospel. He was beaten, imprisoned, falsely accused and, eventually, martyred for his faith. James used the prophets as an example of patient suffering.

For examples of patience in suffering, dear brothers and sisters, look at the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. – James 5:10 NLT

Stephen was stoned by the Jews for delivering the following accusation against them:

“You stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That’s what your ancestors did, and so do you! Name one prophet your ancestors didn’t persecute! They even killed the ones who predicted the coming of the Righteous One—the Messiah whom you betrayed and murdered.” – Acts 7:51-52 NLT

And in His sermon on the mount, Jesus gave the crowds some surprising and somewhat disturbing news regarding those who would be part of the Kingdom of God.

“What blessings await you when people hate you and exclude you and mock you and curse you as evil because you follow the Son of Man. When that happens, be happy! Yes, leap for joy! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, their ancestors treated the ancient prophets that same way.” – Luke 6:22-23 NLT

Speaking truth can be costly. Walking in the way of truth can be difficult – even deadly. And Jeremiah was experiencing the truth of that reality. He was simply doing what he had been called to do by God. He was faithfully delivering the message of God and the next thing he knew, he was standing before an angry crowd of people, listening to their hate-filled calls for his death. He had simply been doing his job. He had delivered God’s message verbatim, and this was the thanks he got.

But when Jeremiah had finished his message, saying everything the Lord had told him to say, the priests and prophets and all the people at the Temple mobbed him. “Kill him!” they shouted. “What right do you have to prophesy in the Lord’s name that this Temple will be destroyed like Shiloh? What do you mean, saying that Jerusalem will be destroyed and left with no inhabitants?” And all the people threatened him as he stood in front of the Temple. – Jeremiah 26:8-9 NLT

It’s important to note that Jeremiah’s message contained yet another invitation from God to repent. God’s instructions to Jeremiah had been clear:

“Give them my entire message; include every word. Perhaps they will listen and turn from their evil ways. Then I will change my mind about the disaster I am ready to pour out on them because of their sins.” – Jeremiah 26:2-3 NLT

Because God is all-knowing, He already knew what the outcome would be when Jeremiah delivered this message. But it was one more case of God offering His people a chance to repent and return to Him. The sad reality was that they only heard the negative side of Jeremiah’s message.

“This is what the Lord says: If you will not listen to me and obey my word I have given you, and if you will not listen to my servants, the prophets—for I sent them again and again to warn you, but you would not listen to them—then I will destroy this Temple as I destroyed Shiloh, the place where the Tabernacle was located. And I will make Jerusalem an object of cursing in every nation on earth.” – Jeremiah 26:4-6 NLT

And they found Jeremiah’s words unacceptable. They had no intention of repenting or of accepting God’s coming judgment. They wanted to continue in their sin without any threat of punishment or retribution from God. All Jeremiah had done was speak truth – the truth of God – and the people determined to reject it by rejecting the one who had delivered it. But Jeremiah warned them, “The Lord sent me to prophesy against this Temple and this city … The Lord gave me every word that I have spoken” (Jeremiah 26:12 NLT). He wanted them to understand that he was simply the messenger. He was passing on what God had commanded him to say. And he pleaded with them, “if you stop your sinning and begin to obey the Lord your God, he will change his mind about this disaster that he has announced against you” (Jeremiah 26:13 NLT). There was good news in what Jeremiah had to say, but they refused to hear it. They closed their ears to it. All they heard was doom and destruction. Their love of sin kept them from hearing the love of God expressed in the words of the prophet of God. Stephen had faced a similar situation when he had preached to the Jews in Jerusalem. He had been sharing with them how God had worked among the people of Israel for generation, but how they had stubbornly refused to hear His message. They had even played a part in the death of Jesus, the Messiah and Savior sent from God to pay for the sins of mankind. But rather than put up with Stephen’s words, they shut him down.

Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul.

As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died. – Acts 7:57-60 NLT

And Jeremiah, facing a hostile crowd, ready to put him to death, warned them:

“…if you kill me, rest assured that you will be killing an innocent man! The responsibility for such a deed will lie on you, on this city, and on every person living in it. For it is absolutely true that the Lord sent me to speak every word you have heard.” – Jeremiah 26:15 NLT

They could kill Jeremiah, but it would not change the outcome of God’s message. People can ignore the word of God, but it does not make it go away. Refusing to accept the truth of God’s Word does not change the veracity of its message. They could cover their ears, shout down the messenger, even put him to death, but God’s Word was going to stand. His will was going to be done, regardless of whether they accepted it or not. And the real question for us is whether we will faithfully deliver God’s message regardless of how it is accepted by those who hear it. Are we willing to speak the truth of God and face the ridicule of men? Do we have what it takes to stand before hostile crowds and tell them the news of God’s judgment against sin and His offer of salvation through His Son?

In His sermon on the mount, Jesus gave these sobering words of warning to all those who would desire to be a part of His Kingdom:

“Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
    for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.” – Luke 6:26 NLT

False prophets are popular. But those who speak the truth of God will often find themselves rejected by the very ones they are trying to reach. The good news they offer will be seen as nothing but bad news. Men don’t want to be convicted of their sins. People don’t want to be told they are under the wrath of God. And the threat of judgment causes many to close their ears to the offer of atonement made possible through the death of Jesus on the cross. But, like Jeremiah, we are to keep on sharing whether anyone listens or not. We are to keep speaking truth, regardless of the consequences or the apparent success or failure of our efforts.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson