Sermon for Septuagesima Sunday 2017

No resting place. This phrase from Lamentations 1:3 commences a new series for the Pre-Lenten and Lenten Seasons on the Book of Lamentations.  This book at five chapters is one of those OT books that we can easily pass over without knowing it when flipping through last part of the OT. Located between Jeremiah and Ezekiel, Lamentations is often neglected. Yet, as we will see over the next 9 weeks, it is a book of great importance for understanding the brokenness and devastation sin unleashes and God’s response of love in the words of Lamentations 3:22, “His mercies never come to an end.” This morning, we will focus on Lamentations 1, dealing with the downfall of Jerusalem and crying out in distress.

Background

            First, we need to concentrate briefly on the background of Lamentations. The spiritual and physical anguish revealed in these five chapters are heartbreaking. Yet, the events of the fall and destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 586 BC by the Babylonians were the culmination of a long period of sinful decline. This decline began with King Solomon’s fall into idolatry through the influence of his many foreign wives. In the last years of his reign, he built altars and temples for many false gods and worshiped them. As the judgment, God divided the Kingdom after Solomon’s death.

            Even though Judah, known as the southern kingdom, over the next 344 years had many faithful kings, it was not until the reign of Josiah, some 291 years after Solomon, that Solomon’s pagan altars were destroyed. These three and a half centuries, a period much longer than the U.S. has existed, were marked by Judah going back and forth between God and pagan gods; or a mixture of the two. Through much longsuffering and patience, God finally gave His wayward people over to their sins in 586 through destruction and exile from the Promised Land for a period of chastisement. Lamentations, a lament over their self-inflicted plight, paints the poetic picture of brokenness due to unrepentant sin and the need for the repentance, forgiveness, and restoration only God can provide.

Downfall. Verses 1-11

            The first 11 verses of Lamentations speak of God’s people having no resting place due to their downfall. When we deal with our sin and consequences, we need to deal with it in order to own our responsibility and need for repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Lamentations is of immense value when dealing with the consequences of sins at all levels.

            As we read in this section, the consequences sin brings are the opposite of what is promised in the temptation to sin, emptiness. Verse 1 states, “How lonely sits the city (referring to Jerusalem) that was full of people.” Further, the Lamenter here describes being a widow, a slave. As verse 2 continues, “She has none to comfort her.”Even her friends she trusted over God “have dealt treacherously with her; they have become her enemies.”

            This emptiness is the result of unrepentant sin. All that the impenitent people thought would save them failed. The city of Jerusalem had become a source of national pride dating back 380 years to King David. This city was destroyed along with all their pride. In this loss, the people had nothing left from a worldly perspective; going from the status of God’s Bride to the status of widowhood, slavery, and friendlessness.

            Verses 3-5 continue with the result of emptiness, exile. Verse 3 states, “Judah has gone into exile because of affliction and hard servitude.”In the ancient world, murderous tyrants practiced the forced exile of the peoples they conquered. Often, this entailed removing all or almost all of the leadership of a nation to another unfamiliar nation while keeping the poor in place. We read of this in the last chapters of Jeremiah where Jeremiah and a small remnant were left in the land after the rest were shipped off to live in other parts of the Babylonian Empire. Babylon did this to ensure the leadership would not lead revolts. In such, they dwelled “now among the nations” and found “no resting place.”Verse 5 provides the reason for such exile, “because the Lord has afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions.” Often in sin, emptiness and exile are connected.

            Verses 6-7 speak of remembrance. When dealing with the consequences of sin and working through repentance, absolution, and restoration; we have to recall what we threw away in sin. Verse 7 states, “Jerusalem remembers in the days of her affliction and wondering all the precious things that were hers from days of old. When her people fell into the hand of the foe, and there was none to help her, her foes gloated over her, they mocked at her downfall.”Often, the temptation at a low point in a nation’s history is to say we are good and decent compared to those attacking us, undeserving of the consequences of our sins. Here, though, we see the proper way to deal with remembrance, that such were gifts tossed aside after centuries of chances to repent and reform. In order to be restored, we have to acknowledge our sins and our deep need for God to transform and change us.

            Verses 8-11 speak again of the reasons for Judah’s fall. Verse 8 states, “Jerusalem sinned grievously; therefore she became filthy.” Verse 9 continues, “Her uncleanness was in her skirts; she took no thought of her future; therefore her fall is terrible; she has no comforter.”This language speaks of Judah acting as an unfaithful spouse to God. Truly, in sin, we take no thought for the future. Only God can lift us out of our mire to heal, restore, and raise us in His loving grace. When we try to go about life in our own power and strength as Judah did, we will eventually fall. In such brokenness, all we can say is this from the end of verse 9, “O Lord, behold my affliction, for the enemy has triumphed!” Moreover, as verse 11 concludes this section, “Look, O Lord, and see, for I am despised.”

Look, Lord, for I am in distress. Verses 12-22

            This brings us to the last part of chapter 1, verses 12-22. After owning the consequences of sins, the Lamenter cries out to God for help, “Look, Lord, for I am in distress.” After centuries of turning to help in worldly sources, Judah saw all she had was God.

            Verses 12-13 speak out to all, “Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which was brought upon me, which the Lord inflicted on the day of his fierce anger.” These verses serve almost as a warning to all that might consider continuing in rebellion against God. We need God’s help. No matter our current circumstances, He is there to pick us up as lost sheep to take us back in full care, healing, and redemption.

            Verses 14-15 continue to paint the picture of what happened. After 300 plus years of steadily rebelling against God, verse 14 describes what it means to be turned over to our sins for a period of discipline and chastisement, “My transgressions were bound into a yoke; by His hand they were fastened together; they were set upon my neck; He caused my strength to fail; the Lord gave me into the hands of those whom I cannot withstand.” The chastisement from God is not undertaken with glee and joy with no end in sight. No, such is administered out of patience and love, with the end in sight to reconcile. The next verse describes how even the mighty men of Judah were rejected and crushed in defeat. No matter how hard we try to defend self in our strength, we will be humbled in our rebellion against God. Yes, sometimes we may look successful for a time in our power and strength to carry on in sinfulness. All sin ends in being humbled. All sin ends in the posture of looking up and crying out in repentance, seeking the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

            The constant lesson God’s people learned was how God saved them. Much of Holy Scripture is a retelling of the many ways God redeems His people throughout history. Even if we look weak and defenseless from a worldly angle, God protects us and preserves us as His own by grace through faith. The danger of trusting in self, man-made weapons, or anything else of this world for our defense is the same danger Judah toyed with for 344 years before it all came crashing down.

            Verses 16-22, the last part of Lamentations 1, speaks of the repentant sorrow of God’s people for their rebellion. Verse 16 states, “For these things I weep; my eyes flow with tears; for a comforter is far from me, one to revive my spirit.” When Judah was turned over to her sins, she was removed from the Promised Land. God in order to teach His people that comfort was not to be found in idols, cities, or places; exiled them. In exile, He taught them that they could only find comfort in Him.

            We sometimes have to be brought to a place of weeping, groaning, and trouble in order to see that our only comfort is in Jesus Christ. For Judah, all was lost from a worldly perspective. Only God could bring them through hard yet loving discipline to His comfort.

            As verse 18 states, in suffering for a time due to sin, we come to this proper conclusion. “The Lord is in the right, for I have rebelled against His word.” The Lamenter then tells all peoples to hear and see Judah’s suffering in captivity. Verse 20 echoes what has already been written, “because I have been very rebellious.”

            We have to reject the temptation to claim we were wronged when in fact it was our sin that caused the train wreck to occur in the first place. It is a very real temptation to complain in the midst of suffering due to our sins that we do not deserve what is occurring. Such is pride that stems from thinking highly of self just as Judah thought highly of herself for centuries before her downfall. In such excuse making, we are not growing, but rather digging our holes deeper. The proper response is repentance and a cry to the Lord to help us.

            Rather, now, as in the time when Lamentations was written; we see the timeless truth that God cares for us through all we encounter. We see repeatedly that when we seek self, nation, or anything else over God for our comfort and protection, He humbles us in the reality that for the Christian, the only true comfort is in Jesus Christ as our Promised Land, our Passover, and our Protection … no matter what man does to the body.

God hears our groaning and reminds us that He sent His Son to suffer all the consequences of our rebellions. Jesus is present with us in the midst of our times of plenty and in our times of suffering danger and adversity. He answers our groaning with His perfect groaning upon the Cross for us. He answers the cries of Lamentations and us of dealing with our enemies through His loving sacrifice to convert peoples and enemies from throughout the earth. He took all our transgression upon Himself to show us that His mercies indeed never end; that He is our only sure resting place when all the false resting places we tend to seek disappoint, that He lifts us up from our many downfalls, and that He answers our distress with His life, death, resurrection, ascension, and the coming of the Holy Spirit to comfort us as we live in this world.

Let us close with this prayer from Bishop Jeremy Taylor on our Psalm for today, “O King of Heaven, who art the health and strength of our right hand, have mercy upon us, and hear us when we call upon thee, let our prayers come into thy presence like a burnt offering of a sweet savor; for in all our troubles we disclaim all confidences in any of thy creatures and remember thy name only, O Lord our God. Teach us what to ask, and how to come into thy presence, that we may never beg of thee anything but what is agreeable, to thy will, and may then promote thy glory when thou suppliest our necessities, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”