Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Innocent By-Standers?

            “Therefore, this is what the Lord says about Jehoiakim king of Judah: He will have no one to sit on the throne of David; his body will be thrown out and exposed to the heat by day and the frost by night. I will punish him and his children and his attendants for their wickedness; I will bring on them . . . every disaster I pronounced against them, because they have not listened.”  (Jeremiah 36:30-31)

            As I was reading this passage, one word stood out to me above all others: attendants.
            What could his attendants be so guilty of to get that kind of punishment?  Aren’t attendants just like slaves to the king, unable to really do anything other than what the king tells them to do?  Can they really be held accountable for their choices when they were forced to obey the king?  And just what horrible thing were they guilty of doing?
            Let’s go up a couple verses to where Jehudi reads a scroll to the king that Jeremiah gave him.  This scroll is God’s words given to Jeremiah about all the sins of the people and the punishments that God would inflict on them.  It is meant to be a warning, to turn the hearts of the people toward repentance.  And this is how the king responds: 
            “Whenever Jehudi had read three or four columns of the scroll, the king cut them off with a scribe’s knife and threw them into the firepot, until the entire scroll was burned in the fire.  The king and all his attendants who heard all these words showed no fear, nor did they tear their clothes.” (verses 23-24)
            What I found interesting – and convicting – is that the attendants were guilty here not for something they did do but for something they didn’t do.  They did not take the warnings of the Lord seriously, just as the king didn’t.  They did not grieve over their sins or fear the Lord or feel any conviction or remorse or repentance.  They did not take the truth seriously.  They simply followed the king’s lead. 
            Sure, they were just by-standers, listening to the scroll being read to the king, watching him apathetically burn it up, but their “by-stander-ness” did not release them from their responsibility to take the words to heart.  Being an attendant to the king did not exempt them from guilt.   
            Yes, the king was the one responsible for leading the people, for the spiritual tone and practices of the country, and for burning the warnings of the Lord.  But the attendants were responsible for their own smug, mocking hearts, their own apathetic responses, and their own fear of God.  Or lack of it.  Instead of worrying about what God thought; they worried about what the king thought.  Instead of fearing God, they fell right in line with the king, mimicking his own indifferent attitude toward God.  And God would hold them accountable for it, even if they were just lowly attendants.
            This message stood out to me because so many of us are “attendants.”  We may not be leaders, but we are part of the group.  And I wonder how many of us seek to appease the “leaders” or adopt the group’s attitudes, instead of humbling our hearts before the Lord and doing the right thing according to Him?  How many of us “go along with the group” so that we don’t stand out as weird or “too-holy”?  How many of us compromise our standards or beliefs so that things don’t get uncomfortable for us?  How many of us sit by and watch others “burn” the words of the Lord and destroy the truth because it’s too scary to stand up for it?  How many of us do not feel any conviction anymore when people around us do wrong because we are busy mimicking them?  How many of us have grown lukewarm or have surrounded ourselves with “truth” that tickles our ears or have replaced God with idols of our own making?  How many of us have no real fear of God anymore?   
            In our country, so many of us – even Christians – have become attendants who are just sitting by, apathetically watching others burn the warnings and truth of the Lord.  And we don’t feel any shame or guilt or conviction or grief in our own hearts.  But when the time comes, we will be held accountable.  Not for “burning the scroll,” but for “blending in.”  For showing no fear of our Holy God. 

            “I will punish [them] for their wickedness . . . because they have not listened.”       “[They] showed no fear, nor did they tear their clothes.” 

            Who do you fear more?  Who do you seek to please and be like?  The people you are around, the group you follow, the social majority?  Or the holy God to whom we will all give an accountant for our lives and choices one day?  Does your life accurately reflect how much you fear the Lord?  Is this comforting to you or convicting?