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“Finish the Race”

Text: Jeremiah 12:5

Historical Background/Time Period

·        Jeremiah started his minister in the thirteenth year of the reign of King Josiah (about 627 B.C.) Jer. 1:2

·        Jeremiah’s ministry (627-586 B.C.) lasted for over forty years (1:1-3)

·        King Josiah reigned 640-609 B.C.

·        Ninevah [the capital of Assyria] is destroyed by the Babylonians in 612 B.C.

·        In 605 B.C. Jerusalem is defeated by King Nebuchadnezzer.  Daniel and his three friends are taken to Babylon (see Daniel 1:1-7)

·        In 597 B. C. Ezekiel is taken captive to Babylon – 2nd exile (see 2 Kings 24:8-14)

·        In 586 B. C. Jerusalem and the temple are destroyed by the Babylonian army - 3rd exile to Babylon (Jer. 52:1-15)

Outline of “Finish the Race”

1)    New level/new devils

2)    Don’t drop out of the race when trials, suffering or persecution comes

3)    If you fall, get back up in the saddel again

4)    Finish the race, don’t look back

5)    It’s not how you start, but how you finish.

Introduction: 11:18-28; 12:1-6

The men of Anathoth, Jeremiah’s hometown, had plotted to kill him because of his messages.  Why?  Because Jeremiah was preaching of the coming judgment from Babylon on Judah/Jersualem.  Many Jews felt his prophecies were harmful to the nation (10:17-22).

Far later in his ministry (see 38:1-4).

12:1-4) Jeremiah’s complaint: (12:1-2) Why do the wicked prosper?  It was a question being asked then, and is still being asked today.  Jeremiah let his eyes become fixed on the prosperity of the wicked (like we do sometimes). Morally it’s “backward.”  The wicked increase in wealth and power and the righteous are under the gun with trouble and calamity.

12:3) Jeremiah suggested that God judge them and drag them away like sheep and butcher and slaughter them like they wanted to do to him (11:18-21)

12:4) How long…will the land, judgment lie parched: must have been a series of droughts (3:3;12:4;14:1-6;23:10)  People say, “We’re safe” - see 5:12, Zeph. 1:12

12:5-6) God’s answer

12:6) Even Jeremiah’s own family had betrayed him

Jeremiah 12:5:  "If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?


1) New level/New devils:

When God “answers” Jeremiah, He doesn’t talk about how the wicked ones are prospering, but talks about Jeremiah’s future.  God is getting the prophet Jeremiah “ready for the long haul”, the next 35 to 40 years of ministry.  It seems like God is over-stepping all of Jeremiah’s “whys” and “how longs” to say something else to Jeremiah.  When you first read it (12:5), it seems to be out of place (at least to me it does).  It doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the text (but it does).  But it does when you read it as a whole (the big picture).

We’ve all heard it said if you want to go to the new level, you will have to face a “new devil.”  Well, that would certainly be true with Jeremiah.  The Lord warns Jeremiah that in the future his troubles would only increase.

God was saying to Jeremiah if you can’t handle the lightweight stuff in your life right now, how are you going to handle the heavy duty stuff in the future?  Like the king, his court [kingdom officials and administrators] the priests, false prophets and “all the people” (26:11).

12:5 – Land of peace/safe country: at this time (about 622 BC) the nation of Judah had no wars.  It was a time of prosperity and material success for many people.  There were actually reforms going on under King Josiah (see 2 Chronicles 34:1-8).  Jeremiah experienced the “golden years” of Josiah until he was killed in battle in 609 BC (2 kings 23:29).  The next four kings after Josiah were not too friendly toward Jeremiah.

Note: Josiah’s reforms did much good but failed to bring about (not sent yet: real revival (only a weak and superficial “outward” revival).

God was saying to Jeremiah if you can barely make it when things are going real good, what are you going to do when things got thought or real bad? 

God also may be calling you to a new level.  To do more study time, and less TV/computer time, or repent of something you may be doing (or something that you may not be doing).  It may mean a new level of obedience or consecration or setting apart to God.  John 3:30 - “He must increase I must decrease.”  Isaiah 1:19-20 – “If you are willing and obedient you will eat the best or good from the land but if you resist and rebel you will be devoured by the sword (you will be killed or conquered by your enemies).  I, the Lord have spoken.”  For being set apart see 2 Timothy 2:20-21.

Question: What is holding you back from going on with God to the next level?  Are you waiting for all your ducks to be lined up in a row “just right?”  Are you waiting for conditions to be perfect?  If you are waiting for everything to be perfect, you will never step out with God to the next/new level. Are you waiting for all the planets to get lined up in a row “just right?”  You are going to wait for a long time.

Jeremiah 12:8:

When you move up to a new level with God, there will be facing. Again, many of us have heard it said, “new level, new devils, and that’s true. How many of you know that there is a real devil out there, and he wants to kill, steal, and destroy God’s plans for your life and he isn’t dressed up in a pretty red or black suit with a spear or pitch fork in his hand neither. You might see him “dressed up” like a drug dealer, or a prostitute, or a friend who wants you to go out and party and drink, or go out clubbing at bars with them, you might see him on the internet on a xxx rated site or bookstore. He might come in the form of discouragement or disobedience to throw you off course. When Jesus went from being a carpenter, to full time ministry, He literally faced the devil “face to face” three different times in Matthew 4. When you go to the next level with God, you also will be facing “New Devils”.

In the army or military there is a ranking order; private, corporal, specialist, sergeant, Lieutenant, Captain, Major and so on up. It’s no different with Satan and his fallen angels. They also have different levels of authority. Ephesians (6:12) tells us, that there is a “rank and file order” in the spirit world as it is in the natural world, so it is in the spiritual world. In 1 Samuel 17:34-37 it tells about how David started out killing both lions and bears while taking care of the sheep. But in (17:50-51) David “moved up to the next level” by killing the giant Goliath.

We need to put the devil on notice, “I’m putting you on notice devil, I’m going to the next level with God.”

Ecclesiastes (11:4) says, “he who observes the wind [and waits for all conditions to be favorable] will not sow and he who regards the clouds will not reap.”  So you will neither sow nor reap if you neither sow nor reap if you are waiting for conditions to be just right.”

Story of the farmer: the farmer says, I am going to wait till the weather conditions gets “just right” to plant my crops.  Not too hot and not too cold.  So he waited and waited.  One day it was too cold and chilly.  The next day it was too windy. Another day it was too hot and another day the sky was cloudy and overcast. And, yet another day it was going to rain.  Guess what, he never did get around to planting any crops, and neither will you if you wait till everything is just right.

Question: are you going to take it to the next level with God or stay where you are at?

See (11:18-19, 12:6; 20:2;26:8-11, 28-29;37:13-15;38:6)


2) Don’t drop out of the race when trials, suffering or persecution comes:

(Jeremiah 12:6; James 1:2) Jeremiah could have dropped out of the race when things started getting tough but he didn’t.  He would have had a much easier time making a living as a priest (Jeremiah 1:1).

There was a plot to kill him (11:18-19) and his own family had betrayed him (12:6).  Jeremiah was beaten and put into stocks (20:2).  Jeremiah was threatened by death by the priests, false prophets and people (26:8-11), has to deal with false prophets (28-29), was called a deserter, arrested, imprisoned (37:13-15) and put into a cistern (38:6).  He was misunderstood, persecuted, and if that wasn’t enough, had to face constant opposition from political and religious leaders (for most of his ministry). 

You know throughout history, Christians have faced everything from loss of employment to imprisonment to torture, to persecution, and even death (that continues throughout the world even today). How many of you have ever gone to prison because of the gospel? Or beaten or arrested for the gospel?

Trials of Gold

Text: 1 Peter1:6-7, 4:12)

a) Trials prepare us for spiritual growth:

Peter says our trials . . . worth more than gold. If I were to give you a choice of:

1. A severe trial

2. 1,000 dollars, what would you pick?

If I took a guess, you would probably pick the 1,000 dollars. Some of us may say, God these trials are not good or fair (Romans 8:28). Joseph could have said that, it’s not fair what’s happening to me God.

In Genesis (41:52) he says, “for God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction. God meant it for good.” (50:20).

Trials come in many “different colors”, shapes, and sizes. Some are big, some are small. They are not all alike, or the same. Remember, our various trials are only “for a season” but the results are eternal.

Some of us might say to God, “these trials are not good”, or “these trials are not fair God”. In Romans ???  and we know that in all things God works for the good (even trials) of those who love Him.

Joseph could have said, but it’s not fair what has happened to me God. In Genesis 50:20, “but as for you, you thought evil against me, but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people. Also, even when Joseph was put into the pit, and sold as a slave in Egypt, then put into prison in Egypt and suffered for many years in prison. God had a plan for Joseph (41:52) “For God hath caused me to be ?????? in the land of my affliction.”

Trials should make us grow. We should see “growth marks” with God. If you have children, sometimes you will mark their height. Then a few months later, check again. Usually they have grown some. They are usually still not the same height as before.

A trial is like a carrot cake. Let me explain. To make a carrot cake you will need flour to start out with. Most people do not eat flour by itself. It will also need sugar, eggs, salt, baking powder, and a few other things. You can probably tell I am not a baker. But I so like to eat cake. By themselves they don’t taste too good, but when they are all mixed together you have a beautiful carrot cake. Then cook at 350 degrees for 15 minutes then 325 for 15 minutes and you will have a carrot cake.

The events of Joseph’s life: Joseph was sold as a slave and taken to Egypt (Genesis 37:28). Put into prison for four or five years (39:20). Interprets Pharaoh’s dream and made Prime Minister, second only to Pharaoh (41:40-43). Joseph saved the known world, Egypt and Israel from famine (41:56-57, 45:11).

b) Satan wants you to fail in your trials (Luke 22:31-34; 55-62, story of Job):

Satan wanted Peter to fail; he also wants you to fail.

Book of Job: Why do the righteous suffer? It was a question asked then, and is still being asked today. Our natural thinking would justify suffering coming to an evil or wicked person, but when it comes into the life of the righteous, that becomes a “theological question.” We think they are unfair and unjust. Today as in Job’s day, we have a misunderstanding of God’s trials.

c) Don’t be surprised by your trials (1Peter 4:12):

“Do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you”. Apparently Peter’s readers were “surprised” to hear, that they would have to suffer as Christians. Back in the time of Peter, a refiner would put the gold he had mined into a heated furnace to separate the worthless scum from the gold.     Peter saw the fire as a refining process, to purify us, not to burn us. Remember trials are controlled by God. He keeps His hands on the thermostat. God knows just the “right temperature”. God always knows how long to keep us in there. In a trial, Satan wants to bring out the worst in us, but God wants to bring out the best.

The Boxer Rebellion in China:  The Chinese Christians knew an upheaval was coming, but missionaries told them that Jesus would rapture them away before they had to face any of the coming violence.  When the violence did hit, and no such rapture took place, thousands of Chinese Christians lost their faith because they were not ready to face suffering.  They were persecuted beaten and killed.  Many lost their houses, lands, and possessions.

Today many Christians living in the west are not prepared to suffer.  Many don’t even believe that they might have to suffer for the gospel.  Yes trials, suffering, and persecution will come, will you be ready for it when it does?


3) If you fall, get back up in the saddle again:

Mark (John Mark) was a companion of Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey (Acts 12:12; 12:25; 13:5l; 13:13; 15:36-40).  Mark had quit and deserted them (13:13) and went back to Jerusalem.  He was homesick; maybe he was missing his mom’s home cooking.

Paul flat out refuses to take Mark on his second journey.  He was probably afraid Mark was going to quit on him again.  But what’s interesting, Mark later reappears in both Paul’s and Peter’s letters.  About twelve years later, from Acts 15:36-40, Mark reappears in Paul’s letter in Colossians 4:10/Philemon 24, and about five years after that, Paul writes in 2 Timothy 4:11 “get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.”  What a compliment given to Mark by the apostle Paul.

Peter calls him “my son Mark” in 1 Peter 5:13.  Mark was Peter’s spiritual son.  Mark was a close associate of Peter.  Mark wrote down the things said and done by the Lord (told to him by Peter).  Mark had not only proved himself to Paul, but also to Peter.  Mark got back into the game again.  He not only got back into the game again, but he went on to write the gospel of Mark (anybody read that lately). What if he hadn’t got up in the saddle again?  We wouldn’t have the gospel of mark to read.  Some of you need to get back up and into the saddle again.

Mark 16:7

Another one who fell off the saddle:  Peter “the Rock” (Luke 22:31-34; 54-62) Peter denied being one of Jesus’ disciples (not once, not twice, but three times).  On the third denial as Jesus was being led past, He looked at Peter.  After being with Jesus for about three years, Peter denies knowing Him.  When Jesus “looked” over at Peter, it must have hit him like a hammer.  Peter blew it big time, and he knew it.  Maybe Peter thought I’ll just go back to fishing because the Lord has no more use for me now (John 21:3). 

Fishing was Peter’s old like and occupation.  Maybe some of you have also blown it big time and are thinking, “The Lord can’t use me now…I’ll just go back to fishing…How I used to live before I knew Christ.  In Mark 16:7, I like what it says “But go tell his disciples and Peter (you can put your own name there).

Question: How many of you think it was a mistake that the writer (Mark) put “and Peter” in there?  Jesus was showing special concern for Peter after his denials.

In John 21:3-6, Peter goes “fishing” with six other disciples.  After they had fished and worked hard all night, they came back with no fish.  Jesus then directed them to cast the nets on the right side of the boat.  Jesus again provided a catch of supernatural fish.  Peter must have had a flashback to where Jesus has also provided a catch of supernatural fish.

What’s interesting in the three years or so that the disciples were with Jesus, it is only recorded once in the Bible where only Peter went fishing.  At that time, he was told to do so by Jesus.  Go catch the first fish and pay the tax with the coin in the fish’s mouth (Matthew 17:24-27).  I believe the reason they came back empty with no fish was because Jesus was showing them that they were no longer called to “catch fish” but called to be a “fisher of men”  (Matthew 4:19; Luke 5:10).  The fish they had just caught were but a symbol of the harvest of the multitudes of people who needed to be caught for Christ.

In John 21:15-22, Jesus reinstates Peter.  Three times the Lord asked Peter, “Lovest thou me?” maybe just to match the number of times that Peter had denied Him.  In John 21:19, Jesus tells Peter to “follow Me” and again in 21:22 “You, follow Me.”  Now let’s fast forward it to the book of Acts.  In the book of Acts (2:14-12:17) we see Peter as an apostle, a leader, a spokesman, an evangelist, a pillar to the early church, was God’s instrument to bring the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 10) and went on to write the books of First and Second Peter in the Bible.  “What a resume” for a man who had blown it big time.

Story: “falling in the mud puddle” As you are walking along you suddenly slip and fall into a muddy hole.  Now you have mud all over you and your clothes (from your head to your feet).  What would you do if you were nearby your house?   You would probably go home, take a shower, and put on clean clothes, or would you walk around all day with mud all over you and your clothes?  Spiritually when we fall, we must get back up again, repent, and go on with God.  Yes because of our human weaknesses, at times we may fall and slip and stumble.  We might even “mess up.”  When that happens, just remember John, Mark, and Peter and get up and keep going.


4) Finish the Race/Don’t Look Back:

“If only I may finish the race and complete the task the lord Jesus has given me” (Acts 20:24) - Apostle Paul. 

In his letters, the Apostle Paul/others use many illustrations of a runner/athlete (1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Hebrews 12:1; 2 Timothy 4:7)

a)   Philippians 3:12: “not that I have already attained, or have already been made perfect.” 

Paul was saying in modern lingo, “I haven’t arrived yet.”  The word ‘perfect’ in the Greek [Strong’s #5048] means “to accomplish, to fulfill, to complete, to finish.  This statement is from a man who wrote one fourth (1/4) of the New Testament, who went on three missionary trips (Acts 13-20), founded numerous churches and led many people to Christ.

For many of us, if we had done only a small part of what the Apostle Paul had done, we would say and think “I’ve done enough God, I’m finished.”  Had Paul thought that he might have been tempted to stop or even let up a little bit?  But God wasn’t finished with Paul yet, even when he went to prison.

b)   Philippians 3:13: “Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forth to what lies ahead.” (KJV Bible).

If you were running a race and “looked back”, it could throw off your stride or it could slow you down, or you might even trip up.  Most runners in a race don’t look back “very much” at least not in a short race.

“Reaching” in verse 13 (Greek #1901) means “to stretch (oneself) forward upon, reach forth”.  It could mean a runner stretching forward in a race.  Too many Christians are trying to run the race by looking “backward.”  What you used to be or what you used to have.  Paul required to let his past accomplishments and successes in God, stop him from pressing towards God’s goal.

Note:  Paul wrote Philippians when he was a prisoner at Rome (1:13).

Genesis 19:17-26) Lot’s wife represents Christians who hearts/lives are still in the world.  Lot’s wife did not want to go on with God but “stay in Sodom.”  Her heart was still in Sodom, and she didn’t want to give it up and leave.  Sodom represents the world and the world system.

Notes from Amplified Bible:  Lot’s wife not only “looked back” to where her heart’s interests were, but she lingered behind and probably was overtaken by the fire and brimstone, her dead body became encrusted with salt, which is that salt-packed area now the Dead Sea, grew larger with more incrustations – an inevitable “pillar of salt.”

In Luke 9:62 Jesus said, “No man who puts his hand to the plow and looks back [to the things behind] is fit for the kingdom of God.”  I’m not a farmer but I’ve been told if you are plowing a field and you look back, your rows or lines won’t be straight.

Forgetting those things which are behind:  Paul wasn’t saying we must have a total memory loss; “To forget” in the Bible means “to no longer be influenced or affected by.”  It means we break the power of our past. Forgetting our past (both good and bad) and forgetting successes as well as failures.  Too many Christians are trying to drive a car forward, looking back in the rear view mirror. 

c)   Philippians 3:14: “I press” is also found in 3:12: this same verb is translated “I follow after” and it carries the idea of an intense endeavor.  The Greeks used it to describe a hunter eagerly pursuing his prey.  The same zeal that the Apostle Paul used when he persecuted the church (Acts 8:3) he used in serving Christ.  Come to think of it, wouldn’t it be wonderful if Christians put as much zeal in their spiritual life as they did their hunting/fishing, golfing, baseball, basketball, football and hockey games. 

3:14: (goal) this word refers to the marker at the end of a race, or which the runners intently fixed their eyes on.  Each believer had a goal God wants us to reach.  Let us fix our eyes on the finish line.

Note: the Apostle Paul wrote the books of Philemon, Colossians, Ephesians, and Philippians when he was a prisoner at Rome (Acts 28:16-31) during his first imprisonment.  These four books are called “the prison Epistles.”  Paul gets out of prison and went on to write First Timothy and the book of Titus.

Then Paul gets put back into prison (his second imprisonment) and writes the book of 2 Timothy. All make reference to Paul in prison (Col 1:24; Eph 3:1; 4:1; 6:20; Philemon 1; Phil 1:12-14; 2 Tim 1:16, 2:9).  What if Paul had given up when he had first gone to prison in Acts 28?  We would have seven less books in the Bible.


5) Its not how you start but how you finish:
The Bible is filled with people who began a good race but failed at the end. It happened to Lot (Genesis 19), Samson (Judges 16), King Saul (1 Samuel 31), and others. They may not have lost their salvation but they did lose their rewards (1 Cor. 3:15). Example of two people in the Bible, one finished the race, the other did not (Lot and Abraham).

Both Lot and Abraham started out together form the Ur of the Chaldees (Genesis 11:31). What’s also interesting, both Lot and Abraham were living in the land of Canaan together. Both men had the same opportunity. Lot also had a great opportunity to become a man of God with Abraham as his mentor. Another interesting point, nowhere in the Bible do you find where Lot ever built an altar (or called out to God or had any meetings with God – Abraham did). Lot chose a piece of land which he eventually lost. But God gave to Abraham the whole land of Canaan. What a contrast between Lot and Abraham. Lot gets a cave to live in, Abraham the land of Canaan [to live in].

Lot went on to become a spiritual failure and had a shameful end, but Abraham goes on to inherit the promises of God and become great and rich (with a happy ending).

·        Lot and Abram separate (Genesis 13:11)

·        Lot “pitched his tents near Sodom (Gen 13:12)

·        In the next chapter, “Lot was living in Sodom.”  (Genesis 14:12)

·        God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 1:9:24-29)

·        Lot inherits Zoar.  Zoar means little or small.  Lot ends up living in a cave (Genesis 19:20-22; 30)

Abraham: As Abraham moved from place to place, he built altars/called out to God and had meetings with God.  See Gen 12:7-8; 13:4, 18; 15:1-7; 17:1; 18:1; 21:12; 22:1-2.  Abraham inherits the land of Canaan and God makes him rich in livestock (herds, silver, and gold, men and women servants (Genesis 24:35).  God makes him into a great nation (Israel).  The Messiah (Jesus Christ) would also come from Abraham’s descendants (Matt 1:1-2).

Only about 30% percent of the men in the bible finished well.  70% percent did not finish well.  It’s not how you start but how you finish (Luke 14:20-30).  They don’t pass out the trophies at the starting line but at the fishing line.  Be a good finisher.  Many Christians don’t finish the race, and receive only a small part of what God has for them (like Lot).  We want to be like Abraham.  We want to be good finishers “Finish the face, Finish your race.”

Editor’s Note:

Philippians by Warren W. Wiersbe

The Pentateuch by Thomas Holdcroft 

America’s Last Call by David Wilkerson