The Way of Life and the Way of Death
“You shall also say to this people, ‘Thus says the Lord,
“Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death.”
The reign of Zedekiah was the last political reign of Judah. How could Zedekiah’s kingdom perish when the man of God, the prophet Jeremiah, lived during this time? Could there have been a way to avoid this downfall? As citizens of the Republic of Korea, we must pray and think about this. Jeremiah, known as the prophet of tears, prophesied that Zedekiah’s reign would be the last reign over the kingdom of Judah ( Jer 21:3-7). He proclaimed the fall of the reign of Zedekiah, who did not live according to God’s will and only robbed His name. "I set before you the way of life and the way of death" (Jer 21:8).
Does this mean that God is impatient, or offers no forgiveness, or has no tears or mercy? That is not the case. On the contrary, He says, “I will forgive you. I will give you more time. I will bear with you until the end.” That is why God not only set the way of death, but also the way of life. By placing the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden of Eden, God showed the way of life and its standards: die if you eat of it, live if you do not eat of it (Gen 2:17). Likewise, God also clearly taught the way of life and death to King Zedekiah, his officers, and the people. God is telling us, “There is a way of life. Only if you repent of your wrongdoings and show remorse, and promise you will not sin again, I will forgive you unconditionally.” A rational person should realize before it’s too late that God is still waiting and that there is forgiveness, and then strive to stand on the eternal path of life. Everyone can know for themselves whether they are walking on the path of life or the path of death. Also, men have the freewill to choose between life and death. God’s law lays down before us the way of life and death when the time seems to be “safe and peaceful.” Do you see all creation crying out in exhaustion, and every man’s mouth shouting that life is unbearable, and faces full of weariness? As people with mind, heart, and will, shouldn’t we sense that something must be coming?
The Conscience Testifies
Many people long for the kingdom of heaven in the future, but if we do not possess the kingdom of heaven now, then we also cannot possess it in the future. Heaven is not “the kingdom after we die.” The Bible testifies that “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son” (Heb 1:1-3); this Word itself is the way of life, but are we living by the Word? The future can be ours only when we possess the present.
Jesus Christ, the Word from the beginning, is our true “today.” Have we seized this “today”? Just as the past results in the present, the present will also directly result in the future. The way of death was chosen as a result of one leaving one’s position for greed (Gen 3:6). “And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day” (Jude 1:6). Adam and Eve knew that they were breaking God's commandments. They knew they were sinning. But because of their greed to be like God, and because they sought after the works of the flesh, regardless of knowing it was a sin, they still risked everything at that moment. Likewise today, even with a guilty conscience of knowing what is bad, people are still dragged into death, tempted by Satan with the vague hope of “just one more time.” Look at the people of Judah who ignored Jeremiah’s prophecy, doubting that it could be real. They sinned because they did not believe the prophecy nor take it seriously. No matter how much they hated to hear the words of the prophet Jeremiah, if they had only opened their hearts up just enough for a needle to pass through, and listened for just a moment, they would not have had to face such calamities. How terrible is the sin of refusing to listen to the truth! Had the people of Judah considered even for once that they had received such a terrifying, catastrophic sentence and were at the crossroad of life and death, they would have not sinned by throwing the prophet of God into a dungeon.
Indeed, even Jesus was killed by the Jews, the chosen people. Those who boasted of their orthodox faith in God actually led in killing Jesus. Jesus Himself spoke of the same regarding the last days: “You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death” (Luke 21:16). The people of Judah should have heeded to the words of prophet Jeremiah with humility and prayer. Instead, they beat and imprisoned Jeremiah, accusing him, “What on earth are you talking about? Our national defense is strong enough!” Spiritually speaking, this act against the man of God was same as beating and imprisoning God Himself.
God is no fool. When the day comes that God no longer restrains His anger, even the earth will tremble and we will not be able to escape His wrath. The one who imprisoned Jeremiah was Pashhur the priest, who was chief officer in the church, (Jer 20:2). If someone asked a man of God, "What shall I do? How must I live?” would he just ignore and pass by? Wouldn’t he instruct step by step on how to reach the way of life? Yet, Pashhur the chief office in the house of the Lord beat and trampled Jeremiah many times and chained him. Jeremiah’s father was also a priest but he treated his own son like a lunatic. Not a single day did prophet Jeremiah’s tears stop flowing as he foresaw the destruction that would befall his own people. He grieved, "Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears" (Jer 9:1). Jeremiah was a man with a nature like ours; yet why are our eyes so dry while he mourns? As soon as he was released from prison, prophet Jeremiah proclaimed again that the nation would perish if it did not repent, that all the city and its towns would perish (Jer 19:15). This was considered a crime and he was imprisoned once again. In the end, he was even imprisoned in a cistern until there was no more water or bread in the city of Jerusalem (Jer 38:6-9). Why was the life of the man of God who received the Word this unfortunate? If all this happened to the prophet Jeremiah, then how worse would it be today if we proclaimed the truth, “This and this will happen”? Were only the ancient times of King Zedekiah frightening and evil? How about now? Is only the past wicked and the present good?
As he was beaten, prophet Jeremiah was given a revelation on the spot and cried out, “Pashhur, from now on your name is Magor-missabib” (Jer 20:3). Magor-missabib means “fear from every side.” Hearing this, Pashhur burst into anger but there was nothing he could do. Pashhur had already become Magor-missabib. Just like the name he received, he had nowhere to seek comfort (Jer 20:4). All his wrongdoings against his conscience ultimately resulted in suffering from being pressed from all sides with trembling fear, agony, and bitterness. This is a reflection of death and hell. We must not see Magor-missabib as just an individual named Pashhur. This one person, Pashhur, symbolizes the entire nation. The present (today) that dwells within our hearts tells us the future. Someone who has received life has peace dwelling in his heart. Which side do we belong to now? Everyone on a train knows the direction his train is headed. Do we not perhaps find ourselves easily startled and feel insecure? Do we not agonize ourselves by doubting others for no reason? Look at Pashhur. “Magor-missabib!” Having received a frightening warning, his heart is surely in hell. How miserable he must have been! “And you, Pashhur, and all who live in your house will go into captivity; and you will enter Babylon, and there you will die and there you will be buried, you and all your friends to whom you have falsely prophesied” (Jer 20:6). How terrified Pashhur must have been after receiving such a frightening curse and warning? Likewise, once a guilty seed is sown it grows hundredfold and reaps death and fear. Those who live unashamed life truly walk the path of life. “But if I say, ‘I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name,’ Then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; And I am weary of holding it in, And I cannot endure it” (Jer 20:9). When we live with such a sense of calling, nothing can trouble our conscience.
There is also a “way of life” and a “way of death” laid out before us. Just as it is written, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). There cannot be fear in one who lives with his own life separated and laid down. For such a person, there exists only the path of life.
Listening to Prophecies Leads to Life
We must remember the Korean War. So many rich people were taken away. Communists were pouring in, but the governors would flee while they deceived the people into thinking everything was fine.
As a result, the people who trusted the government were taken away to the north. How many lives were sacrificed? At that time too, those who believed in the predictions of peace all perished (Jer 23:17; 21:13-14) while those who listened to the people who warned of affliction survived. When the prophet Jeremiah prophesied of the people’s future, even his friends and his closest people wanted Jeremiah to fall promptly (Jer 20:10). At the time, the priests and the people all insisted, "Calamity will not come upon you" (Jer 23:17). Who tried to cut off the spirit of the man of God? Whoever defies the will of God is bound to perish (Rom 8:30-39; Deut 28:7; Exod 23:22-27; Lev 26:7-8; Deut 32:30; Josh 23:10; Isa 30:17; 2 Sam 22:38-41; Ps 18:37-40). "Cursed be those who curse you [believing saints], And blessed be those who bless you"(Gen 27:29). Just as God said, those who insult and curse the man of God are defying God. They will surely be struck themselves. It is time for us to open up our eyes with faith to serve as the watchmen (pioneers of this era) who look ahead and prepare for the days to come. All the wicked things happening all over the world will be destroyed. Everywhere is Sodom and Gomorrah. Today, God is still willing to forgive and waiting for our repentance. But God is not a fool. I pray in the name of Jesus that you will believe there will be a day that His anger comes about, when heaven and earth meet and grind every sin of this world. In the days of Noah, it was ground with water. In the days of Lot, it was ground with fire. The end times will be just like the days of Noah and the days of Lot (Luke 17:26-30). There will surely be grinding in the end times.
The man of God, the prophet Jeremiah, was clean in all respects. All he did was receive the Word of God and save his nation and his people. Yet, he was hated more and more. How badly did he suffer that he even said, "I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name," and again said, "Then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; And I am weary of holding it in, And I cannot endure it" ( Jer 20:7-9). Listen to the Words that were spoken in tears ( Jer 25:4,7,13; Jer 29:19). Prophet Jeremiah believed in the Word he received and knew it would come true. He wept in heart-rending pain because he could not bear to see his own people perish. Those who understand and return can receive life. Let us not ignore the Words of prophecy given through the prophet Jeremiah. I pray in the name of Jesus that we will become saints who hold on to the Word of God and woefully, mournfully call upon Him to save this nation and its people. This is the path of life.
Ignoring Prophecies Leads to Destruction
Hearing Jeremiah’s prophecy and warning, King Zedekiah asked the prophet Jeremiah for prayers. However, King Zedekiah’s intention behind his submission was not so he could understand the prophecy. He only pretended to believe Jeremiah through deception, so that Jeremiah would tell him what God had answered.
If Zedekiah sent his servants to command all the people to “kneel and repent,” then wouldn’t the way of life have been wide open? The Word of God came to Jeremiah when he prayed, just as the king had asked him: “ ‘I Myself will war against you with an outstretched hand and a mighty arm, even in anger and wrath and great indignation. I will also strike down the inhabitants of this city, both man and beast; they will die of a great pestilence. Then afterwards,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will give over Zedekiah king of Judah and his servants and the people, even those who survive in this city from the pestilence, the sword and the famine, into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and into the hand of their foes and into the hand of those who seek their lives; and he will strike them down with the edge of the sword. He will not spare them nor have pity nor compassion’ ” (Jer 21:1-7). Jeremiah delivered the Word of God to King Zedekiah, “Your Majesty, you will not escape out of the hand of the Chaldeans, but you will surely be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and you will speak with him face to face and see him eye to eye; They will slaughter the sons of you before your eyes, then put out the eyes of Zedekiah” (Jer 32:1-5, 2 Kings 25:1-7). King Zedekiah then shut Jeremiah up, so Jeremiah stayed in the court of the guardhouse until the day that Jerusalem was captured. Even while he was still confined in the court of the guard, he received the Word of God and continued to prophesy.
At the time, people loved the world more than God. They did not turn from the sins of idol worship, enjoyed pleasures of the world, and loved bribes. What about us today? When King Zedekiah asked for blessings, prophet Jeremiah sincerely advised him to “surrender.” He proclaimed, “Then will come about 70 years of captivity. Take pleasure in it and bow down as it is God’s whip”( Jer 29:7-8). But what happened to King Zedekiah who did not listen to, nor believe, the words of the prophecy? And what happened to the people of Judah as a result of his sins, not having ruled over the people with compassion and lovingkindness? “They slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, then put out the eyes of Zedekiah and bound him with bronze fetters and brought him to Babylon” (2 Kings 25:7). It turned out exactly as prophet Jeremiah had prophesied. All of Jerusalem became desolate, burned with fire, and all were taken away into exile to Babylon leaving behind only some of the poorest of the land (2 Kings 25:12).
The Bible tells us that a people from the north land will come and destroy other nations, carrying out a merciless massacre in the end times as well (Jer 6:22-23). If the Bible says they are coming from the north, they will indeed come from the north. Even when they were told about the north and whipped by the words through prophet Jeremiah, men still believed according to their greed and convenience. This is not an old tale. If we do not realize after getting whipped, He will forsake us; if we live a life of remorse and repentance, He will give His love (Jer 26:13; Jer 7:3). A way of life will also open in this nation that is bound by the same language and blood, but only if our hearts are also united. Let us realize and cultivate the fallow ground.
"Sow with a view to righteousness, Reap in accordance with kindness; Break up your fallow ground, For it is time to seek the LORD until He comes to rain righteousness on you" (Hos 10:12). "Break up your fallow ground, And do not sow among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the LORD and remove the foreskins of your heart, Men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, Or else My wrath will go forth like fire And burn with none to quench it, Because of the evil of your deeds. Declare in Judah and proclaim in Jerusalem, and say, “Blow the trumpet in the land; Cry aloud and say, ‘Assemble yourselves, and let us go Into the fortified cities.’ Lift up a standard toward Zion! Seek refuge, do not stand still, For I am bringing evil from the north, And great destruction" ( Jer 4:3-6).
Listen carefully. This Word is not a history of the past. It is the Word of God woefully crying out to the people of South Korea today. Let us pray that the calamity that came upon King Zedekiah does not fall upon these people today. There must be a national repentance in order to live. Whichever idol we have worshipped up to now, let us destroy all of them and return to God repenting. Through the prophet Amos, God told as much as six times, "Return! Return!" With the failing economy, the years growing more evil, unemployment, and famine, we must realize that these are all God’s cries to “return” (Amos 4:6-13).
Let us now honestly confess our sins. Let us repent, seek God, and pray for this nation and its people while He grievously urges us ( Jer 29:12-14).
Special Sermon by Rev. Abraham Park on March 17-18th, 1980