Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
Let’s admit it – there are some parts of the Bible that are tough to read. Right? And there is a good chance that some of us are wondering if we could just be done with Lamentations now and move to a ‘nicer’ part of the Bible. And that’s quite understandable. And yet, Lamentations is a vital part of understanding who God is, who we are, and what the Lord Jesus came to do. If we want to grow in our experience of God’s grace and if we want our unbelieving neighbours and workmates to come to know Christ, we have to know that God is a judging God, that we are wretched sinners, that our sin is offensive to Him, and that Jesus is the only hope for sinners. One commentator put it like this: “If you can’t handle Lamentations then you can’t handle the gospel. Every thread in this book is divinely stitched to Calvary.”
- So let’s see how this is so with the fourth poem of Lamentations. In this chapter, a Retelling of a Retold Tale of Destruction reveals the Real Deliverer. And it is a retelling of a retold tale because much of what we read in ch. 4 has already been said in ch’s 1-3. And because it is a retold tale being told again it is clear that we need to hear this again and again so that we get the point/s being made. But it also means that we can move through this retelling pretty quickly. It has three parts. First of all, vv1-10 repeat the shocking situation in Jerusalem.
- And it begins, in vv1-2, with the picture of a once golden city that is now rubble and ruin. In 2 Kings 6 we are told that King Solomon used 3,600 tons of gold in the construction o he temple building and its furniture. That is about $180 billion worth!
But it was all gone, smashed or taken away.
- In vv3-4 we read the mothers of Israel being more like ostriches than jackals. Apparentlymother ostriches lay their eggs and just leave them. So they are described as “dealing cruelly with their young.” So things were so bad in Jerusalem that mothers who could breastfeed were choosing not to give the milk to their infants.
- In vv5-6 we have a picture of the rich forced to search for food from
the rubbish bins. And you may remember
from ch. 1 that the siege of Jerusalem went on for two long years! And what is striking is that the poet
describes this punishment as worse than what the Lord rained down on Sodom,
which you will remember was destroyed by fire and brimstone, because at least
Sodom’s punishment was instantaneous.
But Jerusalem’s punishment was drawn out and painfully slow.
- So as a reader, what conclusions should we draw from these
words? If Jerusalem’s punishment was worse than Sodom’s, it must
be because Jerusalem’s sin was worse
than Sodom’s. Why was it worse? Because the Jews were God’s people! They had the OT and the temple and the priests
and prophets, etc. Sodom had none of
- It would be like if you boys and girls had a friend over and you got Dad’s special model airplane off the shelf to play with and you broke it. And you knew you were not allowed to touch that model airplane. Would you and your friend both be punished? No. You would because you are the son/daughter. You knew the rules.
- And in the same way, Israel knew God and they knew His commandments. That is why their punishment was so severe.
- Jesus said, “To whom much is given, much is required.”
- And there is an important lesson here for all of us who have spent time in a believing family and/or who have been in the church, who have heard sermons and been to Sunday school and catechism classes, etc. We have been given much! We know who God is and what He has done in giving His Son to be the Saviour. We know God’s commandments. So if we turn our back on God, our judgment will also be severe.
- So as a reader, what conclusions should we draw from these words? If Jerusalem’s punishment was worse than Sodom’s, it must be because Jerusalem’s sin was worse than Sodom’s. Why was it worse? Because the Jews were God’s people! They had the OT and the temple and the priests and prophets, etc. Sodom had none of that.
- In vv7-8 we see that good health was once the norm in Jerusalem. People had healthy complexions. The princes even had time to put makeup on! But now the Fashionistas were as shriveled up and dirty as the poorest of the poor.
- Things were so bad, as we come to vv9-10, that because of the horrors of famine, which saw mothers boiling their own children or food, death by a sword seemed like a ‘happy thing’ compared to this awful famine.
- And so, once again, we simply must see that man is really, really bad – he is capable of great wickedness and he deserves the wrath and judgment of God. And if we are under any illusions about we are more civilized and advanced today, let me remind you about the horrific domestic abuse and sexual assault and child abuse figures in NZ, and our world leading youth suicide figures, and the fact that around 50 human beings a day are killed in the womb by abortion. That adds up to around 800,000 NZers since 1975. So man is still really, really bad.
- And the second section of this poem is about the wrath and judgment of God. We see it in v11: “The LORD gave full vent to His wrath; He poured out his hot anger, and He kindled a fire in Zion that consumed its foundations.”
what we read here is that the Lord did not hold anything back in His anger; He
‘bent His back,’ as it were, He let loose with all His might, such was His
indignation at Jerusalem’s wickedness.
- It is a terrifying image. It is a very vivid picture of the truth that God is really, really angry with sin.
- And this is not some unusual concept that we only find in Lamentations. Psalm 11:5-6: “The LORD tests the righteous, but His soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence. Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.”
- I said at the beginning of the
sermon that Lamentations is a vital part of understanding who God is, who we
are, and what the Lord Jesus came to do.
- As you go out of here into
‘ordinary life,’ you are going to face many moments where you have to choose
between obeying God or disobeying God.
And congregation, what truly motivates Christian obedience can be summarized with one word – gratitude. It is only your thankfulness for Jesus and
for what He did to save you from what your sins deserve that will help you
- You boys and girls will only choose to obey your parents and not answer back or be slow to do what you have been told to do if you are thankful to God for what Jesus did for you.
- You employees will not waste your bosses time by browsing social media if you are thankful to God for what Jesus did for you.
- Husbands and wives will only stop speaking and behaving badly toward each other if they are thankful to God for what Jesus did for them.
- And if you want your neighbours or workmates or school friends to come to know Christ, they need to know that they are wretched sinners and that God hates their sin and will judge them unless they believe in Jesus as their personal Saviour.
- As you go out of here into ‘ordinary life,’ you are going to face many moments where you have to choose between obeying God or disobeying God. And congregation, what truly motivates Christian obedience can be summarized with one word – gratitude. It is only your thankfulness for Jesus and for what He did to save you from what your sins deserve that will help you choose obedience.
- And that brings us to the third section of the poem, vv12-20, where we read again about the failure of Israel’s prophets, priests, and kings:
- Ever since Israel had left Egypt, the Lord had given her one victory over enemies after another. And many of these victories were nothing short of miraculous. So v12 speaks about the common belief of the surrounding kings and nations of that time that Jerusalem and Israel just could not be defeated.
- But eventually it was defeated by the Babylonians. And we are told why in v13: “This was because of the sins of her prophets and the iniquities of
her priests, who shed in the midst of her the blood of the righteous.” The priest and prophets
of Israel had become corrupt and greedy, even killing the true prophets of the
Lord who came to warn the people. And so
now, as we read in vv14-15, the priests were unclean and no one would touch
- If you are familiar with the ceremonial law of the OT, you will know that if a person had a skin problem they had to show it to the priest. And if the priest determined that it was leprosy, that person had to live outside the community and cry out ‘unclean!’ if anyone came near. But now it was the priests themselves who were the unclean social pariahs.
- So as we see in v16, no one was showing any honour to the Jewish leaders.
- And it
was even worse for Israel’s king, as is explained in vv17-20.
- 2 Kings 24 tells us that when the Babylonians first came to Jerusalem, the locals were sure that the army of Egypt would come and help them because of alliances that had been made. But this did not happen. That’s what v17 is about: “Our eyes failed, ever watching vainly for help; in our watching we watched for a nation which could not save.”
- So v18 summarizes the result of the siege of the Babylonian army.
- And 2 Kings 25 tells us that King Zedekiah and his sons and the army escaped from the city during the siege. But the Babylonians chased them down and caught them. That’s what vv19-20 are about as they speak about the Lord’s anointed being caught. And do you know what the Babylonians did to King Zedekiah? They made him watch as they slaughtered his sons and then they put out his eyes so that that was the last thing he saw, and then they took to Babylon and put him in prison.
- So the prophets, priests, and kings had failed to deliver Israel. And that, basically, as we have noted
previously, is about a good as summary of the OT as you can get – The prophets,
priests, and kings all fail.
- It begins with Adam. He was supposed to tell future generations the things of God – a prophet, he was supposed to offer himself and his work to God – a priest, and he was supposed to rule over and subdue creation – a king. But he failed.
- And then we get Abraham and Moses and Aaron and Joshua and Samuel and Saul and David and Eli and Elijah and Ahab and Hezekiah and Josiah Isaiah and Jeremiah, and as prophets, priests, and kings, in one way or another, they all failed to deliver the people.
- But the very fact that the OT is full of prophets and priests and kings prepares us to expect A prophet/priest/king who will not fail; who will do what these others priest and prophets and kings did not do.
- And that prophet, priest, and king is Jesus! Q/A 31 of the Heidelberg Catechism explains that Jesus came and told us the truth about God, about ourselves, about salvation, and about this world and the age to come – our perfect prophet. He came and offered Himself as the acceptable sacrifice for sin – our perfect priest. And He selflessly defends His people from all their enemies and governs us by His words and Spirit – our perfect King! So even this record of prophetic and priestly and kingly failure is pointing us forward to the Lord Jesus.
- So as we come to the last section of this poem, vv21-22, and with the truth of Jesus as our perfect prophet, priest, and king in view, we come to the glimmer of Gospel hope in this poem: “Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom, you who dwell in the land of Uz; but to you also the cup shall pass; you shall become drunk and strip yourself bare. The punishment of your iniquity, O daughter of Zion, is accomplished; he will keep you in exile no longer; but your iniquity, O daughter of Edom, he will punish; he will uncover your sins.”
- The nation of Edom lay just to the South of Israel. The people there were descendants of Esau, the brother of Jacob. So they knew about God. They should have been godly. They should have been friends of Israel. But instead they were wicked, devious, self-serving enemies, who did all they could to aid the Babylonians and who laughed at Israel’s destruction. So here the Lord promises vengeance for their treachery. Edom will get what they deserve. So that’s the first piece of good news, if you like; the first hint of hope.
the second glimmer of hope is that Zion, which means Jerusalem, which means the
people of Israel, are told that their punishment is accomplished; that God will
end their exile and bring them back to Jerusalem and to rebuild the city. So the poet is reminding them that the Lord’s
wrath is satisfied. And congregation, this is the gospel!
- Look again at v11. There we read, “The LORD gave full vent to his wrath.” But do you remember Lamentations 3:22? “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end.” And the same Hebrew word is used in both those verses. So we are basically being told that for the people of Israel there was a limit on God’s wrath, but there was no limit on His mercies. For His chosen people, there is a time when His anger comes to an end but there is never a time when He runs out of mercy!
- And congregation, here too we are being pointed ahead to the cross. For there the Lord gave full vent to His
wrath; there Jesus endured the full wrath of God. And we know this because of the darkness that
descended for three hours and His cry, “My
God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But what were Jesus’ words at the end of those
three hours? “It is finished.” God’s wrath
was satisfied. And that
left God free to show us His mercy! “The steadfast love of the LORD never
ceases; His mercies never come to an end.”
- Is this good news for you? It is for me. I am a sinner who only deserves God’s wrath. But because of what Jesus did on the cross, I have received and continue to receive and will always receive God’s mercies!
- And what Jesus did on the cross is sufficient for every kind of sin and every
time it is committed.
- Earlier in the service I mentioned abortion. It is a wicked sin. But for those who have had an abortion and who have confessed their sin to the Lord and who believe that what Jesus did on the cross, He did for them, “It is finished.” It is paid for. It is forgiven. You are free to know His forgiveness and His mercy and His love.
- And this is so for every sin – anger, adultery, lust, violence, hatred, selfishness, drunkenness, pornography, theft, disobedience, irritability, whatever your sins may be, if you have confessed your sins to the Lord and you are resolved not to continue in your sin and you believe that what Jesus did on the cross He did for you, “It is finished.” It is paid for. It is forgiven. You are free to know His forgiveness and His mercy and His love.
Congregation, this is the Gospel of Lamentations. This is what we mean when we say that “every thread in this book is divinely stitched to Calvary.” Praise God for the gospel. Amen.