Prophets or Mirrors

“The wind shall shepherd your shepherds…” Jeremiah 22:22

Jeremiah’s calling was not easy. Babylon was knocking on the door and God’s people were astray. God sent Jeremiah to speak his word to his people, pleading with them to return. God promises several times that if they return to him, worship him alone, and do justice in their cities, they will escape the coming judgement.

God’s people, however, refuse. And they don’t just ignore Jeremiah, they make an open and stubborn display of their rebellion and work hard to make Jeremiah’s life miserable. Jeremiah is ignored, thrown into an empty cistern, openly mocked, beaten by the High Priest and put in stocks in the Temple gate. Even his own family plots to take his life. All because he spoke the truth.

Another dynamic of Jeremiah’s ministry was the complete failure of the priests and false prophets. Jeremiah speaks often of the stunning shortcomings of God’s shepherds – the spiritual leaders of God’s people. The people want to hear messages of peace, so they preach peace. Jeremiah 6:14 is especially haunting, “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” The kings want to hear that Babylon will not overtake them, so the false prophets keep trying to shut Jeremiah up. The people want to rebel, so they try to kill the prophet.

It is an incredible combination. An obvious threat is looming. The culture is broken, and the people of God are in open rebellion. The kings are worthless. The spiritual leaders are sycophantic sheep. God speaks. The people openly mock and shame the voice of God. Then Babylon comes, the people die or are carried off to slavery, and Jeremiah laments.

“How lonely sits the city

    that was full of people!

How like a widow has she become,

    she who was great among the nations!

She who was a princess among the provinces

    has become a slave.” Lamentations 1:1

At one point during this process, Jeremiah warns the people that those they think are their spiritual leaders are nothing more than figureheads who blow where the winds of culture lead them. In typical Jeremiah fashion, he uses a play on words to drive home his point, “The wind shall shepherd your shepherds.”

It is a damning accusation. Those entrusted by God to lead people into the things of God – to make clear the differences between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world – are not much better than politicians who read polls to learn what they believe, or people who see trending hashtags and mindlessly jump on the bandwagon. They will die or be dragged into slavery with the rest of the people.

The solutions presented by the kingdom of God almost never fit neatly into the solutions presented by our leading cultural voices.

At the height of emotionally loaded cultural crises, is it incumbent upon pastors and spiritual leaders to avoid knee-jerk reactions and wait until they are able to articulate the way of Christ in a situation where most people are not ready for it. The solutions presented by the kingdom of God almost never fit neatly into the solutions presented by our leading cultural voices. This means that when ideas informed by Scripture are presented, people will either be frustrated and offended by them, or they will find them to be a breath of fresh air. Prophetic voices have this effect on people.

Spiritual leaders are not intended to mirror culture. They are supposed to discern what is pleasing to the Lord and learn how to wisely, winsomely, and lovingly articulate it.

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