The world remembers 9/11 every year. That date is firmly etched in the minds of people around the world as we remember the destruction that was caused. In the midst of all the events that unfolded that day, many men and women stood out and are remembered as true flesh-and-blood heroes. Yes, these were real life heroes, many giving their lives to save others, quite unlike the ones we see often in the movies and on TV.
Every nation has its heroes in most walks of life, and that’s true of my beloved nation of Sri Lanka, as well. It’s good to remember them with gratitude for the influence they have had in our own nations.
The Bible, too, has its list of heroes, many of whom are preached about on any given Sunday. Hebrews 11 often is called The Who’s Who of the Heroes of the Faith. While many of the well-known heroes of the Bible are mentioned in this chapter, verses 33-38 also cites others whose names are not mentioned. I would like to call them the unseen heroes or unknown heroes of the faith. Although unseen, they were nevertheless effective in the roles they played for God.
In this sermon, I would like to speak about one such unknown hero. He was from an Ethiopian background and served in the palace of King Zedekiah, in the time of Jeremiah the prophet. In the story, found in Jeremiah 38:4-13, Jeremiah is imprisoned in a cistern filled with mud (Jer. 38:6) by the spineless King Zedekiah (Jer. 38:5), with the real possibility of facing death (Jer. 38:4, 6, 9). The plot had been hatched through the machinations of some powerful but corrupt government officials who hated Jeremiah’s prophecies.
When the situation looked precarious for Jeremiah, an unknown hero of the faith who trusted in God stepped in, and what a difference it made! Jeremiah’s life was spared! The man’s name was Ebed-Melech.
Proposition: Today, you can be a hero for God (known or unknown)!
I want to share the following three reasons Ebed-Melech turned out to be a hero, and thereafter, speak about the reward he received.
1) He was a hero because he was courageous (Jer. 38:8-11).
Ebed-Melech decided he would not sit back and watch the prophet’s demise. Instead, he had the courage to do something. He went on a dangerous mission to the king, to intercede for Jeremiah’s life. Such a mission could have had serious consequences for him, considering that powerful men had been behind the plot. To complicate matters, the king gave Ebed-Melech 30 men as a possible security contingent. While this would have brought him protection for the moment, it also made him very visible to his enemies, thus probably endangering his future more!
One thing was certain. He was not going on a secret mission anymore. He was willing to be identified!
The church of today needs men with the courage of Ebed-Melech, people who will stand up for the cause of Christ and be identified! Instead of retreating, we need to advance the gospel no matter what opposition comes against us. We need to speak up when our voices need to be heard, specifically on behalf of the downtrodden and for those who are vulnerable. Being silent could be interpreted as a lack of courage. A man of God once said, “Courage is contagious; when brave men take a stand, the spines of others are stiffened.”
Let us ask God today for the kind of courage we need to overcome all the schemes of the evil one. Similar to Ebed-Melech, our courage should be based on our trust in God (Jer. 39:18).
Illustration: The founding pastor of our church, Rev. Colton Wickramaratne, was once, many years ago, told by a gang of unbelievers to deny his faith in God. If not, they threatened to throw him into a swirling river nearby. With courage received by the Lord, Colton refused to deny his faith, and the Lord came to his rescue. He is still alive today and serving the Lord as fervently as ever!
2) His name reflects a servant heart (Jer. 38:7).
The name Ebed-Melech means, “The king’s servant.” It seems obvious this Ethiopian man had served the king with that kind of a servant heart because the king considered his appeal favourably. He clearly respected Ebed-Melech’s judgment.
In the same way, the very actions he took to rescue Jeremiah, at great danger to himself, show that his heart was in the right place. We will see another aspect of his servant heart in the next sermon point.
Friends, if we are to be heroes for God, we need to ask the Lord to help us have a servant’s heart. Let us not forget Jesus set the perfect example by washing His own disciples’ feet. Imagine that, the mighty Son of God washing the feet of Peter and Judas! He also told them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them…but you are not to be like that” (Luke 22:25-26).
Illustration: There is a story of a couple who wanted to help a college that was in need of finances. When they approached the college, they noticed a man painting the walls of the campus and asked where they could meet the president. The man replied that the president would be in his office a few hours later, pointing in the direction of his office. The couple thanked the man, confirming they would return at the given time. When they came back and entered the president's office, to their shock they discovered him to be the same man who had been painting the walls a few hours earlier! Of course, they had no hesitation thereafter in giving their money to support the college.
Are you willing to ask God for the heart of a servant?
3) He had the love and wisdom to do something special (Jer. 38:11-13).
Ebed-Melech felt Jeremiah’s pain. He knew Jeremiah’s armpits probably would have been wounded when he was let down by ropes into the cistern. He also realized those same wounds would be aggravated when Jeremiah was being pulled out of the cistern with ropes. So, what did he do?
Scripture says Ebed-Melech first went to a room under the treasury from where he could get some rags and worn out clothes (Jer. 38:11). Thereafter, he let down the ropes, with the rags, advising Jeremiah to put the rags and worn out clothes under his arms to pad the ropes so his body would not be injured further! Soon after, Jeremiah was hauled out of the cistern to safety. A quote I came across says, “Duty makes us do things well, but love makes us do them beautifully.”
A hero for God stands out not only because of what he does, but also because of how he does it. He stands out because of the love and wisdom that flows from him to serve others. There’s a big difference between standing over a fallen man and lifting him up, and from getting on to the ground where he has fallen, putting our arms around him and lovingly raising him to his feet. Let that Spirit work in us, even as we lift the fallen wounded inside and outside the body of Christ.
4) He was rewarded by God (Jer. 39:15-18).
God neither forgets us (Isa. 49:15) nor does He forget what we do for Him. Humans often forget but not our Lord! Jesus told the lady who anointed Him that what she did always would be spoken of, which is exactly what happens whenever that story is preached. It was the same for Ebed-Melech. God rewarded him for what he did as shown in Jeremiah 39:15-18. In fact, the following five promises were given to Ebed-Melech through Jeremiah.
a) I will rescue you (v. 17).
b) You will not be given into the hands of those you fear (v. 17).
c) I will save you (v. 18).
d) You will not fall by the sword (v. 18).
e) You will escape with your life (v. 18).
When you honor God, your reward is assured.
I would like to take a moment to encourage all the pastors and servants of God who have been ministering faithfully in difficult situations. You may feel you are unseen or unknown. You may wonder what effect your ministry is having. Well, the same God who worked in this story sees everything you do for Him, and He will surely reward you.
Let me close by challenging you to be one of God’s unknown heroes. Speaking of the heroes of Hebrews 11, the Bible says, "the world was not worthy of them” (Heb. 11:38). Nobody may see or know what you do for Him, but as you touch lives for Jesus, the results of your actions will speak for all eternity. Sure, the glory should go to the Lord Jesus who is our ultimate Hero, but maybe one day, many will look at you, young and old alike, and express the feelings reflected in the pop song made popular by Bette Midler and Lou Rawls.
Did you ever know that you’re my hero
You’re everything I would like to be
I can fly higher than an eagle
You are the wind beneath my wings
Of course, the Lord will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:23).
God bless you!!