Jeremiah 26 points us to a trial even greater than Jeremiah's.
In the last hundred years, there have been several “trials of the century,” many of which you’ve probably heard of. For example, in 1995, O.J. Simpson was acquitted for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. In 1979, the serial killer Ted Bundy was sentenced to death. In 1971, five members of the Manson family were sentenced to death for following the instructions of Charles Manson and killing eight people.
All of these trials are remembered because they involved shocking crimes that came with the highest punishments for those found guilty. Jeremiah’s trial isn’t as well known, but it’s even more important to know about it because of what it says about Jesus Christ and our salvation. First, let’s look at…
Jeremiah’s “crime” was preaching the word of God, and in the first 6 verses, we have a summary version of his message. But in Jeremiah 7, Jeremiah’s sermon is given in more detail so let’s read more specifically what his “crime” was.
In Jeremiah 7:5–7, Jeremiah was telling the people that God said…
Instead, if you really correct your ways and your actions, if you act justly toward one another, if you no longer oppress the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow and no longer shed innocent blood in this place or follow other gods, bringing harm on yourselves, I will allow you to live in this place, the land I gave to your ancestors long ago and forever.
In short, Jeremiah was telling the people to stop mistreating the disadvantaged so that God will let them live. And in verse nine he rhetorically asked them if they were keeping the 10 commandments…
Do you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and follow other gods that you have not known?
Jeremiah goes on to say that if they weren’t going to keep the commandments then they should just get out of God’s house because God doesn’t want anything to do with them if they’re unwilling to repent.
So Jeremiah’s “crime” was telling the people about their sin. But Jeremiah didn’t just tell them about their sins so that they’d feel bad and so they’d know why they were being punished. God wanted them to listen and repent. Jeremiah 26:3 expresses God’s heart…
Perhaps they will listen and turn—each from his evil way of life—so that I might relent concerning the disaster that I plan to do to them because of the evil of their deeds.
God doesn’t enjoy giving people the punishment they deserve. He loves it when people listen and turn to him. And if the people repented God would be faithful to forgive them, because the purpose of the law isn’t just about punishment. It’s also about grace. The law was given to show our sinfulness that we might repent and receive grace (see Romans 5:20-21).
But failing to repent has consequences. So Jeremiah preached about that too, in Jeremiah 26:4–6…
You are to say to them, ‘This is what the Lord says: If you do not listen to me by living according to my instruction that I set before you and by listening to the words of my servants the prophets—whom I have been sending to you time and time again, though you did not listen—I will make this temple like Shiloh. I will make this city an example for cursing for all the nations of the earth.’
Shiloh is an example of a city where God used to dwell. Before the temple in Jerusalem was built, the ark of the covenant was in Shiloh. When the Israelites disobeyed God, he allowed the Philistines to attack and carry the ark back to their homeland. So Shiloh is an example of what happens when God removes his protecting presence.
What are some examples of what happens when God’s presence is removed? We don’t need to look any farther than our rural communities where many churches are closed. Living in a small town may seem like a dream, but places without God’s presence are filled with problems. Abuse of all varieties runs rampant. Hopelessness and suicide go up when Christ moves out of town.
Everyone needs law and grace. Some pastors only preach the law and others only preach grace, and that’s the real crime. Jeremiah preached the law, but he also preached grace for those who would listen and repent, and for that he was accused of a crime.
Jeremiah was just trying to be faithful to God’s word, but the people had him arrested. Jeremiah 26:7–8 says,
The priests, the prophets, and all the people heard Jeremiah speaking these words in the temple of the Lord. When he finished the address the Lord had commanded him to deliver to all the people, immediately the priests, the prophets, and all the people took hold of him, yelling, “You must surely die!
Jeremiah hadn’t murdered anyone, he had simply preached a sermon, but that was nearly as bad as murder in some people’s minds. Notice in verses 9 and 10 that they thought saying bad things about their church and city was worthy of death.
“How dare you prophesy in the name of the Lord, ‘This temple will become like Shiloh and this city will become an uninhabited ruin’!”
Speaking sarcastically, how dare he be disloyal to the church building and unpatriotic! Now, I’m not in favor of disrespecting our nation, but I think sometimes Christians act as if it’s the greatest sin of all. In some circles, saying or doing something disrespectful towards America is equivalent to the unpardonable sin. And saying something negative about someone’s church is almost as bad.
These people were overly proud of what were otherwise good things and when Jeremiah called them out on it, some wanted to kill him. Jeremiah 26:11 says…
Then the priests and prophets said to the officials and all the people, “This man deserves the death sentence because he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.”
Thankfully, the priests and prophets didn’t have the last word.
Thanks to some judges insisting that they follow procedure (vs 10), Jeremiah wasn’t murdered by the mob. Instead, was given a chance to mount a defense.
First, Jeremiah reminds them that he’s just obeying God in Jeremiah 26:12…
Then Jeremiah said to all the officials and all the people, “The Lord sent me to prophesy all the words that you have heard against this temple and city.”
Jeremiah’s defense is that they can’t hold him responsible for what God says — and he’s right. Ministers make mistakes and they need to be held accountable, but many times when people get upset with a preacher it’s often God they have an issue with. It’s the people that need to change, not God’s word.
Jeremiah reminds them of this in 26:13…
So now, correct your ways and deeds, and obey the Lord your God so that he might relent concerning the disaster he had pronounced against you.
Notice that Jeremiah wasn’t defending himself as much as he was defending God. Jeremiah was so sure he was in the right there’s no way he was going to back down. Even if they killed him, he’s refusing to change his message. He says in Jeremiah 26:14, “As for me, here I am in your hands; do to me what you think is good and right.”
The second part of Jeremiah’s defense involved some of the officials that were present. Jeremiah 26:16 says,
Then the officials and all the people told the priests and prophets, “This man doesn’t deserve the death sentence, for he has spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God!”
Apparently, some of these officials were very familiar with their scriptures, because in verse 19 they referred to the precedent of the prophet Micah. About a hundred years earlier Micah had been charged with a similar “crime.” “What happened to him?” they ask in Jeremiah 26:19…
“Did King Hezekiah of Judah and all the people of Judah put him to death? Did not the king fear the Lord and plead for the Lord’s favor, and did not the Lord relent concerning the disaster he had pronounced against them? We are about to bring a terrible disaster on ourselves!”
The defense is that Micah preached essentially the same message as Jeremiah, and he wasn’t killed. In his case, the people listened and repented and God spared the city.
Next, in the middle of Jeremiah’s defense, there is this unsettling story about...
Uriah the Prophet
Uriah is meant to provide a contrast to Jeremiah. Uriah was a prophet who preached a similar message to Jeremiah’s, but he ran away to Egypt instead of holding fast. Jeremiah 26:21 says…
King Jehoiakim, all his warriors, and all the officials heard his words, and the king tried to put him to death. When Uriah heard, he fled in fear and went to Egypt.
So the point is this: be like Jeremiah, not Uriah. Uriah’s fear is understandable, but running away is not an example to follow. God’s people are to stand firm even if we are mistakenly accused of wrongdoing.
Jeremiah 26:23 tells us what happened next…
They brought Uriah out of Egypt and took him to King Jehoiakim, who executed him with the sword and threw his corpse into the burial place of the common people.
This sounds harsh, but remember what Jesus said in Matthew 10:39, “Anyone who finds his life will lose it, and anyone who loses his life because of me will find it.” So, trust Christ with your life even if it means you may temporarily lose it. In the end, we will gain more than we can imagine.
Now, at this stage in Jeremiah’s trial, he’s starting to realize that he may still have some friends in high places willing to listen. Jeremiah 26:24 says…
But Ahikam son of Shaphan supported Jeremiah, so he was not handed over to the people to be put to death.
So it seems that this man Ahikam was directly responsible for Jeremiah’s release. He was Shaphan’s son and Shaphan was the scribe who read the Book of the Law to King Josiah after it was rediscovered. And now Ahikam had some weight with the court. So Jeremiah was released.
But there is another man that we all know very well who was put to death despite being even more innocent than Jeremiah.
Jesus, as he stood before Pilate, was charged with deceiving the people and plotting to overthrow the throne. But he hadn’t done either. Like Jeremiah, he was also charged with attacking the temple. When the Sanhedrin called false witnesses forward to testify in Matthew 26:61, they said…
“This man said, ‘I can destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’ ”
They were distorting what Jesus said by claiming he was planning to attack their sacred temple. Jesus was completely innocent because he was talking about his own body and not the literal temple.
For the thirty previous years, Jesus hadn’t committed a single sin — yet he was treated like a criminal. Like Jeremiah, he had every right to defend himself, but he didn’t. Mark 14:61 tells us that after all the accusations had been laid out Jesus remained silent and did not answer, to fulfill the words of Isaiah 53:7…
He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth. Like a lamb led to the slaughter and like a sheep silent before her shearers, he did not open his mouth.
Jesus didn’t defend himself and no one else stood up to defend him either. No one opened up the scriptures and read from the prophet Micah or Jeremiah about what would happen if they condemned an innocent man to death. They knew God’s word well enough to do so, but they killed him anyway.
So the guilt for Jesus’ death was upon the Jews, but it is also upon all of us because Jesus died for our sins, too. We, too, can say as it does in Matt 27:25 “His blood be on us and on our children!”
There are many similarities between Jeremiah and Jesus, but there are differences, too. Jeremiah was declared innocent of his crimes, but Jesus was declared guilty by those at his trial.
Thankfully, there is a higher court of law than the Romans or the Sanhedrin that had the last word regarding Jesus. And as Jesus hung on the cross, he made one final appeal to His Father in heaven in Luke 23:46…
And Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit.” Saying this, he breathed his last.
God the Father overruled the verdict of the Sanhedrin and three days later he raised Jesus from the dead as absolute proof.
In a similar way to Jesus’ appeal to the Father for himself, he also appealed for us. As he hung on the cross, Jesus cried out in Luke 23:34, “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.”
So based on Jesus’ innocence, those who trust in him are also declared righteous. In the Father’s eyes, there is no condemnation for all the crimes we have committed against him. Like Jesus, our death sentence has been overturned because Jesus has already paid for our crimes. So trust in Jesus, and you too will be delivered from death.