Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent 2017

It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. With this in Lamentations 3:26, we continue our series for Pre-Lent and Lent on this short yet profound book from the Old Testament. In this third chapter, we encounter God’s mercy in response to our sin. God extends his mercies that never end to us in calling us to repent and return. As we have seen in these last few weeks, Lamentations contains the mourning and crying out to the Lord after the destruction of Judah. Yes, quite a few Kings of Judah were godly. Yet, evil increased with the ungodly Kings to the point Judah needed to suffer the consequences of her sin to come to a place of repentance. This morning, let us through Lamentations 3:25-39 focus on God’s call upon us to live in patient love with each other through submission to Him.

Patience. Verses 25-33

            First, verses 25-33 speak of the need for patience as Christians. When we fall into sin, it often stems from impatience. This was the problem with King Saul. Instead of waiting for Samuel to arrive to offer the sacrifice before fighting the invading Philistines, Saul in fear over losing more men to desertion offered the sacrifice himself. The consequence of this sin was that the Kingdom would be given to another.

            We could say the ultimate destruction of Jerusalem after 340 years was due to the people living in the default mode of impatience, taking matters into their own hands. The nature of repenting for our sins and turning back to God is to trust God’s forgiveness through the restorative qualities patience fosters. Verse 25 states, “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.” Waiting on the Lord entails an active component, seeking. Passive waiting or patience is indifference to what is right and wrong. Seeking the Lord is gratitude for all He has done for us. It is to act in gratitude through love.

            Seeking the Lord is to do so in a waiting mode for His timing. Verses 26 states, “It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” The Lamenter in the next four verses outlines what waiting quietly for the salvation of the Lord looks like in life. We often try in impatience to get God to hurry up through our own actions, words, and methods into situations. These often fail and make situations take a lot longer to get through to teach us the valuable lesson of waiting on God in His timing.

            The four verses about what waiting looks like in waiting for the Lord deal with our work and going through suffering. These are both things in life that test our patience and faith. Verse 27 relates, “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.” Often, issues develop in a culture when youth feel entitled to the point they have issues with hard work. For Judah, many of their issues with idolatry, which is really a manifestation of self-worship, came forth through the maltreatment of the meek, the poor. The main point here is that hard work teaches us humility and patience. It teaches us that we can only do so much with our hands and that we must patiently work with them under the care and grace of God. It teaches us that we are called to work for our living with what God has given us in terms of our mental and physical faculties.

            Verses 28-30 provide a picture of patient dependence upon God when suffering. Sitting alone in silence when suffering is laid upon us is to wait on the timing of the Lord in faithfulness. Sitting in silence while suffering is to resist the temptation we all undergo in hardships to find an escape or to find a short cut from what God is teaching us. Sitting in silence, putting our mouth in the dust as verse 29 describes, draws us to God alone for our hope. In such silence and the reminder that we are dust, we own our need for God.

We see that in Jesus Christ, He is with us in the midst of our sufferings because He alone suffered all perfectly for us to save us. Jesus perfectly fulfilled what we read in verse 30 for our sakes, “let him give his cheek to the one who strikes, and let him be filled with insults.” Our impatience causes us NOT to turn the other cheek. Our impatience causes us to reply to insults with insults. Our impatience causes us to reject godly advice and admonitions. Jesus our Lord suffered all of these without striking back, without answering insult for insult. The mark of godly patience is to rely on the love and grace of Christ to endure all things to His glory, knowing our eternal reward is assured through Christ’s perfection for our sakes.

Ultimately, these actions of God for us through Christ find fruition in dealing patiently with suffering in verses 31-33. God will not cast off forever. Through instilling patience, He has “compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love.” If He loved us with the selfish love of this world, our impatience would be glorified as a virtue. This is why the value of patience in the Church and in all our relationships is important for building us up in Jesus Christ. If we find ourselves resisting things that instill and call us to patience, we must examine self to see if we are seeking escape routes and shortcuts so that we can remain the center of all things. Patience is a lesson God constantly teaches us, whether we are a toddler or advanced in years. We must learn in Christ to submit to such through reliance upon His grace to wait on His timing through His Body the Church.

Warnings against Hatred. Verses 34-36

            Our next section is an object lesson of what happens when impatience becomes the norm for a nation. Verses 34-36 speak of the dire warnings against hatred or injustice. Hatred and injustice are a manifestation of impatient sin. We do not like the way God is working in His time, so we seek short cuts on the backs of people to oppress them to prop ourselves up in a false manner. Verse 34 states, “To crush underfoot all the prisoners of the earth.”This is an indication that Judah followed more the practice of the surrounding nations in treatment of prisoners than the stipulations in God’s Word. For Israel, all people were treated with decency and respect. Crimes such as theft according to the Word were to be dealt with through repentance and restitution of that which was stolen to the owner. Such crimes were not meant to bring about unjust penalties such as chattel slavery or indefinite imprisonment. To crush prisoners underfoot is to take on the role of god to treat them with inhumanity and cruelty. This is where Judah was as a society at her fall to the Babylonians. The level injustice and hatred are seen in a society is by how prisoners are treated. It is not to say that there should not be consequences for sins. It is to say that Judah tacked on human centered stipulations over and beyond what God’s Law required. In such systems, people made in the image of God are treated with hatred and contempt.

This is what is meant by denying a person justice in the presence of the Most High as we read in verse 35. In other words, they were perverting justice through corruption. God witnessed it and used His prophets to call them to repent. The last verse of this section speaks of not allowing a person to seek the proper restitution for crimes against him in court. Judah in her sins was protecting the rights of the leadership to be shielded from having to deal with the meek they hurt. In judgment for these cruelties, most of the leadership of Judah was removed in exile to other parts of the Babylonian empire while the poor and meek remained in the Land.

Submission to God’s Sovereignty and Mercy. Verses 37-39

            The last part of this section, verses 37-39, speaks of submission to God’s sovereignty and mercy. We often do not like it when someone else is in control. This is especially true of God. This is why Judah acted as she acted for over three hundred years. Verse 37 asks this question, “Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it?”In our sin nature, we like to think we are like God with His power. This is far from the truth. The more we come to the point of knowing that God reigns and rulesover all, the more we can be free to love and obey. It is another sign of sinful impatience when we try to take credit instead of honoring God.

            The last verse of our lesson speaks to what we often encounter in terms of our emotions when dealing with the consequences of our sins. “Why should a living man complain, a man, about the punishment of his sins?”Yet, complaining is our default when dealing with the consequences of our sins. What we often ignore in terms of the consequences of our sins is that discipline is an act of love. It is an act of love to want the very best for the sinner and for the person hurt. It is to give the proper time for healing, restoration, and reconciliation to occur. Often, the chief complainers against the punishment for sins are those that are still convinced they did nothing wrong in the first place. The point of punishment is not vengeance for the sake of making people suffer with no reason behind it. No, the point of proper godly punishment for sins is to garner true repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. When avoiding the consequences of sins or complaining about the consequences, we are seeking sinful escape routes.

Yes, suffering for our sins is painful. Yet, God uses these moments to point us to Jesus Christ that paid the eternal penalties for our sins. We still deal with the outcome of sins against others in this life that have to be lived through in Christ to learn what He wants us to learn. To shun these lessons or to flee from them is the mark of spiritual immaturity. God will eventually get us to work through issues we have caused for us to grow in patience instead of impatience, love instead of hatred, and submission to His sovereignty instead of our sovereignty. May this be so in our midst. Amen.