When Trees Feel Like Wheat (Jeremiah 11:18–12:6)

“The LORD made it known to me and I knew;
then you showed me their deeds.
But I was like a gentle lamb
led to the slaughter.
I did not know it was against me
they devised schemes, saying,
‘Let us destroy the tree with its fruit,
let us cut him off from the land of the living,
that his name be remembered no more.’
But, O LORD of hosts, who judges righteously,
who tests the heart and the mind,
let me see your vengeance upon them,
for to you have I committed my cause.” —Jeremiah 11:18–20

field-1971873_1280.jpgDavid said that the righteous man, who delights in the law and meditates on it day and night, is like a tree plated by streams of water. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away (Psalm 1:2–4). Sometimes though, trees feel like chaff and the chaff appears as solid as a redwood (Jeremiah 12:1–2).

The saints, this side of the curse, lament the suffering of the righteous and the prosperity of the wicked, but it is easy for their lament to give way to doubt and despair. Such despair is rooted in ignorance and unbelief.

We’re ignorant. We forget that we’re not home yet. We’re exiles and enemies surround us. We’re on their turf. Many are not wise to the world because they’re worldly-wise. We remain ignorant because we’ve enrolled in their school. The church has opted into the program. Nice and naive—that’s how they raise us. We’re still led like sheep to the slaughter, but with a dumb look on our face. We’re children taking suckers from the strangers of this world when our Father has taught us better. Then we accuse our Father when those suckers are poisonous. We need to keep the innocence and lose the ignorance.

We don’t believe. Our Father has spoken but we’re all Romans 14 and no imprecatory psalms. We disbelieve one portion of God’s Word by pitting it against another. There are times to shake off the dust from our shoes as well as times to bless those who curse us. Let the reader understand. When Paul exhorted us to “repay no one evil for evil” and to “never avenge yourself” it was with the truth that vengeance is God’s. This is exactly what Jeremiah prays for here. David was able to extend mercy to his enemies because he trusted God would avenge.

Do not be ignorant of the wicked. Believe in the righteousness of God. Then you’ll see that it’s not that the ship of the church is sinking, but that the ocean is in such turbulence because it is being drained. In the midst of the tempest, faith knows that the ship remains solid, while it is the world that is fading away. We’ve got the wrong reference point. The wicked only appear to be rooted, because they are rooted in this world that is fading away. When our eyes are on the Son, we’ll see that it’s not that we’re being blown away, but that this present world is, and the wicked along with it.

Matthew 11:1-6 & Diagnosing a Believer’s Doubt

Chrysostom, Augustine, Jerome, Luther, Calvin, Beza, and J.C. Ryle all agree that John did not doubt, but rather, that he asked this question for the sake of his disciples. I see nothing to support that interpretation and much to indicate that John doubted. But why did John doubt?

While in prison John hears of Jesus deeds, and he doubts, doesn’t this seem strange?

“John, Jesus is restoring sight to the blind! (Matthew 9:27-31)”

“John, Jesus is healing the lame so that they walk! (Matthew 8:5-13)”

“John, Jesus is cleansing lepers! (Matthew 8:1-4)”

“John, Jesus is casting out demons! (Matthew 8:28-34)”

“John, Jesus is raising the dead to life! (Matthew 9:18-26)”

And John’s response to this news is… doubt? Notice John doesn’t doubt that Jesus does the deeds. He doesn’t doubt the deeds of Jesus but the identity of Jesus. Imagine, John hears the news of Jesus raising the dead, believes the report, but thinks, “Yea, I don’t know… is He the one?”

What condition can there be in our hearts and minds such that when we hear of Jesus’ authoritative words and deeds that call for a response of complete abandonment and surrender to His supremacy, we doubt instead of taking up our cross and following Jesus? Why does John doubt?

Let’s start at the surface. John hears of Jesus’ deeds while he is in prison. One very likely reason for John’s doubt is his imprisonment. While circumstances are not everything, that does not mean that they are nothing. Few of us doubt when times are happy. This isn’t necessarily because our faith is strong, but more often because our hearts are wrong. When doubts only flee when circumstances are optimal, this does not mean we are people of great faith, but people of great sin. When a change in circumstances deeply affects a change in heart, idols are being exposed. Thus, circumstances are only surface.

I believe at root John doubts because Jesus isn’t meeting John’s expectations. I don’t think John expected less from Jesus, but more. It is not that John is disappointed by the salvation Jesus is bringing, but He was expecting judgment as well (Matthew 3:11-12). John is the forerunner to God’s king, and he is in prison, so where is the King’s full salvation? You see John expected Jesus’ salvation to include judgment, as he should. Jesus’ reply to John alludes to many passages in Isaiah, many of which include predictions of salvific judgment upon the enemies of God, who are also the enemies of the people of God (Isaiah 35:4-6, 61:1-2). Jesus will preach both salvation, and judgment; a judgment He will bring, but right now He is bringing salvation.

So then, John’s doubts don’t arise because of unbiblical expectations of Jesus, but because of a misunderstanding of God’s timeline. The problem is not John’s theology, but His chronology. There are some sins that only a faithful Christ-follow can sin.

Why do you doubt? Ask yourself two questions:

  1. Am I expecting something unbiblical of Jesus?
  2. If my expectations are Biblical, is my timeline different than God’s?

Drop your expectations, they are small and sinful; if not in the thing desired than in the motive behind them. Instead, look at Jesus, not in the light of your sinful expectations, but in the light of Scripture’s holy promises and realize Jesus will always be more, not less than you could expect.