12 They have lied about the LORD,
And said, “It is not He.
Neither will evil come upon us,
Nor shall we see sword or famine.
13 “And the prophets become wind,
For the word is not in them.
Thus shall it be done to them.”
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom recently published its annual report on religious persecution worldwide. Unlike the Pew Forum’s survey of a similar nature, the US Commission’s report is an official government document mandated by the US Congress, and so it can influence US international policy. Of course, because some countries on the list are strategic to US overseas interests–like Saudi Arabia and China–their position as “countries of particular concern” is often overlooked. Still, the Pew Forum list is not too different from the Commission’s list, and both come to the same conclusion: roughly two-thirds of the world’s population lives in countries where religious freedom is curbed or outlawed.
So imagine my surprise when the United Kingdom wasn’t included on the list, nor Sweden or Finland. You’re probably wondering why I might mention those countries as places where religious freedom is under assault. Well, yesterday the headline concerning Great Britain was this: “Street Preacher Charged for Saying Homosexuality a Sin.” Priests in state-run Lutheran churches in Sweden and Finland have also been arrested on similar charges in the past two years. And those three countries are NOT included on the US Commission’s report nor the Pew Forum report. Why not? Because in Saudi Arabia, Islam is the state religion and preaching Christ is illegal, and in Iran those who oppose the government are designated “enemies of God”–which is a capital offense. But in the democracies of Western Europe, those who are arrested for speaking the truth of the Bible, or who conscientiously object to performing services that oppose their faith, are charged under “public order” and “hate crime” laws. And you can be sure that America won’t be far behind.
During the era recorded in the Chronicles of the Bible, Israel split into two kingdoms, Israel and Judah. Both then departed from worship of the God of their fathers, and both ended up persecuting the very prophets whom God sent to call them to repentance.
2 Chronicles 36:15-16
15 And the LORD God of their fathers sent warnings to them by His messengers, rising up early and sending them, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place.
16 But they mocked the messengers of God, despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against His people, till there was no remedy.
Jeremiah was one of those messengers sent by God, and his message was scoffed at and ignored by the people. They threw him into a dungeon, thinking to silence him that way. (Jeremiah 38:1-13) One king burned the scroll upon which Baruch had recorded Jeremiah’s prophecy concerning that king. God directed Jeremiah to make another scroll. (Jeremiah 36) Despite the warnings of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and others, the Israelites spiraled downward into greater and greater sins, until finally God followed through on His Word and chastened them by putting them into slavery in foreign lands.
Looking at today’s verses, it is almost like listening to politicians and liberal thinkers in America and Europe today. “There is no God,” say the atheists, and “God loves us too much to punish us” say the liberal preachers and “spiritual but not religious” crowd. Meanwhile, the freedom of speech that our forefathers fought and died to obtain is being eroded by political correctness and a desire not to offend.
It is the job of preachers to offend! It is the job of prophets to alarm people with their speech! It is quite normal for the gospel of Christ to convict people in their conscience, for the Word of God to make them uncomfortable with their lives. If it did not, then what purpose would it serve? God intends for His Word to have an effect on those who hear it! (Isaiah 55:10-11)
In the last days before the Babylonian captivity, the prophets of God were treated as if they were the wind–something everyone notices but about which few really care. Jeremiah notes that the people treated the prophets as if the Word of God were not in them, as if God Himself were not speaking to the people in love and compassion and calling them to repent. It reminds me of a scene from an old comedy wherein a child being told the truth puts his fingers in his ears and starts singing with a loud voice “La la-la la-la, I can’t hear you!”
Such is the state of our world today, where the people refuse to listen to the true message of the gospel. The governments are slowly trying to silence those who speak the truth of God. They disguise their opposition to God as opposition to “intolerance”–even as they won’t tolerate someone speaking the Word upon which our own country was founded four centuries ago. It would be ironically funny if it weren’t so alarming. And it is alarming not only to those who preach but also to ANYONE who desires to speak out against public immorality. When all behaviors–no matter how barbarous or immoral–are tolerated EXCEPT for free speech, then we are right where the Jews were when God sent them into captivity and gave their land a Sabbath of seventy years–a rest from the wanton evil they had practiced in the name of other gods and their own “freedom.”
1 Peter 2:11-17
11 Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul,
12 having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.
13 Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme,
14 or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good.
15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men–
16 as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God.
17 Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
Will be allow America to become no better than the very countries we condemn for religious persecution? Or will we allow God’s Word–however convicting and uncomfortable–to be heard in every corner of the land? Will we simply ignore Jesus Christ and the prophets and Godly believers who warn us to repent? Or will we listen and know that God loves us and wants us to return to Him?
Let us not use our liberty under our governments for an excuse to follow every wayward path. Let us rise up and not tolerate the silencing of morality and love. Let us allow the prophets to be heard everywhere and with great effect. Let us stand up and live good lives, moral lives guided by the holy Word of God, and let us fear God even as we stand up and do not fear the persecution of our own governments.
God IS speaking. He is making His Word heard in far-off places where it is illegal to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. He is shouting from the rooftops and from fearless pulpits wherein men and women of God are saying, “Repent and believe!” God is speaking through the lives of believers whose speech is being restricted. He is announcing His coming judgment through His holy Word and through signs all around us. Let not the prophets become wind, but let God’s voice ring out through the land and bring all men and women to repentance and faith. For only then can the people know the eternal life promised through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Heavenly Father, gracious Lord God, let Your Word be proclaimed in all lands. Let not the voices of Your prophets and preachers be silenced in the name of “tolerance” and so-called “freedom.” Let people hear and know the true liberty of the gospel–freedom from slavery to sin, freedom to live in holy love with You our Father. Give us courage, Father, to speak the holy name of Jesus with boldness and love. Let not Your Word return void in this land! Amen.