Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent 2017

 

Do not fear. As we close the third chapter of Lamentations, it is important we see confidence in God as key when enduring turmoil. For Judah as she faced the consequences for her centuries of unrepentant sins, such God ward confidence was needed. Judah had an issue with placing confidence in all the wrong places. We all as sinful human beings have this issue. When we place our confidence into improper things for success, it backfires. Often when we place our confidence in sinful things, it is out of fear. This morning, let us meditate on the importance of trusting in God with full confidence through all we face as His people.

Hunted Like Bird. Verses 52-54

          Verse 52 states, “I have been hunted like a bird by those who were my enemies without a cause.” Verses 52-54 provide the background for where Judah was in suffering for her sins. Her enemy treated her like a wild animal to be trapped and eaten. In the ancient Middle East, hunting birds for food consisted of setting traps to ensnare them. It was not pleasant for the bird. Throughout the Old Testament, we read of examples of God saving His people through the imagery of freeing them from hunter’s traps. Psalm 31:4 states, “you take me out of the net they have hidden for me, for you are my refuge.”

          The words of this section of our reading continue to illustrate the dire plight of Judah at the hands of her enemy. Verse 53 states, “they flung me alive into the pit, and cast stones on me.” Tying the “without cause” with this verse, what infamous story from the book of Genesis comes to mind with a person being cast into a pit? Joseph’s brothers cast him into a pit out of sinful jealousy. In knowing the full story of Joseph, what was meant for terrible harm, God used for the salvation of His people along with the whole region during a most dire drought. Yes, as verse 54 states, such atrocities committed against Judah seemed as if water was poured over them, making them say, “I am lost.” Often in the midst of suffering, it feels as if the world and sea is falling in over us to the point we cannot breathe on our own. It is such to the point we cry out to the Lord in full trust and confidence in His mercy to carry us through the times ahead … as Joseph did and as Judah did for 70 years in Babylonian captivity.

          Regardless of the situations we face, God in His never-ending mercy provides the way for us to get through it to His glory. We are called in these times not to try to get out of the net through our own devices, but to call upon the name of the Lord in prayer to act in His time in His will. Yes, I am sure Joseph prayed to be released from the pit as soon as possible to be reunited with his father. Instead, that reunion with his father in the fastest way possible was not in God’s will. God rather used Joseph to save his people to reunite him with his father years later. I am sure Judah wanted her plight to end as soon as possible to get back to Jerusalem to rebuild. Instead, God used the 70 years of exile to build His people up to see that their only hope was in Him and nothing else. When facing situations, our call is not to seek escape routes to run from our problems, but to stay content in Christ to pray and wait on His mercy to work out His will in His time.

You have taken up my cause. Verses 55-63

          In verses 55-63, we see that God indeed takes up our cause when we cry out to Him. In this crying out, we are acknowledging all our attempts fail and that we can only cling to His mercy. It is the case of letting go of self-preservation and pride for simply doing as verses 55 states, “I called on your name, O LORD, from the depths of the pit.” For Joseph, this entailed a rescue from the murderous plans of his brothers in a manner that goes against our notions of what constitutes a rescue. Rather, his rescue from the pit through slavery into Egypt set the foundation for him to be God’s instrument to save the region and his people from starvation years later.

          When in the pit, we see we have come to the end of hope in self or others. The only hope is God. We see this in verse 56. “You heard my plea, ‘Do not close your ear to my cry for help!’” The next verse continues with the fact that God indeed came near when He was called and answered, “Do not fear!” This most refreshing reply is what we need to hear when we are hopeless. For, it is God declaring that He will handle our situation, to take up our cause as we read in verse 58.

          In the case of Judah, she was in the wrong for her centuries of impenitence. After turning to all the forbidden means of help and confidence, she had nothing left. It is one thing to lack people on our side when we are in the right and being sinned against. It is another level of hopelessness when we are in the wrong and we finally come to that acknowledgment with no one on our side. God takes up our cause repeatedly. We do not deserve such help. Yet, in His never-ending mercies, He is there for us when all others fail us and leave us in the pit. In Christ, we have this mercy. As we read in Ephesians 5:2 this morning, “Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” In taking up our cause, we are loved and enabled to love. God’s love in Christ dissipates all fears. We can truly take God at His word to not fear. As I John 4:18 states, “There is no fear in love.”

          Verses 59-63 speak of how God witnessed all wrongs committed against His people by their enemies. Often when people say they will come to our aid, they do so without taking full stock of our needs. When they actually see what it occurring, in their weakness as humans, they backtrack or back out altogether. This is not so with God. As we see in these verses, God listened to the litany of wrongs committed against God’s people. In her helpless state, Judah could not defend herself or pick herself up. She could only turn to God for her help and God listened.

          How often in our lives, do we struggle needlessly by turning to all the wrong sources for help? The temptation when we hit these times is to go the wrong routes for sources of confidence through gossip, slander, and other sins rather than clinging solely to Christ in prayer and waiting. This is why we need each other in the Body of Christ. We need each other to keep us on track to go to in our troubles to lead us through patient prayer, spiritual disciplines, and godly counsel to deal with troubles that plague us in the manner proscribed by God in His Word. My first Pastor in the REC always gently stopped a member when they came to him to talk about a problem with another person or member of the Church with this, “Have you talked to the person yet? If not, I do not want to listen until you go to them first.” Taking up our cause is through doing all according to the Word of God.

You will repay them. Verses 64-66

          The last section of Chapter 3, verses 64-66, speaks of how God will deal with those that have wronged us sinfully. These verses are full of how God will repay them according to the work of their hands as verse 64 states. Now, we read in Holy Scripture of two methods God uses to repay. The first is what we see in the larger context of Lamentations, that the Babylonians in their ruthless treatment of Judah would eventually be overwhelmed themselves by another Empire. It is not in our purview as God’s people to be concerned with how He will repay those that sinfully hurt us.

          The danger in concentrating so much on how God will repay is that it often makes us blind in a desire for vengeance. Our Psalm today speaks to properly asking for help in terms of keeping things in perspective. Instead of playing God to micromanage His response to make sure it fits into our own sinful tendencies, verse 9- 10 states, “Deliver me from my enemies, O LORD! I have fled to you for refuge. Teach me to do your will, for you are my God! Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground!” Part of deliverance from our enemies is to give all to God to take care of so that we can concentrate on Him and His Word to sustain us. This level ground is only possible if we give up the sinful need to see to it that our enemies are given the type of repayment we deem necessary.

          Did Joseph after being reunited with his brothers seek to do to them as they did to him? No. Rather, God as Joseph pointed out to his brothers used what they intended for evil to bring about the deliverance of all of them from certain starvation to a place of blessings. The second manner in Holy Scripture God deals with those that have wronged His people was to bring them to repentance into His kingdom. He changes their hearts from disobedience to loving obedience.

Another issue that is crucial here when we have been delivered by God is that we submit to the teachings of God to work in us to bring forth good fruits. As we read in the Gospel today, the warning is very clear for those that have been delivered from sin, from unclean spirits. If the person that is delivered does not seek Christ and His Word in all the means of grace provided by God, his soul is empty and vulnerable to renewed attacks.  It is not enough to ask for deliverance. We need Christ and His Word to fill the void created when God clears out our rubble of sin.

Conclusion

          Our confidence is in Jesus Christ that leads us from the point of abject dread in our sins of self-confidence to the point of not fearing. He takes up our cause repeatedly throughout our lives to remind us to stop taking matters into our own hands. He delivers us to the point we truly have nothing to fear. He repays all that have hurt us by His will, His methods, and in His timing. Let us rest in this confidence. Let us rest in His care to no longer fear what man does to the body. Let us rest in the eternal protection provided by the right hand of His majesty. Amen.