A few years ago, good news-bad news jokes were popular. One had to do with the pilot announcing over the intercom: “My co-pilot is drunk, an engine it out and we have no more fuel. We’re hundreds of miles from our destination, but the good news is we have plenty of peanuts.”
The ancient prophet Jeremiah likewise had good news and bad news for the nation of Judah. The bad news was that the enemy was “at the gates.” Babylon rose as the great power intent on world conquest. A cruel ruler, Nebuchadnezzar, came to the throne in 604 B.C., and he took pleasure when he saw captives, naked and chained, being lead into the capital city.
Jeremiah wrote, “The whole land trembles at the approach of the terrible army, for the enemy is coming, and is devouring the land and everything in it” (Jeremiah 8:16).
Our nation has known this kind of dread a few times. The young nation was again threatened by Great Britain in 1812. The British burned the nation’s capital and then moved to Baltimore to attack Ft. McHenry. An American lawyer was detained on a British warship and had a front-row seat to the attack. The next morning Frances Scott Key saw the “star-spangled banner” yet waving “over the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
And the present generation shared collective dread on 9/11. No one had ever thought about evil men using airplanes as missiles, but that day 3,000 Americans died.
The Jews thought they were safe because the temple of Solomon in Jerusalem was understood to be the throne of God. They even sang a little chorus: “The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are these” (Jeremiah 7:4). Dr. Dale Moody used to say this was the first praise chorus in the Bible! The point was that the people treated the temple like a good luck charm, thinking they could live wayward lives and be protected by the Lord.
But Jeremiah had some good news. He said there was a balm in Gilead and physicians there (Jeremiah 8:22). Gilead was famous for a healing ointment and a medical community, much as we’d refer to the Mayo Clinic today. Times were tough, but healing was available for the sin-sick nation of Judah.
In his memoirs, “Decision Points,” former President George W. Bush wrote about an encounter with Billy Graham who encouraged him to ask God’s help in overcoming his drinking. Bush came to Christ and said now he feels a special connection to the testimony of John Newton: “I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.”