HAPPY NEW YEAR! Wow, it’s hard to believe we have watched another year go by the wayside and we now enter 2012! As I prayed about January’s article God kept directing me to put a challenge in front of God’s men. As I was seeking what challenge God wanted me to give His men, He directed me to look to the prophet Jeremiah for the answer. The biography of Jeremiah tells us that he was chosen at an early age to be a prophet but he reluctantly accepted this calling. He was a messenger to God’s chosen people but their hearts were hardened and they were still very rebellious. They refused to listen to Jeremiah’s teaching and in fact tried, on multiple occasions, to take his life. Jeremiah was persecuted and rejected by his own people yet he remained obedient to the assignment God had given him. Will you be a “Jeremiah” in 2012 and be obedient to your assignment? I hope you will not only accept but embrace it!
The words in Jeremiah tell us “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people?”1 Gilead was known for making an ointment from the resin of a tree common to that area and it was noted for its healing properties. The Old Testament tells us that the balm of Gilead was used as medicine, perfume and ointment. So why is Jeremiah asking a question that everyone knows the answer?
The key and critical issue is that Jeremiah is speaking figuratively rather than literally when he asked these questions. Before we get to the metaphor of the balm or the physician we must first understand the illness Jeremiah is referencing. He is writing about spiritual illness and spiritual wounds when he poses these questions. God’s chosen people were spiritually ill and desperately in need of spiritual healing. Another prophet, the prophet Isaiah, helps us understand the condition of these people when he says “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’ He said, ‘Go and tell this people: Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving. Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” 2
Jeremiah and Isaiah are telling us that healing is readily available but to receive the healing we must turn from our rebellious ways and repent! The balm and the physician can do no good if the patient does not first seek them out.
So if Jeremiah is speaking metaphorically what does he mean by the “balm of Gilead” and “physician?” The balm of Gilead is referring to the word of God and the physician is referring to the prophets and priest of that day. In an earlier passage Jeremiah states “From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace. Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when I punish them,’ says the LORD.” 3
The reason that Judah was not turning, repenting and receiving healing was because the prophets and priest were preaching the wrong message. They were not using the Word of God to bring conviction to those in rebellion and without conviction there can be no repentance. Jeremiah is telling us the physician is treating the illness with a band aid when it is in need of major surgery. This sounds all too familiar to what we see going on around us in the United States today doesn’t it? Pastors, preachers and others who selectively use God’s word for personal gain rather than ministering to those who are spiritually ill are destined to an eternity separated from a Holy God. We see more and more of the politically correct and sociably acceptable sermons being delivered to God’s people so that no one’s feelings are hurt and they feel good about the lives they are leading. We are treating a terminal illness with aspirin.
God’s men are called to be “priests” and as spiritual physicians we are provided the balm of God’s word to heal the sick soul to receive the promises made to us by our Heavenly Father. Peter tells us“As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says: ‘See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” 4
So if you are being “built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood” what message are you sharing? Just as physicians used the balm of Gilead to sooth physical wounds, are you using God’s holy word to sooth spiritual wounds? I like the way Claude Mariottini, Professor of Old Testament at Northern Baptist Seminary, states it: “The words of Jeremiah have a message for those who preach God’s words. We preach through the power of the Holy Spirit that people’s attitude may be altered, lives may change, and transformation may occur. Those who preach are heralds of God’s truth, proclaiming a message of hope to hungry souls and lonely hearts.”
So here is the 2012 challenge: God’s men will preach His word through the power of the Holy Spirit so that people’s attitudes may be altered, their lives will be changed and they will be transformed by a personal relationship with Jesus Christ! It makes no difference whether we carry a title of pastor, preacher or no title at all. Followers of Jesus Christ are called to be His missionaries and as missionaries we must share God’s word so that truth may be known and through that truth lives are changed.
As you contemplate and pray about taking this challenge I want to be absolutely up front with you. The words in Matthew are a good reminder of how the world will react to your efforts to serve your Lord. He said “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”5 We must understand that we do not share God’s word to please man but to serve the Lord. Those devoted to living in sin will do anything they can to tarnish our message. The 2012 challenge is not about what we will gain in this life on earth but we remained focused and committed to eternal goals.
Regardless of the cost, it is time for God’s men to get busy sharing the spiritual healing that is offered by following the prescription given to us in God’s word! TAKE THE 2012 CHALLENGE!
(1) Jeremiah 8:22 All scripture used in this article is taken from the 1984 NIV translation of the Holy Bible unless otherwise noted.
(2) Isaiah 6:8-10
(3) Jeremiah 6:13-15
(4) 1 Peter 2:4-6
(5) Matthew 5:11&12